I guess it said we can be entering a time when we find ways to make the same object do two jobs as you will see as we explore how everyday objects will be producing electricity for your house within the next decade.
Solar roof tiles
So this isn’t exactly a secret considering just how crazy the media went when Elon Musk launched his solar absorbing roofing tiles that are cheaper and last longer than normal tiles. Naturally it is designed to integrate seamlessly with the Tesla Powerwall The panels on the solar roof are invisible to the naked eye. So when you’re on the street, you simply see a stunning roof. From above, the solar cells are fully exposed to the sun, so they can power your home in the cleanest way possible. This is a big deal because it is the first time anyone has integrated solar panels directly into the roof killing two birds with one stone.
No doubt this is just the first step for Musk as he seems to be releasing new innovations on an almost weekly basis, i guess it is just a matter of time to see what he comes out with next. Ultimately I think we will see Musk coming out with a lot more integrations and solar inventions as we have barely even started this solar revolution.
Power from plants
A power plant that generates power from plants — who couldn’t avoid such a pun. The harvesting of energy from growing plants has come a long way since middle school science fair projects featuring clocks run by potatoes. A Dutch company named Plant-e’s approach is built on the same principle, but is radically different because it does not require damaging the plant in order to harness its energy. Not only can electricity be generated without harming the plant, but the amount of electricity is actually quite substantial. The researchers discovered that as they grow, plants always produce more sugars than they need, and the excess is cast out through their roots into the surrounding soil and break down into protons and electrons. So I guess kind of like plant poop. Plant-e’s system uses electrodes in the soil to await the breakdown of this plant waste, thus conducting electricity.
An experiment is already underway in the Netherlands, where more than 300 LED street lights were illuminated by the company in a new energy project called “Starry Sky.”
Plant-e’s electricity generation process involves plants growing in two-square-foot plastic containers. Plant-e’s co-founder and CEO, Marjolein Helder says that a one-square-meter garden should be able to produce 28 kilowatt-hours per year. — whilst that is not enough to power a house by itself, the next step for Plant-e is using existing wetlands to generate electricity. Engineers would place a tube horizontally below the surface of a wetland, peat bog, or rice paddy, and use the same process as the modular system.
Electricity producing pipes
Not exactly a groundbreaking idea considering humans have long harnessed the power of water to create electricity, however what is exciting here is the way in which it is being taken to a much smaller model and making use of pre-existing infrastructure. Experts say there is a lot of potential for new sources of hydropower and a startup in Portland, Oregon, has developed one system that may one day be in cities around the country.
“What’s really interesting about Lucid is this is a new source of energy that’s never really been tapped into before,” President and CEO of Lucid Energy, Greg Semler said.
Portland are currently experimenting with this concept in which . “You take the best of hydroelectricity and put it in the pipe.”
Portland has replaced a section of its existing water supply network with Lucid Energy pipes containing four fortytwo inch turbines. As water flows through the pipes, the turbines spin and power attached generators, which then feed energy back into the city’s electrical grid. Known as the “Conduit 3 Hydroelectric Project,” Portland’s new clean energy source is scheduled to be up and running at full capacity. However, Fast Company also notes that the system does more than simply provide electricity: It can monitor both the overall condition of a city’s water supply network as well as assess the drinking quality of the water flowing through it. In modern time, hydroelectricity, generated by the power of water flowing through turbines at the base of dams, has been a small, but key source of renewable energy.
Whilst this technology is currently being used at the city level, it might also be one day possible to adapt it to the home level as well.
Researchers at Michigan State University created a fully transparent solar concentrator, which could turn any window or sheet of glass (like your smartphone’s screen) into a photovoltaic solar cell. These cells have been engineered to outperform rooftop solar by 50 fold, it works in natural, shaded and even indoor light. According to Richard Lunt, who led the research at the time, the team was confident the transparent solar panels can be efficiently deployed in a wide range of settings, from “tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader.” Essentially, what they’re doing is instead of shrinking the components, they’re changing the way the cell absorbs light. The cell selectively harvests the part of the solar spectrum we can’t see with our eye, whilst letting regular visible light pass through. “It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said in an interview with Michigan State’s Today blog. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”
The modules are created by applying ultra-thin layers of liquid coatings onto glass and flexible plastics. These liquid coatings produce ultra-small solar cells and form groups called ‘arrays’.
Most importantly however, the liquid coatings are primarily made of hydrogen and carbon — two of the most abundant materials found in nature.
Now I don’t want to take the piss out of you, however using ‘pee power’, scientists have been able to provide three hours of phone calls for every six hours of charge time — all from 600ml of urine.
It’s all about turning urine directly into electricity,” Professor Loannis Leropoulos says of his prototype toilet. The director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre has installed the urinal at the University of the West of England to demonstrate how urine can generate electricity.
There are many projects in testing phase that can now turn human urine into electricity, with each team having their own take on how to redesign the household toilet into an electricity plant.
One such design uses microbes that turn urine into fuel, the system taps a portion of that biochemical energy used for microbial growth, and converts that directly into electricity, the biggest benefits of using urine is obviously the fact that it’s a free and available-everywhere substance that’s readily usable — there is no need to wait for anything to decompose, as is the case with other bacterial sources like food waste. The batteries themselves cost just $2–3 each, and the substance they need to run on is obviously free, so they could help impoverished area get the resources they need to power important technologies like well pumps or lights.
Another design that has secured funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is being targeted towards developing African nations, has at the core of the toilet’s operation a nanotech membrane, which separates vapourised water from the rest of the waste after some initial sedimentation. This process cleans it up for household washing or field irrigation by removing pathogens while the liquid is in a vapourised state. Nano-coated beads lead to the formation of clean water droplets on the other side.
An Archimedean screw system then kicks into gear to send the leftovers into a second chamber where they can be incinerated and turned into ash and heat. While the details of this second part of the process are still being finalised, the designers say it should be able to produce enough energy to power the whole operation, with some leftover to charge small gadgets such as mobile phones.
The remaining ash can be used as a fertiliser, while the closed lid and a special rotating mechanism (which replaces the flush) will prevent any unwanted odours from escaping.
This sort of technology will rapidly change what we consider valuable and the way we even view toilets, with public toilets being used to power cities.
These new technologies are going to seriously change how we view a home and also how we consider electricity infrastrucutre. Considering the massive infrstructure costs currently associated with electrical grids, these new technologies will allow us to localise electricity production and consumption which will eventually see powerlines and infrastructure unnecessary.
Resources and further reading