Carbon-negative batteries and food waste plastics: The best green innovations of the week

A number of eye-catching and potentially transformational innovations have emerged that could help businesses and nations accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy. Here, edie rounds-up six of the best.

This week's best innovations could drive significant change across the fashion, aviation and agricultural sectors

This week's best innovations could drive significant change across the fashion, aviation and agricultural sectors

Following the launch of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) landmark report on global warming this Monday (October 8), the urgent need to act on tough climate challenges has been brought to the forefront of consumer, business and government attention.

Backed by more than 4,000 scientific studies, the report warns that there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

When striving to meet pressing climate targets, it is always worth looking at the green innovations of today that could become mainstream in the coming months and years. 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.

Carbon-sucking batteries

Batteries are generating a lot of buzz in the world of energy, but for all the benefits they have on improving energy use and resiliency, the production cycles for batteries of all shapes and sizes are still energy intensive, and for some, potentially toxic.

At the same time, up to 30% of the electricity sourced by power plants equipped with carbon capture systems is used to power this technology.

To address these issues simultaneously, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a prototype battery that is capable of capturing CO2 in gas form and converting it into solid mineral carbonates. The technology works by combining carbon, lithium and a patented electrode within a metal casing.

The research team claim that the prototype will be able to provide power at similar levels to traditional batteries, and that the concept could be used to bolster the efficiency of existing carbon capture and storage (CCS) solutions.

Food waste bioplastic

As the war on plastics continues to gather pace, a string of corporates including Reebok and Lego have moved to incorporate bioplastics into their products in a shift away from fossil fuel-based materials.

But with critics citing the ethical and environmental pitfalls of using farmland to grow plants for plastics rather than produce, Canadian startup Genecis has developed a method that allows food waste – rather than fresh crops – to be upcycled into bioplastic.

Led by students from the University of Toronto Scarborough, the firm uses the same methods currently used to turn corn, sugar cane and canola into polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) to upcycle food waste on a smaller scale. The result is a compostable material that can completely degrade outside of industrial conditions within a year.

Genecis says it has processed a total of 1,080kg of food waste to date. It is now working to commercialize its first PHA bioplastic pellet product line. 

Low-carbon jet fuel

With Virgin Atlantic last week showcasing its innovative new jet fuel for the first time, the notoriously carbon-heavy aviation sector seems on the brink of a sustainability revolution.

Following this trend, international aviation firm Air BP this week began a new partnership with alternative fuel firm Neste in a bid to co-develop innovations that will boost the supply and availability of sustainable aviation fuel. Under the partnership, the two firms will work to provide a solution that will better match supply to increased demand for renewable jet fuel.

The move comes after Air BP supplied its first shipment of Biojet - an innovative fuel which is created by blending conventional, fossil-based kerosene with renewable hydrocarbons produced from recycled cooking oil – to 10 airports across the Nordic region.

A sustainable solution for textiles

With reports continuing to reveal the extent of the environmental and social damage being caused by fast-fashion, the resource intensity of producing new clothes has become something of a hot topic in recent months. Indeed, innovative solutions to the resource efficiency challenge have been developed by the likes of C&A, Adidas and Kering in recent times.

Another potential solution comes from Spanish tactile manufacturer Tejidos Royo, which has developed a method of dyeing denim that uses 99% less water than traditional methods. Called ‘Dry Indigo’, the method uses a waterless foam to dye fabrics in a container four times smaller than traditional industrial-scale vats.

US-based Wrangler – a denim fashion brand owned by VF Corporation – has confirmed that it will launch the world’s first denim products manufactured using Dry Indigo in 2019. The move forms part of the brand’s bid to reduce its annual water footprint by five billion litres by 2020.

Closed-loop motors

The automotive industry is on the cusp of an electric vehicle (EV) revolution, with carmakers including MazdaNissan and VW and all moving to electrify their portfolios, ramp up investment into EV production and spur battery research and innovation.

But while this is great news for zero-emission transport, concerns are beginning to be raised about how top carmakers will minimise the environmental impact of sourcing the metals they will need to produce new motors and batteries.

In a bid to tackle the problem, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratories have developed a method of mining end-of-life computer hard drives and other e-waste streams for magnets that can then be used in EV motors. The team this week showcased the world’s first fully-functioning EV motor to incorporate a “reclaimed” permanent magnet.

The researchers claim that by recycling the 35% of waste hard drives that currently are destroyed across the US annually, about 1,000 metric tonnes of magnetic material could be recovered per year. 

Circular fertiliser

Ammonia, a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen, is a key component of most industrial fertiliser – but it is notoriously energy-intensive to produce due to the fact that the chemical reaction only happens under very high temperature and pressure conditions. In fact, ammonia production is estimated to account for 2% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

A potential green alternative comes from the Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology at Flinders University in South Australia, where researchers have developed a closed-loop, slow-release fertiliser made from waste cooking oil.

The innovative fertiliser is produced in pellet form, with waste canola oil and sulphur – a waste product from the petroleum industry – used to form a degradable polymer coating to encase each pellet.

In a pre-industrial scale test on tomato plants, the fertiliser was also found to reduce runoff compared to liquid alternatives, reducing the risk of soil contamination and degradation.

Sarah George


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