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Power harnessed one step at a time

29 09 07 - 03:16


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Power harnessed one step at a time


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By Chris Gaylord


In the push to harvest alternative energy, scientists have tapped a number of novel sources: the sun, corn, old cooking oil. But how about the simple act of walking?

For two architecture students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., the sound of footsteps is an echo of energy gone to waste. They figure that the stomp of every footfall gives off enough power to light two 60-watt bulbs for one second.

"Now imagine how many people walk through a train station each morning, or walk down the street in Hong Kong," says James Graham, who, with fellow MIT graduate student Thaddeus Jusczyk, is helping to develop the growing field of "crowd farming."


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Power harnessed one step at a time



By Chris Gaylord


In the push to harvest alternative energy, scientists have tapped a number of novel sources: the sun, corn, old cooking oil. But how about the simple act of walking?

For two architecture students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., the sound of footsteps is an echo of energy gone to waste. They figure that the stomp of every footfall gives off enough power to light two 60-watt bulbs for one second.

"Now imagine how many people walk through a train station each morning, or walk down the street in Hong Kong," says James Graham, who, with fellow MIT graduate student Thaddeus Jusczyk, is helping to develop the growing field of "crowd farming."

They devised a special floor of sliding blocks that can turn motion energy (such as from a footstep) into electrical energy. As commuters march across the floor, it would collect tiny flickers of power from each stride and channel that energy.

According to their design - which this summer won a prestigious award from the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction in Zurich, Switzerland - 28,527 footsteps could power a train for one second - 84,162,203 paces could launch a space shuttle.

The problem with their plan: Right now, it only exists on paper. But others have developed real-world examples of plugging into people power. Over the past few years there's been a boom in technology that harnesses piezoelectricity - the science of drawing power from mechanical stress, including motion. While the crowd-farming push has its critics, the discipline is growing, and businesses are signing on. [Editor's note: The original version's definition of piezoelectricity needed clarification.]

"This is a really exciting time because there's been a lot of growth all of a sudden," says Steve Anton, whose review article on recent piezoelectric advances ran in the June issue of the journal Smart Materials and Structures. "For a long time the research was confined to the lab, but a number of real applications have started coming out."

Take POWERLeap. This project, built by sustainable designer Elizabeth Redmond of Chicago, is a scaled-down, but glammed-up, version of Mr. Graham's scheme. When pedestrians trot across one of the flooring system's four decorated glass tiles, LED lights flicker to life underneath their feet.

"I installed it on a sidewalk in Ann Arbor [Mich.] and people were really surprised and excited by the lights glowing from the street," says Ms. Redmond. "When people find out that they were powering the lights, and there were no batteries involved, you get a whole other wave of wows."

Redmond is now crafting a new design for POWERLeap, thanks to a $10,000 grant from flooring giant Mohawk Industries of Calhoun, Ga. Graham says the two of them have been e-mailing about combining their interests.

Power-generating backpack

Human energy can also be harnessed to power a cellphone or charge a battery. Henry Sodano, an engineering professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., has developed a backpack that serves as a portable, wearable way to keep gadgets juiced.

His team created piezoelectric straps that draw power from the bag's natural bounce. At a normal stride, the stress on the bands can pull in 45.6 milliwatts (mW) - just shy of what's needed to perpetually power an iPod nano MP3 player, and more than enough to keep a Motorola Razr mobile phone charged.

"We could power a Razr in standby using 9mW of power and store the remaining 36.6mW of power, allowing us to talk for one minute for every 10 minutes walked," he says. "Or you could charge an LED headlamp while you walk in the day and use it at night while you camp."

The catch: for the straps to collect the full 45.6mW, they need to support a 100-pound knapsack. "That's a lot," Mr. Sodano admits with a laugh. But he designed the straps for the US military to use. Since soldiers are used to encumbering loads, the special straps in their packs will capture practically free energy, he says.

Finding a balance of how much to leech off a person's movement is the most difficult problem for human-powered technology. All energy has to come from somewhere. So if you're the one charging the device, then, to some extent, you're the one feeling the drain.

Self-winding watches work well because they are so light to begin with that the added weight of the self-winding mechanism is almost unnoticeable. But watches also require barely any power.

"To get anything substantial out of these devices, they would have to weigh a ton, and that's something few consumers will agree to," says Peter Glas­kowsky, a technology analyst for Envisioneering, a market-research firm, in Seaford, N.Y. "The energy you're saving by not using batteries is actually coming from you, and therefore its coming from food. If you add up the energy used to grow, package, ship, and eat, food is an extremely inefficient energy source."

Many plans for battery-charging shoes have been abandoned because walking in them was too taxing, says Mr. Glaskowsky. Most models so far have relied on an extra thick sole that depresses and generates electricity with each step - like a mini version of POWERLeap built into the boot. "A lot of people complain that it feels tiring after a while, like walking in sand," says Glaskowsky.

(Mr. Anton, a graduate student at Virginia Tech, plans to unveil a new shoe design in October that places a piezoelectric charger in a box above the heel. This would add weight, he says, but eliminate the deflating feel of the sole-based style.)

Similarly, the One Laptop per Child foundation ditched their plan to attach an auxiliary hand crank to the side of its "$100 laptops," deciding the strain was not worth what little power it provided. The group then signed on for a "yo-yo" pull-cord charger, but are now leaning toward using simple solar panels.

Simple movements may soon extend battery life

Some piezoelectric engineers have found successful, subtle ways to feed off human motion. A consortium of mostly British companies is on track to release by the end of the year an in-body microgenerator that will convert energy from joint movements, heartbeats, and breathing, says manager Martin McHugh of Zarlink Semiconductors. The tiny device will help both decrease the size and extend the life of batteries attached to pacemakers and other medical instruments, saving patients from costly, surgical replacements. Used tags: , , , , , ,

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Raging wildfires: Climate changes to blame for record season?

Saturday 16 July 2011 at 06:07 am Raging wildfires: Climate changes to blame for record season?


By Pete Spotts


The images are stark: soot-grimed firefighters steering bulldozers or wielding shovels to clear underbrush; curtains of orange flame tracing the contours of summits; aircraft dumping chemicals to slow a fire's progress.

Between Jan. 1 and early July of 2011, slightly more than 38,000 wildfires charred the landscape in the United States at a record pace. So far this year, wildfires have consumed just under 4.9 million acres of forest and grassland, a cumulative expanse the size of New Jersey.

That's 1 million more acres than fires consumed during the same period in 2006, which saw a record 9.9 million acres burned for the entire year.

Beyond the numbers, this year's fires may provide the first large-scale tests of the effectiveness of projects undertaken over the past decade to help forests survive wildfires, several specialists say.

The West's forests are adapted to deal with certain types of wildfires, researchers note. But since the mid-1980s, they add, some of these forests have experienced an increasing number of fires to which they are not well adapted.

Many researchers trace this shift in part to climate change. more

Hybrid Moves Into Housing

Sunday 22 May 2011 at 01:14 am Hybrid Moves Into Housing


By Brenda Krueger Huffman

(Chicago) – Recycling - Check. Conserving energy - Check. Hybrid car - Next car, check. Hybrid home system - What? Yes, it’s here. Hybrid has seamlessly, successfully moved into housing.

Safety Power, Inc. was initially started to provide homes with back up power. The company quickly grew to include renewable energy options and advising commercial and industrial clients with electrical conservation. Recently the company has come full circle and began marketing a new more capable type of renewable energy system for homes.

The award winning firm was voted one of the “Top 5 Sustainable Product Companies in Illinois” and continues to grow its residential client base in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Safety Power also serves larger firms on the national level.

Robert Brazzale, President of Safety Power, a master electrician turned entrepreneur, began Safety Power in 2007. An avid member of Local First Chicago, Rob believes in assisting sustaining local economies with green collar jobs and belongs to many green orientated groups in Chicago and around the country. more

Are electric car makers missing the trick?

Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 11:12 am Are electric car makers missing the trick?


by Martin Ott

I believe that electric car makers may be driving us all down the road that may result in the same sort of technology failures that we have seen in the past.
I'm not referring to the Sinclair scooter here but cast your mind back to the débâcle of Betamax v VHS home recording systems. The eventual winner was the technically inferior VHS but the battle was not resolved until innumerable consumers had paid out for worthless Betamax systems. Back in the 70's a similar conflict occurred over audio systems when America fell in love with the 8 track tape system that moved magnetic tape in a loop over the player head at a high speed resulting in a better sound. The world market finally dictated that the audio cassette was the way to go but not until millions of consumers had been lumbered with home and in-car systems that went down the technological cul de sac. more

Wind Turbine Manufacturer Acknowledges SGS´s Contribution towards Successful Project Completion

Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 10:57 am by Suresh Varma

The Theni Wind Farm project was developed by CLP India Pvt. Ltd., one of the major wind farm project developers in India. Located in the south western part of Tamilnadu, a southern state of the country, the facility consists of 60 Vestas V82 geared wind turbines. As recognition of its contribution towards the successful execution of this wind power project SGS received Vestas award.

Each turbine at the wind farm has a capacity of 1.65 MW IEC Class IIB machine with a blade diameter of 82 m. After a six-month long completion period, the Theni Wind Farm was officially opened in May, 2010.

Acting as contract engineer during project execution, SGS was responsible for ensuring that all activities were carried out at the site by the contractor in line with the final agreement. In doing so, SGS supervised the quality of construction works, the fulfillment of the technical parameters and kept the project within the scheduled time and contracted price. more

E.ON uses PPC's Broadband Powerline technology in smart grid project

Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 10:37 am E.ON uses PPC's Broadband Powerline technology in smart grid project

by Power Plus Communications

Mannheim - Power Plus Communications AG (PPC), the leading provider of Broadband Powerline Communication systems (BPL) for smart grids has taken on a key role within an E.ON smart grid project to facilitate an extension of Cisco's Connected Grid Solution.

E.ON Westfalen Weser AG is currently trialing smart grid technology within its network of 1.3 million inhabitants and PPC's proven medium voltage BPL solution has connected substations in the project using the existing power grid.

Using BPL technology, standard compliant and IP-based data transfer rates of 5-30 Mbit/s can easily be achieved via the medium voltage cable itself. Within E.ON’s smart grid project, PPC's medium voltage technology facilitated the extension of Cisco's Connected Grid Solution. The Cisco smart grid Router and Switches used in the project are highly compatible with BPL networks, providing a real cost advantage over fiber optic networks – which can be much more expensive where cables are not pre-existing.

By combining their technology at Westfalen Weser, PPC and Cisco have ensured the evolution of fast and efficient smart grids which are controlled on an IP basis. This increases the reliability of the power grid, fulfills regulations and drives down costs. At the same time this modern smart grids communications technology makes it possible to effectively integrate renewable energy into the grid. more

MIT Infrastructure "Life Cycle" Study is Progress Both Left & Right Can Embrace - Part 2, Fiscal Responsibility

Saturday 19 February 2011 at 09:02 am By Brenda Krueger Huffman


Chicago – Perhaps moving to the center is where we all need to be politically on the environment and effective spending compatibility. Not all green technology is crazy, and not all business profit or government expenditure is evil.

Even if you do not believe in man caused climate change, we can all agree leaving a cleaner planet and a more fiscally responsible government for the next generation is preferable to not doing so.

Perhaps green technology can be cost effective, and government fiscal responsibility may realistically include affordable green initiatives. Honest “life cycle analysis” and “life cycle cost analysis” study considerations should be a political compromise starting point both the left and the right can embrace. more

Global warming: Impact of receding snow and ice surprises scientists

Thursday 27 January 2011 at 11:05 am Global warming: Impact of receding snow and ice surprises scientists

By Pete Spotts


Washington - A long-term retreat in snow and ice cover in the Northern Hemisphere is weakening the ability of these seasonal cloaks of white to reflect sunlight back into space and cool global climate, according to a study published this week.

Indeed, over the past 30 years, the cooling effect from this so-called cryosphere – essentially areas covered by snow and ice at least part of the year – appears to have weakened at more than twice the pace projected by global climate models, the research team conducting the work estimates.

The study, which appeared online Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience, represents a first cut at trying to calculate from direct measurements the impact of climate change on the Northern Hemisphere's cryosphere. The study was conducted by a team of federal and university scientists who examined data gathered between 1979 and 2008. more

EPA presents plan on greenhouse gases

Wednesday 05 January 2011 at 10:38 pm By Mark Clayton


Washington - Setting the stage for a New Year battle royal between Congress and the White House over greenhouse gas emissions, the US Environmental Protection Agency Thursday laid out a timetable for the nation's largest carbon emitters – power plants and refineries – to begin curbing those pollutants.

Republicans have said all year that they plan to pull out all the stops to keep the EPA from phasing in greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations beginning in 2011, saying they would damage the energy industry, raise prices, and cost jobs.

Rep. Fred Upton (R) of Michigan, the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has said he opposes the regulations on greenhouse gases and indicated he would lead efforts to revoke EPA regulations in the next Congress. The new regulations, he says, will likely lead to the shut down of coal-fired power plants.

"To protect jobs and fortify our energy security, we should be working to bring more power online, not shutting plants down," Mr. Upton said in a statement. "We are woefully unprepared to meet our nation's growing energy demands, yet this administration's 'none of the above' energy policy will do nothing but cost jobs, make energy more expensive, and increase our dependence on foreign sources of energy."

Environmentalists lauded the EPA's move. more

Supreme Court takes global warming case that targets power companies

Monday 13 December 2010 at 03:21 am By Warren Richey,


Washington - The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed to examine a major environmental lawsuit that seeks to force six electric power companies to cap and reduce their carbon-dioxide emissions to fight global warming.

The lawsuit - filed in 2004 by eight states, the City of New York, and three land trusts - targets what it claims are the largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States and among the largest in the world.

It seeks a judicial order declaring that the fossil-fueled power plants are a "public nuisance." It also seeks a judicial order capping the plants' greenhouse gas emissions and requiring the plants to adopt a schedule of reduced emissions in future years. more

Outside Cancun climate conference, Caribbean Sea testifies to global warming

Monday 13 December 2010 at 03:09 am By Ezra Fieser,


Bayahibe, Dominican Republic - This summer's extreme heat may seem like a distant memory as winter approaches the United States.

But the summer that broke heat records across the Northern Hemisphere is still being felt below the surface of the Caribbean Sea: 2010 will likely be one of the most deadly years on record for coral reefs.

If diplomats attending the two-week global climate change talks that opened Monday in Cancun, Mexico, want more evidence of the negative and potentially devastating affects of warming temperatures, they need look no further than the blue sea outside their hotels. Researchers say that throughout the Caribbean coral reefs are "bleaching," a condition that occurs when they are under extreme stress due to warmer-than-normal sea temperatures. more