The heat is on and Operation Rain or Shine has hit the new school year running. Over the summer, a few people worked out some of the logistics to line up a highly immersive and interactive semester around the project. We are in 5th gear now, ready to build a structure to house our energy hub, and have students working on interfaces so that the information is readable and accessible to all on our campus. The future is bright, but the past is also pretty crazy… here are a couple stories about our summer experience through OROS.
The Lesson of the Exploding Bike
I never thought that the lessons I would teach could potentially save my life, but that is exactly what happened. Back when we started the Zayed Future Energy Prize project, we aspired to build batteries out of eWaste, and so a class where we dismantled batteries was taught. In this class we learned about the energy density the lithium ion battery contains, and the basics of batteries. I went from a basic understanding to having a pretty good hold on just how batteries work.
I did not know that knowledge would save my life.
Months after I had finished the class, I was riding my custom built electric bike home for the last time in the school year. I had said goodbye to colleagues and was revelling in being surrounded by rice and lotus paddies. Life was good, and I was whizzing through it with only the sound of rubber scraping the dirt path.
A pop interrupted state of zen and I looked down expecting to see a rapidly deflating tire. Instead I saw a violent cloud of smoke shooting out of the bike frame. I knew that the energy density sufficient to get my to and from school was going nuclear. I hopped off without further ado and ran through the muddy lotus pond. Behind me I heard what sounded like muffled fireworks: pop,pop, papatapapapa. When I looked back the space where my bike was had turned into a sizable fireball. The pops were replaced with what sounded like a jet engine. I had enough time to snap the photo below before it started to die down.
This experience corroborated our decision to not move forward with a custom build battery bank. The expertise needed to solder it together was not something our community had, and a small lapse in quality control could lead to a significant fire. In a bamboo school with thatch roofs, that could spell the end of, well, everything.
Our new energy hub design has taken this into account, as we have decided to house future energy storage in think earth bag walls, such that may contain the volatile energy should something this devastating ever happen.
Flexible Solar Panels From a Student
In the last semester, I taught a course engaging students in reaching out to solar panel and battery manufacturers to look for partnerships that could help make our energy hub an amazing part of our campus. The kids did an amazing job, learning about the project as a whole and finding some great companies to interface with. Some students went and made a pretty amazing video reaching out to potential partners:
Like in any class, some students were very engaged in the process, while others were a bit less so. One student who chimed in only occasionally in group discussion was Shoya. I have taught him in the past, and know he is a passive learner, so I gave him a bit of space to do his thing. He was not so keen on working on any of the companies we had suggested, and made a request to do his own search. I gave him the go ahead.
For a couple weeks, I had to trust what he told me, because each time I would check up on him he was browsing Japanese websites and texting people in his language. Was he really working on this project, or was he taking advantage of the space I had given him?
By the end of class, I had heard no updates from him and had to go with the his own gauge of how successful his search had been. He stated he had made connections, and was in touch with a solar company selling thin, flexible panels. They sounded neat, but what had he actually done.
When I saw Shoya a few days ago, he came up to me with a piece of kevlar nicely folded up. He had been in touch with the company over the summer, and they had sent him some samples. We unfolded the kevlar and sure enough there were some of the thinnest and lightest solar panels I have seen. Shoya had spent some time in the summer continuing to build his connections, and ended up finding a reseller of Hanergy panels in Japan. His contribution could well lead to us changing how we view the new roof for the Energy Hub.
These are a couple stories of the activity that happened over the summer. Be sure to tune in and keep informed to find out more about Operation Rain or Shine (OROS), Green School’s energy project for 2017–2018 school year!