Geothermal England and solar trains: the best green innovations of the week

In a week that highlighted alarming environmental trends, edie rounds up the latest low-carbon technologies and innovations that could shift the globe towards a prosperous low-carbon 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

School is out for an increasingly-hot summer, but it seems that the population still hasn’t learnt from past lessons. This week it was revealed the world's largest mining companies are producing up to $16bn in unnecessary emissions costs in their value chain.

We are also at the point where plastics are nearing “permanent contamination of the natural environment”, after it was revealed that humans have produced 8.3bn tonnes of plastic since the 1950s, the majority of which is ending up in landfill or polluting the world's continents and oceans.

The need for national governance and guidance has never been more pressing. But the continued delay of a long-term strategy to decarbonise the UK has been labelled as “deplorable” by Labour's Shadow Energy & Climate Change Minister.

Fortunately, we’re capable of change. A prime example is emerging in the business sphere, where Pringles and Lucozade – once the “villains” of the circular economy – are finally taking steps to promote resource efficiency.

Elsewhere, the world's largest investor and one of the largest private infrastructure investments in Scotland have both shown the economic incentives to turn to renewables.

Hopefully some of this money is funnelled towards innovations that can accelerate the low-carbon transition. With that in mind, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.

A new system for cisterns

Water scarcity is fast-becoming one of the global crises of our time. In areas like the Middle East it is a business imperative to lower water use, which Premier Inn managed to do in Abu Dhabi. But, with more than 1,500 new hotels under construction in the US and UK alone, new ways of tackling water consumption need to come to the forefront.

Fortunately, directors Graham Kelly and David Davis of UK building services G&H Group have created Encore, a cistern that uses gravity to flush toilets using condensate from air conditioning. The two claim that the method is the “most environmentally friendly cistern available”.

Using gravity, instead of electric pumps, to feed 12 litres of condensate water into the cistern, Encore could save each UK hotel 1.92m litres of water a year. In the US, this figure rises to 4.7bn litres collectively, and 2.4bn litres for hotels under construction in the Middle East. The 12 litres of water are complimented by a bottom chamber, which holds six litres from the mains pipe.

Diesel gets swept away

The irony of many street-cleaner vehicles is that while they are removing rubbish from the streets, they normally run on diesel and pollute the air as a result. However, in the northern Netherlands village of Hoogezand, streets are being cleaned using a zero-pollution, upgraded vehicle that runs on hydrogen.

Formerly diesel-powered, the machine has been fitted with a hydrogen fuel cell by Dutch firm Holthausen in agreement with the municipality of Groningen. The vehicle’s drive system has also been electrified by Finnish manufacturer Visedo and can now run for 1.5 days on a single hydrogen charge, emitting nothing but water.

The vehicle is also around 50% quieter than a diesel model. Due to the impressive results, several Dutch cities such as Rotterdam and Amsterdam have expressed an interest in converting vehicles. The model could soon show up in Vatican City as well, which has also requested information on the project.

The perfect storm…of solar, wind and hydrogen

Speaking of hydrogen, a $5.25m boat set sail on a round-the-world voyage this week, using solar, wind and an innovative hydrogen electrolysis system to power the journey. The Energy Observer has embarked on a six-year voyage, which will see the boat make more than 100 stops across 50 countries.

With the electric shipping market set to reach $20bn by 2027, the Energy Observer will highlight the potential of zero-carbon, high-seas travel to the world. Dubbed the “Solar Impulse of the seas”, the boat uses 130 square metres of solar panels and two large wind turbines to power itself. At night, an electrolysis system extracts hydrogen from sea water and stores it onboard in a tank to provide extra power.

The catamaran is actually a 34-year old former racing vessel, and also comes with a kite sail to pull the vessel along in high winds, reducing the amount of energy needed to generate power. The six-year voyage is deliberately slow, so that researchers on board can examine and explain the potential of the catamaran to the nations it stops at.

A streetlight named desire

The rise in electric vehicles is yet to be matched at pace by charging infrastructure. Uber has rolled out its own London-based charging initiative to combat a lack of charging systems in the city, but so far new innovations are slow to arrive to the market.

Streetlights connected to electricity networks in Kensington and Chelsea now act as charge points for electric vehicles (EVs), but these are in small numbers. However, the German firm behind the scheme, Ubitricity, is adding “SimpleSockets” to existing street lamps in the area.

The SimpleSockets allow EV owners to use a SmartCable to plug vehicles into the streetlights, which have surplus energy after being converted to LED versions. A box has also been added which tells Ubitricity how much charge has been used, which is then immediately billed to the user.

Cornwall’s geothermal calling

Iceland’s influence on England is moving beyond the football clap that made waves at Euro 2016. It appears that England is mirroring Iceland’s efforts to source low-carbon energy by turning to geothermal production.

While Cornwall doesn’t have volcanic activity compared to Iceland, a variety of hot granite located underground makes the area a viable place to produce geothermal energy. A regional, £18m United Downs Deep Geothermal Power project near Redruth has already secured £13m in public funding to explore the potential.

Earlier this week, crowdfunders Abundance launched a bond to raise the final £5m needed to kickstart the UK’s first commercial geothermal plant. Investors will receive a 12% interest on the bond over 18 months, and if successful the plant will have a capacity of 1-3MW.

Trainspotting is easier in the sunshine

India has ramped-up clean energy commitments in recent years to combat air quality levels and become a low-carbon leader. Last week, the nation’s Indian Railways launched its first train fitted with rooftop solar panels.

Operating across Delhi, the trains will have fans, lighting and display systems powered by renewables in a move that could save more than 5,500 gallons of diesel annually. Indian Railways has also confirmed that solar panels will be fitted on 24 other trains over the next six months.

A smart MPPT inverter allows the trains to be powered by solar during the night, and the panels will reduce emissions by nine metric tonnes per coach annually. In total, 16 solar panels are on each coach, creating a 4.5kw capacity. The system also benefits from a battery system to store excess energy generated during optimal conditions to help with the night-time powering.

Matt Mace


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