Water Bottle Doubles As A Solar Energy Converter

September 1, 2006
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Water Bottle Doubles As A Solar Energy Converter
by Rob Croft
A Design-for-Sustainability Exercise

We convert raw materials into packaging to drive the wheels of industry at an incredible rate. And one of the by-products is a vast quantity of thermoplastic that is either land-filled or, ideally, recycled.
But many manufacturers believe the cradle-to-the-grave lifespan of a bottle ends with a responsibly placed recycling symbol when, in fact, design for sustainability is an often overlooked avenue of opportunity.
The prospect is particularly appropriate for consumer applications where material or energy recycling infrastructures are not in place. But it requires much greater consideration and a greater understanding of the end user’s real needs. By addressing the project in a holistic way, though, secondary applications for the package may become evident.
A bottle with a purpose, or two
Such is the case with our bottled infant water concept, which could be distributed in areas affected by natural disasters. It might also be delivered to developing countries to assist in the provision of essential supplies.
When the contents of the one-gallon package have been depleted, the bottle’s design for sustainability feature becomes evident. Consumers remove the graphic band around the package to reveal a matte-black-textured tile with radiator fins molded into the surface. By linking each of these tiles together on a sloped roof, a low-tech solar energy converter can be made.
When cold water is fed into the top of the roof, it trickles through a gallery of narrow black canals (made during the bottle’s extrusion-blow-molding process). The dark surface of the tile absorbs heat and, when the water leaves the array of tiles, it is piping hot. Plastic flash tabs on either side feature slotted anchor points that allow the solar-assembly to expand and contract, while an elastomeric finish functions as a push-fit gasket between the tiles to ensure that the system is watertight.
A low-tech electric pump would be used to drive the system. Applications include everything from providing hot water for bathing, re-hydrating foods or fueling central heating. Applications exist for us all, but the installation of such a device in developing areas would contribute to a greatly reduced load on the electrical grid.
It’s evident to us that “the future is less”. And that outstanding creativity and intellect are needed to reduce our energy requirements and to integrate design for sustainability into our packaging in a way that will contribute to a brighter future.  
The author, Robert Croft, is managing partner of Swerve Inc., specialists in 3-D brand design. Contact him at 212.742.9560 or rob@swerveinc.com or visit www.swerveinc.com.

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