MyPolarIce: Frozen History

Two Dutch artists, Coralie Vogelaar and Teun Castelein, have embarked on a bold new venture selling soon-to-be-rare polar ice. That’s right, they are selling actual pieces of polar ice for people to stick in their freezers with the intent of preserving it year after year. They deem the project an “opportunity to own a unique piece of history.” Their product is very appropriately named MyPolarIce.

The two artists put their idea into action in a very simple way. They traveled up to the Ilulissat Ice Fjord in northern Greenland, where they “extracted” ice from icebergs that had recently carved from the rapidly receding Sermeq Kujalleg glacier. The ice was then broken into smaller pieces and encapsulated as shown here. A piece of a polar glacier certainly isn’t going to add to your home decor, but the message of environmental awareness is crystal clear.

The Greenland ice sheet from which the MyPolarIce come is believed to be a remnant of the most recent Ice Age (as in over 10,000 years ago). Like most ice sheets around the world, the region is experiencing melting at an exponential rate. Perhaps describing icecaps as endangered species is a bit eccentric, but in truth these two Dutchmen are spreading their message in an effective and coolly ironic fashion.

Here is their “commercial:”

Portable Egg-Shaped Home

(Photo: AFP / Getty Images)

A 24-year-old architect in China has received a lot of media attention for his off-the-grid and completely rent free home. And no, he doesn’t live in a yurt in the middle of the woods. Dai Haifei lives and works in Beijing China, one of the most densely populated cities in the world. His innovative design comes in the form of a mobile egg-shaped home which relies on solar power for energy.

(Photo: AFP / Getty Images)

The entire structure only stands about 6 feet tall and is compact enough to fit on most city sidewalks. It would seem natural to compare this homemade home to a decked-out cardboard box, but Haifei has certainly put time and thought into his creation. The main frame is made from bamboo strips, wood chippings, and sack bags. A lamp inside the mobile pod is charged by a solar panel installed on the roof. A layer of grass seed adorns the roof and should form a green, insulating cover once the warmer spring weather arrives. “The seeds will grow in the natural environment and it’s cold-proof,” Dai told China Daily. He then added that it’s “a bit cold sometimes.”

(Photo: AFP / Getty Images)

Living on the street will have its downsides and no central heating is certainly the first thing to go. All the same, Haifei deserves some applause for taking the fight against high rents in a completely different (and sometimes drafty) direction.

(Photo: AFP / Getty Images)
(Photo: AFP / Getty Images)
(Photo: AFP / Getty Images)

Living Desert Chair

Artist Nadia Utto has created a series of elegant “eco-chairs” that morph form and function by embedding living plants right into the piece of furniture. Pictured here is the desert chair, or “Desert of One” as christened by its creator, which offers an ideal habitat for many species of cacti in the back of a polymer-modified cement-over-Styrofoam chair. The cement and Styrofoam combination gives the furniture the sandy texture and necessary strength while preventing the chair from being ridiculously heavy. The cacti have now been growing in the back of this chair for over a decade and it would appear that they are doing quite well. Below is the description that accompanied the chair when it went to auction. Rather than regurgitating the information, I figured I should just replicate it and let you read it yourself.

EcoBulb Directional LED Light

The EcoBulb is a concept design intended to conserve energy above all else by changing the way light is used in a room. Energy conservation is the reason the compact florescent light bulb has quickly overtaken the incandescent and it is the reason that the LED bulb will eventually dethrone the florescent. The most responsive way to reduce air pollution and CO2 emissions is through fundamental energy conservation.

Through the EcoBulb concept, designer Seokjae Rhee has redesigned the function of the light bulb with thoughtful detail. Upon examining the form and function of the incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, it would appear that Rhee reached the conclusion that the technological advance only addressed the energy efficiency of light bulbs but not the way in which rooms are lit. Basically, Rhee decided that it was neither efficient nor necessary to provide light to an entire room using one central ceiling lamp. Because LED bulbs are simply a collection of individual lights, it is possible to activate only certain regions of the complete bulb in a kind of highly specialized dimmer feature. The best I can think to call it is directional lighting. The design allows the user to control the lighting area with a remote control. The buttons on the remote correspond to the six regions of the LED EcoBulb so that you can turn on the lights when you need them and in the direction that you need.

The LED bulb may be ten times more energy efficient than the incandescent, but the EcoBulb dramatically redesigns how technology is used to light a room. Through increased control, the EcoBulb can conserve energy and reduce the environmental impact of homes.

Recycled Newspaper Wood

The ethical arguments that motivate recycling and material reuse are really quite simple: to reduce our raw material consumption and our impact on the natural environment we need to reuse and recycle as much as possible. Naturally, this is much easier said than done. Even given a community that is producing recyclable waste and given a large enough population that is willing to pay for the waste to be recycled rather than land-filled, there is still the very relevant issue of finding a use for all the reprocessed material. Glass is not really an issue. Glass can be melted down and reused an infinite number of times without any loss in material quality (and at a lower energy demand than was required to turn sand into glass). Metal has to be meticulously separated (nickel with nickel, steel with steel, etc), but metal too can easily be reused. Plastics are a whole other story, but we wont go into that. Paper can be easily processed, but the ink cannot be removed from the reprocessed paper pulp. Therefore, office paper cannot be turned back into office paper. The great dilemma then becomes finding a good, energy efficient use for the enormous quantity of recyclable paper that is being produced and disposed of all the time.

One Dutch designer, Mieke Meijer, has addressed this issue with the creation of Newspaper Wood, an alternative building material that, just as the name suggests, is made from recycled newspapers. Called Kranthout (that’s newspaper in Dutch), the product has been developed for the design company vij5. To produce this unique type of building material, the individual pages of a newspaper are rolled together by a machine and outputted in the form of magazine sized newspaper “logs”. These “logs” are then milled into newspaper “planks.” Perhaps you have noticed that once the newspaper has been processed by the specially engineered machine, it is basically treated as real wood. The newspaper “planks” are even drilled and sanded as needed. The way that the newspaper has been pressed together even gives the resulting wood the illusion of having grains, even if the lines are colored and sprinkled with text.

This new building material is still in the design faze. The creators of Kranthout are improving on the manufacturing process as well as developing products in which the newspaper wood can be used. The thought of a desk made entirely out of newspaper immediately pops into my mind. Naturally, the wood will not have enough tensile strength for any load bearing application, but simple things like fences or the detailing of a house seem like a very reasonable application. Mostly importantly, the abundance and cheap supply of newspaper means that Kranthout could someday be very widely available. This truly is an innovative re-purposing of recycled materials. The designers have even made sure that the glue used to form the wood can be dissolved if needed, meaning that the newspaper wood can again be recycled once it has reached the end of its life.

Mieke Meijer’s kranthout was presented as part of the Rematerializing the Future (as shown in the images below). The exhibition was put on by Material Sense as part of Dutch Design Week.

Source: World Changing

Light Center Flashlights

The crank-up rechargeable flashlight certainly isn’t a new idea, but it is still worth noting. New technologies or products tend to be buggy and inefficient. This isn’t due to any lack of knowledge on the part of the manufacturers but rather flaws that may still exist in the design, the materials used, or the implementation of the functions. With that said, the crank-up rechargeable flashlight has been around the block enough times to have most of the issues (poor engineering, weak LED lights, energy inefficiency, a battery that doesn’t hold a charge after 2 years) worked out. Or at least I would hope they have been addressed.

Pictured here is The Light Center by Freeplay Energy. The simple system is intended to make the three rechargeable flashlights available for everyday use as well as in emergency situations. By providing a case to hold the three units, the flashlight will (hopefully) always be where you remember seeing them last. While the Ni-MH battery built into each LED flashlight can  be recharged by winding the crank mounted on the side, they can also be recharged while stored in the case. By plugging the protective case into the electrical grid, you can insure that the three units will be fully charged and ready for use whenever you need them. There is even a green LED installed in the case that indicates when the flashlights are still being charged. The powerful ultra bright white LED cluster is amazingly energy efficient, allowing the flashlights to last up to 20 hours from full charge.

Even if the batteries are allowed to die out and the case isn’t plugged into a power source, about 60 seconds of turning the crank (probably at a fairly quick rate) will provide the flashlight with enough power to shine for about 30 minutes on low beam. In my experience, this impressive efficiency decreases dramatically as time passes. I have crank-up flashlights that when cranked for 60 seconds will last for about 65 seconds on low beam. While this is no longer an impressive feat, I still know that when I need a little light, these flashlights can provide it. A LED flashlight that needs to be constantly cranked is still better than one with a dead battery and no alternative power source and perhaps (very likely in fact) these Freeplay Energy flashlights are built much better than the generic ones I own. These units even have a little LED level indicator that will tell you to speed up or slow down the rate at which you are winding. While turning the crank too slow will result in little to no electricity generation, spinning the crank as fast as you possible can doesn’t actually mean the battery is charging faster. There is simply a design limit to how much current can be driven back into the battery.

Each LED flashlight has two brightness settings (low and high), is splash resistant (which means you still shouldn’t take it into the bath tub with you), and includes a non-slip rubber grip for easy use. The Light Center is an eco friendly product that is built to last. Whether you plug them in or wind them up, these rechargeable LED flashlights will last for years to come. This is renewable energy is its simplest form.

Freeplay Energy

Project Soul Cell – Solar Lantern

The greatest advantage of solar power is that allows us to generate electricity in areas that have no alternative or permanent power sources. These solar lanterns, part of Project Soul Cell by designer Jesper Jonsson, showcase how simple devices can take advantage solar energy in an  easy-to-use unit. Combining photovoltaic cells with a basic electrical circuit allows  any simple electronic device to become truly portable.

The design of the solar lamps are pretty straight forward. The lanterns are collapsible, making them compact and portable. Collapse the lantern and hang it somewhere sunny to charge. After a day of charging, the solar cells have stored up enough solar power to light up the lamp once the sun goes does. To turn on the lamp, you simply have to unfold the shade with a twisting motion as shown. The design also includes a strap with magnets to enable the lantern to be hung while open or closed.

The elegant design of the Project Soul Cell solar lanterns make them perfect for mood lighting around a backyard patio or campsite after dark. You can take them just about anywhere and put them to good use. Unfortunately, the solar lanterns are still just a design concept so they cannot actually be purchased. I’d say the design has a lot of potential to be a popular product and a reusable source of outdoor lighting.

Project Soul Cell

Body Heat Powered MP3 Player

Introducing the Skinny Player, the band-aid sized mp3 player that plays one albums’ worth of music. The functions of the mp3 player are quite simple, just a Play/Stop button that turns the unit on and off. Without even the ability to skip tracks, the Skinny Player has less functionality than an iPod shuffle. With that said, you should realize that the coolest thing about the Skinny Player is not that it is a tiny mp3 player, but that the device isn’t powered by a battery. The unit doesn’t even have a battery. The player runs entirely off of energy generated by your body heat.

Designed by Chih-Wei Wang and Shou-His Fu, the Skinny Player is intended to be worn just like a Band-Aid. The unit doesn’t have any clips, wrist bands, or belt holsters. The flexible and lightweight design allows the mp3 player to stick right onto the skin of your arm. The system is so minimalist that it doesn’t even have an headphone jack. The flexible wings of the Skinny Player also serve as speakers (but probably not very good ones. Plus, if you cannot even skip tracks, I doubt you would be able to adjust the volume to your liking. )

I feel like the device is bound to be just a novelty item. The only plus that the Skinny Player has over the iPod Shuffle, Nano, or similar compact mp3 players is that the unit is power by body heat. While this battery-less design is certainly cool and sustainable, the loss of functionality will probably hold it back. The inability to use headphones seems like an absolute deal-breaker. These is no way that electricity generated from body heat would be enough to play music at a good volume. And if you are going to run in an urban environment, you have to noise of city traffic to constantly compete against. I don’t see this idea ever making it out of the realm of interesting concept. There are just too many things holding it back.

Source: Yanko Design

Horizon Toy Hydro-Car

Horizon’s Hydro-Car is more of a model than a toy. The little gadget displays the advantages of using hydrogen as a power source in a fun and ingenuous form. The Hydro-Car is a cool way to present alternative energy technology. Hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements on Earth, and as a component of water, is relatively easy to produce. One of the most environmentally friendly aspect of hydrogen power is that it only produces water as a by-product, making it clean and safe.

The little fuel cell in the Hydro-Car demonstrates how combining oxygen and hydrogen in the cell produces electricity and water.  The fuel cell also serves as a reversible Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM). Using electrolysis, distilled water is separated into hydrogen and oxygen to power the toy car. Because of this feature, the Hydro-Car system forms a continuous loop of energy generation. The electrolysis process does require some additional power so the Hydro-Car system also includes a solar panel to provide clean, renewable energy to power the kit. If you don’t have a sunny window to place the unit in, the kit also includes a battery pack that runs off of two AA batteries.

Once enough hydrogen and oxygen has been placed up in the storage tanks, the car is ready to go. When the car is on, two blue LEDs light up on the motor. One of the coolest features of the kit is that the Hydro-Car is able to drive on its own. The car can move around a room until it finds a path without obstacles. Watch as the car drives and reverses until it finds a clear route. The Hydro-Car is fun and unique way to learn about alternative energy.

Generate Electricity From Your Feet

Argentine Industrial designer Soledad Martin is putting a new meaning to alternative energy resources. He has found inspiration in the constantly moving feet of  skate boarders and created an innovative and easy to use energy generation system. The concept is really quite simple. The charger is attached to your shoes and the random motion created by walking, running, or riding a skateboard is turned from kinetic to electrical energy by the built in generator. This energy is stored in a battery to be used later. The system can be used to recharge a portable mp3 player or cell phone with a lot of ease.

The unit is a very adaptable energy source. Attach the generator to any article or clothing and start storing up energy. The advantage of placing the generator on your shoes is that the range of motion of feet is much greater than any other part of your body. The more jostling and random motion that the nanogenerator experiences, the more power that is created. Then, simply plug any portable electronic into the built in USB port and watch the battery recharge. Soledad has truly created an innovative and adaptive device concept.

I think that attaching the unit to a dog’s collar would be another good option. I can just image the constant jostling that would result as the dog treks around with the nanogenerator hanging from its collar.This nanogenerator system is still left in the sphere of concept so don’t get your hopes up of finding one of your own. Regardless, I always like finding new and innovative idea when it comes to alternative energy sources.

Mandle – Recycling For Men

Specially designed to appeal to the unique style of men, the Mandles are made from recycled glass beer bottles. The candles can freshen up a room without ruining that laidback decorum. Plus the candles don’t give off an overwhelming flowery scent. Made by St Eval Candle Company, the outer glass casings of the Mandles are made from recycled beer bottles from 4 different brands of beer makers (as pictured). The hand poured and lightly scented candles give off a room freshening lemon and thyme scent.

To further improve the environmentally conscious character of the candles, each Mandle comes in recyclable packaging and of course the glass bottles can be reused or recycled after the candle has burned its last. Plus, candles are an indisputably more environmentally friendly means of freshening up a room compared to using chemical sprays or aerosols. Too often we rely on chemicals for our home cleaning, failing to understand the pollution created by its production and disposal.

Check out the Mandles page and choose from a Carlsberg, Corona, Corona Light or Sol Mandle,(£7.99 each) or get one of each in the 4-pack (£29.99).

For The Love of Flowers…

Whoever designed and resides in this home certainly loves their flower pots. Just finding this image made me smile so I thought I’d pass it on. I wish I could say more, but the site that the image comes from, Urbanarbolismo, is in Spanish or Portuguese and I have no idea what the description says. I cannot imagine the work that must go into maintaining all these plants, but perhaps the home is located in an area of fair weather and substantial rain so that the plants can essentially survive on their own without the aid of a gardener.

Turn Windy Days Into Bright Lights

At the beginning of the year, Honeywell introduced a product that will hopefully serve as a big step toward bringing sustainable and renewable energy to homes all across the world. The newly released Honeywell Wind Turbine, as picture below, is intended for home and business use (not all of us have hilltops, windy fields, or ocean bays in which to construct massive wind turbines, so a sturdy roof will have to suffice). The wind energy system, designed by Windtronics and licensed for production by the home appliances manufacturer Honeywell, can be found in Ace Hardware Stores all around the United States. This is truly one of the first wind turbine to be introduced to the public that produces a significant amount of electricity each year.

As explained by the brochure being distributed by Honeywell, “The Honeywell Wind Turbine is a gearless wind turbine that measures just 6 feet in diameter, weighs 170 lbs (77 kgs) and is able to produce 2752 kWh/yr in Class 4 winds representing over 20% percent of an average household’s annual electricity needs.”

The creation of the gearless turbine is the most innovative characteristic of this new wind energy system. A traditional wind turbine (the giant ones you see on the sides of hills) relies on an often complicated series of gears to created the high RPMs needed for the generator to create energy. Despite all the advances that wind turbine technology has achieved, such a mechanical design is fundamentally inefficient due to the high energy loss due to friction and mechanical resistance. For large wind turbines, this inefficiency can be overlooked due to the enormous magnitude of wind energy being caught by the blades. (In other words, as long as the tower is still standing, the blades still attached, and the generator still functioning, the system can be expected to generate a lot of electrocity.) For small scale systems, this simply isn’t the case.

Wind speeds near the earth’s surface are always slower and so wind turbines designed to generate electricity for homes need to respond to these slower speeds. The gearless design of Windtronic’s turbine gives it an efficient and lightweight build. This translates into more energy being generated and at lower speeds. Honeywell Wind Turbine generates electricity at a minimum wind of 2mph, a major achievement compared to the 7.5mph required by traditional wind turbines. This seemingly simple change will mean an entirely new level of energy generation and energy efficiency.

A new Windtronics system from Ace Hardware currently costs $4500, making it a serious investment for most American consumers. Doing the math, to pay $4500 for a system that produces 1580kWh each year means that you will see a return on your investment after 12 years of steady power generation. Put a different way, the wind turbine is free to keep if you are willing to maintain it’s condition for 13 years. And again, a 13 year investment term is another major achievement by this wind turbine considering the 25 year industry standard (ie traditional wind turbines and solar panels). Maybe a system just like this one will start to pop up on homes in your area.

Honeywell’s Wind Turbine certain has a lot of things going for it. The turbine is compact, practically silent, and energy efficient even under considerably calm wind speeds. Even a summer breeze will keep these blades spinning. Owners can expect to recoup the money in their investment in half the time of other alternative energy systems, particularity solar energy (which as you know, only generates energy during the relatively small portion of the day during which it experiences direct sunlight). Best of all, this system isn’t something you can hope to see in 5, 10, 15 years in the future, it is on shelves now and you know exactly what it is going to cost you. In the world of alternative energy, it absolutely doesn’t get any clearer than that.

Oh, and by the way, Windtronics has been relentlessly improving upon their design and so varies different models can now be found based on the original gearless design.

Vertical Garden Wall

Designed by Architect Jose Maria Chofre, the vertical garden pictured was installed on the six story exterior wall of a newly constructed children’s library in San Vicente de Raspeig, Spain.

The vertical garden  uses cubic containers filled with substrate felt held in by two metal grids. One grid is on the outside and the other on the inside of the wall. For planting and maintenance, the containers can be reached via corridors built into the rear. The plants are watered by a metal structure built upon the deposit of concrete.

You could basically consider the structure to be a living wall or green wall. Though it serves a more decorative than functional role in the build’s structure as a green roof, the vertical garden is certainly comparable in principle. Varieties of small flowers and herbs compose the upper layers of the vertical garden. Ferns grow near the bottom of the garden and ivy climbs up the sides. This is one of the only ever-changing walls you will ever find.

This really is a beautiful example of innovative architecture that attempts to challenge our traditional expectations of development.

Audible Art

I just thought these were a really cool idea; it is artwork that doubles as a simple speaker system.  The artist has taken vintage picture frames, refurbished then, and installed a painted canvas and tiny speaker system. The recycling aspect of the work comes from the fact that the artist searched New York City to find the wooden frames from second hand sources and the fabric is scraps from clothing production. The material now composes interesting works of art. Only the larger speakers you can see in the frames are new, to ensure a rich and clear sound quality to older and lower tech speakers simply cannot provide. This is only a slight deviation from principle and certainly a forgivable one.  I really like the aura of form and functional artwork. I’d love to do a similar project myself. If you want more info, visit the original post here at Inhabitat.com.

via Inhabitat

Solar Powered Water Bottle

Made by SolLight, the solar powered LightCap 300 is a cool marriage of two tools I wouldn’t go without when camping; a water bottle and a rechargeable light. It seems like flashlight batteries always die at the worst possible time, and while a solar powered system isn’t something you will rely on during a midnight hike, the four LEDs in the cap of the water bottle will last long enough for you to relieve yourself in the dead of night without tripping over the dying campfire or walking into a thorn bush.

As you can probably tell, the cap of the LightCap has a solar cell mounted on top, built in rechargeable NiMH battery system, and four very bright LEDs on the underside. The cap and bottle are built from tough plastic and made to handle anything that nature can throw at it. That doesn’t mean you should drop a boulder on it, but it does mean it isn’t going to destroyed if stepped on or dropped in a river. Plus, at around 30 dollars and weighing in at only 4.9oz, this water bottle is a great tool for any camper.

I recommend you visit the company’s website and read their description of the product. You will really get the sense that SolLight listens to their customers and responds with new and innovative products. I like finding companies that create products that are proud and passionate about.