Robotic housebuilders and eco-underwear: the best green innovations of the week

In a week that highlighted the leaders and laggards of the low-carbon transition, edie rounds up the latest low-carbon technologies and innovations that could enable businesses to move up the scale on corporate ambition.

If this week is anything to go by, it is apparent that the business sphere has a split personality when it comes to sustainability. New research from CDP found that just 100 major companies, such as Shell, ExxonMobil and BP, have caused 71% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) since 1988.

Fortunately, the business case to combat climate change has heightened since 1988. The willingness of the private sector to tackle the mistakes of the past was exemplified this week, with the RE100 initiative to transition to 100% renewable energy reaching the 100-member milestone.

Latest members to join the initiative include AkzoNobel and brewers Carlsberg. In fact, the brewing sector had a lot to celebrate this week, as US-based MillerCoors revealed it reduced water use by 15bn gallons in 2016, equivalent to 500m kegs of beer.

Those less far along their sustainability journey will find comfort that two new standards were released this week in an effort to promote green buildings and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A new ISO standard was launched to simplify the measuring and reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing buildings, while the Gold Standard launched a new metric to quantify, certify and maximise the business contributions to the SDGs.

The introductions are timely. Eleven of the world’s top banks, including Barclays and Santander, have jointly committed to adopt key elements of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), meaning that external pressure to tackle climate risks is growing.

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

The house that robots built

Automation is streamlining how we go about work, and soon enough travel. Supermarkets have self-checkouts, and autonomous driving is a viable innovation of the near future. Now, researchers from ETH Zurich University want to automate the construction industry by using 3D printers and robots.

The aim of the plan is to create the first house in the world to be “designed, planned and built” using digital technology and processes. The aim is to construct a three-story, 656 square foot as part of the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) digital fabrication project.

The house is scheduled for completion in 2018 at a research facility in Dubendorf and will be constructed by a six-foot robot on caterpillar tracks. The robot will create steel-wire mesh formworks to reinforce concrete walls that act as load-bearers for the 3d-printed ceiling.

Siemens sees potential in AES

Energy storage is one of the megatrends driving sustainability in the 21st Century. Car makers such as Mercedes and BMW are following the paths forged by Tesla. Now it seems that electricity suppliers want in on the action.

Siemens, one of the largest global electricity suppliers has partnered with fellow utility firm AES Corp. The partnership has led to the formation of Fluence, which combines Siemens brand exposure and capital with AES’s energy storage arm.

AES also has a wind and solar portfolio, and both companies have been tempted into the storage market by falling costs for lithium-ion batteries. The next step for Fluence could see the company couple renewable energy with storage. The fact that AES has acquired a 50% stake in renewable energy company sPower only gives them more opportunities.

The new prints of batteries

A few months ago, edie reported on the concept of printed solar panels in one of these roundups. It now appears that the ever-appealing combination of renewable energy and energy storage, could both be printed.

Australian-based Printed Energy recently received a $12m grant to test the commerciality of screen-printed batteries which can be added to a variety of printed solar panels. Designed to cut installation costs, the batteries produced are a solid state but are printed on rolls of material and can be adapted to any shape. The batteries are also non-toxic and virtually non-flammable.

Printed Energy believe the batteries would work for sensors, healthcare equipment and renewable energy, although issues are still in place regarding its ability to charge with enough efficiency that it can produce and store energy for those devices.

You used to get it in your fishnets…

Ocean waste is a growing trend amongst fashion and clothing brands. From dresses to trainers, it seems that innovative companies are turning waste into resources to tackle the symptoms of a linear production model.

One clothing item that is less easy to show-off is underwear, yet that hasn’t stopped The Other Danish Guy underwear firm from unveiling boxers and trunks made from fabric sourced from flotsam and jetsam.

Items such as discarded fishnets are part of the “ghost gear” that kills at least 136,000 seals, sea lions and whales annually. But combining the fishing nets with plastic waste can create special yarn through ‘depolymerisation’ to produce fast-drying underwear, which goes on sale in August.

Chasing the sun

With strained land resources, it makes sense to turn to bodies of water to install solar arrays. Floating solar arrays have already been installed in Japan, by Apple suppliers Ibiden, and at the Queen Elizabeth II Reservoir, to the south of the River Thames.

The latter was the largest in Europe, and now South Korean solar developers Solkiss are installing the world’s largest rotating solar plant in the world. The proposed 2.67MW project will float on the Deoku Reservoir and will rotate to follow the sun’s path throughout the day.

The developers claim that the plant will be 22% more efficient compared to fixed land arrays and generate 16% more solar energy than a traditional floating array. Plans are also in place to add additional plants at the Myeoku Reservoir. The two arrays there, combined with the Deoku array, will have a 3MW capacity.

Tesla goes big down under

In March this year, Tesla’s chief executive Elon Musk took to Twitter to suggest that he could solve South Australia’s energy crisis in 100 days. It sparked interest from numerous nations including Ukraine, but it seems that South Australian politicians have asked Musk to put his money where his mouth is.

Tesla has since agreed to build the world’s largest lithium ion battery for renewable energy storage in the area, through a partnership with French utility firm Neoen. The 129MW battery will be paired with a wind farm and will improve electricity security supplies in the area, which suffers from blackouts.

It forms a key part of the government’s $550m energy plan, but could cost a lot less if Tesla fails to deliver the project on time. Musk originally claimed that he would deliver the project for free if the 100-day deadline wasn’t reached. Although details of the contract remain hidden, Musk revealed that a time failure could costs Tesla around $50m.

Matt Mace

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