Hear those school bells in the distance? It's hard to believe, but the start of the school year is just a few weeks away -- and all week we've been rounding up some of our favorite eco-friendly back-to-school essentials. From green school supplies to sustainable backpacks, we've got all your back-to-school needs covered. And to top it off, we're giving away a laptop-charging Voltaic solar-powered backpack (worth $389) stuffed with green school supplies for a total prize package worth over $500. If we could go back to school and live in any dorm, we'd probably choose Copenhagen's Tietgenkollegiet dorm, a circular building with community kitchens, cafes, music rooms and a central courtyard. And if we could choose any gadget to take with us, it would have to be the P&P Office Waste Processor, which can transform a basket full of waste paper into fully-formed pencils.
For the past several years, Bill Gates has been on a mission to reinvent the toilet, and this week he backed up the talk by awarding $100,000 to the California Institute of Technology for its work on a solar-powered toilet that breaks down human waste and transforms it into energy. Green technology is entering some strange territory these days; PayPal Co-Founder Peter Thiel just agreed to invest £160,000 to £220,000 to develop 3D-printed steaks, and a team of researchers at the University of California is working on developing a cell phone that is powered entirely by a bacteria-eating virus. Meanwhile, researchers in Poland and Sweden are working on wood-powered batteries made from paper waste, and Barcelona just installed the world's first fully integrated wind-powered EV charging station. The University of Arizona also developed a telescopic solar panel that doubles the efficiency of regular PVs, while MIT deployed its all-in-one Solar ORC to provide heat, electricity and hot water for African communities.
This week saw major advances in green architecture -- both big and small. The Swiss Alps sprouted a sparkling aluminum-clad prefab restaurant that looks like it came straight from Hoth, and the world's largest rooftop wind farm was installed on top of a medical research facility in Oklahoma City. In Italy, artist Andreco unveiled the world's first pollution-fighting mural by using photochemical paint that reduces the amount of nitrogen monoxide in the air. In New York, Lego builder Jonathan Lopes used thousands of Legos to build an incredibly detailed replica of Brooklyn. But a group of 5,000 Japanese kids overshadowed his achievement, building an epic replica of Japan using 1.8 million Legos.
French industrial designer Petit Romain redesigned the classic Heineken bottle into a cube, which packs and ships more efficiently than a standard round bottle. In another potential breakthrough, scientists developed the world's first electronic fingertip, which could pave the way for the production of "smart" surgical gloves that could open up new possibilities for surgical robots. Korean artist Song Hojun demonstrated the power of recycling by creating a DIY satellite from recycled parts that cost just $400 to build, while iameco launched a wood-wrapped computer with a 70 percent lighter carbon footprint. And file this one under borderline creepy baby mementos: a Japanese company is marketing mini 3D-printed fetus replicas that sell for $1,200 a pop.