Solar foam and recycled plastic blocks battle for Earth Awards

Here's some foam that would be way out of place atop a cold beer.

A photosynthetic artificial foam that harnesses solar energy has been designed by University of Cincinnati Professor David Wendell and Dean Carlo Montemagno. The substance is one of a half dozen innovations up for an Earth Award, which could land the winner $50,000 and team the designer with investors.

The Earth Awards are billed as "a global design award backed by world-leading entrepreneurs" that identify innovations that have the potential to improve the quality of life.

Finalists like Wendell and Montemagno will pitch their projects to leading CEOs at the Investors to Innovators Summit in London on Sept. 16, according to officials staging the event. One of the judges is Rick Fedrizzi, president and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council.

"Nothing is impossible," said Ira Magaziner, a selection committee member and chairman of the William J. Clinton Foundation, established by the former U.S. president to identify and take action on global problems. "And nothing beats the power of partnership in realising dreams. That is the fundamental principle of The Earth Awards: to unite the world's greatest innovators with the business people and investors who can make their designs a reality."

Also up for the award are:

  • Sustainable Shells, which developer Professor Michael Ramage at the University of Cambridge Sidney Sussex College in England describes as "highly engineered thin-shell structural masonry built with locally-sourced pressed soil-cement tiles with very low embodied energy and high performance natural-synthetic wood-polymer composites."
  • Polli-Bricks by Arthur Huang, MINIWIZ Sustainable Energy Development Co. in Taiwan. The translucent bricks are made from recycled PET bottles and designed to interlock. "Each Polli-Brick can, structurally, interlock with others. So it can be used to build houses," Liu Zi-Wei, co-designer of Polli-Brick, told "We keep thinking of how we can reuse these bottles. We want to present them in a form that everybody can see, and see it immediately."
  • Kayu Sunglasses by Jamie Lim from San Francisco. ran a story on the bamboo glasses that said, "For each pair sold, the San Francisco company donates the cost of one eye surgery needed to correct preventable blindness through the nonprofit Unite for Site."
  • AskNature by The Biomimicry Institute, represented by Megan Schuknecht. The institute describes the collaborative-building venture this way: "AskNature is a free, open source project, built by the community and for the community. Our goal is to connect innovative minds with life's best ideas, and in the process, inspire technologies that create conditions conducive to life."
  • The Butterfly Houses by Andreas Grontvedt Gjertsen, TYIN Tengestue, Norway were "created in response to the need to provide more housing for child refugees in Noh Bo, a small village along the Thai-Burmese border. Completed in February this year, the six cabins now offer hospitality to 24 orphans," said the blog Design Ideas.
Wendy Beckman at the University of Cinncinati said Wendell and Montemagno "are finding ways to take energy from the sun and carbon from the air to create new forms of biofuels, thanks to a semi-tropical frog species." She quoted Montemagno as saying the innovation "presents a new pathway of harvesting solar energy to produce either oil or food."