Appropriate Technology Roundup #26 [6/4/08]

AIDG’s erstwhile weekly roundup of appropriate technology stories. This week: solar thermal in South Korea, the innards of an LED traffic light, printing OLEDs like a newspaper, $350M biogas fund for N. America and more.

1. ‘Crush and zap’ recycles circuit boards more cleanly from New Scientist via MAKE Magazine

Electronic circuits in discarded computers, cellphones and other devices could be recycled less harmfully using a technique developed by researchers in China. Unlike current methods, it can be used to reclaim valuable metals such as copper without releasing toxic fumes into the air.

2. Solar Power Heats Water and Homes [in South Korea] from Green Options

Solar Panels in South Korea

As solar technologies improve and costs fall, South Korea’s plans for solar energy are heating up.

In the coastal city of Gangneung, South Korea, look up and you’re likely to see solar panels or a solar water heater on the roof of at least one house.
According to BP, South Korea’s national goal to produce 1 GW of solar energy by 2012 would make it the world’s tenth largest solar market. Even more ambitiously, the country hopes to reach 4 GW of solar production by 2020 and 18 GW by 2030.

3. LED traffic signal take-a-part from Evil Mad Scientist Labs via MAKE Magazine

LED Stoplight

LED Stoplight

Many cities are switching to LEDs for their traffic signals, and is it any wonder? The energy savings are tremendous, never mind not having to change burnt-out bulbs all the time. Luckily for us, LED traffic signals are finally ubiquitous enough to show up at the surplus stores. Our local junk shop had a couple of big barrels of LED stoplights and turn signals of various sizes. We picked one out that still had the connector attached for screwing it into a regular light bulb socket.

Of course, after we made sure it worked, we promptly took it apart. It is a fabulous object, designed to be used, abused, taken apart, and maybe even fixed, though there is not much to go wrong. Click through for more gory photos and delightful design details.

4. Affordable solar charger for Mobile Phones from Kiwanja via Afrigaget

G24i Solar cell phone charger

Barely a week after blogging about the challenges of charging mobiles in developing countries (see February 5th post), I had the chance to meet Clemens Betzel, President of G24 Innovations, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. G24i develop a range of solar charging solutions, some of which are geared towards developing countries, and mobile phone users in particular. I left our meeting with a portable solar charging pack for the ZTE mobile which I recently bought in Uganda
Here’s the breakdown. My basic, no-frills ZTE phone comes in at around $22 new, putting most rival entry level handsets in the shade. And the solar panel to charge it? Add another $20. So, suddenly, for about $42 we have a works-out-of-the- box rural mobile solution. (Just one short year ago the handset alone would have come in at around that). What’s more, the owner of the solar charger could earn a little extra income running a small charging business on the side.

5. World’s first demonstration of “Roll-to-Roll” Processed OLEDs from GE Blog via Metaefficient


Since the early days of OLED research, people have said that OLEDs could potentially be made at very low cost because they don’t require expensive semiconductor manufacturing techniques. The ultimate low cost fabrication method would be a continuous “roll-to-roll” process like what is done in newspaper printing. However, so far, no one has demonstrated that OLEDs can be made this way. So about 4 years ago, we set out to find out for ourselves whether it could be done.
Because this had never been done before, we faced some real technical challenges – especially given our program time constraints that often meant we had to start designing machine modules before we had the device fabrication process completely figured out! Anyway, in the end it all came together and we were successful in making our deliverable.

6. Open source compressed earth block machine from Boing Boing

The Liberator project aims to make an “open source” compressed earth block machine that can turn out 3-5 blocks per minute for a total cost of $1,000-$1,350. That’s enough blocks to build a new house every day, turning dirt into shelter.

(Image: Cebhomes.jpg, by Dan Powell, from Wikimedia Commons)

7. StormFisher partners for $350 million biogas fund from Clean Break

Toronto-based startup StormFisher Biogas has partnered with private-equity firm Denham Capital of Boston to create a $350 million fund that will be used to source out, construct or buy into about 30 biogas projects across North America. The composition of the fund will be part private equity and part debt financing.

8. Rainwater Cooled House from Sustainable Design Update

Cape Schank House in Victoria, Australia

The “Modern Style” Cape Schank House in Victoria, Australia, designed by Paul Morgan Architects, sports a rain water tank in the middle of the living room. The tank cools the house, stores rainwater and is a structural element too.

Great idea, though it looks a bit out of place giving all the straight lines in the rest of the house.

More pics at materialicious.

9. 612-Year Waiting List for New Wind Projects? from Ecogeek

If you want to build a wind farm in Minnesota right now, you’re in for a nasty surprise. A 612-year nasty surprise in fact.

The Midwest Independent Transmission System (MISO), the organization in charge of the power lines, has to approve every new project that will connect to existing power lines. And MISO is only used to dealing with coal-plant-sized projects. Thus, the current regulations say that they must dedicate 2 years of their time to every project that will connect to the grid.

Not only that, but they’re only allowed to process one application at a time.

10. Quarter Of Chinese Wind Power Unplugged Due To Bad Planning from Treehugger

A good news, bad news story about wind power in China. The Chinese government’s growing romance with wind remains significantly unrequited. Many of the recently erected wind turbines remain “unplugged.” Either there’s no grid connection nearby or grid owners don’t want the power for reasons that can only be speculated on. Good green intentions and investments are of little value without social consensus, matched infrastsructure, and market mechanisms in place. Is China just too big and complex to be serious with renewable power?