Eggshell energy storage and lab-grown leather: The best green innovations of the week

Each week, numerous eye-catching and potentially transformational innovations that could help businesses and nations deliver on resource efficiency, low-carbon transitions and combat climate change emerge. Here, edie rounds-up six of the best.

Eggshell energy storage and lab-grown leather: The best green innovations of the week

This week's best innovations could drive significant change across the fashion

Following last year’s heatwaves and wildfires, it’s been another week in which the impacts of climate change have been made visible to millions of people across the world. While smatterings of snow begin to fall in the UK, large regions across the US are facing temperatures as low as -30C, with local authorities in Chicago warning residents to avoid going outdoors.

The phenomenon is being referred to as a polar vortex, in which cold air that is typically “trapped” above the north pole blows southwards. While President Trump joked on Twitter that the situation was proof that we could “use a little global warming”, scientists are increasingly uncovering evidence to suggest the phenomenon has been caused by rising sea levels and melting ice caps.

When facing pressing challenges such as climate change and the extreme weather events it can spur, it’s always worth considering the innovative concepts, products and systems of today which may become mainstream in the near future. With this in mind, edie’s weekly roundup covers six innovations which could help nations and businesses accelerate progress towards their carbon, water and waste commitments and achieve a sustainable future, today.

3D-printed seawalls

Volvo has positioned itself as one of the corporate leaders in the race to protect the world’s marine habitats from plastic pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss, using its annual Ocean Race – held in partnership with the United Nations Environment Clean Seas campaign – to highlight the eight million tonnes of plastic being dumped in the ocean each year.

This week, the carmaker went one step further, unveiling a 3D-printed seawall in Sydney Harbour in a bid to help bolster biodiversity in the area. The 50-tile wall, which is made using 100% recycled ocean and beach plastics, has been designed to mimic the structure of mangrove tree roots – an ideal habitat for micro-organisms.

The tiles have also been designed with a porous texture which helps them to filter water which comes into contact with them, removing liquid pollutants and catching debris. Researchers will monitor the impact which the sea wall has on water quality and biodiversity over the next 20 years.

Broadband-cabinet EV chargers

As the shift to electrified transport continues to gather pace within the UK and across the world, a lack of charging infrastructure has continually been highlighted as one of the largest barriers to electric vehicle (EV) adoption. Innovators have worked at a pace to develop potential solutions to this challenge, from street lamps which double as chargers to ‘smart’ charging mobile phone apps.

Continuing this trend, Virgin Media’s parent company Liberty Global this week revealed plans to harness their existing cable ducts in on-street broadband boxes for EV charging purposes. The concept will be trialled at a select proportion of Virgin Media’s 40,000 UK broadband boxes by the end of the year, after the company received funding for the initiative from the Government’s Innovate UK scheme last year.

On-street cabinets operated by Virgin Media already have their own power supplies, but would require upgrades to support EV charging. Similar upgrades have already been made to around 12,000 of Deutsche Telecom’s broadband cabinets.

Eggshell-based energy storage

In the wake of a landmark Bloomberg NEF report predicting that the energy storage market will double six times by 2030, a string of innovative solutions including silicon siloesliquid air facilities and ammonia-based storage have hit the headlines recently.

Another potential solution to the energy storage challenge is, according to researchers at the University of Murdoch in Perth, Australia, eggshells. Since 2017, a team of scientists at the University have been experimenting with ways to derive calcium carbonate – which can be turned into calcium oxide and act as a conduit for electricity – from chicken egg shells.

This month, the researchers concluded that all calcium carbonate contained in eggshell powder could be converted into calcium oxide if the material is baked at 500C. Before being heated, the eggshell is a positive electrode but when heated it changes into a negative electrode.

The team will now work to determine how much energy the powder can store, and for how long, while also testing eggs from free-range hens against those laid by caged birds. They have already begun early talks with energy storage and utility firms around monetising the concept.

Flying autonomous electric vehicles

As top carmakers move to electrify their on-road portfolios, several innovative EVs that could take sustainable transport to new heights have emerged in recent months. Ride-hailing giant Uber has started working with NASA to create autonomous flying taxis by the 2020s, for example, while Volocopter is developing an electric drone large enough to transport four people.

A further development in this field comes from Boeing, which this month successfully tested a full-size prototype of its autonomous flying EV – a product which was merely a concept design 12 months ago. The US-based aerospace company tested the experimental aircraft, which it is calling a passenger air vehicle (PAV), for the first time in Virginia last week.

The prototype is an example of an electric vertical take-off and landing (EVTOL) aircraft, which has been referred to by many as a “flying car” or “passenger drone”. It has been designed to carry two people, making it a feasible alternative to road transport or a low-carbon solution for logistics. Trials will now move from takeoff and landing to short flights.

Olive waste bioplastics

As the war on plastics continues to gather pace, a string of corporates including Reebok and Lego have moved to incorporate bioplastics into their products in a shift away from fossil fuel-based materials.

But with critics citing the ethical and environmental pitfalls of using farmland to grow plants for plastics rather than produce, Istanbul-based startup Biolive has designed a closed-loop bioplastic made using waste streams from the city’s olive industry. The innovative material is made by processing waste streams from olive factories – including pits and oil – into a lightweight polymer. Around 5 tonnes of waste is needed to produce 3.5 tonnes of the plastic.

Biolive claims that the production of one kilo of its bioplastic emits six fewer tonnes of carbon than manufacturing virgin plastic from fossil fuels. It is hoping to sell the product to firms producing items such as children’s toys for the first time this year.

Lab-grown leather

This month’s Veganuary campaign, compounded by several scientific reports laying bare the full environmental and social impact of cattle farming, has served to place land use for raising livestock in the sustainability spotlight once again.

While many innovative efforts to date have focused on solving the meat industry’s environmental challenges – from ‘bleeding’ vegan burgers to ‘climate-positive’ farming techniques – attention is now being turned to leather ranching. During the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos last week, fashion designer Andras Forgacs showcased his vegan leather, called Zoa, on the global stage for the first time.

Zoa is made by fermenting yeast cells – a similar process to brewing beer – until collagen is created. The collagen is then purified and processed before being pressed into sheets. Given that producing a kilogram of leather requires between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water, and that up to 90% of all leather created is not used due to imperfections, the innovation is far less water, carbon and waste intensive. 

Forgacs has only used the material to make fashion prototype products so far but claims it could be a viable alternative to the leather used in cars, furniture and aircraft fittings.

Sarah George

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