At PUNC Bottles we believe in design; form and function. We mentioned sustainable energy in our last post and it’s been on PUNC’s minds, what with all the solar power we’ve been basking in for the last couple of weeks. Very often, sustainable energy is talked about on large scales; wave plants, wind farms, fields of solar cells. We think the small, even the very tiny, offers a way forward that everyone can be involved with and we came across a new design for sustainability that sparked our imaginations and gives one answer to the ever present environmental question; “What difference can one person make?”
So, you’re out jogging, or walking the dogs or whatever your exercise might be. You’re listening to some music or talking on your phone. The battery fades…and that’s it until you get back to your charger, one fed by a petrol engine or the mains. So far, solar-cell clothing just doesn’t seem to be useful in ordinary situations like this but there is another type of ‘energy harvester’ that caught our eye. Called piezoelectrics, it’s a way to collect energy from pressure, like walking or running. Imagine how many steps you take every day; how many times you bend your knees and elbows; sit down and stand up, even without going for a jog.
Up to now, the size of the generators has been a real problem, with the whole heel of a running shoe taken up, and the machinery being both uncomfortable and easily broken. Now a team in South Korea has conquered the issues of size and flexibility and have created micro-thin layer of crystals sandwiched between two layers of flexible material that generates electricity from pressure or vibration. The average person, just by walking, could easily generate enough energy to power an iPad 2, and that’s just the first generation. It’s so thin and flexible that it could literally be built into anything; shoes, coats, bags, car-tyres and even laid under roads to power street lights. They could be coupled with solar cells in many situations to offer 24/7 energy whether you are in a cave or on a mountaintop.
While our thoughts instantly jumped to phones and tablets, there are dozens of portable devices, for work and recreation, that use disposable batteries or else charge from the mains. But with ambient chargers and batteries available (that collect energy just by being near the generator) and this new power source heading for the market, the hope is that we can take laptops, torches, walkie-talkies, surveying equipment, even things like roadside defibrillators off the grid permanently saving millions of tonnes of carbon emissions per year. Your laptop could charge just by being carried on your shoulder, batteries for home use could charge in the boot of your car and you’ll never lose your step counter app or your favourite jogging tunes again. What difference can one person make? Tonnes!
You can look here to see some more of the science.