This Week in Green Tech: STEM Lessons, Solar Power and the Coronavirus, and More
Tom Lombardo posted on April 29, 2020 |
Solar power, green energy sources are helping to cope with overflow during COVID-19, and more.

What’s new in green tech? NASA gives a hands-on lesson about the underlying principle of wireless energy transfer, with applications for space-based solar power. Coronavirus quarantines are decreasing pollution, resulting in higher output from solar farms. The Detroit Auto show was canceled, but an upstart electric vehicle (EV) maker will still debut its new pickup truck in a virtual reveal this summer. Bloom Energy is providing clean power sources for hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) celebrates a decade of net-zero energy buildings, and energy-efficient lighting systems will have a new standard for interoperability.

STEM Lesson at Home

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and NASA released a video of astronaut Jessica Meir demonstrating a LEctenna (light-emitting rectifying antenna)—a device used to receive power from radio sources such as Wi-Fi routers.

Astronaut Jessica Meir demonstrating a LEctenna. (Video courtesy of the US Naval Research Laboratory.)

While the device Meir demonstrated is simple enough to build at home, it’s not very efficient, as the transmitted energy quickly disperses in multiple directions. However, NRL and NASA have developed a laser-based system that transmits such a tight beam that very little energy is lost in transit. Some far-reaching applications of this technology include the ability to recharge unmanned aerial vehicles (AEVs) while they’re still in the air, allowing drones to effectively fly indefinitely, as well as opening up the possibility of beaming energy from space-based solar arrays down to Earth. If you’re thinking that a high-powered laser beam shooting through the atmosphere sounds dangerous, relax—their engineers have designed a safety system that detects nearby objects and turns off the power before they have a chance to cross into the beam.

Want to build your own LEctenna? Here are the instructions:

NRL physicist Elias Wilcoski shows how to build a LEctenna. (Video courtesy of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.)

Wilcoski doesn’t explain why, but there’s a reason that the LEctenna should be about six centimeters long: that’s the wavelength of a 5 GHz Wi-Fi signal. This type of antenna tends to work well when its length matches the wavelength of the radio signal.

Solar and the Coronavirus

British scientists determined that clearer skies resulting in part from COVID-19 “shelter-in-place" initiatives have been a boon to solar energy. Two days prior to Earth Day, a combination of 582 solar arrays across the UK produced a record-breaking 9.68 gigawatts of peak power. It’s a virtuous cycle: clean air improves conditions for solar power, and solar power helps to clean the air.

Peak solar power in the UK on April 20, 2020. (Image courtesy of The University of Sheffield.)
Peak solar power in the UK on April 20, 2020. (Image courtesy of The University of Sheffield.)

Electric Pickup Truck to Be Introduced Virtually

With the cancellation of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Lordstown Motors Corporation decided to go virtual with the introduction of its Endurance battery-electric vehicle (BEV). In a message to customers, Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns wrote, “We still plan on introducing the Endurance sometime in early summer, probably via a virtual reveal from our headquarters in Lordstown.” According to the Ohio auto manufacturer, the Endurance contains the fewest moving parts of any motor vehicle (not counting the rusty VW Beetle that sat in my neighbor’s yard for 20 years.) The truck has a projected range of over 250 miles (400 km) and can be quick charged in 30 to 90 minutes. While the Endurance’s price is on par with a Ford F-150, Lordstown claims that the BEV’s total cost of ownership (TCO) is almost $20,000 less than that of Ford’s flagship pickup.

Endurance electric pickup. (Image courtesy of Lordstown Motors.)
Endurance electric pickup. (Image courtesy of Lordstown Motors.)

Bloom Energy Responds to COVID-19

Bloom Energy has deployed a fleet of its Energy Servers to California hospitals that are treating COVID-19 patients. In the event that overflow facilities are assembled, these fuel cells will deliver electricity with virtually no emissions, which is especially important when dealing with respiratory illnesses. Although Bloom’s Energy Servers extract hydrogen from fossil fuels, the hydrocarbons aren't burned as they are in combustion-type generators, making the fuel cells a cleaner source of electricity.

A Decade of Net-Zero Energy Buildings

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) celebrated Earth Day by acknowledging the 10th anniversary of its Research Support Facility (RSF), the world’s first net-zero energy building. The campus, which includes rooftop solar, behind-the-meter energy storage, thermally massive modular walls, ultra-efficient heating and cooling systems, and a sophisticated energy management system, serves as a research lab, demonstration unit, and energy education center. Its technology has been incorporated into buildings owned by ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers), Amazon.com, and others.

NREL's South Table Mountain (STM) campus, which includes the RSF, in 2016. (Image courtesy of NREL.)
NREL's South Table Mountain (STM) campus, which includes the RSF, in 2016. (Image courtesy of NREL.)

IoT Lighting Standards

The Zigbee Alliance announced a partnership with the Digital Illumination Interface Alliance (DiiA), to develop additional standards for IoT lighting systems. DiiA previously created the Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI), a protocol for wired lighting networks. The collaboration will define a gateway specification and certification program that enables wired and wireless luminaries to coexist on the same network.

This Week in Green Tech brings you the latest news about renewable energy, electric vehicles, net-zero buildings, energy harvesting, IoT, and more. Subscribe to engineering.com’s “Electronics Design News” section to stay in the loop!

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