With the announcement that a Scottish tidal turbine has generated more power over the past year than the nation’s tidal sector generated over a 12-year period, along with the opening of the UK’s largest recycling plant, this week has seen some big environmental schemes dominate the nation’s mainstream media. In the face of ongoing climate challenges, the benefits of green innovation could usher in an unprecedented transition to the low-carbon economy, as this round-up demonstrates.

This week’s round-up covers a variety of bold new ideas, innovative concepts and eye-catching products that could help businesses on the road to a sustainable future.

Biodegradeable bottles

As the Government consults on a deposit-return scheme in England for single-use plastic drinks containers, a string of innovative alternatives to plastic bottles has emerged in recent times, such as Coca Cola’s bio-based solution and Tesco’s water in a can.

Another potential solution that has emerged and could help reduce the 13 billion bottles sold each year across the UK comes from non-profit Choose Water, which has created a biodegradable bottle made from recycled paper.

The bottle, which Choose Water claims will degrade in less than six months, consists of a vacuum-formed paper shell and a plastic-free waterproof lining. The bottle’s lid is made from steel – a material which has a recycling rate of 72% in the UK, compared with 44.9% for plastic – and can naturally biodegrade into iron oxide.

The bottles have not yet been produced on a mass scale, but Choose Water expects them to be on retailers’ shelves by the end of the year after successful crowdfunding project to scale-up production closed in May.

A smart solution for EV charging

As top carmakers such as Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo and VW move to electrify their vehicle portfolios, innovators are moving at a pace to develop technologies that will support the 30 million electric vehicles (EVs) set to be sold worldwide each year by 2030.

One of the latest developments in the field comes from charger manufacturing firm EO Charging, which has launched a device that constantly monitors the energy profile of a building, enabling two or more EVs to be charged simultaneously within the site’s power constraints.

Called the eoALM, the device can prioritise charging of EVs, turn down the power going to EV chargers, or turn them off if the site is nearing its power usage limit. EO Charging claims that these functions prevent the need for extensive upgrades to power supplies, which are often inaccessible to SMEs and homeowners due to high costs.

Superfast air quality monitoring

With the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimating that 90% of people worldwide are breathing poor air on a daily basis, the onus is now on businesses, governments and local authorities to innovate and work more collaboratively to reduce pollution levels.

In a bid to help cities monitor air pollution and track pollution “hotspots” more efficiently, consultancy Ricardo Energy and Environment has developed RapidAir – a new piece of software that is capable of calculating air quality levels within 10 minutes, and within five metres of any given location.

Using data collected from sensors across a city, the software claims to rapidly improve the spatial resolution of pollution estimations, accurately modelling air quality in real-time across a city the size of London within minutes. RapidAir can also be used by policymakers to run “what if” scenarios, which calculate the impact that particular policy changes or infrastructure alterations could have on air pollution levels.

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More than 44 million tonnes of electronic waste was generated in 2016, but only 20% of this was documented as being collected and recycled, according to the latest Global E-waste Monitor figures. A significant proportion of the wastage is accounted for by mobile phones and related parts, with the EPA estimating that more than 152 million phones are thrown away each year.

In a bid to prevent the waste accounted for by consumers throwing away phones due to screen damage, Samsung has developed a “self-healing” screen that automatically detects and repairs cracks, marks and scratches. The oleophobic screen, announced by the tech giant earlier this week, is made from a mix of “polyrotaxane, polyhedral silsesquioxane, and fluorinated (meth) acryl”.

The earliest that Samsung would be able to incorporate the technology into its range of smartphones and tablets is in February 2019. The company has already successfully filed a patent for the screen.

A coffee-ground replacement for batteries

Batteries are generating a lot of buzz in the world of energy, but for all the benefits they have on improving energy use and resiliency, the production cycles for batteries of all shapes and sizes are still energy intensive, and for some, potentially toxic.

To address these issues, researchers at Chungyuan University in Taiwan have developed a method that transforms waste coffee grounds into a novel replacement for the graphite normally used in lithium-ion batteries.

During the process, waste coffee grounds are heated to 800C for in order to transform their carbon structure – a process which requires far less energy than the 2,800C heat required for graphite. The grounds are then mixed with a conductive fluid and spread onto a copper sheet, before being cut into shape and placed into the battery shell along with other conductive materials. 

With the demand for EVs growing – and with a typical vehicle’s battery requiring more than 20kg of virgin graphite to produce – the Chungyuan University researchers are now researching how the lifespan of the coffee-based batteries can be extended. Currently, the team have produced a small, prototype battery which can be charged 100 times.

Turning plastic waste into renewable oils

Across Europe, only one-third of the 27 million tonnes of plastic waste that has been thrown away by consumers is recycled, with the remainder largely either sent to landfill or dumped. In an effort to recapture this resource stream, oil refinery firm Neste has teamed up with plastic innovator ReNew ELP to create a way of recycling waste plastic into synthetic oils and petrochemicals.

The process works by placing end-of-use plastics and tyres into a catalytic hydrothermal reactor, which uses extremely hot water at a high pressure to break the materials down into small particles, enabling them to liquify. An independent lifecycle analysis of the process found that the greenhouse gas emissions it generates are about 70% lower than using fossil fuel feedstocks.

The first commercial-scale plant to carry out the process is set to open in Teeside next year. ReNew ELP estimates that the facility will be able to recycle 20,000 tonnes of plastic waste each year, and has applied for permission to expand the plant so it can increase this capacity to 80,000 tonnes.

Sarah George

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