A Green Desk Powered By The Person Sitting At It

Forget solar panels and wind power. This desk is powered by your everyday activities at the office.

We tend to think about green energy at the large scale--wind farms and solar plants--or at the absolute smallest scale--solar lights and calculators. But is there a practical use case in between somewhere?

Eddi Törnberg has built a prototype desk called Unplugged that uses a combination of green energy tricks to power itself. The carpet is woven with piezo elements that generate power whenever subjected to mechanical stress (walking on it or rolling your chair). A flowering plant is a microbial fuel cell, extracting energy from the sun. And the chair is designed to exploit the Seebeck effect. As one’s body warms the metal on the top of the chair, the bottom of the chair is kept cool through heatsink fins. This difference in temperature emits energy.

While Unplugged doesn’t appear to generate enough electricity (yet) to run a laptop--it appears to only power a small lamp, and not necessarily in a sustained manner--the real point is that these energy sources are invisible, self-contained and, most importantly, entirely passive. Other than its unfinished wood surface, Unplugged resembles any other desk.

“The inspiration for this project came from the human disinclination to make sacrifices in our daily life to achieve a sustainable society,” Törnberg tells Co.Design. “I have based my thesis on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s quote ‘Human nature is above all things lazy’ in the belief that few people in the long term have the will, interest and energy to struggle to achieve a sustainable society. I have therefore investigated to reverse the problem and instead use what we already have and do.”

It’s certainly a romantic thought, eschewing all of these silly power strips for the actions we already take every day. One of my favorite, unimplemented ideas that Törnberg has considered is harnessing the heat energy from laptops that sit on the desk. We tend to think of hot electronics as a bad thing--indeed, electronics perform poorly at high temperatures, and a hot laptop sitting on your lap can have health implications--but Törnberg has a lemonade from lemons approach to the whole issue, a drive to reclaim some of that heat waste into viable energy.

As of now, Törnberg’s “dream” is that some large-scale office furniture manufacturer embraces his ideas and implements them in actual workplace settings. In the meantime, may I make one more suggestion to eco-capitalize on human laziness? The easiest way for any office to save energy is simply to cut back the work week.

[Hat tip: Design Milk]

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