Bloodstream energy and building ‘Fitbits’: the best green innovations of the week

In a week of sustainability hits and misses for the private sector, edie rounds up the latest low-carbon technologies and innovations that could help to accelerate the global shift towards a prosperous low-carbon future.

The past week of noteworthy sustainability news has been a mix of good and bad. For every PR story of a carbon-neutral bottling site, there has been distressing allegations that industries are driving deforestation in areas like the Ivory Coast.

For all the talk of businesses moving to champion sustainability, it has instead been revealed that most of the globe’s 50 most influential companies on climate change legislation are actively lobbying against ambitious decarbonisation policy.

Even those that are heading in the right direction are missing a few important steps. Research this week found that major telecommunications and consumer goods firms are failing to capture financial value from strong environmental performance.

However, that bad news has been mixed with some good, such as Volkswagen’s continuous redemption act, which has now seen the carmaker enter the electric vehicle (EV) sphere. Elsewhere, four more companies joined the ambitious and highly-influential RE100 group.  

But it seems that businesses still need some hand-holding and innovative inspiration to march in the right direction. With all of that in mind, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package for you to enjoy.

Fast steps at Hillarys

Interior specialists Hillarys have entered into the innovation sphere this week, after releasing concept images for new carpet tile of the future. The concept harnesses the potential of kinetic energy to envision a renewable means to power low-energy appliances in the home.

The Kinetic Carpet would feature a thin base consisting of a web of “power blocks” that contain piezoelectric material. Each block would compress by 8mm under the weight of a footstep, with the movement creating a charge in the material.

Once this charge has been created, it would travel to the base of the carpet to be stored in a battery system for future use or used directly by appliances such as a LED lighting system. According to Hillarys, the carpet would be available in the same range currently on sale.

The Fitbit for buildings

Amongst the better stories announced last week was the new carbon set by BT. The telecoms giant reached a carbon target four years early and is now targeting an 87% reduction by 2030. With the help of an innovative Data Acquisition Device (DAD), the company has turned reductions into financial savings.

A retrofit of BT’s 18,000m2 commercial building in Leeds has seen Demand Logic’s DAD software platform installed to optimise building performance. The software provides BT with a real-time visualisation – similar to a Fitbit – of operations to help identify site-specific faulty sensors and equipment running out of hours unnecessarily.

In total, the system has helped BT save more than £50,000 annually to date, as well as reductions in energy consumption and carbon emissions. Demand Logistics claim that the device is the first ever general-purpose cloud-based building analytics engine.

Is blood thicker than hydropower?

The thirst to uncover new forms of renewable energy has led to the exploration of frog’s, specifically using their nerves to create power from blood vessels. A team from Fudan University in China has developed a lightweight generator that converts blood in vessels into power.

Based on the concept of hydropower, which uses the flow of water to turn turbines to generate electricity, the new devices use carbon nanotubes to create “fiber-shaped fluidic nanogenerator” (FFNG) threads. The FFNG is attached to electrodes before being dipped in solutions that mimic bloodstreams.

The researchers claim the method can harness 20% of the energy generated when it reacts with the solution. In the future, the team predicts that the method could be incorporated into clothing to power wearable devices and pacemakers. However, the method has only been tested using frog nerves so far.

So much room for mushrooms

One of the few negative consequences of deploying a solar farm is the land space that it takes up. As demand for food – and therefore cropland – grows, there needs to be a balance of land use for energy and food.

Fortunately, the Tokyo-based start-up Sustainergy has come up with a way to grow crops underneath a solar farm. Partnering with Hitachi Capital and Daiwa House Industry, Sustainergy looks set to generate 4,000kw of solar energy at two abandoned farm sites in Japan.

The $11m investment will also tend to the cultivation of cloud-ear mushrooms underneath the panels. The mushrooms need little sunlight to grow and are usually imported from China. It is believed that around 40 tonnes of mushrooms will be grown each year.

Icy currents

Electric vehicles might be all the rage for car manufacturers but the shipping industry has been shackled by technological barriers. However, Stockholm County Council wants to pioneer the electrification of boat transport through the development of an ice-going passenger ferry.

The Council has agreed a contract with systems specialist Visedo and Swedish marine consultants Saltech to design a 150-passenger ferry, to be built at the Baltic Workboats shipyard in Estonia. The vessel was expected to be completed to enter service with Waxholmsbolaget, the region’s leading ferry operator, in summer 2018.

The hybrid, diesel-electric vessel will traverse icy water around the islands of the Stockholm archipelago, off the Swedish capital. Visedo’s electric system will reduce fuel consumption, emissions and maintenance costs. The ferry will also utilise catalytic reduction and diesel particulate filters to further reduce environmental impact.

Prison’s break from housing convicts

Bijlmerbajes is a former prison complex in Amsterdam that closed in 2016. The Dutch Government, known for championing the circular economy, has since agreed a deal with architects FABRICations and LOLA Landscape to use the complex to create a 7.5-hectare clean energy site.

The masterplan will create an energy-neutral housing development built from material recycled from the prison’s six towers. Existing prefab will be reused, such as prison bars being transformed into balustrades and cell doors used for pedestrian bridges.

The development will include 1,350 residential units, of which 30% will be affordable housing. One tower will remain, to be used as a vertical park and for urban farming. All the buildings will be powered by renewables, and nearly zero-waste will be created by demolishing the old structures. The project is scheduled to begin in early 2018.

Matt Mace

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