Ocean plastic credit cards and solar-powered robots: 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 marks both World Meat Free Week and World Onshore Wind Week, bringing climate change issues to the forefront of media and business attention once again. Innovation is a difficult area to navigate, but as this round-up highlights, the benefits could usher in an unprecedented transition to the low-carbon economy.

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.

Weeding out emissions

As the WWF claims that the agricultural sector can provide up to 30% of the solutions needed by 2030 to tackle the global climate crisis, an innovative solution to green the industry has emerged in the form of a solar-powered, automated robotic weeder.

The device, created by Swiss firm EcoRobotix, is equipped with a camera and GPS sensors, which allow it to find and remove weeds across 7.5 acres of land per day. Once the device has located a weed, it covers it with a cup and delivers a very small dose of pesticide – a method which EcoRobotix claims can slash the amount of pesticide needed by about 20 times.  

The firm hopes to bring the robot to the commercial market in 2019, having secured nearly $11m from agriculture investor CapAgro. At the moment, the device can only identify two crops for protection, but updates are in the pipeline and will be available in the form of software upgrades.

A scoop of the blockchain action

Blockchain has a real buzz at the moment; it is already being used by the likes of Nestlé, Unilever and Walmart to improve traceability in global food supply chains, while a blockchain start-up recently launched a new initiative to support global projects that tackle plastic pollution.

Following the trend, non-for-profit The Poseidon Foundation is using blockchain technology to integrate carbon markets into transactions at the point-of-sale, and has announced three token sales ahead of its platform launch in August 2019. The 18 billion OCEAN utility tokens, which individuals, organisations and governments can use, will be able to offset the unavoidable climate impact of their businesses and everyday lives through reforestation and tree protection schemes. 

Poseidon has already integrated the technology into Ben and Jerry’s flagship London store, raising enough carbon credits in one month to protect 1,500 trees. During this trial, consumers can choose pay a surcharge on ice creams in exchange for carbon credits equal to the environmental impact of producing the item. Meanwhile, the ice cream firm is also running a campaign to persuade the Government to rethink its stance on onshore windfarms, changing three of its flavour names to wind-related puns.

Cool that data down

Any sustainability professional in the tech sector will know just how much energy it takes to power data centres, which are carbon-hungry beasts due to the amount of electricity and cooling they require.

A week after Microsoft announced it was to tackle these issues by sinking a small-scale centre of 12 racks sunk underwater off the coast of Orkney, another potential solution has come to light in the form of a new evaporative cooling system that uses water instead of air to cool data halls. 

The system, designed by Nortek Air Solutions in partnership with Facebook, has been installed in several of the social network’s data centres for trials, with the social network estimating that it can reduce water usage by almost 90% in cooler climates and 20% in warm locations without compromising energy efficiency.

Splashing out without the plastic 

More than 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year, with more than eight million tonnes finding its way into oceans annually, according to data from charity Plastic Oceans.

In response to the issue, a string of big-name companies including Procter and Gamble (P&G) and Adidas have moved to repurpose ocean plastics in their products and packaging, with the latest commitment coming on World Oceans Day (June 8) from American Express (AmEx).

Of the many plastic items finding their way into out water systems, credit cards are often overlooked. They are typically made from PVC and outlive their usefulness after three years, so AmEx has partnered with not-for-profit Parley for the Oceans to launch a new credit card made from 100% marine plastic in a bid to make a small dent in the estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic which is dumped in the world’s oceans each year. The card currently exists as a prototype, but it is expected to be made available to the public within the next 12 months.

Window of opportunity

Solar windows are available to buy and sit on the cusp of a market breakthrough, with the global market set to grow to $26bn by 2022. New technology that seeks to go one step further and convert existing windows into solar panels has emerged this week.

Solar PV manufacturer Polysolar has created a new kind of glass which it claims is the “first truly transparent alternative” to traditional panels, generating 5kWH of power every month for every 120cm-by-60cm installation.

London’s Shard, which has enough glass to surface eight football fields, would, if fitted with Polysolar glass, generate 2,500MWh each year – enough to power 1,000 homes for a year.

Currently, a typical panel costs about twice the price of a conventional glass window, but when volume production begins, Polysolar claims the price could fall to a 10% premium on the cost of standard panes. The firm is currently crowdfunding £750,000 to scale up production. 

Shirting the issue of air pollution

Air pollution has been brought to the forefront of the public’s attention this week with the opening of a new Stella McCartney store that allegedly has the “purest” air in London, thanks to air-filtration technology which claims to remove 95% of traffic fumes and residual airborne pollutants.

Another move from the fashion world comes from Italian designer Kloters, which has created a T-shirt that cleans the air through a specially-designed insert capable of capturing and disintegrating pollutants and foul odours.

Called RepAir, the shirt is made from cotton but incorporates a pocket filled with so-called Breathe fabric – a material Kloters claims can remove up to 92% of sulfur dioxide and 86% of the nitrogen oxides it comes into contact with. A previous entrant on the green innovations of the week, the product is currently raising £8,000 in funds for the product through a Kickstarter campaign.

Sarah George

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