with solar power
Anyone who spent time outside with a magnifying glass as a kid is aware of the instrument’s power to generate a staggering amount of heat and even start a fire when hit with sunlight. Designer Jelle Seegers harnesses that practice in a new project he presented as part of the Design Academy Eindhoven student show at this year’s Dutch Design Week.
“The Solar Metal Smelter” uses a square polycarbonate sheet that Seegers carved with circles to mimic the convex lens of a magnifying glass. Extending about five meters wide, the material is embedded in a frame made from upcycled stainless steel, with an attached hand crank that needs to be turned every ten minutes to keep the sun focused on the correct spot. Once heated, the smelter reaches up to 1,000 degrees Celsius and can liquefy zinc, aluminum, and other metals that are then poured into various sand molds. The designer estimates that the device generates about four kilowatts of energy.
In a conversation with Dezeen, Seegers shares that he produced the machine to reduce the reliance on electricity and to better utilize the sun’s power. He says:
Electrical solar panels, they never have an efficiency of more than about 20 percent. Only 20 percent of the sunlight gets converted into electricity, so we need a huge amount of solar panels to create a huge amount of electrical energy. But if you just take the sun’s heat, and you only bend it and direct it, you don’t need to do this complex conversion to electricity. And for that reason, you can achieve an efficiency of about 95 percent.
Seegers plans to scale up the project in the coming months and has been working on a variety of carbon-neutral machines, including the pedal-powered tool grinder shown below. For a similar solar-powered design, check out this sinter that uses sunlight and sand to make glass.
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Mimicking the peaks of the surrounding conifers, an A-frame house in Sikhall, Vänersborg, Sweden is designed for entirely self-sufficient living. The largely wood and glass construction is the project of Naturvillan, a Swedish architecture firm focusing on building homes with minimal impacts on the environment.
The triangular model shown here is “Atri,” a light-filled house with a wood-burning stove and solar panels attached to its slanted roof. Intended for energy production in both winter and summer, the two sources are robust enough to heat the water and provide electricity. For added assurance, the home contains another power source in case of extreme weather.
An on-site well also pumps drinking water, with any waste directed to the flower beds for filtering. These raised gardens line the perimeter of the first floor and are large enough to grow fruits and vegetables.
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In one hour alone, the sun pummels the earth with more power than the world uses in the span of an entire year. This staggering fact inspired German photographer Tom Hegen (previously), whose recent aerial images survey the plants harnessing this source of renewable energy. The Solar Power Series peers down at landscapes across the U.S., France, and Spain that are covered with scores of square panels—according to PetaPixel, the locations include California’s Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, Nevada’s Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, the Les Mées Solar Farm in France, and the PS10 Solar Power Plant and Gemasolar Thermosolar Plant, both near Seville.
Staggered in wide, circular patterns, much of the gleaming infrastructure relies on mirrors called heliostats to collect and direct the sunlight to a central station. This manner of harvesting uses the captured heat to generate steam that then produces energy, and newer solar thermal plants also apply molten salts to store the power long after the sun has set. “These man-made, constructed landscapes represent our efforts of building a more sustainable future in the most sophisticated ways,” the photographer writes.
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A 2019 study notes that 1.8 million residents of Mexico live without electricity, while some sources say an additional five million have limited access. In an effort to provide affordable, sustainable solar power, six students from the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey have designed lamps that can be constructed easily with materials commonly found throughout Mexico’s rural areas. Using wicker, agave plants, coconut bark, adobe, collagen, and black beans, the designers have created hand-held vessels powered by reusable solar cells and LED lights.
Inspired by artist Olafur Eliasson’s (previously) similarly sustainable Little Sun, Moisés Hernández, who led the project, told Dezeen that students were tasked with creating lamps with easily reproducible exteriors. “With these new material ideas that came from different sites across Mexico, where the weather and context are so different, the students visualized new scenarios where these type of technological objects can be assembled and distributed to local people,” Hernández said. When the lamps need to be replaced, users simply can remove the solar and LED components and position them in new vessels.
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In late January in Salinas Grandes, Jujuy, Argentina, artist Tomás Saraceno (previously) launched a black air balloon powered only by the sun and air, forgoing lithium, helium, or fossil fuels. By absorbing ultraviolet rays to heat the air and allow it to raise, the balloon can hold 250 kilograms, or about two people. The project, titled “Fly with Aerocene Pacha,” became the world’s first sun-powered flight with a pilot and was exhibited as part of Connect, BTS, an arts initiative organized by the South Korean boy band. The global project has connected five cities with 22 artists who have helped fulfill the mission of redefining “the relationships between art and music, the material and immaterial, artists and their audiences, artists and artists, theory and practice.”
Breaking six records with the World Air Sports Federation, Aerocene Pacha eclipsed previous markers in altitude, distance, and duration for both men and women, thanks to pilot Leticia Marques. During its flight, it reached an altitude of 272.1 meters above ground and crossed 2.56 kilometers. The longest flight lasted an hour and 21 minutes.
In a statement, Saraceno added context to the project that falls at the intersection of art, culture, and environment, speaking to the abundance of lithium in the area that’s being mined for use in batteries. “This extractivist attitude is evidenced in the Salinas Grandes by the recent rush to mine lithium, furthering the man-made violence that incites climate change and mass extinction, the race to colonize space and disturbed balance of interconnected ecosystems,” he writes. The ballon prominently displays the phrase, “El agua y la vida valen más que el litio,” or “Water and life are worth more than lithium.” Activists from indigenous organizations attended the launch of the balloon, protesting the extraction process.
The Kirchner Cultural Center in Argentina is hosting a special exhibition, which includes video of the historic flights, devoted to Saraceno’s work through March 22. To see more of the artist’s ethically minded projects, check out his Instagram. (via Hyperallergic)
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Designed by Tom Gottelier and Bobby Petersen, who work together as Designers on Holiday, the Chicken Caravan is a solar-powered chicken coop. The lightweight, automated, mobile unit was created for The Ecology Center farm in San Juan Capistrano, California. Activated by solar sensors, the aluminum-clad cabin doors automatically open at sunrise to allow the hens out. The coop itself can be towed by a tractor to help fertilize new areas of the farm with the chickens’ manure—it also comes with a portable fence to keep the birds in the desired zone. Lastly, a solar battery keeps everything charged and ready. See more of Designers on Holiday’s innovative projects and explore their collaborative camp for designers on the company’s website. (via Inhabitat)
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