Rather than tackling one topic today, I want to share a few interesting bits of news that show how everyday things can turn into power plants.

First, imagine if you could have solar powered… everything.

Researchers at MIT have developed a technology to print out solar cells onto a piece of paper. Solar technology has progressed well beyond the standard solar panel you are used to seeing. Thin film solar that looks very similar to a roof shingle is already commercially available. However this new technology is well beyond that. The process to print these out is described as similar to creating the thin plastic bags used for potato chips and other snack foods. Even after folding and refolding the paper several times the solar cells still work, something yet to be achieved by similar solar technologies. This technique could be used to print out solar on everything from paper to clothing and in very light weights. Imagine going for a run with your t-shirt and shorts covered by solar cells, and powering your iPod as you exercise.

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Currently the technology, like most thin film solar, doesn’t produce a lot of power, 80 milliwatts per square centimeter. So you’d need 750 sq cm to power a typical light bulb. While they may not be producing a lot of power now, it’s a start. A lightweight and durable solar cell that can be printed on just about anything could revolutionize how we power the world.

If solar-everything doesn’t sound promising to you, how about a self sustaining dog park?

In Gilbert, AZ city officials are looking to turn dog waste into energy at a local dog park. Cosmo dog park attracts over 600,000 visitors annually and that equates to a lot of dog poop. The city is looking to partner with Arizona State University to create a digester that would be fed with the dog waste and in turn provide light at the park.

Rather than dog owners simply picking up their pet’s waste and throwing it in the trash, they would use biodegradable bags provided at the park, throw the waste into the digester, and then turn a crank to mix up the contents in the digester vessel. Like any home composting system the process would create methane, which would be captured and used to power a light at the park.

At the very least maybe this would encourage dog owners who aren’t picking their pet’s waste to do so!

And finally, when you are burning calories at this gym you are also helping to power the building.

It may never really cross your mind, but when you are on a bicycle or elliptical machine at your local gym and it tells you how many calories you have burned, its telling you how much energy you are expending. Calories are units that measure energy after all, so rather than just losing that energy as you are working out New York Sports Club in Manhattan is capturing and putting it to use. It’s a rather simple idea when you think about it, if you are pedaling to spin the wheels of a bike, by adding resistance you have to pedal harder, which creates friction and heat, which can be turned into energy.

Currently the technology behind this doesn’t produce a lot of juice, and you might have even seen something similar at a science fair, as someone pedals hard on a bicycle to power a blender. But a few dozen people on these machines at any one time can start to make a difference. Based on the current technology it’s unlikely that owners would ever make their money back through energy savings. Perhaps even greater than the energy created from these is the education it provides. Imagine working out for an hour on one of these and the machine displaying the power you produced, it might make people think twice about leaving their lights on or keeping the air conditioning running while they are not home.

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