Turning Food Leftovers Into Energy Fast

A team of researchers at Cornell University has discovered a process of turning leftover food into energy much faster than already existing methods. It is a two-step process and is very efficient, since it captures virtually all the available energy.

Other methods work on the basis of anaerobic digestion with bacteria slowly chipping away at the organic matter and producing methane, which is then used for fuel. This new method that the researchers discovered works on the basis of the process of hydrothermal liquefaction. Basically, the food leftovers are first pressure-cooked, which results in a sort of bio-oil. This bio-oil is then refined into biofuel, while all that remains of the original food leftovers is just very watery liquid.

The next step is to feed this liquid into an anaerobic digester, which converts it into methane in a couple of days. Two sources of usable energy are produced via this method, one for generating electricity, the other heat, while none of the original food leftovers go to waste. When using just anaerobic digestion, it can take weeks for the food waste to turn into energy.

Also, the liquefied product that is leftover after the hydrothermal processing in this new method is better for the anaerobic digestion part of the process. Combining the two makes the overall process both more efficient as well as quicker. It takes mere minutes to achieve hydrothermal liquefaction and just a few days for the anaerobic digestion.

Current statistics show that about one-third of the world’s food is wasted, while US landfills are primarily filled with food waste. Needless to say, one of the priorities should be to keep food from becoming waste. But it is also important to find efficient ways of recycling food waste into something useful. A process such as this one, which leaves virtually no waste while producing clean energy would greatly reduce our carbon footprint and lessen our dependence on fossil fuels.

Tiny Minimalist Home

The firm Escape has been making tiny homes for a while now, and their latest offering, the so-called Escape One, is just as well built as all the others. It features a charred wood façade and an interior layout that maximizes the available space in the most thoughtful way possible.

The Escape One is built atop a 25 ft (7.62 m)-long trailer and measures 276 sq ft (25.6 sq m). The home is clad in wood throughout, and the exterior cladding was treated with the traditional Japanese Shou Sugi Ban method, which both preserves the wood and protects it from pests and decay naturally. The interior walls are also clad in wood, but these were left in their natural state.

As is the case with most tiny home builds, the interior was kept simple. The ground floor features a sitting area, a spacious kitchen, and a bathroom. The kitchen features a good amount of counter space and shelving, as well as a stove, sink and fridge. The bathroom is large enough to fit a toilet, sink and shower. The bedroom is located in a loft, which is accessible via a set of stairs. There appears to be a lot of headroom here, especially if the bed is low. There is also a second loft above the bathroom, which can be used for storage.

The home is very well insulated and has an average R-rating of R-30. The lighting is LED throughout, and while the base model features a standard RV hookup, a solar power system is an option. Other off-the-grid optional add-ons include water storage, and a composting toilet package. Customers can also opt to install a mini-split air-conditioning unit with a heat pump, and a propane furnace for heating. Luxury items such as a flatscreen TV with Blu-ray, stone countertops, and more are also available as an add-on to the base model.

Prices for the Escape One start at $49,800, which is quite a bargain.

Shape-Shifting Solar Cells

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The wider adoption of solar cells is largely being stalled by their cost. That’s why a lot of new research in this field has been focused on making solar cells more affordable. And now a group of engineers at MIT and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have made a breakthrough.

They’ve created a 3D printed material, which is able to change shape when heated or cooled, and then return to it’s original form on it’s own. Among the many applications of such a material it could also be used as the turning mechanism for solar cells, which would allow them to effortlessly capture more solar energy.

The 3D printed material they created is capable of remembering its original shape, and always returning to it when certain key conditions are met. In other words, it can be bent, twisted, stretched and used to build complex shapes (such as a replica of a flower or the Eiffel Tower). These structures bend and stay in the new form until they are heated to between 104 to 356 degrees Fahrenheit when the material becomes rubbery and once again assumes its original shape.

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To create these structures, they used a special 3D printing method called microstereolithography, which etches patterns onto the polymers using light as they are layered. The thinner the structure the faster it reacts to temperature changes and they are actually calling this new tech 4D printing, since the changing of shape happens across the fourth dimension of time.

Designing an effective way of combining this new tech with PV cells would make them much more efficient at harvesting solar power, as well as make it possible to use solar cells in a lot more places. More efficient solar cells would also lessen the need for large battery banks.

Tesla Announces Sleek New Solar Panels

Late last year, Tesla unveiled a range of solar panels that were actually roof tiles as well. The price was prohibitive though, since there was no way to install them on an existing roof without some expensive and time-consuming renovations. But this is no longer the case.
The company has now added a new product to their line-up: solar panels that are so sleek and thin that they will make any roof look good.

The new Tesla solar panels are to be made by Gigafactory 2, a Tesla factory located in Buffalo, New York. They will be exclusive to Tesla, and are intended to be integrated with their Powerwall energy storage units to provide an uninterrupted 24-hour a day supply of clean energy.

The mounting hardware of these new 325-watt panels is hidden, while the integrated front skirt allows them to blend with the roof on which they are installed almost seamlessly. According to Tesla, these panels not only meet but also exceed industry standards when it comes to durability and lifespan, though no data was provided to support this. According to Elecktrek, other 325-watt panels that Panasonic currently produces have an efficiency rate of 21.67%. The new Tesla panels probably have a similar efficiency, or perhaps an even slightly better one.

The company will start producing these new panels in the summer of 2017. They will be used exclusively for all future residential solar installations by the company, as well as for replacement of any other existing third party solar panel installations. No word on pricing yet, though those interested can also get a custom quote for their home via the Tesla website.

Tiny Home for Cold Climates

As more and more people decide to downsize to a tiny home, it has become imperative that these homes be made as cold-proof as possible. The Quebec, Canada-based firm Minimaliste recently completed this luxury tiny home for a client, which is exactly that. Apart from being very well-insulated, it also features many other comforts usually reserved for larger houses.

The so-called Sakura home measures 380 sq ft (35 sq m) and was built on a gooseneck trailer. it features a living area, which can easily be converted into a dining room. This is done with the help of modular sofa pieces that can be moved around, and a coffee table that is designed to open up into a 22 by 60 inch (56 by 152 cm) dining table, which can seat up to four people. The home also features a large bedroom and a bathroom big enough for a tub.

The kitchen runs along two facing walls, and is equipped with a fridge and stove. The bedroom is in a loft, which is accessible via a storage staircase. There is additional storage under the bed, and there is a lot of headroom in this area. There is also a second loft which can be used as a sort of reading nook and provides access to the cedar roof deck, through a skylight.

The home is also equipped with a number of sustainable features such as a composting toilet, hydronic radiant heating in the floors, a Lunos air exchanger with a heat recovery system, and a three-level water filtration system. Water passing through this filter goes through a pressure regulator, a big sediments filter, a fine sediments filter, and lastly through a water sanitizer, so pretty much any kind of water can be filtered using it.

The Sakura is a luxury home with many add-ons, so the price tag reflects that, since it cost a whopping $102,000.