· February 2010

February 2010

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Credit: Jeffrey Grossman et al.: In these computer simulated images of 3-D solar panels the one on the left has 64 flat, triangular, double-sided panels, the one on the right is a simplified version.

This is an interesting article from MSNBC and Tech News Daily about how biomimicry can show how to capture the most solar energy per unit area. By creating the right folded shape, residual light that reflects unused from the first surface is captured by secondary surfaces. MIT has created the prefect fold combinations by running “genetic algorithm” on simple shapes. These complex clusters could provide nearly three times the output energy of a flat panel given the same efficiencies of the panel material.



I read with fascination this morning on Gizmag about a 60 Minutes episode that aired this week about the Bloom Energy system. Set to be unveiled later today, the Bloom Box has the potential to be a game-changing device for energy. It is a fuel cell which does not rely on precious metals (built from ceramics) and it runs on ethanol that could be manufactured from switchgrass or waste. It does emit a small amount of CO2 but it also by-produces hydrogen which gives the machine a double capacity for power since the hydrogen can then be used to fuel cars, etc. with no CO2 emissions.

I can see land art wind and/or solar power sculptures placed delicately above fields of switchgrass planted to power the bloom boxes of the world. On the perimeter are beautifully designed carbon-sequester-to-fuel devices that, combined with the capacity of the grass, will offset the bloom box CO2 emission. Switchgrass roofs top all the buildings of the city with SNAP installations between them.

But perhaps this is all a bit premature and I’m not sure that the CO2 created by a world powered significantly by Bloom Boxes would be able to be offset. In any event, they would not be allowed as a part of a submission to the Land Art Generator Initiative design competition since they do put off CO2. But they could be a very nice transitional technology and they may be able to help put the brakes on the momentum that the nuclear industry has been getting lately…

Link to the original 60 Minutes episode.
Two 100-kilowatt Bloom Energy Servers at a site in California. (via New York Times, via Bloom Energy)

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Professor Harry Atwater from California Institute of Technology has announced a new process for manufacturing thin flexible sheets of solar power material with 100 times less silicone per KW for the same surface area. Published in the latest edition of the journal Nature Materials and posted to VOA News.

Caltech/Michael Kelzenberg

In terms of sustainability and in terms of application this is a great advancement. We are always interested in seeing new ways to create ‘plastic’ energy-generating surfaces that can be used in sculptural applications.


A beautifully written piece from over the weekend in the Guardian. link

The artist Antony Gormley asks the question that all artists should be asking themselves. What now is the purpose of art in our contemporary world? What can the artist do to remain relevant in a post-everything world where the fundamental issue of the sustainability of our planet is so powerful as to seemingly derogate more esoteric concerns of transcendental beauty? And yet it is these more esoteric and sublime notions that tie us so firmly to the natural world and to our human nature and that may hold the key to an escape from our lamentable path towards global calamity.

It is through art that we communicate what it feels like to be alive. When you ask “what is the point of art?” you could reformulate the question to “what is the point of human beings?” […] What I am asking for is a reassessment of what art is and how it works. I am questioning the linear trajectory of art history as part of western development, recognising that all art exists in the sense of a continuous present. […] How do I justify the work and life of my studio, with its 10,000 square feet of heated space and my 17 assistants?

We really like this post from the Infrastructurist blog:




At the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology they are doing some amazing work. Ideally, their “Next Generation High-Efficiency Solar Power Systems for Building Envelopes” (image on left) will require a double-skin building envelope.

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How to harness natural energy and not pollute? Here is a list of the types that I can find:

Anaerobic Digesters
Waste To Energy
Biomass Gasification
Waste to Fuel
Microbial Fuel Cells
Inductive Coil
Thin Film Photovoltaics
Crystalline Silicon
Organic PV
Concentrating Photovoltaics CPV
Solar Chimney
Solar to Liquid Fuel
Solar to Hydrogen
Concentrated Solar Power CSP
Solar Updraft
Damless Hydro
Wave Power
Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion
Vortex Power
Deep Lake Water Cooling
Tidal Energy
Horizontal Axis Turbine on/off shore
Vertical Axis Tubine
Airborne Turbine
Ladder Mill
Kite Wind Generation
Concentrated Wind
Vaneless Ion

Any others?


The latest advance in piezoelectric technology sees an 80% conversion efficiency for converting pressure and momentum energy into electricity. Researchers at Princeton University have created rubber sheets that have the capacity to sustainably run small electronic devices (portable gadgets…pacemakers) with no external electrical input, but just from the movement that is inflicted on the device in normal use. Not sure how green the manufacture of these gadgets are.

This is experimental technology at this stage, but I can see the application to energy generating artwork on a massive scale that would run off of the vibrations of running people or the play of children. There are already more utilitarian applications being put forward for use on highways, bridges and speed bumps. Even the fast food drive-through is getting into the idea.



A New York Times article from Jan 30 explains the technology by G24 Innovations that brings a flexible, dye-based, solar energy system (Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells or DSSC) to various new products this year such as e-book readers and sport bags. Imagine the applications for public art with DSSC as a sculptural material! The technology seems to have a very low manufacturing footprint and it relies mostly on titanium dioxide which is used as a white pigment in all sorts of products from cosmetics and paints to toothpaste and milk.


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