Evolution Guides Development Of Next-Gen Solar Panels

Northwestern University is reportedly developing the next generation of solar panels using a novel approach: Allowing natural selection to determine which geometric patterns are the right size for energy-capturing cells.

Utilizing a mathematical algorithm based on the idea of natural selection – in this case, for the most efficient shape and width – the researchers were able to find the correct size to capture the energy with.

The result was an efficiency rate three times higher than traditional photovoltaic (PV) cells that were used as a control in the experiment. Because they were using thin-cell organic solar cells, which could one day replace the types currently used in solar arrays, the study is a significant development for the renewable energy industry.

“We wanted to determine the geometry for the scattering layer that would give us optimal performance,” Cheng Sun, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Northwestern, said in a press release. “But with so many possibilities, it’s difficult to know where to start, so we looked to laws of natural selection to guide us.”

The design works by filtering light through a “scattering layer” that, according to Northwestern, is just 100 nanometers thick. This top layer spreads the light evenly to be captured by the cells, a process that reduces inefficiency as much as possible. The charge is then transferred to the “active layer,” which then powers an electrical generator. 

Treehugger, a green industry news source, reported that the tests yielded a greater amount of power than any traditional solar semiconductor created so far. While further testing is needed to prove the commercial applicability of this project, the signs are certainly promising for green energy advocates. For more updates on renewables, eco-friendly living and other important topics, keep reading the LifeIsGreen.com blog. 

Ohio State University To Utilize Wind Power To Fuel Campus Activities

Hoping to bring down its utility costs by a significant margin, Ohio State University will be drawing energy a large-scale wind turbine facility in the Buckeye State to power its campus. Officials from the school stated in a press release that they expect to reap nearly $1 million in annual savings.

OSU will purchase 50 megawatts of electricity each year from the Blue Creek Wind Farm, which according to the Toledo Blade, a regional newspaper, is Ohio’s largest commercial wind-based power facility. Approximately 152 turbines are utilized to generate the energy, the source reported. Additionally, the new deal will help the school achieve its goal of becoming completely carbon-neutral before the end of the decade.

“Together, we will make Ohio State a national leader in sustainability, while investing in renewable energy produced right here in Ohio,” OSU President Gordon Gee was quoted as saying by the university. 

The announcement is part of a comprehensive plan to improve the school’s renewable energy portfolio, with a particular focus on the efforts of graduate students to advance existing technology. For example, Jose Castro, a professor of mechanical engineering at OSU, is leading a team of researchers, students and private companies to develop turbine blades that are both more durable and capable of generating more electricity. Castro told the Blade that these initiatives are necessary to both reduce the region’s dependence on oil and lower the environmental impact of energy production.

These developments are set to continue as, according to a press statement from OSU’s head energy advisor, Scott Potter, the university is the only school in the United States that is currently undertaking such a diverse, wind-based approach to electricity production. This example could lead to more institutions utilizing renewable energy technology as a viable source of power. 


North Carolina Research Team Developing Self-Healing Wire Technology

In a development that could reshape how homes are built and repaired, a team from North Carolina State University announced that it is in the testing phase of a new wiring product that is capable of both extreme elasticity and, in the event of a break, rejuvenation.

The wires contain so-called microfluidic channels, which, according to a press release from the college, are then filled with a mixture of indium and gallium. These metallic alloys are protected by an elastic sheath that maintains the liquid nature of the compounds inside. Because of this, the wires are both more flexible and capable of stretching. 

The most intriguing aspect of the project is the oxidation process that takes place if the wire is cut. A “skin,” the team stated in the release, forms around the damaged part of the wire to prevent the alloys from leaking out. Maintenance is as simple as placing the two ends back together as the molecular structure of the wire sheath re-connects itself.

Dr. Michael Dickey, an assistant professor at the university who helped write a study focusing on the new wiring, said that the sky is the limit in terms of how the new design could be used. Additionally, he stated that existing circuits could be reconfigured with the product relatively easily, suggesting that older homes could greatly benefit from this technology.

“Because we’re using liquid metal, these wires have excellent conductive properties,” Dickey said. “And because the wires are also elastic and self-healing, they have a lot of potential for use in technologies that could be exposed to high-stress environments.”

While it might be some time before we see the next generation of wires at the local hardware store, this useful innovation is sure to be utilized in households around the country in the near future. 

Ford’s Latest Fusion Energi Offers Suite Of Power-Saving Technologies

The U.S. plug-in hybrid automobile market just received a game-changer right off the assembly line in the form of the 2013 Ford Fusion Energi. This latest entrant into the competition for the top American green car features a wide variety of technologies that make it both a pleasurable and cost-effective experience, thanks to innovations by the generations-old automaker.

Since being formally released, the car has scooped up several accolades which are sure to make it attractive to potential buyers. According to Ford, the new Fusion model received the prize for Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal, a major industry news source. Additionally, a seal of approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established that the new car is capable of up to 108 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) in an urban environment, or 92 MPGe on the highway. In its press release, the automaker lauded the fact that its certification meant that it is 5 MPGe more efficient than this year’s Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle.

“The Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid is the exclamation point for Ford’s transformed lineup of fuel-efficiency leaders that now beats Toyota across the board,” Raj Nair, group vice president of global production for Ford, said in the release.

Another interesting feature is the SYNC with MyFord Touch technology, which allows drivers to perform a wide variety of functions with just their voices, including calling people with their mobile phones, adjusting the temperature and resetting the GPS map system.

If you’re in the market for a new green car, you might want take this year’s Focus Energi for a test drive. Its multi-faceted approach to reducing energy consumption while improving on previous developments in this series makes it a serious car for any American driver.

New Zealand-Based Scientists Create Water-Saving Shower

A novel shower design could significantly reduce the amount of water used during bathing, according to green tech source Treehugger. The Oxijet nozzel was developed by New Zealand-based design firm Felton in collaboration with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), a global innovation organization. 

The CSIRO issued a press release on January 23 announcing the development that stated the secret behind the invention: air is everything. The Oxijet is what is known as an aerated showerhead, which fills the stream of water with pockets of air and reduces liquid consumption by up to 50 percent during operation.

Dr. Jie Wu, a scientist who works for the global association, remarked in the statement that most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference if they used an Oxijet unknowingly. 

“Traditional flow restrictors reduce flow and pressure, whereas Oxijet uses the flow energy to draw air into the water stream, making the water droplets hollow,” Dr Wu said. “This expands the volume of the shower stream, meaning you can save the same amount of water, while still enjoying your shower.”

A hotel in Wollongong, New Zealand, is the primary testing site for the new technology, after being tested in a single suitelast year. Walter Immos, who runs the 200-room establishment, told the source that he uses over 10 million liters of water per year and that the design will reap him significant energy savings.

While the Oxijet may seem like it wouldn’t have much of an impact on a large scale, the reality is that small-reaching initiatives like this are ways that green technology can slowly but surely proliferate communities around the world. Home improvement stores sell similar products, so it might be worthwhile to check out some of these appliances to see if they’re the right fit for your home.

World Wildlife Fund Report Finds Earth’s Energy Needs Could Be Met By Solar Power

A new report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the global nonprofit advocacy organization, has made a significant proposal: run the entire planet’s infrastructure on solar energy.

According to the study, which was formally published as part of the World Future Energy Summit held last week in Abu Dhabi, the economic roadblocks that would complicate such a plan are insignificant compared to the obvious payoffs. Only a fraction of 1 percent of the Earth’s surface would need to be installed with photovolatic (PV) solar panels to generate 100 percent of the forecasted demand for electricity by the year 2050.

The WWF report was conducted thanks to the combined efforts of a number of green-focused groups, including panel manufacturer First Solar and youth advocacy association Fresh Generation. The collaboration focused on developing economies as a good place to start the initiative, and envisioned large-scale solar projects popping up in Indonesia, Southeast Asia and Africa. 

Speaking about the project, WWF officials lauded the publication as a big step forward toward a worldwide comprehensive effort to replace climate-threatening fossil fuel plants with eco-friendly solar arrays. 

“As climate change increasingly threatens people and the natural world, it is more important than ever to work for the rapid and wide-scale adoption of well sited, responsibly operated renewable energy power facilities. Environmental protection and renewable energy can and are developing in parallel,” Samantha Smith, leader of the WWF’s Global Climate & Energy Initiative, said in a press release.

With the U.S. government doubling down on its efforts to support the domestic solar power industry and weekly announcements of new facilities, it’s quite possible that the next decades could see a big influx of renewable energy in American communities. Stay with the LifeIsGreen.com blog for more updates about these and other important developments.

GE engineers create novel water purification system

In a development that could bring fresh drinking water to millions of impoverished people around the world, a pair of General Electric (GE) engineers have created a technological system that uses simple processes to produce clean water.

According to Treehugger, a green industry news source, Steve Froelicher and Sam DuPlessis of GE led a team of scientists and volunteers in an effort that ultimately resulted in the new device. It utilizes salt and electricity to restrict the development of harmful bacteria, which the source reported is a major cause of disease in many low-income nations across the globe.

The GE group collaborated with WaterStep, a nonprofit advocacy group that operates in developing economies such as Haiti and Pakistan. In those countries, impoverished communities are at risk of life-threatening waterborne diseases such as dysentery and cholera.

The device, which is reportedly still being tested by the team, utilizes a process called chlorination to cleanse the water. Chlorine is introduced into a supply of contaminated water and, over a period of several hours, oxidises and eliminates any organisms.

One of the most interesting aspects of the initiative is the fact that Froelicher and DuPlessis approached the project even though they had much to learn about water purification. GE published a press release on the topic, with one of the engineers stating that the innovation was truly a from-the-ground-up project.

“We had to learn many details that were not part of our jobs,” Froelicher was quoted as saying. “I’m not a chemical engineer and neither is Sam. Like any typical new product development, we had to go back to school to understand what we were trying to do to make an excellent device.”

According to GE, the next phases of the project involve creating a more power-conserving device, in the hopes that renewable energy could one day operate this unique technology. With luck, the new water purifier will one day be in use all around the globe to bring fresh water to millions of families who need it the most.

2013 Consumer Electronics Show brings green tech into the limelight

The Consumer Electronics Show is an annual event designed to showcase must-have innovations for the upcoming year. The 2013 festivities were no exception, but this year participants noted a big increase in the number of sustainable living and renewable energy products available for view. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s EnergySaver blog, there were a wide variety of gizmos and gadgets on display that are sure to make the next twelve months an exciting shopping time for everyday Americans.

In a January 18 post, the government-sponsored source looked at a number of fascinating developments and ideas that could shape the way Americans use energy both at home and in the workforce. For example, the GreenZero Wall Charger from consumer tech maker Brackerton can be used to recharge the battery on your smart phone until it’s full- after that, the plug-in device restricts the flow of electricity. Another product, the Wireless Solar Keyboard, utilizes tiny photovoltaic (PV) conductors to build up energy right through your office window.

“Innovation abounded at the 2013 CES, and executives from every major industry that touches technology were here this week,” Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association, which hosts the yearly tech gathering, said in a press release. “From amazing new products, to CEA’s new book Ninja Innovation, to our new publication – It Is Innovation (i3), innovation prevailed across 37 football fields of technology at the 2013 International CES. Our event is the biggest mobile show to kickoff the year and showcase our new mobile future.”

You should keep an eye out over the coming year for these and other unique designs and inventions. With luck, your local retail store will feature these and many other products that can help you support a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle.

2013 Detroit Auto Show premieres several new green vehicles

Electric vehicles (EVs) were the toast of American car engineering, as the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, kicked off this week with a stunning display of new EVsand hybrids. According to various news sources, including regional outlets Midwest Energy News and Detroit’s WLNS, there were a variety of autos featuring the latest in energy efficiency and eco-friendly technology.

General Motors, which in recent months has suffered bad press due to battery issues in its Chevy Volt line of cars, had a number of interesting displays that included a pick-up truck equipped with a rechargeable electric engine,a collaboration with VIA Motors. The latter company is becoming an increasingly bigger name in the EV market.

Japanese auto manufacturer Nissan scored a victory during the event, as its Resonance crossover concept car received the Best Concept Vehicle award. This unique design features a hybrid drive train with a novel “two-clutch” system that allows for great fuel economy and more efficient engine management, according to a press release from the company.

Officials from some of the biggest American car makers told reporters during the event that the next generation of cars had to embrace the idea of energy efficiency in order to succeed in a diverse, global marketplace. Additionally, efforts from the U.S. government to spur greater gas economy – including highway miles-per-gallon mandates – helped push those initiatives from the drawing board to the showroom.

Yet some industry experts acknowledged that there are certain challenges restricting the green car market from expanding more quickly.

“I think what’s clear is the market’s real,” Lauren Flanagan, the head of an auto manufacturing investment group, told WLNS in an interview “It’s still an emerging market. It’s not big. It’s not going to be mainstream for some time until the cost of battery technology comes down and range is greater. The cost and the range anxiety are probably the two big obstacles to widespread adoption.”

With some of the biggest names in the automobile sector making pushes for more eco-friendly vehicles, those considering buying a new car might want to check out some of 2013’s upcoming models.

U.S. Army unveils its largest photovoltaic solar project in New Mexico

In past articles, we’ve looked at ways in which the U.S. military is utilizing green technology and renewable energy resources to generate clean electricity. On January 16, the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center announced that it had collaborated with contractor Siemens Government Technologies, Inc. to create the largest solar panel array at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

This installation, which will provide significant yearly savings to this branch of the armed forces, is the largest of its kind currently in operation by the U.S. military. Capable of producing 10 million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, the setup is expected to save the the base up to $930,000 in annual operating costs. Additionally, it will enable the U.S. Army to offset approximately 7,400 tons of carbon dioxide during the same period.

What makes the White Sands array so unique is that it employs a ground-mounted tracking system. This network of sensors automatically adjusts the position of the solar panels so that they continue to absorb sunlight efficiently throughout the day. According to a press release from the Army, this technology is estimated to boost productivity by 30 percent compared to traditional solar arrangements.

“This is an exciting project for the U.S. Army,” White Sands Garrison Commander Colonel Leo Pullar was quoted as saying in a statement. “A sunny location like New Mexico provides an ideal site for solar power. This project illustrates the U.S. Army’s commitment to going green, our focus on operating on net zero energy, and doing what we can to help protect the environment.”

With construction completed in December 2012, the $16.8 million solar array is already fully operational and providing clean energy to the military installation. Readers should stick with LifeIsGreen.com for more updates and news on the spread of green power sources in the United States.