Origami apparel and insect-inspired solar: the best green innovations of the week

In a breakthrough week for the manufacturing sectors, edie rounds up the latest low-carbon technologies and innovations that could help to accelerate the global shift towards a prosperous low-carbon future.

It seems that the corporate sustainability leaders and Government officials are back from holiday. While Central Government began the ratification of Kigali deal on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the Scottish Government went ahead to agree to a desirable plastic container return scheme and ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles.

However, the week was dominated by plethora of substantial business announcements. Starbucks kickstarted the week by offering a leftover food discount scheme, before Mars unveiled a $1bn investment pledge into a new sustainability strategy.

Even Nissan, leaders of the electric vehicle (EV) market were outshone this week – despite launching a longer-range electric LEAF vehicle. That’s because Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), a company that currently sells zero EVs, announced that from 2020 it would only sell electric or hybrid vehicles.

However, JLR’s ambitions don’t just rest in the EV market. The UK-based company also announced the next stage of its circular economy drive to place end-of-life vehicle materials back into new products.

The proof is clear that business leaders and politicians alike are striving ahead towards a low-carbon economy. With all of that in mind, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package for you to enjoy.

The Origami knitter

Fast fashion has seen numerous items of clothing lie dormant in wardrobes, but this trend is nothing compared to children’s clothing. According to the Guardian, parents spend an average of £2,000 on clothing before their child reaches the age of three. But as these children grow, a new fabric could allow the clothes to grow with them.

Ryan Yasin’s range of children’s clothes made from pleated fabric has won a James Dyson award. The fabric is capable of expanding as the young children grow out of traditional items. Yasin’s background of aeronautical engineering means that he was able to fit the materials with a ratio known as auxetics.

The Petit Pli range becomes thicker and expands as it stretches, and can expand in numerous directions at the same time. It mirrors processes used in biomedical implant procedures and the clothing can even fold down to the size of a pocket. Yasin told the Guardian that he is in talks with several UK retailers about commercialising the design.

What is dead may never die

In China, fallen leaves from phoenix trees – available in abundance in the country – are usually burnt away. However, new research from Chinese and US scientists has found that using these dead leaves could create energy storage systems that are three times more effective than high-end graphene supercapacitors.

The material from the phoenix tree leaves has specific qualities meaning they can store a charge of 367 Farads/gram, more than three times that of traditional supercapacitors. The research team mixed the dead leaves with agricultural waste and vegetables to find the ideal solution.

The process works by grinding the leaves into a powder before heating them at more than 200 degrees for 12 hours. This creates a powder which is then treated with potassium hydroxide and heated again. Eventually the microsphere’s surfaces start eroding, creating pores that increases the surface area of each created sphere, which boosts capacity as a result.

A chip off the old pond

The global megatrends the population is faced with are overlapping, which while daunting, creates opportunities to tackle numerous issues as one holistic solution. The Algae Dome recently debuted at the CHART art fair in Copenhagen last week, to showcase how high-protein food can be created using little heat and water, and hardly any land space.

SPACE10, the creators of the Algae Dome, invited the fair visitors into the small, transportable dome, which also benefits from being able to suck up CO2 and release oxygen. Powered by solar energy, the dome acts as a mini-farm for micro-algae.

The four-metre tall building created 450 litres of micro-algae in three days at the fair, creating high-protein chips for visitors. Micro-algae can contain twice as much protein as carbon-intensive meat and is among the fastest-growing crops available. They can be grown in many conditions and absorb CO2 and release oxygen in process.

Beam me up hotty

Stanford University has seemingly gone beyond blue-sky thinking to focus on deep-space thinking. That’s because a research team is developing a roof-mounted system that can chill water without using energy.

The system can cool a building by beaming excess heat and thermal radiation from the building into space. The aim of the system is to cool buildings without relying on an external power source. The system can chill water, which can then be piped through a building to cool it.

Tests suggest that the panels could cut power usage on air conditioning by more than 20%, and uses multi-layered films to reflect 97% of the sunlight that hits the panels back into space. The researchers have founded the SkyCool Systems company to integrate the panels into air conditioning and refrigeration systems.

No water waste for clipped crops

World Water Week may have been last week, but researchers are still attempting to introduce new ways to cut down on water wastage, especially in water-stressed areas. Penn State researcher and doctoral degree candidate in plant science Amin Afzal, has been exploring ways that sensors can be used to send precise information to farmers.

Plant-based sensors placed in the soil and onto crop leaves are used to measure the electrical capacity of leaves to tell farmers when to turn on irrigation systems. Researchers used tomato plants in a growth chamber to measure the results over an 11-day period.

The study is the latest from Afzal, in the hopes of developing a commercial system of leaf clip sensors to provide farmers with accurate data to improve water-use habits. So far, the tests have determined how long the plants can store water for and when they need replenishing.

Inspect the insect to perfect solar

As solar panels enter the mainstream, innovators are attempting to capture the growing market by offering cheaper and more effective materials to be used in arrays. One of the more popular materials is perovskite, which is easier and cheaper to produce compared to traditional silicon cells.

One issue with perovskite is its fragility and short shelf life compared to silicon. To overcome this barrier, researchers from Stanford University have examined insect eyes to strengthen the structure.

The eyes of a fly are composed with thousands of photoreceptors arranged hexagonally like a honeycomb and are shielded. The researchers have mirrored this by constructing a honeycomb compound of perovskite microcells protected by hexagonal scaffolds made from cheap resins. The cells still perform just as less and are far less likely to fracture.

Matt Mace

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