Low-carbon rockets and seed-shooting drones: 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 five of the best.

In a week of Brexit furore, it is at least promising that Liverpool City Council announced its bid to become the world’s first climate-positive city by the end of 2020. It aims to do this through the use of blockchain technology, highlighting the role that innovation has to play in delivering a sustainable future.

Eyes are firmly 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.

Noah’s start

The electrification of the transport sector is a welcome step towards the low-carbon economy. However, the chassis and bodywork of a vehicle can still be produced using carbon-intensive measures.

Enter oil and gas giant Total, which has partnered with a development team at the University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands to develop a new car nicknamed Noah. The car is 100% recyclable, according to the research team, and uses no metals or traditional plastics.

Instead, Noah uses a natural-fibre flax and a biopolymer – Luminy PLA – supplied by Total Corbion PLA, as the primary material in its chassis and bodywork. The vehicle can reach speeds of up to 110km per hour with a single-charge battery range of more than 200km. Excluding the weight of the battery, the vehicle is less than half the weight of traditional cars.

Orbit with Orbex

The UK Government has announced more than £340m in funding to green the aviation sector, but one UK firm has gone a step further by securing funding to develop low-carbon rockets. UK-based Orbex has secured £30m in funding to develop rockets that are up to 20% more efficient than current versions.

The rockets will be 30% lighter and powered by renewable bio-propane that could cut carbon emissions by 90%. Orbex will also ensure that zero debris is generated while in orbit.

The company is hoping to launch satellites in the UK, at altitudes of more than 1,200km, off the north coast Scotland – a project which has recently secured £2.5m in government funding from the UK Space Agency.

Droning on

It has been announced that 25 start-ups are in the running to win the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge 2018 – an international competition to support businesses making a positive impact on the environment. This year, three are from the UK and will be covered in this round-up.

First up, ecosystem restoration company BioCarbon Engineering plans to combat industrial-scale deforestation through a reforestation drive that uses data and drones. The company has developed a system to plant trees with drones with the core objective to plant 500 billion trees by 2060.

Satellites and drone data are used to highlight where to plant trees before drones shoot biodegradable seedpods and the targeted positions at a speed of 120 per minute. Two operators equipped with 10 drones will plant 400,000 trees per day.

Inflatable crops

Secondly, Phytoponics acts as a hydroponic growing system that could potentially transform commercial agriculture methods to increase fresh produce yields – a timely feat with climate change and population growth set to add new pressures on food supply.

The system uses inflatable, deep-water grow bags that are equipped inside greenhouses in 40-metre rows. The bags are fed by a nutrient and irrigation system placed at the centre of the greenhouse. According to the creators, Phytoponics can fit in both large and small commercial greenhouses and can also utilise data capture and automation technologies.

Phytoponics can also grow food all-year round, in any climate. Notably, the system is said to hugely reduce the amount of water, energy and fertiliser needed to grow food. It will compete for prizes of €500k, €200k, and €100k through the competition.

Lett it last

Last but not least, LettUs Grow is aiming to secure funding to create affordable food, located in urban cities, through integrated farm management software. Based in Bristol, the start-up has designed an irrigation system for indoor farms.

Capable of delivering high crop yields at lower costs, LettUs Grow uses soil-free aeroponics to deliver water and nutrients to a crop as a mist. According to the company, this creates better flavours, faster growth and uses 95% less water than traditional agriculture.

Plants are grown in specialised beds, while data gets uploaded to a software platform. LettUs Grow’s technology looks set to enter a market with a predicted growth of more than $13bn by 2024. Five finalists will be announced in mid-August, before a final pitch in September in Amsterdam. All finalists will receive more than six months of expert coaching.

Matt Mace

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