When it comes to moving forward with technology, we tend to fall back on nature. After all, in most ways, science is organic. If slugs can inspire a medical glue that will ease the difficulties of surgery, other animals can do the same. To improve on solar panels, researchers are drawing ideas from black butterflies.
The rose butterfly is native to Southeast Asia. Because it is cold-blooded and needs sunlight to fly, its black wings have evolved to be very good at absorbing energy.
Normally, solar panels are made with thick solar cells. Thin film solar cells have a lot of potential, but are not as productive. The black butterflies absorb heat perfectly because their wings are covered in holes. These holes effectively scatter light.
“I think what’s interesting is the excellent approach of looking at the underlying physiological concepts and then taking these concepts and emulating them in a structure that doesn’t look quite look like how a butterfly looks but does the same physics,” says Mathias Kolle, a professor of engineering.
The research has since received proper funding and, hopefully, will flutter along seamlessly.
These days, the challenge of sustainability elicits many different creative responses: leather out of wine, air purifiers made of algae, even energy from cow and turkey poop. Truly the stranger, the better. A new project from an Indian startup company makes the sun and the wind come together to create water. How does that sentence make sense? Uravu answers our question.
The company’s affordable, electricity-free Aqua Panels use solar thermal energy to convert vapor into usable water – and they should be available to the public within two years. “There’s no need of any electricity or moving parts,” Uravu co-founder Swapnil Shrivastav told Quartz India. “It is just a passive device that you can leave on your rooftop and it will generate water. The process starts at night, and by evening next day you’ll have water.”
The process of producing water from vapor has already been developed and utilized before, mostly for industrial and agricultural purposes, but the outdated versions of this technology had to consume large amounts of energy and humidity—innovative, yes, but not yet as sustainable as the above-mentioned Aqua Panels. Uravu wants their device to suit domestic use.
“Initially we’ll be working with governments and strategic partners, and we want to reach places where there is water scarcity, such as parts of Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, and rural areas,” explained Shrivastav. “We will be trying to start with a household device and aim at community-level projects.”
Ultimately, the Indian company aims to make the process more simple to make it more accessible for people who lack resources. Sustainability takes many different forms, but surely it is best when it answers to society’s greatest needs.
For Puerto Rico, tech giants Tesla and Alphabet are easing the struggle of getting back on the grid. While one group is providing Powerwall batteries, the other is supplying an Internet connection. Even so, the hurdles have just begun, and so has Tesla, now restoring power to hospitals with solar energy.
The hospital’s new system allows it to generate all the energy it needs… The facility has 35 permanent residents with chronic conditions; it also offers services to some 3,000 young patients.
Due to the gravity of the energy crisis, the system is a donation — for now. Since it began to recuperate, Puerto Rico’s power service has risen to 25%. Though many have been reaching out to the territory, complete recovery of losses will cut $5 billion deep into budgets. At this point, it seems Puerto Rico is accepting any bit of help it can get.
The territory’s electric and power authority signed a $300 million contract with Whitefish, a small and relatively young Montana company, to restore the power grid.
The nation is months away from a breakthrough in terms of improvement, but with Tesla to count on, might be worth the wait.
At this point in time, we are all familiar with the potential of solar power. It can run anything from trains to villages, which makes home installations a no-brainer. However, the devices don’t come cheap, which is why the U.K. government aims to build free solar panels in 800,000 homes in the next five years.
The deal “is set to create over 1,000 new jobs for people”, many of whom “will be tasked with installing and maintaining the panels”. These positions will first be “offered to military veterans”, who will also receive training “for new maintenance careers”.
Energy firm Solarplicity is donating the panels to low-income households, which could save families £240 on bills per year. But that isn’t where the fun stops. Residents will also receive smart meters that indicate energy usage throughout the day.
It’s “by far and away the largest renewable energy scheme of its kind in the UK”… and has been bolstered by a £160m investment from Dutch firm Maas Capital.
It’s a charitable move by the U.K. government that I hope successfully sees the light of day (pun entirely intended).
In the war against plastic, the U.K. is proving itself to be a leading champion. Its ban on cosmetic microbeads and large-scale installation of water fountains is doing wonders for the nation. Now, Queen Elizabeth is taking her own measures against waste, phasing out plastic straws and bottles in all royal estates.
A palace spokesman told the press that there was a “strong desire to tackle the issue” at the highest levels. “Across the organisation, the Royal Household is committed to reducing its environmental impact,” he said.
On top of its plastic wipe-out, the palace itself is getting a green makeover. Solar panels will line its lush gardens, and the building will sport more efficient energy and composting systems. With 300 million tons of trash a year making their way into tranquil oceans, the Royals aren’t a family to be stagnant about it.
Prince Charles has delivered several speeches about damage to the oceans… he warned of an “escalating ecological and human disaster” from refuse in the seas. Charles and Dame Ellen MacArthur… offer a million-dollar cash prize to anyone with a great idea for keeping garbage out of the ocean.
I tip my hat off to you, Royal family. And I’m sure the fish do, too.
It goes without saying that solar is taking over fossil fuels by storm. Communities are fashioning panels into their infrastructure, including a Danish international school that dons a record-breaking 12,000 consoles. To work on making solar power more cost-effective, developers are creating solar blocks. However, scientists from two London universities may have found the most efficient way to incorporate solar power into homes with energy-producing wallpaper.
The solar bio-battery is part of a new type of renewable energy research known as microbial biophotovoltaics (BPV), which make use of cyanobacteria and other photosynthetic algae to convert light into electricity.
Though the process sounds daunting, all you need is a working inkjet printer. Not only is the wallpaper cheap to produce — it works as a disposable and biodegradable power tool. Technology such as biosensors will no longer require bulky devices that suit only a single purpose.
“Imagine a paper-based, disposable environmental sensor disguised as wallpaper, which could monitor air quality in the home. When it has done its job it could be removed and left to biodegrade in the garden without any impact on the environment.”
If that’s what scientists are promising, I sure do hope we won’t have to imagine any longer.
Now that we know discarded laptops are capable of powering households, we ought to give simple batteries more credit. Ultimately, they’ve been an asset to communities affected by the recent hurricanes, and Tesla seems to agree. The motor company is sending Powerwall batteries to Puerto Rican homes, which currently lacks most basic necessities.
The battery pack in question is called the Powerwall, an in-home electricity solution that could hugely benefit people whose homes have been knocked off the power grid. Besides gasoline-fueled generators that are keeping power on at hospitals, the entire island is basically without power.
Due to shortages in electricity, affected residents can’t store their food. In turn, shortages of other materials worsen. Right now, Tesla is moving mountains for the devastated island, making up for the slow movements of the U.S. federal government.
Tesla employees are actually on the ground in Puerto Rico, helping to install hundreds of the battery packs, as well as performing repairs to damaged solar panels.
There is much controversy surrounding President Trump’s critical approach to San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz. Her desperate pleas for help don’t really make Twitter rants an appropriate response.
With the emergence of solar farms such as the Panda Power Plant in China, new methods of harvesting power are also manifesting. Tesla has engineered the solar roof, but the University of Exeter is not stopping there. We may now have the option to replace exterior walls with solar blocks made of glass.
Known as Solar Squared, the transparent blocks contain multiple optical elements that each focus incoming sunlight onto an individual solar cell. All of the cells within each block are linked together, and the blocks themselves can in turn be wired to one another, ultimately feeding into the building’s electrical grid or a battery.
Users can choose to have the block tinted to avoid overheating. They also provide quality thermal insulation, much better than that of a traditional glass block.
Build Solar is still conducting preliminary commercial testing. If successful, Solar Squared could be seeing the light of day (pun completely intended) as early as next year.