Car-eating buses and volcanic carbon capture: the best green innovations of 2016

As the sun sets on a tumultuous 2016, edie looks back through the archives to pick out some of the low-carbon, resource efficient technologies and innovations that could deliver substantial climate action in 2017.

The landscape of 2016 has transformed from hope – largely driven by the post-COP21 momentum – into a dystopian frenzy that has seen the UK attempt to sever ties with its neighbours and the US elect a climate-denying president. Throw-in a few killer clowns, a load of adults roaming the streets in search of monsters and a host of celebrity deaths and you’d be excused for thinking 2016 was faulty; but we doubt putting it in rice will resolve any of these issues.

Yet, underneath the confusion and the uncertainty of global political sphere the quick-fire ratification of the Paris Agreement has forged a forward-thinking path that inspires hope and calls on all nations to mitigate and accelerate climate change action.

Underpinning this global movement is the need for new technologies and concepts to emerge into markets and transform the way we interact with energy, products, virgin materials and many more issues often taken for granted.

This year, edie has attempted to deliver some of the more promising green innovations to your screens through our weekly round-ups – all of which can be viewed here. So, with 2016 winding down to a close, edie has pulled-out some of the standout innovations that have featured in these round-ups for one last yearly summery, in no particular order. Enjoy.

Let the bodies be the source

In truth, 2016 could easily act as its own warped horror film. Fittingly, just days after Halloween, our green innovation round-up introduced a concept that would create apparent zero-carbon energy sources while allowing the dead to use their bodies to help the planet.

The DeathLab researchers from Columbia University have envisioned the Constellation Park, which places dead bodies in “memorial vessels” that accelerates decomposition to feed energy into fuel cells to actually power the park. As these pods produce energy – without emitting any greenhouse gases – the decomposing biomass also seeps extra nutrients from the body back into the soil to improve fertility.

Picking the short straw has never been better

The focus on climate change at the Rio Olympics has seen awareness of the issue, along with growing global concerns such as access, or a lack of, to everyday necessities like food and water, gain relevance. The LifeStraw concept was plastered all over social media during the games, as tech-savvy millennials shared this simple-but-effective concept with their friends.

The $20 straw uses a hollow fibre membrane that allows individuals to drink directly from murky and unclean water, by trapping pathogens in a light-weight purifier. A purification pipe removes 99.99% of the water-borne bacteria and parasites that it collects, according to the Danish innovators behind the concept. The straw can supposedly make 1,000 litres of contaminated water drinkable during its lifespan.

Volvo and its great highway robbery

Many of the entries into these round-ups focus on start-ups or researchers at educational institutions. However, on a few occasions big incumbent companies highlighted their ability to fast-track innovations from concepts into the trial stages.

Volvo was one such company. Its new XC90 T8 hybrid vehicle recently participated in a two-day demonstration that showcased its ability to essential steal energy from other vehicles to generate electricity to charge itself. The hybrid was fitted with a peristaltic pump and ‘road-mat’, which allowed the vehicle to harness momentum from traffic on a busy roadway in Southern California.

The Basalt boiler cooking up a carbon storm

Iceland were arguably one of the success stories of 2016. While many will remember the country’s footballing exploits at Euro 2016, the island nation has also introduced a new carbon capture storage (CCS) method that harnesses Iceland’s unique topography. The CarbFix project pumps carbon deep below the island and into the country’s volcanic rock.

From here the gas clashes with calcium, magnesium and iron in the basalt to create solid carbonate stone. Tested at the world’s largest geothermal plant in Hellisheidi, the researchers – who anticipated that the reaction would take hundreds of years – were astonished to see the production of the carbonate substance in just two years, with a 95% conversation rate. The same researchers also state that CarbFix can store 5,000 tonnes of carbon each year, with plans in place to increase capacity to 10,000 tonnes in 2017.

Exploring the Barrier Reef, in 3D

Coral bleaching is one of the more visible effects of climate change. As corals turn white, the delicate ecosystems and species that reside in it have begun to disappear altogether. In order to stop the corals from dying outright, an Australian organisation and architect have teamed together to trial 3D printed corals in Bahrain and Monaco.

The Reef Design Lab (RDL) and architect James Gardiner are using colour-coded 3D replicas of corals to enhance the eco-system of the two areas. According to RDL, young polyps and marine species are attracted to vibrantly coloured reefs, which the printer can recreate. The 3D-printed structures have been printed using a sandstone-like material that has a low-carbon footprint, meaning that as well are re-establishing diverse wildlife and eco-systems under the waves, the researchers are doing so without adding much of a carbon footprint.

New Jersey’s new agricultural oasis

Mimicking the wasabi mustard produced in abandoned WWII bunkers underneath Clapham, an old New Jersey laser tag arena has been repurposed into an “agricultural oasis” which aims to create a sustainable source of herbs and perishables. Aerofarms is the company behind the development and claims that this new urban method of crop growth uses 95% less water than traditional farms.

Using LED lights for exposure, the crops are developed using reusable cloth material made from recycled plastics. It uses a specially designed root misting system to account for the lack of water and restaurants are already purchasing crops from the “farm”. Developments are in place to build a larger 70,000 square foot facility in a former steel mine, which is expected to grow 2 million pounds of crops each year.

Watly offers water sanitation to the masses

To tackle a shocking stat that almost 800 million people lacking access to clean water, cleantech company Watly opened an Indiegogo campaign to help sanitise more than 5000 litres of water a day. The Discovery Channel launched a documentary covering the solar-absorbing sanitation adventures of the Watly team.

The Watly 3.0 thermodynamic computer uses solar energy as a clean method of providing internet connectivity alongside clean water and electricity to the world’s most vulnerable communities. A previous version of the model has already been trialled in Ghana as part of the EU Horizon 2020 fund, and is able to use solar power to provide 5,000 litres of clean water a day.

The car-eating bus that Pacman and Snake built

Nestled within China’s swelling population, dirty city air and dormant power plants is the Beijing International High-Tech Expo, which was responsible for the introduction of a “car-eating” mega bus that could revolutionise travel infrastructure in major cities. At 7ft tall, the tunnel-on-wheels would decrease the amount of time spent idling in traffic and also utilises electric vehicle batteries to save 800 tonnes of fuel and 2,480 tons of carbon emissions each year.

Designer Song Youzhou presented a live model of the concept of a bus that can take the place of 40 regular buses as it shuttles 1,400 people around the city. The behemoth, which would be restricted to 37pmh, can actually streamline traffic by overtaking – and being overtaken – cars by passing over them as it utilises a rolling tunnel that the passenger cabin sits on top of.

Cruising on sun, wind and kitchen waste

Ecoship, which was introduced as a concept at the Paris talks, received a memorandum of understanding in 2016. Ecoship is being developed by Peace Boat and DNV GL and will feature an array of systems that reduces emissions, re-harvests waste energy, minimises water consumption, uses biofuel and even places a garden on-board.

The 55,000 tonne ship will have 10 retractable solar-panelled sails and retractable wind generators to produce renewable energy which is used to power a hybrid propulsion engine. The project owners claim that utilising these methods will cut emissions from voyages by 40% compared to traditional methods. But when you add the ships closed-loop water system and energy recycling capabilities, it’s hoped that 80% of the energy normally lost through air and water can be reclaimed for reuse. An in-depth analysis can be read here.

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 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.

Matt Mace

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