Fish powered LEDs and vertical farms from space: the best green innovations of the week

In a week that saw renewable installations celebrate its most decorated year yet, edie rounds up the latest low-carbon technologies and innovations that could push renewables to dizzying new heights as part of the low-carbon revolution.

With investment into renewables reaching a record high of $286bn worldwide, people are beginning to envision a world no longer shackled by the burnt hands of the fossil fuel industry.

While Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos believes that this future will revolve around gigantic, energy producing solar space stations, groups and organisations in the UK continue to be distracted by the ongoing circus surrounding a potential Brexit.

But while the UK continues to squabble over risks and security that a recently-motivated European Union could provide, Prime Minister David Cameron spent the beginning of his week in Japan along with the leaders of the other G7 nations, to agree to a landmark deal to end fossil fuel subsidies.

With companies such as the Volvo Group and Nike unveiling innovative new steps to a sustainable operating model, edie has pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.

Apple walks the walk with renewable generation

Well-regarded as a pioneer of sustainable innovation, Apple has invested in a plethora of renewable projects, while simultaneously working on its in-house sustainability with the help of Liam the robot.

In partnership with Onyx Solar, the tech giant is working on a new walkable solar glass floor at its new San Francisco facilities, which will allow employees and shoppers to generate electricity while they walk.

While the specifics about this new prototype are yet to be revealed, Onyx’s previous work with solar walkways – although geared for rooftop installations – suggests that if the prototype was replaced all the glazing on the One World Trade Center building in New York City, it could power more than 350 apartments.

The bamboo building blocks for electric vehicles

Electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure is already a contentious issue in developed countries, with public perception still gearing towards EVs a niche vehicle, although this perception is slowly shifting. So imagine trying to implement a charging stations in developing countries, where images and connotations of small-scale portable solar generators are seemingly still all the rage.

But for BMW South Africa this problem is a mere gap in the market, after unveiling a 100% renewable solar-powered carport charging station in the country. Made from bamboo with stainless steel housing for the solar panels, the station can produce an average of 3.6 kilowatts for the BMW i Wallbox, with any excess energy produced being stored around buildings in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

While BMW South Africa will make the stations available to the public, individuals and businesses can purchase the stations for private use, which will also see the stations integrated and connected to smartphone technology to streamline charging and financing.

Torpedo fish, the lightbulb moment?

While leading British supermarkets Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer (M&S) look to source products from sustainable finishing standards, researchers from Japan’s RIKEN Quantitative Biology Center (QBiC) have gone one step further and are now using fish to power LED lightbulbs.

Using torpedo fish, which can emit electricity that used to be used to combat gout and headaches, the researchers connected LED bulbs to the fish’s ventral and dorsal side, before charging the bulbs by pressing against the fishes head to antagonise it into releasing electricity.

Not only was this process able to light the bulbs, but it also proved effective enough to store electricity in a make-shift capacitor. While the researchers eventually went the whole nine yards and completely gutted the fish, they did uncover a potential means to generate electricity naturally, like the fish does, by converting adenosine triphosphate (ATP) coenzymes from glucose into charged electricity.

Carbon, alcohol and bacteria; the devil’s cocktail

While we’re on the subject of nature, it seems on fair to mention the new chemically engineered bacteria that can convert inhaled carbon dioxide into alcohol fuel such as isopropanol. This superbug is able to produce ready-to-use fuel sources using only hydrogen from split water.

Developed by Harvard professor of energy Daniel G. Nocera, the bacteria mimics plants in turning CO2 into fuel, but is able to do so 10 times more efficiently than the leafs on plants, which have a conversion rate of about 5%.

The Ralston eutropha bacteria consumes hydrogen and CO2 from the air and then converts it into ATP – which as our fishy friends have proved, can be extremely useful. While the results of the trials haven’t officially been published yet, Nocera is already excited about the potential applications for the bacteria.

The behaviour changing birdhouse beacon

While the majority of the UK was enjoying a sunny, three day respite – otherwise known as summer – from the torrential rain, one tree in Amsterdam was fitted with a small birdhouse that emits WiFi in exchange for data collection on the surrounding air quality levels.

The concept is the brainchild of the TreeWiFi start-up, which is aiming to raise €6,500 in order to place a birdhouse in every street in Amsterdam. These “smart birdhouses” aims to reward people with free WiFi when they improve the air quality on their street.

When air pollution on the street is actively lowered a green light appears on the birdhouse and enables free WiFi for the surrounding area. The birdhouse acts a behaviour mechanism that encourages a clean and low-carbon means of transport around certain streets, while the air quality data that it is constantly monitoring is uploaded to create “detailed insight into air quality on a hyper local scale”.

A new kind of Independence Day

While this innovation is still very much in the visionary stage it does finally provide and answer to the age-old question of how to feed a booming population in an increasingly urbanised environment.

In a method that could be partnered with Bezos’ solar space stations, the Plantage Skyhanger would provide food, soil daylight and organic plants by utilising vertical farming infrastructure that hangs from space.

Using circular fields with condensation irrigation from the ceiling and seeds multiplied in laboratories, the Skyhangers utilises ETFE plastic pillows to shepherd natural daylight into the buildings as they slowly rotate around the Earth. Endorsing a zero-energy process, architects Michal Ganobjak and Martin Koiš believe that the buildings could store seeds, food and soil for hundreds of years by harvesting energy of wind vibrations and using intricate water systems.

Matt Mace

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