Carbon-negative goals and hydrogen-powered trains: The sustainability success stories of the week
As part of our Mission Possible campaign, edie brings you this weekly round-up of five of the best sustainability success stories of the week from across the globe.
Published every week, this series charts how businesses and sustainability professionals are working to achieve their ‘Mission Possible’ across the campaign’s five key pillars – energy, resources, infrastructure, mobility and business leadership.
From Virgin Australia’s commitment to remove almost eight million pieces of plastic from its waste streams annually, to the launch of the world’s first hydrogen-electric powered trains in northern Germany, each of these projects and initiatives are empowering businesses and governments to achieve a sustainable future, today.
ENERGY: ‘World’s largest’ tidal turbine unveiled in Bristol
The UK’s wave and tidal energy sectors have been the subject of much positive media attention in recent weeks, after Scotrenewables revealed that one of its turbines generated more power over the past year than the entire sector did between 2004-2016.
Another success story in the field comes from Bristol-based tidal power company SIMEC Atlantis Energy (SAE), which this week unveiled the design for what it claims is the world’s largest single-axis tidal turbine. Called the AR2000 turbine, the 2MW device is capable of accommodating rotor diameters of 20-24 metres.
SAE’s director of turbine and engineering services Drew Blaxland said the device could form the “backbone” of efficient and cost-effective renewable generation systems across the world in the future.
“Combining a large rotor diameter with a drivetrain capable of being daisy-chain linked, optimised redundancy and quick connection, will deliver an offshore generation system that can compete with other comparable sources of renewable generation when deployed at scale,” Blaxland added.
RESOURCES: Virgin Australia bans single-use straws and stirrers
Virgin Australia this week became the latest high-profile brand in the transport sector to announce plans to phase out single-use plastic straws, following similar moves from the likes of Heathrow Airport and Eurostar.
The airline will ban single-use plastic straws and stirrers from its flights and its airport-based lounges with immediate effect, in a bid to remove almost eight million pieces of plastic from its annual waste output. Virgin Australia will instead offer biodegradable bamboo-based stirrers and paper straws to customers.
Virgin Australia’s general manager of group sustainability Rob Wood said the move was a “step in the right direction” while acknowledging that there were still “improvements to be made” in terms of sustainability in the aviation sector.
Elsewhere in its resource strategy, Virgin Australia has partnered with food redistribution charity Oz Harvest to minimise its food waste output and send its used coffee grounds to be composted. The company additionally sends its end-of-life uniforms for upcycling into pillows, blankets and soft toys, which are then donated to charities.
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT: Energy-generating building materials backed by £36m Government funding
As calls for bolder net-zero carbon targets for the built environment sector continue to be made, a string of innovative solutions to cut building emissions and energy use have emerged in recent months – from concrete with energy storage properties to windows that double as solar panels.
To spur the creation of such innovations, the UK Government this week announced that it would provide £36m to researchers developing new technology that will enable building materials to generate, store and release clean energy.
The funding will be assigned to a consortium led by Swansea University, where researchers are developing materials that can use heat and light to generate energy while serving as suitable replacements for walls, roofs and windows across the built environment. These materials would also be combined with smart operating systems, enabling the storage and release of renewable energy.
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark said: “This centre has the potential to transform how buildings use energy, turning them from energy consumers into power stations. This £36m investment in clean energy innovation shows the UK continues to lead the way in cutting emissions while growing our economy.”
MOBILITY: World’s first hydrogen-powered trains launched in Germany
As more and more businesses move to decarbonise their fleets, numerous big-name companies have invested in hydrogen-electric mobility in recent times, including brewer AB InBev, Transport For London and Marks & Spencer (M&S).
But Germany went one step further this week, unveiling the first network of hydrogen-powered trains in the world. Manufactured in France by Alstom as part of a partnership with the German Government, the two zero-emission trains were introduced to the north Germany circuit on Monday (17 September).
Alstom claims that the trains can travel up to 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) on a single tank of hydrogen, reaching top speeds of 140 kmph (87 mph). The hydrogen to power the trains will be pumped in gas form from a steel container near the tracks at Bremervörde station.
The company also revealed plans to introduce a further 14 hydrogen-powered trains across its Saxony networks by 2021 and to install a second stationary filling station to support the roll-out.
BUSINESS LEADERSHIP: Interface unveils goal of becoming carbon negative by 2040
Modular flooring firm Interface has long been regarded as a sustainability leader, having pledged to ensure that it would leave no negative impacts on the environment by 2020 back in 1994.
This week, the company revealed that it had achieved net-zero carbon status two years ahead of the 2020 deadline, spurring it to set a more ambitious 2040 target of becoming carbon negative.
The new aim will apply to Interface’s supply chain as well as its direct operations, with the company claiming that it will “innovate” its approach to emissions across its raw material sourcing, supply chains and direct operations in order to remove more carbon from the environment than it generates.
Speaking at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, Interface’s chief executive Jay Gould said: “Zero is not only possible but also profitable – but zero is not enough. What Ray (Anderson, Interface founder) helped us to recognise is that our commitments and our ambitions must be bold, and that we have to go beyond zero. We are committed to take back our climate and to transform our business once again.”
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1 Tidal turbines, the point omitted in the article is the variability, again, that all pervasive feature of renewables. It all devolves upon the fact that there are four tides per day, and these dominate the tidal streams. At each turn of the tide, full and low, there is an hour on each side of the turn, which is termed "slack water, very little movement, no movement of the turbine. This results in realistic generation for only little, if any more, than 14 hours out of the 24.
2 The source of the energy being generated appears to be the sun. This is limited in a number of ways; our latitude, overburden of the atmosphere, absence at night. The energy available to the building will be restricted by its projected area normal to the incident radiation. There are no details given on the nature of the storage materials, I would have reservations upon the capacity involved, or the quantitative generative characteristics. This beggars the question of cost effectiveness.
3 The use of hydrogen always raises the question of its source, it has to be generated, and this must involve inefficiency. Presumably this source is renewable electricity, wind turbines and solar. The mode of conversion to kinetic energy, is not revealed, fuel cell or a combustion system. The energy per unit volume of hydrogen is poor when compared with methane, (volume for volume, methane has three times the energy). The storage aboard the train is, I infer, pressurised gas. This is heavy and cumbersome. The matter of running costs per km are not mentioned, but must become compatible with conventional electric or diesel units.
Nothing is as simple or wonderful as it may be made to appear, and it is never for nothing!!!!