Biological houses and closed-loop plastic cups: the best green innovations of the week

In a week dominated by the UK Autumn Budget, edie rounds up the low-carbon and resource-efficient innovations that could help lower the costs of the green economy transition.

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

This week saw Chancellor Philip Hammond pledge to build an economy "fit for the future", backing air quality resolutions, the electric vehicle (EV) market, and measures to combat plastic waste, with economic stimulants.

Although reaction suggests that this was a welcome budget statement, freezes to air passenger and fuel duty, alongside tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, came as a disappointment to those in the sustainability sphere.

A major talking point of yesterday's Autumn Budget was the Chancellor's decision to consult on the use of a tax for plastic packaging. But what measures could be implemented that would actually provide tangible change? edie has examined the viability of a plastic tax.

While most eyes in the House of Commons were focused on Chancellor Philip Hammond and his Autumn Budget briefcase, the BEIS Committee called an oral evidence session to examine the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy. At the session, experts warned that the Government's willingness to rely on banking and borrowing from carbon budgets could put the goals of the Paris Agreement at risk.

Despite the improvements the Government is hoping to implement, the revelation that more than 2.5m disposable cups have been purchased by the UK's environment department for use in its restaurants and cafes over the past five years suggests that the all the walk is yet to match the talk.

Clearly there is room for improvement for parts of the decarbonisation process and innovations will only help. With that in mind, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.

The house that grass built

This week marked the official opening of the world’s first “Biological House”. The Een til Een company have been the leading force behind this self-proclaimed world first, which is based in Middelfart, Denmark.

The house was designed to investigate and demonstrate the viability of bio-based building materials. Agricultural residues – materials currently designated at waste – have been transformed into the building blocks of the house.

The Biological House uses upcycled products made from grass, straw and seaweed. It also uses screw piles instead of a carbon-intensive concrete base. This also means it can be removed without any trace or damage to the surrounding area.

No storms in this cup

The Chancellor’s plastic waste consultation announcement will likely source evidence from the ongoing coffee cup fiasco that sees less than 1% of the paper cups – fitted with plastic lining – recycled.

Solutions are making their way to market, and now Plastico claims to have designed the nation’s first ‘Closed Loop' compliant plastic cup. In collaboration with Closed Loop Environmental Solutions, Plastico launched its solution to the UK market.

The company invested £5m into its UK-based manufacturing facility to increase capacity to produce and recycle the cups. Each cup, which will be launched in January 2018, will see a monetary sum donated to the supply chain to improve the recycling and collection of Plastico cups. The company has similar arrangements in Australia with 7-Eleven and Qantas.

Voyage to greener seas

It’s a well-known fact that Richard Branson is passionate about the environment and this is rubbing-off on his company. Virgin Voyages recently released some renderings – or as they called it a “ship tease” – of a new cruise line they are hoping to put into service in 2020.

The cruise line was designed with sustainability in mind. Constructed by Fincantieri, the ship’s hull is designed to increase hydrodynamics to reduce fuel consumption. Virgin Voyages is also partnering with Swedish start-up Climeon to utilise heat-capturing technology that converts it to energy.

The company is exploring the option to integrate a system that would burn waste generated on the ship to produce energy. The ship will mainly compromise of LED lights and handrails will be created using aluminium instead of materials that have links to deforestation. A possible ban on plastic water bottles is also being discussed.

Volcanic disruption

Geoengineering is a hotly-contested concept to mitigate climate change. A Nature Communications study serves to highlight just how careful we have to be when approaching similar subject matters.

Scientists have tried to mimic volcanic eruptions to reduce climate impacts. It works by sending small particles or aerosols into the atmosphere to reflect and block sunlight, which would ideally help cool global rising temperatures.

The scientists examined what would happen if sulfuric aerosols were injected in the southern or northern hemisphere. While the southern study saw an increase in tropical storms in the Atlantic, it did reduce droughts across Africa. In the northern hemisphere, hurricanes were reduced, but droughts actually increased.

Don’t bet against Elon Musk

It would be a brave man to bet against Elon Musk. Tesla agreed a deal with South Australia ministers to install battery storage systems to combat blackouts that have been plaguing the area in recent years.

Musk was so confident in his company’s ability to solve the issue that he pledged to do in 100 days or do it for free. Well, Tesla has since installed the world's biggest battery within the 100-day timeframe. The system is connected to Hornsdale Windfarm near Jamestown.

The Powerpack system has a 100MW capacity and could supply and store enough power for more than 30,000 homes – roughly the same number that had been affected by the blackouts in the region. Testing will now take place to ensure it meets Government requirements before it comes operational in December.

Amazon’s piping hot water

Online retailer Amazon has pledged to deploy large-scale solar systems across 50 fulfillment and sortation centres globally by 2020, but its latest venture could be just as beneficial for the company’s low-carbon aspirations.

Amazon happens to be building a new campus in downtown Seattle which is just across from a 32-floor Westin Building Exchange, a building packed to the brim with server and computer hardware for internet companies. The building had been venting the heat into cooling towers in the city for an expensive cost.

But Amazon wants to purchase some of that heat to create a renewable heating system. Water will by placed in pipes throughout the Westin, which gather heat. This water is sent underground and pooled next to Amazon’s own water supply. Heat is exchanged between the two sources and Amazon then transfers this heat over the campus. It provides around 75% of all heating and is four times more efficient than current HVAC systems.

Matt Mace


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