Solar-powered cooker nabs climate prize

Prize for ‘Sun in the box’ cooker

At the heart of the idea is a simple black painted box…

A cheap solar cooker has won first prize in a contest for green ideas.

The Kyoto Box is made from cardboard and can be used for sterilising water or boiling or baking food.

The Kenyan-based inventor hopes it can make solar cooking widespread in the developing world, supplanting the use of wood which is driving deforestation.

Other finalists in the $75,000 (£51,000) competition included a device for streamlining lorries, and a ceiling tile that cools hot rooms.

Organised by Forum for the Future, the sustainable development charity founded by Jonathan Porritt, the competition aims to support concepts that have “moved off the drawing board and demonstrated their feasibility” for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but have not gained corporate backing.

With as many people as there are in the developing world today, they can’t just cook using trees – they’ll finish off all the trees
Jon Bohmer, Kyoto Energy

“The Kyoto Box has the potential to transform millions of lives and is a model of scalable, sustainable innovation,” said Peter Madden, the forum’s chief executive.

It is made from two cardboard boxes, which use reflective foil and black paint to maximise absorption of solar energy.

Covering the cooking pot with a transparent cover retains heat and water, and temperatures inside the pot can reach at least 80C.

As many as two billion people in the world use firewood as their primary fuel.

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Environment: Solar plant yields water and crops from the desert

· Green energy glasshouses may transform arid areas
· Fresh water will end need to dig wells, say architects


The Sahara forest project will use seawater and solar power to grow food in greenhouses across the desert. Photograph: Exploration Architecture

Vast greenhouses that use sea water for crop cultivation could be combined with solar power plants to provide food, fresh water and clean energy in deserts, under an ambitious proposal from a team of architects and engineers.

The Sahara Forest Project, which is already running demonstration plants in Tenerife, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, envisages huge greenhouses with concentrated solar power (CSP), a technology that uses mirrors to focus the sun’s rays, creating steam to drive turbines to generate electricity.

The installations would turn deserts into lush patches of vegetation, according to its designers, and do away with the need to dig wells for fresh water, an activity that has depleted aquifers across the world.

Read moreEnvironment: Solar plant yields water and crops from the desert

Solar Cell Sets World Efficiency Record

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have set a world record in solar cell efficiency with a photovoltaic device that converts 40.8 percent of the light that hits it into electricity. This is the highest confirmed efficiency of any photovoltaic device to date.

Read moreSolar Cell Sets World Efficiency Record

How to Make a Solar Power Generator for Less Than $300

Using parts easily available from your local stores, you can make a small solar power generator for $250 to $300. Great for power failures and life outside the power grid. Power your computer, modem, vcr, tv, cameras, lights, or DC appliances anywhere you go. Use in cabins, boats, tents, archaeological digs, or while travelling throughout the third world. Have one in the office store room in case of power failures in your highrise. I keep mine in my bedroom where it powers my cd player, turntable, lights, modem, laptop, and (ahem) a back massager. I run a line out the window to an 8″ x 24″ panel on the roof.

Read moreHow to Make a Solar Power Generator for Less Than $300

MIT group makes low-cost dish to tap solar energy

Photo

Spencer Ahrens, a 23-year-old mechanical engineer, was on MIT’s campus last week, holding a wooden plank, surrounded by onlookers.

Slowly, he turned that wooden plank before a series of mirrors that had been placed inside an aluminum frame, until the wood caught fire.

That was quite a moment, recalled Matthew Ritter, one of the onlookers.

“Let’s just say it was a small combustion for wood materials, but a giant explosion of solar energy,” he said.

Ahrens, Ritter and the other people who helped create the solar-powered dish that harnessed the sunlight that eventually burned the wood say they’ve just created the world’s most cost-efficient solar power system.

They also say these dishes may revolutionize global energy production.

“You can stick these things wherever there is a piece of sunlight, and power a home or an industrial plant,” said Ahrens, who just received his master’s degree from MIT.

Since January, he’s been working with Ritter, an Olin College student; Micah Sze, a recent graduate of MIT’s Sloan School of Management; University of California-Berkeley graduate and Broad Institute engineer Eva Markiewicz and MIT materials science student Anna Bershteyn.

Together, they built a 12-foot wide solar panel by piecing together lightweight aluminum tubes to make the frame. Inside, they arranged a series of mirrors and then attached a water-filled coil at the bottom of the frame.

When the frame is properly positioned, the mirrors will direct concentrated sunlight toward the coil.

As the water heats up, it is converted to steam, and that steam, the creators say, can be used to generate electricity to heat and cool homes and power machines.

They now say its design is so simple, it can be built and placed just about anywhere the sun shines.

“We made it by hand and transported the parts by car or by bike,” Ritter said.

The crew spent about $5,000 to build the dish, and according to MIT Sloan School of Management lecturer David Pelly, it is the cheapest way he’s seen to harness that much sun power.

“I’ve looked for years at a variety of solar approaches, and this is the cheapest I’ve seen,” he said.

Ahrens, Ritter and the others are now packing up and moving to California, where they plan to mass-produce the dishes, probably for less than it cost to build the first one.

Their new company is called RawSolar, and Ahrens said its possibilities are endless.

“The energy crisis affects so much of what we do,” Ahrens said. “It’s driving food prices and water problems and airline fares, and we are trying to work through these things in an environmentally and economically sustainable way.”

After all, he said, “Sunlight is free.”

Source: Boston Herald

The Future Is Now? Pretty Soon, at Least

Before we get to Ray Kurzweil’s plan for upgrading the “suboptimal software” in your brain, let me pass on some of the cheery news he brought to the World Science Festival last week in New York.

Do you have trouble sticking to a diet? Have patience. Within 10 years, Dr. Kurzweil explained, there will be a drug that lets you eat whatever you want without gaining weight.

Worried about greenhouse gas emissions? Have faith. Solar power may look terribly uneconomical at the moment, but with the exponential progress being made in nanoengineering, Dr. Kurzweil calculates that it’ll be cost-competitive with fossil fuels in just five years, and that within 20 years all our energy will come from clean sources.

Are you depressed by the prospect of dying? Well, if you can hang on another 15 years, your life expectancy will keep rising every year faster than you’re aging. And then, before the century is even half over, you can be around for the Singularity, that revolutionary transition when humans and/or machines start evolving into immortal beings with ever-improving software.

At least that’s Dr. Kurzweil’s calculation. It may sound too good to be true, but even his critics acknowledge he’s not your ordinary sci-fi fantasist. He is a futurist with a track record and enough credibility for the National Academy of Engineering to publish his sunny forecast for solar energy.

He makes his predictions using what he calls the Law of Accelerating Returns, a concept he illustrated at the festival with a history of his own inventions for the blind. In 1976, when he pioneered a device that could scan books and read them aloud, it was the size of a washing machine.

Two decades ago he predicted that “early in the 21st century” blind people would be able to read anything anywhere using a handheld device. In 2002 he narrowed the arrival date to 2008. On Thursday night at the festival, he pulled out a new gadget the size of a cellphone, and when he pointed it at the brochure for the science festival, it had no trouble reading the text aloud.

This invention, Dr. Kurzweil said, was no harder to anticipate than some of the predictions he made in the late 1980s, like the explosive growth of the Internet in the 1990s and a computer chess champion by 1998. (He was off by a year – Deep Blue’s chess victory came in 1997.)

Read moreThe Future Is Now? Pretty Soon, at Least