On-demand hydrogen production and solar window blinds: The best green innovations of July 2022
As July comes to a close, edie and our innovation partner Springwise have rounded up six of the best breakthrough technologies that could help accelerate the transition to a sustainable future, including off-grid, low-carbon hydrogen production units.
July 2022 has seen heatwaves all over the world, from the Pacific Northwest of America to Zhejiang province in Southeast China. In the UK, temperatures topped 40C. The extreme heat is testament to the damaging effects of excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and our first two innovations this month take different approaches to removing the greenhouse gas from the air. In Australia, modular devices are being used to create the world’s first solar-powered direct air capture project, while tests have shown that cement-free concrete is carbon-neutral.
While carbon removal technologies are increasingly acknowledged as essential for meeting climate targets, they are not a silver bullet that will solve our climate woes without more fundamental change. We also need to accelerate the energy transition, and our second two innovations are focused on two promising alternative energy sources. One company has developed a modular, off-grid system for generating hydrogen, while, in Japan, another is hoping to tap into the power of deep-sea ocean currents.
Finally, we take a look at two innovations re-imaging the future of housing. A modular homebuilder is building a high-tech robot-operated factory that can manufacture up to 4,500 houses a year, while a clean energy startup has found a way to turn any window into a solar panel through energy-harvesting blackout blinds.
Modular, solar-powered CCS
Image: Southern Green Gas
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that carbon removal is ‘unavoidable’ if the world is to meet the targets set by the Paris Agreement. There are several ways in which carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere including nature-based solutions such as tree planting and mangrove restoration. But a more hi-tech option is direct air capture (DAC), where man-made technologies remove CO2 from the air directly. According to the International Energy Agency, there are currently 19 DAC plants operating worldwide, but the agency argues that these technologies must be significantly ramped up in its 2050 net-zero scenario.
Australian company AspiraDAC and startup Southern Green Gas are at the cutting edge of DAC technology. The two companies are developing modular and scalable solar-powered devices that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it underground in naturally occurring gaps in the rock, or in empty oil and gas reservoirs. Together, these units are being used to make the world’s first solar-powered DAC project. The compact nature of the innovative technology means that it takes up far less land than reforestation carbon removal projects.
Aspira DAC, which has an exclusive license to Southern Green Gas’s technology, will sell carbon removal credits backed up by the project, securing its first purchase from financial services and software company Stripe in June 2022.
Image: CarbonMeta Technologies
Concrete is everywhere. In 2020, a widely covered article in the journal Nature calculated that the weight of all the man-made material on earth is greater than all of the planet’s living biomass – and concrete is responsible for most of this crushing weight. Moreover, production of portland cement, one of the key ingredients in concrete, is extremely carbon-intensive. As a result ‘at least 8%’ of man-made carbon dioxide emissions come from the cement industry.
But now, a new cement-free concrete, known as ‘EarthCrete’, has been put through its paces by researchers at Oxford University. The University and CarbonMeta Research announced that a series of tests confirmed that, in stark contrast to conventional concrete, EarthCrete is actually carbon negative. In fact, a single project using 500 cubic metres of EarthCrete mixed with water could remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere equivalent to 66 diesel vehicles each being driven 12,000 kilometres per year.
CarbonMeta Technologies is currently reviewing sales orders for EarthCrete, having already received a $750,000 purchase order for the delivery of EarthCrete for use in commercial and residential solar panel projects in the United States.
Off-grid hydrogen for on-demand power
A naturally occurring and superabundant element, one of the key benefits of hydrogen is that it produces no carbon emissions at the point of combustion. It can be produced using renewable energy sources, although historically this has not been the case, with production dominated by fossil fuels. Now, Element 1’s modular, grid-independent hydrogen generation technology is making low-carbon hydrogen more accessible.
At present, the storage and transportation of hydrogen is expensive and comes with a long list of health and safety considerations. Element 1’s modular system circumvents these challenges by producing hydrogen on-site as needed. The technology efficiently converts methanol and water into pure hydrogen which can then be used to generate electricity. Because the hydrogen is produced on-site and on-demand, the only material that needs to be stored and transported is the methanol and water feedstock. This removes the risk of combustion and the need for specialist storage facilities.
Element 1 provides small and large-scale solutions, and the technology can be used to support both hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and electric vehicles, with a version of the technology specifically designed for refuelling electric vehicles on the go. Element 1 has also set up a spinoff—called e1 Marine—that will focus on sea-going applications of the technology.
Deep-sea energy turbines
Image: IHI Corp
Japan has recently tested a system that could provide “an almost unlimited stream of renewable energy”, without relying on the wind or sun. The system involves the use of a turbine placed on the ocean floor, where it can take advantage of stable deep-sea currents that flow steadily with little fluctuation in speed or direction.
The ‘Kairyu’ turbine was built by Japanese heavy machinery manufacturer IHI Corporation. The company recently completed tests on a prototype of the 330-tonne Kairyu, which is designed to be anchored to the seafloor at a depth of around 30-50 metres (100-160 feet). The system is built around two 36-foot-long counter-rotating turbine fans and a central housing unit containing a buoyancy adjustment system. When maintenance work is required, operators can float the turbine to the surface of the water for easier access.
The long-term plan is to site several of the turbines in the Kuroshio, one of the world’s most powerful ocean currents, and transmit the generated power via seabed cables. It has been estimated that if all of the energy in the Kuroshio could be harnessed, it would equal Japan’s total electric power generation. The system is expected to be slightly more expensive than solar and wind power, but unlike the wind and sun, deep sea currents are constant and steady. The technology could be particularly useful for Japan’s remote islands which are difficult to reach with power cables from the main Japanese islands.
A high-tech factory for modular homes
Modular housebuilder TopHat recently announced that it will be opening a high-tech home building facility in Corby, Northamptonshire. The new factory will be 650,000 square feet in size and will incorporate the latest in robotic technology. Once operational, the facility will manufacture up to 4,500 homes a year.
TopHat builds modular, zero-carbon homes. The company claims its homes have less than 1% of the embodied carbon of a traditionally built home. To achieve this, the company uses low-carbon materials, such as timber, while reducing waste and travel at every stage.
One way that TopHat achieves its low carbon emissions is through the streamlined logistics and lean manufacturing techniques that are made possible by building modular homes in a factory using robotics. The company is also able to tailor solutions to clients, acting as either a supplier, contractor, or developer.
Solar-enabled window blinds
While solar panels are becoming an increasingly popular way for homeowners to cut energy costs by generating their own power, this option is not available to those who rent or live in flats without their own roof space. British company Filia Solar was founded to democratise solar power by turning any window into a solar panel.
Filia has developed a way to attach solar film from a continuous roll directly to external roller blinds. The thin, flexible film is produced by Power Roll, and is claimed to be more effective than traditional silicon panels when partially shaded or in low light. The film is manufactured using a simple roll-to-roll printing technique to deposit perovskite compounds, used in solar cells, into microgrooves etched on a thin flexible film. This film then acts as a solar collector.
The Filia blinds will come as a complete unit. They will work as a blackout blind, blocking sunlight to keep indoor spaces cooler in summer and warmer in winter, while also producing energy. The blinds will come with a mobile app that allows users to program them to be rolled down and powered up when no-one is home.
Springwise is the leading global innovation intelligence platform for positive and sustainable change. For the last 20 years, it has been uncovering and curating the most innovative thinking and ideas on the planet. Today, with a library of more than 11,000 global innovations, Springwise is trusted by thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, educators, and tech disruptors as the leading source of inspirational ideas that matter. Visit Springwise.com
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