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energy harvesting

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Resource Fix: Liquid cooling tech saves energy and captures IT heat for reuse

Iceotope has developed a liquid cooling system for servers. The company's unique technology cools IT equipment at the source, rather than cooling the surrounding air. This eliminates the need for large-scale air conditioning and refrigeration equipment and reduces energy use by about 20 percent.

The servers are encapsulated in liquid-filled pipes, so there are no concerns related to air quality, humidity and so on regarding where they can be placed. And because there are no fans, the servers operate quietly. This all means that the servers don't necessarily need to be in a dedicated space; they can be placed anywhere, potentially saving space or using idle space.

Iceotope's technology also provides the infrastructure for easily capturing waste heat for reuse in buildings, providing a twin benefit in energy savings.

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This system will help provide the basis for managing, protecting, and optimizing the global food supply  before invisible threats compromise production

Potential future applications include: protecting crops and forests, predicting earthquakes, and saving water by improving irrigation

The sensor system will allow the early detection of insect pests that threaten valuable crops and tree species.


Voltree is also launching CircuiTree, a kit that incorporates gamification and geo-location of tree voltage experiments to encourage citizen scientists

VOLTREE POWER has developed bioenergy sensors that use natural voltages present in trees and plants to detect patterns that indicate disease, infestation, stress, dehydration, and seismic activity.
Innovation Summary

Voltree Power has proprietary technology that not only harvests energy from a living tree, converting the chemical activity of the tree into electric power, but also leverages this technology for various sensor applications. Right now, the company’s focus is on further testing and proving of this and related technologies, with an eye to anticipating emerging challenges in agricultural and forestry and developing new solutions.

One such solution is a system that will provide the early detection of insect pests that threaten valuable crops and tree species. Many of these species have a severe impact on the ecological balance of sensitive areas and also on the agricultural resources of many areas of the world. Voltree is developing a system that uses acoustic technology to identify the sounds of pest larvae while they are feeding on plants, thereby providing the early detection of insects such as the Asian Long Horned Beetle (ALB) and the Red Palm Beetle. Detection of an infestation in the early stages will not only prevent the loss of many trees or plants, it will allow the use of an environmentally safe remediation approach. Landowners, public or private, can undertake precise extraction of infested trees, rather than the widespread removal of affected trees to contain the threat or the massive use of environmentally damaging chemical pesticides.

The work that goes into the development of this system will also be useful for other applications in natural resource preservation and smart agriculture. Voltree already has several sensor systems in place in the U.S. and abroad to provide data that assists with forest fire prediction and management. Other potential applications will help detect plant and tree disease, measure soil content for better and more precise fertilizer use, sense moisture levels for improved irrigation and water conservation, and detect seismic activity.


Voltree’s sensor applications have tremendous potential to address critical needs in natural resource management and agriculture. They will help eradicate pests, decrease tree mortality, increase agricultural production, conserve water, reduce pesticide and fertilizer use, and provide early warnings for earthquakes. In addition, by using low-power technology, cloud computing, and data analysis, Voltree’s solutions use fewer resources than current methods.

Voltree is also promoting science and experiential education through its CircuiTree Bioenergy Science Kit. CircuiTree includes an energy harvesting circuit and an LED light that lights up with “tree power.” A “Citizens Science Project” app encourages students to compete with peers globally to see who can light the most trees by figuring out the science behind tree power, and allows them to record the voltages in various trees. The project could potentially enable global monitoring of the earth’s soil, crops, and forests by citizen scientists to add to our understanding of environmental conditions and emerging risks.


Voltree’s founders first filed for a patent for “tree power” in 2005. They sponsored research at MIT to better understand how the technology worked, which led to a published paper. They then began working with the USDA Forest Service on projects related to fire prediction and management.



Resource Fix: Using waste heat from servers to keep homes warm

Appliances and electronics generate a lot of waste heat when they operate. As Howard Brown pointed out in a previous post, our homes often become a battleground in an “energy war” between separate appliances, as some pump out heat while others work to cool the air.

On a larger scale, the vast network of data servers that power the cloud accessed by millions worldwide generate an enormous amount of waste heat. These servers are often housed in large quantities in data centers that require massive cooling systems to prevent overheating. The German company AOTERRA aims to change this by distributing servers across networks of homes and using the servers’ waste energy to heat those homes.

By placing servers in homes and connecting them directly to boilers, AOTERRA is taking two separate technologies and attempting to create a system that performs better. It’s an interesting strategy to capture heat that’s not only currently wasted, but has be countered with cooling systems that require even more energy inputs. What do you think of this strategy, particularly in terms of decentralizing the servers? Do you see any downsides that might reduce resource performance? What are some alternatives?