Biodegradable batteries and ocean-plastic shoes: 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.

edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package

edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package

In a week where supermarkets have made a string of moves to become more sustainable - from Lidl launching discount produce boxes to tackle food waste, to Tesco becoming the first UK supermarket chain to stock canned water – waste and resource management have yet again proven to be hot topics among consumers and sustainability professionals alike. 

In the face of resource challenges, the benefits of green innovation could usher in an unprecedented transition to a circular and low-carbon economy, as this round-up demonstrates. 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.

Sustainable sneakers

From John Lewis’ recycled plastic and cotton-blend bath towels to HP’s post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic printer ink cartridges, more and more companies are moving to design products and packaging which incorporates a high proportion of recycled content, amid increasing consumer pressures around plastics.

Following in the footsteps of Adidas, which last year sold one million pairs of its ocean plastic trainers, Spanish fashion brand Ecoalf has unveiled a range of sports shoes made from a combination of recovered single-use plastics and bio-based foam. In fact, the brand has developed more than 250 materials by using plastic bottles, discarded fishing nets and even spent coffee grounds, to date.

Each pair of the brand’s Ocean Waste collection of trainers, which are set to go on sale next month, contain the equivalent of five one-litre plastic bottles and are fitted with a foam insole made from an invasive species of algae commonly found in lakes and rivers. Moreover, Ecoalf claims that no waste is sent to landfill from the sourcing or manufacturing process for the range.

Let’s get this show on the road

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (Bloomberg NEF) has predicted that electric vehicles (EVs) will account for more than half of new car sales by 2040. It’s hardly surprising, then, that a host of green mobility innovations have emerged in recent months – from Rolls Royce’s electric flying passenger car to Transit X’s solar-powered network of transit pods.  

But these concept vehicles will need the infrastructure to support them, which is why Sweden has this year opened the world’s first electrified road that recharges the batteries of cars and trucks that drive on it.

The 2km stretch of road, which runs between Stockholm’s Arlanda airport and a logistics site just outside the capital, transfers power from two tracks of rail in the road via a movable arm attached to the bottom of a vehicle. The tracks are split into 50m sections which only become electrified if they sense a vehicle’s weight above them. The Swedish Government may consider expanding the technology in the coming years as it strives to go fossil-fuel free by 2030 – a move which will require a 70% reduction in emissions from the nation’s transport sector.

Cellulose cells

The latest annual data from the National Packaging Waste Database revealed that the UK battery collection rate for 2016 was 44.95%, just below a collection rate target of 45%. But what if batteries were biodegradable, or could be recycled alongside paper and card?

In a drive to make batteries more sustainable, researchers at the BillerudKorsnäs and Uppsala University in Sweden have created a prototype paper battery made from plant-based cellulose fibres, which are then coated with electrically conductive polymers to enable energy storage – although how much can be stored is yet to be disclosed.

The bio-based battery, which could be recycled along with traditional paper and card, is not yet ready to be marketed at scale, but its creators believe it could be widely used in smart packaging in the future. For example, the technology could be fitted to food products, enabling suppliers and retailers to track their location and temperature in real-time.

It’s in the bag

Sustainable fashion has proved to be something of a hot topic this summer, with Gap, H&M, Nike and Burberry announced as some of the major brands leading a new Ellen MacArthur Foundation initiative that aims to help drive a circular fashion industry. One innovation which may drive action further has been revealed this week by London-based fashion start-up Thread, which claims it has created the “most responsible fabric on the planet” to make bags from.

The range of rucksacks, called The Better Backpack, is made from a canvas-style material which consists of 100% PCR plastic, sourced from landfill-bound bottles. Thread, which has partnered with the likes of printer giant HP and shoe brand Timberland on plastic-based innovations in the past, spent four years developing the fabric in a bid to create a sustainable material that it claims feels like cotton, but with the performance characteristics and durability of polyester. 

The backpacks are set to go on sale later this year, with Thread currently crowdfunding £35,000 via a Kickstarter campaign in order to scale up production. If successful, the bags could be commercialised in February 2019.

Pigging out

The Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) organisation estimates the alternative protein sector will be worth $5.2bn by 2020. Unsurprisingly, a number of new plant-based products have hit supermarket shelves and restaurant menus in recent months, including Sainsbury’s vegan “beef mince” and Tesco’s “bleeding” Beyond Burger.

With the meat and dairy industries estimated to account for around 15% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, another plant-based meat alternative has emerged in the form of Omnipork – a blend of plant-based protein from peas, soy, shiitake mushrooms and rice that aims to mimic the taste and texture of minced pork.

The product, made by innovative food start-up Right Treat, was trialled at several restaurants in Hong Kong – where 63% of all meat eaten is pork – earlier this summer. Following from the success of these trials, the company is now looking for ways to roll out the product to more Asian eateries, and to launch it in supermarkets across the continent.

Concrete plans

In the wake of a recent Bloomberg NEF report, which predicted that the energy storage market will double six times by 2030, a string of innovative solutions including ultra-light EV battery packsliquid air facilities and ammonia-based storage have hit the headlines recently.

Another fresh development in the field comes from researchers at Lancaster University, who have developed a new form of concrete which has energy storage properties in addition to being strong enough to build structures. Made from flyash – a by-product from coal-fired boilers - and chemical solutions, the novel potassium-geopolymetric (KGP) composites conduct and store energy by allowing potassium ions to diffuse.

The researchers believe that the composites could have the potential to store and discharge between 200 and 500 watts per sq m and could be applied to residential buildings to complement solar arrays, storing renewable power during the day and discharging it at night. Moreover, the cement could be used to make lampposts, which could then hold enough renewable energy to power themselves overnight. In-depth studies are now being undertaken by the team, alongside trials to see whether 3D-printing could be used as a way to render the cement in different architectural shapes.

Sarah George


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