BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 19 Feb'15

ARE WE HEADING TOWARDS A LOW-ENERGY SOCIETY?

How do we cope with the increasing demands for energy? What might a low-carbon, low-energy society look like and how do we get there? Which of the emerging technologies are helping us to get there?

Visitors to the 2015 Cambridge Science Festival, now in its 21st year, will discover the answers to these questions – and more – during events running from 9–22 March.

2015 has been designated International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies by UNESCO. 2015’s Cambridge Science Festival will celebrate this global initiative through a selection of light-themed events.

Plant to Power

Increasing demand for energy means that we need to invent new ways to generate power. ‘Trap the light fantastic: plant to power’, an innovative prototype solar hub that could provide a viable solution, will be unveiled at the Botanic Garden during the Festival.

The long-term aim of the P2P solar hub research is to develop a range of self-powered sustainable buildings for multi-purpose use all over the world, from bus stops to refugee shelters.

‘The hub integrates two types of solar technology; an amorphous silicon solar panel and a new concept technology known as a ‘plant-BES’ (Biomass Energy Solution), which generates electrical current from plant root interactions within the Living Wall on the outside of the hub.

‘It will be displayed at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden for a year so that the team behind the project monitor the amount of energy produced by this combined system and so that the visiting public can see this cutting-edge technology.’

Paolo Bombelli, Postdoctoral Researcher and lead on the P2P project, and Professor Chris Howe, both from the Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge

How many light bulbs?

On Thursday 12 March, Dr Stephen Peake of the Open University will present an entertaining and illuminating lecture, ‘How many light bulbs does it take?

The talk will focus on our historic and future journey towards a low-carbon, low-energy future, from medieval candles to today’s advanced LEDs, as a way of framing a much bigger technological and political question about sustainability. What might a low-carbon low-energy society look like – and how do we get there?

‘There’s a very large elephant in our ‘low carbon’ living rooms. It’s our high-energy thoughts. We’re all happy to dream of low-carbon homes, cars, towns and cities but are much less comfortable with the idea of imagining and living a low-carbon AND low-energy society. You could call it the challenge of our generation!’

Dr Stephen Peake, Open University

The LED revolution

On Monday 16 March, Professor Sir Colin Humphreys will discuss his research into gallium nitride during a public talk, ‘Out of the red and into the blue: making the LED revolution cost-effective’.

Professor Humphreys will examine the fascinating properties of this light-emitting crystal, which led to the invention of the blue LED and a subsequent 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics for the team who originally developed the blue LED.

Gallium nitride is probably the most important semiconductor material since silicon. It can be used to emit brilliant light in the form of light emitting diodes (LEDs) and laser diodes, as well as being the key material for next generation high-frequency, high-power transistors capable of operating at high temperatures.

From efficient lighting and water purification to biomedicine and power electronics, Gallium nitride has the potential to slash carbon dioxide emissions with energy-saving electronic devices.

‘The widespread use of gallium nitride LEDs could save 15% of all the electricity we consume. They could also save 15% of carbon emissions from power stations. In addition, optimised LED lighting could protect against cancers, strengthen our immune system, help us get to sleep, eliminate SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), improve productivity at work and even improve exam performance.

‘Gallium nitride power conversion devices, used in mobile phone chargers, laptop chargers or electric cars could save another 10% of electricity and carbon emissions. This one miracle material, gallium nitride, could save 25% of all the electricity we use and a quarter of carbon emissions from power stations: more than the likely savings from wind power, solar and tidal power combined.’

Professor Sir Colin Humphreys

There will be an associated event on Saturday 21 March, ‘Gallium nitride: lighting the future’.

Other highlights

Further energy-related talks and exhibitions during the Science Festival include:

Saturday 14 March: Solar powered cars with University of Cambridge Engineers. Younger visitors will be able to design and build a model car that harnesses the power of light and turns it into movement.

Saturday 14 March: Brought to light: exploring the past and future of earth’s greatest resource. Light has fascinated scientists for hundreds of years – for centuries its origins and nature were mysterious. So just what is light?

Wednesday 18 March: Connectivity and flow in future cities. Today, more people live in cities than in rural areas and, by 2050, this ratio is predicted to rise to 7 out of every 10 people. Such rapid growth and urbanisation creates tremendous opportunities and also tremendous social and environmental challenges. A panel will discuss sustainable cities and how increased connectivity and the flow of resources, people and energy could help to shape them.

For full event listings and more information about the Festival, visit the Cambridge Science Festival website. Unless stated otherwise, all Festival events are free of charge.