CO2-eating bacteria and dead-fish fuel: 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.

This week's innovations could help to decarbonise shipping, house those living in slums and feed our livestock more sustainably

This week's innovations could help to decarbonise shipping, house those living in slums and feed our livestock more sustainably

 From Sadiq Khan’s plans to launch six new Ultra-Low Emission Zones for buses in London, to the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s (ECIU) assertions that renewables could meet half of the UK’s energy demand by 2030, several actions have been taken this week that will help companies build the business case for adopting low-carbon technologies.

And when striving to spur decarbonisation and to create a sustainable future, 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 six ideas, concepts, products and systems that could help nations and businesses accelerate sustainability commitments.

Bamboo-based homes

 

More than one-third of Manilla’s population currently lives in slum conditions. With the city set to expand, some experts predict that 2.5 million more people will relocate there by 2022 - the pressure is now on to deliver more housing in a sustainable way.

Among those rising to the challenge is 23-year-old Earl Patrick Forlales, who has designed a range of affordable and sustainable homes made from bamboo. Called CUBO, the dwellings cost £60 per square metre to build and can be constructed in four hours after a week-long manufacturing process.

Made from bamboo, making them biodegradable, and laminated using a biopolymer, making them ten times stronger than typical wood, the homes have tilted roofs which help to capture rainwater and minimise heat gain. They are also positioned on stilts, making them flood-resilient. Forales this week received first place in the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS) Cities for our Future competition for the innovation. As the winner, he has been given a £50,000 prize to help scale up production.

A boost for biopolymers

 

Sticking with the bamboo theme, this next innovation builds on the ongoing efforts to phase-out some types of plastics. The movement has seen corporates including Reebok and Lego move to incorporate bioplastics into their products in a shift away from fossil fuel-based materials. 

This week, eight technology, aerospace and plastics firms have collaborated to develop a new bio-sourced composite made from bamboo fibres. Called BAMCO, the material has been designed to replace the glass and plastic composites typically used in the manufacture of aircraft and spacecraft, mimicking these materials’ ability to absorb impact and withstand high and low temperatures.

The material is created by extracting long fibres from bamboo plants and using them to reinforce bioplastics created from other crops. While it is still in the prototype stage, researchers developing the innovation believe it will have applications in cabin interiors, aircraft cover panels and aircraft cladding.

Cruise ship fuel from dead fish 

 

According to a report by the European Parliament, the international shipping industry is currently responsible for about 2.5% of global CO2 emissions – but this proportion could rise to 17% by 2050 if the sector is left unregulated and without innovative solutions. The sector needs to spur itself towards the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) 2050 target of halving CO2 emissions from 2008 levels.

Among the firms taking an innovative approach to decarbonisation is cruise firm Hurtigen, which this week unveiled plans to trial a closed-loop fuel made from liquefied organic waste across its fleet of 17 cruise liners.

Called liquefied biogas (LGB), the fuel is produced by processing dead fish wasted from the fishing and animal feed industries, along with other organic waste, into a liquid oil. The oil is then heated until it reaches a gaseous state, and stored in canisters ready for combustion. The move comes after Hurtigen, which is in the process of investing $850m into green innovations by 2022, launched its first hybrid-electric ship earlier this year.

CO2-eating bacteria

 

Following the discovery of a “mutant” enzyme earlier this year, that breaks down plastic drinks bottles, a group of scientists have this week concluded that a group of bacteria they discovered on the seafloor are capable of “eating” CO2.

Researchers from the Lyell Centre for Earth and Marine Science and Technology at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh were exploring an area 4,000m below the ocean surface in the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCFZ) when they discovered a strain of bacteria that consumes CO2 and turns it into biomass. The biomass is then eaten by other deep-sea organisms.

The scientists have not yet been able to confirm how the bacteria undertake this transformation but estimate that 200 million tonnes of CO2 are currently fixed into biomass each year by this process, accounting for around 10% of the carbon that the world’s oceans sequester annually. Going forward, the team will work to ascertain how the CO2-to-biomass conversion is made and upscale this process using mechanised technology. They are also campaigning against seabed mining in the CCFZ, so as to preserve this natural carbon sink.

Waste-heat greenhouses

 

As the fruits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution continue to change how businesses operate within society, many companies are turning to blockchain to bolster energy security, make supply chains more sustainable and disclose their credentials to customers. But for all the buzz the platform is generating in the sustainability sphere, the fact is that mining cryptocurrency – another use of blockchain – now uses more than 70 TWh of energy worldwide each year, creating much waste heat in the process.

In a bid to mitigate this environmental impact, Canadian cryptocurrency mining operator Heatmine has developed a heat-capturing device that harvests waste heat from mining equipment and uses it to heat water, greenhouses and homes. The unit claims to provide up to 75,000 BTU of heat per hour - the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit – a rate which Heatmine claims is sufficient to heat a space of up to 300 sqm continuously.

The technology has already been implemented in several churches and greenhouses across Quebec, with users reporting a reduction in their heating bills by up to 100%. Heatmine claims the solution will transform Canada’s heating systems within the next five years, helping the nation’s electrified heat market to grow.

Resource-efficient animal feed

 

With the world’s population widely expected to grow to more than nine billion people by 2050, the pressure is now on agri-food businesses to develop ways of feeding an ever-growing number of people in a more sustainable way. Because 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production are related to feeding production and processing, Danish biotech company Novozymes has developed an enzyme which, when added to animal feed, enables chickens to absorb more nutrients from less product.

The product, called Balancius and intended for broiler chickens, is currently being trialled at more than 40 farms across the US and Latin America. Novozymes estimates that it improves “feed efficiency” by around 3% on average. In other words, a string of farms raising one million chickens would be able to save 125,000 tonnes of feed per year.

If the enzyme were to be added to all chicken feed across the two markets, Novozymes estimates that the production of 4.2 million tonnes of CO2e would be avoided every year by 2020. It is now trailing the product on pigs to see if further cost, resource and carbon savings can be gleaned in other meat markets.

Sarah George



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