Swiss research centre developing technology for storing summer heat

Swiss research centre developing technology for storing summer heat

The ‘Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research’ is developing an impressive project for seasonal heat storage. Currently in the prototype stage, the system allows heat from the summer to be stored for use in the winter.

The system uses the natural properties of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) (also known as lye or caustic soda), which is naturally very hygroscopic; meaning water molecules are extremely attracted to it.


Using the energy

To use the energy the system pours water on the substance, the substances mix and energy is released as heat, this heat can then be piped through heat exchangers to provide heating for the home which can be accessed at the flip of a switch.

Charging the system

The sodium hydroxide is mixed with water, when the mixture is heated in the summer, the water evaporates leaving concentrated sodium hydroxide. This concentrated chemical can be stored for months and can be easily transported.

Green light for first stage of Swansea’s tidal lagoon

Green light for first stage of Swansea’s tidal lagoon

Britain, as an island, is ideally placed for tidal power and the proposed project at Swansea Bay has is an ambitious one.The project is expected to generate 320MW of clean, renewable electricity to feed into the national grid.

Despite being renewable, clean energy, the project a has previously come under fierce opposition from local government due to its high cost (£1.3billion). However, compared to the competition, such as Hinkley C nuclear plant (£18billion), it’s a bargain and the go-ahead has just been given for the project to get under way.

Last week former energy minister Charles Hendry published a review which called the project a ‘no regrets option’ and paints the project as a prototype for things to come.

The lagoon takes advantage of the natural movement of the tides; as the tide comes in the man-made banks hold back the water and direct it to flow through turbines which generate electricity.


Lasers to help cut down food packaging

Swedish supermarket ICA and Dutch fruit and veg supplier Nature & More are running a trial programme where sticky labels on food are replaced by laser marks.


Marks and Spenser in the UK are also already using the technology to mark their coconuts and have said they are planning to expand to other fruit and veg in the future.

The cost of the laser technology is outweighed by the removal of the reoccurring cost of the sticky labels that they are replacing. Overall, the process creates a significant reduction in waste from food packaging; Peter Hagg of ICA recently said:

“This is a solution that permanently marks the skin of the product, so it’s better from a sustainability perspective, but also avoids the problem of stickers falling off.”

The mark is invisible once skin is removed and doesn’t affect shelf life or eating quality. The companies carrying out the trial have said that it is in response to the growing concern by consumers about the ethical impact of the food they buy.


Train company ahead of schedule with clean energy

Whilst in Britain it’s unlikely that rail companies will ever meet a target, the National rail organisation in the Netherlands has brought 100% renewable energy to of all its trains a year ahead of schedule.


Initially targeted to achieve this by 2018, all trains were powered by wind energy from the 1st January 2017.

An average wind turbine running for an hour can power a train for 120 miles. In total, trains in the Netherlands use  1.2 billion kWh per year, the equivalent of powering the whole of Amsterdam for the same time.

You can find out the environmental impact of journeys in the UK on the ecopassenger website.


The home as an ecosystem

An ecosystem consists of the biological community that occurs in some locale, and the physical and chemical factors that make up its non living or abiotic environment. Within an ecosystem, any change of one part affects the other components.

It may seem strange to think of a home as an ecosystem but modern housing is a relatively new way of viewing the home environment. Previously, people instinctively worked with their local environment by using local material and housing design which was appropriate for the local conditions; for example traditional tropical houses were raised platform housing made of wood whilst earth and turf covered houses were more common in cold and dry climates. In fact the word ecosystem comes from a combination of the word ecology and system with ecology rooted in the Greek word Oikos, meaning house.

Stilt house at Kaliobo, Aklan, Philippines. 

When thinking of a house as an ecosytem we must consider it’s inputs and outputs; and how these are maintained to ensure a delicate balance through dynamic equilibrium. Inputs include electricity, light and water which are directly or indirectly derived from the Sun and the planets water cycle. Outputs include water, heat and waste.

Often, in modern housing, our outputs are polluted, the external ecosystem can help us with this but again there must be balance, for example waste materials can take much longer to break down then they do to be produced which is one of the strains we are putting on the planet. However by minimising our inputs, or by choosing sustainable sources we can minimise the affects from our home ecosystem.