Category: Technology

Kinetic pavement generates extra energy at Olympics

A temporary footbridge by London’s Olympic Park is being fitted with 12 energy-harvesting tiles designed to generate additional electricity during the Games.

Made from recycled lorry tyres and recycled aluminium, the tiles flex 5mm when stepped on, which creates the electricity. The company behind the tiles – Pavegen Systems – is elusive about the precise technology it employs, but according to an interview last year with The Engineer, the Pavegen team has invented a hybrid solution which takes advantage of the ability of certain materials to transform mechanical strain into an electric charge.

Forecast to generate a total of 21 kilowatt hours of electricity over the course of the Olympic Games, the tiles are unlikely to make a significant dent in the event’s overall energy use. However, as the company’s video highlights below, the installation could signal the mainstream uptake of a new renewable energy source.

Could genetically engineered plants put an end to drug factory livestock?

The use of animals in drug manufacturing has always been a necessary evil, but new developments in the field of genetic engineering could well mark the end of the practice in some fields.

Gaucher disease –  a condition resulting from the lack of a particular enzyme – is traditionally treated with drugs derived from hamster cells. Now, however, Israeli scientists from biotech firm Protalix Biotherapeutics, have discovered a way to grow the required enzymes in carrot cells instead, by inserting specific genes into them.

Patients that received the ‘bio-pharmed’ version of the drug reportedly showed the same levels of improvement as those given the treatment derived from hamster cells.

The US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has given its approval for the plant-derived treatment, potentially the marking the beginning of the end of genetically modified livestock in drug factories.

No green Apple: tech giant pulls products from eco-friendly registry

Apple is no shrinking violet when it comes to publicising its green credentials. From binning chemicals in component parts to powering data centres with renewable energy, the company frequently waxes lyrical about its love of – and respect for – Planet Earth.

A bit of a U-turn today then, with news that Apple has recently asked EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool), a US national registry of environmentally sound electronic items, to remove 39 of its products from the its list.

To qualify for EPEAT-certification, products must fulfil a certain criteria, which includes the caveat that recyclers must be able to disassemble products fairly easily, to separate dangerous components (batteries, for instance). Tech heads are already speculating that the move has been spurred by the new super slim MacBook Pro, which features a high-resolution ‘retina display’. The product is “nearly impossible” to disassemble, according to iFixit.com, which notes that the battery is glued to the case and the glass display glued to its back.

Many schools, businesses and government agencies stipulate that their IT equipment is EPEAT-certified, so Apple’s move may well cost them a not-insignificant market share.

Is human hair the design medium du jour?

Hair. It’s renewable and biodegradable, so it’s not the most pressing environmental concern. It’s what it could replace, however, that’s big news.

Sure, human hair can be re-purposed in any number of weird ways (check out these 25, from Holy Taco), but a few new developments show that it can be at least partly useful, too.

Swedish designer Ola Giertz has created some fetching pouffes with recycled PET bottles and, yep,  human hair, to create an altogether silkier seating experience. Meanwhile, students from the Royal College of Art have taken plant-based bioresin and hair trimmings to create ‘Hair Glasses’ – hipster-worthy eyewear without using a single drop of petroleum. 

Or what about this, erm, charming dress, created by hairdresser Jodie Breeds? It seems beauty pageants are becoming more sustainability-conscious, with this outfit destined for the ‘Environmentally Friendly Dress’ round of this year’s Miss England contest. 

With the average person’s hair growing around 6 inches every year, there certainly no shortage of this resilient and versatile material. How long until it someone creates an even more useful purpose for it?

Spray-on batteries could turn any surface into energy

Battery technology is seeing some exciting developments at the moment; liquid solar cells and current-generating paint are both examples of inventions set to revolutionise the clunky AA mainstay. And now scientists have added something new to the mix: spray-on batteries.

Developed by researchers at Rice University, this new technology allows any surface to become a battery, which could have pretty big implications for traditional energy storage and solar power generation. More on the science of the creation here.

Lead author of the team’s report Neelam Singh said: “Spray painting is already an industrial process, so it will be very easy to incorporate this into industry. We really do consider this a paradigm changer.”

However, there are some drawbacks, namely the spray-paint’s sensitivity to moisture and oxygen given its toxic, flammable and corrosive properties. Eliminating these issues through further research could see the paint being used at a large scale in industrial environments.

Check it out:

Electric car breaks backwards speed record

Electric cars aren’t the fastest vehicles on the road, but because their direct drive electric motor means that – in theory – they can travel as fast backwards as they can forwards, very few traditional motors can match them in reverse.

This claim was put to the test at the Goodwood Festival of speed, where Nissan – to promote its new all-electric LEAF model – hired pro driver Terry Grant to attempt a new record for the fastest car to travel a mile in reverse.

Terry hurtled into the Guinness World Records after covering a mile of uphill bends and 90 degree corners in just 1 minute 37.02 seconds.

“There were times I wasn’t sure I was coming or going,” said Terry. “However, thanks to the Leaf’s low centre of gravity – the batteries are an integral part of the car’s floor – the car is extremely stable, no matter which direction it’s travelling. The only complaint I have is slight neck ache from constantly looking over my shoulder.”

Considering how many people struggle to simply parallel park, Terry’s skills should be highly commended.

Check out Nissan’s promo for the impressive attempt: