Professor Trash Wheel & wet steam energy: The best green innovations of the week

In a week that saw the private sector strengthen its resource and ethics commitments, edie rounds up the low-carbon, resource efficient technologies and innovations that could drive business agendas in the future.

Whisper it quietly, but the back-end of February has been a welcome change of pace in the sustainability sphere. Sure, rumblings around Trump’s cabinet and executive orders are lurking around the corner, but from a private sector perspective, milestones are being hit left, right and centre.

The week started with news that tech giants including Apple and Microsoft had voiced their support over US reforms to the subsidising of energy storage technologies. At the other end of the CSR spectrum, British tea brand Twinings launched a global sustainability framework to improve the lives of half a million people in the global tea supply chain by 2020.

Elsewhere, the issues surrounding plastic waste took a leap forward. Dell introduced new packaging made from 25% ocean waste, while Coca-Cola performed a surprising U-turn to come out in support for a deposit scheme on plastic bottles.

Brexit worries, specifically the environmental impact of leaving the European Union (EU), roll on and new policy papers are unlikely to halt the debate anytime soon. But with a major bank revealing that it funnelled £21bn into low-carbon investments last year, the business case for sustainability now has a springboard for action.

With this in mind, edie has pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.

Between a broccoli and a hard place

After the political upheavals of Trump and Brexit, not to mention the numerous celebrity deaths, 2017 was meant to be a year of relative normality compared to 2016. But bad weather in Spain has caused a vegetable shortage here in the UK, and for some, supermarket rationing is just another step into insanity.

Climate change has already threatened to wreak havoc with cocoa and coffee supplies, but while rural farmers will struggle with changing seasons, vegetables are being instilled with a hint of resiliency.

Scientists at the John Innes Centre are currently developing a line of fast-growing broccoli that moves from seed to harvest in 8-to-10 weeks. Potentially able to deliver two crops a season in-field, it can also be grown all year round depending on “protected” conditions. If successful, the seeds could reduce the UK’s reliance on imports.

Knitting the bridge between art and technology

New York City’s Museum of Modern Art recently issued its latest Young Architecture programme and the winner combines knitting with future solar trends. Design team Jenny Sabin Studio has won the 2017 version of the competition for its Lumen project.

Lumen is a concept shelter constructed from recycled glow-in-the-dark textiles that are robotically knitted to act as solar panels. Designs were tasked with providing shelter, water and other basic necessities.

Jenny Sabin Studio’s concept, which will be open to the public at the Museum in June, also uses misting systems that collect water vapour from the structure to keep the area cool on hotter days of the year.

Full steam ahead

Despite steam being an early industrial power source, wet steam – the type that is visible from a boiled kettle – was previously only useful in telling you that your kettle had indeed boiled. However, engineering firm Heliex Power, in collaboration with City University researchers, has developed a commercially-viable method to convert it into electricity.

The Pedigree Power biomass recycling site in Northamptonshire has been fitted with a Heliex GenSet system that turns steam produced in biomass boilers into electricity and provides heat to a 30,000-tonne wastewater plant.

The Heliex system gives the plant access to enhanced Renewable Heat Incentives (RHI) and Contract for Difference (CfD) payments and is expected to generate £1m in additional revenue. Electricity produced is used to operate the plant, with surplus sold to the National Grid. The site now generates up to 0.7MW of electricity daily through steam, depending on the amount of wood burnt.

Mr. and Professor Trash Wheel

Visit Baltimore’s Inner Harbour this year and you’ll likely meet the world’s strangest couple. Able to serve the planet far better than Jedward could, Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel, the latter of which was created in December, are stopping rubbish from entering Chesapeake Bay.

Mr and Professor Trash Wheel are solar and hydro-powered rubbish collection points on the Harbour that collect plastic bags, plastic containers and cigarette butts amongst other rubbish. They work by harvesting solar power and the current of Jones Falls River, as National Geographic explains, to turn waterwheels and conveyer belts.

The floating rubbish is then swept towards the contraption, which hoovers up waste and drops it into nearby floating bins. Mr. Trash Wheel has already established quite the resume, having collected more than one million pounds of rubbish since 2014.

Sweden’s internet history gets a whole lot cleaner

UK city dwellers have the opportunity to use WiFi signals to charge air pollution monitors, but it would appear that Sweden is taking this idea one step further. The country aims to go fossil free by 2040, and its energy-intensive data centres look set to play a big role in the transition.

Stockholm Data Parks is a project will use heat produced from data centres to power district homes through certain contractors. Renewable energy will be used to power the data centres and any waste heat generated will be sold to district heating companies who will use it and biomass to replace fossil fuels for generation.

District heating firms, such as Fortum Värme, as well as power grid operator Ellevio are participating in the programme. Researchers behind the initiative believe that a 10MW centre could lower emissions by 8,000 metric tonnes.

Sun, sea and spinning hotels

An 80-storey skyscraper that rotates on demand and is powered by renewables sounds pretty futuristic, but the project has actually been delayed by seven years. The Dynamic Tower was pitched by architect David Fisher to break ground in 2010, but planning obstructions put the plans on ice.

Now it appears the Dubai-based project has been given the go-ahead. All 80 floors are fitted with technology that allows rooms to rotate 360 degrees, offering a multitude of views on demand.

Alongside the voice-commanded rotary system, Dynamic Tower will also be fitted with roof-top solar panels and 48 wind turbines, hidden between each floor. The architect has claimed that the building will generate up to 10 times more energy than it consumes.

Matt Mace

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