Double the yield: Scientists propose combined solar and biofuel farms

Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest and now solar panels, using gravity, will be able to create two different types of energies at once.

This could potentially be used in countries where land is uninhabitable and arid to create cleaner power and use less water at the same time.

Researchers from Stanford University, in the US, have developed the new model for solar farms that can not only collect energy from the sun but also but also grow crops to collect energy for biofuels.

On the farms, which put the crops in the same location as the panels, the water used to clean the solar panels would also be used to help the plants grow.


The farms run on sunlight, but water is needed to remove dust and dirt from the solar panels to allow them to function as efficiently as possible. The water is also used to dampen the ground to stop the build-up of dust.

In turn, the crops would return the favour by stopping the spread of dust – the roots of the plants will also help anchor the soil.

The model by Stanford University scientists was led by Sujith Ravi who said it could be employed in areas where it is impossible to grow crops.

“Co-located solar-biofuel systems could be a novel strategy for generating two forms of energy from uncultivable lands: electricity from solar infrastructure and easily transportable liquid fuel from biofuel cultivation.”


However not many types of crop would be able to grow due to the high temperatures and barren lands where most of the solar farms are based.

Agave plants, which are native to North and South America and can be used to produce liquid ethanol, would be able to thrive in the high temperatures and poor soil, the scientists say.

Their new set-up is now to be tested around the world to see how much energy can be produced from the combined solar panel and crop combination.

Ravi added: “It could be a win-win situation. Water is already limited in many areas and could be a major constraint in the future. This approach could allow us to produce energy and agriculture with the same water.”

Agave and solar panel image courtesy of Stanford University

Travel in 2024: Wearable translators, VR holiday previews and low-orbit space hotels

Ten years from now travellers will be using an array of wearable tech and digital assistants to aid seamless booking and enjoyment of holidays, according to a report published by holiday booking company Skyscanner and futurist consultancy The Future Laboratory.

Travel destinations will also have widened: as well as globetrotting we will be seeing the stars and plumbing the depths, with hotels in both low-orbit space and underwater, according to the company.

The first part of the report, which is presented in a lush interactive online format, was published today, with parts two and three expected to follow later this year.

Skyscanner head of B2B Filip Filipov said: “With so many emerging technologies it is mind-boggling to imagine just what their impact on travel could be. This report is a sneak peek into the future.”


Gone will be the days when a visit to a foreign language-speaking country were fraught with desperate miming and embarrassed smiles.

The report predicts that wearable contact lenses will provide real-time translations of menus and signs, while smart devices such as the long awaited Apple iWatch will offer real-time verbal translations, making taxi trips a breeze.

Wearable such as Google Glass will also provide information about the best travel spots through a digital assistant that knows exactly what is required for your ideal holiday.

However, the report doesn’t go into the risk of carrying all of this pricey tech around –  tourists are unlikely to be any less of a target for criminals in a decade, and talking watches aren’t exactly discreet.


Digital assistants won’t just be with us on holiday, though. Skyscanner reckons they will play a big part in booking the trip too – no more trawling through websites for the best deal, instead a Siri-like entity will provide suggestions based on our likes and dislikes.

We won’t just be seeing pictures of these – the company believes that in a decade we will be able to preview the scenery with digitised panoramic windows. We’ll also be previewing our trips through VR headsets, complete with haptic feedback to tell us how soft the hotel sheets are.

Skyscanner is quick to dispel the idea that this tech will replace holidays entirely, though, probably because it would put them in a tricky position business-wise. However we’re inclined to agree with them – we’ll still be craving true getaways even if our devices can provide a fair approximation.


Perhaps coolest of all is the notion of holidays to low-orbit space hotels and underwater apartments, but the idea that this will be up and running in a decade is a little questionable. Possibly the super rich might be able to afford a mini-break to space, but for most of us it will be a long time yet before that trip is doable.

Underwater hotels is a more curious one – underwater living has been experimented for decades, but it has ended up being a bit like geodesic dome houses: cool, more-or-less doable but ultimately not a realistic approach. The field needs serious investment if it is to happen, and perhaps if sea levels rise people might begin to take this technology seriously.

Images courtesy of Skyscanner.