Panda solar farms and self-charging cars: the best green innovations of the week

In a week of reflection on numerous corporate sustainability reports, edie rounds up the latest low-carbon technologies and innovations that could enable businesses to hit ambitious new corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals.

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 was made abundantly clear this week that the private sector is aggressively pushing towards the low-carbon transition. Numerous companies released their latest CSR reports to outline how they’ve progressed towards their idea of low-carbon society.

Coca Cola European Partners are now three-quarters of the way along their journey to source 100% renewable energy, while personal care consumer product manufacturer Kimberly-Clark has surpassed a 2016 emissions goal, and is forging ahead towards a 20% reduction by 2022.

Both the Canary Wharf group and The Body Shop unveiled expansions to key corporate pillars, green buildings and bio-bridges respectively, and Volvo signalled its intentions to become an all-electric car manufacturer by 2019.

Arguably the most innovative way to announce the latest progress came from Virgin Media. The company used its social media channels and GIFs to spread to the key messages of its report in a “timeless” manner.

Whatever way the message is sent, it is clear; the world's leading organisations in the next decade will be defined by their ability to integrate sustainability into their core business model. At least that’s the view of strategy consultancies Globescan and SustainAbility.

Whatever companies are at the forefront over the next 10 years, they will have to place innovation at the heart of their strategy and operations. With that in mind, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.

Panda-ring to trends

Could we be entering an age where solar farms don’t just provide businesses with renewable energy, but also with marketing options? After all, a 22-acre solar facility arranged in the shape of Micky Mouse's head was unveiled at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando last year.

A rival for the most innovatively shaped solar farm award, unofficial of course, has appeared in China, which was connected to the grid by the aptly-named Panda Green Group last week. The plant has an output of 50MW but once the plant is complete – which means adding another panda-shaped array – it will double to 100MW.

In 25 years’ time, it is hoped the farm will have an output of around 3.2bn kwh of renewable solar energy. It forms part of a UN Development Programme (UNDP) aiming to promote renewables to China’s youth. The farm will host a summer camp in partnership with the UNDP and Panda Green Energy next month to educate teenagers.

She sells circles by the seashore

Last year, the Mayor of New York joined the Department of Environmental Protection to kickstart the largest installation of breeding oysters in New York City; using porcelain salvaged from 5,000 toilets as the breeding ground.

The Gulf Coast region of the US accounts for 67% of oysters consumed in the country, and current disposal methods of the shells have been to send them to landfill. Last October, the Alabama Coastal Foundation (ACF) and waste management firm Republic services launched an oyster-shell recycling programme.

Recently scaled-up to involve 29 restaurants, collected oyster shells are now returned to the ocean to act as restored oyster beds. The programme has diverted more than 2.8 million oyster shells away from landfill, and the restored shells can filter water quality in the oceans that have been destructed by natural disasters.

Roman walls don’t fall in a day

A development that normally would’ve taken five years to occur under current temperature rises, took just two years between November 2014 and February 2016. El Nino helped global sea levels rise by 15mm, while the melting of the Greenland ice sheet is already contributing significantly to sea level rise.

The need to protect coastal communities as shorelines erode has never been greater. Fortunately, as the Washington Post reports, a solution has been hiding in plain sight for around 2,000 years. Walls made by the Romans actually strengthen after coming into contact with saltwater, unlike concrete which erodes.

The concrete consists of quicklime, otherwise known as calcium oxide, and volcanic ash. Once saltwater is exposed to the cracks in the material a chemical reaction strengthens it. One slight problem is the fact that there is no recorded documentation of how it was made, but with today’s research, it might not be long before Roman technology helps alleviate a 21st Century problem.

Closing in on lightyears away

Volvo’s vison of an all-electric portfolio is testament to the growing attraction of electric vehicles (EVs). Researchers are already examining how EVs will interact with the grid when it comes to charging, but one Dutch start-up is attempting to negate that need for charge times, for months at a time.

Solar Team Eindhoven has been developing the Lightyear One prototype, a four-seater family car that uses onboard solar cells and battery packs to deliver a road legal EV that can charge itself during direct exposure to sunlight.

During the winter months and unsunny periods, the car can travel up to 500 miles on a single charge, but when the sun is shining it can continuously top itself up. Solar charging can also be accompanied by charging through a household outlet, EV charger or rapid charger. According to the firm, 100 models will arrive by 2020 and they can also feed surplus electricity back to the grid.

Conditioned for efficiency

Mistbox isn’t a new concept. It is a device that is retrofitted to air conditioners that uses evaporative cooling to cut the energy consumption of the system by around 30%. They used to be fitted with solar panels and would cost upwards of $300, not the most attractive investment price at the time.

However, Mistbox has gone back to the drawing board, tweaked its design, and surpassed a crowdfunding goal by more than 10 times the original target. Deliveries of Mistbox could arrive to customers in the US and Canada in August.

With HFC refrigerant gases being used used in air conditioning systems, Mistobox could upgrade the efficiency of devices in line with the goals of the Kigali agreement. Capable of being monitored by an app, the device uses a turbine to harvest exhaust gases from the units into energy to power itself, while a water treatment system ensures that the generated mist doesn’t damage the unit.

Paving the low-carbon pathway

Even as autonomous vehicles negate the need for us to physically drive, walking will always remain human nature. It therefore makes sense that we should try and harness the energy used when walking to create an abundant and renewable source.

New York-based start-up EnGoPlanet has previously trialled it, but Pavegen have literally been paving the way. Installations of pavements that use kinetic energy from footsteps to power nearby appliances can be found in Washington, Heathrow Airport and various areas of London.

The most recent installation is a 107 sq ft array located in Bird Street. It converts footsteps into electricity that will then be used for lighting around the area. Low-energy Bluetooth transmitters mean that users can interact with the pavement via apps, turning their steps into discounts and vouchers for nearby attractions.

Matt Mace


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