Jan.17, 2014

In areas of the world that don't have reliable access to electricity, organizations such as Peppermint Energy and Designs For Hope have used 3D printing technology to bring innovative, low-cost energy solutions, including portable solar arrays and bicycle-powered generators, to help individuals. It could change the lives of millions of people.

Worldwide, 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. South Dakota-based Peppermint Energy is determined to change that with its flagship product called the FORTY2. Like a solar plant in a suitcase, the FORTY2 is a portable array that draws enough energy from the sun to provide light, refrigerate medicine or food, or power a laptop. A battery connected to the array stores power for use when the sun is down.

Originally a cool product idea for tailgaters and campers, this quickly became a potential life changing source of energy for developing countries where people live without reliable electricity. That means medicine that requires refrigeration could reach places it couldn't go before. The device could also spark commerce in remote areas as entrepreneurs find ways to monetize free reliable power.

For real-world design testing of the FORTY2, Peppermint Energy's development team used Stratasys 3D printing technology to 3D print functional prototypes usin durable ABS plastic. At three feet wide and roughly 60 pounds, the FORTY2 required a robust housing strong enough to hold all of its components.

The first full-scale prototype, built in a Stratasys Fortus 3D Production System enabled the Peppermint Team to identify and correct design issues, leading to the FORTY2's simple operation. For example, hand carrying the first prototype proved problematic so the Peppermint team decided to make the FORTY2 smaller, while ensuring that the solar panels were still able to generate the required power. Also one of the 3D printed prototypes revealed an unnecessary power switch on the outside of the case, leading to a simplified on/off design – the FORTY2 now turns on automatically when the unit is opened.

"It's only when you see it in physical form that you realize the form and function should be the same," said Peppermint Energy co-founder Brian Gramm. Using 3D printing technology, the team was able to quickly make modifications, allowing for fast improvements and saving an estimated $250,000 in tooling costs.

In response to the devastating Haiti earthquake in 2010, the FORTY2 was developed to bring emergency power to the area, and is being used in the rebuilding efforts. Check out the video below.

Another company, Designs For Hope in Alabama, has developed an inexpensive, durable device that enables rotational energy to be harvested and stored from one of the simplest and most readily available forms of transportation in developing regions worldwide, a bicycle. The device holds a generator on a bike, harvests its power and conditions the electricity for storage in a battery.

The development team began making prototypes on a Dimension 3D Printer from Stratasys, but the initial design had some flaws. After the team 3D printed out its first idea and held it next to a bicycle, they realized it wouldn't work, said Chris Bond, founder of Designs for Hope. After many design iterations and prototypes, made possible using the Dimension 3D Printer, the team finalized the device, and has since worked with missionary networks to place units in the field.

One recipient is a Uganda orphanage whose only power comes from a small solar-panel system. Orphanage workers commute seven to ten kilometers daily by bike. Once at work, they charge their cell phones from the solar panels, gobbling up limited power. Bond hopes his device alleviates this problem.

"The beautiful thing is, they're using their bikes anyway," says Bond. "It's free energy."


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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