250: Offshore computer server


Cooling is one of the biggest costs of running a data center and keeping computers from overheating, particularly on a large scale.


Microsoft’s Project Natick involves lowering a hyperscale data center down to the cold depths of the sea and pumping cold seawater through to keep it cool.

From 2015, Phase 1 of Microsoft’s project saw a 10 ft (3 m) long prototype submerged off the coast of California for 105 days, which proved the feasibility of the concept. Phase 2 was designed to test if the idea was practical in a logistical, environmental and economic sense.

Microsoft partnered with a French marine manufacturing company called Naval Group, which designed the watertight cylindrical shell and adapted a commonly-used submarine cooling system to work with the data center. Positioned offshore from Orkney the new facility, known as the Northern Isles data center sits 117 ft (36 m) below the waves, and measures 40 ft (12 m) long. It houses 12 racks with 864 servers and 27.6 petabytes (27,600 terabytes) of storage, enough to store at least 5 million copies of Finding Nemo.

To cool them, seawater is piped through the radiators on the backs of the server racks, before being released back out into the ocean. The center is connected to the world through a fiber optic cable and gets most of its power from the nearby Orkney Islands. Interestingly, 100 % of the region’s energy already comes from renewable sources, thanks to wind turbines, solar panels and more experimental sources such as tidal turbines and wave energy converters.

The eventual goal of Project Natick is to have these underwater data centers be completely self-sustained, powered entirely through offshore wind, wave or tidal generators. In doing so, they could essentially be submerged near any coastal city where they are needed, and supply faster internet and cloud services.

This phase of Project Natick will see the team monitoring the Northern Isles data center for the next 12 months, keeping watch over its performance, power consumption, sound, humidity and temperature.

This version is designed to work continuously down there for up to five years without needing maintenance. Project Natick has been criticized because, using the ocean as a heat exchange to reduce energy used to cool data centres, could be construed as conflicting with environmental objectives,particularly as the global energy consumption of data centres is due to expand from its current 3% to about 14% by 2050.

Other companies have also built facilities in cold locations such as the Arctic Circle or beneath the fjords of Norway.

Discover Solution 251: “Proton”, single-cell protein from CO2

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242: Roadside wind turbine


More than 2.5 billion cars, most of which while using motorways generate unharnessed wind turbulence.


Roadside wind turbine

Pakistani engineer Sanwal Muneer was standing on the side of a Malaysian racetrack four years ago was inspired as to how the breeze from the racecars might generate energy.

The roadside wind turbine Muneer created stood 8ft (2m50) tall and was made of recyclable carbon fibre. The turbine weighed just 20lb. (9 kg), which makes it easy to transport and install. The fully-charged battery can hold a kilowatt of electricity, which is enough power to run two lamps and a fan for around 40 hours. The idea is that this turbine could supply electricity for rural communities in developing countries, or could be used to power traffic lights or road signs in urban areas.

Winning the UN Clean Energy Award in 2014, then funding from the 2015 Shell LiveWIRE programme, Muneer teamed up with Asad Liaquat, a friend since university days in Islamabad, Pakistan, when they were both studying electrical engineering, to found Capture Mobility to trial and commercialise his solution. Dundee, on the east coast of Scotland was the first local authority to allow Muneer’s company, to test the turbine beside its roads. Captive Mobility exhibited at at Ecoville during the 2018 Edinburgh International Science Festival.

Even more innovative is the Alpha 311 roadside wind turbine, developed by John Sanderson and Barry Thompson of Whitstable, Kent, England. Instead of its own pole, this can be retrofitted onto any lighting column or pole lining the central reservation of motorways.

While the first prototypes were made from drinks bottles in a shed in Whitstable, Tom the 2m tall Alpha 311 Mk.X was by from carbon fibre and recycled PET Trials showed it able to generate the same amount of energy as 21m² of solar panels.

The business plan: The turbines are not sold, but leased – but pay their way from the electrical energy gained by the local council – the electrical energy used can light the motorways making huge financial savings. Alpha 311 has already received requests for projects in India and New York.

Discover Solution 243: Silverlining

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238: Thermosyphoning


Is it possible to heat without using electricity from the grid?


Thermosyphoning is a high efficiency/low maintenance method of passive heat exchange, based on natural convection, which circulates a fluid without the necessity of a mechanical pump.

It is used for circulation of liquids and volatile gases in heating and cooling applications such as heat pumps, water heaters, boilers and furnaces. Thermosyphoning also occurs across air temperature gradients such as those utilized in a wood fire chimney or solar chimney.

In thermoelectric refrigerators, the cooling systems that work on the Peltier effect, creating heat flux between the junctions of two types of materials, have a much smaller coefficient of performance as compared to the conventional compressor-style refrigerators, especially when the cooling capacity is large.

Nevertheless, owing to the small size of cooling units, their silent nature, the absence of any moving parts in them or any gases or liquids, and their long life, thermoelectric refrigerators are used in a vast set of applications.

In 1983 Robert Draper of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation obtained a patent for “Thermosyphon coil arrangement for heat pump outdoor unit”. In 2012, Richard Boyle and a team at Naked Energy in Guildford, England used thermosyphoning to develop a hybrid solar panel they called Virtu, capable of generating both electricity and hot water simultaneously.

Reviewing Virtu, the Imperial College London found that the panels they tested can produce up to 46 % more energy than the typical PV panel when the cells are heated to 65ºC. In 2015, Naked Energy teamed up with Jabil in the US to scale up production of Virtu.

Thermosyphon installation accounted for over 55% of global solar water heater market share in 2018. The product finds wide application in residential and small commercial buildings on account of ease of installation, simple design and cost effectiveness features.

Visit us tomorrow for Solution 239: Capturing carbon with volcanic ash

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232: Lift powered by wastewater


St Gervais les Bains is in the Haute-Savoie department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France. At the foot of Mont Blanc, the mid-mountain village is best known for tourism, and has been a popular holiday destination since the early 1900s.

To reach the thermal baths below and its activity center, including the high school, the many thousands of tourists have to take a steeply sloping road for 4 km.


In order to reduce individual motor transport and the carbon footprint, Mayor Jean Marc Peillex wants to build a lift which will use water pressure to move the cabin up and down. Ballasts that will fill and empty will run the lift.

It will be the town’s wastewater that will be used and not spring water. The water lift is much less advanced than its big brother since it is only in the preliminary phase.

Discover Solution 233: biodegradeable rope

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230: Power over Ethernet lighting


The more efficient the light bulb, the less energy it will need.


Energy-efficiency has driven the evolution of the light bulb, but the next iteration of the light bulb will launch it into the Era of the Internet of Things (IoT).

As LED lights slowly replace compact fluorescent lights (CFL’s) due to greater energy-efficiency, businesses have been exploring the profitability of replacing LED lights’ electrical power source with an alternate but common power source found in the networking world — Power over Ethernet (PoE). Following pioneering work by Cisco Systems of San Jose, California, there are several common techniques for transmitting power over Ethernet cabling. Three of them have been standardized by IEEE 802.3 since 2003.

A Light over Ethernet (LoE) LED system is powered by Ethernet and 100% IP based. This makes the system (i.e. each luminaire individually) computer controllable, so that changes can be implemented quickly and easily without opening suspended ceilings. The luminaires are furthermore equipped with Philips’ ‘coded-light’ system allowing for a highly precise localisation via smartphone down to 8 in (20 cm) accuracy, much more precise than known WiFi or beacon systems.

One of the digital buildings using the PoE is The Edge, a 430,000 ft² (40,000m²) office building in the Zuidas business district in Amsterdam. It was designed for the global financial firm and main tenant, Deloitte. The project aimed to consolidate Deloitte’s employees from multiple buildings throughout the city into a single environment, and to create a ‘smart building’ to act as a catalyst for Deloitte’s transition into the digital age.

Around 6,000 of these luminaires were placed in The Edge with every second luminaire being equipped with an additional multi-sensor to detect movement, light, infrared and temperature. The Philips LoE LED system was used in all office spaces to reduce the energy requirement by around 50% compared to conventional TL-5 Lighting. Via the LoE system daily building use can be monitored.

The Edge’s orientation is based on the path of the sun. The atrium bathes the building in northern daylight while the solar panels on the southern facade shield the workspaces from the sun. The roof and the south-facing facade incorporate the largest array of PV panels of any European office building, and an aquifer thermal energy storage system provides all of the energy required for heating and cooling. A heat-pump was applied to this storage system significantly increases efficiency.

The Edge uses about 70% less energy than most buildings but is not glass-fronted on all sides – the southern, eastern and western sides have smaller window openings to reduce heat gain, and openable windows.

Discover Solution 231: a sanctuary for traumatized former circus elephants

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Energy Materials

226: Li-ion battery recycling


Since 2005, the commercialised li-ion battery has surged, starting with electronics and expanding into many applications, including the growing electric and hybrid vehicle industry. As the popularity of electric vehicles starts to grow explosively, so does the pile of spent li-ion batteries that once powered those cars. Industry analysts predict that by 2020, China alone will generate some 550,000 tons (500,000 tonnes) of used Li-ion batteries and that by 2030, the worldwide number will hit 2.2 million tons (2 million tonnes) per year.

But the technologies to optimize recycling of these batteries have not kept pace. If current trends for handling these spent batteries hold, most of those batteries may end up in landfills even though Li-ion batteries can be recycled.


In 2009, far-sightedly, the US Department of Energy DOE granted US$9.5 million to W. Novis Smith and Scott Swoffer at Toxco in California to build America’s first recycling facility for li-ion vehicle batteries.

Toxco used the funds to expand an existing facility in Lancaster, Ohio, that already recycled the lead-acid and nickel-metal hydride batteries used in hybrid-electric vehicles. The new facility opened in 2015 and is currently in operation. It recycles a multitude of li-ion batteries, including those that have substituted cobalt for other minerals, including iron phosphate, manganese spinal, and nickel manganese. (

In 2018 China recycled around 67,000 tons (61,000 tonnes) of li-ion batteries 2018, or 69 % of all the stock available for recycling worldwide. The People’s Republic has benefited from around a decade of mobile phone manufacturing, which has enabled it to perfect li-ion battery recycling as part of a growing handset refurbishing industry.

Hunan Brunp Recycling Technology, a subsidiary of li-ion battery leader CATL, recycled about 30,000 tons (27,000 tonnes) of batteries. Meanwhile, Quzhou Huayou Cobalt New Material has roughly 60,000 tons (40,000 tonnes) of li-ion battery recycling capacity a year and recycled around 10,000 tons (9.100 tonnes) in 2018. Recycling is also being carried out by Ganzhou Highpower Technology and Guangdong Guanghua Sci-Tech.

In 2018, researchers in the UK formed a large consortium dedicated to improving Li-ion battery recycling, specifically from electric vehicles. Led by the University of Birmingham, the Reuse and Recycling of Li-ion Batteries (ReLiB) project brings together some 50 scientists and engineers at eight academic institutions, and it includes 14 industry partners. (

In February 2019, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) opened the ReCell Center a battery recycling research and development center at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois.

The goal of the R&D facility is to reclaim and recycle materials such as cobalt and lithium from spent li-ion batteries. Launched with a US$15 million investment and headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory, ReCell includes some 50 researchers from Argonne; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL); Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and several universities, including Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, the University of California at San Diego and Michigan Technological University.

Recycled materials from li-ion batteries can be reused in new batteries, reducing production costs by 10% to 30 %. This could help lower the overall cost of electric vehicle (EV) batteries closer to the DOE’s goal of US$80 per kilowatt hour, says the agency. The ReCell Center is supported by the DOE with US$15 million in funding over three years, and its work will include development of test beds and a process scale-up facility at Argonne. (

The DOE also announced its US$5.5 million Li-ion Battery Recycling Prize. The prize encourages entrepreneurs to find innovative solutions to collecting, storing and transporting discarded li-ion batteries for eventual recycling. It will award cash prizes totaling US$5.5 million to contestants in three phases designed to accelerate the development of solutions from concept to prototype.

The ReCell collaborators also will use existing modeling and analysis tools to help industry determine how to optimize value. EverBatt, Argonne’s closed-loop battery life-cycle model evaluates the techno-economic and environmental impacts of each stage of a battery’s life, including recycling.  NREL’s supply chain analysis tool provides a birds-eye view of the interconnections between raw material availability, primary manufacture, recycling, and demand.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute is researching the effects of impurities on the cathode materials used to make li-ion batteries. After 7 years’ research, Yan Wang, a WPI William Smith Dean’s Professor of Mechanical Engineering who developed a process for recycling li-ion batteries that can recover and reuse cathode materials regardless of their chemistry is leading the project. Yan Wang founded Battery Resourcers in Worcester to demonstrate that the process can be scaled up to near-commercial capacity. (

In Germany, Volkswagen started battery recycling in 2020 at Volkswagen Group’s component plant in Salzgitter, with an initial capacity to recycle roughly 1,200 tons (1089 tonnes) of EV batteries per year, equal to the batteries from about 3,000 vehicles. The recycling rate of raw materials in Salzgitter is around 72%, which is already a lot higher than the industry average.

Using a special shredder, the individual battery parts can be ground up, the liquid electrolyte can be cleaned off, and the components separated into “black powder.” This contains the valuable raw materials cobalt, lithium, manganese, and nickel, which, while requiring further physical separation, are then ready for re-use in new batteries.

In the long term, Volkswagen wants to recycle about 97 % of all raw materials in the battery packs. In France, Renault and Euro Dieuxe Industrie, a Veolia subsidiary, are employing a unique hydrometallurgical process that allows the recovery of precious metals such as cobalt and nickel contained in the batteries of electric vehicles, in order to promote their re-use in various industrial applications or in chemistry for the manufacture of battery cells.

CSIRO’s Australian Battery Recycling Initiative is preparing to tackle Australia’s annual 3,600 tons (3300 tonnes) of li-ion battery waste. In September 2019 following Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s meeting with President Donald Trump, the CSIRO is joining ReCell Center’s industrial advisory council to deepen collaboration on li-ion recycling.

DiscoverSolution 227: NASA’s X-planes

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Materials Energy

224: Ultra fast charge batteries


Existing battery electrodes have low electrical, thermal and ionic conductivity, along with poor mechanical behaviour when discharged and recharged, and can also suffer from early delamination and degradation leading to safety and lifecycle issues.


The Ultra Fast Carbon Electrode

A team at the CEA (Atomic and Renewable Energy Commissariat) led by French mathematician Pascal Boulanger has developed and patented an electrode using vertically-aligned carbon nanotubes (VACNT) a derivative of graphene, making it possible to manufacture super capacitors 1,000 times faster than a lithium-ion battery.

The electrode combines the highest ionic conductivity – thanks to a 3D fully accessible nanostructure – with the highest electrical and thermal conductivity, provided by its arrangement of 100 billion nanotubes per sq. cm, all vertically aligned.

Put simply, a battery using this VACNT technology can give an electric car 800 to 1,000 km of range with only 5 minutes of recharging.

In 2014, Boulanger collaborated with Ludovic Eveillard to create a start-up called NaWaTechnologies based in Rousset, near Aix-en-Provence and the first carbon nanotube mats were made two years later.(nawa in Japanese = short string, but na(no) + wa(arming)
NaWaCap Power super capacitors offer power densities between 10 and 100 times higher than existing super capacitors.

Their Equivalent Series Resistance = ESR is more than 10 times lower. The temperature (low and high) and frequency behavior is also greatly improved and NaWaCap Power super capacitors thus make it possible to preserve more than 5 times more energy at high or low temperature or at high frequency compared to current products.

NaWa set up a subsidiary NaWa America in Dayton, Ohio, created by the acquisition of the assets of the US leader in VACNT for composite applications, N12 Technologies. Working with Dr. Paul Kladitis’ Multifunctional Structures and Materials at the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI), with Laboratory, NaWa America has developed NaWaStitch, a thin film made of hundreds of billions of carbon nanotubes all aligned vertically which serves as an interface between the folds of composite materials and like a “nano-velcro” mechanically reinforces this interface.

NaWa America has also signed an exclusive license agreement with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the work of the research laboratory of Professor Brian Wardle (NECSTLAB), well known in the fields of composites and nanotubes.

In February 2020 NaWaTechnologies in France raised €13 million to build next-generation production line equipment at Rousset by 2021, allowing NaWa to steadily build up to over 100,000 ultracapacitor cells per month when at full capacity. The integration of this technology for future urban mobility, including electric buses, trams or autonomous vehicles is estimated at around 2024/2025.

At the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, as proof of concept, NaWaTechnologies revealed its 150 kg NAWA Racer concept e-bike which debuted their NaWaCap innovation.

The bike’s 9kWh lithium-ion battery can capture 80% more energy by regenerative braking. The smaller battery is mounted low in the chassis and will weigh around 10kg, much less than current electric sportbike batteries.

This gives the NAWA Racer a 300km (186 miles) range for inner-city riding, while recharging in just 2 minutes or an 80% entire battery charge in one hour.

NaWa Technologies is also developing a concept called NaWaShell, an integrated structural hybrid battery that incorporates VACNT to give two complimentary characteristics: enhanced mechanical strength and electrical energy storage within the core of the composite structure.

NaWa’s dry electrode technology also brings significant environmental advantages, being easily recyclable and eco-disposable at the end of its long lifecycle. As a result, NAWA estimates that by using an Ultra Fast Carbon Electrode in lithium battery cell, the CO2 footprint could be reduced by as much as 60%, simply because less active material is required.

Visit us tomorrow for Solution 225: Race for Water

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218: A battery that can be charged 23,000 times


The lithium-ion battery is limited in the number of times it can be recharged – 500 times.


In his nineties, John Goodenough, whilst one of the pioneers of the li-ion and the lithium iron phosphate battery, has been investigating another solution in the lithium-sodium glass battery.

Together with Maria Helena Braga, a Portuguese physicist at the Cockrell School of Engineering, at the University of Texas, they have developed a battery that can be charged/discharged up to 23,000 times, in minutes instead of hours.

The solid-state lithium battery  uses a glass doped with alkali metals making it non flammable. Their prototype offers three times’ the energy density of li-ion and performs well in both hot and cold weather.

In March 2020 the Canadian utility Hydro-Quebec announced that its research lab, comprising 120 people, would be preparing the battery for commercialisation, in collaboration with Braga and the 97-year-old Goodenough who in 2019 was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for chemistry. The utility announced that the battery would be ready in two years’ time, before Goodenough’s hundredth birthday.

Visit us tomorrow for Solution 219: cell-grown meat

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214: Lithium from geothermal heating plants


Five times more lithium than is mined currently is going to be necessary to meet global climate targets by 2050, according to the World Bank.


Lithium extracted from geothermal waters.

In 1864, huge quantities of lithium were discovered in a hot spring is discovered nearly 450m (1,485ft) below ground in the Wheal Clifford, a copper mine in Cornwall. But 19th-Century England had little need for the element, and this 122C (252F) lithium-rich water continued boiling away in the dark for more than 150 years.

Instead, Cornwall became world famous for its tin and copper mines.

In 2016 Cornish Lithium was founded by mining engineer and businessman Jeremy Wrathall and a team of 10 full-time geoscientists led by Lucy Crane to use modern extraction methods at the United Downs Geothermal Power site, the UK’s first deep geothermal electricity plant.

The site, confirmed as having some of the world’s highest grades of lithium in geothermal waters (260 milligrams per litre) would have a tiny environmental footprint in comparison with conventional surface lithium mining, including very low carbon emissions.

The directors of Cornish Lithium have secured agreements with various holders of mineral rights in Cornwall to explore for, and to commercially develop, lithium bearing hot spring brines throughout areas considered to be highly prospective.

In August 2020, the project won £4m ($5.3m) backing from the UK government, allowing a pilot lithium extraction plant to be built in the next couple of years and move Cornish mining into the 21st century.

Visit us tomorrow for Solution 215: Recycling plastic to make oil – on a desk top!

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Energy Mobility

213: Molten Salt Reactor Ship


Over the coming decades, as many as 60,000 ships must transition from combustion of fossil fuels to zero-emission propulsion and reduce emissions by 50% of the 2008 total, before 2050. T


Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Chairman of TerraPower nuclear tech company in Washington has linked up with Mikal Bøe’s London-based Core Power, French nuclear materials handling specialist Orano and American utilities firm Southern Company to develop Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) atomic technology in the USA with the potential for use in commercial shipping.

The team including Rob Corbin of TerraPower and Giulio Gennaro of Core Power has submitted its application to the US Department of Energy to take part in cost-share risk reduction awards under the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, in order to build a prototype MSR as a proof-of-concept for a medium-scale commercial-grade reactor.

Their solution will be using a fluid fuel in the form of very hot fluoride or chloride salt typically composed of beryllium-fluoride (BeF2) and lithium-fluoride (LiF), infused with high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), a ‘hot’ fissile material instead of solid fuel rods which are used in conventional pressurized water reactors (PWRs).

They have no moving parts, operate at very high temperatures under only ambient pressure, and can be made small enough to provide ‘micro-grid-scale’ electric power for energy-hungry assets, like large ships.

For this reason, they can be mass-manufactured to bring the cost of energy in line with existing fuels.
MSRs are walk-away safe. The fuel salts for MSRs work at normal atmospheric pressure, so a breach of the reactor containment vessel would simply leak out the liquid fuel which would then solidify as it cooled.

Bjørn Højgaard, the CEO of Hong Kong ship manager Anglo-Eastern ( has commented “I think that in 50 years nuclear molten-salt-reactors will be par for the course in the shipping industry, and we will look back at the current time and wonder why we dabbled in alternative pathways for greenhouse gas-free propulsion.”

Ports will also be able to use energy from ships installed with m-MSR to power equipment and machinery while the ship is at berth, through reverse cold ironing. Power generated by m-MSR will be cost competitive when compared to terrestrial energy sources available to the port.

Discover Solution 214: lithium from thermal waters

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205: Stinkfruit supercapacitors


Graphene supercapacitors are expensive to make. About half the materials cost comes from the use of activated carbon to coat the electrodes. Supercapacitor-grade activated carbon can cost $15 per kilogram.


Using inexpensive biochar to coat electrodes and a new method to create the porous surface needed to capture electricity may reduce the cost of supercapacitors. Activating the biochar using plasma processing takes only five minutes with no external heating or chemicals needed.

Vincent Gomes, a chemical engineer at the University of Sydney, and his team, including Labna Shabnam have found a solution to convert the inedible parts of the world’s largest and smelliest fruits, Durian and Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) into carbon aerogels – porous super-light solids – with “exceptional” natural energy storage properties.

These fruits were used to produce carbon aerogel electrodes incorporating stable scaffolding of base material and natural nitrogen doping. They heated, freeze-dried and then baked the inedible spongey core of each fruit in an oven at temperatures of more than 1,500°C (2732°F).

The black, highly porous, ultralight structures they were left with could then be fashioned into electrodes of a low-cost supercapacitor.

Until now, 70% of jackfruit or durian has been thrown away – but can now be recycled.

Discover Solution 206: Kayaks from recycled plastics.

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Materials Energy

203: Iron Fuel


With the exponential use of electric power, replacing that of fossil fuels, as many reliable solutions as possible must be found to produce it.


Iron powder and rust

Ground very fine, cheap iron powder burns readily at high temperatures, releasing tremendous energy as it oxidizes in a process that emits no carbon and produces easily collectable rust, or iron oxide, as its only emission.

The energy released can be applied in various applications such as chemical processes, generation of electricity, or even used as a means of propulsion.

That rust can be regenerated straight back into iron powder with the application of electricity, and if you do this using solar, wind or other zero-carbon power generation systems, you end up with a totally carbon-free cycle.

The iron acts as a kind of clean battery for combustion processes, charging up via one of a number of means including electrolysis, and discharging in flames and heat.

The generated iron fuel in the reduction process can be stored and transported in a cheap and safe manner with hardly any energy losses. As a result, iron fuel enables energy provision, wherever and whenever.

In 2015, J.M. Bergthorson & colleagues of McGill University in Canada published an article in the Journal of Applied Energy about the potential of metal fuels and iron fuel in particular.

The following year, led by Philip de Goey, a multidisciplinary team of 30, students many already with bachelor’s and master’s programs, was set up at the Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands. Called SOLID, it has been dedicated to the advancement of metal fuels and combustion technology.

As proof of concept, the 340-year-old Royal Swinkels Family Brewers (formerly Bavaria NV), from Noord-Brabant in the Netherlands formerly using coal-fired power plants, has been using metal powder as a sustainable fuel to produce steam for their brewing process using an installation built by SOLID and the Brabant-based Metalot Power Consortium.

The system, capable of providing all the heat necessary for some 15 million glasses of beer a year, has been funded by the province of Noord- Brabant, and cooperation with the Metalot.

SOLID is now developing an improved 1 Mw iron fuel system, followed by a 10-MW system that should be ready in 2024. Our ambition is to convert the first into sustainable iron fuel plants by 2030

In addition, since May 2019, SOLID’s Maritime Innovation Impuls project (MIIP) is researching how to use iron fuel for various types of ship propulsion, with trials of the first iron-fuel ship by 2021.

Discover Solution 204: Robert Downey Jr.’s Footprint Coalition

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198: Hydrogen home batteries


How to store the electricity generated by solar farms so it can be available to sell on the electricity market during peak demand when the sun does not shine.


Store the energy in hydrogen batteries

A research team led by Kondo-Francois Aguey-Zinsou at the Material Energy Research Laboratory in nanoscale (MERLin), part of the School of Chemical Engineering at the University of New South Wales  has spent twelve years developing metal alloys (particularly titanium with other common materials) capable of storing surplus electricity in the form of hydrogen much more cheaply than lithium batteries.

The system uses solar power to create hydrogen, 3 mass % of which can be stored over 10 years until needed for electricity production via a fuel cell.

The solid-state mix can operate in a range of temperatures, from -10° to +50° – depending on the climate the storage is intended for.

Since 2016, Aguey-Zinsou has secured over $3 million in grant funding and established the EnergyH Project, a hydrogen research laboratory unique to the Australia scene.

In 2020, with UNSW’s Hydrogen Energy Research Centre backed by $10 million from Providence Asset Group, this solid state hydrogen technology will be trialed at the community solar farm at Manilla, near Tamworth to store hydrogen in 20 ft (6 m) containers with an energy density of 17MWh becoming the first of this kind in the world in terms of scale.

The startup, H2Store plans to produce the world’s first hydrogen batteries, brand-named LAVO, for households as soon as early 2021, eventually freeing Australia of its dependence on coal.

What you can do: Preorder a LAVO hydrogen battery now

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196: Hydrogen from salt and polluted water


One of the main methods of producing hydrogen is to decompose water by exposure to sunlight. There is a lot of water on our planet, but only a few methods suitable for salt or polluted water.


Scientists of Tomsk Polytechnic University’s Research School of Chemistry & Applied Biomedical Sciences, jointly with teams from the University of Chemistry and Technology, Prague and Jan Evangelista Purkyne University in Ústí nad Labem, have developed a new 2-D material to produce hydrogen.

The material efficiently generates hydrogen molecules from fresh, salt, and polluted water by exposure to sunlight. In addition it is one of the few systems which can use the infrared spectrum, which is 43% of all sunlight.

The developed material is a three-layer structure with a 1-micrometer thickness. The lower layer is a thin film of gold, the second one is made of 10-nanometer platinum, and the top layer is a film of metal-organic frameworks of chromium compounds and organic molecules.

Experiments have demonstrated that 100 square centimeters of the material can generate 0.5 liters of hydrogen in an hour. It is one of the highest rates recorded for 2-D materials.

Discover Solution 197: Elon Musk’s Hyperloop

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194: Small scale nuclear reactors


95% of the hydrogen produced in the world today comes directly from fossil fuels, with the biggest supply coming from steam methane reforming, where a mixture of steam and methane gas is put under high pressure while in contact with a nickel catalyst, to produce hydrogen, carbon monoxide and a small amount of carbon dioxide.


Modular nuclear reactors.

Working at the Idaho National Laboratory, a team led by Dr José Reyes, an internationally recognized expert on passive safety system design, testing and operations for nuclear power plants, has developed a passively-cooled small nuclear reactor to produce hydrogen.

Water is heated to a temperature of 300 °C (572 °F) by the reactor and then the temperature of the steam is increased to 860 °C (1,580 °F) using two percent (around 1.8 MW) of the reactor’s electrical output.

This is then put through a high-temperature steam electrolysis system that works like a fuel cell in reverse. By pumping thermal energy into the system, the water breaks up into hydrogen and oxygen rather than combining the gases into water to get out energy.

Encouraged that a single small Nuclear Power Module (NPM) could economically produce almost 50 tonnes of hydrogen fuel per day, Reyes and Paul G. Lorenzini founded NuScale Power in Tigard, Oregon to take the solution from laboratory to working plant.

Each NuScale reactor vessel would measure 9 feet (2.7 m) in diameter and 65 feet (20 m) tall, weighing 650 short tons (590 metric tons). The modules would be pre-fabricated, delivered by railcar, barge or special trucks and assembled on-site.

The units were designed to produce 60 megawatts of electricity each and require refueling with standard 4.95 percent enriched uranium-235 fuel every two years.

In addition, a single NPM would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 168,000 tonnes per year.

NuScale says that its nuclear modules are designed to scale up by adding as many of the factory-built nuclear reactors as needed at a site. One, five, a dozen, or more such reactors could be installed on a site smaller than a conventional power station and located almost anywhere.

In August 2020, the NRC issued a final safety evaluation report for NuScale’s small modular reactor design, certifying the design as having met the NRC’s safety requirements. NuScale plans to apply for a standard design approval of a 60-megawatt-per-module version of the design in 2022, which if accepted will allow the company to pursue its first reactor deployment in the mid-2020s.

Discover Solution 195: Towing icebergs

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193: Taking hydro dams underground


Hydro-electric dams can disrupt the natural ecology of rivers, damage forests and biodiversity, release large amounts of greenhouse gases, as well as displace thousands of people while disrupting food systems, water quality and agriculture.


Put the rivers and dams underground.

The Romanches Gavet dam, in Isère is the largest underground dam in France also the last major EDF hydropower project. After ten years’ work, the installation, with a gallery 10 km long underneath the Belle Donne mountain, was officially inaugurated on 9th October 2020.

With a capacity of 97 megawatts, the 92-ton turbine, Romanche-Gavet hydroelectric plant, operated and maintained by a team of approximately twenty EDF Hydro Alpes technicians and engineers, can increase power output by 40% along the same stretch of river (La Romanche).

Its output will equate to the amount of power consumed every year by the cities of Grenoble and Chambéry (230 000 inhabitants), using a decarbonised and renewable energy source.

In addition, it replaces 6 old plants and 5 old dams. Nature has been restored along the banks of the dam by replanting species that were gathered within a radius of 25 kilometres in order to prevent the proliferation of invasive plants.

Discover Solution 194: small scale nuclear reactors

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Energy Materials

188: Hospitals zero emission


Hospitals pollute due to their facilities, electricity use, vehicles, and supply chains for medicines and medical devices.


Zero-emission hospitals

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service has launched an ambitious plan to eliminate nearly all of its carbon emissions by 2040

A 76-page plan, “Delivering a ‘Net Zero’ National Health Service, forwarded by Sir Simon Stevens, NHS Chief Executive includes a range of solutions:

  • to cut out single-use plastics;
  • reuse and refurbish devices;
  • to capture and reuse anesthetic gases,
  • to find alternative products with a smaller impact on the planet; and
  • ask suppliers to make the same net-zero pledge;
  • to generate renewable energy and heat onsite: to process and recycle waste;
  • to replace less efficient lights with LEDs to save energy; to introduce fleets of zero-emission ambulances by 2032; and
  • to build 40 new “net-zero” hospitals to run more cleanly and efficiently.


L’Assistance Public-Hôpitaux de Paris (AP-HP) whose 39 hospitals receive 8.3 million patients per year, has launched a appeal for projects to accelerate their eco-transition.


Landspitali, the National University Hospital of Iceland, has substantially reduced its carbon footprint by increasing eco-friendly travel to and from work from 21% to 40% of employees. Through the design of a green travel agreement, Landspitali has created economic and health gains for its employees while minimising CO2.


Bhagat Chandra Hospital, a multispecialty, 85 bed facility in Dwarka, New Delhi, India has achieved considerable financial and environmental benefits by transitioning to solar energy, conserving approximately 93 000 kg CO2 emissions since 2016. Through a coordinated, hospital-wide initiative, Bhagat Chandra has installed 50 kW solar panels that connect to the electrical system and reduce 20-30% of its energy consumption.


Through a different approach, the Buddhist Tzu-Chi Dialysis Center in Malaysia has reduced its carbon footprint by promoting vegetarianism and using reusable food containers. Implementing an “only vegetarian” policy since the centre opened in 1997, the centre saves 4.9 kg of CO2 emissions for every kg of tofu served in place of chicken. They have also seen major falls in carbon footprint by reducing the use of plastic bags

Kaiser Permanente, an integrated managed care consortium based in Oakland, California, USA, has made concerted efforts to purchase environmentally responsible computers. It has been able to reduce the use of toxic materials and energy, resulting in energy cost savings of $4m a year

Discover Solution 189: Why hotspot zones, rich in fauna and flora are so vital for our Planet

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Energy Your Home

181: Greener personal desktop computing


Internets cause global warming. Blog servers might have more than 10,000 PCs occupying an area of more than 40, 0000 sq. ft that generate huge amount of heat while running.

Each click of the keyboard engenders heat in a computer or laptop and processing of information data causes a minuscule rise in environmental temperature. Single internet search, depending upon the initial data, might consume enough electricity to run an 11 watt energy saving light bulb few minutes to an hour.

With about more than 5.6 billion searches internet searches estimated globally daily, the power consumption and GHG emissions generated by internet and computers is alarming. Google processes over 3.5 billion searches per day (Internetlivestats, 2019). If you break this statistic down, it means that Google processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average.


Greener computing.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star program has set up green computing criteria, and compliance with these requirements earns systems the Energy Star label.

To gain Energy Star compliance, computers must use an energy-efficient power supply, operate efficiently in power saving modes (standby/off, sleep and idle modes), and also provide power management features (along with information about how to use those features).

If all the computers that are sold in the United States met Energy Star requirements, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by the equivalent of 2 million cars and save about $2 billion annually on energy costs

In addition to the Energy Star label, EPEAT (Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool), run by the Green Electronics Council, rates computers based on more than 50 energy-efficient criteria including everything from what materials were used in the system and its packaging to its energy conservation and end-of-life management.

This is a three-tiered rating system — gold, silver and bronze — and computers ranked by EPEAT are also Energy Star compliant.

In June 2007, Dell of Round Rock, Texas, set a goal of becoming the greenest technology company on Earth for the long term. The company launched a zero-carbon initiative that included partnering with customers to build the “greenest PC on the planet”.

Called the Studio Hybrid, its 87% efficient power supply meets Energy Star’s 4.0 green computing standards, and EPEAT gives the system its highest rating, gold.

The Studio Hybrid is 80% smaller than a typical desktop computer while its packaging is made from 95-percent-recyclable materials and comes with less printed documentation – 75 % less by weight (all documentation is made available online instead)

For an additional charge, owner-users can personalize it with a bamboo sleeve. And when they are ready to upgrade, the Studio Hybrid comes with its own system recycling kit.

Alongside Dell, other PC manufacturers have come up with solutions, including Lenovo’s ThinkCentre M57p, the Apple Mac mini, the Zonbu Desktop Mini, the Acer TravelMate TimelineX, the Asus Bamboo Series, the CherryPal etc.

What you can do: Shutdown and unplug your computer when not in use. Using your system’s power settings (for instance, programming a sleep mode or turning the machine off and unplugging it) is a smart way to conserve energy. But when it’s time to upgrade your system, consider going green. And don’t forget to recycle your outdated system.

Discover Solution 181: An app to help clean up rubbish

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168: Geothermal energy


Consuming fossil fuels above the earth to heat buildings is very energy-consuming.


Binary below-earth or geothermal power plants emit close to no GHGs in the world’s atmosphere and are extremely eco-friendly. Geothermal energy is ranked among some of the most efficient in cooling and heating systems available today. It uses a relatively low amount of power due to their low electricity requirement.

As of 2004, there were over a million units installed worldwide providing 12 GW of thermal capacity. Each year, about 80,000 units are installed in the US (geothermal energy is used in all 50 U.S. states today, with great potential for near-term market growth and savings) and 27,000 in Sweden.

In Finland, a geothermal heat pump was the most common heating system choice for new detached houses between 2006 and 2011 with market share exceeding 40%.

The International Geothermal Association (IGA) has reported that 10,715 MWs (MW) of geothermal power in 24 countries is online, reaching 13.33 GW of electricity in 2018.

One solution for geothermal energy is to use a groundwater heat pump system, which works by recovering heat stored naturally in groundwater or aquifers. The water passes through heat pumps to yield its low grade heat before being returned to the aquifer at a lower temperature.

Between 2015 and 2018, researchers of British Geological Survey (BGS) gathered data from a natural ground-water network of 61 bore-holes below the city of Cardiff, Wales to examine whether similar systems might be created across the UK and provide new and alternative energy supplies in the subsurface.

The study concludes that large parts of the aquifer can sustain shallow open loop ground source heat pump systems, as long as the local ground conditions support the required groundwater abstraction and re-injection rates.

Discover Solution 169: Glacial engineering

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167: Geomechanical pumped Storage


In the desperate search to find oil and gas, fracking is the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks, boreholes, etc. so as to force open existing fissures. Fracking not also increases the potential for oil spills, which can harm the soil and surrounding vegetation but can cause earthquakes due to the high pressure used to extract oil and gas from rock and the storage of excess wastewater on site.


Geomechanical pumped storage employs no chemical, does not trigger seismic activity and does not produce pollutants that require disposal and clean-up.

Aaron H. Mandell obtained a BSc and an MSc in environmental engineering from the from the University of Vermont, where he focused on numerical modeling and groundwater hydrology, continuing to work in the energy and water industries, establishing a succession of 4 start-ups. The limitation of pumped hydro electricity storage is that because it is dependent on mountains, lakes, or pre-existing underground caverns, it had not been widely implemented.

But in 2012 Mandell and petroleum engineer Howard K. Schmidt innovated a different approach: hydraulic geofracture energy storage system with desalinization or geomechanical pumped storage.

Energy is stored by injecting fluid at 600 lb psi into a hydraulic fracture in the earth and producing the fluid back while recovering power and/or desalinating water. When the pressurized water is released, it acts like a spring as it races through a turbine-generator above ground, powering it to produce electricity.

Electricity generated by renewables is used to compress and pump water underground, when demand is low and power is cheap. That pressurized water is released when new generation cannot match high demand, at night when the sun is not shining, or when the wind is not blowing.

The hydraulic fracture may be formed and treated with resin so as to limit fluid loss and to increase propagation pressure. The fluid may be water containing a dissolved salt or fresh water and a portion or all of the water may be desalinated using pressure in the water when it is produced.

Particularly adapted to storage of large amounts of energy such as in grid-scale electric energy systems, the technology could reduce the cost of most advanced batteries by 90 %.

In 2015 Mandell and Schmidt and set up Quidnet Energy and built a small-scale prototype at an abandoned natural gas well in in Erath County, about 80 mi. (130 km) west of Fort Worth, where the fledgling company has leased a 5,000 ft (1,500 m.) – deep well.

The test well held 5,000 barrels of water (about 215,000 gallons – 814,000 liters) and was designed to charge and discharge in blocks of four to eight hours.

Encouraged by the results, Quidnet ran another larger-scale pilot project, this time at an old geothermal well at the Blue Mountain Geothermal Area in northern Nevada.

The well was 14 in. (36 cm.) in diameter, larger than a typical oil and gas well, making it possible to inject a higher volume of water – and generating more power faster – at any time. The reservoir can hold up to 85k barrels of water, and produce 10 hours of electricity following a 14-hour charge.

In 2018, Quidnet received US$6.4 million in investment from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, itself backed by high-profile billionaires including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma.

Discover Solution 168: Geothermal energy

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166: Water- based fuel


While fossil fuels were formed millions of years ago, we have only been using them for fuel for a fairly short period of time – just over 200 years. If we keep burning fossil fuels at our current rate, it is estimated that all our fossil fuels will be depleted by 2060.



An Australian-Israeli startup has innovated a water-based fuel it claims will offer zero emissions with a lower cost and greater range than current battery or fuel cell tech. Electriq-Fuel is 60 % water, and releases hydrogen when it reacts with an onboard catalyst.

The fuel cost is as low as 50% of other fuel types, and Fuel-Cell Electric Vehicles total-cost-of-ownership is reduced by ~30% compared to other clean vehicles. Spent fuel is recaptured and taken to a plant for recycling.

Electriq-Global (formerly Terragenic), based in Tirat Carmel, Israel is claiming that their potentially revolutionary hydrogen on-demand technology enables fifteen-times the energy density of standard automotive batteries and with only few minutes refueling time.

Liquid-stable, non-flammable, non-explosive and safe at ambient pressure and temperature, refueling would be done at a pump, much such as a car powered by fossil fuels or conventional gaseous hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles.

The technology includes a patented hydrogen liquid carrier type fuel (T-Fuel™), a process for producing and recycling the fuel (T-Pot™), and a catalyst that allows hydrogen to be extracted on demand (T-Cat™).

Its inventor, Dr. Alex Silberman, having studied electrochemistry in the Ural, moved to Israel, where in 2006 he started his applied research on borohydride. Three years later, he had cracked the kinetics (fast release of hydrogen) process, the stability of the solution and the recycling of the spent fuel.

He patented the controlled generation, storage and transportation of hydrogen for mobility in 2009. He also patented the catalyst that released the hydrogen from the solution quickly enough. Silberman added another patent for the second-generation hydrogen solution with double the energy content.

Electriq are now searching for a system that can reverse the process by electrolysis, the spent solution will have to be sent for industrial reprocessing and probably the overall efficiency will be much lower than that of a battery. The advantages and disadvantages of the system are similar to those of the zinc-air battery.

Electriq-Global first tested its Electriq~Fuel technology with a hydrogen e-bike. The fuel cell was mounted on the rear. But there was no pressure tank for the hydrogen. Instead, the e-bike had a small plastic fuel tank and a metal vessel that generated hydro, gen from the liquid.

Additional studies the company conducted showed a transport bus covered 621 mi. (1,000 km) on a single tank compared to an electric bus’ 155 mi (250 km) range.

In November, 2018 the company attended the 2018 Zero Emissions Conference in Cologne where they announced that they would be taking an active role in promoting ZE buses. The company was planning to commission its first fuel recycling plant in Israel 2019.

In April 2019, it plans for samples of its next-generation of the fuel. Electriq~Global has also announced a partnership with Dutch startup Eleqtec to launch its water-based fuel technology in the Netherlands, including Electriq~Fuel’s recycling plants and mobility applications for trucks, barges and mobile generators.

In 2021, Electriq Global linked up with BOOT10 Amsterdam BV, an operator of passenger canal boats, announced today their collaboration plans to equip the Staets boats with an Electriq PowerPack using Electriq Fuel.

The technology will be demonstrated in 2021 on the Staets-I boat.

At the same time, the University of Amsterdam (UvA) has signed a long-term collaboration with AC2T research GmbH, the Austrian Excellence Centre for Tribology and industrial partner Electriq Global Ltd. in the area of new materials for clean energy.

Discover Solution 167: Geomechanical pumped storage

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Energy Planet Care

158: Global cooling using floating solar farms


Greenhouse Global warming is increasing at an exponential and alarming rate.


Scientists from Norway and Switzerland are proposing that a network of millions of floating offshore solar farms could be used to convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into renewable energy.

Their concept is clusters of marine-based floating islands, on which PV cells convert sunlight into electrical energy to produce H2 and to extract CO₂ from seawater, where it is in equilibrium with the atmosphere.

These gases are then reacted to form the energy carrier methanol, which is conveniently shipped to the end consumer. Co-author Swiss scientist Andreas Borgschulte explained the idea for the solar islands was conceived when the Norwegian researchers were assigned the task of pushing fish farms out to open sea that would require their own energy.

The researchers determined that 70 of these artificial islands could make up a single facility that covers an area of about 0.4 square mi. (10 km²). The experts identified locations across the globe where conditions are suitable to properly manage the facilities. The coasts of South America, Australia, and Southeast Asia were found to be ideal sites for the solar farms. The team is now working to build prototypes of the floating islands.

Discover Solution 159: flood barriers

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157: Floating solar farms


Land-based solar farms take up space which can otherwise be used for precision agriculture, industry and housing.


Putting them on water makes floating solar panels up to 16 % more efficient and longer lasting. The lack of dust means it can stay clean longer while water can be used to clean the panels.

Since 2017, the Sungrow Huainan Solar Farm is located 5 km southwest of Nihe Town, Huainan city in China’s Anhui province. The array consisting of 166,000 panels, built by Sungrow Power Supply floats on an artificial lake on the site of a former coal mine.

Its capacity of 40 MW produces enough energy to power 15,000 homes. According to The Japan Times, the Sungrow Huainan Solar Farm is ‘part of Beijing’s effort to wean itself off a fossil fuel dependency.

In France, in 2007, IT engineer Eric Scott founded Akuo Energy which has since become France’s leading renewable energy producer such as wind, sun, water, and bio-gas, present in thirty countries, via 17 subsidiaries.

From 2014 Akuo planned a floating solar farm project Hydrelio by Ciel and Terre floats for installation in town of Piolenc, in the department of Vaucluse. The site chosen to be filled with water was a former aggregate quarry in nearby Curbans.

Akuo Energy and the quarry operator worked together with Bouygues Energies Services in the restoration of the site with the solar farm to allow the transition from one activity to another and the ecological rehabilitation of the site.

Covering 42 ac (17 ha), 47,040 PV panels placed on 52,000 floats themselves anchored by 350 anchors at the bottom of the lake of 23 ha. The largest solar farm in Europe, the 16 MW from O’Mega officially launched in March 2019 is providing electricity for over 4,733 households and avoiding the emission of 1,208 tons (1,096 tonnes) of CO₂.

In 2019, Thailand’s state utility, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), has drawn up ambitious plans to construct 16 floating solar farms with a combined capacity of more than 2.7 gigawatts at nine hydropower reservoirs across the country by 2037.

SCG Chemicals is undertaking research and development at its factory at Rayong, 106 mi (170 km) from the capital Bangkok. The first floating solar farm is planned for the Sirindhorn Dam at Ubon Ratchathani in east Thailand. (

Elsewhere, in South Korea there is a rotating floating solar powerplant with 16 modules installed on a floating deck. There is one beside the Banasura Sagar Dam, in Kerala, India. Another is located on the Yamakura Dam reservoir in Japan, and another at Tengeh Reservoir in Singapore. South Korea will build a 2.1 gigawatt (GW) floating solar farm on a lake next to Saemangeum, a reclaimed area on the west coast

The plant will cover 11.6 mi.² (30 km²) of the lake, which is adjacent to a site where an international airport will be built. It is expected to produce enough electricity for 1 million households.

The project is expected to bring the government closer to the goal of its renewable energy initiative, which aims to nearly triple the portion of renewable energy to 20 % by 2030. The planned solar power farm is expected to require more than 5 million solar power modules and create 1.60 million jobs a year. Work on the solar farm is expected to start in the latter half of 2020.

In 2017, researchers at University of California, Riverside identified equivalent of 183,000 football fields of non-agricultural land in California’s Central Valley for future solar farms. ( At the beginning of 2018, some 60 floating solar farms of over 1 MW had been installed around the world.

Their combined capacity is still very small, totalling less than 200 MW (the equivalent of a large land-based solar farm – enough to provide energy to around 200,000 people.

Solarplaza’s Top 200 floating solar plants shows that China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea are leading the pack, however, with many projects under development in countries such as India, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, the Netherlands, France, and the United States, deployment is accelerating globally.

A team from Michigan State University believes that the creation of floating solar farms on existing reservoirs in Brazil would make up for the underproduction of the existing hydropower systems on the Amazon River and even the construction of new ones.

The Colorado River’s two great reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are in retreat. Multi-year droughts and chronic overuse have taken their toll, to be sure, but vast quantities of water are also lost to evaporation. What if the same scorching sun that causes so much of this water loss were harnessed for electric power?

Installing floating solar PV arrays, sometimes called “floatovoltaics,” on a portion of these two reservoirs in the southwestern United States could produce clean, renewable energy while shielding significant expanses of water from the hot desert sun.

Discover Solution 158: Solar farms and global cooling

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136: Gravity-based energy storage system


The energy provided by sun and wind is intermittent and often needs a back-up system;


The gravity-based energy storage system

One of these is the Energy Vault. When a solar farm produces extra electricity during the day, giant robotic cranes use that energy to lift and stack thousands of 38.5 ton (35 tonne) blocks into a tower as high as 500 ft. (152 m) the bricks storing energy through the elevation gain.

When the sun isn’t shining or the wind is not blowing, software tells the system to lower the bricks, the weight of which will drive generators as the crane plucks them off the tower and lowers them to the ground, so sending electricity back into the grid. The system can respond within a millisecond.

The development of this technology took place at Idealab, the Pasadena, California-based startup incubator, then was handed to Energy Vault, to commercialize the technology.

In partnership with Italian energy company ENEL, a tenth the size of a full-scale operation was built and trialled in Biasca, Switzerland, north of Milan, Italy. A Swiss subsidiary of Mexico-based CEMEX Ventures provided venture capital, concrete and other composite material technology.

The unit, from proposition to working prototype, took about nine months and less than US$2 million to accomplish. The Energy Vault team was led by Andrea Pedretti, inventor with more than 25 patents worldwide for a variety of civil engineering and energy applications.

Having earned his M.Sc. in structural engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, Pedretti worked with Airlight Energy, a Swiss cleantech provider focusing on unique solutions for concentrated solar power.

The Energy Vault system could deliver as much as 80 MW-hours of power, enough to cover about 60,000 homes for up to 16 hours The system is modular and flexible with each plant having a capacity of between 10 and 35MWh and a power output of between 2 and 5MW.

Each tower can be erected quickly; the cranes can be delivered within months and erected within weeks, without the huge investment of a battery factory.

The bricks themselves can be made on-site from materials such as soil concrete construction debris which would otherwise go to a landfill. At a coal plant that plans to close and reopen renewable energy on-site, the bricks could be made from coal ash.

India’s Tata Power is the company’s first announced customer, with a tower that will be constructed in 2021. But Energy Vault is in talks with other customers about more than 1,200 potential towers.

In August 2019, Energy Vault raised US$110 million from SoftBank Vision Fund to take its next steps in the world. One place where the Energy Vault technology could be used to advantage is around desalination plants in places such as sub-Saharan Africa or desert areas.

In Scotland , Peter Fraenkel at Gravitricity is working with the Edinburgh University Institute for Energy Systems and Dutch winch and offshore manufacturer Huisman Equipment BV on a solution in the 1MW to 20 MW power range which suspends weights of 500 – 5000 tonnes in a deep shaft by a number of cables, each of which is engaged with a winch capable of lifting its share of the weight.

The pilot plant, involving a 16m high rig is being assembled at a grid-connected site at the port of Leith for testing to begin in spring 2021.

What you can do: Tell electricity supply companies and town planners about gravity-based energy storage systems

Discover Solution 137: mRNA vaccine

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135: Honeybee-inspired energy reduction


Energy over-consumption in big commercial buildings makes a massive drain on electrical energy


Inspired by biomimicry, In 2005, Mark Kerbel and Roman Kulyk of Toronto, Canada studied the way bees communicate with each other.

There is no “topdown” management in a hive. They realized the ideal concept for their technology when they read Steven Johnson’s “Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software”. Emergence is how bees are able to operate an adaptive colonial group, despite lacking top-down management or “intelligence” in the human sense of the word. Using simple rules and communicating constantly with pheromone trails, each individual bee contributes to the hive-level goal of survival.

The phenomenon is called “emergence” because a complex system of communication and decision-making emerges from a large number of much simpler interactions.

Kerbel and Kulyk developed an algorithm called Swarm Logic that allows all pieces of building equipment to simultaneously detect each other, to red-flag unnecessary power consumption. Air conditioners, compressors, pumps and other building appliances constantly cycle on and off. The problem arises when they are ignorant of each other and turn on at the same time.

Co-founding Regen Energy, they developed the EnviroGrid Controller to connect to the control box on each piece of equipment, to function as a smart power switch. EnviroGrid Controllers could be installed on any electrical heating, cooling, or discretionary electrical load in approximately 30 minutes, resulting in minimal operational disruption.

Each device monitors its appliance’s energy use every two minutes and broadcasts its reading to all the other controllers in the system. Once several controllers have been activated, they learn the power cycles of each appliance and use a networking standard called Zigbee to communally negotiate the best times to turn equipment on and off.

Every node connected to the “hive” thinks for itself. Before making a decision, a node considers the circumstances of other nodes in the network. For example, if an HVAC unit needs to cycle on to maintain a minimum temperature, a node connected to another HVAC unit will stay off for an extra 15 minutes to maintain power use below a certain threshold. This results in up to 20% reductions in HVAC kW, KWh, and CO₂,

Following their 2005 start, Kerbel and Kulyk negotiated with both other California and Texas utilities to increase their presence in both regions. Their name changed to Encycle in 2013, Swarm Logic can now be connected via the cloud to an existing building control system, building automation system (BAS), connected thermostats, or IoT platform.

Swarm Logic dynamically synchronizes HVAC rooftop units (RTUs), transforming the RTUs into smart, networked, energy-responsive assets. Newer versions of the system focus almost exclusively on rooftop HVAC systems installed in medium-sized buildings. A typical building might have between 10 and 40 controllers working together to mimic the communications in a beehive, and the more nodes are linked to the system, the better it works.

Encycle has integrated Honeywell thermostats into its EASE (Energy as a Service by Encycle™) solution for a nationwide restaurant and entertainment business. With customer satisfaction being a top priority, it was crucial that Encycle’s solution lower electricity costs while ensuring patrons’ comfort.

What started out as a 6-site pilot program has now developed into a 17-site portfolio with over 300 thermostats. Encycle’s Swarm Logic technology is already in facilities in North America, including retail stores, grocery stores, shopping centers, restaurants, entertainment venues, offices, schools, distribution centers, and light/medium manufacturing buildings.

From August 2018 Encycle partnered with Lightstat of Barkhamsted, Connecticut to bring IoT-enabled thermostatic control into a networked, cloud-based system that allows commercial and industrial building energy managers to reduce their HVAC energy consumption and costs by 10-20%. They also partnered with Carrier Connect, makers of Wi-Fi thermostats.

What you can do: Tell local architects and builders about Swarm Logic

Discover Solution 136: Gravity based energy storage system

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Energy Mobility

134: Energy roads


Highways and roads only use up energy to build and to maintain.


Engineers from Lancaster University, UK, are working on ‘piezolectric’ ceramics that when embedded in road surfaces would be able to harvest and convert vehicle vibration into electrical energy. The research project, led by Professor Mohamed Saafi, will design and optimise energy recovery of around one to two kWs per kilometre under ‘normal’ traffic volumes—which is around 2,000 to 3,000 cars an hour. The system developed will then convert this mechanical energy into electric energy to power things such as street lamps, traffic lights and electric car charging points.

In Portugal, an energy road system called ESPHERA has been financed by the Centre for the Innovation of Smart Infrastructures, founded by Ferrovial, the Castile-La Mancha regional government and the University of Alcalá. Ferrovial is also in charge of technical coordination for ESPHERA, which has benefitted from the collaboration of Cintra (the motorway subsidiary company of Ferrovial) and the Aravía Company, who hold the concession for the maintenance of the section of the A-2 motorway between Zaragoza and Calatayud. (

In 2016 the California Energy Commission (CEC) approved a pilot program in which piezoelectric crystals were installed on several freeways.

Scientists estimate the energy generated from piezoelectric crystals on a 10 mi (16 km) stretch of freeway could provide power for the entire city of Burbank (population: more than 105,000). Italy signed a contract to install this technology in a portion of the Venice-to-Trieste Autostrada.

China’s first solar highway was built by Pavenergy and Qilu Transportation in eastern China’s Shandong province on a section of one of the most highly-trafficked areas, the Jinan City Expressway ring road, stretching for 1.2 mi. (2.4 km) with an area of 63,234 ft² ( 5,875 m²).. The test section proved capable of holding middle size vans with strong friction. Engineers then added wireless vehicle charging into the panels. It opened in December 2017.

In 2019, engineers from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) found a way to 3D print piezoelectric materials, so tailoring the architecture to make them more flexible able to wrap them around any arbitrary curvature.

What you can do: Drive along energy roads once they have been installed

Discover Solution 135: Honeybee inspired energy reduction

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Energy Mobility

133: Energy paths


With the transition from fossil fuel to electrical energy, the exponential demand will need the widest variety of sources.


Another clean system for generating electricity makes use of piezo materials (usually in the form of the mineral quartz, topaz, or lead zirconate titanate), where the simple act of walking or jumping or driving a vehicle over a surface can generate electricity.

This challenge has been taken on by Laurence Kemball-Cook, an undergraduate studying Industrial Design and Technology at Loughborough University, England. Following the publicity generated by a short demonstration film of his PaveGen tiles posted on his website Kemball-Cook, was awarded US$ 13,000 prize and struck a US$ 250,000 deal with one of the largest urban shopping centers in Europe, Westfield in London. PaveGen received orders from at Heathrow Airport”s Terminal Three and entered into collaboration with the US government.

In Lagos, Nigeria, the tiles have been installed under a soccer field, enabling players to light up the entire field during a match. A second generation of PavGen tiles is triangular in shape, with a generator in each corner to maximize energy output. In addition to power generation, PaveGen can use Bluetooth to connect to smartphone applications and the system can also communicate with building management systems.

Caveat to this solution is that when the PaveGen is not being walked on it does not generate energy, this problem occurs if the tile is placed somewhere that is crowded but at times does not receive any people on it which causes it to not generate energy. But this problem can be largely avoided by just placing the tiles in places that always receive people such as the subway stations of New York or other similarly crowded cities.

At the NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2017, Ilan Stern, a senior research scientist with the Georgia Tech Research Institute, and colleagues, collaborated on a project supported by NASA contractor Delaware North Corporation to build a 40,000 ft² (3,700 m²) lighted outdoor piezoelectric footpath.

What you can do: Tell town councils near you about energy paths, wand walk along them whenever possible

Discover Solution 134: Energy roads

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Energy Your Home

132: Energy communities


Sustainable energy limited to individual domestic use may not be the most beneficially efficient solution.


Energy sharing is a model where citizens can exchange locally produced power with one another (peer-to-peer) — or external markets.

The EU Directive 2018/2001 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources defines peer-to-peer trading of renewable energy as: “The sale of renewable energy between market participants by means of a contract with pre-determined conditions governing the automated execution and settlement of the transaction, either directly between market participants or indirectly through a certified third-party market participant, such as an aggregator.”

The Energy Community, also referred to in the past as the Energy Community of South East Europe is an international organisation established between the European Union and a number of third countries to extend the EU internal energy market to Southeast Europe and beyond.

One example, Decidim is a collaborative project which encourages citizens of Barcelona to use a digital, open-source participatory platform to suggest, debate, comment and back new proposals for the city. The platform is a concrete output of the 2015-2019 municipal plan called “73 neighbourhoods, one Barcelona, Towards the city of rights and opportunities” and which gathered the input of some 40,000 people.

Catalonia’s first renewable energy cooperative, Som Energia, has used the Decidim platform to host its 2018 General Assembly and various debates with cooperative

What you can do: Check out whether you can become part of an energy community.

Discover Solution 133: Electricity from sidewalks

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Energy Planet Care

127: Electroculture


Chemical fertilisers and weed killers such as Monsanto’s glyphosate have been legally proved to be lethally harmful to both Nature and to human beings.


Since the beginnings of electricity in the 1780s, experiments have been made to use electro-magnetic energy to increase the crop yield of fruits and vegetables.

In 1923 independent researcher Justin Etienne Christofleau of La Queue-les-Yvelines, France published “Augmentation des récoltes et sauvetage des arbres malades per l’électroculture” and obtained patents concerning his Electro-Magnétique Terro Celeste. His system made use of “lightning rod” antenna, but with a buried antenna connected to buried north-south wires. Christofleau explained that it is not electricity as we know it but a breath of energy between heaven and earth, which stimulates and increases the fertility of the place.

For the next twenty years, the Frenchman was persecuted for his inventions by lobbyists from the agrochemical industry who even attempted to have the word electroculture deleted from national dictionaries and encyclopaedias. In spite of this, Christofleau’s system was adopted by farmers all over, in Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and even China.

He was not alone. In the August 1935 issue of Popular Science, an article entitled “Electricity Controls Tree Growth” reported on the experiments of reputed French nurseryman Georges Truffaut at his Laboratories in Versailles. He planned to invent the orchard of the future where it would be possible to control (advance or delay) the growth of trees and fruits.

Seventy years later, electroculture has finally been validated.

Since the 1990s, Chinese scientists have been developing electroculture. In 2019, The Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and other government research institutes released the findings of nearly three decades of study in areas with different climate, soil conditions and plantation habits. They hailed the results as a breakthrough.

Across the country, from Xinjiang’s remote Gobi Desert to the developed coastal areas facing the Pacific Ocean, vegetable greenhouse farms with a combined area of more than 3,600 ha (8,895 ac) have been taking part in an electroculture programme. The technique has boosted vegetable output by 20 to 30 %. Pesticide use has decreased 70 to 100 %. while fertiliser consumption has dropped more than 20 %.

In a series of large greenhouses, with a combined area of 3,600 has (8,895 ac), the vegetables grow under bare copper wires, set about 10 ft (3 m) above ground level and stretching end to end under the greenhouse roof. The wires are capable of generating rapid, positive charges as high as 50,000 volts, or more than 400 times the standard residential voltage in the US.

The cables run the full length of the greenhouses and carry rapid pulses of positive charge, up to 50,000 volts. These high-voltage bursts kill bacteria and viral plant diseases both in the air and the soil. They also affect the surface tension of any water droplets on the leaves of plants, accelerating vaporization.

What you can do: Tell local farmers about electroculture

Tomorrow’s solution: Lower-cost electrolysis

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126: Electricity from bacterial nano-wires


Bacterial power plants.

In the late 1980s, microbiologists led by Derek Lovley at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, discovered electrically conducting microfilaments or “nanowires” in the rod-shaped microbe Geobacter sulfurreducens, part of a group referred to as “electrigens” for their known ability to generate an electrical charge.

Jim Yao and another team at the University have succeeded in producing electricity using a bacterial nanowire, measuring seven micrometers thick film positioned between two electrodes and exposed to the air.

This nanowire film, produced by G. sulfurreducens, absorbs water vapor present in the atmosphere, thus creating a small electrical charge through the diffusion of protons in the material.

In order to better understand this electron transfer process for energy production, Geobacter sulfurreducens was inoculated into chambers in which a graphite electrode served as the sole electron acceptor and acetate or hydrogen was the electron, or in short a microbial fuel cell

Called Air-gen, the system produces a sustained voltage of 0.5 volts at 17 micro amperes per square centimetre, generating clean energy 24/7. The system produces no waste and could (theoretically at least) work in places like the Sahara Desert which is why the team are looking to scale up to industrial-sized systems as soon as possible.

One issue is the limited amount of protein nanowire that can currently be produced by G. sulfurreducens, however, there may already be a novel solution: get genetically engineered E. coli to mass produce the nanowire.

Discover Solution 127: Protecting and feeding plants with an electric current.

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