Thinking Beyond the Windmill

In these three planet-fixing projects, eco-engineers draw inspiration from snakes and toothpaste

River Dance: Man-made lily pads on the River Clyde harvest solar power in the day and glow at night

Photo courtesy ZM Architecture

Lily Pads as Power Outlets

Solar panels don't have to be eyesores. The city of Glasgow is considering the installation of giant, glowing solar "lily pads" on the River Clyde. Designed by Scottish firm ZM Architecture, the circular floats are made of steel and recycled rubber and range in diameter from 15 to 45 feet. Motorized disks covered with solar panels track the sun and angle themselves for maximum exposure. Once panels soak up enough rays, the energy is converted to AC/DC power and transferred to the city's grid, where it will help offset Glasgow's electrical bills.

Lily Pads as Power Outlets

Photo courtesy ZM Architecture

Pollution-Eating Tiles

Courtesy Elegantembellishments

Pollution-Eating Tiles

German-American architects Daniel Schwaag and Allison Dring have figured out how to improve urban air quality by adding pollution-sucking tiles to buildings. Prosolve 370E is a series of plastic tiles coated with titanium dioxide, a substance used to whiten toothpaste. When exposed to ultraviolet light and humidity, titanium dioxide reacts with and neutralizes pollution such as car exhaust. A parking garage in Sheffield, England, and a housing development in Mexico City are first in line.

Water Snakes

Photo courtesy Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, U.K.

Water Snakes

The Anaconda wave-energy converter from the British company Checkmate Seaenergy is a 200-ton, 650-foot-long water-filled rubber snake that uses the ocean's waves to generate power. As waves rise and fall, the floating elastic tube transfers this energy to a turbine generator that cranks out power. Checkmate plans to set up several snake farms on western-facing coastlines around the world by 2012, with each producing roughly 20 megawatts of power.