New Articles and Apologies

solar1Let’s start with the apologies. I’m very sorry for the prolonged absence of late, and I trust that people actually noticed I haven’t been around 😉 But both my day and my side job have both been very busy and have left me mentally and physically taxed by the end of the day. However, I do have things to show for it, mainly in the form of a new list of articles that were recently published on both Universe Today and HeroX.

I’ve taken to posting the new entries on their respective pages (over on the right there). However, if you’re like me, you don’t bother to check these out much and would rather be notified if something new is happening. And the way I see it, a post now and again that contains the links to all the latest is something people won’t mind hearing about (as opposed to being notified every time one does!)

So here they are, in order of publication:

  • Small Spacecraft Ejected from ISS Will Provide Same-Day, On-Demand Delivery – Basically, the ISS is getting a small fleet of return vehicles that will allow them to deliver samples back to Earth in less than 24 hours. This will help research and experiments quite a bit, and could also open the way for commercial use of the ISS’s National Lab.
  • Make a Deal for Land on the Moon – This one was not only fun to write, it contains a cautionary tale worth sharing. No matter what some realtors may tell you, there’s absolutely no way to buy land on the Moon… yet! However, given the way that commercial aerospace and space industries are heating up, this may soon change.
  • HeroX News: The Promise of Solar Power – This is probably the longest article I’ve written for either publication of late. It deals with recent innovations that are causing solar power to break its own the efficiency limits and usher in an age of renewable energy. And none too soon either!

Towards a Cleaner Future: Denmark’s Wind Power

wind-power-660Denmark made a recent and very positive announcement. According to Denmark’s Energy Association, wind power is now the cheapest source of energy, beating coal, fossil fuels, and natural gas. What’s more, the government agency claims that by 2016, the electricity whipped up by its newest turbines will be half the price of conventional means. The announcement came in the last week of July, and is raising hopes for clean energy around the world.

For years, wind and solar have been achieving grid parity with fossil fuels in many places around the world, meaning they are just as cheap. But even without the tax breaks, declining manufacturing costs and growing scale have rendered wind power just as cheap as natural gas in many states in the gas-rich US. And as Deutsche Bank analyst Vishal Shah claims, this is the “beginning of the grid parity era” for solar, worldwide.

solar_array1As he explains it, demand is being driven by “sustainable” markets – meaning the US, China, and regions outside of Europe – with Japan leading the way with an estimated 7 GW annual demand:

Solar is currently competitive without subsidies in 10+ major markets globally, and has the potential to achieve competitiveness in 10-20 additional markets over the next 3 years.

China, which plans to add 10 GW of solar capacity this year alone, only added “in the 2-3 GW range” during the first half of 2013, which would suggest a vast expansion is coming in the second half of the year. Emerging markets are likely to adopt unsubsidized policy models to promote solar growth, especially if new low-cost capital becomes available in concert with policy support to reduce costs.

denmark_windBut Denmark is blowing past grid parity and towards a scenario in which clean energy is actually much, much cheaper. According to analysts, when its two massive offshore wind farms come online, they’ll be the nation’s most inexpensive energy source by a wide margin. As Yale 360, an environmental policy group centered at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, explains:

Electricity from two new onshore wind power facilities set to begin operating in 2016 will cost around 5 euro cents per kilowatt-hour. Wind power would remain the cheapest energy option even if interest rates on wind power projects were to increase by 10 percent, the report found.

This is good news for a nation that’s hoping to get 50 percent of its power from wind turbines by 2050. Right now, the nation already boasts an impressive clean energy mix of 43 percent. And Rasmus Peterson, Denmark’s energy minister, said at a press conference:

Wind power today is cheaper than other forms of energy, not least because of a big commitment and professionalism in the field. This is true for researchers, companies and politicians. We need a long-term and stable energy policy to ensure that renewable energy, both today and in the future, is the obvious choice.

airpollution1Importantly, the DEA’s analysis did not factor in the health and environmental costs of burning fossil fuels—which are considerable—and instead looked directly at the market forces in the country. Natural gas and coal are much more expensive in Denmark than it is in the US, which helps make wind such an economic bargain, and the nation has explicitly pursued wind power for decades.

But improving technology, falling costs, and the strong, consistently blowing offshore winds that will turn the new turbines are making the case for wind power rock solid. At the end of July, it was revealed that Germany gets a full 28.5 percent of its energy needs with clean sources. Now Denmark is proving that running your nation on clean energy can be cheaper anyone thought possible, even ten years ago.



Powered by the Sun: The “Energy Duck”

Magnificent CME Erupts on the Sun - August 31Part of the challenge of paving the way towards a future where solar power is able to meet our energy needs is finding ways to integrate it into our daily lives. Basically, until such time as efficiency limits, storage and intermittency problems are truly overcome, one of the best ways to do this is to place photovoltaic arrays where the demand is highest and to get creative with how they collect it.

For example, a group of British artists have conceptualized a giant solar harvesting floating duck as part of the 2014 Land Art Generator Initiative Copenhagen design competition. Dubbed “Energy Duck”, the giant structure has been designed not only to generate clean electricity for the local residents of Copenhagen, but to also provide a unique visitor center. In short, it comes renewable energy with a cautionary message about the effects of Climate Change.

energyduckInspired by the arctic eider duck, Energy Duck not only hopes to offer a unique renewable energy source, but also highlight the impact that climate change has had on the local population and breeding habitats of the eider duck in recent years. As its creators – Hareth Pochee, Adam Khan, Louis Leger and Patrick Fryer – explained:

Energy Duck is an entertaining iconic sculpture, a renewable energy generator, a habitable tourist destination and a celebration of local wildlife.

Covered in photovoltaic panels, the Energy Duck is designed to harvest solar energy from every inch of its exterior shell. Solar cells mounted around the base are also positioned to take advantage of the sun’s rays being reflected off the water’s surface. Additionally, the facility features hydro turbines which use water pressure to provide stored energy to the grid after sunset and during the evening. of this helps the Energy Duck overcome the all-important issue of intermittency. By being able to generate energy around the clock, the Duck is not dependent on the sun shining in order to continue operating and providing power. As the team explained:

When stored energy needs to be delivered, the duck is flooded through one or more hydro turbines to generate electricity, which is transmitted to the national grid by the same route as the PV panel-generated electricity. Solar energy is later used to pump the water back out of the duck, and buoyancy brings it to the surface. The floating height of the duck indicates the relative cost of electricity as a function of city-wide use: as demand peaks the duck sinks.

Inside the giant Energy Duck, visitors can get a unique look into the working mechanics of the hydro turbines, watching as the water levels rise and fall. Sunlight also filters through small spaces between the exterior solar panels, providing a kaleidoscope-like view of Copenhagen. However, another interesting feature about the Energy Duck is its environmental message.

energyduck-5So while people are visiting the interior and taking note of the impressive technology, they will also be getting a lesson in why it is important. And really, the inherent message of the concept is really very appropriate. A clean, renewable, alternative energy source designed to look like, and inspired by, one of the many creatures that is endangered because of humanity’s dependence on unclean fuels.

Now if we could just design a land-roving solar farm in the shape of a polar bear!


Towards a Clearner Future: World’s Largest Renewables Projects

jaguar-solar-arrayThanks to increasing efficiency in solar panels, as well as dropping costs for manufacture and installation, generating renewable electricity at home or in commercial  buildings is becoming increasingly viable. And this fast-growing trend has been manifesting itself in an impressive list of “world’s largest” projects, with government and industry pairing to make renewable energy a major power source.

For example, back in January, the world’s largest solar bridge was completed in London on the Blackfriars Bridge. As part of Blackfriars Station in London, the bridge was fitted with 4,400 photovoltaic panels between 2009 and 2014 – which are expected to reduce the station’s CO2 emissions by an estimated 511 tonnes (563 tons) per year. Considering London’s issues with air quality and mass transit, this is a major step towards sustainability.

ivanpah-1Then in February, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) – the world’s largest solar-thermal plant – became fully operational in the Mojave Desert in southeastern California. The 392 MW plant, which was developed with funding from NRG Energy, Google, and BrightSource Energy, is expected to generate enough electricity to power 140,000 homes, each year.

And in April, Jaguar joined Audi, Ferrari and Renault by installing fields of solar panels on top of its new Engine Manufacturing Center in South Staffordshire. This solar field is now the largest rooftop array in the UK, comprising over 21,000 photovoltaic panels and a capacity of 5.8 MW. Jaguar estimates the installation will meet more than 30 percent of the centers energy needs and reduce the plant’s CO2 footprint by over 2,400 tonnes (2,645.5 tons) per year.

windstream-wind-solar-hybrid-jamaicaAnd now, Windstream Technologies – a commercial wind and sun generating firm aimed at bringing renewable energy to municipalities, commercial buildings and homes -has installed what it says is the world’s largest wind-solar hybrid array on the roof of the Myers, Fletcher, & Gordon (MFG) lawfirm in Kingston, Jamaica. The array is expected to generate over 106,000 kWh annually and demonstrates the ability to maximize energy production with limited roof space.

MFG’s installation is a part of an effort by Jamaica’s sole energy provider, Jamaica Public Service, to make the capability for producing renewable energy for its approximately one-million citizens more widely available. The array is expected to generate 25kW of wind power and 55kW of solar power, and the electricity generated can either be used, stored off-grid or fed back into the grid.

windstream-wind-solar-hybrid-jamaica-3The installation incorporates 50 of WindStream’s SolarMill devices, with each different model comprising one or more solar panel and three or more turbines. This is to ensure that the daily and seasonal trends of wind and solar resources are all mitigated by capturing both at any time of the day or year. Windstream says it will return its investment within four years and will produce savings of around US$2 million over the course of its estimated 25-year lifespan.

Merging solar, wind and other renewable technologies into communities, commercial spaces and housing is not only a means of cutting emissions and utility bills, it is also a way to tackle two of renewable energy’s greatest stumbling blocks. These are the problems of storage and intermittency – generating energy when it’s needed and getting it to where it’s needed.

And be sure to check out this video of the rooftop array from Windstream Technologies:

Sources:, (2),,

Looking Forward: 10 Breakthroughs by 2025

BrightFutureWorld-changing scientific discoveries are emerging all the time; from drugs and vaccines that are making incurable diseases curable, to inventions that are making renewable energies cheaper and more efficient. But how will these develops truly shape the world of tomorrow? How will the combination of advancements being made in the fields of medical, digital and industrial technology come together to change things by 2025?

Well, according to the Thomson Reuters IP & Science unit – a leading intellectual property and collaboration platform – has made a list of the top 10 breakthroughs likely to change the world. To make these predictions, they  looked at two sorts of data – current scientific journal literature and patent applications. Counting citations and other measures of buzz, they identified 10 major fields of development, then made specific forecasts for each.

As Basil Moftah, president of the IP & Science business (which sells scientific database products) said:

A powerful outcome of studying scientific literature and patent data is that it gives you a window into the future–insight that isn’t always found in the public domain. We estimate that these will be in effect in another 11 years.

In short, they predict that people living in 2025 will have access to far more in the way of medical treatments and cures, food will be more plentiful (surprisingly enough), renewable energy sources and applications will be more available, the internet of things will become a reality, and quantum and medical science will be doing some very interesting thins.

1. Dementia Declines:
geneticsPrevailing opinion says dementia could be one of our most serious future health challenges, thanks in no small part to increased life expectancy. In fact, the World Health Organization expects the number of cases to triple by 2050. The Thomson Reuters report is far more optimistic though, claiming that a focus on the pathogenic chromosomes that cause neuro-degenerative disease will result in more timely diagnosis, and earlier, more effective treatment:

In 2025, the studies of genetic mutations causing dementia, coupled with improved detection and onset-prevention methods, will result in far fewer people suffering from this disease.

2. Solar Power Everywhere:
solarpowergeWith the conjunction of increased efficiencies, dropping prices and improved storage methods, solar power will be the world’s largest single source of energy by 2025. And while issues such as weather-dependence will not yet be fully resolved, the expansion in panel use and the incorporation of thin photovoltaic cells into just about every surface imaginable (from buildings to roadways to clothing) will means that solar will finally outstrip fossil fuels as coal as the predominant means of getting power.

As the authors of the report write:

Solar thermal and solar photovoltaic energy (from new dye-sensitized and thin-film materials) will heat buildings, water, and provide energy for devices in the home and office, as well as in retail buildings and manufacturing facilities.

3. Type 1 Diabetes Prevention:
diabetes_worldwideType 1 diabetes strikes at an early age and isn’t as prevalent as Type 2 diabetes, which comes on in middle age. But cases have been rising fast nonetheless, and explanations range from nutritional causes to contaminants and fungi. But the report gives hope that kids of the future won’t have to give themselves daily insulin shots, thanks to “genomic-editing-and-repairing” that it expects will fix the problem before it sets in. As it specifies:

The human genome engineering platform will pave the way for the modification of disease-causing genes in humans, leading to the prevention of type I diabetes, among other ailments.

4. No More Food Shortages:
GMO_seedsContrary to what many speculative reports and futurists anticipate, the report indicates that by the year 2025, there will be no more food shortages in the world. Thanks to a combination of lighting and genetically-modified crops, it will be possible to grow food quickly and easily in a plethora of different environments. As it says in the report:

In 2025, genetically modified crops will be grown rapidly and safely indoors, with round-the-clock light, using low energy LEDs that emit specific wavelengths to enhance growth by matching the crop to growth receptors added to the food’s DNA. Crops will also be bred to be disease resistant. And, they will be bred for high yield at specified wavelengths.

5. Simple Electric Flight:
Solar Impulse HB-SIA prototype airplane attends his first flight over PayerneThe explosion in the use of electric aircraft (be they solar-powered or hydrogen fueled) in the past few decades has led to predictions that by 2025, small electric aircraft will offset commercial flight using gas-powered, heavy jets. The report says advances in lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen storage will make electric transport a reality:

These aircraft will also utilize new materials that bring down the weight of the vehicle and have motors with superconducting technology. Micro-commercial aircraft will fly the skies for short-hop journeys.

6. The Internet of Things:
internet-of-things-2By 2025, the internet is likely to expand into every corner of life, with growing wifi networks connecting more people all across the world. At the same time, more and more in the way of devices and personal possessions are likely to become “smart” – meaning that they will can be accessed digitally and networked to other things. In short, the internet of things will become a reality. And the speed at which things move will vastly increase due to proposed solutions to the computing bottleneck.

Here’s how the report puts it:

Thanks to the prevalence of improved semiconductors, graphene-carbon nanotube capacitators, cell-free networks of service antenna, and 5G technology, wireless communications will dominate everything, everywhere.

7. No More Plastic Garbage:
110315-N-IC111-592Ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (aka. the Pacific Trash Vortex), the mass of plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean that measures somewhere between 700,000 and 15,000,000 square kilometres (270,000 – 5,800,000 sq mi)? Well, according to the report, such things will become a thing of the past. By 2025, it claims, the “glucose economy” will lead to the predominance of packaging made from plant-derived cellulose (aka. bioplastics).

Because of this influx of biodegradable plastics, there will be no more permanent deposits of plastic garbage filling our oceans, landfills, and streets. As it says:

Toxic plastic-petroleum packaging that litters cities, fields, beaches, and oceans, and which isn’t biodegradable, will be nearing extinction in another decade. Thanks to advancements in the technology related to and use of these bio-nano materials, petroleum-based packaging products will be history.

8. More Precise Drugs:
drugsBy 2025, we’ll have sophisticated, personalized medicine, thanks to improved production methods, biomedical research, and the growth of up-to-the-minute health data being provided by wearable medical sensors and patches. The report also offers specific examples:

Drugs in development are becoming so targeted that they can bind to specific proteins and use antibodies to give precise mechanisms of action. Knowledge of specific gene mutations will be so much more advanced that scientists and physicians can treat those specific mutations. Examples of this include HER2 (breast cancer), BRAF V600 (melanoma), and ROS1 (lung cancer), among many others.

9. DNA Mapping Formalized:
DNA-1Recent explosions in genetic research – which include the Genome Project and ENCODE – are leading to a world where personal genetic information will become the norm. As a result, kids born in 2025 will be tested at the DNA level, and not just once or twice, but continually using nano-probes inserted in the body. The result will be a boon for anticipating genetic diseases, but could also raise various privacy-related issues. As it states:

In 2025, humans will have their DNA mapped at birth and checked annually to identify any changes that could point to the onset of autoimmune diseases.

10. Teleportation Tested:
quantum-entanglement1Last, but certainly not least, the report says research into teleportation will be underway. Between the confirmation of the Higgs Boson (and by extension, the Standard Model of particle physics), recent revelations about quantum entanglements and wormholes, and the discovery of the Amplituhedron, the field of teleportation is likely to produce some serious breakthroughs. No telling what these will be – be it the ability to teleport simple photons or something larger – but the fact that the research will be happening seems a foregone conclusion:

We are on the precipice of this field’s explosion; it is truly an emerging research front. Early indicators point to a rapid acceleration of research leading to the testing of quantum teleportation in 2025.

Will all of these changes come to pass? Who knows? If history has taught us anything, it’s that predictions are often wrong and much in the way of exciting research doesn’t always make it to the market. And as always, various factors – such as politics, money, public resistance, private interests – have a way of complicating things. However, there is reason to believe that the aforementioned 10 things will become a viable reality. And Moftah believes we should be positive about the future:

[The predictions] are positive in nature because they are solutions researchers and scientists are working on to address challenges we face in the world today. There will always be obstacles and issues to overcome, but science and innovation give us hope for how we will address them.

I, for one, am happy and intrigued to see certain items making this list. The explosion in solar usage, bioplastics, and the elimination of food scarcity are all very encouraging. If there was one thing I was anticipating by 2025, it was increased drought and food shortages. But as the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”. And as someone who has had two grandmothers who lived into their nineties and have both suffered from the scourges of dementia, it is good to know that this disease will be on the wane for future generations.

It is also encouraging to know that there will be better treatments for diseases like cancer, HIV, and diabetes. While the idea of a world in which all diseases are preventable and/or treatable worries some (on a count of how it might stoke overpopulation), no one who has ever lived with this disease, or known someone who has, would think twice if presented with a cure. And hardship, hunger, a lack of education, resources and health services are some of the main reasons for population explosions.

And, let’s face it, its good to live in an age where the future looks bright for a change. After a good century of total war, totalitarianism, atomic diplomacy, terrorism, and oh so much existential angst and dystopian fiction, it’s nice to think that the coming age will turn out alright after all.


Powered by the Sun: Solar Buildings and Wind Towers

Magnificent CME Erupts on the Sun - August 31In our ongoing drive to find ways to meet energy demands in a clean and sustainable way, solar power is the clearly the top contender. While inroads have certainly been made in terms of fusion technology, the clean, abundant, and renewable power that can be derived from our sun seems to hold the most promise. In addition to the ever-decreasing costs associated with the manufacture and installation of solar cells, new applications that are appearing all the time that allow for greater usage and efficiency.

Consider the following example that comes from Seoul, Korea, where Hanwa – the largest solar company in the world – has chosen to retrofit its aging headquarters with a solar facade that will provide both for the buildings needs and cut down on energy costs. Having been built in the 1980’s, the Hanwa building is part of a global problem. High-rise buildings suck up around 16% of the world’s energy, and most were built to specifications that do not include sustainability or self-sufficiency.

solar_skyscraper3Even though the most recently-built skyscrapers are helping change things by employing renewable energy and sustainable methods – like the Pertamina Energy Tower in Jakarta –  that still leaves tens of thousands of inefficient giant buildings on the ground. And rather than tear them down and erect new buildings in their place, which would be very wasteful and inefficient, it is possible to convert these buildings into something cleaner and less reliant on other external sources of electricity.

Basically, the plan calls for plastering the 29-story building with three-hundred new solar panels. These will be placed on the sunniest spots to harvest energy, and other strategically placed panels will automatically adjust to help keep the interior cool but bright with natural light. New high-performance windows will save more energy. In total, though the final details are still in progress, the retrofit may save well over a million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.

solar_skyscraper2In theory, say designers from Amsterdam-based UNStudio, this type of facade could be added onto any skyscraper. As the researcher explains:

It would be the principles that could be applied of course and not the design, as every building has its own context, program, size, view corridors, orientation etc. which would affect the design parameters differently. Each building would be unique and would require a tailored approach.

Retrofitting old skyscrapers is an important way for cities to fight climate change, say engineers from ARUP, which worked with UNStudio on optimizing the design. And it’s usually a better solution than building something brand new. Accroding to Vincent Cheng, who led the project from ARUP’s Hong Kong studio, retrofitting is a better option for old skycrapers, both in “terms of reducing embodied carbon emission and waste elimination.”

solar_downdraft_towerAt the other end of things, there are the ongoing efforts to expand solar power production to the point that it will supersede coal, hydro, and nuclear in terms of electrical generation. And that’s the idea behind the Solar Downdraft Tower, a proposed installation some 686 meters (2,250 feet) in height with 120 huge turbines and enough pumping capacity to keep more than 2.5 billion gallons of water circulating. In terms of output, it would generate the equivalent of wind turbines spread over 100,000 acres, or as big as the Hoover Dam.

The process is quite simple: water is sprayed at the top, causing hot air to become heavy and fall through the tower. By the time it reaches the bottom, it’s reaching speeds of up to 80 km (50 miles) per hour, which is ideal for running the turbines. The immediate advantage over standard solar and wind energy is the plant runs continuously, day and night. This addresses the issue of intermittency, which remains a problem with solar and wind generation.

solar_downdraft_tower2Basically, solar and wind farms cannot provide if the weather is not cooperating, or if the solar cells become covered in dust or sand. But as long as the local environment remains warm enough – a near certainty in the deserts of Arizona – the tower will continue to produce power. Best of all, the plant itself runs under its own generated energy – with approx. 11% of the output being used to power the pumps – and aboutt three-quarters of the water is collected at the bottom.

According to Ron Pickett, CEO of Solar Wind Energy Tower (the Maryland company behind the design):

This is totally clean energy that actually makes money. It makes energy at a cost comparable to if you were using natural gas to power a plant.

The simplicity of the technology is also a major selling point. For more than a century, people have been working on variants of solar wind towers. In the 1980s, engineers in Spain built a 195 meter (640-foot) test tower that pushed air upwards through turbines and generated power for seven years until it fell over in a storm. The tougher issue is the enormous expense, which is an inevitable result of building something so big. According to Picket, the Arizona project is likely to cost as much as $1.5 billion to build.

solar_downdraft_tower1However, Solar Wind Energy recently jumped two hurdles to getting the tower realized. First, it won a development rights agreement from San Luis, a city on the Mexico border, that included a deal with the local utility to purchase power, and the rights to the 2.5 billion gallons of water necessary to the project. It also reached an agreeing with National Standard Finance, an infrastructure fund, for preliminary funding that will begin to pay for generating equipment and related costs.

Solar Wind Energy also has plans to see similar towers build in Chile, India, and the Middle East, places that are also well suited to turn warm air temperatures into electrical power. And they are hardly alone in looking for ways to turn solar power into abundant electricity in ways that are technically very simple. As the 2010s roll on, we can expect to see more and more examples of this as renewables make their way into the mainstream.

In the meantime, check out this video from Solar Wind Energy that details how their Tower concept works:

Sources:, (2)

Powered by the Sun: Solar-Powered Roads

solar_roadsCurrently, there are nearly 30,000 square kilometers (18,000 square miles) of roads in the United States. And by some estimates, there are also as many as 2 billion parking spaces. That works out to some 50,000 square kilometers (31,000 square miles) of usable surface that is just soaking up sun all day long. So why not put it to use generating solar power? That’s the question a entrepreneurial couple named Scott and Julie Brusaw asked themselves, and then proceeded to launch a solar startup named Solar Roadways to see it through.

Their concept for a solar road surface has the potential to produce more renewable energy than the entire country uses. In fact, they’ve actually already developed a working prototype that’s been installed in a parking lot, and they’re now crowdsourcing funds in order to tweak the design and move towards production. Once completed, they hope to re-pave the country with custom, glass-covered solar panels that are strong enough to drive on while generating enough power to perform a range of functions.

solar_roads1These include providing lighting through a series of LEDs that make road lines and signs that help reduce nighttime accidents. Embedded heating elements also melt ice and snow and are ideal for winter conditions. The surface could also be used to charge electric vehicles as oppose to fossil fuels, and future technology could even allow for charging whilst driving via mutual induction panels. Amazingly, the team also found that car headlights can produce energy in the panels, so cars driving around at night would be producing some electricity.

Since 2006, Solar Roadways has designed and developed hexagonal glass solar panels studded with LED lights that could be installed on a variety of surfaces such as roads, pavements and playgrounds. These panels would more than pay for themselves and would benefit both businesses and homeowners as the energy generated from driveways and parking lots could be used to power buildings, and any excess can be sold back to the grid.

solar_roads3A glass surface may sound fragile, but the prototypes have been extensively tested and were found to be able to easily withstand cars, fully loaded trucks, and even 250,000-pound oil drilling equipment. The textured surface means it isn’t slippery, and since it can self-power small heaters inside to melt ice in winter, it’s supposedly safer than an ordinary road. As Scott Brusaw put it:

You first mention glass, people think of your kitchen window. But think of bulletproof glass or bomb resistant glass. You can make it any way you want. Basically bulletproof glass is several sheets of tempered glass laminated together. That’s what we have, only our glass is a half inch thick, and tempered, and laminated.

Recycled materials can also be used to produce the panels; the prototypes were constructed using 10% recycled glass. All of the panels will be wired up, so faults can be easily detected and repaired. They team have also designed a place to stash power cables, called “Cable Corridors”, which would allow easy access by utility workers. Furthermore, they also believe that these corridors could be used to house fiber optic cables for high-speed internet.

solar_roads2Obviously, this project isn’t going to be cheap, but Solar Roadways has already surpassed their goal of raising $1 million on their indiegogo page (they have managed to raise a total of $1,265,994 as of this articles publication). With this money, they will now be able to hire engineers, make final modifications, and move from prototype to production. They hope to begin installing projects at the end of the year, but a significantly larger amount of money would be required if they were to try to cover all the roads in the US!

However, given the increasing demand for solar technology and the numerous ways it can help to reduce our impact on the environment, it would not be surprising to see companies similar to Solar Roadways emerge in the next few years. It would also not be surprising to see a great deal of towns, municipalities and entire countries to start investing in the technology in the near future to meet their existing and projected power needs. After all, what is better than cheap, abundant, and renewable energy that pretty much provides itself?

For more info, check out Solar Roadways website and their Indiegogo campaign page. Though they have already surpassed their goal of $1 startup dollars, there is still five days to donate, if you feel inclined. And be sure check out their promotional video below:


The Future of Cities: eVolo’s 2014 Skyscraper Competition

3028400-slide-launchspireThe skyline of the future… Chances are, it’s something we’ve all wondered about at one time or another. Given the current rate of urban expansion, combined with population growth and environmental concerns, it’s essentially a given that cities of the future will look quite different from cities today. And when it comes time to break new ground and convert old centers, contracts will be given to those designs that can meet all of these challenges.

That’s the idea behind eVolo Magazine’s Skyscraper Competition, an annual event that for the past nine years has awarded architects and planners who create the problem-solving skyscrapers of the future. This year, over 600 entries were submitted from around the world, and top marks were given for those that addressed the problems or urban sprawl, pollution, sustainable living, and incorporated the latest in design technology.

These included the latest in renewable energy, carbon-capture technology, additive manufacturing (aka. 3D printing), and of course, the time honored concept of Paolo Soleri’s Arcology – a school of thought that merges architecture with ecology for smarter and more sustainable living. Here are just a few of the entries that received top marks in this year’s competition, which include the top three and numerous honorable mentions:


Vernacular Versatility:
0302-0The winner of this year’s Skyscraper Competition, this entry was created of Korean-American designer Yong Ju Lee. who used the concepts of the “Hanok” and “Gagu” as his inspiration. In traditional Korean architecture, the Hanok refers to a type of house with an exposed wooden structure and tiled roof. Gagu refers to a special wooden structural element that is located directly beneath the main roof where the column meets the beam and girder and fastens them without the need for nails or additional parts.

Traditionally, this structural system has only ever been employed in the creation of single-story residences. However, modern modeling software allowed Lee to adapt this traditional system to complex high-rise structural planning to meet contemporary purposes and programs. Vernacular Versatility can open a new chapter of possibilities to bring this old construction and design tradition to the present day with efficiency and beauty.

Designed to be located within one of Korea’s busiest districts, Vernacular Versatility seeks to use a traditional design concept to combat the growing problem of urban sprawl, as well as associated health risks such as atopy and asthma, as well as addressing the destructive impacts urbanization has been having on traditional Korean culture and the environment.

Car and Shell Skyscraper:0697-0Also known as “Marinetti’s Monster” and created by Mark Talbot, Daniel Markiewicz, this concept for a “city in the sky” took home 2nd place at this year’s competition. As a solution for what to do about Detroit’s aging infrastructure, the project proposes a vertical suburban neighborhood equipped with recreational and commercial areas where three main grids (streets, pedestrian pathways, and structure) are intertwined to create a box-shaped wireframe.

Inspired by all the attempts to “save Detroit”, which is focused largely on preserving its dwindling suburban areas, Talbot and Markiewicz instead thought of building a new neighborhood within a single enormous skyscraper located in the core. Here, dozens of single-family homes are stacked into a vertical grid, new roads cross through the building, and traditional and contemporary living all plug into a framework to create a rich urban environment.

Propagate Skyscraper:
3028400-slide-propagateThis year’s third place went to Canadian designers YuHao Liu and Rui Wu for their concept of a building that would turn air pollution into construction materials and use it to gradually create the building. Relying on an alternative carbon-capture technique that employs philic resins and material processes to transform carbon dioxide into solid construction material, their building employs additional material that uses carbon dioxide as a means to self-propagate.

The building uses a simple vertical grid scaffold as a framework and takes all the ingredients it needs for material propagation from the surrounding environment. Individual living spaces are built within this gridwork, which creates open square spaces between lattices that can then be filled by tenements. Its pattern of growth is defined by environmental factors such as wind, weather, and the saturation of carbon dioxide within the immediate atmosphere.

Thus each building is a direct reflection of its environment, growing and adapting according to local conditions and cleaning as the air as it does so. Unlike conventional skyscrapers, which rely on steel frame and concrete casting, the proposed skyscraper suggests a more environmental conscious construction method, an alternative mode of occupation and ownership, and possibly a distinct organization of social relationships.

Honorable Mentions:

Climatology Tower:
??Designed by Yuan-Sung Hsiao, Yuko Ochiai, Jia-Wei Liu, Hung-Lin Hsieh and Japan and Taiwan, the Climatology Tower is a proposed skyscraper designed as a research center that evaluates urban meteorology and corrects the environment through mechanical engineering. This involves analyzing microclimates within cities as a result of the use of industrial materials, the accumulation of buildings, and the scarceness of open spaces. In order to maintain a healthy environment for the city, two main strategies are employed.

The first is Environmental Control Engineering, which consists of a system of evaluation and operational programs. Evaluation programs inspect city climates through a variety of factors such as insolation, radiation, and thermal coverage. Collected data is compared with humidity levels and then mechanical systems respond to reduce or increase the levels to optimal environmental conditions. The second is Information Expression, a system that is becoming increasingly common in East Asia.

Basically, in addition to automatically adjusting to optimal environmental conditions, data is transferred from a control center to different departments in this city. This can alert entire communities of present and upcoming environmental hazards and conditions, much as residents in major cities are currently given “smog alerts”. Climatic information is also displayed publicly, though digital networks, notifying the public on maintaining certain conditions, to preserve both energy and health.

Here-After:Here-AfterDesigned by Tsang Aron Wai Chun of Hong Kong, the Here-After project is a proposal to reuse the Ruashi copper mine located in Lubumbashi, Congo. The mine is predicted to stop production in 2020, at which time it would be abandoned, leaving as an enormous urban void surrounded by a rapidly expanding city. The Here-After projects seeks to make use of the left over space, waste soil, and sulfuric acid from the mine drainage and former copper production.

A machine will reuse the waste soil to neutralize the sulfuric acid, which in turn will be used to erode the land to be used as raw buildings blocks for the project. As the machine operates, starting from the South end, the remaining structures from the neutralization process would be reconfigured as a university campus. Throughout the building process the contour, the campus, and the public spaces would continuously change their relationships and form.

Hyper Filter Skyscraper:
hyper_filterDesigned by Umarov Alexey of Russia, the Hyper Filter Skyscraper recognizes the threat of environmental pollution and seeks to merge carbon capture technology with the building’s design. Under today’s levels of pollution, harmful substances spread over hundreds of kilometers and a whole region and even a country could represent a single pollution source. Hence the plan to place a air-scrubbing building at the heart of the problem – an urban core.

Consistent with CC technology and the principle of photosynthesis, the Hyper Filter Skyscraper is designed to inhale carbon dioxide and other harmful gases and exhale concentrated oxygen. The skin of the project is made out of long pipe filters that ensure the cleaning process. While clean air is released to the atmosphere, all the harmful substances are stored for use in the chemical industry for later use. These can include chemicals products, biofuels, and even manufactured goods.

Hyper-speed Vertical Train Hub:
Verticle_train_skyscraper1All around the world, nations from the USA, UK, Japan and China are again consolidating futuristic proposals for an advanced public transport network, to maximize the economic growth of their cities. The Hyper Speed Vertical Train Hub is an extension of this, aiming to resolve the inevitable challenges that cities will face by 2075, and offering a deliverable and sustainable solution for the future of the transport generation.

As the world’s population dramatically increases, the demand for goods, natural resources, foods, fuel and land would have increased significantly by 2075. By then, the world’s population will reach an estimated 10 or 11 million, and the majority of them (6 or 7 billion) will gravitate towards living in mega-cities. This will increase pressure and competition for adjacent suburban land, therefore forcing cities to explore more innovative forms of public transport.

Verticle_train_skyscraperConsistent with a key principle of arcology, this proposal seeks to take advantage of vertical space in order to use available land more efficiently. By flipping the traditional form and function of the current train design into a vertical, cylindrical mass, the Vertical Train Hub seeks to eliminate the current impact that traditional stations have on land use, therefore returning the remaining site mass back to the densely packed urban Mega City.

This remaining land will surround the base of the tower forming a large urban park, leading towards to the base of the Hyper-Speed Vertical Hub. The trains will create a dynamic and kinetic facade, one that will be continuously evolving and responsive to the workings of the vertical hub. Passengers will travel into the main lobby, allowing travelers to ascend through the atrium and through the platforms and onto the carriages. The high-speed trains will maximize time efficiency, able to traverse 482 km (300 miles) in just thirty minutes.

As the train travels and transitions from its horizontal formation, and ascends up the facade vertically, the carriages will pivot similar to that on a ‘Ferris wheel’, allowing the passengers within the carriage to remain in an upright position and facing towards the cityscape. The carriages will be supported by a magnetic structure located at either side, eliminating the need for rails beneath, and allowing the carriages and its passengers to connect to the tower.

launchspireDesigned by Henry Smith, Adam Woodward, Paul Attkins of theUnited Kingdom, the Launchspire is an arcological design that also seeks to eliminate much of the CO2 emissions associated with air travel. This year, commercial air travel is celebrating its centenary; and looking ahead to 2050, aviation is predicted to fly 16 billion passengers and 400 million tones of cargo. This radical re-interpretation of the skyscraper would eliminate the hydrocarbon dependency of aircraft during takeoff through the use of an electromagnetic vertical accelerator.

On short flights, as much as 25% of the total fuel consumed is used during takeoff. The most fuel-efficient route length for airlines is 4,300 kilometers, but roughly half the flights taking place in the developed world cover less than 500 kilometers. An electromagnetic vertical accelerator, utilizing the technological principles developed at CERN’s LHC and maglev train propulsion, would provide a method for commercial aircraft to be accelerated to cruising speed using renewable electrical energy sources from ground-based infrastructure.

launchspire1This new design methodology envisions a ‘spiral tube’ structure that would reinvigorate the ‘core and floor plate’ model of high-rise buildings. Schools, hospitals, commercial, and residential properties would be interspersed throughout the tower with approximately one third of all Plots to be public green spaces, nature reserves and farm land. Due to the scale of the building, different climates would be experienced, with various wildlife and crop species, whilst also being natural devices for internal climate control.

The concept is essentially a helical version of the classic urban grid environment. This has the benefits of extreme high density, elevated living, mass transportation to different levels, pedestrian and cycle travel locally to enable healthy living. Community interaction and a unique and varied sense of place is achieved to each area of the tower. As the building ages specific areas develop to support an organic and culturally rich network of settlements within the matrix of the structure.

The towers can be built close to renewable energy infrastructures; hydropower in the mountains, tidal and offshore wind nearer the coast. The city is the building, the surrounding environment will remain natural thus the urban realm becomes a vertical entity within the wilderness. The building is effectively a confluence of road, rail, air and space transportation, and takes advantage of vertical spacing to reduce the impact on the local environment.

New Tower of Babel:
babelDesigned by Petko Stoevski of Germany, this perhaps unfortunately-named building seeks to invert the relationship between structures and their surrounding environment. Essentially, it is a steel construction built over a desert surface with multiple levels planned depending on the landscape’s topology. The top two panels are made of glass, and the air contained in between is warmed up by the sunlight. The structure is slightly tilted upwards, which leads the air to the middle of the tower into an inner cylindrical.

The updraft power channels the warm air into the chimney tower, propelling the wind turbines located in the base and converting the kinetic energy into electrical power. Under the glass panels, photovoltaic panels are placed to generate electricity while reflecting the sunrays, thereby offering more warming. Moreover, the photovoltaic panels cast a shadow, cooling down the land’s surface and creating a microclimate that allows the creation of residential and recreational areas as well as the development of agriculture.

The Tower of Babel establishes a new landscape, which makes use of the natural forces of an upwind power plant and therefore stretches from the horizontal to the vertical. The building is characterized by many different spaces and leaves their use open to improvisation. Therefore, life develops in different places with different intensity. The project reinforces the principles of sustainability, which allow long term economic, social, and ecological development.

PleXus Tower:
PieXus_towerDesigned by Chris Thackrey, Steven Ma, Bao An Nguyen Phuoc, Christos Koukis, Matus Nedecky, Stefan Turcovsky of the United States, the PleXus Tower is proposed development for the West Hong Kong Harbor. It was conceived as a segmented, but highly connected network of major transportation functions, as well as housing conventional program, that would merge the concepts of interconnectedness, renewable energy, and ecology into the same fabric.

The design starts out as a series of distributed pods reaching out to connect with the city’s transportation, accepting traffic in the form of boats, ferries, and other water vehicles. Bridged together by connected pipelines over the water, these pods work in harmony with the existing Macau Ferry Terminal. As people move inward from these pods, they travel through a series of different structures, beginning with  a horizontal parking structure that also connects to the highway network to efficiently receive car traffic.

PieXus_tower1Farther up, business and shopping space is available, all accessible by car to the highest level of the tower. The upper reaches of the towers are set aside for residential space, providing a living area that incorporates spectacular views of the dynamic city skyline. A heliport on top that can receive air traffic from above, and power is supplied by the south-facing side of the building that comes equipped with numerous solar panels.

The skin is also breathable, with numerous openings designed to overlap each other, undulating throughout, allowing carbon dioxide to easily filter out from the designated parking areas on the lower levels. Each parking level will also utilize foliage to further filter carbon dioxide from the air helping to reduce pollution in Hong Kong. At night, lights will glow from the panels, reminding people of the connections these segments share as well as blending in with Hong Kong’s unique night skyline.

Project Blue:
project_blueDesigned by Yang Siqi, Zhan Beidi, Zhao Renbo, Zhang Tianshuo of China, Project Blue is designed with China’s explosive growth in mind. On the one hand, the country’s “economic miracle” has left the world in awe. But on the other, the country is paying a big price for being the “factory of the world”, in the form of getting polluted at an alarming speed. Chinese cities are now characterized by an unhealthy hazy weather as the result of large amounts of suspended particles in the air.

The purpose of Project Blue is to transform suspended particles into green energy by creating an enormous upside down cooling tower with a multi-tubular cyclic desulfurization system that produces nitrogen and sulfur. When both elements are combined with the atmospheres surplus of carbon monoxide, the result is “water coal” that would later be transformed into methane through a low-pressure reaction called low pressure efficient mathanation.

This methane could then be converted into biofuel that would then be shipped to the surface, providing a clean alternative for China’s fast-growing supply of gasoline cars. Consistent with many modern designs that utilize carbon capture technology, Project Blue would therefore be combating the problem of emissions and air pollution at both ends.

Rainforest Guardian:
While most of the concepts were designed for cities, a few were made for more remote locations. The Rainforest Guardian, from Chinese architects Jie Huang, Jin Wei, Qiaowan Tang, Yiwei Yu, and Zhe Hao, was one such example. Designed to sit on the edge of the Amazon, capturing and storing rainwater in the rainy season to help fight fires in the dry season, the building also has labs located at the top for scientists studying and monitoring the local environment.

The lotus-shaped water tower is captures rainwater directly and then filters and stores it in its spare reservoirs. Using capillarity combined with active energy, the aerial roots with a distinct sponge-structure can absorb and store the excess water without disturbing the Amazon’s ecosystem. In the case of fire, firefighters fly to the scene and extinguish the fire with the collected water. In addition, the laboratories can act as exhibition spaces for tourists to create environmental awareness.

Sand Babel:
0656-1Produced by designers Qiu Song, Kang Pengfei, Bai Ying, Ren Nuoya, and Guo Shen of China, the Sand Babel uses an idea similar to that being proposed by NASA and the ESA to build settlements on the Moon. Basically, their plan is to use sintering and additive manufacturing to turn desert sand into a series of ecological skyscrapers.These structures would serve as scientific research and testing facilities, tourist attractions for the desert, and would be divided into two parts.

The first part, located above ground, consists of several independent structures for a desert community while the second part, located partially underground, would connect several different buildings together and create a multi-functional tube network system. The main portion of each building is constructed with sand, sintered through a solar-powered 3D printer to create walls of solid ceramic.

The top structures utilizes a spiral skeleton shape, inspired by desert phenomena like Tornadoes and mushroom rocks. These are tall, straight and have high tensile strength, and are thus able to withstand high winds. The net structure of the lower sections are similar to tree roots, effectively anchoring each building into the ground. The dual funnel model provides cooling through cross-ventilation, as well as ensuring that water can be collected through condensation.

seawerDesigned by Sung Jin Cho of South Korea, the Seawer was inspired by another major environmental issue – the problem of waste. Every year, millions of tons of trash enter the ocean, and between 60 and 80 percent of it is from land-based sources. Due to ocean currents, this waste collects in particular areas of the world, such as the one currently located in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Consisting of tiny particles of plastics, this area is commonly referred as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), or just “Garbage Island”.

The GPGP is twice the size of Texas and contains six times more plastic than plankton biomass. And since plastic is not biodegrade, it poses a threat to thousands of marine animals. Seawer proposes to install a huge drainage hole 550 meters in diameter and 300 meters in depth in the middle of the GPGP that would engulf all kinds of floating trash filled with seawater. Seawer consists of five layers of baleen filters, which separate particles and fluids and collected the particles together.

seawer1These collected plastics are then taken to a recycling plant atop of the structure while seawater is filtered and stored in a large sedimentation tank at the bottom to be further cleaned and released into the ocean. Much like skyscrapers that are energy-independent and turn air pollution into useable fuels, the Seawer concept is all about making a future city that can offer solutions, and placing it at the heart of the problem.

skyvillageDesigned by Ziwei Song of the United States, the Skyvillage concept was inspired by Los Angeles’s freeway system, which he claims segregates the city’s fabric and restricts urban activities to single locations. As a result, Song envisioned a vertical city that would encourage urban integration by providing a bridge over freeway interruptions and connect the four quadrants around the 101 and 110 freeways. This single architectural organism would also boost cultural exchanges, urban activities, and social interaction.

The interchange 101 and 110 breaks Los Angeles east urban fabric into four disconnected quadrants: Downtown, Chinatown, Echo Park, and Temple Beaudry. The four quadrants have distinct cultural and social differences, lacking a coherent urban tissue. Moreover, the leftover space around the freeways reaches over 27 acres. Skyvillage aims to reclaim this vague terrain and provide green filtering towers to clean the freeways and also articulate various programs to revitalize the disconnected urban fabric.

Urban Alloy Structure:
urban_alloyLast, but certainly not least, there is the design concept that was put forth this year by Matt Bowles and Chad Kellogg of the United States. Known as Urban Alloy, the concept was inspired by cities like New York and other dynamic cities of the 21st century – which they refer to as “anthropomorphic alloys”. In short, these cities act as engines for innovation and social cohesion which, combined with their continually evolving demographics, will forge the dynamic societies of the future.

Once again, the concept calls for smart growth – developments that promote innovation and renewal without disrupting current land use. Hence their proposal for a residential typology that surrounds the intersection of transportation hubs – such as elevated train lines and freeway interchanges – with a set of highly linked living environments that capture the air rights above these systems. The design and skin of the structure also reflects a blend of space types and a desire to optimized shading and day lighting.

urban_alloy2Composed of a series of different alloys and composites, the system is deployed on a grid that follows the geometric pattern of the surface. This grid is designed for integration with adjoining pieces of the structure, and to optimize shading and lighting so the building doesn’t cast a huge shadow over adjacent areas (which is a common problem for skyscrapers). The resulting architecture is a steel diagrid system that can efficiently be constructed with each unique member cut by an automated system (i.e. 3D metal printing)

The relatively light weight of each structural unit also means that it can be constructed with greater ease, cutting down on construction costs and the carbon foot involved. The wall systems are also built with a high content of recycled materials, making it a comparatively eco-friendly structure compared to most modern skyscrapers.

An impressive collection, isn’t it? And this is not even the complete list of winners and runner-ups, just those that I felt I could squeeze in to this here humble post. Alas, it gives a pretty good idea what the great minds of the world are coming up with when they consider the needs of urban residents and cityscapes in the coming years and decades. In addition to providing housing, energy, transportation and basic services in ways that are sustainable, top marks go to those who can turn problems into solutions.

When Paolo Soleri first conceived of his Arcology concept, he was looking for a way to provide room for more people with less space, and in a way that did not further tax the environment. However, since the 1970’s, this challenge has been updated thanks to the advance of Climate Change. At this juncture, simply not adding to the problem is no longer sufficient. Future living solutions must also find ways to reduce and roll back the damage.

Hence concepts that now call for carbon capture, garbage processing, and pollution control in addition to the smart use of space, urban agriculture, and renewable energy. It is one of the paradoxes of the modern age that cities are both the cause, and solution to, the problems of modern living. While they may bring millions of people together in one place, producing tons of waste and pollution, they also bring together ideas for change and innovation that lead to better living.

In the end, ideas that expand upon this paradox – turning cities into pollution and garbage-eating factories – will not only determine the size and shape of future cities, they may very well ensure the survival of the natural environment and the human race itself. Much like all life on this planet, we remain permanently connected to space and place and are dependent on it for our livelihood and our very lives. The only way to keep living in to learn to live with it.

For more info on eVolo’s 2014 Skyscraper Competition, or to just check out some interesting design and architecture news, click on this link to go to their homepage.

Sources:, (2),

Powered by the Sun: Mirrored Solar Dishes

sun_magneticfieldIn the race to develop alternative energy sources, solar power is the undeniable top contender. In addition to being infinitely renewable So much sunlight hits the Earth each day that the world’s entire electricity needs could be met by harvesting only 2% of the solar energy in the Sahara Desert. Of course, this goal has remained elusive due to the problem of costs – both in the manufacture of solar panels and the installation therefor.

But researchers at IBM think they’re one step closer to making solar universally accessible with a low-cost system that can concentrate the sunlight by 2,000 times. The system uses a dish covered in mirrors to aim sunlight in a small area, and which follows the sun throughout the day to catch the most light. Other concentrated solar power systems do the same thing, but a typical system only converts around 20% of the incoming light to usable energy, while this one can convert 80%.

Inline_solardishThis not only ensures a much larger yield, but also makes the energy it harvests cheap. Bruno Michel, the manager for advanced thermal packaging at IBM Research, believes the design could be three-times cheaper than “comparable” systems. Officially, the estimate he provides claim that the cost per kilowatt hour will work out to less than 10 cents, which works out to 0.01 cents per watt (significantly cheaper than the $0.74 per watt of standard solar).

But as he explains, using simple materials also helps:

The reflective material we use for the mirror facets are similar to that of potato chip bags. The reinforced concrete is also similar to what is being used to build bridges around the world. So outside of the receiver, which contains the photovoltaic chips, we are using standard materials.

A few small high-tech parts will be built in Switzerland (where the prototype is currently being produced). but the main parts of the equipment could easily be built locally, wherever it’s being used. It’s especially well-suited for sunny areas that happen to be dry. As the system runs, it can use excess heat that would normally be wasted to desalinate water. Hence, a large installation could provide not only abundant electricity, but clean drinking water for an entire town.

inline-i-solar-02A combined system of this kind could be an incredible boon to economies in parts of the world that are surrounded by deserts, such as North Africa or Mongolia. But given the increasing risk of worldwide droughts caused by Climate Change, it may also become a necessity in the developed world. Here, such dishes could not only provide clean energy that would reduce our carbon footprint, but also process water for agricultural use, thus combating the problem on two fronts.

IBM researchers are currently working with partners at Airlight Energy, ETH-Zurich, and Interstate University of Applied Sciences Buchs NTB to finish building a large prototype, which they anticipate will be ready by the end of this summer. After testing, they hope to start production at scale within 18 months. Combined with many, many other plans to make panels cheaper and more effective, we can expect to be seeing countless options for solar appearing in the near future.

And if recent years are any indication, we can expect solar usage to double before the year is out.


Ann Makosinki and I Have a Chat!

Ann-Makosinski-Google-Science-Fair-2It’s a rare thing when a humble blogger like yours truly gets the chance to speak to someone who has truly made a difference in the world. And this time around, that person is Ann Makosinki, inventor of the body heat-powered flashlight and winner of last year’s Google Science Fair. In addition to being a young inventor, she also happens to hail from my neck of the woods here in Victoria, British Columbia. So you can imagine the enthusiasm I felt when she agreed to this interview!

As many of you may already know  – since you all faithfully read this blog 😉 – Ann Makosinki is winner of the 2013 Google Science Fair Award for her invention that uses the warmth of a person’s own hand to power an LED flashlight. Using Peltier tiles, which produce electricity when heated on one side and cooled on the other, she developed a flashlight which she believes will be of use in the developing world where electrical outlets and batteries are not always available.

body_heat_flashlightAnn’s inspiration comes from her commitment to science, renewable energy, the environment, and her roots in the Philippines. Ultimately, her goal is to bring light and energy to those who live without it all over the world. After winning the gold medal at the 2013 Canada-Wide Science Fair Gold Medal, her flashlight won at the Google Science Fair’s top prize of a $25,000 scholarship and the choice of a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” from CERN, LEGO or Google.

In addition, she has been a keynote speaker at TEDx in three different cities (Vancouver, Redmond and Edmonton), at Techtoria here in Victoria, earned a spot on Jimmy Fallon Live, and will be representing Canada at the 2014 International Science and Engineering Fair this coming May. The following is a transcript of our interview, which occurred via email in spite of her (very) busy schedule:

1. When did you first discover your love for science? What are some of your earliest memories of doing something science-related?

My love for science started when I was very young. My first toy was actually a box of transistors! I was always also interested in insects, and used to collect them and keep them in jars. I would feed them and spray them each morning before I would head out to school. My parents were very supportive of my interests, even if I was looking through the garbage, hot gluing disposed objects together and creating “inventions” (of course nothing ever worked). My dad also always took me to the local island science fair, and I was very shy to ask the other kids questions, but I always thought it was so cool that they had chosen their own topic in science and now were presenting on it.

2. When did you take part in your first science fair? What was your project?

I started participating in the local science fair, the Vancouver Island Regional Science Fair, when I was in grade 6. My science project was one from that I had done in class, comparing two laundry detergents.

3. How did you come to be interested in renewable energy?

I realized early on that energy is a key issue in today’s world, because of our increased reliance on energy and its effect on global warming. It is a challenging problem, and I wished to explore alternative energy sources and find solutions. I focused on the problem of battery elimination, because that’s something I understand and can think around.

4. You’re invention of the body-heat powered flashlight was a big hit at the 2013 Google Science Fair. What was it like competing with people your age who have such a passion for science?

For me, it wasn’t about competing with the other people, but more of getting know them and seeing how we were all alike in some ways. It inspired me to see how passionate they were about science, and while we could have conversations about technical aspects that I usually wouldn’t get to talk about with my friends, they were all still like normal teenagers.

5. This past December you were named one of Time Magazines Top 30 under 30. What other accolades have you earned since winning at the Google Fair?

Hmm, well I have given three TEDx talks since then and many other speeches locally. I have had numerous interviews/film crew from US and Europe making short documentaries. I also appeared on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon’s during the show’s premiere week, and I have a few more things lined up. However, I think what matters most to me is the fact that my project has brought so much awareness to the problem of people without electricity, and to the potential that thermoelectricity has.

6. Since winning at Google Fair, you’ve presented at TEDx RenfrewCollingwood, the Techtoria conference in Victoria, and got a spot on Jimmy Fallon Live. Is it fair to say your life has changed since debuting your invention? Do you feel like a celebrity?

I definitely do not feel like a celebrity. Sure, I get recognized once in a blue moon, or people want to have their picture with me, but I know that will soon end. I think something that has changed is the fact that I really value the time when I can wind down and relax, because with so much going on I’m always on the go and worrying about my next due date.

7. What is the future hold for renewable energy, in your opinion?

I think we are already seeing a huge increase in the interest in renewable energy and alternative energy sources. As global warming and the greenhouse effect closes in on us, we will be obliged to look around to harvest natural energy, whether it be from heat, sun, water, wind etc. It holds a lot of potential, but our technologies for harvesting the energy efficiently are still developing. If my flashlight can eliminate even a fraction of batteries from the city dumps, I will have achieved my aim.

8. What does the future hold for Ann Makosinki?

I hope to commercialize the flashlight and make it available to children in the world who need light the most. Beyond that, I hope to get into college and make my little contribution towards a cleaner and better world to come.

She hopes to commercialize the flashlight? I for one can’t believe that she hasn’t been approached by every company from GE to Applied Solar. But it is great to know that young minds are coming up with breakthroughs that could be making a very real difference in the world of tomorrow. I, for one, consider to be right up there with the Darfur Stove and Quetsol solar-powered lights.

And be sure to check out the video of Ann’s speech at TEDx RenfewCollingwood which took place in October 2013, entitled “Be the Source”:

And here is her guest spot on Jimmy Fallon Live, as part of GE’s “Fallonventions”, from this past February: