Sustainable Design Awards Toolkit

Section 4.2 - Alternative energy sources

A way in which designers can improve a product's sustainability is to investigate the use of other energy sources for products.

Companies leading the way in this field are the likes of Motorola who are developing the use of Minature Fuel Cells in their products. The Methanol Fuel Cell now in use in selected products, lasts 10 times longer than a standard rechargeable battery. Methanol emits only water, carbon dioxide and heat giving a very efficient hydrogen powered energy alternative to standard battery sources. Methanol can be captured from composting various organic materials. It eliminates the use of regular toxic batteries that contain cadmium and lithium. Motorola are currently exploring the cells' possibilities and it could feasibly be used in a number of other products such as cameras and laptop computers.

Fellow leading electronics company, Sony, have also Sony ICF B200 - windup radiobeen investigating other energy sources for when the product is in use. Sony have developed the 'ICF - B200' that runs off the use of muscle power and solar energy. It works by winding up a small dynamo that recharges the internal battery. The product can be considered as solar as it generates electricity by using a renewable energy source during use.

Many companies like Sony are looking into these alternative methods to achieve energy. Wind-up shavers are even being looked at! The idea is that by achieving a pump action on a rotary shaver the product may be used anywhere as it needs no electricity or batteries. In fact you have control of the head speed, as it's dependent on how fast you pump!

Freeplay ( are developing the use of human powered portable products with an aim to reduce the consumption of power. Most of their products use human power as a mechanical energy source in a wind-up mechanism to run the portable device. An internal spring is engaged by the rotation of an external handle. The user therefore turns handle, and the energy is stored in the spring. Freeplay use a strip steel spring that offers excellent ergonomic power as well as a constant force for the product. The system converts energy to electricity, any extra could be stored in a rechargeable battery. Techniques like those used at Freeplay could be used on a number of other devices such as transceivers, cell phones, navigating aids and military equipment.

Freeplay have recently teamed up with various mobile phone companies to try and incorporate more sustainable products into the mobile phone world. In 2002 Freeplay and Motorola are releasing 'Freecharge', a lightweight, robust wind-up phone charger. It's billed not only as a sustainable product but one which puts an end to so-called dead mobiles as it works where ever you are. It uses a rugged generator wind-up system, wound up by a crank handle. For 45 seconds of winding the phone allows around 6 minutes of talktime and hours of standby time!

Further information on Freeplay and their products can be found on their website at:
For information on 'Freecharge' visit:

Philips ( recognise that sustainability for them is achieving a balance between ecological impact and economic growth. They and other companies are seeing it more and more as an opportunity to challenge present thinking, allowing greater creativity for eco-efficient solutions. They have started to achieve this by introducing a series of products that underline that statement. They are currently producing more sustainable items such as: Free-powered radios, Gyroscan Intera Medical scanners, Energy-saving e-Kyoto electronic ballasts and also flexible and mouldable solar panels.Photograph of a hand with the sun behind

These solar panels have a large scope for products having low maintenance, no noise and a long life. Philips boast that it is guaranteed for 10 years with a minimum power of 90%. Additional work in the solar category is currently being undertaken by Phillips and similar leading companies.

Alternative Energy sources do not just have to be from products in use. A food factory in Denmark 'Urtekran', use an alternative energy source during manufacture and distribution. The factory is powered by wind and hay, and can be considered more solar by usingrenewable energy sources in the manufacturing process.

Inspirational Current Work
4.1  Inspiration
4.2  Alternative energy sources
4.3  Alternative materials in products
4.4  Efficient products
4.5  Design for disassembly
4.6  Innovative redesign
4.7  Transportation visions
4.8  Changing design perspectives
Toolkit Index
Section 1.
Sustainability Issues
Section 2.
Companies and Products
Section 3.
Ecodesign Tools
Section 4.
Inspirational current work

Biodegradable products containing Mater-Bi polymers

Photograph of a hand with the sun behind