Morphing plane wings and glowing tadpoles: the best green innovations of the week

In a week that saw the US vote for a climate denier as its president-elect, edie rounds up some of the latest and greatest green innovations that could help drive climate action during Trump's reign.

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

It would appear that 2016 will be depicted as a tug-of-war between mobilising climate action and large-scale events that could subsequently derail climate mitigation. The Paris Agreement may have come into force last week, but all the feelings of good will have already been cast under a Donald Trump-shaped cloud.

Trump’s shock triumph in the US presidential election will likely rival the Brexit vote as 2016’s most bizarre outcome – unless you are still caught up in the furore surrounding Toblerone – and will likely create an air of uncertainty around worldwide efforts to limit global warming.

He may have threatened to cancel the Paris Agreement, but the truth is, Trump can’t exit the global climate agreement for at least another four years – and four years could make a lot of difference in the pressing issues to accelerate climate action.

Just ask delegates at COP22. The global climate conference kicked-off in Marrakesh this week, with the first 72 hours reiterating the need to catalyse low-carbon growth at an accelerated rate. Delegates will spend their remaining eight days in the Moroccan capital outlining frameworks to bring the goals established in Paris into action.

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.

COP a load of these temporary structures

COP22 commenced on Monday (7 November), with the welcome news that more than 100 nations and parties had now ratified the Paris Agreement. Delegates that flocked to Marrakesh were welcomed by two temporary wooden structures that highlighted how sustainable building materials can thrive in the tropical climate of the continent.

Ark22 is a looming entrance building designed by Paris-based Malka Architecture and Oualalou Choi. It is made from layers of identical three-by-four-inch boards, sustainably sourced from locally managed forests, to produce a 164-foot-wide, 49-foot-tall building that allows for natural ventilation to keep the interiors cool in the desert sun.

Alongside Ark22, the Agora22 has also been constructed. The building hosts two restaurants using orientated strand boards. The wood has also been sourced from sustainably managed areas and at the end of the conference, both buildings will be dismantled and the materials reused on other projects.

Mighty morphing aviation sector

Along with shipping, aviation was left out of the Paris Agreement. Despite introducing its own global deal, the aviation sector is in dire need of new technologies and innovations to help lower spiralling emissions.

NASA has been at the forefront of green technology for the aviation sector and has since added to its repertoire. Along with MIT, NASA has unveiled a new aircraft wing that can improve fuel efficiency and reduce drag by “morphing” mid-flight.

Made from carbon fibre materials, the wing uses scale-like, lightweight units that can be assembled autonomously by machinery to change the shape of wing to improve aerodynamics and cut down on fuel use. The wings are still in the design phase, but NASA has already tested them at the Modesto, California test airfield.

Liquid fuel nears the Finnish line

The struggles of the aviation industry have largely come about through a lack of sustainable and low-carbon fuel. Biofuel seems to be the most promising concept, but a new compact power plant based in Finland believes it could have a CO2-derived liquid fuel on the market by mid-2018.

The Soletair Project was established by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) – and will be commercialised and trialled by KIT spinoff company Ineratec in Finland. Developers claim that a small and portable solar-powered chemical reactor can convert airborne CO2 and regenerative hydrogen from electrolysis into liquid fuels.

Developers claim that the reactor – which can fit into shipping containers - can produce diesel, gasoline and kerosene on demand. It can also convert small amounts of exhaust emissions into the synthetic fuel. With developers claiming it will be market ready by 2018, it could also be used to harvest fuel from sewage treatment and allow farmers to produce organic energy as a by-result.

Cows have 99 problems but methane won’t be one

Last week’s innovation round-up covered the potential of cow manure to power dairy farming. A promising concept, but with Oxford University claiming that beef and dairy consumption needs to be reduced to limit emissions, a tweak in the system is needed.

That tweak could arrive in the form of Australian seaweed. Research from Australia's CSIRO has found that adding Asparagopsis taxiformis to cow feed can reduce methane production – which is 28 times more powerful than CO2 – from cow burps by 99%. Researchers were so shocked by the findings that they ran multiple tests to confirm.

Feed additives which reduces bovine methane production by 30% have been trialled before, but issues over horticulture arise. CSIRO claims that around 230 square miles of seaweed farms would be needed just to account for all the cows in Australia.

Tadpoles light up water management

Water security seems to be gaining traction in regards to coverage and attention. The Financial Times recently hosted a Water Summit to discuss how businesses could enhance water management. For waste firm Veolia, water management can be enhanced using glow-in-the-dark tadpoles.

Revealed at the company’s recent Imagine2050 launch, Veolia is partnering with Laboratory WatchFrog to showcase to the UK how tadpoles can identify hidden micro-pollutants - such as endocrine disrupters: thyroid, estrogen and adrenocorticotropic hormones – in water sources.

The Frogbox uses tadpoles that naturally turn fluorescent under certain lights to detect waterborne chemicals. The genetic markers on the tadpoles glow when they come into contact with these pollutants and Frogbox is able to use the method at waste water treatment plants and production sites for drinking water.

Solar should be kero-seen and heard in Africa

Energy-hungry appliances in developing countries can prove costly to both income and the environment. Refugee camps' energy bills cost more than $2bn due to neglected energy efficiency, and if you live off-grid in a developing region there’s a good chance you’re burning a kerosene lamp to “keep the lights on”.

Fortunately, UK-based SolarAid has designed a new $5 solar lamp that provides off-grid families and children with a renewable source of light in developing regions. The lamps don’t require fuel to run, just natural sunlight, and are twice as bright as a kerosene lamp.

Individuals and businesses in developed countries can also subsidise the costs by paying around £10 – or $5 if you are based in a developing country – and increase the supply to Africa. SolarAid has already been introducing the lamps to Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Malawi for the past 10 years, but never for costs this low.

Matt Mace


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