Ammonia storage plants and vertical farms: 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.

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

The publication of the first report into how well the UK is performing against the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provided ample opportunities for businesses and governments to reconsider their sustainability actions. In the face of climate challenges, the benefits of green innovation could usher in an unprecedented transition to the low-carbon economy, as this round-up demonstrates.

With this in mind, this week’s round-up covers a variety of ideas, concepts, products and systems that could help nations and businesses accelerate sustainability commitments.

In pole position

Away from the ongoing shift to renewable power, key players within the electricity sector have taken several steps to become more sustainable in recent months. For example, Northern Powergrid last month announced it has been successful in creating self-healing electric cables which fix their own leaks, while the National Grid revealed in May its plans to host the UK’s first 2GW network of grid-scale batteries and rapid electric vehicle (EV) charging stations.

The latest innovation to green the power industry comes from British start-up Pollywood, which has already gained support from Northern Powergrid for its new wood-based material that promises to radically cut the number of trees needed to make wooden electricity poles.

The material, which is made from a mixture of bio-resins and wood pulp, could see seven poles made from one tree compared to the usual, singular pole. Pollywood claims a roll out of its invention could save 90,000 trees a year. Northern Powergrid will source Pollywood poles across its operation, but the start-up is looking to secure a further £1.4m in funding to scale its production capacity for a commercial rollout.

Something in the air

Air quality has continuously breached legal limits across the UK for numerous years, spurring the need for green innovations which reduce airborne pollutants in towns and cities, such as CityTrees and bus stops that filter air.

Another potential solution to the air pollution problem comes from data specialist EarthSense, which has created measuring sensors that can be attached to vehicles, giving real-time data on vehicle emissions and the local air quality along the route.

The technology has been attached to Oxfordshire County Council’s Fleet Services vehicles as the local authority seeks to optimise its traffic light controls to manage and mitigate road congestion and pollution. The findings will be shared with Oxford City Council as the authority phases out petrol and diesel vehicles from the city centre with an ultimate aim to deliver a zero-emission zone in 2035.

Ammonia mania

In the wake of a recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report, which predicted that the energy storage market will double six times by 2030, a string of innovative solutions including ultra-light EV battery packs and liquid air facilities have emerged.

Another fresh development in the field comes from Siemens, which last month opened the world’s first project employing ammonia as a new form of energy storage. The £1.5m pilot scheme, based in Oxfordshire, will see electricity, water and air converted into ammonia without releasing carbon emissions.

The ammonia is stored in a tank and later either burned to generate electricity or sold as a fuel for vehicles or industrial purposes. The German firm hopes to prove that ammonia can be as useful as more established storage technologies, such as lithium-ion batteries, when it comes to managing the variable output of wind and solar power.

The only way is up

With a recent WWF-led initiative concluding that the agriculture industry can provide up to 30% of the solutions needed by 2030 to tackle the global climate crisis, now is the time for new solutions to come to the market.

As the population grows, the onus is on businesses to come up with more sustainable methods of farming, with a potential solution coming from agricultural tech firm VH Hydroponics which has created vertical farms that require no pesticides.

The technology enables farmers to sow up to 1,800 seeds indoors, allowing anyone to grow fresh food year-round, while minimising water runoff and pesticide use. VH Hydroponics claims this method allows for a much shorter growing cycle than traditional farming – as short as six weeks – as is not restricted by weather or seasons. Several restaurants, non-profits and agriculture firms across the US have already started using the technology.

You’ve got mail!

Single-use plastic packaging is undoubtedly a hot topic at the moment, having been the focus of this year’s Earth Day and the subject of much government debate. In a bid to help big-name online brands phase out flexible plastic bags, packaging firm Duo UK has created mailing bags made from sugarcane as a sustainable alternative.

The Manchester-based company, which is set to make mailing bags for brands including JD Sports, Tesco and JD Williams, claims it is the first UK manufacturer to produce mailing bags from GreenPE.

While traditional plastic bags are made from polythene derived from fossil fuels, GreenPE is a biopolymer produced using renewable sugarcane. It is chemically identical to traditional plastic and, because sugarcane captures and stores CO2 from the atmosphere as it grows, it is technically carbon-negative. A previous entrant on edie’s green innovation roundup, the bags have this week been rolled out to the first fashion retailer, Pink Boutique.

Plant-based patties

As more and more food manufacturers invest in the alternative protein sector, FAIRR estimates the market will be worth $5.2bn by 2020. A number of new plant-based products have hit supermarket shelves and restaurant menus in recent months, including Sainsbury’s vegan “mince” and KFC’s veggie “chicken”.

This week, Tesco announced that it would begin stocking a plant-based burger that “bleeds” like beef in a bid to help omnivores reduce their meat consumption, therefore reducing their carbon footprint.

The Beyond Burger, from US-based food manufacturer Beyond Meat, has been sold at 8,000 supermarkets at 10,000 restaurants in the US since its launch last year, but the move from Tesco will make the first time it goes on sale at a mainstream UK retailer. It will also enable London-based burger chain Honest Burgers to put the Beyond Burger, which is made of pea protein, coconut oil, potato starch and beetroot juice, on its menu.

Sarah George


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green innovation | technology

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