Potato-based plastic and easyJet’s electric plane: 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 five of the best.

In a week that saw Chancellor Philip Hammond use his Budget announcement to freeze tax increases on petrol and diesel fuel duty and confirm further tax breaks for the North Sea oil and gas industry, all while scrapping all plans for a “latte levy” on disposable cups, it may seem like there’s little to celebrate for sustainability professionals.

The other hot topic of the week, however, was the fresh packaging commitments made by the likes of PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company and L’Oreal in a bid to create a “new normal” for resource efficiency. 

And, while plastics continue to dominate the headlines, innovations that could spark resource revolutions, combat severe climate warnings and drive progress towards key societal goals are continuing to emerge. Here, edie rounds up six of the best.

Potato-based plastic

As the war on plastics continues to gather pace, corporates including Reebok and Lego have moved to incorporate bioplastics into their products in a shift away from fossil fuel-based materials. But with critics questioning the recyclability of these materials and reminding consumers that bio-based does not mean biodegradable, researchers at Sweden’s Lund University have developed an alternative material made from potato peelings and water.

Led by student Pontus Törnqvist, Potato Plastic makes compostable cutlery, straws and salt bags by heating a thick mixture of hot water and warm potato starch, pouring the fluid into a mould and refrigerating it until it sets. The result is a thermoplastic that can biodegrade in nature within two months.

The starch to make the material is extracted from fast-food outlets’ potato peelings, and potatoes which have been deemed aesthetically unfit for sale in supermarkets. After being shortlisted for the prestigious James Dyson Award, Törnqvist hopes to receive funding to scale up production.

Climate-neutral mattresses

With more and more companies looking to adopt circular economy principles within their operations and product ranges, mattresses have often been cited as a sustainability challenge due to their metal springs and various textile components. Indeed, SUEZ is currently lobbying the UK Government to demand that they are included in the Producer Responsibility Obligation (PRO) framework.

In a bid to make mattresses more sustainable, US-based e-commerce firm Nectar Sleep this week unveiled what it claims is the world’s first climate-neutral mattress. The product is certified to be chemical-free and is manufactured using renewable power, with all emissions generated from the transport of the mattress offset via the purchase of carbon credits.

Along with the product, Nectar Sleep offers customers a code enabling them to track how much carbon gas emitted during the transport of their order, and which reforestation projects their carbon credits are spent on. Customers are also given information on how to donate their end-of-life mattresses to the TFR Group, which diverts mattresses from landfill by separating components for recycling.

Recyclable transport fuel

Innovations which could help to decarbonise transport have proven to be something of a hot topic this month, after Virgin Atlantic sparked the trend by showcasing its low-carbon jet fuel made from recycled waste gases on 2 October.  

Another innovation that could potentially slash emissions generated by the transport sector comes from Australian-Israeli startup Eleqtric, which has developed a water-based fuel that releases hydrogen on demand.

Comprised of 60% water, the fuel has been designed to react to Eleqtriq’s patented “switch” catalyst, releasing hydrogen in the process. The used fuel can then be taken back to the company’s manufacturing plant where it is replenished with hydrogen and water. During trials, the fuel enabled electric buses with a regular range of 250km and charge time of four hours to achieve a five-minute charging time and 1,000km range.

easyJet’s electric aircraft

According to Heathrow Airport, there are currently more than 100 electric aircraft projects underway across the world, with the first electric passenger plane likely to be operational before 2030. Leading the charge to develop a zero-emission aircraft is budget airline easyJet, which this week confirmed it was on track to incorporate fully-electric planes into its passenger fleet by the end of 2027.

US-based startup Wright Electric, which has partnered with easyJet to develop the aircraft, confirmed that it would begin work on a nine-seater electric plane in early 2019, following successful trials of a two-seater model this year. These successes have led Wright Electric to file a patent for an electric motor for easyJet planes.

Posting an update on its progress this week, easyJet revealed that the passenger-sized electric vehicles are on track to be incorporated into its fleet by 2027, with the first electrified flights set to travel on its London-Amsterdam route.

Flood-fighting smart canals

In response to the rising frequency of local flood risks, Glasgow City Council, Scottish Canals and Scottish Water have this week begun work on Europe’s first “smart canal” scheme at the Forth & Clyde Canal, north of Glasgow.

Under the £17m scheme, the 250-year-old canal will be fitted with a pioneering digital surface water drainage system that uses sensor and predictive weather technology to provide early warnings of wet weather. Once a warning is received, the system then uses artificial intelligence (AI) to move excess rainfall from residential and business areas into stretches of the canal where water levels have been lowered.

Such areas will form a network of newly-created spaces – from sustainable urban drainage ponds to granite channels. The partnership claims that the project will create 55,000 cubic metres of extra capacity for floodwater – equivalent to 22 Olympic swimming pools.

Seaweed sachet expansion

Earlier this year, online food ordering firm Just Eat trialled an alternative to single-use plastic sachets for certain sauces, in the form of a seaweed-based packaging. This week, the firm announced that it is expanding the trial to 10 London restaurants for the next eight weeks.

Just Eat had trialled the sachets with its restaurant partner, The Fat Pizza, in Southend for six weeks between July and September. The use of the sachets, which are made from an alginate-based material and degrade in approximately six weeks, will now be expanding to 10 London restaurants following “excellent feedback” during the first trial.

The Ooho! sachets used by Just Eat have been created by packaging firm Skipping Rocks Lab and can be discarded through home compost or in normal household bins. With more than 11 billion plastic condiment sachets sold globally, Just Eat will assess the feasibility of introducing the sachets – used for ketchup and garlic and herb dips – across its network of 29,000 UK restaurant partners.

Sarah George

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