Dandelion tyres and farms in glass cocoons: the best green innovations of the week

After a week that saw the concept of collaboration emerge triumphantly, edie has rounded up the latest low-carbon technologies and innovations that could bring people, businesses and entire nations closer together as we continue the transition to a low-carbon economy.

With a couple of major new initiatives announced in San Francisco, we could soon be approaching a future where government officials and company chief executives huddle around fires to share old ghost stories about times where carbon still haunted the skies and clogged our lungs.

To ensure that these are just camp fires and they don’t end up burning hectares of peatland, the World Resources Institute (WRI) this week partnered with Unilever to unleash a new mapping system that could finally create a transparent palm oil supply system.

Meanwhile, the private sector is continuing to lead the sustainable push, with corporative giants O2, Vodafone and M&S all revealing major updates to sustainability commitments that have shifted from small-scale sideshows to the ice-chiselled centrepiece of their companies.

But, with climate change threatening to melt these efforts away, business coalitions are continuing to turn to policy makers imploring them to create an incentivised environment to collaborate and innovate.

If this new landscape does come to fruition, edie has pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.

Mother Nature’s bionic rival

Inspiration is arguably one of the biggest internal drivers to create progress and ideally perfection. Away from the modern-day “Keep calm” images that continue to clog-up the internet, inspiration has paved the way for innovation. While Shakespeare was undoubtedly inspired by Chaucer, carmaker Ford was actually inspired by a Gecko as part of their innovation drive.

With nature being one of the greatest sources of inspiration, it’s only fitting that humanity has actually produced a photosynthesis process more efficient than leafs. Researchers at Harvard have released information on their latest ‘bionic leaf’ upgrade, which can turn sunlight and water into electricity and liquid fuels.

Created in 2011, the bionic leaf has been adapted to absorb sunlight when it’s placed in water. While the leaf has always been able to split water into gases, which are then harvested to create electricity, new engineered bacteria – which featured on last week’s round-up – has been added to create liquid fuel. The bacterium adds an extra 10% to the leaf’s efficiency capabilities, making the bionic leaf 10 times more efficient than Mother Nature’s version.

Tackling food waste, two pounds at a time

Usually resigned for use as a drunken prop or a means to stop dogs from scratching themselves, the cone is has found its way into the war on food waste. Already on sale in the US, this Green Cone is a plastic composter that uses solar power to and food waste to feed your garden.

By placing kitchen waste – up to 2lbs depending on weather – into an attached basket, buried underground beneath the cone, the plastic contraption uses its doubled-up walls to absorb solar heat which then cycles oxygen into the basket chamber that speeds up the composting process of the food waste.

Around 90% of the waste volume will get absorbed into the soil in form of compost water, and the anaerobic digestion process, aided by nutrients in the soil stops the release of harmful methane gases, while the walls also serve to stop the rotting smell spread out across gardens.

Humans can’t be trusted with sustainable decisions

A week that brought thunderstorms to the south of England also brought the unintended consequences of suited office workers panting out of cracked office windows in order to cool from the humidity.

Much has been made about energy use in buildings with electric fans operating idly on empty desks while windows are left open overnight. With behaviour change one of the biggest issues to tackle when lowering energy, a new MIT start-up may have solved the conundrum, by taking away the chance to behave.

EMBR Lab have been working on a thermoelectric bracelet since 2013, and used this week’s Computex event – the largest ICT trade show in Asia – to highlight its capabilities. While delegates were treated to a manually controlled bracelet that allows the use to adjust the temperature, and therefore their temperature, to either cool them down or warm them up.

However, alongside plans to create a new model that automatically reads body temperature and adjusts as a result, EMBR Lab is also aiming to reduce the energy consumption of buildings by creating such an efficient model, that it negates the need for individuals to turn heating up or open windows.

Circular farming inside glass cocoons

Back on to the topic of inspiration, and it’s fair to say that Danish architectural firm EFFEKT may have been inspired by the Simpsons movie, or by the original film that concept which that was undoubtedly mimicked from.

Anyone travelling to Holland in 2017 should be sure to stop by the outskirts of Amsterdam where the world’s first ReGen village will have just been finished. Cocooned by huge glass panels, the village uses heat generated from the glass to farm and feed itself. While solar panels and biogas chambers are utilised, the real innovative approach in this village is highlighted in the minimal amount of land it needs to farm.

Without relying on food imports the village will grow its own crops and livestock. From there household food waste will be used for biogas to create energy or composted to create fertilizer for crops. Any fish waste is used to fertilize and grow food and plants in an aquaponics system – which is used to grow fish and sea life – and requires 98% less land than traditional farming methods.

If successful, the concept will be branched out to harsher climates with rural India and sub-Saharan Africa already mooted.

How many calories in a dinosaur?

Much has been made about the need to cut back on meat and dairy consumption in order to stave off the effects of climate change, but much like with office energy use it will require a behavioural shift among consumers.

In an attempt to make the public more aware of the climate effects of food consumption, the Centre for Biological Diversity has revealed a new range of “extinction labels”, which details the carbon footprint of certain food items as well as what wildlife is being endangered as a result.

A wider part of the Take Extinction Off Your Plate campaign, figures from scientific reports, including the amount of methane emitting manure used, water use and habitation losses, are all placed on the label. The label then adds what types of animals are at risk to due exposure from toxic pesticides and factory farm run off which seep into waterways.

A range of wild-life friendly recipes have also been established while the NGO pushes for a roll-out.

Flower power for the new-aged vehicles

It seems the dandelion has added another use to its repertoire outside of deciding if someone loves you, or acting as an abstract ingredient in wines and salads. German supplier Continental Tire has unveiled plans to replace rubber tyres with a synthetic taraxa gum material within the next 10 years.

While Ford continue to delve into innovative carbon foam products for its vehicles, this German supplier has looked to introduce a base material that isn’t just more sustainable due to its durability and production costs, but also in terms of its cultivating costs.

While traditional rubber trees usually take around seven years before sap can be harvested, a batch of Russian dandelions – apparently rated as the best for synthetic rubber replication – take less than one year to grow. That’s six less years spent on maintenance and watering alone.

Matt Mace

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