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Researchers Develop Wearable Device Powered Entirely by Body Heat

Imagine never having to charge your smart watch again.

Researchers at North Carolina State University have created a wearable device that produces electricity from body heat using a flexible thermoelectric generator. This breakthrough technology could not only make wearable devices more convenient, but save on the energy required to charge them.

Why Create a Self-Powered Wearable Device?

If you don’t already own a piece of wearable technology, you’ve probably shaken hands with someone who does. Smart watches and fitness trackers are catching up to smart phones as a must-have technology. But these nifty devices aren’t without disadvantages, like the need to charge them at least a few times a week.

With thermoelectric generator technology, your Fitbit or Apple Watch could run continuously without needing to be plugged in. Such convenience has the potential to further integrate this technology into our daily lives.

But it’s not all about fun toys like smart watches and fitness trackers. The team at North Carolina University has its eyes on the market for medical devices, like heart monitors and environmental sensors. Thermoelectric generators would eliminate the need to remove these devices to charge them, making the technology safer and more reliable for patients.

Advances in Thermoelectric Generator Technology

Last year, North Carolina University produced its first experimental prototype for a wearable thermoelectric generator. It was a small, body-conforming patch that generated the most heat when worn on the upper arm.

Though it was lightweight, the patch was rigid and uncomfortable to wear. That’s why researchers began working on a flexible device instead.

“We wanted to design a flexible thermoelectric harvester that does not compromise on the material quality of rigid devices yet provides similar or better efficiency,” said Mehmet Ozturk, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the university. “Using rigid devices is not the best option when you consider a number of different factors.”

The new design uses a non-toxic metal alloy called EGaln to connect the thermoelectric elements in the device. The allow has lower resistance and allows for greater power generation. It also makes the device “self-healing”, as Professor Ozturk explains.

“Using liquid metal also adds a self-healing function: If a connection is broken, the liquid metal will reconnect to make the device work efficiently again. Rigid devices are not able to heal themselves.”

As wearable devices grow in popularity, we will continue to consume more and more energy charging them. Having a built-in body heat generator could substantially reduce the carbon footprint of these devices.

Why Algae Could One Day Replace Fossil Fuels

algal biofuels

Companies and governments around the world are investing in algal biofuels as a renewable energy source.

It’s slimy. It’s green. And one day, it could eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels.

Since 2009, researchers from Synthetic Genomes, Inc. and ExxonMobile have collaborated in a quest to convert algae into a sustainable, commercially-viable biofuels. Now, the joint venture has announced a breakthrough that allows algae to produce two times as much lipid oil — the key ingredient that could one day replace fossil fuels.

It’s still a proof of concept, but researcher Imad Ajjawi calls it, “a significant milestone in establishing the foundation for a path that leads to eventual commercialization of algal biofuels.”

What Are Algal Biofuels?

Algae is a family of plant-like organisms that comes in all shapes, sizes, and colours. When you think of algae, you’re probably picturing the slippery stuff that collects on river rocks. But the algae family also includes funguses, mosses, and giant, leafy kelp. It comes in shades of red, green, brown, and even purple.

It doesn’t take much to take algae grow. Most species feed on carbon dioxide and release oxygen via photosynthesis. All it takes is water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide. Unlike the fuels we’re trying to replace, these resources are in all abundance here on planet earth.

About half of algae is imposed of something called lipid oil. Scientists have been working since the 1970s to use algae-produced lipid oil as a fuel alternative. Previously, it was difficult to get enough lipid oil out of the algae to make it a commercially viable venture.

That’s where this new breakthrough comes in. Together, Synthetic Genomes, Inc. and ExxonMobile have used gene editing technology to genetically modify strains of algae to produce twice as much lipid oil as they do in the wild. Most importantly, the change doesn’t impact the algae’s growth in any other way, giving it potential to become a wide-scale biofuel source.

The Advantages of Algal Biofuels

Today, more than 20 countries, including the United States and China, are investing in algal biofuel research. Leading airlines and aviation companies are also optimistic about its potential for a cleaner, greener fuel.

Science writer Julian Cribb predicts that algal biofuels could become a $50 billion industry in the future. “Fossil oil comes from algae that died millions of years ago. Today it makes far better sense to grow the oil fresh, using living water plants,” he writes.

The advantages of algae are numerous. To start, it grows naturally in just about every climate around the world. Sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide are abundant and (except for water in some cases) free. In the best conditions, algae can grow almost limitlessly.

With fossil fuels being depleted worldwide, we know we can’t rely on a petro-based fuel products forever. Algae-derived biofuel is a promising alternative green energy source.

Which Big Companies Set Clean Energy Targets?

clean energy targets

More companies are committing to fight climate change and set targets for clean energy.

Sustainability isn’t a fringe issue anymore.

Thanks to heightened awareness and public education efforts, more and more people recognize the importance of reducing carbon emissions and shifting to clean energy sources. Climate change deniers are in the minority.

Luckily, big companies are catching on when it comes to climate change.

According to Fast Company, Apple, Bank of America, Facebook, Google, and Walmart are among the major corporations that have committed to moving to 100% renewable power. Hundreds of others have adopted internationally-agreed clean energy targets to reducing greenhouse gasses. Half of the 2016 Fortune 500 companies have set targets to reduce greenhouse gases, increase energy efficiency, or make greater use of renewable energy sources.

In total, 72% of consumer-facing companies have set targets for clean energy. Other industries are also doing well, with 60% of real estate and 57% of IT companies setting at least one target.

Lance Pierce, president of CDP North America (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), says public pressure is a factor in this change. “There is a lot of awareness among consumers and a lot of demand, and companies are responsive to that,” he told Fast Company.

For these companies, fighting climate change is becoming a vital part of their corporate responsibility.

But not all industries are on board. Energy companies are notably lagging when it comes to setting targets. In fact, the number of companies with one or more energy target has fallen from 25% three years ago to a dismal 11% today.

Pierce says many energy companies claim there needs to be a “level playing field”, such as a national or international climate agreement, that holds all energy companies to the same standard. In other words, they’re waiting for the government to step in and force their hand before they change how they do business.

Unfortunately, with the current administration, fighting climate change is not a priority.

Still, this report is a bright spot over overall. While the Trump Administration is working to undo much of its predecessor’s clean energy and climate regulations, American corporations are moving in the opposite direction.

The End of the Energy Star Program

How do you find eco-friendly appliances?  Easy: just look for the blue and white Energy Star sticker.

But look fast, because the Energy Star program could come to an end in President Trump’s upcoming budget.

If you’ve ever shopped for a new appliance, you’re probably familiar with Energy Star. But you may not have realized that Energy Star is actually a program under the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Energy Star started back in the year 1992. It was originally launched to rate the efficiency of computer monitors (if you’re using one now, take glance at the bottom-right corner — you’ll probably find a sticker). Since then, the program has expanded to cover everything from dishwashers to electronics and even entire homes.

The EPA’s Energy Star standards are completely voluntary. So why do manufacturers choose to comply with the standards? It’s because they want to use the Energy Star label and market the product as Energy Star-approved. Energy Star products catch the eyes of eco-friendly consumers, leading to higher sales and bigger earnings. In short, Energy Star makes sustainability good for business.

This is an example of what’s called voluntary regulation — encouraging businesses to adopt sustainable practices beyond the regulatory requirements.

Now, Energy Star is one of 50 EPA programs that would be cut under President Trump’s budget.

Energy Star costs the United States government $50 million each year. In turn, it saves American consumers and businesses $34 billion and prevents more than $300 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Some commentators speculate that the latter benefit is exactly the reason Trump wants Energy Star gone. They point to other proposed budget cuts, like the Clean Power Plan and fuel economy standards on cars, which are also meant to reduce emissions and combat climate change. The President expressed skepticism of climate change during the 2016 campaign.

Energy Star is widely regarded as a success. It has been a win-win for businesses, consumers, and of course the environment for 25 years. For now, we can only hope this energy efficiency program survives the upcoming budget.

World’s First Floating Wind Farm

Statoil’s floating wind farm should be up and running by the end of 2017

 

What has three blades and floats?

A Norweigian company called Statoil is set to build the first floating wind warm in the world.  If the construction goes according to schedule, the revolutionary Hywind Pilot Park should be up and running off the coast of Scotland by the end of 2017.

How Will Floating Wind Turbines Work?

Statoil has been working on floating turbine technology for years. It built its first prototype in Norway in 2009. Following successful tests, it made plans to grow the tech into a full-scale commercial wind farm. Scotland leased the ocean land to Statoil in 2016.

The Scotland project will consist of five six-megawatt wind turbines. The turbines will be tethered together, sharing infrastructure like power cables and transmission facilities. Once its up and running, the project should power about 56,000 Scottish homes each year.

Why Offshore Wind is the Way of the Future

Offshore wind energy is one of the fastest growing areas of renewable energy. It is particularly big in the UK, where shallow shorelines and powerful coastal winds make for perfect conditions for offshore turbines. Recently, New York State also announced plans to auction 33,000 hectares of ocean land for an offshore wind project.

The benefits of offshore wind turbines are many. Offshore turbines are more than double the size of their landlocked cousins. With nothing around to slow them down, sea winds are far stronger and more consistent than on-shore winds, so harnessing their power can generate even more energy. Offshore turbines also solve the NIMBY problem that plagues wind advocates.

However, putting up a wind turbine in the ocean is no simple task. The turbines are huge, and bolting one to the seafloor is no easy task. It’s costly and time-consuming. Since seafloor mounted wind turbines can only go as deep as 260 feet, they aren’t suitable everywhere.

Floating wind farms would solve many of the challenges that come with traditional offshore wind farms.

The floating wind turbines can be installed in waters up to 1,000 feet deep – more than double that of regular offshore turbines. This means they can be used in areas surrounded by deeper ocean waters, like much of Japan and the eastern United States. This could help countries meet their renewable energy goals.

Rather than anchoring the turbines to the ocean floor, Statoil will tether them together to an anchor and stabilize them with floating steel tubes. Since the eliminates the need to build a large foundation, floating wind turbines will likely be easier and more economical to install.

“Solar Glitter” Can Make Nearly Anything Solar-Powered

These tiny solar panels are lightweight, flexible, and virtually unbreakable.

Countries all over the world are embracing solar power as a clean, renewable energy source. But despite its awesome potential, the traditional solar panel has its flaws. Most solar panels are big, heavy, and easily breakable, which limits where they can be used.

Solar glitter could be the solution.

Murat Okadan, CEO of mPower Technology, has developed a new kind of solar cell called Dragon SCALEs – aka solar glitter.

“Our technology makes it virtually unbreakable while keeping all the benefits of high efficiency, high reliability silicon PV,” Okadon explains. “It allows us to integrate PV in ways that weren’t possible before, such as in flexible materials, and deploy it faster in lighter-weight, larger-area modules.”

Made from high-efficiency silicon, these tiny solar cells can be printed onto just about any surface like an ink. The cells are lightweight, portable, and extremely flexible. This means they can stick to objects of all shapes and sizes, and come out of harsh conditions without a scratch. They’ll bend, but not break.

“By making our cells small and then interconnecting them we’re able to make them almost unbreakable,” says Okadon.

Try flexing a traditional solar panel. You can’t – it’ll simply shatter under the pressure.

If solar glitter works as Okadon describes, the applications are nearly limitless. To start, who wouldn’t want a personal solar panel to charge their devices on-the-go? But the potential reaches far beyond consumer use.

Drones could use the cells to recharge its batteries literally on the fly. Solar glitter could lighten the load on star-bound satellites. Not only could it be used on wearable electronics like smart watches, but solar glitter could be integrated into clothing and accessories.

Okadon’s invention could have old-school applications as well. Since solar glitter is lighter and easier to transport than traditional solar panels, it could also be used on rooftop and large-scale solar systems on buildings.

Solar power is on the rise, with large-scale operations taking place in countries across the globe. Solar glitter could take that progress to the next level.

How the UK Reduced Carbon Emissions to the Lowest Levels in 100 Years

The collapse of the coal industry is a driving factor.

For the first time in history, the carbon emissions in the United Kingdom are as low as they have been in 1894 – the year the first car went into mass production.

How did the country accomplish this incredible feat? The change didn’t happen overnight. Rather, it was the result of several intertwining factors that, together, produced the right conditions for widespread reduction in carbon emissions.

Collapse of Coal

Ten years ago, the coal industry was responsible for a staggering 137 million tons of carbon emissions in the U.K. Today, that number has dropped to 37 million.

This is in large part due to the gradual decline of the coal industry that began decades ago. However, the numbers shifted sharply in 2016, with a 52% drop in demand for coal from the previous year.

Less coal means less carbon emissions.

Carbon Tax

In 2013, the U.K. became the first member of the European Union to institute a carbon tax. This was despite fierce lobbying from energy companies, who claimed the tax would kick up energy bills and reduce the U.K. competitiveness on the global market.

Regardless, the carbon tax made polluting fossil fuels more expensive to produce, encouraging growth and investment in renewable energy sources.

Of course, with the changing government and the impact of Brexit, many wonder if the carbon tax is long for this world.

Rise in Renewable Energy

2016 was the first year that wind farms in the U.K. generated more electricity than coal. Today, 24.6% of its energy comes from renewable energy sources. Wind and solar farms are springing up in fields across the U.K., following a global trend towards investment in renewable energy sources.

If the country stays the course, the U.K. is set to meet its target of being 15% renewable by 2021.

 

How Green is Your City? Treepedia Has An Answer

Toronto as seen on Treepedia.

Researchers from MIT Senseable Labs have partnered with the World Economic Forum to bring us Treepedia, an interactive map of green space in cities around the world.

The Treepedia project aims to catalog and compare tree density in world-class cities like New York and Boston. Since its launch in 2016, Treepedia has grown to include 13 major cities around the world, including Toronto and Vancouver.

Why Count Trees?

Because trees are awesome, and the World Economic Forum wants us to recognize it.

Not only are trees a welcome respite from the towers of glass and concrete lining our streets, they provide immeasurable health benefits and contribute to the growth of our cities. Trees shade us from the sun and block shortwave radiation to mitigate extreme temperatures. They naturally dampen the noise from traffic and congestion. Their absorbent roots help stem the tide of floods in severe rain and storm surges. And, of course, trees play an essential role in fighting air pollution.

By measuring and ranking tree density, the researchers hope cities will understand how far they’ve gone in greening their streets – and how much work is to be done.

As this image shows, Treepedia pegs Toronto at 19% green. Meanwhile, Vancouver ranks at 25%. So what does that mean?

The Green View Index

TreepediaRather than put on their hiking books and set out to count each individual tree, the researchers developed a method to measure tree density using Google Street View. They then used the data to develop the “Green View Index”, which can be applied to any city in any country across the globe.

See for yourself how your city ranks on Treepedia’s index.

And just for the record – while Vancouver (25%) trumps Toronto (19%) on the Green View Index, Toronto beats New York (13%) by a long shot.

Is Solar Power The World’s Cheapest Energy?

For many years, the biggest cost of solar power was purchasing the technology to capture the sun’s energy.  It was a hard sell because it took a long time for corporations or individuals to recoup those costs and start benefitting from this clean energy.  A transformation is happening in global energy markets

Now, Bloomberg notes, a transformation is happening in global energy markets and Solar power, for the first time is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity.

In the past, the Middle East, for example, has had record-cheap solar costs. But now unsubsidized solar is beginning to outcompete coal and natural gas on a larger scale, and notably, new solar projects in emerging markets are costing less to build than wind projects.

The chart below shows the average cost of new wind and solar from 58 emerging-market economies.  While solar was bound to fall below wind eventually, given its steeper price declines, few predicted it would happen this soon.

decreasing-solar-prices

As the world hits a turning point, more countries are adding more capacity for clean energy each year than for coal and natural gas combined.

Last year the Top 10 countries leading the world in solar energy were ranked.

10. South Korea: 2,398 Megawatts
9. Belgium: 3,156 Megawatts
8. Australia: 4,130 Megawatts
7. Spain: 5,376 Megawatts
6. France: 5,678 Megawatts
5. United States: 18,317 Megawatts
4. Italy: 18,622 Megawatts
3. Japan: 23,409 Megawatts
2. China: 28,330 Megawatts
1. Germany: 38,250 Megawatts

Canada was nowhere to be seen on the list so clearly, we have work to do to improve our environmental footprint.

Renewable Energy And Sustainability Sources

We might know the basics of renewable energy sources and the sustainability of each resource.  However, society doesn’t often know the hard facts of renewable resources and their importance to our generation.

wind

Our society relies so much on coal, oil, and gases for energy.  Some of these are non-renewable so all it’s doing to our world is generating more waste.  Eventually, it’s extremely damaging to our environment and also becoming more and more expensive.  However, we can do much to change not only our environment, but also the world we live in.  Instead of using fossil fuels, we can switch to renewable energy resources like wind and solar – these resources will also never run out and be replenished all the time.

As you might be able to tell, renewable energy sources come mainly from the Sun.  Sunlight provides solar energy which turns into heating and lighting.  Solar power gives us electricity and generates hot water for both commercial and industrial uses.  The Sun also provides wind.  Wind energy causes water to evaporate, thus turning it into rain.  As the water rains down, we are able to generate hydroelectric power.

Other types of renewable energy may come from the Earth.  Geothermal goes deep down into the Earth to get our planet’s internal heating.  The ocean also provides an energy source as per tidal energy.  The ocean’s waves, which are driven by winds, are what causes tidal energy.

As you can see, the sustainability of renewable resources is constant.  It’s much more environmentally friendly and also better for us humans.  Instead of producing waste, we should turn our actions into producing more efficient ways of getting renewable resources.  This in turn helps our planet and will decrease the amount of waste we put out.