Diamond batteries and bendy solar windows: the best green innovations of the week

In a week that the US political landscape looks set to shift dramatically, edie rounds up the low-carbon, resource efficient technologies and innovations that could offer hope in this critical year for sustainability development.

America’s green policy is on a knife-edge. The US waves goodbye to the Obama Administration today (20 January), as part of a bold new plan to “Make America Great Again” under Donald Trump. Early warning signs suggest that this greatness may come at the expense of environmental legislation.

A climate denier in the White House poses many threats, one of which is pulling the rug from underneath the US’s climate agenda – which has picked up pace during Obama’s eight-year presidential run.

Questions remained unanswered about the Paris Agreement, financing for developing countries and the future of renewables and coal in the US energy mix. One thing that has become apparent during the months that followed Trump’s shock election triumph, is that states and businesses will race ahead in the low-carbon transition with, or without, Trump.

Obama gave the Paris Agreement a farewell gift this week, adding an extra $500m to the Green Climate Fund for developing countries; although this still leaves $2bn in owing from the US and it is believed that Trump will cease payments.

If Trump’s shadow looks set to engulf the US, then the Brexit shadow is slowly starting to claw at the UK’s green policy – or at the very least ignore it. Theresa May’s Brexit speech made little mention of climate and environmental policy. Defra’s five-year climate action plan in national risk assessment may help combat floods, but it will do little to prepare the green economy from the floods of changes that leaving the single market could bring.

It has become par for the course for the private sector to pick up the slack during these uncertain times and this week is no different. Ikea UK revealed that it had achieved zero-waste-to-landfill status across the UK. Gatwick Airport, along with two others, also signed-up to the RE100 initiative.

The year is still in its infancy, but with 2016 recorded as the hottest year ever, it may be down to businesses and innovation to curb worrying temperatures and bring the world in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. In light of this, edie has pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.

Landfill to engine fuel

When history is made in the sustainability sphere, it is usually something to do with global temperatures. But for UK-based Renovare Fuels, making history is simple as becoming the first company to convert landfill gas into usable diesel fuel with no fossil fuel additives or traces. All in a day’s work.

Renovare Fuels ran trials on a technology that is claimed to produce middle distillate hydrocarbons with a selectivity of 55%; essentially creating renewable diesel fuel that resembles traditional diesel both chemically and physically.

The trials, based in Florida, could act as a replacement for fossil fuels in diesel engines, without the need for any infrastructure modifications in the vehicle. The bi-products – flue gas and water – could also be used in anaerobic digestion (AD) plants, according to the company, making the facility self-sufficient. A welcome breakthrough for AD plants, which are set to have subsidies slashed.

With battery power, comes non-toxic responsibilities

Sticking with the Royal Britannia theme for now, and UK-based energy systems company Circuitree has unveiled a new concept that will enable home owners to store wind and solar energy generated on the property, through a non-toxic battery.

Most residential renewable energy produced is currently sent to the National Grid. Tesla offers battery storage systems, but unlike the lithium-ion batteries on offer, Circuitree claims that patented, non-toxic saltwater batteries can outperform and outlast market standard versions.

The batteries are the first of their kind to achieve ‘Cradle to Cradle’ status, which covers sustainability aspects during manufacturing and disposal, as well as performance. The batteries can collect energy on demand, and use Internet of Things (IoT) technology to measure energy needs and outputs. A crowdsourcing campaign has just been launched to raise £150,000.

Diamonds are forever, or at least 5,000 years

While long-lasting non-toxic batteries are ready for commercialisation, this next battery may not be ready in the next few years; although the upside is that it can last for 5,730 years. Researchers from the University of Bristol have created a diamond battery powered by nuclear waste.

Aimed at finding a home for nuclear waste, the scientists found that by utilising carbon-14 – a radioactive version of carbon, which is generated in graphite blocks used to moderate the reaction in nuclear power plants – they can create a ‘diamond battery’ using Nickel-63 as the radiation source.

This gas is then converted again, this time into an artificial diamond through high-pressure temperatures, with a regular diamond added on top for safety measures to absorb any leaks. The scientists have claimed that the battery has the 5,730-year lifespan, at which point it reaches 50% capacity, although it won’t have the same charge as conventional batteries.

When having a chip on your shoulder is a good thing

Leaving TVs on standby used to be the ultimate conundrum; a battle between the desire to save money and sheer human lethargy. Yet a new product has gone on display that “hacks” your TV to use no energy when left on standby.

Evidently those researchers at the University of Bristol have had a busy few months, as they are at the heart of this innovation, this time through the Electrical Energy Management Lab. By attaching chips that use low currents of 20 picoamps, the researchers can instruct the TV to utilise infrared pulses, to flip a switch and automatically turn on a TV.

Light filters and five photodiodes are used to stop the receiver activating from a remote-control demand, instead sparking the TV into life, via the chip at the back. While it takes a few seconds longer than traditional TVs to turn on, it is a short price to pay for lower energy bills.

Sun screens for skyscrapers

Solar windows are a pioneering concept and it seems fitting that the company bringing them to the cusp of commercialisation is called SolarWindow. The firm has already introduced a solar panel that could be 50 times more productive than regular roof-based photovoltaics.

Now SolarWindow has introduced new flexible glass solar panels. The product is created by applying layers of their generating coatings to Corning Willow glass, before laminating the resulting glass. By applying industry levels of high pressure, the firm was able to produce a thin veneer that can still generate electricity.

This flexible panel can be placed onto skyscrapers, allowing them to act as “vertical power generators”. It isn’t ready for commercialisation just yet, but the firm believes its product can be applied to transport vessels such as cars and aircrafts.

Meet the Jetsons

The Jetsons presented a future where humans could interact with robot maids and dogs could somehow breathe in space. While the recent CES 2017 tech show suggests that robot companions are most certainly a thing, manufacturing company Arconic has unveiled a future vision inspired by the cartoon family.

“The Jetsons” is a future city landscape developed by Arconic that has a three-mile-high, smog-eating skyscraper at its heart. The building uses EcoClean technology which actually came onto the market in 2011 to create a coating with the air cleansing power of 80 trees.

The EcoClean coating is self-cleaning and sucks up and breaks down pollutants that come into contact with the building. Arconic recently told Business Insider that 10,000 square feet of EcoClean would be coated onto the building – which is how they generated the 80 trees figures. A similar, albeit smaller, projects is actually live in Rotterdam.

Matt Mace

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