Space & Innovation

Public Art Generates Renewable Energy, Beautifully

Take a leisurely scroll through the future of clean energy and public art.

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Clean energy is all the rage and all around us. From the newest hydrogen cars to advances in piezoelectric energy, we seem on the verge of a wave of clean, available and responsible power for our cars, homes and businesses. The Land Art Generator Initiative, or LAGI, has a single, simple goal -- to encourage the construction of public art installations that also feed clean energy into the local utility grid. On Oct. 3, LAGI declared the winners of its 2014 design competition, held in Copenhagen, which received hundreds of submissions from artists and engineers around the world. We take a look at this year's winners.

The bi-annual LAGI design competition has been held since 2010, with previous events in New York City and the United Arab Emirates. This year's winner, "The Solar Hourglass," uses a complex arrangement of small mirrors that follow the sun and concentrate solar energy down the neck of the hourglass.

The concentrated sunlight is beamed into a receiver containing a fluid made of molten nitrate salt, which can be heated to more than 600 degrees Celsius. The scalding temps convert water to steam, which drives the utility-class 6.2-megawatt turbine in the base of the hourglass. Meanwhile, the installation is safe enough for the public to gather beneath the canopy for shade.

Designed by artist Santiago Muros Cortés of Buenos Aires, Argentina, The Solar Hourglass is meant to evoke optimism that there's still time to preserve the environment with alternative energy, if keep up a sustained effort. The installation makes its case in both form and function, and is designed to provide enough energy to power hundreds and potentially thousands of homes annually.

This year's second-place winner -- also intended for a prominent place on the Copenhagen waterfront -- combines biofuel and wind energy concepts into an installation called "Quiver." The foreground gardens feature Miscanthus grass biofuel crops that can grow up to four meters tall and also help filter polluted soil wherever they're planted.

The tower section, meanwhile, consists of concentric rings of "Windbelts" that constantly flutter in the offshore breeze and harvest a steady stream of wind power. Visitors can check out the view from the bottom of the tower, or take a footbridge to the top and get a panoramic view of the city.

Designers Mateusz Góra and Agata Gryszkiewicz, of Warsaw, Poland, designed the installation to suggest agricultural imagery of crops in the field with a silo structure. At night, however, the tower is illuminated with LED displays to resemble a lighthouse, with visual representations of current wind conditions in Copenhagen.

This year's third place finisher, titled "eMotions," envisions a series of micro-scale generators connected by a viewing walkway meant to suggest the belts and cogs of a futuristic clean energy machine. What's more, each of the cogs represents a specific ecosystem within Denmark.

Within each generator unit, a particular ecosystem display is paired with a small-scale clean energy system. The Sand Dune unit, for instance, illustrates principles of migrating sediment while incorporating solar panels and horizontal-axis wind turbines. The public walkway connecting the units -- the "belt" -- uses actuators to convert energy from the movement of people into electricity.

Submitted by designers Antonio Maccà and Flavio Masi, of Padova, Italy, "eMotions" swaps out the usual approach of one central energy-generating component for a series of smaller generators working in conjunction. The installation will also feature a renewable energy museum showcasing the history of sustainable energy research.