By Daniel de la Calle
This weekend I wanted to take a look at inventions, some that look like science fiction but are in fact here with us now, other technologies that still need years or decades in development to be functional but that look promising, ingenious, and cheap simple ideas that are changing the lives of people around the world right now.
Our grandparents were forced to be thrifty, to recycle out of scarcity and high costs. During the last hundred and some years we had the tremendous luck of living during the age of oil, industrial production and microchips. Comfort, luxury and leisure time reached the majority of the population in richer countries and energy and manufacture were cheaper than ever. But as we start to understand the environmental impact of our modern lifestyle and the finiteness of natural resources modern day inventors, engineers and businesspeople are looking at life, at the world we have created, in a more critical and ingenious way, not taking certain things for granted. This is so exciting, probably the most hopeful news in these times of not many optimistic prospects. Like a beginner athlete, the room for improvement is so vast that we should expect huge leaps forward in every area where energy use and product reuse comes into play.
Ok, without further ado, here are some fun videos to lighten up the weekend:
»Spray on solar cell technology could turn every window around the world into a solar panel. In fact, every painted surface could capture energy, and if the technology was sensitive to infrared light, even overcast days would produce power:
»Way further out there: what if all our roadways were a source of energy.
»Something a bit less expensive than resurfacing all existing roads with solar panels: The Isang Litrong Liwanag, or “liter of light”, or “bottle bulb”. Invented by a mechanic in the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Thousands are being installed Philippine roofs and around the globe. So simple and effective: water, a touch of bleach, an empty plastic bottle… and a catchy song.
»The Prius, the Volt, now the Nissan Leaf, maybe delivered in the “City of St. Petersburg“, the new cargo ship with a semispherical prow that cuts wind resistance and is expected to save 800 tons of fuel consumption per year (I just read that each the largest cargo ships emit the same air pollution as 50 million cars!).
»A Danish hotel offers a free meal to any guest that produces 10 watt hours on their electricity generating bicycles. A number of times I went to spinning classes and felt like an extra in some 1920s futuristic film about enslaved societies, sweating buckets in semi darkness, surrounded by maddening music. The energy there was just turning into heat, but why not tap into it? If nothing else, to make us all more aware of how much you need to perspire to maintain 400 watts of energy with our legs. At the Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers you can earn a $40 meal in roughly 15 minutes because they are very nice and pay top dollar for each little watt, but if you wanted to save those same $40 from your next electricity bill you would find yourself pedaling nonstop for a year.
»Continuing with bicycles and for pure absurd weekend fun: a way to expand the use of your power drills at home:
To wrap these two last videos up with some serious information, what Wikipedia says about energy efficiency on one of the greatest inventions of humankind:
“The bicycle is extraordinarily efficient in both biological and mechanical terms. The bicycle is the most efficient human-powered means of transportation in terms of energy a person must expend to travel a given distance. From a mechanical viewpoint, up to 99% of the energy delivered by the rider into the pedals is transmitted to the wheels, although the use of gearing mechanisms may reduce this by 10–15%. In terms of the ratio of cargo weight a bicycle can carry to total weight, it is also an efficient means of cargo transportation.
A human traveling on a bicycle at low to medium speeds of around 10–15 mph (15–25 km/h) uses only the energy required to walk. Air drag, which is proportional to the square of speed, requires dramatically higher power outputs as speeds increase. If the rider is sitting upright, the rider’s body creates about 75% of the total drag of the bicycle/rider combination. Drag can be reduced by seating the rider in a more aerodynamically streamlined position. Drag can also be reduced by covering the bicycle with an aerodynamic fairing.
In addition, the carbon dioxide generated in the production and transportation of the food required by the bicyclist, per mile traveled, is less than 1/10 that generated by energy efficient cars.
When the average speed of a US car commute is expanded to include the time required to deal with all associated costs of driving, cycling is 2.7 times faster, assuming an average cycling commute speed of 10 mph (15 km/h), according to calculations done by Ivan Illich in the 1970s.”