Gravity-powered batteries and pig poo roads: the best green innovations of the week

In a week that has seen political 'leaders' fall by the wayside, edie rounds up the latest low-carbon innovations that could create opportunities amidst the chaos left by politicians who have now jumped a seemingly sinking ship.

While everyone has recovered from England’s whimpering exit from Euro 2016, the same cannot be said of the impending decision to leave the European Union (EU). As the likes of Farage and Johnson – who promised prosperity outside of the EU – retreat back into their shells, the opportunity has arisen for energy policies to take centre stage in the Government, through Andrea Leadsom.

As one of the leading candidate to become the new leader of the Conservative Party, Leadsom will be buoyed by growing industry beliefs that the UK could survive outside of the EU. However, this does depend on an ability to communicate and comply with circular economy principles – which, as evidence suggests, the UK isn’t too keen on.

In just-as-gloomy news, new London Mayor has called the Government’s failure to tackle air pollution “an issue of life and death”, but he has vowed to improve air quality in the capital through a bold new plan. Looking to the future, connected cars could be the new way to improve air quality and promote smart travel in cities.

This week, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories that could drive the low-carbon, resource efficient transition into this neat and tidy little green package.

New Jersey’s new agricultural oasis

Mimicking the wasabi mustard produced in abandoned WWII bunkers underneath Clapham, edie kicks off this week’s innovations with another urban farm concept. Over in Newark, New Jersey an old laser tag arena has been repurposed into an “agricultural oasis” which aims to create a sustainable source of herbs and perishables.

Using LED lights for exposure, the crops are developed using reusable cloth material made from recycled plastics. Aerofarms is the company behind the development and claims that this new urban method of crop growth uses 95% less water than traditional farms.

It uses a specially designed root misting system to account for the lack of water and restaurants are already purchasing crops from the “farm”. Developments are in place to build a larger 70,000 square foot facility in a former steel mine, which is expected to grow 2 million pounds of crops each year.

Flower power that mimics Mother Nature

The next concept originally surfaced in 2010, spreading its solar-panelled petals to create a portable photovoltaic. Now the smartflower POP has promised to deliver 40% more energy output by using smart technology to track the sun and cool itself.

Much like an actual flower straining towards the sun, the sunflower POP’s petals fan out each morning to absorb the sun’s rays. Throughout the day, the machine turns on a duel axis to follow the flight path of the sun.

To improve customer satisfaction further, the innovation can also be portably transferred from place to place, and can also monitor energy accumulation, use and even be programmed to send the energy to certain appliances.

Welcome to the endanger dome

It seems that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has taken a break from his space exploration fantasies to develop a new way for his staff to soak up the natural environment and promote sustainability at the company’s new Seattle office.

According to recent reports, Amazon is building three huge “biospheres” directly in front of the Seattle office buildings, which are currently under construction. The 100-foot tall domes are scheduled for completion in 2018 and will bring together more than 300 endangered plants to act as a carbon sink and a conservation dome.

The idea is to “link to the natural world” and Amazon will also construct walkways and encourage staff to walk around the domes during periods of downtime.

Transporting carbon from transport back to transport

Scheduled for launch in 2017, this Bill Gates funded carbon capture (CCS) plant in British Columbia will become the world’s first atmospheric CCS facility. Once completed, the plant will use a system that sucks in air and passes it through carbon absorbing liquid with an 80% success rate.

The absorbed carbon is contained onsite before being filtered and reintroduced as part of a liquid that will be integrated as part of the low-carbon transport infrastructure. Carbon Engineering have spent years developing the concept and are now ready to move onto a global scale-up.

To prove that there is method to this ‘madness’, the company has employed a team of Harvard University scientists to develop the prototype, which has been absorbing emissions at around 100kg of carbon each day from 15 vehicles.

As happy as a pig in asphalt

Researchers for North Carolina’s AT&T State University have built on the phenomena surrounding poo power, by using pig manure as a cheap and viable replacement in the production of road asphalt.

What started out as a search for bio-alternatives for fuel ended up utilising swine waste, which is rich in oils that can act as substitutes for petroleum, for asphalt production after it was found to be too low-grade for gasoline.

Through funding from the US National Science Foundation, the group will ramp-up research efforts to turn the swine waste into black crude binders in roads. Smell is filtered out during the process which has been real-world tested by 20,000 vehicles passing over it.

Gravity through the hourglass

Despite only being a proof-of-concept design, researchers at MIT have developed new liquid batteries which could eventually be utilised to enhance grid-connected storage systems.

With a host of car makers exploring the concept of vehicle-to-grid energy management, this new battery simplifies storage complicity with a gravity-fed pump that can adjust the rate of energy production as it tilts the battery to new angles.

The design adds an extra element of innovation by acting as a hybrid between liquid and solid batteries as it utilises components found in each of the traditional battery types. The design is apparently so simple that it could potentially be crafted by 3D printers.

Matt Mace

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