Liam the robot and Disney World powered by tomatoes: the best green innovations of the week

After a week that saw the Energy and Climate Change Committee's (ECCC) embark on a new exploration into innovation in the energy sector, edie rounds up the latest low-carbon technologies and innovations that could accelerate the global green industrial revolution.

While solar panels and ground-source heat pumps will be thrust under the spotlight by the ECCC, cleantech investors and entrepreneurs across the globe continue to develop bewildering and bizarre energy sources and technological advances – last week gave us sugar-powered batteries and solar panels in space.

With ‘factories of the future’ and internet-enabled street lamps already in the limelight this week, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into one neat and tidy little green package.

Introducing Liam, Apple’s iPhone killing robot

It’s been a busy week for Apple. Fresh off of the unveiling of the new ‘iphone SE’ the tech giant took to the stage in California to confirm that 93% of its global facilities are now running on renewable energy.

But even this impressive figure wasn’t the show-stealer, as the company introduced the world to a new innovation aimed at aiding a new reuse and recycling drive – Liam the robot. Liam is a recycling robotic arm that Apple is using to regain valuable resources from discarded iPhones.

Almost a million people and counting have watched the one-minute YouTube video of Liam, the 29-armed robot, deconstructing an old iPhone so that the various parts can be used for future devices and other products. Its launch coincides with ‘Apple Renew’, a new gadget trade-in scheme to incentivise consumers.

Attack of the 11-mile solar-algae hybrid

In the Mexican city of Tijuana – renowned for its egg-like IMAX theatre and not much else – an architect has unveiled plans to turn the river that runs through the city into a giant solar farm that would provide enough energy to power around 30,000 homes.

Architectural firm Generica, also a partner at San Diego’s Woodbury University, believes that the Tijuana River dam can be transformed by placing solar panels over the 11-mile course of the river. Not content with just utilising solar, this plan would also see various algae farms dotted along the river’s creeks to filter the river and create local biofuels.

Sun, seawater and suspicious tomatoes

From Mexico to Australia, where the construction of a concentrated solar power (CSP) plant has hit a milestone after a 127-metre tower was erected. This tower will supply electricity collected from solar sources as well as desalinated seawater to grow tomatoes in the Australian desert.

The plant, which will be equipped with more than 23,000 mirrors to help reflect and absorb the sun’s rays, will be used to create heating, fresh water and electricity for farming activities out in the desert.

A (Disney) World powered by tomatoes

If the seawater tomato business really takes off, the Australian farmers could find themselves with a real money-maker on their hands. Researchers across several American institutions have teamed up to uncover the real American dream – creating electricity from tomatoes.

While the electrical output is small, the researchers believe that tomato waste produced in Florida every year – around 396,000 tonnes – would create enough electricity to power Disney World for three months.

Drink your water and eat your vegi-bottles

Much has been made about the ‘plastic soup’ that can be found in our oceans, and none of it is positive. Taking up to 1000 years to decompose, plastic’s time as a relevant material could soon be coming to an end.

This process could be sped up even further by the introduction of biodegradable algae bottles (we hear there could soon be a big supply in Tijuana). By mixing powdered algae with water, melting it down an placing it in a cold mold to be refrigerated, Icelandic designer Ari Jónsson has developed a single-use bottle that can even be eaten.

Bicycles that grow on trees

If you believe Katie Melua then there are nine million bicycles in Beijing, and once this next innovation takes off we can expect a follow up song from Melua with the Bombay, sorry, Bamboo Bicycle Club perhaps helping out.

The Bamboo Bicycle Club, a group of London-based innovators, have championed the use of 3D printers to create durable bicycle frames from – you guessed it – bamboo. The team believes that sooner rather than later every house will be fitted with a 3D printer meaning you can create your own bike frame for the small cost of £20.

The process enables materials to be produced locally and minimises the current market dependence on imports and the embodied energy in the mineral extraction.

Matt Mace

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