This week at Treehugger: The 'huggers find out what's the least you can pay to have a functional Do-It-Yourself solar kit; discover a cool dishmaker that melts dirty dishes into acrylic goo and then re-creates them on demand; meet the high-tech offspring of a solar panel and cloth roll: Textronics. And last but not least, the flying fuel-cell manta ray prototype, the HyFish.
The solar industry is so incredibly hot that there's a worldwide shortage of solar panels, but unfortunately going 100% solar is still too expensive for most people. But what about going partially solar? $600 will get you a very neat DIY solar kit, and with it you can harness enough sun each week to: "Run a 20-inch TV for 20 hours, a portable stereo for 100 hours, a laptop computer for 40 hours, or a 12-watt compact-fluorescent light bulb for 80 hours. The 800-watt inverter (with a 2,000-watt surge capacity) will run a small vacuum cleaner, a drill or a small drill press, a sander, a jigsaw or small band saw, but not a large circular saw. It will handle many toasters and coffee makers, but not all. A blender would be child s play for this inverter, a microwave an impossibility. A hair dryer on low, yes; on high, forget it." That should be more than enough for all your gadgets, and the best part is that you can upgrade it at any time with new panels and batteries and work your way to the ultimate off-grid power source.
Your home dish washing may seem annoying. But for a restaurant or cafeteria, it can be a nightmare. Huge inputs of water and energy are needed to maintain the hundreds or thousands of dishes these businesses need every day. And the storage space needed for those plates, bowls and cups really adds up. Meet the MIT's Dishmaker: It forms bowls, cups and plates on demand from disks of acrylic by heat-forming them with air and molds. When the plates are finished being used, they are heated and pressed back into sheets for compact storage. The creators of the Dishmaker claim that the energy input needed to recycle a plate like this three times a day for a year is comparable to that needed to create a single ceramic plate, because ceramics are fired at such a high temperature, so it is not just convenient but also relatively green.
Two companies working on ways to bring solar energy to the mainstream have started a collaboration: Konarka and their light-activated Power Plastic and Textronics with their electronic textile systems' are planning to bring us renewable, wearable energy sources for personal electronic devices. That means that in the future you could just plug your cellphone (or any other gadget, and if you're reading Gizmodo, you probably have a ton) into your shirt or coat to juice up.
Now for something completely weirder: At this stage, the HyFish is only a model that runs on batteries, but the full-scale version will be a 2-passenger plane that looks like a giant manta ray (biomimmicry is usually a good way to design things, as this boxfish car by DaimlerChrysler shows). It will be powered by a fuel cell and zip along at 560 mph (900 kph) and its creators claim that it will use less fuel than a car; that remains to be seen, but since fuel cells are a lot more efficient than internal combustion engines at converting their respective fuel into motion (which is why fuel cell cars like this are developed), it is not completely impossible. Another smaller version of the fish-way-out-of-water could be used to take air quality samples. Since it produces zero polluting emissions, the samples would be uncontaminated and quite reliable.
That's all for now. See you next week!
Treehugger's EcoModo column appears every Tuesday on Gizmodo.