Egg white hydrogen and chewing gum coffee cups: the best green innovations of the week

From reducing chewing gum waste to increasing the performance of solar panels, the past week has showcased how innovation can impact across all areas of sustainability. edie brings them all together under one innovation round-up.

Whether its Russian-made nerve agents being used in the UK, or the death of renowned scientist Stephen Hawking, you’d be forgiven for thinking that news is built solely on misery. But in the battle against climate change, innovators are stepping up to make the planet a more prosperous place.

New solutions emerged this week targeting resource efficiency, wind energy and even giant swimming pools. This week, edie brings brand new updates on various solutions. Enjoy.

The Big Dip

Innovation doesn’t have to be brand new, it can be as simple as taking something pre-existing and extending its potential beyond its current scope. That is exactly what energy provider E.ON has done as part of its new marketing campaign.

The Big Dip campaign showcases how new energy solutions like renewables, heat pumps and battery storage can all be integrated to transform cities. As part of the new communications video, city streets are transformed into swimming pools, powered by air source heat pumps, while renewables and batteries power the surrounding city.

As part of the filming process, the 1992 Olympic swimming pool in Barcelona had all 2.5 million litres of water heated using air source heat pump technology. While swimming down the streets is some way off of reality, E.ON is a firm believer that a range of energy solutions can benefit consumers, businesses and cities.

Sticking to the solution

Around £14bn is spent by consumers on chewing gum globally, but the product is still the second largest form of street litter behind cigarettes. Last week, the BBC went to great detail in explaining how a British designer is turning gum into products ranging from footwear to coffee cups.

Designer Anna Bullus has spent more than 10 years creating a value chain for chewing gum. It starts by placing “Gumdrop” bins around public places, which encourage people to dispose of gum in bright pink bins. As the gum can be used a synthetic rubber, Anna soon found that it could be used and moulded as a polymer.

The University of Winchester, Heathrow Airport and Great Western Railway are just some of the companies that have acted as a supply chain for Anna by using the gumdrop bins. The project, which ensures that each item contains at least 20% chewing gum, is also being supported financially by Wrigley.

Raindrops and sunshine

Solar panels are now considered a mainstream renewables technology, but they do still have their drawbacks – mainly in the form of clouds. Solar energy is intermittent and can only perform in optimal weather conditions. But researchers from Soochow University in China have developed away for solar panels to harvest energy from rain.

The research, published last month in the journal ACS Nano, noted that triboelectric nanogenerators, or TENG, could be attached to solar panels to harvest energy from the movement of raindrops hitting each individual panel.

The researchers worked to create a hybrid system that combined TENG with traditional solar panels, but in a way that was still light enough to be mounted onto a roof. However, costs still remain an issue with the project, but if they can be lowered, solar panels would be given a whole new lease of life.

How do you like your eggs in the morning?

Developing hydrogen from water could create an abundant supply of clean, inexpensive fuel that doesn’t also emit carbon dioxide or other heat-trapping gases. Currently, most hydrogen that is produced is done so using processes that contribute to global warming.

Researchers in Japan believe they have created a process that generates zero-carbon hydrogen, by using molecules from a protein-based chemical found in egg whites. Creating hydrogen requires a catalyst to control the generation process. Pure proteins produced from bacteria can do this, but they have to be extracted first.

Using solar energy, researchers have made small amounts of hydrogen from water by using lysozyme — a protein-based chemical from egg whites — as the catalyst. The potential for this solution is enormous, but cost implications still remain as mass producing the proteins and extracting them aren’t yet viable.

Charging change

Electric vehicles are the posterchild of the low-carbon transition, a prime example of sector downing tools in favour of a new way of working, or in this case selling. However, driving range and charging times are still deterring some consumers, but new innovations seem to crop up weekly to alleviate the latter issue.

Researchers believe they’ve discovered new material that can increase the performance of supercapacitors, which can store, charge and offload energy in rapid bursts. By adding layers of graphene and carbon-based materials to supercapacitors, the technology can hold a lot more power.

Poor energy density means these systems aren’t great a storing energy, but they do have much higher charge and discharge rates, and normally have longer cycle lives. Material research company Superdielectrics believes its new material could help supercapacitors rival lithium ion batteries, with the added benefit of rapid charging times.

Attack of the 850ft turbine

Sometimes bigger is better. General Electric (GE) has ventured into the offshore wind market, setting records in the process. The company recently announced that its 12MW turbine will be the largest in the world once shipments begin in 2021.

The scope of this single turbine is huge. The rotor diameter reaches 220m wide, with the area covered by the blades reaching 38,000 square metres. At peak height, with a blade extended upwards, the turbine reaches 260m out of the water.

GE estimates that a single turbine will provide enough electricity to power 16,000 homes. Other companies are expected to attempt to match this ambition, with the offshore wind market accelerating in areas like the UK and Denmark, making installations and manufacturing cheaper.

Innovation centre at edie Live

From carbon-eliminating solutions to fresh ideas to drive resource efficiency, the Innovation Centre will showcase the pre-commercial solutions and ideas that could disrupt entire markets and take corporate sustainability to a new level. It will also feature some of the best innovations covered in in 2017.

If you have an innovation you’re interested in displaying, click here. To register for edie Live, click here.

Matt Mace

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