Like the Oscars for actors and the Grammys for musicians, Popular Mechanics' Breakthrough Awards is the event honoring and recognizing those who have reached beyond what was previously thought possible in the world of technology and product innovation. The 2011 award ceremony took place this past Monday and was, as one presenter put it, "like being a kid in a candy store" for us tech geeks. We were on the scene at Hearst Tower in NYC scoping out the futuristic menagerie of gadgets and gizmos, and were delighted to see that many of them had green features or applications. From Avatar director James Cameron's powerful 3D cameras to a type of glass that can remove contaminants from water to a wind turbine that flies, hit the jump for six groundbreaking green inventions we spotted at the awards.
We’ve written about Osorb before, but we were eager to see this miracle material in person. Made out of what is essentially glass, the substance acts like a nanomechanical sponge that absorbs petroleum, solvents and other toxins. Just think about the applications – from cleaning up oil spills to purifying water from frack sites to providing potable water to those who need it. Osorb’s creator, Paul Edmiston was on hand to explain how the material – which he explained he first made accidentally – works and even did a demonstration right before our eyes where he contaminated some water, introduced and then removed the Osorb, and then proceeded to drink the newly clean water!
WEST PHILLY HYBRID X TEAM
When we think about what we were doing when we were in high school (playing Super NES, possibly eating a sandwich?), it make us downright embarrassed to even stand next to the youngsters of the West Philly Hybrid X Team, who were also honored at the event. These talented 10th, 11th and 12th graders under the guidance of faculty advisor Simon Hauger spend their afternoons building and tweaking hybrid vehicles like this one that gets 160-MPGE. And get this – some of them can’t even drive yet!
MAKANI POWER FLYING WIND TURBINE
What do you do when the strongest winds can’t come to you? You go to them. That’s the thinking behind Makani Power‘s airborne wind turbine, which basically looks like a small airplane. The lightweight apparatus can reach heights of 1,500 feet – high enough to harness the power of the strongest winds using much less materials than a traditional turbine.
JAMES CAMERON’S 3D CAMERAS
You might know director James Cameron from his work on movies like Avatar, Titanic and Terminator, but did you know that he’s also an inventor? He spent years developing the sophisticated 3D camera and rigs that were used to film Avatar – in fact, he put that project on hold until he was able to perfect the technology. Mr. Cameron was honored at the awards and was on hand to show off some of his 3D equipment. The director is also well known for his work as an environmental steward and explorer of the oceans. In fact, he soon plans to take a version of one of his rigs on a dive 36,000 feet below the surface of the ocean.
What if you could desmog your neighborhood just by installing new roof tiles? Well, that’s exactly what BoralPure Smog-Eating Tiles do. The tiles are coated in TiO2 (titanium dioxide) which reacts with and neutralizes NOX (nitrogen oxide) particles in smog resulting in a harmless precipitate that accumulates on the roof and washes away in the rain. Simple but brilliant and the tiles cost only about $650 more than a standard 2500-sq.-ft. tile roof.
We all love solar power but there’s no denying that it’s still quite expensive. The main price driver for PV panels is silicon – reduce that and the cost goes down. So that’s exactly what Solaria did. Their monocrystalline panels use 50 to 70 percent less silicon because rather than cladding the entire module with PV panels, Solaria makes use of a patterned-glass lens to refocus light onto a thin strip of solar cells. The panels are durable and – you’ll like this part – they cost about one-third less than comparable panels.