For some products, the energy used during their lifetime represents their greatest impact on the environment, which is why designing for low energy consumption is important.
Choose to design products that take little energy to manufacture, or use little energy in their operation, such as wind-up clocks.
This clock operates without any batteries at all. Instead it uses energy that’s stored in a coiled metal spring. By winding a key on the back of the clock, you can tighten the coil inside. This transfers energy from your muscles to the clock which will keep ticking until the coil unwinds.
Until the mid 1970s most personal alarm clocks used this kind of wind up mechanism. It was a routine to wind the clock at night when setting the alarm.
This gramophone plays music using human power instead of electricity.
The portable acoustic clockwork driven gramophone has been around in various forms since the late 19th century. This Australian built model dates from the late 1920s. Radio broadcasting was on the rise and home radio sets were becoming more user-friendly and simpler in their design and electric gramophones were also starting to appear.
Human powered devices have been around for a very long time (hand cranking water buckets from a well) and as supplies of fossil fuels dwindle, the future of hand cranked, winded, or peddled devices is a sustainable alternative.
Solar powered car
Australian engineer Ian Landon Smith designed and built this solar-powered car to compete in the world’s first transcontinental solar car race, the 1987 World Solar Challenge from Darwin to Adelaide, a distance of 3005 km. Named ‘Solar Resource’, the car achieved an average of 25.64 km/hr and was placed first in the private entry class and seventh overall.
Petroleum has been an ideal fuel for motor transport. It is easy to pump into a car and a relatively small amount contains a lot of energy (it has high ‘energy density’). However, it pollutes the atmosphere and contributes to the greenhouse effect, and supplies of crude oil are running out.
Solar car races spurred improvements in both solar cell efficiency and electric vehicle design.
Electric water heater
This is a Zip Hydraboil Hot Water Heater.
The instant hot water device can be used to replace kettles and urns in a commercial environment. The system dispenses hot water instantly and is much more energy efficient than boiling a kettle or urn from cold every time you want a drink.
The company accepts return of the product at the conclusion of its life cycle for correct disposal and recycling which reduces energy required for operation and manufacture.
Microwave ovens were designed after World War II using radar technology. They use microwave radiation to rapidly heat molecules inside the food.
Using a microwave to cook or defrost your food can less than half as much energy as a conventional oven.
This 24 passenger horse bus was part of Sydney’s first public transport system. Public transport is much more energy efficient than individual transportation. This bus replaced the need for 24 individual horses and sulkies.
In the 1880s Sydney’s main streets were laid with durable hardwood blocks instead of the bitumen that we have today. The city was filled with the sound of steel-tyred buses and other vehicles rumbling over these blocks, accompanied by the clip-clopping of countless horses’ hooves.
The horse bus was usually hauled by two horses. At peak times, or up steeper hills like William Street to Kings Cross, four horses were used.
Upstairs seats, reached by a vertical ladder, were the domain of male passengers until about 1890 when the advent of a ‘safety stairway’ allowed women to enjoy the freedom of upper deck travel.
Heat pump hot water system
The heat pump is acknowledged as the world’s most energy efficient method of hot water production.
Its significance over other hot water systems such as direct solar heating is that it absorbs heat from the air in any weather, day and night.
The heat pump can be defined as a machine which pumps heat from a low temperature source to a high temperature reservoir.
Water removal system
This Super Sopper is a device used to remove excess water from sporting grounds and is an example of a simple technical innovation made by an Australian inventor that has been successful in Australia and internationally.
Super Soppers, in a range of sizes, have become part of the sporting culture of Australia and many other countries. Their use means that outdoor games can be played after soaking rain that would otherwise have made grounds and courts unusable. Owners of sporting venues soon make back the purchase price via extra admission fees and TV coverage that result from increased playing time. Cricket fans know that if it rains overnight, the Super Sopper will be out in the morning so the test match can continue!
The technology of the Super Sopper is simple. As a person pushes the Super Sopper, a foam pad fitted to a perforated metal drum soaks up water from the grass. When squeezed against a roller, the pad releases water it into an internal storage tank. The water can then be carried away and emptied into a drain. The water can then be reused on gardens, making it sustainable in its design.
Wind up radio
This AM/FM radio features three different energy supply facilities: a carbon steel spring wind-up mechanism and generator; a solar panel; and an in-built rechargeable battery.
It is the product of the Freeplay Energy Group, which has research facilities in South Africa and the United Kingdom. The company aims to provide access to energy for all, by delivering freedom from the dead battery, the electrical power failure or, for most of the world, no electricity at all.
The radio has been extremely beneficial in developing and war-torn countries where affordable electricity supply is scarce or non-existent and where batteries are costly. Radios often represent the only way people in these areas can be kept informed of current events, preventative health care, refugee assistance programmes, aid relief, distance education and missing persons information.
The SL70 is a solar marine lantern. It enhances safety at sea by providing a reliable marine aid for general navigation and the marking of hazard.
The extremely low energy requirements of the LEDs, and the solar-battery integration, allows the unit to operate with no human intervention for approximately 5 years. The solar modules are angled to maximise capture of solar energy. The sealed battery compartment is isolated from the main internal compartment and is impervious to water. The SL70 can operate without sunlight for twenty days.
RainBank is an electronic pump controller for use in the collection of rainwater from domestic roofs. The RainBank connects a rainwater tank and pressure pump to the mains water supply.
When rainwater is available it starts the pump, and when the tank is empty it automatically reverts to the mains water supply and turns the pump off. This reduces the running time and power consumption and extends the life of the pump. The transition from rainwater to mains supply is seamless, ensuring water supply is continuous. When connected to toilets and laundry it can help provide water savings of up to 40%. It can be incorporated in existing buildings and adapted for use with existing pumps and rainwater tanks. The patented technology provides a simple solution to achieving more efficient domestic rainwater harvesting.
Wind turbine model
This model represents mainstream wind turbine technology, the worldwide move towards increased use of renewable energy, and the process of community consultation that takes place before a wind farm is developed.
Many designs of wind turbine have been trialled, and the horizontal axis type has proven most efficient. Different blade profiles have been trialled, as have different numbers of blades.
The model represents the design that was most common at the turn of the twentieth century: horizontal axis, with three blades, a wind sensor and computer-controlled motor to turn the nacelle so the blades face the wind, and a gearbox and electricity generator within the nacelle.
This lawnmower with an Eco Torque two-stroke engine is the first attempt by Victa to address engine emissions in the design and marketing of their mowers.
With this mower the company has made a small change to the existing engine technology to achieve emission reductions without affecting its reliability or effectiveness.
This is an experimental polymer solar module, also called an organic photovoltaic (OPV) module, that was made on a large printing press.
This type of technology could greatly reduce the cost of solar electricity.
Standard solar cells are about 200 micrometres thick and are made from silicon that is purified at extremely high temperatures.
In contrast, the active polymers in this module are made at low temperatures and deposited from solution in very thin layers.
The lower energy requirement during manufacture leads to energy payback times of 3 to 4 months rather than 3 to 4 years.
The Daily Maid Mixer was manufactured in Australia in the 1930s.
The fact that there was a market for such a device in the 1930s and 1940s reflects the limited uptake of electrical appliances in Australia at that time. Most of Australia’s urban homes had mains electricity but both the power supply and the appliances were expensive. Only the electric kettle and electric toaster had significant levels of market penetration before the late 1950s.
In rural Australia the uptake was even slower because many properties did not become connected to the electricity grid until the 1960s.
A rotary clothes line dries and airs clothes outside in the back yard. It lasts for years, and uses free, solar and wind energy to do the job.
A typical electric clothes dryer can be the second biggest user of electricity in a home after a refrigerator.
This is a toy version of a rotary clothes line widely used throughout Australia.
The smaller the car, the less fuel it uses!
The Goggomobil was considered to be the most representative “minicar” on sale in Australia in the second half of the 1950s.
Minicars of the period were characterised by small physical size coupled with interior spaciousness, small engine with high power output, low fuel consumption and simplicity.
The Goggomobil was possibly the most successful and profitable attempt to design, manufacture and market a minicar in Australia.
Coolgardie safe esky
This is a Coolgardie Safe. It features a galvanised iron tray that is filled with water. A hessian bag is hung over the side with one of the ends in the tray to soak up the water.
The Coolgardie Safe was an Australian device that was used to keep food cool before the invention of the refrigerator.
The Safe was invented in the late 1890s by Arthur Patrick McCormick. He used the the principle that heat is needed to evaporate water. Wet hessian cloth hanging over the outside of the safe provided a large surface area for cooling. Circulating air evaporated the water, absorbing heat from the the air and the food stored inside the safe. This had the effect of lowering the temperature inside the Safe.
It was usually placed on a veranda where there was a breeze. Evaporated water was replaced as the hessian soaked up water from the tray.
Electric golf cart
This golf cart was designed to transport people and golf clubs around golf courses, and was also employed to test the use in electric vehicles of the vanadium redox flow battery.
This battery was developed at the University of New South Wales by Professor Maria Skyllas-Kazacos and co-workers. The trials were successful, proving the concept and possibly leading to future widespread use of vanadium batteries in vehicles, backed up by new facilities at service stations.
This new infrastructure would store, recharge and pump vanadium solutions for re-use in vehicles. Charging of spent solutions could be carried out at any time and would ideally use renewable energy sources. Spent solutions could be pumped from a vehicle’s tanks and recharged solutions pumped into them in a time comparable to that taken to fill a conventional vehicle’s tank with fuel.
The Powerhouse Museum has collected examples of design for more than 130 years. This database shows how some items in its collection meet one or more criteria for design for the environment.
Sustainable design database topics:
Designed for easy reuse
Designed for energy efficiency
Designed for service substitution
Designed to be degradable
Designed to last
Designed to minimise packaging
Designed to use recycled materials
Designed to use renewable resources
Designed to use waste by-products