Edible straws and ultra-fast EV chargers: 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.
In a week where the Government announced that it will pour £1bn of funding into innovative research and development projects across the UK, the need for pioneering solutions to sustainability challenges has been highlighted once again.
Eyes are firmly on the horizon to see what the future brings in relation to climate change, resource management and green energy. With this in mind, this week’s round-up covers a variety of ideas, concepts, products and systems that could help nations and businesses accelerate sustainability commitments.
No more clutching at straws
As the war on plastics continues to gather pace, a string of food and drink giants including McDonald’s, Burger King and Costa have announced plastic straw bans in recent months as they strive to reduce their single-use plastic output.
Many of these businesses are in the process of switching to paper-based straws or other biodegradable alternatives, but a new solution has this week emerged in the form of edible straws made from sugar and cornstarch.
Drinks giant Diageo announced on Tuesday (August 14) that it will sell its range of premixed alcoholic drinks – such as Gordon’s Gin and Tonic and Baileys & Iced Coffee Latte– with the biodegradable straws as part of its commitment to phase out plastic straws and stirrers by 2020. The straws, which come in lime, strawberry, lemon and chocolate-flavoured varieties, can either be eaten or composted once customers finish their beverages.
In the wake of a recent Bloomberg NEF report predicting that the energy storage market will double six times by 2030, a string of companies including Marks and Spencer (M&S), Landsec and Carlsberg have made moves to explore battery storage solutions for their estates.
However, the majority of lithium batteries for transport purposes – notably for EVs – are usually covered by an eight-year warranty. In a bid to extend the lifespan of battery packs, and therefore tackle the planet’s growing e-waste mountain, Birmingham-based start-up Aceleron has launched a “serviceable” battery pack for use within an electric watercraft.
Called Circa, the long-life battery pack has an integrated management system that extracts energy from each individual battery cell, a cooling system that allows the battery to adjust its internal temperature, and a tracking system enabling users to monitor its performance remotely. Researchers at Aceleron invented the battery pack after dissembling thousands of used lithium batteries to see which factors could make the cells perform better. They hope that once production of the technology is scaled up, it will be viable for use in homes, office buildings and e-bikes.
Pack it in
Innovative packaging solutions are emerging into a market that has been shocked into change, following heightened consumer pressures regarding single-use plastics. Recent innovations to have emerged in the field include compostable condiment sachets made from seaweed, a mushroom-based alternative to polystyrene and edible six-pack rings made from waste barley and wheat.
Another fresh development in the packaging sphere comes from packaging firm Ecologic, which has unveiled a range of bottles, jars and containers with a recycled cardboard outer layer and a removable, recyclable plastic liner. The company claims that the outer cardboard shell can be either composed or recycled once the product is used, while the plastic liner, which weighs around 60% less than an equivalent rigid plastic container, can be recycled.
The company launched the range of packaging after research from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that less than 10% of the nation’s post-consumer plastic was recycled in 2016, compared to a 90% rate for fibre-based materials.
All at sea
Marine plastic pollution is a huge problem, with five trillion pieces of plastic now floating in the world’s oceans. The scale of the problem is such that there are now more pieces of microplastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way, and an Ellen MacArthur report predicts there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean (by weight) by 2050.
In a bid to tackle the issue head-on, non-profit The Ocean Cleanup has recently deployed the first two pieces of its ocean-cleaning technology. They each consist of a 600-metre-long “floater” that sits on the surface of the water, combined with a tapered three-metre skirt attached below.
The device, which is solar-powered and runs autonomously, is designed to collect debris of all sizes – from microplastics to discarded fishing nets. The collected materials are then removed from the ocean by boat and taken ashore to be sent for recycling. The Ocean Cleanup claims that a “full-scale” rollout of the clean-up system, which would involve the deployment of 60 pieces of the technology by the end of 2020, could clear half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within five years.
One of the latest solutions to the challenges posed by the EV switch comes from the University of Glasgow, where researchers claim to have developed a flow battery system that could charge car batteries “in seconds”. The technology works by using nano-molecules to store energy, which can then be released as either hydrogen or electricity. Concentrating the nano-molecules into a liquid means the amount of energy it can store is increased nearly ten-fold, the researchers claim.
Within an EV, the flow system would pump the “charged up” liquid into the battery, while removing the old liquid to be “recharged” and reused. This potentially means that the battery of an electric car could be recharged in the same amount of time as it takes to refuel a conventional vehicle.
In the quest to produce closed-loop products, fashion brands have launched sustainable footwear in recent times. For example, Adidas has sold more than one million pairs of trainers made from 95% ocean plastic, while M&S has begun to sell a range of shoes made from rice husks, plastic bottles and coffee grounds, known as ‘Footglove Earth’.
This week saw sportswear giant Reebok launch its first sports shoes made with 75% plant-based fibres. The company is already planning on composting the footwear once it is at the end of its life to help grow the next range of shoes.
The shoes, called NPC UK Cotton and Corn, have an upper made from 100% organic cotton and a bio-based sole made entirely from non-food source industrial corn fibres. Meanwhile, the insoles are derived from castor bean oil.
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