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Alternative & Renewable Energy Blog

The Alternative & Renewable Energy Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about solar power; fuel cells and hydrogen cells; biofuels such as ethanol; wind, water and geothermal energy; and anything else related to renewable power generation. Here, you'll find everything from application ideas, to news and industry trends, to hot topics and cutting edge innovations.

Americans Want More Renewable Energy

Posted June 20, 2017 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

If given the choice, Americans would power their homes with renewable energies like wind or solar, according to a study published in the journal Energy Policy. However, utility companies have long-struggled to incorporate renewables into the electricity grid.


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Progress in Key Areas of Sustainability for 2016

Posted April 18, 2017 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

The Electrolux Group recently published its latest Sustainability Report with facts and figures showing continued progress in key areas of sustainability during 2016. Growing use of recycled plastics, reduced carbon emissions from operations, and positive investments are just some of the highlights in the report.


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1 comments; last comment on 04/21/2017
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Electronic Plants Store Energy at the Magnitude of Supercapacitors

Posted March 17, 2017 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Researchers have come up with a material that polymerizes inside a rose without any external trigger, creating long, conducting threads in not only the stem, but out into the leaves and petals as well. This breakthrough could lead to harvesting energy from plants for sensors or creating fuel cells inside plants.


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6 comments; last comment on 03/21/2017
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LED Lighting May Impact Wildlife Negatively

Posted February 25, 2017 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

A study from the University of Exeter found that light-emitting diode (LED) lighting may have damaging effects on plants and other animals now that more streetlights are being converted to the energy-saving technology. The research presents methods for LED lighting management that could reduce these effects.


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11 comments; last comment on 02/27/2017
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Trees as Turbines

Posted February 13, 2017 1:00 PM by MaggieMc

A little under a year ago, I heard about an interesting wind power project from an engineer-friend of mine: wind turbines that look like trees. While the actual wind turbines, known as Arbre à Vent®, didn’t look exactly as I’d imagined, I had to admit they were closer to an organic design, and they did have the ability to be integrated into the urban landscape, as the company, New Wind, had planned. Evidently, the company’s founder Jérôme Michaud-Larivière “came up with the idea while in a Paris square, when he ‘saw the leaves tremble when there was not a breath of air.’” The goal of each Arbre à Vent is to “exploit small air currents flowing along buildings and streets.”

I’m skeptical as to whether the efficiency, which Michaud-Larivière admits is “low compared to [accessing] more consistent currents higher up,” could stand up to traditional wind power, but I love the idea. If nothing else, these “trees” could help change public opinion about wind power—that it necessitates skyline-obstructing monstrosities (which I happen to think are strangely elegant).

I was reminded of this Parisian project when I read an article on Engineering360 about a device that attempts to harness “piezoelectric energy generated when wind bends a specialized plastic built into the leaf stalks” of their specially created leaves.

The leaves of Iowa State University’s project look much more leaf-like than those on the Arbre à Vent, as they were modeled after cottonwood leaves. If you’ve ever seen a cottonwood tree in even the slightest breeze, you will probably understand why, as the way each of their leaves flutter in the wind is memorable. The researchers say “their flattened leaf stalks compel blades to oscillate in a regular pattern that optimizes energy generation by flexible piezoelectric strips.”

Moving away from the idea of a wind turbine blade allowed Iowa State’s researchers to move away from the clunkier “Aeroleaf®” of the Arbre à Vent, making them more recognizable as, well, leaves. In fact, while the Iowa State leaves are comparable in size to actual cottonwood leaves, the Arbre à Vent leaves would dwarf even the leaves of the bigleaf magnolia (if not those of the raphia palm).

The trunk and branches of Iowa State’s “tree,” however, leave much to be desired—instead resembling “a metallic trellis.” Curtis Mosher, a co-author of the paper written about these leaves, said that even without the structure of the tree conceptualized in the prototype, “it’s not that great of a leap … to a much more convincing artificial tree with tens of thousands of leaves, each producing electricity derived from wind power.”

Now, the researchers plan to work toward better efficiency, something that Mike McCloskey, an associate professor of genetics, development, and cell biology, who led the design of the device, says “means finding an alternative means of mechanical-to-electrical transduction, or a scheme for converting wind energy into usable electricity” as the piezo method didn’t achieve that efficiency.

While each project has its shortcomings, they both signal wind power moving to a smaller, personal scale. Maybe in the not so distant future, wind turbines will be as common as trees—and they might look like them too.

Image and video credits: Iowa State University and AE News

35 comments; last comment on 02/16/2017
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