Recycled plastic roads and clothes made from milk: 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.

Despite the edie team being busy rounding up the newsworthy aspects of the flagship edie Live event, one eye is also on the horizon to see what the future brings in relation to sustainability.

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.

From plumes to packaging


While plastics continue to be a hot topic within discussions on the war on waste, unseen waste from industrial and manufacturing processes take the spotlight less often. For example, the UK’s farming industry produces a surplus of 1,000 tonnes of feathers every week, and because they cannot be burned or buried sustainably, they are often taken by third-party organisations to be converted into a low-grade animal feed.

After two years of developing prototypes, London-based start-up Aeropowder this week launched its first range of packaging made from surplus feathers in a bid to showcase the possibilities for repurposing this waste stream. Called pluumo, the packaging material has been designed to replicate the thermal performance of polystyrene and provide similar insulation and protection without the use of plastics.

Several companies in the UK and Germany have already signed up to source pluumo for use in their shipments of cold food, medicine and other products, with Aeropowder co-founder Elena Dieckmann claiming that the market has “responded positively” to the innovation with numerous sectors expressing an interest.

Solar panels you could watch the soaps on

While solar windows are available to buy and sit on the cusp of a market breakthrough, new technology that seeks to go one step further and fuse solar panels with not just windows, but televisions as well, has emerged this week. Laboratories such as the Strauss-Boltalina Research Group are now designing and testing organic photovoltaic cells in a bid to create a clear pane which can function as both a screen and a solar panel.

Typical solar panels take a lot of energy to build as they are made with semiconductors made of crystalline, rock-forming elements like silicon. However, the ‘smart windows’ would utilise organic semiconductors that take less energy to construct and be designed to be more lightweight and transparent.

To make a ‘smart window’, you’d have to deposit two layers of organic semiconductors—one layer to generate electricity from sunlight and another to emit light—onto a panel of transparent conducting material. Each of these functions are available to buy separately in the form of solar panels and OLED televisions, so these tests bring ways to combine the two one step closer.

Dressing with dairy

Sustainable fashion has proved to be something of a hot topic this month, with Gap, H&M, Nike and Burberry announced as some of the major brands leading a new Ellen MacArthur Foundation initiative that aims to help drive a circular fashion industry. One innovation which may drive action further while simultaneously repurposing food waste comes from German start-up Qmilk, which produces 100% natural fibre fabric from some of the nation’s 1.9 million tonnes of milk which is wasted annually.

The fabrics are produced by separating protein from sour milk and dehydrating it into a powder which is then mixed with water to form a dough. The dough is then placed into a pressing machine, which forms it into silky fibres. This production process only uses two litres of water per kg of fibre, in comparison to the 2,700 litres used to produce the average cotton T-shirt, and the end-result is a fabric which is flame-retardant, smooth and compostable.  

While Qmilk’s clothing is not currently sold to the mass market, milk fibres are being applied to a range of uses including upholstery, home textiles and medical supplies. Italian grocery chains are even beginning to stock high-end toilet tissue made from milk fabric. As demand for milk as a food product continues to grow, there is scope for a wider rollout of the milk fibre technology if manufacturing plants are scaled up, enabling production costs to come down.

Binning emissions

The automotive industry is on the cusp of a electric-vehicle (EV) revolution, with top car makers including VWBMWFord and Jaguar Land Rover all moving to ramp up investment into EV production and battery research and innovation.

As this EV revolution continues to gather pace, manufacturers are also producing electric versions of their heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), including Volvo, which this month unveiled its first electric truck designed for heavy-duty roles such as transporting waste in urban environments.

The fully-electric truck, called the FE Electric, has a maximum range of 125 miles and produces zero carbon emissions. It is set to go on sale in 2019 and will be offered in several variants for different types of transport assignments including waste collection and shipping goods.

Follow the plastic-mix road

Plastic waste is one of the hot topics in the UK sustainability agenda, thanks to heightened scrutiny from campaigners and politicians who are growing increasingly concerned about the nation’s languishing recycling rates and damaging build-up of plastic waste in oceans.

To repurpose the UK’s growing plastic waste stream, Scottish start-up MacRebur is incorporating PCR plastics in its road surfacing material mixtures. Between 3kg and 10kg of waste plastics are used in every ton of asphalt it produces, replacing the proportion of the mix which usually consists of bitumen. The concept therefore aims to reduce both plastic and bitumen waste which often end up polluting rivers, streams and oceans.

The company’s asphalt and plastic regrind mix, which MacRebur claims is ‘pothole-proof’, is called MR6 and has already been used to top roads in Cumbria, Dumfriesshire, and Enfield in addition to a runway at Carlisle Airport. After receiving praise from Scottish MPs and Virgin boss Richard Branson, the business is now aiming to expand and resurface roads in Australia, South America, Africa and mainland Europe.

Sarah George

Comments (2)

  1. John Thompson says:

    Is there a danger that this will lead to an increase of micro-plastics getting into the environment?

  2. Alf Robertson says:

    And as traffic wears the road what happens to the microplastic dust that is released into the ecosystem? I have been building roads all over the world for 30 years and nothing is ‘pothole proof’. This will be a classic over-promise/under-deliver sales job leveraging our understandable concern about the damage to the ecosystem from waste plastic

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