Here are six of the most fascinating renewable energy and sustainability projects currently being researched –

1) High-altitude kites 

Saul Griffith’s plan for harnessing wind power from kites made a splash at a 2009 TED talk. Griffith’s kite power company, Makani Power, was purchased in 2013 by Google as part of its research and development division ‘Google X’.

Makani is still working on developing its airborne wind turbine, which it says will use less material than conventional turbines and give access to more consistent generation at high altitudes.

Here’s Griffith’s TED talk from 2009 on the potential of kite power:

2) Cow power

Popularised in the media as ‘the fartpack’ this story emerged in 2013. Cows produce huge amounts of methane gas with researchers in Argentina estimating that 30% of the country’s carbon emissions come from its 51 million cows.

The methane from a cow’s natural digestion process can be used to power anything that runs on natural gas, such as cars.

Here’s the Reuters news report on the project:

3) Solar roadways 

A master class in viral marketing, the video ‘Solar Freakin’ Roadways’ has more than 17 million hits on YouTube and the designers raised more than $2m on their crowdfunding campaign. The designers plan to replace conventional roads with ‘smart’ roads incorporating solar panels. The grand plan would be to replace all of America’s roads with solar panels.

Of course the idea is incredibly expensive and currently impractical but it has attracted some attention, with the design team reporting they are about to complete a contract with the Highway Administration to build a prototype parking lot. Watch this space.

Here ‘s the project’s marketing video which went viral earlier this year:

4) Phonebloks

A really exciting idea to reduce WEEE from smartphones. Google is currently working on Project Ara, a customizable smart phone that will allow users to mix and match features, increase the lifecycle of the product and also reduce electronic waste. The first model is planned for release in January 2015 for around $50.

5) Solar airplanes

This vision has actually become a reality. Swiss inventors Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg have developed the solar airplane – Solar Impulse 2 – which is powered only by the sun and can, theoretically, fly perpetually day and night on only solar power.

To back up their idea, the pilots are planning to take the plane on a non-stop round-the-world solar flight as early as 2015.

6) Space-based solar power 

Although it’s been dismissed as science fiction dreaming, space-based solar power is actually being considered by Japan. The theoretical technology for the project has actually been around for many years and the Japanese space agency, JAXA, is currently one of the leading researchers on the technology.

The Space Solar Power Systems project would collect sunlight in a giant space-based power plant and then transmit this to the ground using microwaves or laser beams before converting it into electricity at a power receiving facility on the ground.

Here’s JAXA’s video on the possibility of space-based solar power:

What do you think about all of this? Can you imagine any of the ideas above actually becoming mainstream? Or perhaps you have a better idea… Leave a comment below or tweet @edie to let us know your thoughts.

Matt Field

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie