Self-powering greenhouses and blockchain for diamonds: The best green innovations of September 2022

Innovations featured this month could help solve sustainability challenges like low-carbon agriculture and fashion waste

Looking and smelling good comes with an environmental and social price. When it comes to jewellery, the issue of conflict diamonds has been well-publicised leading to the creation of the Kimberley Process. As a result, consumers are more aware than ever of the risks inherent in the complex diamond supply chain. A less well-publicised issue, however, is the carbon footprint of perfume. Ethanol is an important ingredient in perfume, and its production is emissions intensive. Our first two innovations this month tackle these two issues in the luxury product value chain.

Meanwhile, for fashion on a more day-to-day level, our third innovation highlights bio-based trainers that are touted as the world’s first fully biodegradable shoes.

Elsewhere, we have seen several innovations focused on the process of growing – both for food and to add greenery to built environments. In Switzerland, new self-powering greenhouses leverage the fact that only a proportion of the spectrum of visible light is used for photosynthesis, while a Finnish startup is extracting fertiliser from an unlikely source – used household batteries. Finally, in the US, researchers are developing a new hi-tech method for embedding greenery in ‘living walls’.

Read on for our innovations of the month.

IoT and blockchain for transparent diamond supply chains

Stock image.

The term ‘ethical diamonds’ refers to diamonds that have been mined and processed in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible. Unfortunately, due to the complex supply chains involved in the diamond industry, it can be very difficult to determine the true origins of a diamond. This lack of transparency makes it difficult for consumers to make informed choices about which diamonds to purchase and has contributed to a decline in sales in recent years.

In response to this challenge, HB Antwerp—one of the largest diamond manufacturing ecosystems in Europe—has developed the ‘HB Capsule,’ an Internet of Things (IoT) device that uses blockchain technology and data analytics to track all the stages of natural diamonds’ journeys – from the mine to the retail store.

The capsule stores thousands of data points on a state-of-the-art HB Ledger created in partnership with Microsoft. With more than 3,000 verification points, businesses and consumers alike can see exactly where a diamond has come from and how it has been handled throughout its journey.

Captured carbon perfumes

Image: Givaudan

From food packaging and laundry detergent to clothing and even shoes, a whole host of consumer products are being made from ‘renewable carbon’ – carbon that avoids or substitutes the use of additional fossil carbon. Now, perfume can be added to the list.

LanzaTech is a Carbon Capture and Transformation (CCT) company that works with industrial partners to convert waste carbon into ethanol, which is then used to make new products. The company sources much of its carbon from large industrial emitters in China. Now, LanzaTech is exploring a whole new type of partnership with Givaudan – a company working in the scent and beauty sectors.

The partnership will go beyond the production of ethanol. Leveraging Givaudan’s expertise in synthetic biology, the two companies will research new means of producing key fragrance ingredients using renewable carbon.

Biodegradable shoes, glue too

Image: BLUEVIEW

More than 20 billion pairs of shoes are made every year and most will never be recycled. Shoes are challenging to recycle because they are typically made from several different materials, with one pair often containing synthetic and natural materials. These materials are usually connected using synthetic glues.

Now, BLUEVIEW has launched what it claims is the world’s first fully biodegradable shoe. The innovative trainers are made with two new materials: Soleic and Plant Knit.

Made from plant-based oils, Soleic is a direct replacement for the traditional petroleum-based rubber and foam of shoe insoles and outsoles. Plant Knit, meanwhile, is a biodegradable textile made from hemp and eucalyptus yarn that is the world’s first plant-based, machine-knitted shoe upper.

The shoe upper is a single piece, and each shoe comes with a removable strap that provides two different looks. The sneakers are available in a range of colours, and the company recently partnered with a local aquarium to raise funds from every pair of its ‘Pacific’ shoes sold. Peer-reviewed scientific articles and independent verification, publicly available on the company’s website, confirm the biodegradability of the shoes.

Greenhouses that produce their own renewable energy

Image: Voltiris

The Swiss federation of fruit and vegetable growers has set an ambitious goal of eliminating all fossil-fuel-based energy from its farming processes by 2040. This is no small feat as growing vegetables in greenhouses requires a lot of power to maintain the optimal temperature and humidity for the plants. Now, a startup called Voltiris is developing solar modules that could make self-powered greenhouses a reality.

The company’s modules use photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into electrical energy, which can then be used to power things like lights, fans, and pumps. The company’s solar modules are similar to those of conventional solar panels but with a twist: they only utilise around half the light. Plants use only a portion of the spectrum of visible light for photosynthesis. The company’s key insight is that the remaining wavelengths can be used to generate solar power.

The Voltiris system uses filters that allow red and blue light to pass through and reach the leaves of the plants below. Meanwhile, the green and near-infrared wavelengths are directed toward photovoltaic cells that generate electricity. While the company is still piloting the technology, it has recently harvested the first vegetables grown using its system from two greenhouses in Valais and Graubünden.

Turning batteries into fertiliser

Used alkaline batteries make up around one-fifth of the hazardous household materials in landfills. When these batteries enter a landfill, the casing can be crushed or become degraded. This causes mercury and other toxins to leach into the environment. Now, cleantech startup Tracegrow Oy has developed a way to turn those used batteries into a new product – fertiliser.

Tracegrow’s process is based on separating out micronutrients from the batteries and using these in the production of fertiliser. For example, zinc, sulphur, and manganese extracted from batteries can be used directly as a micronutrient foliar fertiliser (a fertiliser applied directly to the leaves of a plant). They can also be used as components in other types of fertiliser.

Tracegrow’s fertilisers are approved for organic farming and are proven to reduce carbon emissions and enhance crop productivity compared to traditional methods. The company has recently seen new investment from Nordic Foodtech VC, a fund dedicated to investing in early-stage companies aiming to ‘radically renew’ the global food system. The recent funding round brings Tracegrow’s total funding raised to €2.5m.

3D printed living walls

Image: E Baharlou

Researchers at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture have found a way to reduce the materials required to build living roofs and walls – structures that incorporate green plants. Rather than constructing a building and then adding soil and plants on top, the team looked at ways to build directly with soil. Deciding on a circular bio-based method of construction, the scientists created a method of 3D printing with soil. The soil includes seeds of plants able to live with minimal water.

The first structures produced by the team were small tubes, similar in size to a fizzy drink can. The researchers then created more complex shapes, including domes, and are now working on connected walls. The amount of water used in the printing process must be exact to ensure the soil is of the right consistency to hold its shape. The compacted soil makes it difficult for seeds to germinate and grow, so stonecrop, a plant with similar properties to cacti, is used for its hardiness.

Further development of the innovation includes building a moving robot for large-scale, complex construction, and working with additional materials such as hemp. For building-size pieces, the team is examining the use of multiple layers to help hold moisture for the soil wall and to prevent cracking.

Springwise is the leading global innovation intelligence platform for positive and sustainable change. For the last 20 years, it has been uncovering and curating the most innovative thinking and ideas on the planet. Today, with a library of more than 11,000 global innovations, Springwise is trusted by thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, educators, and tech disruptors as the leading source of inspirational ideas that matter. Visit Springwise.com   

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