Potato-based 'wood' and contactless coffee cups: The best green innovations of the week

A number of eye-catching and potentially transformational innovations have emerged that could help businesses and nations deliver on resource efficiency, low-carbon transitions and combat climate change. Here, edie rounds-up six of the best.

This week's innovations could help create energy from waste, decarbonise aviation and reduce takeaway cup use

This week's innovations could help create energy from waste, decarbonise aviation and reduce takeaway cup use

From Drax kicking off a six-month pilot scheme to trial carbon capture and storage (CCS) at its power station in Yorkshire, to Arsenal FC becoming the first UK football club to install a battery storage system, several actions have been taken this week that will help companies build the business case for adopting low-carbon, resource-efficient technologies.

And when striving to spur decarbonisation and to create a sustainable future, it is always worth looking at the green innovations of today that could become mainstream in the coming months and years.

With this in mind, this week’s round-up covers six ideas, concepts, products and systems that could help nations and businesses accelerate sustainability commitmen

Potato-based ‘wood’

As the war on plastic continues to gather pace, a string of big-name businesses – including Marks & Spencer (M&S), Waitrose & Partners and McDonald’s UK have recently moved to replace their single-use plastic items with paper or wood alternatives.

But with deforestation levels having reached record levels in Brazil this year, the pressure is now on to find a more sustainable alternative to paper and pulp-based products. Among those rising to the challenge is 23-year-old inventor Rowan Minkley, who has developed a wood alternative made from industrial potato waste.

Called Chips Board, the material is made by pulping and pressing potato waste scraps and has been designed to be compostable under industrial conditions, yet as strong as MDF. The innovation has already piqued the interest of McCain’s and Ikea – the former is already supplying its industrial waste to the start-up. This week, Minkley was awarded a £15,000 prize from the Royal Academy of Engineering to help scale up production, after winning the organisation’s enterprise hub launchpad competition.

Deforestation-detecting satellites

Satellites and related software have begun to be used to tackle a variety of sustainability challenges over the past year, including energy inefficiencies in buildings, poor water quality and rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Following this trend, the UK Government this week received the first imagery from a satellite it has launched to track deforestation, oil spills and illegal shipping. The satellite, called the NovaSAR-1, uses Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) to “look” through the clouds and monitor the earth continuously.

Backed by a £21m Government investment and launched earlier this year, the satellite provides data and imagery to the Satellite Applications Catapult in Oxfordshire, where researchers monitor the feedback. The first images from the satellite were published last Friday (23 November), showing Cairo and Sydney Harbour.

Plastic waste plane fuel

Sustainable aviation has proven to be something of a hot topic this year, with Virgin Atlantic showcasing its innovative low-carbon jet fuel made from recycled waste gases for the first time and Heathrow Airport moving to waive landing charges for the world's first electric passenger plane once it is developed.

In a further attempt to decarbonise this notoriously hard-to-abate sector, Delta Airlines’ energy subsidiary Monroe Energy has partnered with startup Agilyx to source its closed-loop crude oil for aviation fuel. The oil, called ASCO, is produced by processing mixed plastics and Styrofoam at an industrial recycling facility in Portland, Oregon. It is then sold to existing refineries where it can be converted into jet fuel.

Agilyx claims that the use of ASCO produces “significantly” lower life-cycle carbon emissions than fossil-fuel derived diesel, petrol or jet fuel. Under its partnership with Delta, the startup will develop a new production facility capable of generating 2,500 barrels of ASCO per day by 2020.

‘Silent’ electric aircraft

Continuing on the topic of travel, a further popular option for decarbonising the transport sector is electrifying existing vehicles, with progress already being made in the trucktrain and car industries.

And while progress towards zero-carbon aircraft has been slower, there are currently more than 100 electric aircraft projects underway across the world, with Heathrow and easyJet predicting that the first all-electric passenger plane will take to the skies in the 2030s.

In an early sign of success, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of technology (MIT) have developed and tested a zero-emission aircraft, which they claim has no moving parts and makes no noise during flight. Reportedly inspired by the futuristic shuttles depicted in Star Trek, the aircraft uses an “ionic wind” — a flow of ions produced aboard the plane using an electric current – to propel itself.

The plane, called Ion Drive, is currently in the prototype stage, with results of its first test flights having been published this month. It weighs 2.5kg and has a wingspan of 5m, with the research team set to develop larger models in the future.

Contactless coffee cups

After introducing a 25p discount for customers bringing reusable cups in a bid to incentivise behaviour change, coffee chain Costa has this week unveiled an innovative new reusable flask with a contactless payment chip.

Developed in partnership with Barclays, the cup has a detachable silicone base with an integrated contactless payment chip, which customers can top-up like they would an Oyster Card or gift card.

Using the bank’s bPay technology, the cup, called Clever Cup, enables users to make contactless payment up to £30 in Costa’s 2,380 UK stores. Users can also top up their balance and track payments online or via a dedicated app for Android and Apple phones and tablets.

The cup will be stocked in all UK Costa stores before the start of December, retailing at £14.99.

Energy from wastewater

After receiving accolades from the likes of the Climate Launchpad, Shell and the Energy Innovation Centre, student entrepreneurs Thomas Fudge and William Gambier this week won an innovation competition run by Santander UK for their work to turn wastewater into renewable energy and cookstove fuel.

Under their Brunel-based startup Wase, the duo has developed concepts for a decentralised wastewater processing system which generates green electricity and gas as it operates. The system captures the methane produced by the organic waste in wastewater as it decomposes, harnessing it for power generation in a way similar to hydrogen.

Then, it collects the solid sludge found in wastewater and heats it up, generating yet more methane through the process of thermal hydrolysis. Finally, the treated waste enters an anaerobic digester, where it is broken down, or is sent to be used in the production of fertilizer. Fudge and Gambier this week received £25,000 in prize money from Santander UK to help bring the design to fruition.

Sarah George


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