This Thursday, the 2010 Greener Gadgets Conference, a daylong event featuring discussions about energy efficiency, sustainable design and product manufacturing, packaging and recycling, will culminate with a Greener Gadgets design competition.

Individuals and companies from all corners of the world submitted their ideas for sustainable products, from self-powered gadgets to those that minimize electricity consumption by another device.

The Greener Gadgets website features 18 finalists for the design competition, and users were allowed to vote for their favorites leading up to the conference. On Thursday, the online votes will be combined with audience participation and commentary from three sustainability expert judges to determine the winner.

Based on the number of web votes, the top five gadgets going into Thursday’s competition are:

Go Mechanical Charger – Elephant Design, India (6152 votes)

This hand-cranked phone charger provides limitless cellphone power in a nation that relies heavily on mobile communications but is constantly plagued by power shortages and the inability to recharge devices. The mechanical charger has adapters that are compatible with any mobile phone, is compact and lightweight yet rugged and durable, and, most importantly, has a price tag under $10. Users just attach the gadget to their cell and crank away – even while talking on the phone. Aside from the cost- and electricity-free power, the device’s sustainability factor comes from recyclable materials and a low production cost.

InCharge Battery Station – Pensa, United States (757 votes)

Drop your dead batteries into the top of the Lazy-Susan-esque station and they automatically fall to their size-appropriate charging dock (AAA, AA, C or D). While the station does rely on an old-fashioned plug and socket for electricity, the “smart plug” directs power to batteries depending on their need, and shuts itself off when all the batteries in the docks are fully recharged. A slight touch to the lever at the bottom of each dock illuminates LEDs next to each battery that indicate the level of charge. Press the lever all the way down and a freshly charged battery pops out, like
those nifty straw dispensers at fast food joints.

Smart Grid Home Controller
– BuLogics, Inc., United States (697 votes)

This wireless controller connects Home Area Network (HAN) devices to the Smart Grid, saving both energy consumption and cost on the part of the consumer. A utility company sends a message to a Smart Meter outside a home that indicates peak load times and price increases. The Home Controller communicates this information to the HAN, which automatically turns off
appliances based on an individual’s pre-set preferences. The HAN, in turn, sends a message to the consumer via text or email to notify them of the changes (in case you’re craving toast at 3am and can’t figure out why the fraggin thing ain’t working!) as well as the effects on overall energy conservation.

– Ryan Klinger, United States (624 votes)

This state-of-the-art seating harnesses the kinetic energy of the sitter to power their mobile gadgets like mp3 players or laptops via USB or standard power outputs. A red LED denotes the amount of power stored in the chair, while a blue LED means power is currently being generated. Made up of recyclable materials, polypropylene sides, PVC tubing and synthetic fabric, the glider-style, space-saving chair ships flat and can convert to a bench with longer tubes and fabric slings.

Corky – Adele Peters, United States (496 votes)

Another kinetic energy-powered gadget (and my personal favorite!), Corky is a wireless mouse made up entirely of recycled plastic components covered by a naturally waterproof cork shell. While other wireless mice (mouses?) notoriously drain batteries, Corky garners its power from piezoelectric elements that turn the motions of the mouse back and forth across the desk, the movement of the scroll wheel, and left and right click buttons into electricity. Finally, Corky comes with a product take-back recycling option and disassembly data for a third-party recycler (although no mention of how long Corky lasts, or why one might want to throw it away).

Other notable gadgets include an ottoman-style subwoofer made out of a recycled stock-car tire, an eco-aware vehicle navigation system and a solar-powered tent. A full list of the finalists can be seen here.

Much of the press coverage surrounding last year’s Greener Gadgets Conference debated whether “green” and “gadget” were mutually exclusive concepts, stemming from keynote speaker Saul Griffith’s comments that high-tech companies should design their gadgets not with an inherent obsolescence but as “heirlooms,” especially since there are fewer places they can be thrown away safely.

This year’s conference will focus on being green at home, and, of course, the next generation of green gadgets.