Kinetic power treadmills and demand response apps: 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.

It’s been a turbulent week for the UK in more ways than one, with England’s dramatic exit from the FIFA World Cup and the shock resignations of both Boris Johnson and David Davies over the Prime Minister’s Chequers proposals dominating the front and back pages of newspapers.

Nonetheless, one eye is also on the horizon to see what the future brings in relation to sustainability. 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.

Running on renewables

Several big-name businesses in the leisure and hospitality sector have made moves in recent months to expand their onsite renewable arrays, with Tetra Pak this week announcing it would install more solar panels on its factories as it strives to source 100% renewable power by 2030.

But if solar is a mainstream technology of choice for corporates, then kinetic power is still in its infancy. In a bid to turn gyms into generators, fitness equipment firm SportsArt has unveiled a range of cardio machines which harness up to 74% of the kinetic energy produced during a workout, converting it into electricity that can be pumped back into the local grid.

By working out on one of the treadmills, bikes or cross-trainers for an hour, an individual can generate up to 200 watts of power for the grid, enabling gyms to offset their energy consumption and costs. SportsArt estimates that by installing 10 of the machines, leisure centres could save an average of £1,300 per year on energy costs. The equipment is currently being trialled in SERCO Leisure Stoke Mandeville, and will be commercially available later this year.

Plane and simple

The aviation sector has proven notoriously difficult to decarbonise, with calculations by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) predicting that the industry will generate an estimated 43 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

Nonetheless, airports and airlines have sought to green their mobility through various investments. The latest success story comes from energy giant Shell, which recently began trialling the world’s first fully-electric pump jet refuelling vehicle at Stuttgart Airport, in Germany. The vehicle, which can carry 20,000 litres of fuel, is battery-powered and uses an electric fuelling system and pressure control to deliver the liquid.

Shell estimates that the vehicle, developed by researchers at aircraft refueler manufacturing firm Esterer, will reduce the airport’s diesel consumption by 2,200 litres over a 12-month period. If the year-long trial proves successful, Shell will seek to deploy the technology across its global refuelling network.

Generation game

In an effort to drive behaviour change among its customers and get them to save energy at home, Northern PowerGrid has this week unveiled a mobile app which rewards people for switching off their appliances during times of peak demand.

The app, called GenGame, alerts customers when demand is peaking, giving them the chance to earn points by limiting their household’s energy consumption. Players with the most points are then given cash prizes for their efforts, with the money being generated from the utility’s cost savings.

During a trial of 2,000 customers, Northern PowerGrid found that the average household reduced its electricity consumption by 11%, or 305 watts, during peak times. However, some cut as much as 4.9kW, by turning off appliances such as electric vehicle chargers, caravans, hot tubs and tropical fish tank heaters.

Huhtamaki…means no worries?

With public, corporate and political attention firmly fixed on plastic waste, the onus is undeniably on businesses to use alternative materials in their products and packaging.

One of the newest innovative solutions in this sector comes from Finnish packaging manufacturer Huhtamaki, which is trialling fibre-based ready-meal packaging as an alternative to black plastic, which is notoriously hard-to-recycle because machinery in recycling plants is not able to accurately detect its pigment.

The new packaging, which is being trialled this summer to house two kinds of Italian meals, is made from Durapulp – a cardboard-like substance derived from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified sources. It is completely biodegradable and widely recyclable, as well as being water-resistant, Huhtamaki said in a statement, adding that it would roll out the material more widely if the trial went well.

Here comes the Calvera

As efforts to green the production of electricity gather pace, sourcing transport fuel from renewable sources continues to prove difficult. Globally, the consumption of renewable energy in transportation has proportionally increased faster than in either electricity or heat, but from a base far lower than in other end-uses. In 2000, it was 0.5%, in 2015, 2.8%. 

In an attempt to spur the uptake of biogas, which the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) claims could reduce emissions from transportation by more than 60%, gas transport firm Calvera has developed a mobile-refuelling unit capable of transporting up to 4,000kg of biogas or compressed natural gas.

The unit can refuel vehicles directly or transport biomethane to be injected into the UK gas grid, offering new market opportunities for biogas producers. The first of its kind was recently sold to Spanish gas and electricity firm Naturgy, with Calvera hoping the innovation will bring “fundamental change” to the biogas sector across Europe.

Defying gravity

The UN estimates that 1.2 billion people worldwide have no access to electricity in their homes. This leaves them reliant on highly flammable kerosene gas for cooking and lighting. Kerosene lamps are estimated to cause 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as well as links to respiratory diseases in those who frequently use them.

To remedy this issue and help some of the world’s poorest nations move away from the lamps, not-for-profit GravityLamp has created lamps powered by a mix of kinetic and potential energy. The device works by connecting an elevated weight to a pulley system that slowly powers a generator as the weight descends. One descent from a height of six feet can power the lamp for 20 minutes.

Gravitylights are currently being trialled in 3,000 homes in Kenya as part of a large-scale pilot after smaller-scale trials in other African nations found that nine out of ten homes would prefer using the device to a kerosene lamp.

Sarah George

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