Team Maxwell was declared the winner of the Power Hack challenge hosted by RS Components and Allied Electronics along with the international development charity Practical Action. The two-day rapid prototyping hackathon was a major first step in a collaboration that aims to deliver affordable domestic energy via off grid power sources to poverty-stricken communities around the world.
The five-strong winning team used DesignSpark Mechanical 3D modelling software to produce a Power Brick, dubbed the “Seebrick”, which uses the Seebeck effect to generate electric power. The brick can be built into a cooking stove and takes advantage of waste heat from every day cooking but can also be built into home walls and use solar energy amplified by reflectors.
The thermocouple bricks, consisting of clay, copper and iron, rely on temperature difference rather than heat, meaning they can also be used in cold climates where warmer interiors provide sufficient temperature step-up from the cold outdoors.
Seebrick generates 2.5 Watts of power, with just 6 bricks and 2 hours of cooking, three rooms can be lit with LEDs for a night. In addition to domestic power generation, this invention holds the potential to make an even greater impact: if a small village donated some of the electricity generated back to a local grid, the Seebricks could power a mobile phone base station to serve the community.
The partnership between RS, Allied and Practical Action involved three teams of world-class design and engineering minds competing to create a simple off-grid power generation source for domestic use. Participants in the event included tech industry leaders Adrian Bowyer, founder of the open source RepRap project, Jude Pullen from Design Modelling, Matt Johnson, co-founder of Bare Conductive, Schneider Electric, TE Connectivity, Elektor and more. Using the newly updated suite of rapid prototyping tools from RS and Allied (DesignSpark Mechanical, DesignSpark PCB and the Toolbox App), the teams produced simple yet innovative solutions, all potentially viable to solve the power crisis in developing nations.
“You can feel the energy,” said Jon Snow, Channel 4 newsreader and Practical Action supporter, who spent time with the engineers at Power Hack 2014. “If you stand in this room, with so many different disciplines, and so many engineers who’ve never met one another before, all powering together to produce a breakthrough on so many different fronts – it’s bound to have an impact on life in the developing world.”
Ortis Deley, of The Gadget Show, said of the partnership: “One in five people around the world have no access to electricity. So every opportunity where individuals and organisations come together to benefit those less fortunate is a great stride forward.”
“The winning design was chosen because of its spectacular simplicity and because the automated manufacturing process was deliberately simplified via 3D Printing. We’re happy that our rapid prototyping tools allowed Britain’s brightest engineers to bring their ideas into reality in a way that will make a life-changing impact,” said Mark Cundle, Head of Technical Marketing at RS Components.
“Simplicity and a well-considered manufacturing and distribution process are vital components of useful, appropriate solutions for challenging local environments.” said Neil Noble, of Practical Action, who selected the winning design. “The most important factor for useful technologies is to make sure that when they fail that there is some way of repairing them.”
Other prototypes included stunning improvements on IBM’s recent work to re-use lithium ion batteries (laptop batteries) as energy storage devices, and a simple micro-electromagnetic generator built from common waste materials such as aluminium drink cans and plastic water bottles, which creates enough electricity for domestic power use via wind and water. The solution also featured improvements on Alfredo Moser’s famous lightbulb invention by the addition of an LED light.
RS Components and Practical Action will now work to implement these powerful innovations to transform the quality of life in rural communities struggling with electricity and power challenges.
Power generators: The winning Maxwell team – l to r: Andrew Back (AB Open); Mario Caruso (QinetiQ); Daniel Tinsley (Schneider Electric); Adrian Bowyer (RepRapPro); Subhash Mungarwadi (TE Connectivity)


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