Cow stomach bricks and mushroom burials: the best green innovations of the week

In a week that revealed the Olympic efforts would be required to tackle global climate change, edie rounds up the latest green innovations that could see climate action transform from bronze-medal efforts to new gold standards.

The Olympics in Rio promised to deliver the most sustainable event yet. While the jury is still out on its green legacy, billions of people were in to watch the opening ceremony, where climate change final caught the widespread attention of the media.

While the Olympics is attempting to deliver on its sustainability credentials, global trends are continuing to plague efforts to combat climate change. Retailers have been warned of a timber supply “crunch”, and the quest for responsibly-sourced palm oil took another ethical twist.

Many of these issues will hit close to home for the spectators in Rio, but in the UK things are seemingly just as fragile. The UK Government has continued to talk-the-talk of climate change, but only as it shuffles its feet further away from core issues as it snuggles up to fracking.

But where governments struggle, businesses seem to prosper. Both Virgin Media and Heineken USA unveiled new digital initiatives aimed at grabbing the attention of the increased pool of the climate conscious.

With sustainability leader Unilever claiming that ignoring innovation is the biggest risk companies can take, edie rounds up the latest green innovations into one neat and tidy green package.

A pineapple a day keeps unsustainable businesses away

Leather is considered one of the fundamental materials for fashion. Its purpose has evolved from complimenting Danny Zuko to being used for modern furniture, but the method used to create it has remained substantially poor for the environment.

Animal-based leather uses a range of hazardous chemicals such as formaldehyde and heavy metals which contribute to water pollution, while herding animals for leather also leaves a large carbon footprint. However, a new leather material from London-based Ananas Anam has introduced a solution.

Piñatex is a leather made from the extracted fibres of pineapple leaves from plantations in the Philippines. While leaves are normally left to decompose after the fruit is harvested Ananas Anam is repurposing them to make leather. Companies such as Puma have already made contact about trialling the material.

Scotland’s forest of colour

While wind turbines have been solidified as one of the technological drivers of the renewables revolution, some green campaigners and even Donald Trump have lamented the huge white structures for their unattractive looks and hazardous nature to wildlife.

Fortunately, this year’s Land Art Generator Initiative competition in Glasgow may have found a way to modernise these turbines. The Wind Forest team submitted a winning concept that depicts wind farms as forest-like cylinder turbines that add a splash of colour to the environment.

Instead of using spinning blades, which can harm birds, the turbines gently oscillate as the wind blows to generate and transfer kinetic energy into a holding cell in the foundation’s infrastructure. Using Scotland’s Acre Hill as an example, the Wind Forest team claimed that 100 4kW turbines could be “planted” to create energy for nearby communities.

Can construction firms stomach new smart-building concepts?

The push for an efficient building project regime has seen the UK lead the way on energy efficient buildings despite adopting a quantity over quality approach. The UK’s efforts to improve building efficiency are on the cusp of a breakthrough thanks to a new brick design that mimics the actions of a cow’s stomach.

The Living Architecture project has been developed by a plethora of organisations including Newcastle University and UWE Bristol. While still in the developmental stage, the project builds bricks composed of biofilm and microorganisms that live inside empty chambers to harness the natural environment.

The bricks will absorb solar energy, waste water and even air pollutants to create usable resources such as creating detergents, electricity and air purification systems. The researchers hope that this is the first step to enable humanity to “co-live” with the buildings.

Solar cells gear up for life on Mars

Speaking of things that suck in atmospheric problems such as pollutant particles, scientists at Chicago’s University of Illinois have developed a new solar cell that absorbs CO2to create low-carbon burnable fuel that could eventually be used to power life on Mars.

This new artificial photosynthesis process sees a transition metal dichalcogenides called nanoflake tungsten diselenide paired with water and ionic liquid to create energy from sunlight and the burnable fuel. The method apparently works 1,000 times quicker than conventional metals used in CO2 reduction techniques.

The process is 20-times cheaper than conventional methods, and could eventually be used on large-scale solar farms. With Mars’ high-levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the concept could even be used there, but only if we can finally find water on the planet first.

Bugs bring life to a sustainable food chain

This is less of a technological innovation and more of an innovative experiment, but with concerns over meat and dairy’s role in climate change surfacing could a new diet be in order? According to Georgia-based Grubby Farms the future of sustainable food – or at least animal feed – lies at the wriggling heart of insects.

While insects have become a niche choice for party snacks, Grubbly Farms believes that insects such as maggots are the ideal source of protein for animal feed for the likes of chicken and pigs. Currently small fish such as anchovies are a prime ingredient in animal feed but could soon be replaced by bugs, which puts less pressure on the earth’s oceans.

Grubbly Farms also wants to use the insects, such as larvae and flies, to solve mounting food waste issues, by letting the bugs feed on mountains of unused food to grow in size and protein, strengthening food supplies from the ground up.  

Mushrooms bring death to traditional burial methods

Nearly 430,000 Europeans die from air pollution each year. In a cruel twist of irony these deaths could actually be contributing to more, as families choose to cremate loved ones, releasing carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur oxide.

Even those rotting peacefully in the ground could still leech out environmental toxins, and there’s even an argument that coffins could serve a better purpose as the “timber crunch” hits. In response to this, MIT graduate Jae Rhim has spent 10 years developing a suit to help corpse decomposition occur at an accelerated rate, without the release of deadly toxins.

Made from 100% organic cotton, the Infinity Burial Suit uses two different types of mushrooms to break down enzymes in the body to accelerate the rate at which a corpse rots. Her company has now started taking orders for the $1,500 suit and a design is being made for a pet option too.

Matt Mace

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