Off-grid recycling plants and energy from tears: the best green innovations of the week

In a week of bold business pledges, edie rounds up the low-carbon and resource-efficient innovations that could shape corporate sustainability in 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

It appears that businesses have woken from the usual summer lull to fully embrace sustainability this week. August and September are usually slow months, as businesses work behind the scenes to add the final touches to big announcements. This week, the announcements arrived in a flurry.

Clothing giant Target has set a new goal to source 100% sustainable cotton by 2022 for its owned and exclusive national brands, and food and agricultural company Cargill is aiming for zero deforestation as part of an updated its sustainable cocoa sourcing strategy to align with the aims of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It seems we can’t go a week without a big announcement in the auto-industry and this week is no exception. Nissan will trial and assess microgrid systems across Europe in 2018, to examine how local communities can gain access to sustained energy sources. Elsewhere, General Motors (GM) outlined a vision for an all-electric fleet.

A breakthrough was also made in the competitive world of retail. Asda and the Co-op have taken collaborative action to drive supply chain efficiencies by aligning the environmental data they request from mutual suppliers.

But as corporate ambitions grow, so must the technology that enables them to venture out on new frontiers. With this in mind, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.

A different kind of benchmark

As part of its City of Tomorrow vision, automotive giant Ford has partnered with start-up Strawberry Energy to offer pedestrians solar-powered mobile chargers in the form of public benches. The two companies will provide 20 Ford Smart Benches across London.

Around 20 of the benches from Strawberry Energy were rolled out earlier this year, and now Ford is adding its branding to drive interest. As well as enabling people to charge devices, the benches can monitor noise, carbon dioxide, humidity, and temperature.

Information will be available free of charge and users will have a chance to make a donation to UK charities St Mungo’s, Rethink Mental Illness and Macmillan Cancer Support, while they sit on the bench and charge devices.

Roll up for the rollout

Solar panels are a common occurrence on buildings, but now new ways to place them on the floor could provide an abundant source of renewable energy. UK firm Renovagen is aiming to do just that, and is trialling its solution on Flat Holm Island in Wales.

Cardiff City Council reached out to the company, which offers solar panels that unfurl like stretches of carpet, to provide energy for the tourist hotspot. Power was previously generated from solar panels and diesel generators.

The Rapid Roll Solar PV system utilises flexible solar panels unrolled from a trailer unit in two minutes. Capable of providing 11 kW of power, a larger version can also be unrolled from a shipping container in under an hour for 300 kW of power.

Designer gas-hion

As greenhouse gases go, carbon dioxide is the scapegoat, despite waste methane being 30 times more potent. Fortunately, companies are still examining ways to trap methane and one firm is using the gas to create materials for clothing and apparel.

The Mango Materials start-up uses waste methane to feed bacteria, which then produces a full-biodegradable polyester fibre. The resulting clothing can be composted after use, but even if it ends up in landfill and biodegrades the methane released can still be captured by the company.

Textile companies are testing the product, while Mango Materials is in talks with farms and dairy producers about methane capturing systems – where the clothing would ideally be sent to biodegrade.

Crying lightning

Sometimes a good old cry is needed to get everything out of your system and make you feel better. In the future, those tears could be used as a renewable energy source. Scientists from the Bernal Institute published findings in the Applied Physics Letters to explain how.

A protein found in tears, saliva and egg whites can actually produce a small electrical charge once pressure is applied to it. The protein, called lysozyme, could act as a nontoxic, organic approach to producing electricity, which researchers say would be useful in biomedical technology.

The Scientists turned the lysozyme into a powder, before adding it into a solution and placing it onto an electrode. Once it dried and crystallised, the researchers sandwiched it between another electrode and squeezed it to generate a small emitted charge.

Create from evaporate

If generating electricity from tears is someway off, generating it from water is a well-versed practice. However, researchers at Columbia University claim that harnessing the potential of evaporated water could create a huge supply of clean electricity.

Not only does the University claim that evaporated water from US dams and lakes could provide up to 2.85bn mwh of electricity annually, but that engines could act as a viable way to capture this energy.

Able to run night and day, prototypes can cover freshwater bodies, sheltered bays and irrigated fields to capture half the water lost to evaporation. The prototype is based on materials that shrink as they dry and are taped with bacterial spores.

Meet Trashpresso

Those strolling near Somerset House over the last few weeks may have seen a world first. The courtyard to the historic London site recently hosted the world’s first off-grid, industrial grade recycling plant.

Trashpresso is a solar-powered recycling plant that treats plastic bottles, transforming them into building tiles. The machine was created by Berlin and London-based furniture design company Pentatonic, which works with Starbucks to turn coffee waste into furniture items.

The plant was on display to highlight the feasibility of adding off-grid recycling solutions for areas that currently have no means to treat waste generated nearby. With numerous countries struggling with capacity issues, the off-grid solution is a timely introduction.

Matt Mace


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green innovation | technology

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Technology & innovation
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