interviews

Agustín Otegui, product designer and creator of the Nano Vent Skin concept: an organic, nano-engineered skin for buildings and other structures capable of generating electricity

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In this exclusive interview with Renewable Energy Magazine, Mexican product designer, Agustín Otegui, talks about what inspired him to design his Nano Vent Skin concept: an organic, nano-engineered skin for buildings and other structures capable of generating electricity. According to Otegui, Nano Vent Skin is a “personal project aimed at triggering new approaches into greener and more energy efficient structures”.

Nano Vent Skin is a zero-emission material that takes a three-pronged approach to energy generation. First, it absorbs sunlight via a PV layer, and transfers the electricity via nano-wires to storage units at the end of each panel. Second, tiny turbines employ “polarized organisms” to create chemical reactions, generating power each time the turbine makes contact with the structure. Third, the nano-organisms present in the inner skin of each turbine soak up carbon dioxide.

While Nano Vent Skin is currently only a concept, Otegui hopes it will encourage investors to see the potential role nanotechnology could play in the renewables field.

Agustín Otegui was born in 1980 in Mexico City, where he lives and works at his NOS design consultancy. He is well travelled, having worked in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the UK for a long list of clients such as: BMW, LG, Mini Cooper, Southwing, Rolls Royce, Samsung, MABE, Citroën, British Airways, FIAT and Faurecia.

In this exclusive interview with Renewable Energy Magazine, Otegui discusses why he decided to design such a concept and what attracted him to nanotechnology.

Interview date: September, 2009

Interviewer: Toby Price

First of all, you could explain what the Nano Vent Skin concept involves?

The outer skin of the structure absorbs sunlight through an organic photovoltaic skin and transfers it to nanofibres inside the nano-wires, which then send the electricity to storage units at the end of each panel.

Each turbine on the panel generates energy by chemical reactions on each end where it makes contact with the structure. Polarised organisms are responsible for this process every time the turbine turns.

Furthermore, the inner skin of each turbine works as a filter absorbing carbon dioxide from the environment as the wind passes through it.

The micro-organisms have not been genetically altered; they work as a trained colony where each member has a specific task in this symbiotic process. For example, an ant or a bee colony, where the queen knows what has to be done and distributes the tasks between the members.

Imagine NVS as the human skin. When we suffer a cut, our brain sends signals and resources to this specific region to get it restored as soon as possible.

NVS works in the same way. Every panel has a sensor on each corner with a material reservoir. When one of the turbines has a failure or breaks, a signal is sent through the nano-wires to the central system and building material (micro-organisms) is sent through the central tube in order to regenerate this area with a self assembly process.

As researchers have stated, nano-manufacturing will be a common way to produce everyday products.

How did you end up designing Nano Vent Skin?

I like to keep up-to-date with new projects focusing on environmental protection, innovation, etc. Most books and blogs focus on architecture, since it is a profession that has been developing renewable energy and sustainability projects for many years. Seeing blogs of this type frustrated me as projects have become increasingly more grandiose, without really offering a solution. They are merely bigger and it is therefore assumed that they generate more energy.

What led you to design a concept related with renewable energies?

I wanted to do something more for others and the environment. To do something different other than the usual commercial design by developing a project which would have an impact on society.

I see that you have worked with several automobile companies, but did you have previous experience of working on energy projects?

I have collaborated on projects that gave rise to new technologies, but always at a conceptual level, but, no, I have not worked directly with a company dedicated to the development of sustainable energy projects.

Were you influenced by living in Mexico City (which suffers from many problems associated with air pollution) when you embarked on this project?

To a certain extent, yes. Of course, I would like to see this project and many others in my country. I believe that caring for your surroundings, whether it be at a local or global level, helps one to find solutions to the problems we face every day.

I am working on another project at the moment that is closely related to the problem of electricity supply in Mexico and many other developing countries.

World Architecture News has quoted you saying that " nanotechnology will be a reality” but that “now the main challenge is a lack of the right technology and tools”. Do you believe that this situation will change in the near future, enabling your concept to be developed into something that can be commercialised?

It is difficult to say when this technology will be within reach of companies. Until now, many laboratories are using it, but purely at a research level. Being realistic, I think this project will only become a reality in the long term.

Some nanotechnology is already being used in production, such as protective films for glass that repel water, fibres with new properties, more resistant metals, etc. and I think that we will see an increasing number of products developed using nanotechnology, although the process is going to be very slow due to the high cost involved.

You have mentioned that there are a number of parties interested in integrating NVS into government, commercial and residential projects. What you would say to these possible clients so that they do not lose interest in NVS?

More than what I would say to them so they do not lose interest, I want this project to inspire them and open their minds to the range of possibilities available. I would like to see how my concept encourages new projects. I am a firm believer in the theory that ideas should be made public, leading to a process of feedback and constructive proposals.

You also said that you looking for investors to fund this project. What you would say to any possible investors reading this interview?

I want them to see this project as an alternative. I do not want them to analyse it in terms of what can be achieved in the short term, rather look at the possibilities the concept throws up.

Finally, are you working on any other concept related to energy (renewables, energy saving, etc.), that could be of interest to our readers?

As I mentioned before, I am involved in a project for developing countries, to help them have more control over the state electricity system by creating a more manageable and accessible grid. At the moment I cannot disclose any more details, but I hope to have the project ready for 2010.

For additional information:

Nano Vent Skin

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