Once again, we see the steady march of progress. When it comes to charging our power-hungry devices, for years, our only option has been the ubiquitous, energy-wasting wall chargers. Then, more recently, came the ‘drop-n-charge’ mats. Now we may finally have a way to get rid of phone chargers for good. Product designer Patrick Hyland has developed a sleek, gorgeous phone for Nokia, which uses heat to charge itself. This means that just keeping the phone in your pocket next to your warm ‘n’ toasty bits will keep it charged. For a faster charge, a sunny window or radiator will work just fine. The E-Cu (short for Energy and Copper) contains a thermogenerator which converts heat (or, more specifically temperature differences) into electricity to charge an internal battery. The efficiency of this conversion is increased by encasing the phone in a layer of engraved copper heatsinks, which not only pull more heat from your body (or other source) but also make the phone look freakin’ awesome! The ‘cracked earth’ texture not only increases the surface area of the heatsink, but also reminds us of “the effect of heat on the natural environment.”
From the designer, Patrick Hyland’s blog:
“The Nokia E-Cu is a mobile phone charged by sources of heat therefore eradicating the need for a charger. The phone has a thermogenerator integrated inside, which converts heat energy into electric potential energy. It is surrounded by copper with engraved heatsinks in a dry earth pattern which represents the effect of heat on the natural environment. The phone can be charged by placing it on any source of heat e.g. a radiator, even inside a pocket.
Annually, unwanted phone chargers produce 51,000 tons of waste in addition to the greenhouse gases created by the production of the electricity needed to charge them.”
And this standby power consumption is nothing to sneeze at. By most estimates, over 95% of a charger’s energy consumption occurs while the device is unplugged. Can you imagine the energy savings if the world’s 4.6 billion cellular phones could reduce their energy consumption by 95%? Not to mention the other devices that could benefit from such technology: Cameras, MP3 players, watches, and so on.
Additionally, while we take wall outlets for granted, a large portion of the developing world does not have access to reliable electricity. While satellite and cellular communication becomes more and more widespread, the electrical grid has failed to keep up. While the inability to play Angry Birds in sub-Saharan Africa is bad enough, the real need is in connecting impoverished people with the aid they so desperately need. Mobile aid initiatives like Project Masiluleke (or Project M) use mobile technology to connect patients with AIDS or tuberculosis with healthcare in Africa. Mobile activism programs such as this could reach a far wider, and more at-risk audience, if mobile phones could be used in regions without a stable electrical system.
In case this ingenious phone never becomes a reality, there are a few other ways to quench your phone charger’s carnal lust for electron smoothies. The AT&T Zero charger automatically cuts power to the transformer when your device is disconnected. And it uses a USB port, so almost every modern electronic device can be charged this way. (also, I’m not usually one for direct product placement, but there’s a great pre-order discount here.) The Zero charger officially comes out in May.
If you’re more of the Rube Goldberg type, you may enjoy the Leech Plug. This charger has a built-in ejector seat, which spits your charger out in disgust like a stick of Orbit White. When your device has sucked its fill, the plug automatically detatched from the wall, just like a leech. Take a look…
Outlet Regulator Video from conor klein on Vimeo.
If you have any other examples of energy saving designs, share them here.