Salt Water Powered Lamp


In developed parts of the world, lighting is something we take for granted, but there are many who still live without this luxury. Aisa Mijeno, an engineering professor and Greenpeace volunteer recently came up with a simple design for a lamp, which is capable of running for eight hours on a single glass of salt water.

The invention is called The SALt (Sustainable Alternative Lighting) lamp and is aimed at providing reliable lighting to underdeveloped regions, many of which rely on kerosene to fuel their lamps. Not only do kerosene lamps pollute the air indoors, but the oil is also often hard and laborious to obtain. The lamp Mijeno created is also a great example of clean technology.


The SALt LED lamp uses a galvanic cell battery with an electrolyte solution made up solely of salty water. Two electrodes are then placed into this solution. As it is with other batteries, the electrodes won’t carry a charge forever. According to the creators, the lamp will last for six months when used for eight hours a day then the anode will need to be replaced. This is still a lot less work than servicing a kerosene lamp though. Apart from that, the lamp can also be used to charge smart phones via a USB port on the side of it.


As a start, the company developing the lamp is aiming to offer 600 lamps to native tribes in the Philippines as soon as possible. They are also striving to amp up production and plan to bring the lamp onto the market by early 2016. Pricing has not yet been revealed, but given the simplicity of the design, it should not be too steep. Since it is run on salt water, the SALt LED lamp is a great alternative to other portable lighting sources, and I’m sure it will be embraced by many looking to live more sustainably. It would make a great light source for camping trips and such.

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Urban Algae Canopy Looks Promising


The London-based studio ecoLogicStudio has recently showcased a prototype of its so-called urban algae canopy at the “Feeding the Planet” expo in Milan. The urban algae canopy is a bio-digital structure filled with fluid that contains microalgae organisms. These are pumped around the otherwise transparent structure and are capable of producing oxygen, biomass energy and dynamic shade. They also respond to the presence of visitors and can produce very interesting visual effects.


There are a series of tubes, which move the microalgae around to the transparent panels, which make up the exterior of the structure. This is possible due to the special CNC welding technology employed to create the structure, which also allowed ecoLogicStudio to design and control the morphology of the cushioned panels under stress and guide the liquid through them.



The prototype of the canopy is a small installation, but the firm plans to make a larger version to demonstrate at the 2015 Expo Milano Future Food District. The larger Urban Canopy will be able to produce an amount of oxygen equal to that produced by four hectares of forest. It will also be capable of producing 150 kg of biomass, of which 80 percent will be in the form of natural vegetal proteins.

In direct sunlight the microalgae turn green due to photosynthesis, while also growing, which offers natural shade. The canopy is also capable of responding to the presence of people, since as they walk by, electro valves are triggered that alter the speed of the algae as they move through the panels of the canopy.


According to ecoLogicStudio the goal of this project is to bring together industry and nature, which are all too often separated at the expense of the environment. Basically they seem to be using machinery to bring nature back, which is a unique concept. The first practical application of the Urban Canopy has not yet been announced, though I think many uses, in residential and industrial/commercial architecture, could be found.

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Boston to Get an Energy Positive Building


It’s always nice to see sustainable building projects get underway, especially when they’re being built in cities, which must become more energy efficient soon, or else. To this end, the firm Behnisch Architekten has recently unveiled their plans to expand Boston’s EpiCenter into the largest energy-positive commercial building in New England, and maybe even on the entire East Coast. Once finished the building will house the Artists for Humanity charity organization.

Among other technologies, the new EpiCenter will benefit from natural ventilation and daylight, as well as a host of other innovative technologies to make it net positive. To remind, Boston’s EpiCenter building opened its doors in 2004 and was then the first LEED Platinum building in that city. The planned expansion will raise the building’s footprint to 87,000 square feet (8,100 square meters), which will include more space for artists, additional gallery space and more studios. Once it’s done, the building will be entirely self-sustainable, and will be feeding electricity back into the grid.

In as much as possible, the construction will use recycled and locally sourced materials, which will be as low in volatile organic compounds as possible. The building will also be constructed in a way that takes full advantage of the so-called “passive solar tempering”, which is basically the process of moderating internal temperature through the buildings orientation in relation to sunlight. Special glass will be installed, which is capable of controlling the amount of heat radiation that can flow through it. The glass also contains daylight enhancement and redirection elements, which help regulate the internal temperature and provides better natural daylighting. Good insulation, airtightness of the building envelope, along with its high thermal mass will also aid in temperature regulation

Heat recovery systems will also be installed, and there will be a rainwater catchment and a graywater recycling system in place. Energy-efficient LED lighting will be used throughout, which will have daylight-responsive actively manage lighting controls to reduce energy consumption.

To generate electricity, photovoltaic and thermal solar arrays will also be installed, along with geothermal generation. Since the building is still in the planning stages, the architects have yet to provide any figures as to how much energy will be generated, or fed back into the grid. The EpiCenter Expansion is set to be complete by November 2016.

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Honda Smart House US Ready For Testing


The Honda Smart House US has recently been constructed on campus at the University of California (UC), Davis. The house will serve as a test for an off-the-grid living space of the future. Homes and cars are responsible for about 44% of all the greenhouse gases emitted in the US, and in constructing the house, the designers of The Honda Smart House aimed to try and find a way to neutralize these emissions. The house also generates enough solar energy to power both car and home, with a little left over to feed back into the grid.

The Honda Smart Home US is run by the company’s home energy management system (HEMS). This system is located in the garage and works to monitor and optimize electrical consumption across the home’s micro-grid. Next to the HEMS, the builders installed a 10 kWh battery, which is used for storing energy collected by the 9.5 kW solar photovoltaic system mounted on the roof.



The house was built on a concrete slab, around half of which is actually pozzolan, which occurs naturally in the earth as a result of volcanic ash deposits. Due to the fact that pozzolan doesn’t need to be heated to the same high temperatures as cement when laying the foundation, Honda successfully reduced the carbon emissions from the construction of the house.

The heating and cooling of the house is taken care of via a geothermal heat pump, which also supplies the hot water for the household. Water is heated in a tank from where it is used to take a shower. Then the grey water drained from the shower is used to help preheat the cold city water, which further reduces the power needed to supply the hot water for the household.


After it heats the cold water, the drain water from the shower is pumped into four thermal tanks underneath the backyard. The earth’s heat warms the liquid here, and turns it into what the designers call the Ground Source Fluid. This heated fluid is pumped back to the house to heat it by passing through pipes located in the floor, roof and ceiling. In the summer, cold water can be pumped through the house in the same way to provide cooling.

The house was built with the local climate in mind. The north-facing windows maximize natural light and ventilation, while south-facing windows are designed to optimize heating and cooling. The home also has double-stud walls, a metal roof and an insulated concrete base, which all raise the energy efficiency of the house.


Honda also modified their electric car so that it can be charged directly from the home’s solar panels or the battery, which reduces the loss of energy that happens during a DC to AC conversion. To further reduce energy demands, LED lighting was installed throughout the house, while the lighting is also designed to mimic shifts in natural lighting during the day and night. They worked closely with the California Lighting Technology Center at UC Davis to explore a new form of circadian color control lighting. The house is lit with blue-rich light in the daytime, which are designed to optimize alertness and energy. In the evenings and at night, the lighting is amber toned, which creates a more relaxed atmosphere.

According to the designers, the Honda Smart House US is three times more water-efficient and uses half the energy of similar-sized homes in the area. They further estimate that the house will generate a surplus of 2.6 MWh, which equates to an offset in carbon emissions of nearly 13,100 lb (5,942 kg) per year.


Unfortunately, this house is not yet on the market. Honda and researchers from UC Davis and Pacific Gas and Electric will be using it as a laboratory to carry out ongoing evaluations of new technologies and real-world applications in the housing, transportation and energy sectors.



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A Table That Can Charge Your Gadgets


Dutch designer Marjan van Aubel has developed a table that is able to transform sunlight into enough energy to charge your gadgets. The Current Table, as it is called, is capable of performing in this way due to a special process that is very similar to photosynthesis in plants. More specifically, the table is covered by glass panels that contain a dye-synthesized solar cell, which utilizes color properties to generate an electrical current, in much the same way that plants use green chlorophyll to transform sunlight into energy.

To make the table work this way, small particles of titanium dioxide were placed on a piece of transparent glass, which is dyed orange. The dyeing technique used allows the titanium dioxide to absorb sunlight more efficiently. Once sunlight hits the tabletop, the electrons stored in the titanium dioxide are released, which creates an electrical current that can be used to power your smart phone or tablet. And when the electricity is not being used directly, it can be stored inside a battery.


This innovative table is also able to create energy indoors, out of direct sunlight, which is an improvement over traditional solar cells that need direct sunlight in order to create an electrical current. The table also comes equipped with a USB charging point that features an indicator telling the user how much charge is in the table at any given time.


The level of sunlight available does, however, still influence charging times, in that the more direct it is, the lower the charging time is. According to the designer, a single cell takes about eight hours to charge a battery fully, and each of the USB ports on the table is powered by four cells.

Marjan collaborated with a company called Solaronix on developing this table. Solaronix makes the inexpensive dye solar cells that were used to cover the table. These types of cells are not as common as regular photovoltaic cells, but are, however, better at absorbing indirect light. This is the main reason why they work great indoors and out of direct sunlight.

One of the uses the designer envisioned for the table is placing it in libraries, restaurants or other public places, where they could offer visitors a way to charge their gadgets without the need to lay cables. However, this solar powered table also seems a great opportunity to bring solar energy into the homes of the general population, where it could work to offset the amount of energy the household uses. In fact, if placed over larger pieces of furniture, such solar cells could, conceivably, even be used to power equipment that is an even bigger consumer of electrical power. The cells on the table do, however, have to be kept spotlessly clean in order to function properly.

Next month, the Current Table will go on display at Salone Satellite in Milan, which is part of Salone Internazionale del Mobile.