Companies Have New Take On Old Energy Storage Tech

According to Spectrum, several companies are poised to make a splash storing energy with gravity. That sounds fancy and high tech at first, but is it, really? Sure, we usually think of energy storage as some sort of battery, but there are many energy storage systems that use water falling, for example, which is almost what this new technology is all about. Almost, since instead of water these new systems move around multi-ton blocks.

The idea itself is nothing new. You probably learned in high school that you have kinetic energy when a rock rolls down a hill, but a rock sitting on a mountain immobile has potential energy. These systems use the same idea. Moving the “rock” up stores energy and letting it fall releases the same energy. The big difference between the systems is what “up” means.

For Swiss company Energy Vault, the 35 metric ton bricks rise into the air manipulated by towers that look like alien construction cranes. To store energy, the crane builds a tower of bricks around itself. When the bricks return to the ground, they form a lower ring around the tower.

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Adidas Going Natural With Mycelium Leather

Whether you are vegan or just want to try something new in the shoe department, Adidas will soon have your feet covered. They are currently working on a leather alternative made of mycelium, which is the network of fungal filament material that produces mushrooms, toadstools, truffles, and more. Hopefully they’re not using live mycelium, otherwise your shoes will grow mushrooms when they get wet like this mycelium canoe we saw a few weeks ago.

Adidas have really rooted themselves in sustainability over the past few years. They claim to have made 15 million pairs of shoes in 2020 out of recycled plastic waste collected from beaches and coastlines, and they’re shooting for 17 million pairs in 2021. The company started offering these in 2017, and they feature thread in the laces and other places that was spun from ocean plastic waste. Adidas are also using a lot of recycled polyester and are developing a new type of recycled cotton, according to Business Insider.

No use for mushroom shoes, canoes, or coffins (translated)? Everyone could probably use more insulation in their home. Why not grow your own?

Thanks to [Charles] for the mycelium coffin tip.

The Internet Of Christmas Tree Watering

There’s nothing quite like a real Christmas tree, but as anyone who’s had one will know there’s also nothing like the quantity of needles that a real tree can shed when it runs short of water. It’s a problem [RK] has tackled, with a Christmas tree water level monitor that has integration with Adafruit’s cloud service to give a handy phone notification when more watering is required.

The real interest in this project lies in the sensor development path. There are multiple ways of water level sensing from floats and switches through resistive and light scattering techniques, but he’s taken the brave step of using a capacitive approach. Water can be used as a dielectric between two parallel metal plates, and the level of the water varies the capacitance. Sadly the water from your tap is also a pretty good conductor, so the first attempt at a capacitive sensor was not effective. This was remedied with a polythene “sock” for each electrode constructed with the help of a heat sealer. The measurement circuit was simply a capacitive divider fed with a square wave, from which an Adafruit Huzzah board could easily derive an amplitude reading that was proportional to the water level. The board then sends its readings to Adafruit.io, from which a message can be sent to a Slack channel with the notification enabled. All in all a very handy solution.

Plant care is a long-running theme in Hackaday projects, but not all of them need a microcontroller.

Protect Your Tomatoes With A 9V Battery

Growing fresh vegetables at home is a popular pastime, even moreso in a year when we’ve all been locked inside. However pests can easily spoil a harvest, potentially putting a lot of hard work down the drain. [Matt] of [DIY Perks] isn’t one to give up his tomatoes without a fight, however, and came up with a solution to protect his plants.

The trick is to take advantage of the mildly conductive slime excreted by snails as they travel along the ground. To protect potted plants, [Matt] places two strips of copper tape around the perimeter of the pot, spaced about a centimeter apart. Each strip is connected to one terminal of a 9 V battery. When a snail attempts to cross the strips, it completes a circuit between the two, and the electrical current that flows irritates the snail, forcing it to retreat.

[Matt] notes that no snails were harmed in the making of the video, and that the solution is far kinder to the slimy critters than poisons or traps. He also goes so far as to demonstrate alternative solutions for garden beds, as well. We’ve more commonly seen [Matt] working with lighting, though it’s great to see he has a bit of a green thumb, too. Video after the break.

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Micro:bit Put On Plant Minding Duty

The BBC has a long history of supporting technology education in schools. The BBC Micro introduced a whole generation of students to computers, and more recently the Micro:bit is teaching today’s children about embedded systems. [Michael Klements] happens to be a grown adult, but has whipped up a project using the little board to build an automatic plant watering system.

Rather than a simple timer-based system, [Michael’s] build measures soil moisture using a capacitive sensor. This has the benefit of not needing to be in direct contact with the soil as resistive sensors do, and thus the sensor can be built in a fashion that minimises corrosion. The Micro:bit reads this sensor using an analog input, and displays the moisture level using its inbuilt LED matrix as a graph. Once levels dip below a set threshold, a pump is activated to deliver water to the plant until the soil is suitably moist again.

It’s a simple project, but one that would be a great way to teach students about interfacing with pumps and sensors, as well as the basics of control systems. [Michael] also notes that further work could involve interfacing multiple Micro:bits using their onboard wireless hardware. We’ve thus far seen the Micro:bit used for everything from handheld gaming to gumball delivery. Video after the break.

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Norway Leads The Charge To Phase Out Internal Combustion; China And The UK To Follow

Climate change promises to cause untold damage across the world if greenhouse gas emissions continue at current levels for much longer. Despite the wealth of evidence indicating impending doom, governments have done what humans do best, and procrastinated on solving the issue.

However, legislatures around the world are beginning to snap into action. With transportation being a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions — 16% of the global total in 2016 — measures are being taken to reduce this figure. With electric cars now a viable reality, many governments are planning to ban the sale of internal combustion vehicles in the coming decades.

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Killing Mosquitoes With Cardi B

Keeping a bird bath or a pond in your yard is a great way to add ambiance and style, but both of these things can be a haven for mosquitoes. Popular methods of getting rid of them are often with harsh pesticides, but [Shane] has brought us a more environmentally-friendly way of taking care of these disease-carrying insects by looping a Cardi B playlist underwater, killing the mosquito larvae.

While the build does include some other favorites such as “Baby Shark” and would probably work with any song (or audio of sufficient volume) the build is still pretty interesting. It’s based on a 555 timer circuit which powered an ultrasonic sound gun, but was repurposed for this build. The ultrasonic modules were replaced with piezo modules which were waterproofed with silicone. The sound produced vibrates at a frequency which resonates with the mosquito larvae and is fatal to them. [Shane] put the build into a small boat which can be floated in any pond, bird bath, horse trough, or water feature.

The major caveat to this build is that it may be damaging to other beneficial animals such as fish or frogs, so he suggests limiting its use to uninhabited stagnant water. Either way, though, it’s a pretty unique way of taking care of a mosquito problem not unlike another build which takes care of these insects in water a slightly different way.

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