Team from Stanford University creates “self-healing” synthetic skin

A long sought-after prize of makers of biological implants and assistive technologies has been to replicate the healing powers of skin. While innovations have been made in the past few decades, these developments could be overshadowed by the work of a group of Stanford University researchers and scientists. According to press reports from the university, the team recently unveiled a synthetic skin product that, if damaged, can slowly rebuild itself anew.

Previous attempts, the release said, often resulted in man-made skins that required energy or high temperatures to initiate a self-healing response. The new compound, which is a combination of tiny metal strands and plastic polymers, allows for easier transfer of energy. This characteristic enables the repair process to start sooner.

"If you take a piece of cardboard, for example," Benjamin Tee, a graduate student associated with the project, was quoted as saying in the release. "And you cut it into two, if you have this material, it brings the two pieces together to attach the two sides to each other without a need for glue – it does it itself. That is the magic."

Others associated with the project speculated that there could be other applications for the new synthetic, including industrial construction materials that have the ability to repair cracks without the need for an engineer to perform costly maintenance. Similarly, cell phones or computer screens could be coated with the compound in order to prevent scratches or dents from spreading.

While the Stanford project is certainly a few years away from any commercial usage, it's an exciting development that could be employed in a wide variety of ways. Whether it's repairing buildings or enabling people to live longer and more fulfilling lives, this synthetic skin project is definitely one of the most exciting scientific creations this year.

MIT research team creates prototype medical device that captures the body’s natural power

In what could herald a new age of assistive technology for those with hearing impairments, a team of engineers and scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a prototype mechanical device that uses a natural power source located inside the ear.

According to an MIT press release, the group, led by Konstantina Stankovic, a surgeon from the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, built a computer chip that is just over a third the area of an American penny. It draws its energy from electricity created by the ear from the vibrations in the eardrum. Once this natural charge is made, the brain takes this power and uses it to send signals throughout the body. Realizing the potential opportunities that could be derived from this source, Stankovic and her team sought to harvest it in a safe and practical way.

"In the past, people have thought that the space where the high potential is located is inaccessible for implantable devices, because potentially it's very dangerous if you encroach on it,” she was quoted as saying. "We have known for 60 years that this battery exists and that it's really important for normal hearing, but nobody has attempted to use this battery to power useful electronics."

Guinea pigs were used to test the effectiveness of the system. Despite the harvesting of electricity to power the chip, the test animals suffered no hearing loss as a result of the implant.

Another intriguing aspect of the project was that because of the relatively low charge this "natural battery" creates, the team had to find a way to make their prototype operate more efficiently. The solution was to build a power conversion mechanism inside the chip that, over time, would build up a reserve that the device could use to operate. The device the team tested on the guinea pigs became self-sustaining once an initial jolt was applied to the device.

MIT's accomplishment could mean that one day, people who suffer from hearing loss can utilize an energy-efficient hearing device. While still in its infancy, this initiative could change the lives of many individuals for the better some day.

New breed of monster trucks set to crush both cars and dependence on fossil fuels

When people think of monster truck rallies, they imagine huge trucks trashing junk cars, and, presumably, burning through an astronomical amount of fuel in the process. A recent development, however, could change the face of this beloved American pastime and bring it into the 21st century of clean-sourced energy.

According to Bigfoot 4×4, the maker of the eponymous monster truck, a new version known simply as Number 20 will employ a state-of-the-art battery that will allow it to run entirely on electric power. The product, known as the ODYSSEY battery, was created by electricity storage group EnerSys, and the new Bigfoot truck will employ 36 of the energy-efficient battery.

In its press release, Bigfoot 4×4 stated that the new vehicle was the latest result of a nearly 20-year partnership between the two companies. Speaking about the new development, Jim Kramer, the truck maker's vice president of technology researchers, called it "part of our efforts to keep up with ever-changing technology."

He went on to concede that, despite the obvious dissatisfaction with fans the move would surely cause, the Number 20 will remain on the sidelines as they perfect the new power system and the supporting frame they designed for the new Bigfoot. However, he noted that with more work, the truck could become more energy efficient as the company's engineers fine-tune the existing system, but monster truck lovers could see it in action sometime next year.

While these developments will probably have a negligible impact on consumer automobile manufacturers' efforts to create more efficient cars, the innovations could result in larger vehicles that consume less power. For now, however, we will have to settle for dirt-cheap monster truck shows that are just a bit more friendly to the environment.

Jaguar’s new plug-in hybrid wins design award

The battle for the plug-in hybrid car market has begun to heat up after a surprising but wildly successful entry by luxury car maker Jaguar in the RAC Future Car Challenge that took place in the United Kingdom on November 3.

Jaguar's vehicle, known as the XJ_e, finished the event having utilized just 1.2 liters of gasoline during the 63-mile jaunt from Brighton, England to London. This means that the car achieved a whopping 112 miles-per gallon, relying instead on 11 kilowatt hours (kWh) to power its groundbreaking journey.

For their efforts, the automaker received the awards for "Most Energy Efficient Luxury Car" and "Technical Panel's Award of Merit," designations that will surely provide a boost to sales when the vehicle eventually hits consumer markets. The feat was not lost on Jaguar officials, including hybrid division director Peter Richings who hailed it as the next step for the company's green initiatives.

"The three experimental XJ_e vehicles were brand new so this event was their first drive in real-world conditions. They performed faultlessly and delivered performance that exceeded our expectations, a tribute to our engineering team who prepared them," he said in a press statement. "Events like this help us not only to understand the technical challenges involved but also provide an opportunity to showcase promising solutions."

The next steps for Jaguar involve perfecting their system in preparation for shipping them to showrooms around the world. The company is also working on a special edition supercar based on their plug-in hybrid technology. Known as the C-X75, this model will be limited to 250 cars with a price tag of roughly $1.5 million.

While we don't expect that many Americans will be able to get their hands on one of these high-powered rides, it's a great sign to see more automakers embracing the effort to reduce energy consumption.

Is the “smart bulb” the future of lighting in U.S. homes?

Making it easier for homeowners in the United States to control their utility costs has been the goal of many businesses and government initiatives. While EnergyStar-rated products and consumer programs have certainly helped, it appears that technology hasn't completely solved this complex issue. Thankfully, the market will soon see a new line of hardware that Americans can use in their homes: smart bulbs.

Smart bulbs aren't just one product. Rather, they are a series of gadgets that all have one aim, which is to help homeowners have more control over their energy expenditures. According to a report from the industry source Midwest Energy News, features that seem experimental now could become the norm over the next few years.

"The lighting industry has been the lighting industry for 130 years," Terry McGowan, a director for the American Lighting Association, a corporate trade group, told the source. "All of a sudden now what we’re seeing is the electronics industry take a look at the lighting industry and say, 'hey, we've got some ideas.'"

One product, known as the Spark Socket, is like an add-on for your traditional bulb. When installed, it allows users to program the bulb so that it is connected to their smartphone or tablet computer. If they want to shut off all the lights in their house before going out, all the homeowner has to do is press a button. The company behind the project hopes that this technology will help consumers control their utility bills more effectively. Additionally, it could yield some home safety benefits by preventing lights from remaining on, which is a potential fire hazard.

You should keep an eye out in your nearest hardware store to see if they carry any smart bulbs. If you decide to opt for these helpful products, you may find that they are just what you need to reduce your electricity usage each month.

With President Obama’s victory, the green energy industry catches a big break

Last night's decisive Electoral College victory by President Barack Obama has ushered in many things, including the fact that the president's health care reform bill will now be fully implemented. While the various Democratic constituencies are pleased with the victory, there is one group that is probably much happier than most. This is the green energy and technology community, who, with Obama's win, will see a continuation of the U.S. government's comprehensive clean energy investments.

In a recent blog piece from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), author Frances Beinecke lauded the successful election as a make-or-break moment for the green movement. Because of Obama's win, grants will continue to be awarded to U.S.-based electricity providers of energy efficient technology, fuel economy standards will be put in place and funding for education related to renewables will continue to be put forward.

However, the fact that the U.S. House of Representatives remains in the hands of the green movement-averse Republican party could cloud the president's chances of passing carbon reduction or cap-and-trade legislation. Yet, by holding the U.S. Senate, the Democratic Party stands a chance of following through on previous promises to act on climate change.

Here at LifeIsGreen.com, we celebrate President Obama's victory as a success for both his administration and the clean energy movement. Admittedly, it's tough to predict what developments will shape the green technology debate as the president's second term begins. However, there is little doubt that both local, state and national-level governments will begin to embrace the idea of renewable power over the course of the next four years.

More Americans using smart meters, report says

Every day, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) releases a special article covering some form of green technology being used in America. On November 1, the government organization published its latest findings on the usage of smart e-meters, devices that aid in energy conservation and communication between customers and their electricity providers.

According to the results, the number of Americans using these machines rose from 33 million in 2011 to roughly 36 million so far in 2012, an approximately 23 percent rise. This figure suggests that more people are looking at options to reduce their utility bills. One of the benefits of smart meters is the fact that, in some cases, customers can program their devices to turn off at certain times, enabling them to cut down on power consumption. Additionally, these products allow companies to aid their clients in finding energy efficiency solutions.

In one demonstration of the benefits of smart meters, the DoE discussed an accident during October when a Maryland town lost some of its power when a tree collapsed. Because of the information updates afforded by smart meters, electricity providers were able to respond more quickly to the outage.

The DoE conceded in its report that there are some challenges associated with smart meters, including data privacy and occasional price increases associated with the devices. However, many providers are reportedly instituting changes to their systems to make them more affordable.

If the publication is any indication, we expect more consumers to utilize smart meters in their homes. Not only will these devices help them reduce the amount of electricity they use on a daily basis, but smart meters will put a few extra dollars in their pocket while those homeowners practice a more low-impact lifestyle.

New York City’s Empire State Building: A model for energy efficiency

A recent piece published by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) highlighted certain clean energy improvements made in New York City's celebrated Empire State Building. These retrofits, which are slated to be complete within the next few years, are meant to significantly reduce the amount of electricity required to run the tower's enormous HVAC system as well as cut down on the carbon dioxide produced in the process of making all that power.

According to the NRDC article, the modifications are expected to save Malkin Holdings, the current owner of the Empire State Building, an estimated $2.4 million in the first year of operations, a figure which should rise to roughly $4 million after the changes are complete. In addition to this, the landmark's energy expenditure should drop by at least 40 percent once the various energy-saving technologies are fully operational.

Most notable is the reworking of the tower's 6,514 windows. Rather than spend an enormous amount of money replacing each one, the owners of the Empire State Building decided to employ an insulating film inside the existing windows. This action saved the group approximately $15 million and reused the same glass panes as before. Thanks to the modifications, an additional $410,000 will be saved annually by tenants on their utility bills.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the project has been the inclusion of renters in the process. Discussions were reportedly held with businesses that occupy the building, which ended with some changes to the original plan. By doing so, Malkin Holdings avoided any problems with tenants related to the ongoing construction efforts.

Thanks to these retrofits, the Empire State Building will become a symbol of commercial real estate that is energy-efficient, in addition to remaining a New York City icon. Hopefully, before the changes are complete, other buildings in the Big Apple will receive their own clean power makeover.

Solar industry sees substantial job growth during 2012

A report from the nonprofit advocacy firm The Solar Foundation (TSF) revealed that, during 2012, companies in the solar power industry created nearly 14,000 jobs, or a roughly 13.2 percent jump for the year.

According to the National Solar Jobs Census 2012, the 13,872 positions relate to a number of different capacities, including technical support for solar companies and computer programmers who design the complex systems that operate the facilities. In addition to this year's gains, the nonprofit reported that it had altered its estimates for growth in 2011, changing the number of those employed in the solar industry from 100,237 to 105,145 individuals.

Officials from TSF lauded the results of the yearly census, calling this year's data a prelude to larger gains in the renewable energy market. Andrea Luecke, the nonprofit's executive director, called the solar sector "one of the foremost creators of new jobs in the United States."

"Our census findings indicate that these new jobs are highly skilled in nature, including solar installation, sales, marketing and software development," Luecke added in a press statement. "These new solar industry jobs are sustainable, cannot be outsourced and play a critical role in our country’s economic recovery."

In another sign of solar power's ascendency, fossil fuel-using power companies shed 3,857 jobs between September 2011 and September 2012. That loss accounts for nearly 4 percent of that sector's employees. Additionally, business owners in the renewable energy field reported that declining prices for previously costly machinery were making them more optimistic about future hiring prospects, suggesting that this year's gains could be eclipsed in 2013.

LifeIsGreen.com will continue to follow and report on these developments as the solar community and other green industrial movements continue to shine.

Colorado-based processing firm redefines the phrase “recycling”

When most people think of recycling, they imagine separating their bottles from their cans and getting a few quarters back for their efforts. Some people can even make a tidy little profit off of doing this activity daily. One company, however, has taken it to a whole new level.

Known as repurposedMATERIALS, the firm takes discarded industrial components and puts them to work in another capacity. In a recent article, green news source Earthtechling covered one such instance, where the conveyor belts from a coal mining company were transformed into a flooring cover for a machine shop. The convenience of this service lies in the idea that clients can cut down on new materials expenses as they receive the same functions at a substantial discount.

Damon Carson, the founder and owner of the organization, wrote in a statement on the company's website that he considers his service to be akin to professional dumpster diving.

"I've been called a lot of things: Dr. Junk, dumpster jockey, trash wizard. It doesn't matter, as long as they know I've got what they need," he was quoted as saying. "We don't recycle. There's no chipping and grinding going on here. We repurpose. We buy it and sell it as is. No warranties or guarantees. Our customers come up with all kinds of creative reuses for these products."

A service like Carson's enables companies to practice low-impact business protocols without having to shell out for potentially expensive technical upgrades. If you're a business owner, you may want to consider looking into repurposedMATERIALS and other organizations like it. By doing so, you can do your part in reducing industrial waste while saving a buck or two at the same time.