Saliva batteries and biodegradable cars: the best green innovations of the week

Capping off a week of firsts for the global climate agenda, edie rounds up the latest low-carbon technologies and innovations that could help to accelerate the global shift towards a prosperous low-carbon future.

This week may well have been dominated by a game of missile-strike bluffs between the US and North Korea, but from the fire and fury have emerged some genuine attempts from businesses to make the world a better place.

For instance, if any of you are preparing for a Fallout-esque, post-apocalyptic world, you can do so in the comfort that Tesco carrier bags won’t be littering the landscape. The retailer announced this week that it is replacing all of its 5p single-use carrier bags – which it sold more than 600 million of last year – with a new 10p ‘bag for life’ made from 94% recycled plastic.

Meanwhile, those of you already huddled up in a nuclear bunker can also rest easy, knowing that you can purchase new pyjamas made from sustainable cotton. That’s because Primark revealed that women’s pyjamas were the first products to be made using the firm’s successful cotton sourcing initiative.

And so, although little can be done from sustainability professionals to stop the US and North Korea waging war, action is at least being taken to stop the private sector wreaking havoc on the environment: in what has been hailed as a world-first, lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) filed proceedings against one of Australia’s top four banks for failing to adequately disclose climate risk in the lender’s 2016 annual report.

Ok… realistically, any war tensions from this week alone are (thankfully) some way off, but one thing that IS on the horizon (thankfully) is the new Premier League football season, which Arsenal will kickstart on Friday in an Emirates Stadium powered by 100% renewable energy.

War or no war, the business agenda continues its battle against climate change. And with all of that in mind, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package for you to enjoy.

Spit batteries not blood

With climate change increasing the likelihood of natural disasters, the need for emergency-response mechanisms that can run without mains-derived electricity grows. If earthquakes or tsunamis lead to power outages and casualties, emergency services could find salvation in… saliva.

Yes, researchers at Binghamton University have developed micro-batteries that run on a single drop of saliva. The paper-based batteries utilise freeze-dried exoelectrogenic cells that can generate power once saliva is added.

The batteries are suited for diagnostic applications in developing countries, which usually require small levels of microwatts for several minutes. The freeze-dry aspect means these cells can be stored in medical clinics before use, although work is needed to boost energy output of the batteries in current form.

Raise the roof and drain the rain

It has become well-known that countries from the Middle East will likely be exposed to ‘extreme water stress’ through to 2040 and beyond, and the effects are already being felt hard by nations such as Iran, where lakes are shrinking and cities are pondering whether to ration drinking water.

BMDesign have come up with a potential solution, with its vision of capturing rainwater while reducing the carbon footprint of new settlements. BMDesign believes that a double-roof system could be used that captures raindrops that are then harvested in a concave roof to be used for everyday purposes.

A 932m2 roof would be able to collect around 28m3 of rainwater when placed on schools. The entire school campus would be below ground level and rainwater harvesting systems would be built between building walls. Temperature changes indoors can be controlled by these pools of water to lower the carbon footprint and costs of air conditioning as a result.

Islands of isosceles

The water-scarcity crisis shouldn’t distract from the issue of rising sea levels: 2016 was a year of surging sea-level rise. But innovators are again acting fast to try and alleviate the issue, this time by developing man-made land masses.

Engineers from the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands this wek showcased a floating island in a water tank, complete with wave simulation, to bring to life their idea. The island comprises of 87 wooden and polystyrene triangles that would be tethered to the seafloor.

While it is only 5km in size, the engineers envision it to grow to 3.1 miles in size. It would be large enough for city settlements, including farms and ports. The island could also be used for floating solar arrays and could be commercialised within the next 10 to 20 years.

Tesla tiles that tame the temperature

It seems that the London-based BMDesign has been having an innovative few weeks. Focusing again on solutions for Iran, this alavi house design uses a sloped roof to naturally ventilate the building throughout the year and uses Tesla solar panels to control the temperatures.

Tesla’s solar roof tiles are designed to blend in with the building, essentially becoming invisible. The alavi houses uses these panels as a second skin for the roof, which is sloped to create a large surface coverage for the panels.

This double skin can be opened or closed using vents to determine how much air is let into the building to cool it. A large glass façade at the back of the building also lets in natural light to reduce electricity use. Although this is still just an idea, it adds an extra benefit to Tesla’s new product.

Sweet new ride

Drivers may be used to running their vehicles on biofuels, but a time may soon arrive where the vehicle itself is made from biomaterial. That’s right, researchers in the Netherlands have developed the four-seater Lina vehicle made from sugar beets.

Capable of travelling up to 50mph, Lina is made from a resin of sugar beets and flax. In fact, only the wheels and suspension of the vehicle aren’t yet made from bio-based materials. The materials also proves to be sturdy and can lower emissions associated with vehicle weight, coming in at just 310kg.

However, the quest for environmentally-friendly transport hasn’t found its Holy Grail just yet. The Lina prototype can’t currently pass crash tests because the material is more likely to break, unlike sturdy metals which will bend during tests.

The sun rises in India and sets in… Swansea

While innovative ideas and concepts are all well and good, sometimes test beds are needed to truly explore potential. A new UK-led project is doing just that, although the place of test bed is a bit further away from home than some might imagine.

In total, 12 UK universities – including Swansea, Oxford, Cambridge, Brunel and Imperial College London – have received £7m from the UK Government to turn Indian villages into solar power stations.

Project Sunrise develops printed solar photovoltaic cells and new manufacturing processes to help build a variety of solar-based products in India that turns homes into the solar power stations. Set to be deployed across five villages, project Sunrise will assess how appropriate the technology is for use in remote communities.

Read all of edie’s ‘green innovation of the week’ round-ups here.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie