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Notables

The latest ideas and inspiration from around the world
Vibro-wind panels  

Most wind generators go around and around. This one just waves. Inspired by the rustling of leaves in the breeze, Cornell University faculty Frank Moon and Kevin Pratt are working on capturing wind energy through panels that oscillate rather than blades that spin. The approach could find application in restricted spaces such as urban areas unsuitable for conventional turbines.

Photo of a plastic bag  

Lorna Rutto looked around her childhood neighborhood in Nairobi, Kenya, and saw three big problems: plastic litter, disappearing trees and jobless workers. Instead of despairing, she created a company that makes fence posts and lumber from discarded bags. EcoPost has salvaged more than 1 million kilograms of plastic waste for wood-replacement products since it began in 2009.

Ants crawling over a stick  

The species we encounter on a typical day make up only the tiniest fraction of what’s out there. To make it easier to learn about them and share that knowledge, the Encyclopedia of Life is working to bring info on every known species together from all over the world. So far contributors have created more than 1.1 million species pages. Check out your favorites and learn how you can contribute at eol.org.

Two women using a solar cooker  

Desperate for fuel to power their wood-fired cook stoves, residents of Tilori, a rural village in Haiti, were harvesting trees faster than they could regrow. Convinced food and forest don’t have to be an either-or proposition, The Nature Conservancy and Solar Household Energy, Inc., began working several years ago with government and other nonprofit organizations to find a better option. Along with a tree-planting project, the team brought 30 solar ovens to the community. Tilori women now use the ovens regularly to cook meals, helping the forest heal and reducing health-harming pollutants from conventional cooking.

Photo of Walk on Watts  

Power to change our planet may soon be as close as your own two feet. PaveGen produces pavers that use the energy of footsteps to generate electricity. Good for high traffic areas, the pavers took a step toward a more sustainable world as part of an installation near London’s Olympic Village. Learn more at pavegen.com.

Photo of the sun  

As the components of solar collectors get smaller, ideas about how to apply them grow. Notre Dame scientist Matthew Genovese and colleagues recently developed a liquid suspension of sunlight-capturing nanoparticles that can be applied to a surface to create a thin layer that transforms energy from the sun into electricity. Called “Sunbelievable,” the coating still needs perfecting to become practical, with efficiencies in the range of 1 percent. But the proof of concept takes the idea of painting the town with solar closer to reality.

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