UNEP at Work                

Bendy Solar Cells

Imagine decorating your bedroom walls with paper made from the same solar cells that now power your home. That is now the tantalising possibility thrown up by the development of lightweight solar cells that can be printed on paper and still conduct electricity. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology printed them on untreated copy paper using a technique that could help slash the cost of producing solar cells.

Solar Street Lamps Feed Energy to the Grid

The humble street light is joining the ranks of wind turbines and solar power plants in supplying renewable energy to the electricity grid. A street lamp covered in photovoltaic cells, which can generate more energy from sunlight than it consumes to light the street, is being tested in the United Kingdom. And the lamp is already supplying electricity to the National Grid. The SunMast, developed by Scotia, based in Aarhus, Denmark, generates electricity from sunlight during the day, which it supplies to the grid. It then simply draws electricity back from the grid at night to power its light.

Bringing Forests to the Desert

It may sound like an environmentalist’s pipe dream, but giant greenhouses could soon be popping up in some of the world’s deserts, producing fresh drinking water, food and fuel. The Sahara Forest Project, which aims to create green oases in desert areas, has signed a deal to build a pilot plant in Aqaba, near the Red Sea in Jordan. With funding from the Norwegian government, the team plans to begin building the pilot plant on a 200,000 square metre site in 2012.

Air battery for electric cars

One of the biggest drawbacks with owning an electric vehicle (EV) is range anxiety, or a fear that the battery charge will not get them to their destination. Standard electric vehicles use lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, which are bulky and rarely provide 160 kilometres (100 miles) of driving before they run out. Now IBM claims to have solved a fundamental problem that may lead to the creation of a battery with an 800-kilometre (500-mile) range – letting electric cars compete with the gas guzzlers. Known as a lithium-air cell, it has theoretical energy densities more than 1,000 times greater than the Li-ion type. Several research prototypes have already been demonstrated and as part of Battery 500, an IBM-led coalition involving four US national laboratories and commercial partners, plan to have a full-scale prototype ready by 2013, with commercial batteries to follow by around 2020.