Tapping Tree Power

[bugloaf] tipped us off about this flower power hack. University of Washington researchers, [Babak], [Brian], and [Carlton] have developed very low power circuits to run directly off of trees. This builds upon the work of MIT researchers and Voltree Power. A voltage of up to around 200mV is generated between an electrode in a tree and an electrode in the ground. Identical metals can be used as electrodes as the process is not like that of a lemon or potato battery. The significant development here is the use of a boost converter and exceptionally low power circuits. What kind of applications can you come up with for this source of power? Maybe you could try to combine this power with the power from donuts and hair.

Real time gas monitoring

With the weather getting colder, [Daniel] decided it would be a good idea to monitor how much energy his gas heating was using in real time. He used a Nokia 6680 cameraphone to monitor the heater’s flame through the sight glass. PyS60, a Symbian implementation of Python, checks the image sent by the camera and measures how much blue flame is visible. These values are stored in a SQL DB on the phone that can be polled over Bluetooth. At the end of the billing cycle,  he’ll be able to correlate the amount of gas used with what the phone reported.

[Thanks, florent bayle]

24kJ Capacitor Bank

The Leyden jar capacitor posted the other day fails to compare to what [FastMHz], one of the members over at the 4HV.org forums, has been busy building, a 24kj capacitor discharge bank. This capacitor bank will be configured for 4500v @ 2400uF and can be charged up slowly using microwave oven transformers. It can then release all its stored energy in under a millisecond through a triggered spark gap. This allows for some pretty big sparks as seen in this video, we are not sure about the laughing in the video maybe the power has gone to his head? [Read more...]

Breakthrough in water based energy storage


[Daniel Nocera], working with the MIT Energy Initiative, has come up with a method to easily and cheaply store energy generated from solar electricity with water. The method uses two catalysts of non-toxic and abundant metals to separate the water into both oxygen and hydrogen. These gases are then stored, and later recombined in a fuel cell to generate power. The process was inspired by photosynthesis, and helps to make sources such as solar power viable around the clock. Current storage technologies are both expensive and inefficient, so technologies like solar are only useful when the source is available. This will allow homes to cheaply and easily store power generated through solar and other technologies. While this is only part of the solution towards the current energy problem, it could go a long way towards decreasing our use of non-renewable sources. When combined with other new breakthroughs in the field, you can easily imagine more homes coming off the grid. Check out the short video after the break.

[Read more...]

Monitoring home energy consumption


Power monitoring and home automation systems are coming to mainstream consumers. The New York Times covers the latest technologies (annoying login required) that improve and monitor energy efficiency in the home. As energy use and costs continue to increase, companies are popping up to offer cheaper solutions that will help consumers monitor energy usage, and decrease it simultaneously. Companies like Zigbee offer wireless protocols to track usage, and “smart metering” systems can communicate with appliances to reduce unnecessary energy usage.

Home automation systems can be set up to control a single system, such as a home theater, or multiple systems throughout a home, like audio, lighting, and temperature. Control4 offers controllers that will allow consumers to regulate their lighting, blinds, and temperature in their homes. Smart meters such as Echelon’s NES system offers users some great features, such as the ability to provide automated reads of electric and gas meters, and enabling load shedding during peak consumption periods, by controlling appliances like air conditioners and water heaters. By allowing the consumers to determine and control how much energy they use, they can successfully reduce their energy consumption levels a significant amount, but whether it’s worth the cost of investment remains to be seen. Although the prices of home automation systems have dropped from over $30,000 to about $5,000, it’s still much more than most consumers can afford.

We’ve covered home automation tools before. We like them because they’re still way more affordable than the offerings available, and the technology is more transparent. If you’ve got a creative and cheap solution to monitoring energy consumption, we’d love to hear it.

[via Waxy]

SSD hard drives tank laptop battery life


Tom’s Hardware has been running some tests to challenge the common assumption that SSD hard drives use power more efficiently than magnetic plate drives. Their results were quite definitive: not only are they not as energy efficient, SSDs actually use more power than conventional hard drives.

What they found is that most plate drives are at peak consumption (up to 4W) when accessing files fragmented across the media, which causes the actuator to move back and forth across the media several times. However, this is almost never sustained for extended periods of time; the actuator usually doesn’t move much when reading unfragmented data, and most plate drives are also capable of going idle when they are not in use.

Most SSDs on the other hand, only have two states: on and off. This means that when they are on, they are always at peak energy consumption. Though this number hovers around 2W for most of the SSDs they tested, over prolonged periods this can mean a great deal more power consumption than is immediately apparent, which can have short and long term effects on the battery life of a laptop. See the Tom’s Hardware article for benchmarks of specific products and more in-depth data.

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