Climate-proof wine and energy-harvesting bracelets: the best green innovations of the week
In a huge week for the UK Government's industrial legacy, edie rounds up the latest low-carbon technologies and innovations that could shift the globe towards a prosperous low-carbon transition.
If the past seven days have proved anything, it’s that when push comes to shove the Government will act. After three trips to court, the UK Government finally published the long-awaited Air Quality Plan, which includes a ban on all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 and a £255m fund to help councils crack down on emissions.
The phase-out on new diesel and petrol vehicles arrives as big players in the automotive industry make their moves in the emerging electric vehicle (EV) market. Disrupters Tesla will announce its highly-anticipated Model 3 later today (28 July). In the UK, BMW confirmed that Oxford would act as a central hub for the rollout of an electric Mini.
The announcement was described as a “vote of confidence” for the UK’s Industrial Strategy, which also set foundations for new energy storage research. Business Secretary Greg Clark has announced details of the first phase of a four-year £246m investment into battery technology.
It appears that EVs and energy storage will be front a central to the UK’s low-carbon transition, but that isn’t to say that other areas wouldn’t benefit from disruptive new concepts. With that in mind, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.
Sense and printability
Water scarcity has been highlighted as a global crisis, without considering that access to water still has to deal with contamination issues. A fully-integrated water monitoring system has been too expensive to explore, and current methods only test water levels periodically at limited points throughout a system.
However, researchers at the University of British Columbia have developed a 3D-printed solution that places small-scale water sensors that are cheap to produce and can collect real time data. Because the sensors are made using 3D printers, the costs of manufacturing become much quicker and cheaper.
The sensors gather data measurements on pH, temperature, chlorine levels and can detect pathogens and contaminants. These measurements are then sent wirelessly to a central system. Even if one sensor fails, others will keep working as part of a cluster system, meaning they can be deployed through a water network and distribution system.
We have bracelets that can measure steps, calories burnt and even carbon tracking. It appears the next step is to wear bracelets that harvest the energy of your movements to power batteries of wearable tech or smartphones.
Researchers at Chongqing University of Technology and the China Academy of Engineering Physics in Sichuan have designed a bracelet that can harvest the biochemical energy from wrist movements, to be converted into electricity.
The bracelet uses electromagnetic induction, with conductive copper coils winding around an inner shell inside the bracelet. In the inner shell, magnets rotate around the bracelet in response to wrist movements. As the magnets pass through the coils, the bracelet is capable of creating an average power of more than 1 milliwatt based on the speed of wrist movement.
A glass from the ancient times
Climate change has heightened the need for new agricultural practices in the production of coffee, with crops failing to adapt to altering eco-systems. The same can be said of the wine industry, where increased temperatures are leading to earlier harvests and potential lack of growth.
For some, a world without wine isn’t worth thinking of, but for winery Bodegas Torres – located an hour outside of Barcelona – this world may never happen. The winery is researching the potential of revived regional wine varieties that are capable of growing in hotter drier climates.
The Atlantic explains how these ingredients were mixed with certain rootstocks to fit disease hundreds of years ago. Now in collaboration with France’s National Agricultural Research Institute, these ancient varieties are being explored in a greenhouse, with some able to ripen just before winter and retain high-levels of water. The future of a secure wine industry could potentially be found in the past.
No need for a brake with Nissan
While many car manufacturers are introducing concepts that negate the need for driving, Nissan has introduced a transitional feature that eases driving rather than removing it completely. The company has added the e-Pedal to new Nissan Leaf models, which enables users to drive and stop using one pedal.
When a driver pushes down on the e-Pedal the car accelerates, but when they ease up on the brake and remove their foot completely, the car slows and stops. Nissan claims that the pedal can cover 90% of basic driving needs and is particularly well suited to heavy traffic or city commutes.
It is considered a first for EVs. While easing the accelerator in traditionally-fueled vehicles slows the engine down, manufacturers have put regenerative breaking into EVs so the car will brake when you release the pedal. This can also generate electricity from wheel movements, so the e-Pedal could help with consumer attitudes towards EVs in that sense.
My spider dress sense is tingling
The textile supply chain is a web of complexity. Issues surrounding human rights are difficult enough to track, so the fact that a host of fashion brands are caught up in toxic chemical supply chains makes corporate sustainability that much harder.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge may have a solution. The researchers have developed what they call an “eco-friendly” method of producing synthetic spider silk that can act support stress in a similar fashion to synthetic silks, without the need for chemicals in the production process.
Unveiled earlier this month, the silk is spun from hydrogel – which is made up of 2% silica and cellulose and 98% water. Once the silk is drawn out the water evaporates leaving tiny strands. The researchers will now explore the potential of weaving the silk into products.
Feasting on a bed of bamboo
As we venture into August, all eyes turn to the sky to see if the weekend can be spent huddled around a barbeque. For some, it’s a simple as buying an aluminium grill and heading to the beach, the downside being that these can take 400 years or so to breakdown if they end up in landfill. Considering England’s recycling rates, it’s likely that they will.
Instead, consumers could purchase a CasusGrill, a bio-degradable, one-use grill around the same size as a pizza box. Once it has been fitted together, the grill cooks hot enough for an hour before it is thrown away or buried.
It is made from recycled cardboard, which is protected from the flames by a layer of rocks. A flat-layer of bamboo charcoal provides the flames to cook, and the grate above is also made from bamboo. The spacing of the box also means less charcoal is used, which helps a little because charcoal grills are worse than gas ones for the environment.