The “P Cell” Is Exactly What You Might Suspect

[Josh Starnes] had a dream. A dream of a device that could easily and naturally be activated to generate power in an emergency, or just for the heck of it. That device takes in urea, which is present in urine, and uses it to generate a useful electrical charge. [Josh] has, of course, named this device the P Cell.

An early proof of concept uses urine to create a basic galvanic cell with zinc and copper electrodes, but [Josh] has other ideas for creating a useful amount of electricity with such a readily-available substance. For example, the urea could be used to feed bacteria or micro algae in a more elegantly organized system. Right now the P Cell isn’t much more than a basic design, but the possibilities are more than just high-minded concepts. After all, [Josh] has already prototyped a Hybrid Microbial Fuel Cell which uses a harmonious arrangement of bacteria and phytoplankton to generate power.

[Josh]’s entries were certainly among some of the more intriguing ones we saw in the Power Harvesting Challenge portion of The Hackaday Prize, and we’re delighted that his ideas will be in the running for the Grand Prize of $50,000.

MIT Extracts Power From Temperature Fluctuations

As a civilization, we are proficient with the “boil water, make steam” method of turning various heat sources into power we feed our infrastructure. Away from that, we can use solar panels. But what if direct sunlight is not available either? A team at MIT demonstrated how to extract power from daily temperature swings.

Running on temperature difference between day and night is arguably a very indirect form of solar energy. It could work in shaded areas where solar panels would not. But lacking a time machine, or an equally improbable portal to the other side of the planet, how did they bring thermal gradient between day and night together?

This team called their invention a “thermal resonator”: an assembly of materials tuned to work over a specific range of time and temperature. When successful, the device output temperature is out-of-phase with its input: cold in one section while the other is hot, and vice versa. Energy can then be harvested from the temperature differential via “conventional thermoelectrics”.

Power output of the initial prototype is modest. Given a 10 degree Celsius daily swing in temperature, it could produce 1.3 milliwatt at maximum potential of 350 millivolt. While the Hackaday coin-cell challenge participants and other pioneers of low-power electronics could probably do something interesting, the rest of us will have to wait for thermal resonator designs to evolve and improve on its way out of the lab.

[via Engadget]

Places To Visit: Electric Mountain

The experience of being a teenager leaves a host of memories, of social awkwardness in the difficult process of not quite being a child any more, of tedious school days, and of team sports seemingly enjoyed only by the few. Wherever in the world you grew up will have lent a particular flavour to your recollections of that period of your life, whether your memories are good or bad.

One surprising common theme in British teenage memories, at least those of a few decades ago, are power stations. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Central Electricity Generating Board had a PR effort that involved bringing parties of teenage school geography students in for a tour of their local electricity plant, so if you talk to a British person of a certain age you’ll probably find they’ve been up close and personal with a coal-fired power station.

The true power station marvel of the age would have been too far away to tour for most kids at the time, though our geography teachers expounded on it at length. Dinorwig pumped-storage power station in Wales was opened in the early 1980s, and is a hydroelectric plant that uses excess grid generating capacity in the middle of the night to pump water into a lake at the top of a mountain, from which it can later be released at very short notice to respond to demand surges in a matter of seconds. The oft-quoted example is that when an episode of Coronation Street draws to a close there are several million British kettles turned on simultaneously, at which point Dinorwig comes online to rapidly make up the resulting shortfall.

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School Kids Build Ontario Power Generation System Model

The STEAMLabs community makerspace teamed up with a grade 6 class from Vocal Music Academy, a public elementary school in downtown Toronto, to create a working model of the Ontario Power System. It pulls XML files and displays the live power generation mix from renewable and other sources on a 3D printed display on RGB LED strips. Arduino coding on a Spark Core provides the brains.

The kids learned HTML, CSS and Javascript to build a web interface to send commands to the Spark and explain how the system works. Their project was accepted as an exhibition at the TIFF DigiPlaySpace. The kids presented their project to adults and other kids at the event. STEAMLabs has also published a free, open source Internet of Things teaching kit to enable other educators to make projects with Internet brains.

STEAMLabs is currently crowd-funding a new makerspace in Toronto. They’re almost there, a few hundred dollars short of their target, with a couple of days to go. Help them help kids and adults make amazing things! When Hackaday visited Toronto recently, [Andy Forest] dropped in to show off this project. Projects like these which let kids become creators of technology, rather than mere consumers, is one of the best ways to get them hooked to hacking from an early age.

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Make A Wind Turbine From 55 Gallon Drums

vertical axis wind turbine

Although there are several vertical axis wind turbines listed on greenterrafirma’s page, the one built with 55 gallon drums was especially interesting to us.  Although the spouse approval factor of any of these designs is debatable, at $100, the 55 gallon drum design could provide a very good return on investment.  The tools required to make one of these are relatively simple, so this could make this experiment accessible to those without a vast arsenal of equipment.

If large blue barrels aren’t your thing, the post also features several other turbine designs, including one made with wood and aluminium foil, and one constructed out of PVC pipe.  The video after the break does a good job of explaining the “blue barrel” construction process, but if you’d rather just see this [VAWT] in action, fast forward to 5:25.

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