A Device That Purifies Polluted Air While Producing Hydrogen

Air pollution is one of the key problems that need to be overcome in order to secure a more sustainable future for our planet. So it’s great news that a team of scientists from the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven, have devised a process that can both mitigate air pollution as well as provide a clean energy source in the form of hydrogen, at the same time. This device does so using nanomaterials and sunlight.

The nanomaterials are contained within the membrane of the device the team developed, where they are used as a catalyst in this process. Previously, this same type of membrane was used to extract hydrogen from water, but the team has now found that it’s possible for this material to also be used to extract it from polluted air. And on top of that, this membrane is also more efficient at doing so. To test it, the team has made a small prototype of the device, which measures just a few square centimeters, but they plan to scale it up to make it industrially applicable.

The energy for the process to run comes from sunlight, and the device which makes it possible is described as an “all-gas-phase unbiased photoelectrochemical cell”. It works by converting volatile organic pollutants into CO2 at one photoanode, and by harvesting hydrogen gas at the cathode. The device is most efficient when applied to organic pollutants in inert carrier gas, while if oxygen is present, the cell performs less efficiently though significant photocurrents are still generated, meaning that it can be effectively used to purify organic contaminated air.

It will most likely take some time before this device is ready for use on an industrial scale, but it does show a lot of promise. If they successfully scale it up, air pollution could become a source of clean energy instead of being an energy sink and a health hazard.

Toyota Building a Hydrogen Powered Utopia

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Toyota is a carmaker, but they are also one of the top providers of prefab homes in Japan. They have recently created their first hydrogen car called Mirai, and have now announced plans to build a community of hydrogen powered homes. To do so, they have obtained the rights to H2PIA from the Danish team who first came up with the concept of such a sustainable community.

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H2PIA is basically a proposal for a community of homes, businesses, shops, cars, and roads, where everything is powered by hydrogen. Those living in such a space would get to enjoy clean air, as well as be part of a sustainable community. On the outside, everything would be the same as in any other such community, except that the entire infrastructure will actually be completely different and based on H2PIA’s hydrogen technology.

The community Toyota plans to build will be made up of both single family houses, as well as apartment complexes. The residents will also be able to choose from units that are Plugged, Unplugged, or Hybrid. The last one will be available with a hybrid hydrogen car that will feed energy back into the community grid when not in use.

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Clean energy production aside, the community will also be built with many other healthy living considerations in mind. There will be a public community space, while the homes will be designed in a way that blurs the barriers between indoor and outdoor spaces. There will also be plenty of green areas, and they plan to fill it with enough amenities to reduce the inhabitants’ need to commute.

They have not yet announced when this community will be built, though chances are that the answer is soon.

This Plant Will Charge Your Phone

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All sorts of ingenious little renewable charging devices are popping up lately, mainly since our energy consumption needs have shifted toward having to charge small gadgets, a task that can easily be handled by such devices. The so-called Bioo plant is one of the more ingenious offerings in this area. It is a potted plant that can generate enough juice to charge your smartphone up to 3 times per day.

The Bioo plant pot was created by the Spanish company Arkyne Technologies. It is fitted with a 5V 1A USB charging port, which is connected to a ‘biological battery’ of sorts located within the base of the pot. The device is also very low maintenance, since all that is needed on the part of the owner is to water and care for the plant to keep it alive. In this way, for at least five years, the plant will continue to provide enough electricity to charge your gadgets during the day and night, and it will not suffer any harm in the process.

Arkyne Technologies are currently raising funds via a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Apart from the smaller version, they are also planning to produce a larger and more powerful version of the bio-battery. This so-called Bioo Panel, will measure 3.28 ft by 3.28 ft (1 m by 1 m) and will be able to generate up to 40 W of power, producing up to 280 kWh of energy per year. A Bioo plant pot can be reserved for a donation of $135 (120 EUR) and the units will be shipped in December of 2016. There are also other donation options available.

This is definitely a very clever idea, especially since the plant is capable of producing energy during both the day and the night, independent of sunlight. And a houseplant also has the added benefit of purifying the air, so let’s hope this projects gets off the ground.

Green Toilet Turns Waste into Electricity and Clean Water

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Researchers at Cranfield University, UK, have come up with a green toilet, which is cheap, easy to maintain, needs no water to operate, and is capable of turning human excrement into electricity and clean water. It is called the Nano Membrane Toilet and they will soon begin testing the first versions of it, most likely Ghana. Should it prove successful, it will give access to safe and hygienic toilets to about 2.3 billion people who have no access to it right now.

The process by which this toilet turns waste into water and electricity is very simple. Once the lid is closed, a rotation mechanism in the bottom of the bowl is used to sweep the waste into a sedimentation chamber, which also prevents odors from escaping. This waste is then passed through a nanotech membrane which is capable of filtering vaporized water molecules from the rest of the excrement. Due to this, pathogens and solids are prevented from being carried along by the water.

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The next step is for the vaporized water to travels through to a chamber filled with so-called nano-coated hydrophilic beads. These allow the vapor to condense and then pass into the collection bowl located under this chamber. This water is already filtered and can be used for washing or irrigation.

The solid waste, on the other hand, is driven by an Archimedean screw into a second chamber. The developers have not yet finalized this step of the process, but plans are in place for this waste to be converted into ash and energy by incineration. The energy obtained in this way will power the water filtration process, while there should also be enough left over for charging small devices, such as phones and tablets.

Ash will be the only waste product if this process, but it will be pathogen free, and nutrient-rich, so it can be used in farming. Each toilet is capable of managing the waste of up to 10 people.

The project was partially funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, and they will try to keep the cost of the toilet to 5 cents per unit in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Homes Store Solar Power as Hydrogen for Later Use

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While solar panels are a great source of renewable energy for a home, a lot of it is wasted, since the need for power is not always constant. A battery array is one way to solve this, but a series of homes recently built in Chiang Mai, Thailand, presents a different and cleaner solution. The designers have come up with a way to turn the excess power produced into hydrogen and storing it for later use in this way. This so-called Phi Suea House development consists of four single family homes. They were developed by CNX Construction and will be the world’s first homes to be powered by solar-powered hydrogen storage.

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Once completed, the entire development will feature 114 kW of photovoltaic panels, which will generate about 441 kWh of electricity each day. Some of the excess power, will be stored in a couple of 2,000-Ah lead-acid battery banks. Then, by applying an electrical current to water, electrolyzes will be used to turn much of the rest of the excess power into hydrogen gas. The latter will then be stored and released as needed by being changed back into electricity through the use of fuel cells.

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According to the developer, this is the most effective and eco-friendly way of storing excess solar energy. Furthermore, the process is very clean since the only byproducts are water and oxygen. They also claim that once fully operational the system will be able to produce a maximum of 440 gal (2,000 l) of hydrogen per hour. The storage capacity will be 19,800 gal (90,000 l). They estimate that the housing development will require about 200 kWh of power per day, and that the fuel cells will produce 120 kWh of power at full storage, which means that the 80 kWh of power that will be required overnight will easily be supplied by the hydrogen storage system.

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The houses will also be fitted with solar hot water panels, which will take care of all hot water needs. The homes will also feature double glazing, thick walls, natural ventilation, efficient fans to minimize air conditioning use, as well as large windows to let in plenty of daylight, and efficient LED lamps.

The housing development will be fully operational by the end of January 2016.