Coffee cups from coffee beans and reusable rockets: the best green innovations of the week
In a week of big corporate pledges, edie rounds up the low-carbon and resource-efficient innovations that could shape the future.
Another week in 2018 and another case of plastics being at the forefront of business actions. Dunkin' Donuts has committed to stop using polystyrene foam cups by 2020, a move which the company claims could remove nearly one billion foam cups from the waste stream each year. Elsewhere, Eurostar is planning to halve the amount of plastics it uses in just two years.
Even MPs are getting in on the act. More than 100 of them, including Environment Secretary Michael Gove, have pledged to reduce single-use plastic consumption within their local constituencies.
However, not everything is rosy in UK Government, with attempts at addressing and implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) labelled "a total fail" by the chair of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) Mary Creagh.
Away from business and policy, universities have taken huge strides to embrace the low-carbon future. Many, including Edinburgh and SOAS London, have divested away from fossil fuels, while the likes of Bournemouth and Winchester have implemented behaviour change measures to reduce carbon emissions.
So as public, private and policy sectors all embrace sustainability at different speeds, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.
Don’t panic, Starman
If there’s one man who dominated the front pages this week, it’s Elon Musk. Chief executive of both Tesla and SpaceX, Musk lived-out a long-held vision of his earlier this week, by rocketing his own Tesla Roadster into space.
The Roadster acted as a ballast on the very first Falcon Heavy test flight, igniting from the same launchpad that brought men to the moon many years ago. While the launch is a key milestone in Musk’s mission to get people to Mars, the project did have some resource benefits.
While the rocket wasn’t exactly fuelled by mustard seeds, two of its three reusable boosters returned safely back down to earth. By recycling rockets, Musk believes he can keep costs of his Falcon heavy rocket to around $90m. In comparison, the launch of the Delta IV heavy, operated by the United Launch Alliance, costs around four times that amount.
The finnishing touches
Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipilä has called for the country to increase its use of renewable energy to more than 50% during the 2020s, while targeting self-sufficient operations and districts. A new smart grid launched in the country has taken a huge stride towards these aims.
The LEMENE smart grid is being led by energy firm Lempäälän Energia and has embedded an array of technologies that will make a Finnish business district self-sufficient. A renewable energy system, specifically a 4MW solar array, has been hooked up with fuel cell technology to improve the district’s energy efficiency.
An 8MW biogas engine and battery storage will act alongside two combined heat and power (CHP) systems to provide power, storage and flexibility for the self-sufficient district energy solution. The project is one of 11 key energy projects to receive a share of €39.7m in investment aid from the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.
Full of beans
Plastics may be the key waste issue of 2018, but that hasn’t meant that the recyclability, or lack of, paper coffee cups has been ignored. A proposed ‘latte levy’ has seen retailers look to alternatives and this latest one could tackle two birds with one stone.
Wasbeans is a re-usable coffee cup made with waste from spent coffee grounds. It uses biocomposite technology – a fusion of plant and plastics that can be upcycled in waste streams to reportedly reduce carbon emissions and save money.
Developed by Cambond, the cups are available for b2b use and an “individual style” for customers. The company claim that the Wasbeans are “entering the final stages of production” and could be launched to UK markets in Autumn 2018.
A real peel meal
With climate change wreaking havoc on crops in developing countries, scientists in Japan have come up with a way to freeze bananas and make it so that the peel is also edible. The company behind the Mongee Banana claim that it is a natural occurrence, with no genetically modified additives.
As well as being pesticide free, the peels contain more sugar, magnesium, vitamin BG and sugar than traditional bananas, which have thicker peels. Mongee Bananas are only available in 10-banana batches but D&T Farm – the company behind the revelation – is hoping to bring more banana farmers on board.
The process works by using freeze thaw awakening, which sees banana trees kept in temperatures of around – 60C, before replanting them in tropical conditions with temperatures of around 26C. As National Geographic explained the banana “matures” before the skin does, creating a thin and edible peel.
Screen in the genes
Research from the University of Florida has found a way to replace ultraviolet blocking, but environmental damaging, chemicals in sunscreen. A key ingredient to sunscreen is shinorine, which is traditionally obtained – and with much difficulty – from harvesting algae. Scientists have claimed that this contributes to coral bleaching and marine life degradation.
While alternatives to sunscreen are in development, the replacement of shinorine has proved a major stumbling block. However, the new research has skipped round this issue by inserting the genes that produce shinorine into types of bacteria.
The researchers found that inserting the genes into bacteria created a breeding ground that can produce the necessary ingredient in large quantities. In fact, when scientists ran the process, the production of shinorine replicas increased tenfold.
The waste race heats up
With waste and resource efficiency a constant amongst the news headlines, it is perhaps fitting that Dubai has now announced plans to build the world’s largest waste-to-energy facility in the world. Numerous outlets have announced that the government plans to build the facility, which will handle around two million tonnes of waste annually.
The waste-to-energy facility is expected to treat around 5,000 metric tonnes each day and will be built on five acres of land. Switzerland-based waste technology firm Hitachi Zosen Inova and construction firm BESIX (based in Belgium) are partners on the project.
The plant will account for 60% of the waste produced in Dubai annually and with a 185MW capacity, will generate enough power for around 120,000 homes. Construction is scheduled within the next few months and could come online by 2020, when a similar project in China – at around 205MW capacity - is scheduled for completion, so the race is on.