Cédric Carles, paleo-designer

Posted on 03 January 2017.

Did you know that shared electric cars were tested in Holland in the 1970s?

This is the kind of information found on the Paléo-énergétique website, a scientific discipline co-founded by Cédric Carles, with artist / engineer Thomas Ortiz. Digging into the past is the passion of this Franco-Swiss designer who is endeavoring to revive forgotten inventions to design tomorrow’s energy innovations.

The history of energy is full of brilliant inventions - but unsuited to their time. Not surprising since they were responding to contemporary problems yet to be identified!

A designer with energy

Cédric Carles wants to make an impact on society, and change individual and collective practices. His main focus is energy. Immersed when very young in both Do It Yourself - his grandfather was one of the very early "fixers" - and ecology, Cédric Carles became interested in public utility design and soon combined eco-design and renewable energy.

After taking industrial design at the Institut d'Art Visuel in Orléans, Cédric Carles moved to Switzerland in the late 1990s and contacted the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the Association pour le Développement des Énergies renouvelables.

In 2004, he founded Atelier2cé in Lausanne, an eco-design laboratory and a multidisciplinary network of artists, designers and engineers. This is where he developed the Solar Sound System. His odd sound machine, which uses muscular energy, toured the world.

To spread his ideas in France, Cédric Carles then created Atelier 21, whose approach is both “experimental and academic”. It "combines design, new technologies, social innovation and sustainable development, it also aims to be recreational - even lighthearted - fun and a vector for social bonding."

A counter-history of energy

In 2015 along with his colleague Thomas Ortiz, Cédric Carles launched the paleo-energetic project as a counter-history of energy to "resurrect lost techniques, expose the capacity for innovation, enhance forgotten innovations and the capacity for vernacular, decentralized, and unexpected social innovations."

The history of energy is full of brilliant inventions that were left by the wayside because of a lack of resources or because they failed to reflect their time. Cédric Carles believes that yesterday’s major crises are fertile ground for inventions offering resilience solutions that are relevant today.

As an open source platform, the Paléo-énergétique website centralizes inventions in the field of energy. They are displayed on a frieze - a source of inspiration to which netizens can contribute.

Paleo-energetics is the embedment of a participatory research model. It brings together some 40 paleo-researchers, who are not necessarily scientists, drawing their inspiration from patents that are now in the public domain, archives (press, audiovisual) and collective images (engravings, comic strips, fiction). Treasure hunters, who dig up the past to support energy transition.

The 25 lives of a battery

And that is how the Regen Box, which was presented at COP 22 in November 2016, was born. An open-source regenerator, capable of regenerating all types of batteries, was discovered by a paleo-researcher, who was the first to produce it from a patent filed by Austrian chemist Karl Kordesch.

Co-inventor of the dry alkaline battery, Kordesch demonstrated that it was possible to regenerate these batteries, mistakenly considered single use and therefore disposable, and in the 1980s marketed a 25 life alkaline battery under the Rayovac brand.

After being prototyped, the system was able to recharge not only alkaline batteries but also Ni-Mh rechargeable batteries, using a less aggressive method for the components. The project was recently the subject of a crowdfunding campaign. Its goal is to create a beta tester community to experiment with the device and identify the batteries best suited to regeneration.

Nothing is lost, everything is recycled - even in the wonderful field of inventions!