LONDON — A thermocouple clay brick embedded design that is able to power LED lighting and provide a new energy source for developing nations took the prize in a hackathon event earlier this month.
A hackathon, often know as a hack day or a hackfest, is an event in which software developers and engineers, including graphic designers and computer programmers, collaborate on various design projects. Some hackathons are intended for educational purposes or socializing, although most in most cases, the goal is to create functioning software.
Hackathons tend to have a particular focus, such as programming language and operating systems. This specific event involved creating cost-effective and practical technologies that result in huge gains for developing countries.
Neil Noble, a technical adviser from Practical Action, laid down some rules about the types of systems the judges were essentially looking for. The judges were looking for simple, practical, cost-efficient, easy to sustain and culturally suitable designs for use in remote areas.
The hackathon event was organized by RS Components and held at one of many Google offices in London. The event, which lasted 48 hours, brought together engineers from diverse backgrounds and different tech industries.
The winning hackathon team consisted of Andrew Back, Mario Caruso, Daniel Tinsley, Adrian Bowyer and Subhah Mungarwadi. Each participant from the winning team came from a different background.
The group of bright individuals came together and created what is known as the Seebrick—a copper-ion thermocouple that could be embedded into clay bricks usually used to insulate cooking stoves in developing regions.
The brick can be built with already existing cooking stove material in these remote areas, and takes advantage of waste from daily cooking. Moreover, these new designs can be installed in home walls and even use solar energy.
The thermocouple bricks function solely on temperature difference rather than heat; therefore, they can also be used in colder climates where warmer interiors provide enough of a temperature difference from the cold outside.
The team estimated that the bricks could generate about 2.5W. The team also calculated that six bricks, working together side-by-side, would be enough for 2 hours of cooking, and that three rooms would be able to be well-lit with LED lights for a night. The design would benefit those in remote areas, living off an established grid.
This invention has the potential to make an even larger impact—if a small village donated some of the electricity generated back to the local grid, Seebricks could power a mobile phone station to serve the local communities.
Although the Seebrick took the winning spot, other teams were acknowledged for their creative projects as well. One team made striking improvements to IBM’s recent effort to re-use lithium ion batteries. Another team suggested recycling common waste materials, such as aluminum cans and plastic bottles, into small waterwheels.
RS Components and Practical Action have decided to work to implement these powerful innovations to transform the quality of life in rural areas that struggle with power challenges.
The design for all three notable projects are available on DesignSpark’s website; any company interested to move them onto the next stage of their developments is now able.
– Sandy Phan