Insect burgers and energy storage trains: the best green innovations of the week

In an electrifying week for the transport sector, edie rounds up the latest low-carbon technologies and innovations that could help to accelerate the global shift towards a prosperous low-carbon future.

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

With transportation lagging behind on the low-carbon transition, numerous business actions have highlighted that progress is coming thick and fast to decarbonise how we travel. To incentivise the move away from diesel vehicles, for example, Ford became the latest high-profile car manufacturer to offer a scrappage scheme for older, more polluting vehicles.

A £2,000 discount may be appealing for some, but electric vehicles still need to convert a mass audience. The private sector seems to be on board at least, with Royal Mail agreeing to trial nine large commercial electric vehicles (EVs) to deliver mail across London and the South East.

German car manufacturer Volkswagen (VW) announced that an electric version of the iconic Microbus model will go on sale in five years' time, while more than 100 UK organisations have pledged to make EVs account for at least 5% of their fleets by 2020.

EVs won’t have a monopoly on the future transport market, with other fuels, such as hydrogen, also attracting interest. This week, a British manufacturer launched a new hydrogen additive technology that can reportedly reduce engine emissions by as much as 80%.

Even changing public transport habits can improve the carbon efficiency of travel. A major shift in travel habits among people travelling across the Scottish border has saved almost 700,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.

While signs are promising, progress needs to be accelerated – and not just in the transport sector, but across all ways of life. And with all of that in mind, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package for you to enjoy.

Do you want flies with that?

Diets can have a big impact on emissions. Numerous studies have called for a reduction in meat and dairy consumption, due to the carbon intensity of livestock farming. In an effort to find a more sustainable source of protein, Switzerland has taken a bold step.

Earlier this year, the nation became the first European country to allow the sale of insect-based foods for human consumption. Now Swiss supermarket Coop has introduced a new range of burgers and balls made from mealworms.

Developed by Swiss start-up Essento, and with support from Europe’s largest climate innovation platform Climate-Kic, the new products have been designed to highlight a more resource and environmentally-friendly way to source animal protein. Insect foods are already a delicacy in other continents and are finally making inroads in Europe.

Sealing the city of angels

Climate change is exacerbating the heat-island effect, increasing urban temperatures and adding to heat-related deaths. Los Angeles, where temperatures can hit 40 degrees Celsius, is attempting to reduce the temperature of its streets to improve the energy efficiency of the city.

Los Angeles’ Mayor wants to reduce average city temperatures by three degrees in the next 20 years, but with each year seemingly hotter than the last it will be no easy task. One solution the city has turned to is coating streets in the CoolSeal substance, which is a grey coating that reflects solar rays to cool the temperature of the surface.

First trialled on a parking lot in the San Fernando Valley, CoolSeal will be sprayed on streets in 14 of the city’s 15 council districts at a cost of $40,000 each mile. The product lasts seven years and is said to reduce surface temperatures by 10 degrees. The trialists hope that this will reduce the use of air conditioning in the areas, to save on energy use and costs.

La La Land, another day in the sun’s heat

For some, $40,000 per mile is a bit too pricy, but that doesn’t mean they have to swelter in the summer heat. Coolala is currently raising funds on Kickstarter, to commercialise a portable, solar powered air conditioning unit.

Suitable for indoor and outdoor use, the Coolala is only 16 inches by 3.5 inches by 12 inches, meaning it is easy to transport. It comes fitted with a built-in LED lamp for night-time use and the power station equipped means that other devices can be charged through the system.

The cooling area of the AC unit covers 150 square feet, with a single charge working for between six to eight hours. The unit can also connect to a 100-watt solar panel to ensure that the energy used to cool a room or space is clean and cool. The first shipments are scheduled for June 2018.

Alexa, how edible are brown avocados?

Food waste generates $940bn in global economic losses and much of the problem lies with addressing household waste. In the UK alone, the public throws away 1.4 million edible bananas every day, but the rise in smart technology is seeking to limit food waste.

Lots of apps offer recipe ideas for the waste-conscious, but finally a mainstream option has emerged. Amazon’s Alexa smart device can now answer questions and assist users on storing and salvaging food instead of discarding it into bins.

The Natural Resources Defence Council, in partnership with the Ad Council, recently added the skill set for Alexa and the Echo device. The instalment is built to match the NRDC’s Save the Food Campaign. Users can ask Alexa the best ways to store food and whether an item is safe to eat based on appearance and use-by date.

Cactus jack of all trades

Not only is the cactus a national icon in Mexico, it is also used in food, drink, medicine and domestic products. While the inner part of the cactus is the figurative apple to an innovator’s eye, researchers are now finding a market for the prickly outer layer.

Previously discarded as waste, the spines of the cactus are now being used in biogas generation near the Milpa Atla cactus market, which produces 200,000 tonnes of cactus produce annually, with around 3,600 tonnes going to waste.

Start-up Suema developed the plant, which will ultimately produce 175kwh of energy from cactus discards, with some set aside for compost. The $840,000 project is backed by the Mexico City government and once at full capacity in November will produce 45,000 gallons of biogas and one tonne of compost.

How to train your energy storage system

The efficiency of renewables ultimately depends on an ability to store the energy for times of need and demand. The intermittent nature of wind and solar coupled with the infancy of storage makes this balance a difficult one to fully explore.

But California-based start-up Advanced Rail Energy Storage (Ares) claims that gravity and repurposed train and rail cars can offer better cost and environmental benefits compared to traditional energy storage techniques.

Ares’s solution works in a similar fashion to regenerative braking in EVs. During periods of excess renewable output, surplus energy is used to power a repurposed, electric locomotive, to haul railroad cars up a hill. But this energy isn’t wasted as during periods of less energy, the railroad cars roll back down the hill, turning potential energy into kinetic by powering onboard generators through the movement of the carts, which can then be funnelled back into the grid. The company claims that the cycle offers no degradation, emits nothing and uses no water.

Matt Mace


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