Highlights from the 2014 LA Auto Show

Sunlight

Illac Diaz (right) in a home equipped with one of his Solar Bottle Bulbs(Photo: Isang Litr...

Perhaps you’ve performed that old camping trick before, where you created a lantern by shining a flashlight into a water-filled bottle. While that may have helped you find your marshmallows in the dark, imagine how much brighter that bottle would have been if it were lit directly by the Sun. Bright enough, it turns out, that it could brilliantly light up the interior of a one-room house. That’s the idea behind the Isang Litrong Liwanag (A Liter of Light) project – it’s bringing daytime indoor lighting to the homes of the poor in the Philippines, by installing water-filled plastic pop bottles through holes in their roofs.  Read More

Diamond-Power skylight panels are designed to harness solar energy, while reducing the sol...

There’s no doubt that skylights make for psychologically-nicer buildings, while also reducing the amount of electricity required for daytime artificial lighting. If they let in too much sunlight, however, they can actually increase the amount of electricity needed for air conditioning. California-based EnFocus is attacking the situation from two ends – its Diamond-Power panels diffuse sunlight to keep interior heat down, while also harnessing it to create electricity.  Read More

The Solarball is a student-designed device that creates clean drinking water through evapo...

When he set out on a trip to Cambodia in 2008, Industrial Design student Jonathan Liow had no idea it was going to be a life-changing experience. Upon seeing the poverty and poor living conditions in that country, however, he decided that he wanted to build things that could help people. After hearing about the need for cheap and effective water purification in Africa, he proceeded to create the Solarball for his graduate project at Australia's Monash University. The ball is reportedly capable of producing 3 liters (about 3 quarts) of drinkable water per day, using nothing but polluted water and sunlight.  Read More

Engineers at the Ford Motor Company use their Visual Performance Evaluation Lab to determi...

When designing a vehicle’s interior, it’s essential to know what different colors, instrument layouts and lighting options will look like at different times of day. Certain shades of black, for instance, can look almost gray in bright sunlight, while instruments that are clearly visible at night may be subject to glare during the day. Since 2006, engineers at the Ford Motor Company have been using something called the Visual Performance Evaluation Lab (VPEL) to determine what the insides of their vehicles will look like at any time of day, under varying amounts of cloud cover.  Read More

The prototype solar reactor that directly converts the Sun's rays into fuel

Because conventional photovoltaic panels produce electricity directly from sunlight, the energy they generate must either be used as it is produced or stored – either in batteries or by using the electricity to produce a fuel that acts as a storage medium for the energy. Now U.S. and Swiss researchers have developed a prototype device that directly converts the Sun’s rays into fuels that can be stored, allowing the energy to be used at night or transported to locations where it is needed.  Read More

An Oriental hornet, whose yellow and brown exoskeleton is able to turn sunlight into elect...

It’s no big mystery why turtles and other reptiles bask in the sun – being cold-blooded animals, they’re gathering heat to warm their bodies, so they can be active. Recently, however, scientists from Israel and the UK discovered that the Oriental hornet has been putting a “high-tech” spin on that model... the outer layers of its body work as a natural photovoltaic cell, converting sunlight to electricity. The scientists then proceeded to create a cell of their own, using the hornet as their inspiration.  Read More

Soltech Energy glass tiles help cut energy bills

Swedish company, Soltech Energy, recently received the gold medal for this year’s hottest new material at the Nordbygg 2010 trade fair in Stockholm. The award was fitting because it was for the company’s home heating system that features roof tiles made out of glass. The tiles, which are made from ordinary glass, weigh about the same as the clay roof tiles they replace but allow the sun to heat air that is then used to heat the house and cut energy bills.  Read More

A new Android app analyzes air pollution in its user's vicinity (Photo: Wurstsalat)

Is it actually smoggy outside today, or is it just you? If you have the Visibility app on your Android smartphone, you can find out. Just take a picture of the sky, and you will receive a message detailing how polluted the air is at your location. Not only will you know if you should take shelter indoors, but you will also be contributing to the scientific understanding of local air pollution.  Read More

Associate Professor Michael Strano (left) with graduate student Ardemis Boghossian and pos...

One of the problems with harvesting sunlight and converting it into stored energy is that the sun’s rays can be highly destructive to many materials, leading to a gradual degradation of many systems developed to do just that. Once again, researchers have turned to nature for a solution. Plants constantly break down their light-capturing molecules and reassemble them from scratch, so the basic structures that capture the sun’s energy are, in effect, always brand new. By imitating this strategy MIT scientists have created a novel set of self-assembling molecules and used them to create a photovoltaic cell that repairs itself.  Read More

A small PETE device made with cesium-coated gallium nitride glows while being tested insid...

Photovoltaic solar cells convert light energy from the sun into electricity. Although significant strides have been made in increasing the efficiency of photovoltaic technology, they usually only result in incremental increases. Researchers at Stanford University have come up with a way that could more than double the efficiency of existing solar cell technology and potentially reduce the costs of solar energy production enough for it to compete with oil as an energy source. Instead of relying solely on photons, the new process, called “photon enhanced thermionic emission,” or PETE, simultaneously combines the light and heat of solar radiation to generate electricity.  Read More

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