Elephant dung paper and ‘Farming Trees’: the best green innovations of the week

From smart bins that handle recycling to sturdy paper made from elephant faeces, this week's innovation round-up covers six unique products or systems that can help deliver a low-carbon, resource-efficient world.

With the UK Government announcing plans to consult on a deposit return scheme that could alleviate some of the woes the nation suffers regarding plastics, sustainability has once again been pushed to the forefront of media attention.

With this in mind, it is worth reminding sustainability professionals that the never-ending conveyor belt of innovation is still whipping up solutions to key climate change mitigation needs. Here, edie rounds up six of the best for this week.

Absorb and adapt

To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement it is anticipated that up to 700 gigatonnes of CO2 will have to be removed from the atmosphere. This heightens the need to not only bring in low-carbon technologies and solutions, but also back innovations that can absorb emissions from the atmosphere.

Origen, a UK cleantech start-up, is building a prototype of a greenhouse gas removal (GGR) system which can remove CO2 from the atmosphere, producing carbon-negative power. For every MWh of electricity produced – using natural gas – the technology can remove 600kg of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The CO2 can be stored safely underground while the by-product of lime can be sold as a commodity. The company also claims the technology is cost effective, at £40/MWh, and has recently been backed with a £1m fund from the Energy Entrepreneurs Fund run by BEIS to scale up the prototype. Origen Power is raising a further £1.2m to bring the technology to market.

New meaning for toilet paper

One of the key challenges of the circular economy is getting people to view waste as a resource. Clearly, researchers at the University of Vienna have had no problem with this mind shift, having found a way to convert elephant and cow dung into paper.

Whereas traditional paper production requires large amounts of energy, and in some cases chemicals, the researchers found that larger herbivores could do most of the processing in their digestive system. Animals like elephants consume a lot of materials that contain cellulose, which can account for 40% of their diets. This cellulose can then be used to create paper.

The product, according to the researchers, requires very little post-treatment other than to remove a few inconsistent items, and overall saves on energy and chemical use. The resulting paper is also sturdier than conventional sources and could even be used to replace some polymers. The team are currently examining ways to make use of all the by-products from the animals.

Hex and farming hacks

As population growth accelerates and urbanisation continues to pull people into cities, the way we interact with land, much of which is already degraded, will have to change to feed the future population. The growing number of urban farming initiatives is positive, but innovation can take the concept further.

Hexagro‘s Living Farming Tree is an innovative new indoor garden that combines recyclable materials, smart technology and new agricultural systems to grow food at quicker rates in much smaller places. The design uses aeroponics – a growing process without the need for soil or pesticide – LED lighting and a modular tiered structure to make the most of small spaces.

Notably, Hexagro claims that the system boasts low energy consumption, creates a 150% increase in nutritional value per plant and uses 90% less water than traditional methods. The roots of plants absorb nutrients via a mist and oxygen spray and the modules are built with recyclable materials. Hexagro is currently organising its first crowdfunding campaign.

Bin breakthroughs

Resource efficiency is a lightening rod for sustainability amongst consumer at the moment, but despite efforts to encourage recycling through deposit return schemes, the industry has acknowledged that consumers must be educated on what to do with their recycling and waste.

Unless of course, you can remove that barrier completely. Innovators have combined autonomous technology, sensors and the Internet of Things to ensure that all waste is segregated properly. The Bin-e enables users to put waste into the bin and an internal camera and sensor scans the waste before moving it into the right compartment. Waste is then automatically compressed to create more space. Once full, a signal is sent to a disposal company to collect the bin.

edie has covered the BIN-e in previous iterations of this roundup, but progress has ramped up in recent months. A production factory is in the works, while the sale of the first 100 bins has been agreed with Polish company. Around €500,000 has been invested by Altamira to commercialise the product further and expand its reach to other European markets.

Bioplastics: so hot right now

Bio-plastics have emerged as the solution of choice for some companies, notably Lego, in the fight against plastic pollution, but have so far been limited by technical performance at high temperatures, cost and limited supply.

Cambridge Consultants has unveiled a type of bioplastic that can be used for food packaging, including coffee pods and microwaveable trays. The new process allows the bioplastics to be produced from post-consumer waste, converting it into a valuable feedstock for the industrial process.

All items in the bioplastics set are designed to decompose in industrial composting facilities. This means that packaging doesn’t have to separated from food waste, which saves money and time on sorting, washing and separating waste streams and bins.

Second life surfing

Two ABB FIA Formula E Championship drivers have been embroiled in a friendly rivalry as part of Panasonic Jaguar Racing’s FanBoost competition. The latest contest will see Nelson Piquet Jr and Mitch Evans switch the electric race cars for another sustainable innovation.

The two drivers traded in their all-electric Jaguar I-TYPE 2 race cars for surfboards made from recycled Jaguar model car materials. Polyurethane is used to make the skeleton of clay models of the vehicles as part of the production process and is usually discarded or destroyed after use.

As part of Jaguar Racing’s mission of ‘Race to Innovate’ strategy, the plastic was recycled to make two ‘Waste to Wave’ surfboards. The surfboard concept is part of Jaguar Land Rover’s wider ‘second life’ initiative. The Panasonic Jaguar Racing surfboards were produced by SkunkWorks Surf Co in Northern Ireland.

Matt Mace

Comments (1)

  1. Julie Allen says:

    Considering the aggravation I’m having at the moment with existing compostable packaging and finding a composting plant to take the waste, I think we’re coming at this from the wrong angle.

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