Energy from the dead and chameleon solar panels: The best green innovations of the week

With the United Nations (UN) claiming that the Paris Agreement is unlikely to mitigate serious climate change, edie rounds up some of the latest and greatest green innovations that could help drive climate action.

edie has once again pulled together the best innovations that could drive the global low-carbon, resource efficient transition into this neat and tidy little green package

edie has once again pulled together the best innovations that could drive the global low-carbon, resource efficient transition into this neat and tidy little green package

The Paris Agreement officially comes into force tomorrow (4 November) – coincidently alongside day one of COP22 in Marrakech – heralding a new era of climate mitigation and low-carbon growth. However, a new report released by the UN has suggested that current climate commitments are placing the world on track for a temperature rise of 2.9-3.4 degrees this century.

This, of course, is well above the “well below” two degrees pathway that is needed to mitigate serious climate impacts, and the report calls on the private sector to ramp up commitments to help governments bridge the gap.

Fortunately, the private sector is being driven by leaders with their eyes firmly set on a low-carbon horizon. Unilever’s chief executive Paul Polman is one such leader, and has urged the business community to act on its moral duty and deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement.

Even the UK’s usually blasé Government has been given a smack on the wrist for its woeful efforts to tackle air pollution. On Wednesday (2 November), it was revealed that environmental law firm ClientEarth had won its High Court case over the UK Government’s failure to tackle illegal air quality levels across the country.

On the surface it seems that change is afoot, but that this change isn't quite ambition enough to truly ensure climate harmony. With this in mind, edie has once again pulled together the best innovations that could drive the global low-carbon, resource efficient transition into this neat and tidy little green package.

Let the bodies be the source

In truth, the warning from the UN that the Paris Agreement isn’t enough is a scary development. The fact that it was publicised a day before COP22 and days after Halloween combines a cruel reality with impeccable timing.

With this week seemingly acting as the scariest week of the year, researchers at Columbia University have developed a potential solution for limited burial space and the need for zero-carbon energy sources.

The DeathLab researchers have envisioned the Constellation Park, which places dead bodies in “memorial vessels” that accelerates decomposition to feed energy into fuel cells to actually power the park. As these pods produce energy – without emitting any greenhouse gases – the decomposing biomass also seeps extra nutrients from the body back into the soil to improve fertility.

A new meaning to the sunroof

Tesla and Elon Musk have been plastered all over the media recently and with good reason. Over the weekend, the company unveiled a new solar roof concept that utilises glass technology to create aesthetic panels.

Now, Tesla chief Musk has revealed that this technology will be used to boost performance for the Model 3 – potentially creating a renewably-powered solution to defrosting car windscreens during winter.

Not only could the Model 3 introduce solar windows and windscreens, but future Tesla models could combine this technology with autonomous driving. Tesla recently revealed that all new vehicles will be synced with smartphone technology allowing the owner to “summon” the vehicle at the touch of a button.

A dose of karma for the solar panel

Tesla’s new roof product has offered an alternative to the flat, fragile panels which are often accused of being eye-sores. However, the introduction of non-intrusive solar panels doesn’t end in Silicon Valley.

Italian solar business Dyaqua has unveiled “invisible solar” panels that can seamlessly mesh with different surface materials such as concrete, slate and wood. They use an opaque polymeric compound, which still lets enough sunlight through to the module.

The company claims that the panels offer improved resistance to impact and pressure, meaning that they can be used in walkways and roads. The fact that they don’t have to be laid flat means they can also act as walls. However, the big stumbling block for the design is that they are not as efficient as traditional models.

The cows run these farms

In the remote fields of Friesland in the Netherlands, it isn’t just the milk that dairy farmers care about. A project launched by FrieslandCampina - the country’s largest dairy collective – aims to get 1,000 large farms to use anaerobic digestion (AD) and cow manure to generate power within the next four years.

Cow manure has already been tested in AD plants in Northern Ireland, and researchers are trying to improve renewable output by mirroring a cow’s digestion system. However, this project has already been backed with a £135m fund from the Dutch Government.

So far, a digester in the Heegs farm in Friesland has generated 9,342 kWh of electricity, as manure is broken down into biogas. Other machinery is also used to extract nitrates to make fertilizer to help with crop growth for other farmers.

Beer-battered batteries

Sustainable beer is something we at edie wholeheartedly support. The season to be jolly is just around the corner and the recent news at American firm Patagonia has developed a carbon-capturing ale is quite frankly making us joyous.

The concept of sustainable beer has taken another huge stride – you could even say a yard – this week, after researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder used brewery wastewater to create components in lithium-ion batteries.

The wastewater has helped grow a fungus called Neurospora crassa that can be harvested to create components within the batteries. The University is now partnering with Avery Brewing in an attempt to create a pilot trial to place the beer-produced batteries into smartphones.

Footsteps of the future

Last week, this round-up featured an innovation that harnessed the kinetic energy of footsteps using solar panels. Harnessing the energy from footsteps is by no means a new innovation, but it is usually a costly one.

However, developers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a way to harness footstep energy using an abundant supply of wood pulp. The pulp is usually present in most floorings and is partly made from cellulose nanofibers. These fibers have been chemically modified to produce an electrical charge when they contact untreated fibres.

Wood pulp is usually a waste product from other industries, creating a cheap an abundant supply to create the energy-generating flooring. The University is now hoping to build a testing prototype to be placed on campus to see how much energy it can generate.

Matt Mace


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green innovation | Innovation | technology

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