Researchers at the University of Illinois, or more precisely the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, have discovered a process that can turn used plastic shopping bags into a compatible drop-in diesel fuel and a number of petroleum products. The recycling process also works to recover most of the initial manufacturing inputs that go into producing plastic shopping bags. Given that each year an estimated 100 billion shopping bags are thrown away in the US alone, this is great news indeed.
Solar ovens are a great way to cook sustainably, but they have the drawback of not working very well on cloudy days. However, the new SunFocus solar hybrid oven, made by Sun BD Corporation, takes care of that problem. And what’s more, you can even use this oven to cook at night. This is possible because the SunFocus oven has a hybrid solar and electric system, with the latter taking over once the sun sets or hides behind the clouds.
While living in solar powered homes is very sustainable and environmentally friendly, the materials from which most solar PV arrays are constructed are not. Since they are often made from rare natural materials or plastics, researchers are constantly looking for way to improve this flaw and make the whole package more eco-friendly. A team of scientists from the University of Maryland, the South China University of Technology, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have recently developed a type of paper, which is made from wood fibers. This paper is 96 percent transparent and could conceivably one day be used instead of the plastic materials used to construct the solar cells of today. This would make solar cells more eco-friendly as well as much cheaper.
A group of researchers at the North Carolina State University (NCSU) have recently successfully developed solar cells that are able to heal themselves. More specifically, the scientists have successfully been able to solve the problem of dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSC), namely that the dyes used to create energy in these cells would eventually be destroyed by UV radiation.
DSSC cells contain a water-based gel core, electrodes, and inexpensive, light-sensitive, organic dye molecules that capture light and generate electric current. The original cells were created by mimicking the photosynthesis process that occurs in the leaves of plants. In trying to solve the problem of the dyes eventually becoming ineffective due to exposure to UV rays, the NCSU scientists again looked to plants for inspiration. The solar cells they developed contain a network of vascular channels that are very similar to the veins in a leaf, which are used to maintain water and nutrient levels throughout the leaf. The researches found that the needed dyes could be effectively delivered and replenished via this network. The dye that had been rendered ineffective by UV radiation can also be removed through this network.
The firm ISI Technology of South Carolina will soon begin producing a smart water heater, which is designed to cut energy use by 40% over conventional water heaters. They have recently successfully met their funding goal of $125,000 through Kickstarter to begin the production. The Heatworks MODEL 1 compact water heater will measure 12.5 inches by 6.5 inches, meaning that it will fit in most spaces. The water heater will also have Wi-Fi connectivity, so that temperature, power levels and duration can all be monitored and controlled remotely.
One of four teams that are representing California in the 2013 Solar Decathlon, Team USC (from the University of Southern California) will be submitting its fluxHome, a net zero prototype, as an entry in the competition to be held in October 2013 in Irvine, California.
fluxHome reimagines the suburban tract home in an energy efficient and affordable combination of smart home technologies with readily available and customizable components that can serve as a single family residence for up to four people or be adapted to other lifestyle scenarios.