Sugar-powered batteries and solar panels in space: the best green innovations of the week

In the first of a brand new series, edie rounds up the latest low-carbon technologies and innovations that could have the power to shake up existing business models and accelerate the global green industrial revolution.

The first electric double-decker, beer made from waste water, solar panels on the moon and sugar batteries - what a world we live in

The first electric double-decker, beer made from waste water, solar panels on the moon and sugar batteries - what a world we live in

With bold pledges put in place at the Paris climate summit to tackle global warming, and Bill Gates now searching for an 'energy miracle' to help get us there, innovation within the sector has reached an all-time high. Not content with slowly chipping away at carbon emissions, entrepreneurs and businesses are constantly finding new ways to drive us to a low-carbon future.

But with so many new concepts out there (some wackier than others), it can be easy to get sucked down the innovation rabbit hole. With that in mind, edie has put together the best innovation stories of the week into one neat and tidy little green package.

All aboard the first electric double-decker bus

We kick-start our round-up in London, or as Lord Barker likes to call it, the soon-to-be "Silicon Valley of low-carbon innovation". The launch of the world’s first ever electric double-decker bus - manufacturered by Chinese firm BYD - was unveiled this week as the latest innovation partnerships between the UK and China.

Operating on route 98 between Willesden and Holborn, the bus will act as a beacon of vehicle electrification in the city, with Mayor of London Boris Johnson already set to add 74 electric buses into the public transport mix by 2020.

The Chinese began the year of the Monkey by striking an innovation and clean energy deal with the UK. This bus marks another green collaboration between the two nations, with plans to build 8,000 zero-carbon homes also in the pipeline.

What came first, the concrete or the carbon?

Despite concrete's value in an urban landscape, questions have been raised about its sustainable credentials - as well as being a water-hungry product, around 5% of global emissions come from producing concrete.

With cities clamouring to announce themselves as ‘smart cities of the future’, the environmental impacts of concrete as a building material have seemingly been avoided like a pothole on the motorway. However, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have come up with a new concept that turns CO2 into a sustainable concrete substitute.

By using 3D printers and ‘upcycling’, the researchers captured emissions from power plants and converted them into building material. This does raise the question of how they’ll produce the material in mass if countries do reach the elusive zero-carbon status. But, with 32 billion tonnes of the stuff to play with, we’re sure they’ll be safe for the time-being.

Alcohol: One bold (and possibly staggered) step for mankind

It's a Friday afternoon, work is almost done and it’s about time to head to the pub for a well-earned pint. Now imagine that the beer you’re about to drink is made from the very water that you showered in this morning.

This isn’t a ploy to get you to sign up to another dry month, but rather the thinking behind an innovative new method to craft beer by brewing waste water. Made using the same NASA water recycling technology that astronaut Scott Kelly used (he drunk 730 litres of recycled sweat and urine), brewers in California have turned the State's water scarcity issue into a potential closed-loop innovation for beer.

The beer is crafted using waste greywater (used in sinks and showers) and apparently people are unable to detect a difference in taste. But we DON'T recommend that you start drinking from a toilet any time soon.

Adventure of a lifetime: transforming wind into forklifts

Not content to settle, the ever-growing market of electric vehicles has added a new primary source to its grand electrification scheme. Japanese firm Toyota has taken power sourced from a wind farm in Yokohama to create hydrogen which has been used to power fuel-cell forklifts on the carmaker’s facilities.

In a game of renewable dominoes, Toyota has worked to dismiss claims that hydrogen fuel is not clean to produce and has stated that turning the electricity from the wind farm into hydrogen provides greater storage potential.

Toyota claims this new hydrogen-based method can reduce carbon emissions from electric and gas hybrids by 80% and the carmaker is looking to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to roll-out the models into commercial vehicles. Because as much as we want to, we can’t drive forklifts to work.

Sugar gives you energy, but not in the way you’d imagine

This one's particularly fitting in a week that saw Chancellor George Osborne unveil a long-awaited sugar tax in his 2016 Budget... 

Set fire to a carbon nanotube – a molecule like structure – and you’ll create electricity. If, for some reason, you’ve got some spare sugar lying around, you could (hypothetically, of course) heat it up, transfer the heat to the carbon and, hey presto, you’ve got a battery that can apparently charge as effectively as 25-year-old batteries still in circulation today.

Researchers at MIT have developed a new range of 'sugar batteries' that have a 1% heat-conversion efficiency. This may not sound like much, but it is actually 10,000 times more efficient than when heat-to-electricity tests originally began.

Right now, the battery can generate enough electricity to power a LED light, and if the energy begins to drain, you can just stop putting sugar in your tea and put it into your lighting. Whether this will be exempt from the sugar tax is anyone’s guess.  

Made of cheese, autonomous photovoltaics?

Solar panels will soon be able to build copies of themselves from their home on the moon, then shuttle down into the Earth’s atmosphere, absorb the sun’s energy and beam it to where it's needed.

Believe it or not, this is not an excerpt from the next Transformers movie, but rather an innovative idea published in the journal New Space by a Californian high school senior.

The idea – which was originally mooted back in the 1970’s – would allow for sunlight capture that is 27% times stronger than what is currently available on Earth. The concept, if made a reality, could effectively provide the world with an unlimited supply of sunlight, unless clouds can suddenly form in space - can they?

edie Innovation Zone 2016: deadline EXTENDED

Owing to popular demand, edie has today (18 March) extended the deadline for the Innovation Competition taking place at edie Live, giving entrepreneurs and SMEs that have developed green technologies, systems or business models an extra week to submit their entries.

The Competition is seeking emerging products, technologies and solutions in the sustainability space. Its scope includes (but is not limited to) energy efficiency, process/resource efficiency, circular economy (and other new business models), onsite low-carbon or renewable energy solutions, building efficiency, low-carbon transport, energy storage and smart management.

The deadline for the Innovation Competition - which will take place within the Innovation Zone at the edie Live 2016 exhibition on May 17-18 at the NEC Birmingham - has been extended to Friday, 25 March.

Submit your Innovation Zone Competition entry here.

Matt Mace


Innovation | low carbon | technology | green innovation


Technology & innovation
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