Algae footwear and glacier irrigation: The best green innovations of the week
In a week where political hesitation outshone business ambitions, edie rounds up the low-carbon and resource-efficient innovations that could help push corporate ambitions further.
Reports emerged from America this week that Donald Trump has decided that he will pull the US from the historic Paris Agreement. Concerns were raised as to how this would impact the UK’s climate pledges, as it seeks to secure trade deals with the country post-Brexit.
Fortunately, green policy finally received some airtime in the general election debate this week. Perhaps less fortunately, pledges to deliver clean growth as a core political strategy were criticised as a “period of broken promises”.
While Jeremy Corbin, Caroline Lucas and Tim Farron all appeared on national TV to debate the general election, Prime Minister Theresa May was inexplicably absent. May claims that she is focusing on Brexit negotiations instead, although the arrival of a third-law suit over UK air pollution is an unwelcome distraction.
As global leaders bickered over manifestos, and probably debated the meaning of covfefe, the private sector was again leading the charge towards the low-carbon transition. Marks & Spencer unveiled the ambitious next phase of its Plan A sustainability programme, while the H&M Foundation poured £5m into its collaboration with WaterAid.
Fellow retailer Sainsbury’s also moved to boost its ethical sourcing practices for tea, although this was achieved by ripping up a previous agreement with Fairtrade, much to the charity’s chagrin.
With companies laying the foundations for the next decade of sustainability action, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.
Those in greenhouses should cast the first carbon
What if you could take concerns about feeding an increasing population and alleviate it using fears over spiralling atmospheric carbon emissions? Well a first of its kind “direct air capture” in Switzerland may just be trying this concept out.
Climeworks has launched the first commercial plant that captures CO2 to be sold-off to customers. A total of 18 CO2 collectors have been placed on top of a waste utilisation plant in Zurich, with the obtained CO2 fed to a greenhouse a quarter mile away to fertilise tomatoes and cucumbers.
Around 900 tonnes are being fed to the greenhouse. The process chemically deposits CO2 on a filter surface which, one saturated, is isolated at 100C. The captured CO2 can be sold to agriculture firms, used to carbonate beverages or create “climate-neutral” fuels and materials. Climework wants to combine the technology with underground storage to deliver “negative emissions”.
A lick of paint, for life
Around 55 million litres of waste paint is reportedly going to landfill each year. Not only does this highlight the need for better closed-loop solutions in the sector, but also to create more demand for paint that can integrate with more sustainability products.
Graphenstone could do just that. A carbon-neutral lime cycle process creates a range of more than 1,000 colours of eco-friendly coatings, and they’ve arrived in the UK this week. The paints contain no petrochemical-derived ingredients and are also VOC-free.
However, the real benefits are found over the paint’s lifecycle. The porous element of the coatings allows the wall to breathe, which improves air quality, resists moisture and condensation and reduces room humidity. Having recently achieved a Cradle-to-Cradle gold standard, the paint can absorb 120g of CO2 from its nearby environment, making it useful for building projects reaching for carbon neutrality.
Walk on water-born substances
Algae can grow 12 times faster than soil-cultivated plants making it an abundant source of natural material. It can create issues around safe drinking water, but experiments are already in place to use algae to create more sustainable products, including jet fuel and most recently trainers.
Vivobarefoot’s latest water-resistant Ultra III shoes launch in July and are made from a mixture of algae and petroleum-based ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA). Having previously used the resource for foam padding on surfboards, Vivovbarefoot are now creating shoes which consist of 40% algae.
To obtain enough algae to create one pair of shoes, 57 gallons of water is cleaned and then returned to the lakes where they are sourced from. Plastic shoes may be in fashion for water-based waste materials, but algae could soon join them on the catwalk.
Ice mountains in the Himalayas
Glaciers are an important source of water for communities dotted across the Himalayas. Miles away from other water sources, the roughly 15,000 glaciers hold water throughout the region’s dry season and help to irrigate the desert-like areas.
With glacial meltwater in short supply, engineer Sonam Wangchuk has developed a series of ice “stupas”, which resemble Buddhist monuments used for mediation, to store the meltwater at a cheap cost.
Using a pipe system, Wangchuk has created a series of artificial glaciers that rely on gravity to keep the glaciers frozen and the water stored. No polluting and costly pumps are required to funnel the water towards the villages and the sculptures limit how often the ice is exposed to sunlight.
Tour de fresh air
City dwellers have always been urged to cycle. It removes polluting cars from the street, eases congestion concerns and is far less costly. But while cycle has limited current pollution levels, it could soon remedy it.
Air-filtering scarfs have previously been discussed to stop pedestrians and cyclists for breathing in harmful city smog, but a Rotterdam designer wants to turn bicycles into vehicles that scrub smog from the atmosphere.
Envisioning the concept in China, Daan Roosegaarde has drawn-up designs for a bike that has been fitted with a screen on the handlebar that absorbs the surrounding dirty air and purifies it as you cycle.
It’s barbeque season. This may only last a few weeks in the UK, but as soon as the sun comes out, people flock to beaches and gardens to roast some meat in the sun. But when the sun is out, wouldn’t it make sense to use it to power your cooking?
One Earth Design’s SolSource Sport compact cooker does just that, heating five times quicker than a charcoal version, this barbeque is 100% solar powered. The surface of the cooker remains cool to the touch, reducing the risk of burns.
Able to grill, boil, pan fry, reheat and stir fry, the $249 cooker may not help businesses achieve carbon reductions anytime soon, but it will certainly help at those summer office parties, and can even be used indoors.
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