Intelligent highways and underground bins: the best green innovations of the week

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

With Earth Day approaching, businesses and national leaders are aware of the need to accelerate actions to decarbonise operations and grids, all while promoting resource efficiency and improving the health and wellbeing of the global population.

Innovation has a big part to play in delivering against all these factors. With this in mind, this week’s round-up covers a variety of ideas, concepts, products and systems that could help nations and businesses accelerate sustainability commitments.

Might link my bin from Barking

Social media is rife with disgruntled residents rightly concerned about the amount of full-to-the-brim black bin bags that mount up outside houses waiting to be collected. An increase in these collections ultimately leads to more emissions from road transport, but a new system in Barking could make all these woes disappear.

London is set to become home to one of the largest automated waste collection systems (AWCS) in Europe after Barking Riverside Limited, a joint venture between London & Quadrant (L&Q) and the Mayor of London, selected Envac to handle the waste of almost 10,000 homes at Barking Riverside London.

460 inlets will be installed to replace 19,000 traditional bins. Residual and mixed recycling is collected in the inlets, before an automated system uses fans to create an airflow that pushes the waste through an underground pipe network at speeds of more than 40mph. The automate collection process takes minutes and it is estimated that the system will reduce vehicle-related emissions by from collection by 90%. The first phase of the system, which will serve around 1,700 homes, will launch in 2019.

Life in the dome

More than 90% of the world’s population lives in areas where air pollution exceeds recommended safety limits. To mark Earth Day (18 April), clean-air specialists Airlab will offer people the chance to experience these differing levels first-hand – albeit safely – by installing a range of domes near Somerset House in London.

Five geodesic domes will recreate the air pollution levels of five areas, London, Beijing, Sao Paulo, New Dehli and the remote Norwegian peninsula od Tautra. Tautra is known to have some of the cleanest air quality levels in the world.

Airlabs will use Nano Carbon innovations – technology that can actually remove high levels of gases alongside other key pollutants such as particulate matter from the air – in order to make the air in that particular dome 95% cleaner. The effects of the pollution are generated using a combination of techniques including specialist scents, haze machines and appropriate temperature and humidity combinations for each city.

Shroom to grow

Biofuels are an area of great debate in sustainability. They serve their purpose as a low-carbon renewable fuel, but often at the cost of intensive farming and eating into potential food crops. Now, researchers at the National University of Singapore have discovered a new method of developing biofuel without encroaching onto food production.

The researchers found that harvesting waste by-products created by harvesting mushrooms can be create a biofuel that can be used by vehicles, without modification, that run on petrol.

The study, published in Science Advances, notes that biobutanol can be produced by using Thermoanaerobacterium thermosaccharolyticum (TG57), a bacterium produced through mushroom cultivation. Researchers claim it can be used to convert plant-based cellulose into biobutanol in a “sustainable and cost-effective production”.

Aluminium appetite

Earlier this year, food delivery firms like Deliveroo and Just Eat announced sweeping measures to tackle plastic waste and promote resource efficiency. Unfortunately, for any pizza lovers, boxes cannot be recycled due to food contamination.

However, Cardiff-based restaurant Dusty Knuckle has launched reusable pizza boxes made from aluminium to enable customers to reduce waste. Imported from Italy, the aluminium boxes are available to purchase for £2 and come with a lifetime guarantee that sees them replaced free of charge if damaged or broken.

As well as offering a 50p discount on pizza if customers use the boxes, the aluminium packaging can also be recycled at end of life and requires just 5% of the energy that would otherwise be needed to make a virgin product.

Follow the see-through road

China is barrelling ahead with targets to capture new market opportunities in areas such as electric vehicles (EV), renewable energy and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Qilu Transportation Development Group is working on a project that combines all of these aspects to revolutionise the transport sector.

Solar panels, smart sensors and EV battery chargers are all being implemented into the nation’s first “intelligent highway”. The 1,080-metre road is located in the city of Jinan, where more than 40,000 vehicles travel throughout daily. The company is placing solar panels under transparent sections of road to generate enough electricity to power around 800 homes.

With a lifespan of 15 years, the road uses three vertical layers to place solar panels under a transparent road surface to allow sunlight to seep through. Space is also available for recharging wires and sensors that will monitor traffic, temperature and weight load of the road. There is no detail on when the solar highway is expected to come online, although parts are already operational.

New satellite space race

Carbon dioxide emissions may be the most common greenhouse gas, but methane has 87 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, and scientists are eager to monitor and reduce how much methane is seeping into the atmosphere.

Satellite monitors have been trialled, somewhat unsuccessfully by Japan and the European Space Agency and now the Environmental Defence Fund has announced plans to launch a satellite that will measure global methane sources, cover the top 50 regions that account for around 80% of methane production.

While the Fund is still working on the final details – it may take three years before the project is successfully launched – the MethaneSAT project is expected to create a greater understanding on methane emissions from regions and landfill. It is being developed in partnership with Harvard University and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Innovation centre at edie Live

From carbon-eliminating solutions to fresh ideas to drive resource efficiency, the Innovation Centre will showcase the pre-commercial solutions and ideas that could disrupt entire markets and take corporate sustainability to a new level. It will also feature some of the best innovations covered in in 2017.

If you have an innovation you’re interested in displaying, click here. To register for edie Live, click here.

Matt Mace

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