Livestock simulators and typhoon turbines: the best green innovations of the week
In a week where the Paris Agreement became official, edie rounds up the latest low-carbon, resource efficient technologies and innovations that could thrive in a post-Paris world.
“Remember, remember 4 November” will be sung by children in the future. It isn’t that bonfire night has switched dates, but rather that once we wake-up on November 4 the Paris Agreement will have entered into force.
The European Union (EU), Canada, Bolivia and Nepal’s actions saw the world surpass the double threshold of needing 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions to officially ratify the deal. While it acts as a “historic moment”, leaders of the climate movement will be quick to ensure that action follows.
In fact, US President Barack Obama went as far to say that even if every nation delivers on its contributions to the Agreement, we’ll still be left with work to do. Fortunately the President can turn Leonardo DiCaprio – who interviewed Obama earlier this week – to provide the global population with a visual demonstration of climate impacts, through the launch of his new Before the Flood documentary.
Countries deserve praise for mobilising climate action, and while the UK has vowed to ratify the Paris Agreement before the end of the year, it’s two major political parties spent this week outlining ambiguous low-carbon plans that were big on promises, but low on specifics.
While the legacy established in Paris more than 10 months ago is finally bearing fruit, the French capital spent this week highlighting the rising prominence of electric vehicles (EV). The Paris Motor Show put manufacturers in the spotlight, as automotive giants such as Volkswagen and Renault highlighted the slick new future of EVs.
With the Paris deal finally ratified, what better way to celebrate than to put your feet up, have a drink – drink being the operative word for one of this week’s innovations – and relax, as edie pulls together the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.
We’ll drink to that!
We did mention that drink was the operative word. As the lukewarm British summer rolls into the knuckle-chilling dreariness of Autumn, people’s desire to stay fit dwindles a little. With Halloween, Christmas and Leonardo DiCaprio’s birthday all on the horizon, people are more inclined to raise a glass – or pint – in celebration.
Fortunately, American firm Patagonia is taking a break from putting environment back on the ballot to invest in Hopworks Urban Brewery, which claims to have developed an ale that not only reduces water use, but also captures carbon in the process.
The Long Root Ale uses a “super wheat” known as Kernza which can remain in the ground for years once planted. Not only does this reduce the need to use fertilizers and water to help it grow, but its deep roots can reduce soil erosion and can act as a carbon sink to remove emissions from the atmosphere.
A day in the livestock of
Virtual Reality (VR) is a phenomenon that is slowly seeping into the world of sustainability. Not only is Virgin Media using VR to improve interactivity with its CSR reports, but now researchers from the University of Georgia are using the concept to help people emphasise with the natural world.
As the Guardian reported, people are able to see the world through the eyes of cows set for the slaughter, or even a coral reef suffering from the impacts of ocean acidification, by using VR headsets.
It forms part of an overall study to see how the consequences of traditional consumption methods can be relayed back to consumers in a much more impactful way. According to the study, the more immersive the experience is for the individual, the more likely they are to connect with nature and alter behaviours as a result.
The atomic sandwich to satisfy computer appetite
VR may be picking up traction, but that isn’t to say that traditional computers are being left behind as part of a rapid adoption of “disruptive technology”. In fact, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory may have just developed a way to vastly lower energy consumption in older and traditional computers.
The Laboratory has developed a unique magneto-electric “multiferroic” material which layers atoms to produce thin layers of film that display electrical and magnetic properties and room temperature through a process known as planar rumpling.
These atomic sandwiches can be flipped from positive to negative with small pulses of electricity, and require much less power to read and write data compared to current semiconductor-based devices. It is believed that in the future, the multiferroic material could be embedded into computers that – as a result - would use 100 times less energy. With around 5% of global energy consumption attributed to electronics, the potential is enormous.
Smart soil for a smart farming technique
Urban expansion has now reached the point where farming methods – such as underground vegetable farms – are having to be integrated into cities to provide local food sources and increase the landmass that can be used for crops.
An innovative company named Click & Grow is aiming to make urban farming sustainable and affordable to individuals through its Wall Farm shelving framework. Not only does the concept allow for vertical farming to take place inside homes, it also uses NASA-inspired “smart soil” to grow crops.
The soil that the Wall Farm uses is fully-biodegradable and can keep oxygen, water, pH and nutritional levels and optimal points. The Wall Farm uses also used efficient grow lights and an electronic precision irrigation (EPI) system that reduces water use by 95% compared to traditional farming methods.
The winds of change are getting aggressive
The devastating effects of Hurricane Matthew are currently being felt in Haiti, highlighting the most severe impacts of climate change. The terrible impacts of hurricanes notwithstanding, the low-carbon transition is built on a foundation of harnessing energy from Mother Nature – which is exactly what a Japanese engineer intends to do.
The Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory estimates that one typhoon could generate energy equivalent to 50% of the world’s electrical generating capacity. Engineer Atsushi Shimizu hopes to harness this potential through typhoon-proof wind turbines that can withstand extreme wind forces.
Shimizu’s turbines do away with the windmill design, replacing the blades with a three pillars that rotate around a central axis to withstand the weather. This increase in stability does lead to a drop in efficiency – a normal wind turbine usually operates at around 40% efficiency compared to 30% of this model – but Shimizu believes that his turbines would be able to power Japan for 50 years with one typhoon.
They see me rolling, they planting
In the last 25 years, humans have removed 10% of the world’s remaining wilderness. Annually, around 12 million hectares are lost, which damages food production and create poverty across rural areas. With the world population continuing to grow, radical change in need to restore wildlife.
A new concept has emerged, based in the deserts of China, that would place a solar-powered “Desertscraper” into man-made deserts. The Desertscraper would then roll across the land and restore vegetation using produce grown in an adjacent in-house harm. The huge structure is filled with compost and water systems that would plant vegetation into the soil as an external frame comes into contact with the ground.
The Desertscraper would also be designed to improve the quality of the degraded soil as it moves, and can prune and ingest dead vegetation – which would prevent certain CO2 emissions. While it is only a design and unlikely to bear fruit – or vegetables – the Desertscaper highlights how clean energy and innovative infrastructure can be combined to tackle global issues.