Greening Those Gadgets

The semiconductor industry has been incredibly adept at achieving ever higher energy efficiency since its emergence three decades ago. Consider this. Had we continued to rely on 1976 technologies to support the U.S. economy today, we might have had to build another 184 large electric power plants to satisfy the demand for goods and services. http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/18193

It is this efficiency that makes it so difficult to alter consumer behavior. The Guardian refers to this as The Jevons Paradox – the idea that greater efficiency just leads to greater consumption. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/may/14/rebound-effects-energy-efficiency. In the mid 90’s, the World Wide Web was dubbed the World Wide Wait, and early adopters with access at home (then dial up) often had to venture online at night due to the traffic. Today, people can and do watch a movie on the Internet.  Efficiency gains have lowered the price of LCD sets to the point where they are now standard – you can’t find a picture-tube TV. But the average LCD set uses 43% more electricity than conventional, picture-tube TVs, and larger models proportionately more.

But this consumption has its price. The International Energy Agency reported that energy use by new electronic gadgets is on pace to triple by 2030. This figure would dwarf expected efficiency gains and harm efforts to curb carbon emissions. Electronic devices currently account for 15% of household electricity consumption, but their share is rising rapidly, mainly due to growing demand in Africa and the developing world. http://www.enn.com/energy/article/39903

First out of the box to develop a renewable energy solution for the gadget market is New York-based Medis Technologies (Nasdaq:MDTL), www.medistechnologies.com. It has developed the first commercial portable fuel cell product to re-charge mobile phones and other hand sized electronics. Its next generation of the fuel cell will accept a replaceable fuel cartridge. Successive generations will power more energy intensive products such as laptops, but this initial technology has been hailed by followers of the fuel cell market as a true breakthrough for the industry.

Companies that lessen the need for pure battery power include San Diego’s Maxwell technologies (Nasdaq:MXWL) www.maxwell.com. Its PC5 ultracapacitor (without getting technical, an ultracapacitor has been described as a battery’s older brother) works in tandem with batteries for applications that require both a constant low power discharge for continual function and a pulse power for peak loads. In these applications, the device relieves batteries of peak power functions resulting in an extension of battery life and a reduction of overall battery size and cost. Compared with rechargeable batteries, ultracapacitors are extremely low internal resistance or high efficiency (up to 97-98%), high output power, extremely low heating levels, and improved safety.  Scottsdale AZ – based IGo Inc. (Nasdaq:IGOI), www.igo.com, has a patented tip technology that enables users to charge thousands of models of mobile devices with a single charger through the use of interchangeable power tips. Though this product sells convenience, the company maintains that its chargers provide the lowest standby power draw on the market. Its IGo Laptop Charger uses 80 percent less power than its peers and includes an automatic shut-off and recovery function for when the battery is fully charged.

Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc. of Thornton, CO (Nasdaq:ASTI), www.ascentsolar.com, develops “plug and play” ready modules that can be directly integrated into standard building materials and consumer electronics for portable power. Its goal is to have its Building Integrated photovoltaic (BPIV) technology be as common as plywood in new residential and commercial construction. Solar energy that can be adapted to power electric gadgets would certainly reduce the grid. Amerigon (Nasdaq:ARGN) www.amerigon.com, is a pioneer in the use of thermoelectrics – to the direct conversion of electrical current to thermal energy. It Climate Controlled Seats are featured in over 20 vehicle lines and this spot coiling is far more efficient than normal ambient cooling/heating. Its is developing this same technology for Sealy bedding products.

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