Yes, 3D printing has become ubiquitous across industries. However, it hasn’t played much of a role in renewable energy as of yet.
In fact, while it does help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, many don’t see it as a particularly “green” technology thanks to its reliance on plastics. The industry is taking one big step toward being much greener today, with the debut of a new solar harvesting tree that could potentially be printed right at home and allows you to charge your cell phone.
An All-in-One Unit
The new “solar tree” was designed and created by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, and is more than what you might think. If you’re expecting a modified version of the solar cells that power calculators, think again.
This is something very different. The tree can be installed either indoors or outdoors, and stores the energy it harvests in an internal battery until such time as you need it.
It’s also able to power other items than cell phones, including household appliances, thermometers, LED lights and more. There are plans to expand the design, creating a tree that’s large enough to harvest sufficient electricity to run larger devices (think your TV or refrigerator).
There’s more to love here, as well. Ecologically minded consumers will appreciate the fact that this tree harvests energy from more than just sunlight.
In fact, it can harvest power from wind as well (kinetic energy), and then convert both solar and wind energy into useable electricity for consumer products through its internal converter.
The tree is not made from 100% environmentally friendly products, but it is a big step in that direction. The researchers used the fused deposition modeling method and a wood-based biomaterial filament to create the tree.
The leaves are plastic, but the stem and branches are made from renewable materials, making the tree mostly “green”.
The research center hasn’t decided what it will do with the tree’s design just yet, so don’t rush out hoping to download the files or buy one. There are plans in the work to expand the scope of the design, though, and the center hopes its efforts will inspire others to take their research and development several steps further.
Who knows – you might eventually have several solar trees “planted” in your yard that harvest enough solar and wind power to operate your entire home, doing away with the need for conventional solar panels. That day might be far off, but we’re definitely on our way.