Reef umbrellas and ‘unforgettable’ bags: 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.

Companies like Hershey and Unilever highlighted the growing willingness of global corporates to back sustainability, either through multi-million-pound investments or by reaching out to innovators.

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.

Up, up and aer away

Solar geoengineering is a controversial area of research. It involves injecting aerosol particles into the stratosphere, creating clouds with more water droplets in them so that they reflect the sunlight away from the earth.

Scientists at Harvard University want to lead on this “stratospheric controlled perturbation effect” (SCoPEx) by using balloons to release aerosols at a height of 20km to create the desired weather effects. Some argue that it could help cool the earth, and quickly, although some believe that it could have adverse impacts on the climate.

Now, scientists from nations like Brazil, Ethiopia and India – led by researchers from the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies – claim they should take control of any geoengineering efforts, as they’ll be the ones most at risk from the technology’s impacts. New research, published in the Nature Journal, claims the technology could impact on droughts and flooding as well as limiting global warming to 1.5C.

Unforgettable incentives

Human behaviour is a peculiar thing. Good intentions can sometimes be outweighed by subconscious behaviours or even plain old forgetfulness. Take the 5p levies on plastic bags. Many have since purchased a “bag for life” but will sometimes have to pay an extra 5p per bag because they forgot it.

Tesco has launched a scheme in Malaysia aiming to incentivise the use of reusable bags. The retailer will give customers discounts every time they use a bag for life. The “unforgettable bag” was introduced across 11 stores in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur.

According to Tesco, around 70% of its customers in the capital own reusable carrier bags, but forget to bring them into the store. It is hoped the 10p discount will incentivise behaviour change and lead to an uptake in reusable bag use.

Dead Sea drinking

With the UN reporting that 30,000 people die each week due to the consumption and everyday use of unsanitary water, new measures that can improve water quality are desperately needed as water scarcity becomes common place in some communities.

Researchers from the University of Texas claim to have developed a hydrogel that can desalinate water – including the salt water from the Dead Sea – at a cheaper cost and lower energy consumption than traditional methods.

The semiconducting hydrogels absorb solar energy from the atmosphere to produce water vapour. The water is then pumped into a condenser and converted into freshwater, filtering out harmful containments in the process. Up to 25 litres of water has been produced daily so far and a patent application has been filed.

Screw this, glue that

Furniture is one of the biggest sources of waste, with 18.5 million tonnes ending up in landfill annually across the US and Europe. It stems from the production of sturdy but hard-to-recycle products like MDF, which add other materials like laminates and screws that are hard to separate.

The ECOR Circular Economy Team has partnered with DSM-Niaga on a new circular economy innovation that could enable furniture manufacturers and fabricators to create finish, laminate and veneer products up to seven times faster, without adding to the waste pile.

The two companies have collaborated on a recyclable glue that “glues like a screw”, which can be melted with a microwave frequency to remove laminates that can be collected and re-used. The glue can also be combined with new ECOR panels made from natural fibres. Both technologies were combined and tested across various furniture applications, with work underway to recover even more of the product at its end of life.

Screening the seas

In 2016, 75% of reefs studied by researchers had been affected by coral bleaching, whereby reefs expel algae which in turn is starting to kill off some of the world’s most diverse and unique ecosystems. Bleaching is inherently linked to climate change as water temperature is the main driver in turning the corals white.

Researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science have been conducting trials to protect reefs from further bleaching, by spraying liquid substances on the water surface to act as a shielding umbrella against light and heat from the sun’s rays.

The liquid is made of natural lipid and calcium carbonate, both of which can be found naturally in sediments locate along reefs. The liquid spray is 50,000 times thinner than human hair and has reduced the amount of light reaching the reefs by 20%. Trials are yet to be conducted in a real-world environment but so far, the substance has had no adverse impact on the reefs.

Desert mirage or miracle?

Plastics continue to dominate the headlines, providing an ideal platform for innovators to showcase alternatives and solutions. On the southern edge of Israel’s Negev Desert, waste firm UBQ has patented a new solution that can turn everyday household rubbish into reusable bio-based plastics.

The company’s pilot plant can currently cater for one tonne of municipal waste an hour, but production could quickly expand if demand increased. With more than $30m raised from investors, the company is rolling out its solution following a five-year research process.

The system diverts waste from landfill. Items such as metals and glass are extracted and sent to recycling facilities while food waste, paper and plastics are dried and milled into a powder substance. This powder is then constructed into a bio-based material that could replace plastics. UBQ claim the process is emissions-free, produces no waste and uses little energy or water. For every tonne produced, the company claims it prevents up to 30 tonnes of carbon being emitted from landfill.

Innovation centre at edie Live

From carbon-eliminating solutions to fresh ideas to drive resource efficiency, the Innovation Centre will showcase the pre-commercial solutions and ideas that could disrupt entire markets and take corporate sustainability to a new level. It will also feature some of the best innovations covered in in 2017.

If you have an innovation you’re interested in displaying, click here. To register for edie Live, click here.

Matt Mace

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