Sunday, January 30, 2011

To Capture The Sun

I used to joke about having a small wind turbine installed on my laptop for those times when the power went out. Turns out that I wasn't very far off the mark, and the genius minds have already developed all sorts personal renewable energy devices for just such an occasion - or just to carry around in general. Not turbines per say (although I found small cell phone charger that is solar/tiny turbine powered), but plenty of solar gadgets can be found at a site called EarthTech Products. Laptops, I-Pods, cell phones, outdoor lighting, camping/survival equipment, you name it, they probably have a solar charger it. A lot of these items are still pretty pricey, but we are obviously well on the way to being able to capture your own energy, helping to eliminate the need to run to the nearest coffee shop or plugging in surreptitiously to a McDonald's outlet to recharge (fess up, you know you have done that).

Some students at the University of Michigan have gone one better, creating a personal solar panel charger the size of a paperback to export to developing countries that have persistent electricity outages. Not only will it charge a cell phone, it is equipped with small LED lights for reading purposes - and they hope to get this product in the $15-$20 range so it is affordable. It's a great idea - and it landed them $500,000 in venture capital to get it off the ground.

As a child in Mali, Abdrahamane Traoré often did his homework by the sooty, dim light of a kerosene lamp.

As an adult in Michigan, he sometimes has a tough time reaching his family back home. Traoré's mother must walk to a neighboring village to keep a cell phone charged.

Electricity isn't always a plug away in much of the developing world. That's why Traoré and University of Michigan engineering student Md. Shanhoor Amin teamed up to develop the Emerald, a personal solar panel the size of a paperback.

The young engineers are the founders of June Energy, an award-winning start-up spending its second semester in the TechArb student business incubator. The company recently received more than $500,000 in venture capital, and it's about to ship its first 40 domestic orders. Amin and Traoré, along with chief technical officer Allan Taylor, are planning a trip to Kenya and Mali later this semester to test their prototype with the people it was primarily designed for.

The device fully recharges after three hours in the sun, and it provides up to 8 hours of reading light. Check out the video below:

They hope to market it to organizations like Engineers Without Borders, perhaps find uses with medical or military teams, or basically any other situation where it could be handy.

I'm looking at my cell phone that's plugged in right now, sucking down that coal juice from Consumers Energy... ah well, one of these days, maybe I'll remedy that situation - and slap some solar film on the laptop as well. Now to power the TV and the coffee maker...