Waste-eating sharks and body heat harvesters: the best green innovations of the week

As Climate Week 2016 in New York City draws to a close, edie rounds up the latest low-carbon, resource efficient technologies and innovations that could thrive in a Post-Paris Agreement world.

With major strides in place to ratify and reach historic targets, edie has pulled the best innovation stories of the week

With major strides in place to ratify and reach historic targets, edie has pulled the best innovation stories of the week

The Climate Week in New York has reiterated the fact the both businesses and nations are revving-up for the low-carbon transition. While numerous companies signed up to RE100 and EP100 initiatives, the Paris climate agreement is on the brink of coming into force.

Buoyed by the UK’s announcement that it will ratify by the end of 2016, a total of 31 nations have officially joined the landmark accord. The pledges mean that a total of 60 countries, representing 47.7% of global emissions, have now formally joined the Paris agreement, as the globe closes in on the double threshold target of having 55 countries worth 55% of emissions ratify the deal.

With the global landscape morphing into a more prosperous environment for low-carbon technology and movements, businesses and consumers are beginning to push more aggressive agendas in order to comply with a 2C pathway.

Disruptive innovators-turned-mainstream energy and transport company Tesla has revealed it won the contract to design and build the largest lithium-ion battery in the world, as Los Angeles moves ahead with its green transitional plans.

Tesla’s move into the energy storage sphere doesn’t mean the company has given up on electric vehicles (EVs). Apparently, neither have consumers, with the majority of millennials revealing that they would purchase an EV in the next 10 years.

Elsewhere, it was revealed that British retailers were "leading the way" on sustainable palm oil sourcing, while Europe is also setting the example in pushing for wood waste reduction targets established by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With major strides in place to ratify and reach historic targets, edie has pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.

This train is formed of many fuel cells

While Southern Rail continues its disruptive argument over button-pressing, it seems that French transportation company Alstom has a slightly less archaic view to public transport. The company headed to Berlin this week to unveil the world’s first hydrogen-powered train.

Scheduled to run the Buxtehude-Bremervörde-Bremerhaven-Cuxhaven line in December 2017, the zero-emission train is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and lithium-ion batteries. The Coradia iLint train can travel between 600-800kms at speeds of 140km/h on a full tank.

Able to carry 300 passengers, the train will partially recharge its batteries using onboard auxiliary converters. The vessel is also able to generate kinetic energy during breaking, at which point the fuel cells are completely powered down.

Invasion of the body energy snatchers

Wearable technology seems to have taken off in 2016. With Apple watches, Fitbits and other monitoring devices all finding a common resting place strapped around wrists. While carbon trackers are beginning to make waves, the North Carolina State University has gone one step further for those trying to create a low-carbon lifestyle.

The University has developed new wearable pads, only two millimetres thick, which produces power through thermoelectric generators attached to the body. In essence, it captures the body’s heat, which usually escapes into the air, and turns it into electricity.

The pads consist of a thermal conductor which is coated with a polymer frame that pushes the body’s heat through the thermoelectric generators. The University claims that one pad can produce around 20 microwatts per centimeter covered on the body, and could eventually be used to power heart monitors and other wearable health apparatus.

The fabric that won’t get shutdown

While researchers at the North Carolina State University developed external pads that can be worn, engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Chongqing University, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have actually developed a way to weave energy capturing photovoltaics into fabric.

The breathable and robust fabric can be worn as clothing and consists of photovoltaic elements woven with copper electrodes and a triboelectric nanogenerator. The engineers claim that the polymers produced are both lightweight and low-cost.

If a human were to walk in sunlight wearing a 4-by-5cm square of the material, they would be able to generate around 0.5MW of electricity – potentially used to charge a phone. When movements such as hand-shakes are added, the material could power a commercial capacitor at two volts per minute. The concept could also be used as a solar-generating flag.

Coffee with extra foam

Coffee beans are quickly growing from an early-morning necessity to the jack-of-all-trades of the innovation world. While much has been made about the poor recycling credentials of coffee cups, the beans they house are now being used to remove lead from contaminated water.

Previously used as biofuel, scientists are now using spent coffee beans as part of a foam filter that removes lead and mercury from water. Early research revealed that coffee-ground powder can absorb metal ions, but the new process can do so at a much higher rate.

The researchers blended the coffee grounds into a bioelastomeric foam. In still water this foam can remove 99% of all lead and mercury ions across 30 hours. When placed in flowing water, the foam is still able to removed 67% of all lead ions. While this is a positive step to providing clean access for all, it still has some way to go to match the abilities of LifeStraw.

Plenty of sole, but no footprint

Fast fashion and corporate responsibility is a delicate balance. Amidst the ruins of Rana Plaza a wave of retail responsibility has grown, with companies looking to improve supply chains and turn issues into opportunities. With plastic lining the ocean, we’ve already seen Adidas create the world's first sports shoe made from reclaimed and recycled ocean waste and with a 3D-printed midsole.

However, a new design in consideration to receive the $20m Carbon XPrize has moved the materials of shoes one step further. Developed by scalable innovators 10xbeta, the Shoe Without A Footprint takes foam made from the highest recycled CO2 content possible to create soles for trainers.

The company claims that the shoemaking process eventually leads to the creation of a product with a total carbon footprint of near to zero. The XPrize contest aims to explore the development of carbon conversion technology, and 10xbeta hope the foam-making process could soon be used on the rest of the shoe as well.

You're gonna need a bigger drone

While clothing giants like Adidas are turning to plastic to create products, the impact it has on the “plastic soup” in the oceans will be minimal. As part of September’s World Port Days conference, the Port of Rotterdam has introduced a new method to cut off water-bound waste in harbours and ports.

The Waste Shark is an autonomous drone that floats on the water’s surface to collect waste before it gets washed out to sea. Apparently, the drone can collect up to 500kg of waste before returning to a disposal point.

Waste Shark, which was developed by RanMarine, will be tested in the Port of Rotterdam for six months and will also gather data on water quality and design more efficient collection routes as it develops an understanding of its surroundings over time.

Matt Mace


green innovation | technology | Innovation


Technology & innovation
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