Carbon-negative fuel and coconut-based clothing: The best green innovations of the week

A number of eye-catching and potentially transformational innovations have emerged that could help businesses and nations deliver on resource efficiency, low-carbon transitions and combat climate change. Here, edie rounds-up six of the best.

This week is arguably the most important in the 2018 calendar for climate scientists, green groups and sustainability professionals, with the COP24 conference having begun on Monday (3 December) in Katowice, Poland. Hosted by the United Nations (UN), this year’s summit is expected to result in the creation of a “rulebook” for the Paris Agreement, outlining the process by which governments will meet their emissions reductions targets.

And while some damning warnings and bad news have come out of the summit already – from Sir David Attenborough’s warning that civilisation as we know it will soon collapse due to climate change, to the International Energy Agency’s predictions that the developed world’s carbon emissions will rise before the end of 2018 – some silver linings are beginning to emerge.

When striving to spur decarbonisation and tackle big climate challenges, it is always worth looking at the green innovations of today that could become mainstream in the coming months and years. With this in mind, this week’s round-up covers six products and systems that could help nations and businesses accelerate sustainability commitments and achieve a sustainable future, today.

Smart home hubs


Following the launch of its blockchain-based renewable energy trading system in Hackney earlier this year, London-based startup Verv this week announced plans to install smart home hubs across Dubai’s domestic building stock after receiving £500,0000 of investment from consultancy Innogy International Middle East (IME).

Using Internet of Things (IoT) technology, the hubs track the power use and cost of electronic appliances within the home, providing real-time data to users up to five million times faster than smart metres can. The device then allows users to decide whether they would like to turn off a particular appliance, or set pre-timers for certain appliances or chargers.

The hubs are also equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) software which can, in time, start to identify the cause of energy or cost inefficiencies in specific appliances. They additionally include the blockchain-based energy trading software, enabling neighbours to trade excess power generated through onsite solar with each other.

Carbon-negative fuel


Innovative fuels have proven to be something of a hot topic this year, from Virgin Atlantic’s recycled waste gas jet fuel to Qantas’ mustard-seed-based alternative. Continuing this trend, Swedish startup NextFuel this week revealed plans to launch its carbon negative fuel briquettes before the close of the COP24 conference.

Also called NextFuel, the material is made from elephant grass and is being posited as a viable alternative to carbon-intense cooking and heating fuels such as wood chips, coal and kerosene. It is made by feeding dried elephant grass into a sealed rotary drum, where oxygen is removed from the air and the material is separated into fuel and waste – a process which takes 30 minutes. Waste gases emitted during this process are captured and used to generate renewable heat or power for the manufacturing facility.

The fuel portion of the rotary drum output is then densified and pressed into briquettes before being cooled. The cool briquettes are then ready to be sold for either industrial or domestic heat and electricity production, with NextFuel claiming they can be burned in existing coal plants without the need for infrastructure upgrades.

The innovative fuel will be used at-scale for the first time in 2019, at a new manufacturing facility and a cement plant.

VW’s low-carbon biodiesel


Also on the subject of fuel, German automaker Volkswagen (VW) has this week launched a new biodiesel product which it claims will generate 20% less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions when used in a typical family car.

Called R33 BlueDiesel, the fuel is made from 33% residual and waste liquids, such as used chip fat and cooking grease. The remaining 67% of the mixture is accounted for by traditional fossil fuel-based diesel, meaning the fuel can be used in existing diesel engines.

Following a nine-month testing period, the innovative fuel was introduced to VW’s Wolfsburg-based refilling stations as a permanent offering this week, with the company set to announce further roll-outs across Germany and other European nations in the near future.

Coconut-based clothing


With MPs urging clothing brands to disclose impacts, consumers increasingly protesting “fast fashion” and documentaries on the true cost of cheap garments emerging at a pace, sustainable clothing has been the subject of much media and public attention in recent months. And for good reason – global garment manufacture is widely believed to have exceeded 100 billion items per year, with the majority of these clothes and accessories being made from synthetic fibre blends which are hard to recycle in existing infrastructure.

One of the latest developments in this field comes from Australian biotechnology firm Nanollose, which this week unveiled a range of sweaters made from “tree-free” Rayon. While traditional Rayon is created using purified cellulose fibres extracted from wood pulp, the Nanollose fabric is made from waste products generated from the coconut industry, meaning it has a smaller land and water footprint. In order to turn coconut waste into yarn, Nanollose places it into a sealed cylinder where microbial bacteria ferment it. This process extracts the cellulose, ready for spinning into yarn.

Having proven the concept, Nanollose will spend the next six months developing a supply chain for coconut waste in Indonesia in order to scale up production.

Indoor air filters


Bad news about air quality in the UK has become commonplace in recent times, with the Government having been referred to Europe’s highest court for failing to tackle illegal levels of air pollution, sparking numerous calls to action from MPs, local mayors and green campaign groups.

With London arguably at the epicentre of the problem, having breached the legal air pollution limit for the whole of 2018 less than a month into the year, Mayor Sadiq Khan this week announced plans to trial innovative air filtration technology at five local nurseries in a bid to minimise the levels of pollution which children are exposed to indoors.

The trials will begin in spring 2019, with the filters working to remove NO2, PM10 and PM 2.5 from the air within the nurseries. This technology was chosen due to research repeatedly finding that children exposed to these three gases are more likely to grow up with lung problems and to develop asthma. 

Meanwhile, air quality monitoring technology will be installed at a further 15 nurseries across the capital, with data set to be tracked and analysed by engineering consultancy WSP. The findings of the scheme will be made open-source, along with a toolkit detailing how other nurseries and schools can take similar action, later in the year.

Insulation-installing robots

The UK’s building stock is estimated to account for around one-third of national carbon emissions, largely due to energy inefficiencies. Indeed, the Committee on Climate Change’s most recent annual progress report to Parliament cited energy efficiency in the housing sector as a key area to have suffered from weak policy support in recent times, particularly after the Government closed its home insulation incentive scheme in 2012.

One innovative solution which could help buck this trend comes from Wandsworth-based start-up Q-bot, which has developed a robotic device capable of scanning buildings in order to map out energy efficiency hotspots.

Also called Q-bot, the device uses laser technology to create 3D maps, identifying where insulation should be installed and which kind of material should be used. It is then capable of remotely installing the insulation without human oversight, enabling users to reach hard-to-access areas and negating the need for the removal and replacement of items such as beams and floorboards. The robot has already been used by Camden Council to help retrofit social housing.

Sarah George

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