Mine shaft energy storage and post-consumer packaging: the best green innovations of the week
In a week of business breakthroughs for sustainability, edie rounds up the low-carbon and resource-efficient innovations that could shape the future.
Love was in the air this week for Valentines Day, but it is the compassion that businesses are showing for the environment that stole hearts. Plastics continue to be the big talking point of 2018, and this week was no different, as the BBC announced it will launch a new "three-step plan" to remove single-use plastics from its operations by 2020.
Fashion retailer Primark launched its Global Sourcing Map this week, with the company’s ethical trade and environmental sustainability director telling edie that consumers were demanding more information on the sourcing practices of products.
Elsewhere, Carlsberg revealed it reduced carbon emissions by 16% in two years, driven by the elimination of coal as a fuel source at nine breweries in China. In regards to food and drink, an investor-led coalition worth $2.4trn has urged the likes of Unilever, Nestlé and Tesco to diversify their protein sourcing away from a reliance on animal proteins.
With businesses in a feel-good mood to tackle pressing global issues, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.
Another plog in the machine
Sometimes simplicity works best. In order to tackle growing amounts of litter, some communities have taken it upon themselves to solve the issue and all that is needed is a rubbish bag and workout clothes.
Plogging is the new fitness trend that is sweeping across Scandinavia, while also gaining traction in countries like Thailand and the UK. According to the Plogga website, community running groups are combining running with litter picking.
Joggers run select routes, equipped with rubbish bags, to pick up litter they see on the ground. According to the BBC, these ploggers get a workout from running, but also a core workout by squatting to grab discarded bottles, cans and other forms of waste.
Energy storage is seen as key to balancing the fluctuating supply and demand of energy needs. UK start-up Gravitricity is set to debut its unique version of a storage system. The company has secured £650,000 in government funding from Innovate UK.
Gravitricity’s system works by harnessing the power of gravity, using a 2,000-tonne weight that is suspended in mine shafts to capture power generated by renewables, like wind and solar. The old mine shafts then act as makeshift storage systems but would require less maintenance than expensive battery storage version.
The funding will be used to build a demonstrator of the technology, which could be unveiled later this year. The company will then search for a site to install a full-scale prototype by 2020. Gravitricity wants to build models ranging between 1 to 20MW, with each system running for 50 years.
Fighting for scraps
Resource efficiency is the big talking point for sustainability professionals in 2018, and the latest investment by ETF Partners – through a partnership with funds managed by Hermes – shows that firms are actively embracing the circular economy.
The investment firms have raised £70m to help E-Leather create a new manufacturing facility so that productions and operations can be massively scaled-up. E-Leather makes leather from scrap material, creating seating upholstery for airlines, and public transport operators.
Last year, E-Leather inked a deal with sports behemoth Nike to help them produce Flyleather – which consists of 50% recycled materials. E-Leathers production uses 90% less water and has a carbon footprint 80% lower than traditional sources. The new sit should become operational by 2019.
We eat to grow
Last week, the world watched as Space X successfully shuttled reusable rockets into space. It is part of an ongoing vision held by Elon Musk to send people to Mars, but this raises all sorts of questions about food supply.
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University believe they’ve got their hands on a solution; one which could also improve crop growth and wastewater treatment on Earth. The researchers have created a four-foot-long prototype mechanism that recycles astronaut faeces to enhance the growth of edible bacteria in a matter of days.
The bioreactor can break down human waste into salts and methane gas, which is then used to create protein-rich bacteria that is similar to Vegemite in consistency. NBC News notes that real faeces are yet to be tested, but the researchers are confident that the system could also be used in wastewater treatment facilities to create biogas and electricity.
Bending to our will
The quest for renewable, low-carbon energy is ever-present, and researchers from the University at Buffalo and the Chinese Academy of Sciences are working on a device that could one day allow people to charge devices at the click of a finger.
The researchers have created a 1.5cm long triboelectric nanogenerator that uses gold and polydimethylsiloxane to create electrical currents using friction. When the device is bent, simply by bending a finger that it is attached to, an electric charge is produced.
So far, the 1cm wide device has delivered a maximum voltage of 124 volts, alongside a maximum current of 10 microamps and a power density of 0.22 milwatts per sq cm. According to the researchers, this was enough to light 48 LEDs at the same time, so still someway off charging everyday appliances.
What a load of rubbish
With plastics now dominating new CSR pledges, it is refreshing to see some solutions enter the market. Last year, Ecover launched a limited-edition washing-up liquid bottle made from 50% ocean plastic, with a vision to use 100% recycled plastic in all bottles by 2020.
The company has since revealed that the vision is close to realisation, with the launch of a 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottle to be used by its core washing-up liquid range. The bottle is also 100% recyclable and launched across Europe and the UK earlier this year.
As well as featuring a transparent design, meaning it can be easily recycled back into clear PET bottles, the bottle also has a 70% lower carbon footprint compared to virgin, non-recycled plastic. Ecover also redesigned the caps to include less plastic, saving an estimated 14 tonnes of polypropylene plastic annually from the manufacturing process. Ecover’s head of long-term innovation Tom Domen will be speaking at edie Live. Click here for more details.