Ultra-light EVs and emission-tracking satellites: The best green innovations of the week
A number of eye-catching and potentially transformational innovations have emerged that could help businesses and nations accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy. Here, edie rounds-up six of the best.
Between the buzz surrounding the nation’s first Green GB Week and the impending yet uncertain Autumn Budget taking place next week, it would be understandable if corporates and policymakers paused to catch their breath.
That doesn’t seem to be the case, however, with the likes of Unilever, HP, Ikea and Costa all moving to introduce new initiatives that combat systemic issues related to plastic waste. Across a wider scope, innovations are ramping up that could spark resource revolutions, combat severe climate warnings and drive progress towards key societal goals. Here, edie rounds up six of the best innovations that have emerged this week.
Cement is the second most polluting industry after steelmaking, according to the CDP, with the sector notably accounting for 6% of global CO2 emissions.
While the World Cement Association (WCA) is striving to minimise the industry’s carbon footprint by encouraging its members to align with a 2C trajectory, other firms are turning to innovation to reduce its waste footprint. Among these companies is Amsterdam-based consulting and venture building company Metabolic, which has developed a way of incorporating waste glass from end-of-life buildings into new cement mixtures.
Through partnerships with building associations and local authorities, Metabolic collects waste concrete and powder created from discarded glass from demolition sites before sending it to be melted and incorporated in new building materials.
The firm this week began a partnership with the City of Charlotte to implement this system – a move it claims will reduce the amount of carbon the city emits through cement production by 379,000 tonnes each year.
Satellite software for energy efficiency
Since the Committee on Climate Change’s annual progress report to Parliament revealed that the UK is on track to miss its legally binding carbon budgets in 2025 and 2030 – largely due to a lack of progress in cutting emissions from buildings – the importance of energy efficiency to the low-carbon transition has been highlighted time and again
With the UK’s building stock accounting for almost 40% of the nation’s emissions, energy firm E.ON this month launched a new partnership with the European Space Agency and tech firm Astrosat to develop satellite software that can identify buildings with poor energy efficiency measures from space.
Called ThermCERT, the software uses GPS systems to monitor building emissions and energy use from space. By identifying areas of the UK that need better energy efficiency measures with these satellite images, E.ON believes it will have a more accurate and detailed view of how to reduce heat loss and unnecessary energy expenditure.
A microplastic catcher
As the war on plastic wages on, you’d be hard-pressed to find a sustainability professional, policymaker or consumer that wasn’t aware of the fact that between eight to 12 million tonnes of plastics are finding its way into oceans annually.
An often-overlooked source of plastic pollution is microplastics. With the majority of the world’s clothes now being made from textile blends which contain plastic-based fibres, concerns are being raised about the environmental impact of the fibres that are released when we wash clothes.
A potential solution to the problem comes from Vermont-based start-up Cora Ball, which has created a device that can be placed in washing machines to catch microfibres. Developed using biomimicry after scientists noticed how coral caught small fibres washing past it in currents, the device is made from 100% post-consumer-recycled plastic, which can be recycled at the end-of-life stage. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, the product recently came to the market in the US, UK and Canada, retailing for around £30.
Also on the topic of plastics, consumer appetite for ditching single-use plastic bottles is undeniably on the rise in the UK, partly due to refill-encouraging behaviour change schemes such as Refill London and Refill Me, which have received backing from the likes of Costa, Landsec and Pret-A-Manger.
Indeed, four of London’s newest water fountains were collectively used more than 10,000 times in their first month of operation, while another two nearby dispensed 8,000 litres of water in the same timeframe. In a bid to encourage similar behaviour change across mainland Europe, Asia and the US, software firm Tap Projects this week launched an app which allows users to locate their nearest public drinking fountains and bottle refill points.
Using GPS technology, the app lets users across the globe locate the nearest facilities dispensing all kinds of water – from unfiltered tap water to flavoured sparkling water. Among the facilities listed are the 34,000 cafes, restaurants and other businesses in 30 countries to have committed to offering customers free refills through the Tap Authorised Refill Network scheme.
Paint that 'boosts air quality'
Northern Powergrid has launched a number of measures to boost its sustainability actions in recent times, from its £83m smart grid project to help it meet demands from the uptake of low-carbon technologies, to its digital-led "virtual" local energy market.
This week saw the network roll out another sustainable solution in the form of an innovative new “eco-paint”, which it claims will “significantly” increase network resilience during essential maintenance works and improve local air quality. While the paint that Northern Powergrid traditionally uses takes 48 hours to dry at 20C, the new paint takes less than one hour at 6C.
As transformers have to come offline to be painted, the innovation will improve energy resilience for homes and businesses using the grid. The fact that the paint is water-based and free from hydrocarbons – unlike traditional white spirits – will also improve air quality around the painted transmitters, according to Northern Powergrid. Additionally, the paint requires a much thinner coat to protect an asset, reducing raw material usage up to one-third.
New research from PwC this week revealed that the number of electric vehicles (EVs) in the UK rose by more than 50% between 2016-2017, as carmakers including Volvo, Renault and JLR move to electrify their portfolios.
But as the EV revolution continues to take hold in the automotive industry, concerns about the range capability of EVs has continually been cited – along with a lack of charging infrastructure and the upfront costs associated with low-carbon vehicles – as a potential barrier to adoption.
One potential way to significantly boost EV ranges significantly is to make the vehicles lighter – a feat that Japanese technology firm Toray Industries has achieved by developing a car made from plastics. With a body made from biopolymers and a windscreen made from acrylic, the vehicle weighs around half as much as comparable EV models, with the plastic components able to be removed at the vehicle’s end-of-life stage for recycling.
The car, which was unveiled this week at the University of Tokyo, is currently in the prototype phase as researchers are still developing ways to overcome the brittleness of the biopolymer components to make them more flexible and hard-wearing.