Litter-picking crows and solar farms in a box: the best green innovations of the week

In a week of innovative announcements for the UK green economy, edie rounds up the low-carbon and resource-efficient innovations that could shape the 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

The publication of the long-awaited Clean Growth Strategy seems to have set the wheels into motion for the green economy. For example, businesses can now receive a kWh performance guarantee for solar fittings. A tailor-made insurance was developed for Dutch-based firm Autarco from international insurance specialist Lloyd’s of London.

Elsewhere, a host of businesses, politicians and local organisations from across Greater Manchester are aiming to save money and energy through support of a pioneering new campaign to switch to 100% renewable energy.

In anticipation of the gradual phase-out of older, higher emitting diesel vehicles, energy giant Shell has opened a range of rapid charging service systems across its UK petrol stations. This was swiftly followed by the UK’s Automated and Electric Vehicle Bill, which will require petrol stations and motorway services to install charging infrastructure.

In a world first, a floating windfarm off the Scottish coast started delivering electricity to the Scottish power grid this week, and will utilise an innovative battery storage system to provide power for around 20,000 households.

But if the green economy is on a roll, it will still need to be directed by technologies that can capture the benefits of new transport, renewable energy and the circular economy. With that in mind, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.

Magnetic subtraction

The electric vehicle (EV) revolution is well underway, but price barriers and charging anxiety still need to be overcome. For people that can’t afford an EV, systems can be introduced to lower emissions of older vehicles.

One such solution is provided by Sustainable Flow, which has just had results back from independent tests on its innovative engine magnet system. Supported by Halfords of Eyre Street in Sheffield, cars that trialled the system reduced emissions by up to 69.9%, and recorded fuel savings of up to 10%.

Cars up to nine years old were tested and were all positively impacted by the magnet system, which is available for all car models and can be fitted at more than 3,500 UK garages. The system installs three hi-tech ceramic magnets onto the air, coolant and fuel lines of the engine to lower fuel viscosity and improve fuel combustion.

Carbon negative is a stone’s throw away

Energy-intensive sectors have a battle on their hands to align to the goals of the Paris Agreement, but Climeworks has just made a huge breakthrough for plant operators, although you will need unlimited access to volcanic and basaltic rock.

Climework’s geothermal plant in Iceland became the first to achieve negative carbon emissions through direct air capture. The CO2 is captured by the plant and cleaned by mixing it with water and injecting it underground where it transforms into minerals in two years.

The plant itself is still at a pilot scale and can capture 50 metric tonnes of CO2 from the air annually. Working with Global Thermostat, the group can coat plastics and ceramics with a CO2-absorbing chemical. Climeworks is working to bring the costs of the system down to about $100/MtCO2e.

What’s in the box?

Solar PV is an established technology that has been aided by falling costs. Now manufacturers are attempting to add another benefit by offering falling installation times. That’s because one of the largest manufacturers of solar products in the world has unveiled an “out of the box” solar farm.

GCL System Integrated Technology is offering the 2.5MW Solar Block to consumers, and the first sale was used as part of a 5MW project in Australia, which will be built in just four months. The aim of the Solar Block is to lower the speed and cost of the deployment for solar projects, which can be fitted like a jigsaw onto larger plants.

The “box” comes with either a single or fixed axis system, 96 425W solar panels and two inverters. The box itself is actually a shipping container, and documentation from GCL claims that the cells will generate a 10-30% efficiency gain based on location.

A flare for the pragmatic

While rolling solar out of a box is a great way to speed up installation, so is simply sticking the solar panels onto a building. Sunflare has been in these round ups before, but recently received IEC certification for  their solar panels, which can be cut and fitted into any shape and attached to a roof via specialty roofing tape.

Sunflare fits each cell with a QR code that records every manufacturing step for the conditions of the panel during construction. Sunflare hopes the panels will be available and affordable for applications ranging from remote villages without electricity to large buildings in urban cities.

The panels were recently used on a house in Malaga, which also recovered windows and building materials from the side of the roads and from fallen trees. The panels were customised to the house and are 65% lighter in weight than traditional solar panels.

Wings and butts

Around 4.5 trillion cigarettes are thrown away annually, and while behaviour change campaigns are attempting to improve how people dispose of their cigarette butts, a Dutch-based start-up is trying to implement a different solution, by training crows to pick up the cigarettes in exchange for food.

CrowdedCities is developing a prototype that takes crows on a four-phase training system to become waste vigilantes. Firstly, a machine places a peanut next to a cigarette butt so the bird learns to expect food. From here, food only arrives if the bird arrives at the machine, which teaches it how to operate the “CrowBar”.

After completing this phase, the machine only offers the cigarette butt to the crow, and won’t release food until it drops the butt into a dispenser. It is hoped the crow will start collecting from nearby areas to exchange them for food, which is phase four. As cigarettes consist of toxic chemicals, the health of the crows will be monitored.

Bee-n to the year 3000

Anyone walking around the streets of Bristol could spot the UK’s first food waste collection vehicle that also runs on commercial food waste. Operated by GENeco, the Bio-Bee is being used as an alternative to diesel-powered RCVs and HGVs by running on biomethane.

Bio-Bee collects and recycles food waste in the area and the Boston Tea Party and St Monica Trust care homes are among the first companies in Bristol to utilise the service. GENeco claims that if Bristol recycled all food waste generated by city residents, the Bio-Bee could run every day until the year 3000.

Food waste is collected by the vehicle and brought back to GENeco’s anaerobic digestion plant in Bristol. Plastic is removed from the waste, and the food is pasteurised before being fed into the plant. The biogas produced is used for renewable electricity or converted into enriched biomethane and fed into the gas grid to be used as fuel by Bio-Bee.

Matt Mace


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