Mustard jet fuel and edible beer packaging: the best green innovations of the week
In a week of welcome business advances for the green economy, edie rounds up the low-carbon and resource-efficient innovations that could shape the future.
At first glance, the week will not be remembered fondly. Air pollution in London has reached the legal limit for the whole of 2018 less than a month into the year; although this is a significant improvement on previous years, which have taken less than a week to breach the levels.
However, at a business level, progress is evident. The number of top companies leading the way on tackling emissions on the supplier chain has doubled in the past year, while Aldi will reach out to suppliers to help reach a target to halve food waste by 2030.
Elsewhere, the Co-op has become the first retailer to develop a fully-biodegradable paper tea bag - removing all uses of polypropylene plastic as a result.
In the transport sector, BP will add rapid charging points for electric cars at its UK petrol stations within the next two months, while Nissan’s vehicle-to-grid (V2G) demonstrator project will target 1,000 installations over the next three years.
As businesses continue to launch new products and measures to promote sustainability, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.
Amazon’s rainforest reaches Seattle
In 2016, edie reported that Amazon was building three huge “biospheres” directly in front of its Seattle office buildings. The 100-foot tall domes would bring together more than 300 endangered plants to act as a carbon sink and a conservation dome.
Well the biospheres have officially opened, consisting of more than 2,000 glass panels, which reduce the production of excess heat and help provide sunlight to the botanical gardens in the domes. The idea is to “link to the natural world” and Amazon has fitted walkways and waterways to surround workers with nature.
“Our goal with The Spheres was to create a unique gathering place where employees could collaborate and innovate together, and where the Seattle community could gather to experience biodiversity in the centre of the city,” Amazon’s vice president of global real estate and facilities, John Schoettler added.
Paint the town white
With climate change exacerbating the heat-island effect, increasing urban temperatures and adding to heat-related deaths, cities like San Francisco have turned to innovative coating systems that reflect solar rays to cool temperatures and reduce energy use on cooling systems.
New research, led by ETH Zurich with support from the University of Tasmania, UNSW, CSIRO and the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has found that merely making buildings, roads and infrastructure lighter can help reduce urban temperatures by 2C to 3C.
The researchers aren’t talking about the weight of the buildings, but rather the colour. By coating infrastructure in lighter colours – ideally white – temperatures can be reduced. However, the researchers note that demand for land use for food production, carbon capture and biodiversity need to be considered before people get their paintbrushes out.
Biofuel: a must for aviation
The edie team noted that low-carbon jet fuel could be one of the big innovations of 2018, and less than a month into the year we may have been proven right. Earlier this week, a Qantas plane flew from Australia to the US using a biofuel partly blended from mustard seeds.
The 15-hour flight was powered using a fuel that was 10% sourced from the brassica carinata mustard seed. The seeds are industrial crops and can therefore be grown by farmers between crop cycles, meaning they don’t take up space for food production.
The Boeing Dreamliner 787-9 flew as a passenger service and the fuel reduced carbon emissions by 7% compared with the same flight between Melbourne to LA on traditional fuel. The company states that carinata biofuel can reduce emissions by 80% when compared to traditional fuel over a lifecycle assessment. In fact, one hectare of the crop can produce 400 litres of jet fuel, or 1,400 litres for grounded transport.
Krakow’s clean air tower
In 2015, the world's first ever smog-absorbing tower, designed to provide pockets of clean air in polluted cities, opened in the Netherlands. Designed by Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde, the 23-foot-tall air purifier called the Smog-Free Tower has since been unveiled in China.
This week, Roosegarde revealed that a new tower would open in Poland between February and April. Smog levels in Krakow can exceed safety limits by up to six times but the tower can clean more than 30,000 cubic metres of air each hour, using the same amount of electricity as a water boiler.
Roosegarde wants to take his innovation to Mexico City, Paris and Los Angeles. As well as cleaning the air, the tower can also turn the pollutants into jewellery. Each tower is able to produce smog-free diamond jewellery, which holds the equivalent of 1,000 cubic metres of clean air.
Coal sinks, solar swims
China has gone to great lengths to transition away from coal. With a study finding that pollution from coal caused around 366,000 premature deaths in the country in 2013, policymakers have charged ahead with plans to phase-out coal and plough money into low-carbon projects.
Fittingly, a solar project came online, floating on a lake that is actually a flooded, abandoned coal mine. The 166,000-panel array, capable of generating 40MW of power, came online recently and is the world’s largest floating solar farm.
While the farm is set to operate for 25 years, the Chinese Government has given the go-ahead for an even larger floating solar farm, set to come online in May 2018. Developed by China Three Gorges Corp, the $151m farm – located in the same region as the current record holder, will create more than 150MW to power 94,000 homes.
Beer today, gone tomorrow
It seems like this week has seen a lot of edie’s previous showcased innovations hit big milestones. The latest is SaltWater Brewery, located just north of Miami, which designed a concept for edible six-pack rings made from waste barley and wheat remnants that are leftover during the brewing process.
By partnering with NY-based ad agency We Believers, the brewery has developed a mechanism that “instead of killing animals, feeds them". The company is finally ready to rollout its solution to the plastics pollution problem, after working with start-up E6PR on the compostable six-pack rings.
The product is technically edible, and animals can consume the product with no problem, but human consumption is not advised. SaltWater brewery is now attempting to make the next batch by brewing waste-by products from a production facility that is set to open in Mexico later this year.