Technology Innovations

Posts Tagged ‘Environment


Scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Roorkee have fabricated low-cost thin film solar cells by extracting the plant pigments from plums, black currants, and berries.

The team found that the plant pigments are good at absorbing sunlight. According to a study, published in the Journal of Photovoltaics, plant pigments are naturally occurring biodegradable and nontoxic molecules that are extracted using techniques that involve negligible cost to the environment and therefore can provide eco-friendly alternatives to synthetic dyes that are used for thin film solar cells production.

The researchers at IIT-Roorkee extracted the plant pigments using ethanol to create the thin film solar cells. And while the organic thin film solar cells are not yet as efficient as conventional silicon-based solar cells, the team is investigating ways to make them more efficient and cost-effective. Read the full report by Lorraine Chow.

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The Colored Yarn prototype

The Colored Yarn prototype

In an attempt to give an innovative twist to the age-old spinning wheel (charkha), students at the MIT Media Lab India Design Innovation Workshop have created a prototype that can color the yarn on the fly!

The project, Colored Yarn, has been created to provide technology advantage to the weaver community of India.

The Spinning Wheel

Charkha is one of the oldest known forms of the spinning wheel. It works with a drive wheel being turned by hand, while the yarn is spun off the tip of the spindle. It is a small, portable, hand-cranked wheel that is ideal for spinning cotton and other fine fibers. Mostly, the charkha is used for spinning cotton and the hand spun cloth is called Khadi in the Indian peninsula.

According to the Handloom Census of India 2009-10, India has about 29 lakh handloom workforce working on 23.77 lakh looms across household and non-household handloom units. About seven percent of the 20.91 lakh working household looms continue to use the hand spun yarn, supporting the Khadi programme. The most extensive use has been observed in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka where 30.1 percent and 24.4 percent looms operate with hand spun yarn, respectively.

It is for the community of weavers who provide hand spun yarn for the looms that the young innovators wanted to change the traditional way the charkha works.

The Colored Yarn

Team 2GB students Monica and Lavanya with Mentor Artem Dementyev

Team 2GB students Monica and Lavanya with Mentor Artem Dementyev

Attendra Sharma (20) of the Institute of Hotel Management, Gandhinagar along with Monica J. (21) of PESIT University, Bangalore, and Lavanya Gupta (20) of Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology, Gandhinagar, have developed an innovative prototype of the charkha that allows for the yarn to be colored on the fly.

The trio developed the project as part of the ‘Sensors Across Scale’ track at the 2015 MIT Media Lab India Design Innovation Workshop that was held in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, in January. While the track focused on building new sensor systems working across scales, it also encouraged innovations that “affect human relationships and social problems”.

The 2GB team (two girls and a boy), as they called it, focused on innovating with the spinning wheel not with the sensors but by using basic components such as the box charkha, a pulley, a coloring unit, and a spool.

The team used a briefcase charkha that weighs just about 1.4 kilograms. Here’s how it works:

  • A tightly rolled tube of cotton, called pooni, is one of the ways to fine and even spinning. Weavers can make poonis from pre-carded cotton by laying a thin layer of cotton on a flat surface and rolling it around a thin stick and compressing it with hands.
  • For proper tension, the spindle support post must be positioned far enough so that the spindle drive cord holds it vertical. Also, the post base should be angled so that, when the spindle is spinning freely, its pulley rotates midway between the post arms, not touching either one.
  • For the first time, a leader is added to each spindle to help start the spinning process. The drive wheels turn together smoothly and the tension of the thread gets adjusted by moving the small wheel.
  • A spinner begins on this apparatus by drawing out the yarn to arm’s length with one hand while turning the big wheel clockwise with the other hand. The trick is to coordinate the speed of the draw with the speed of wheel turning, so that the yarn holds together but not too much twist travels up into the cotton in one’s hand. (Source: http://www.markshep.com/peace/Charkha.html.)

The 2GB team introduced a coloring unit as an attachment to the briefcase charkha. As a spinner spins, the plain thread passes through the unit where color is dropped on the thread through a funnel, producing a clean, dry, dyed hand spun yarn.

“This is a new and unique use of technology on a traditional product. The process of spinning the yarn and then dyeing it in a color of choice is a five-day process. Our prototype not only allows the weavers to color the yarn within a few seconds, but also provides them the freedom to experiment with different colors of their choice for the hand spun fabric, without much dependency on the dyeing process. By making minimal changes in the charkha, we have tried to retain the authenticity of the product and yet modernize it enough to save the art,” said Lavanya and Attendra who conceptualized and engineered the prototype.

The team plans to improve upon the design and function of the coloring unit to create a final product.

To know more about the Colored Yarn prototype, write to lavanya181194@gmail.com or attendra.ihma@gmail.com.

(This article is part of a series on innovations presented at the 2015 MIT Media Lab India Design Innovation Workshop.)


Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-Delhi, Bombay and Madras), along with Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, and Technology and Action for Rural Development (TARA), have created a Limestone Calcined Clay Cement (LC3) that helps reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emission by almost 30 percent. The team’s innovative cement production process uses the new blend which substitutes up to half of the carbon intensive materials traditionally used to make cement.

The LC3 is a synergetic hydration of clinker (a dark grey nodular material made by heating ground limestone and clay at a temperature of about 1400-1500 Celsius), calcined clay, and crushed limestone to achieve the performance required from commercial cements, with clinker factors as low as 0.40 (as against 74 percent clinker present in the cement that is currently available in the market).

Reduction in the the quantity of limestone and clay that is used to manufacture cement will eventually also mean a little longer life for the limestone mines. According to a report, a LC3 plant is also likely to cost much less than the investment that is required for a clinker based cement factory.

Currently, more than 30 tons of LC3 has been produced and a building has been constructed near Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh, to check the feasibility of the cement in constructions. Now the cement quality has to pass through standardization committee before it is accepted by the industries. As per a report, the research will not be patented and will rather be available to everyone once it has received due clearances. Read more


Seeing the increasing demand for homes and power, Team Shunya, a collaboration of Rachana Sansad Academy of Architecture and Indian Institute of Bombay (IIT-B), has built a sustainable, cost-effective, energy-efficient, solar-powered house for the Indian middle class in urban areas.

Team Shunya students took up the task of developing a house which was not only technically precise, but practically feasible as well. This led to birth of H-Naught, a solar house built upon the Vedic system of Vaastu and some green technology to optimize a fully functional urban residence for a family of six.

Keeping in mind the ever-rising construction material rates, students gave the house a blend of the Indian architecture and used a pair of bamboos and gypsum in the prefabricated insulating panels. These serve the dual purpose of insulation and of providing structural strength. In this ultra-modern home, an automation system has also been designed to manage various appliances of the house and monitor comfort conditions. With these and many other features embedded in the powerhouse H-Naught, IIT-B aims to promote and popularize the use of solar energy. Read more


Most schools in rural India can’t afford basic supplies like desks, and most of the students attending them can’t afford backpacks. To address this, Bombay-based nonprofit Aarambh worked with designers to come up with an ingenious solution that can transform old cardboard boxes into a convertible desk and school bag.

The result, Help Desk, folds quickly from one thing to the other; at the end of the day, a few simple moves turn the desk back into a bag to carry books home. The design ended up costing only about 20 cents to make since it’s made from used cardboard. The designers prototyped a few different variations to test with the students, looking for a solution that would be ergonomically correct as a desk and is also easy to build. So far, the final design has been given to 10,000 students at 600 schools.

The desk-bags don’t last forever, especially since cardboard doesn’t stand up well to the rain. But the team is working on developing a low-cost material that can be coated on the surface to help it repel water. Right now, they only last about six months to a year. But anytime they need to be replaced, it’s simple to make again. Read more


A team of students from India recently won the US $60,000 grand prize at the Dell Social Innovation Challenge (DSIC 2013) for its project, Solar Conduction Dryer. The winning team comprised two Indian students, Shital Somani and Vaibhav Tidke from Mumbai.

Their project aims at addressing the 20-30 percent food spoilage rate for poor rural Indian farmers via cost-effective dehydrators powered by solar conduction. The innovation will enable farmers to keep more of their crops and sell dehydrated fruits and vegetables as another income source. Read more


Californian company ecoATM has rolled out a recycling ATM that offers people the option to trade in their discarded mobile phones for cash, rather than dumping them when they go in for the latest model. The machine is sophisticated enough to evaluate unwanted goods for resale and recycling,  hoping to inspire people to go green.

The ecoATM finds second homes for three-fourths of the phones it collects, sending the remaining ones to environmentally responsible recycling channels to reclaim any rare earth elements and keep toxic components from landfills. 

Using artificial intelligence (AI) ecoATM kiosks can differentiate varied consumer electronics products and determine a market value. If the value is acceptable, users have the option of receiving cash or store credit for their trade or donating all or part of the compensation to one of several charities. Read more


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