Solar implants and seed-planting bullets: the best green innovations of the week

With the early months of 2017 set to act as a period of uncertainty on a global political scale, edie rounds up the low-carbon, resource efficient technologies and innovations that could offer hope in a critical year for sustainability development.

The wise build their houses on the rocks, but in 2016 it seems large swathes of the population decided to move years of building frameworks to apparent sunnier and sandier shores. Tired of the old regime, the US and the UK ventured for new pastures, yet the foundations on which they build their futures could soon turn out to be quicksand.

The globe was doing so well. 2016 marked the ratification of the Paris Agreement, a sign that nations were united in tackling climate change and harnessing new technologies of the low-carbon transition. In fairness, the message since the original backlash against Trump and Brexit has been one of commitment and solidarity; even the reshuffled UK Government are singing the right notes.

Nations such as China and France have moved ahead, undeterred, to push their climate promises into action, and in the first few weeks of 2017 businesses have followed suit.

More than 630 of America’s largest companies and investors have renewed calls for President-elect Donald Trump to re-consider his climate change denial stance. In the UK, businesses have been greeted with fresh opportunities to revamp the transport sector with a new £20m fund.

Individually, major firms have kick-started 2017 with some landmark goals and achievements. Unilever, one of the bastions of the low-carbon agenda, achieved carbon-neutrality at 5 UK sites following a green gas deal which makes use of 10,000 MWh of biomethane.

Elsewhere, multinational consumer goods firm P&G has announced a major environmental New Year’s Resolution: to effectively eliminate all manufacturing waste from its global network of more than 100 production sites by 2020.

The business case for sustainability has, arguably, never been stronger. But for businesses and governments to hit ambitions in line with the Paris Agreement, they’ll need to foster innovation. As previous edie round-ups have proved, 2016 was a great year for innovation.

We now live in a world where we can use plastic waste to fly aircrafts across Australia. In light of this, edie has pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.

Like a drowned gym-rat

P&G’s New Year’s resolution is certainly a far cry from common individual goals of getting fit and losing weight. But could the quest for clean energy and ripped bodies complement each other? Italian-based architects Carlo Ratti Associati seem to think so.

While some will be looking to cut the sugar content – which could inadvertently increase emissions – to get fit, the Italian team has envisioned the Paris Navigating Gym concept; a floating gym that runs on sweat and your burnt calories.

If the concept were to become reality, 45 gym goers would travel along the river Seine while the actual gym harnesses energy generated from the bikes and equipment to power its engines. Studies have already examined the concept, stating that it could be commercialised in just 18 months.

Solar sets the pace…maker

For those with medical conditions a floating gym might not sound appealing, but there’s no reason why clean energy and health can’t still be enhanced hand-in-hand. After all, flat batteries to medical technology such as pacemakers can lead to surgery to replace entire units.

But a new study from Bern University Hospital and the University of Bern found that planting solar cells under the skin could power these units through renewable energy. The study, aimed at testing the viability of the ideate, developed 10 solar measurement devices that could be worn on or in the arm.

As part of the study, 32 people trialled the on-arm devices, with each able to generate 12 microwatts of electricity on average. In comparison, pacemakers require between five to 10 microwatts. The researchers also believe this concept could be scaled-up depending on the surface area of the device and thickness of the patient’s skin.

Renewables enter a sticky situation

If the idea of embedding miniscule solar panels under your skin made you squeamish, then perhaps a less intrusive photovoltaic is the solution. Unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (more on that later), Sunflare introduced attendees to flexible and sticky solar panels.

Thin, affordable and able to stick to surfaces, the cells use glass substrates and thinner semiconductors. The overall product requires less energy to manufacture compared to traditional solar PV and avoids the use of toxic chemicals. Sunflare also claims that the product can harness 10% more energy than crystalline silicon competitors.

The cells are 65% lighter than these silicon modules, essentially de-risking load-bearing concerns on roofs. Costs for the panel come in at around $1.07 per watt which is double the industry standard of 54 cents per watt. But can you truly put a price on stickiness? Ford doesn’t think so.

Shopping with the crustaceans 

Plastic is still plaguing the oceans in 2017, but researchers from the University of Nottingham believe the solution may be hiding amidst the “plastic soup”. Using Egypt as a testing ground, the researchers are exploring new biodegradable polymers made from the shells of shrimp.

The UK has highlighted how successful the plastic bag charge has been in lowering the number of single-use bags in circulation. The researchers are hoping to extend this cull on plastic bags by developing bio-degradable ones using a polymer called chitosan from the shells.

According to the team, the bags produced would be biodegradable and affordable to the average shopper. The Chitosan, which has an antimicrobial effect, could also be used as a material to package food and extend shelf life – which the researchers are also interested in exploring.

War of the rose seeds

President-elect Donald Trump may be busy composing his who’s who of climate debauchery as part of an administrative shake-up, but that hasn’t stopped businesses and organisations from investing in low-carbon initiatives.

One area apparently immune to the puppeteering of Trump is the Department of Defence (DoD), which has called on innovators to create biodegradable bullets that plant specific engineered seeds when fired.

DoD placed a call to innovative arms on the Small Business Innovation Research programme’s website as a means to combat rising gunfire waste. the Department has already highlighted bamboo fibre as a possible material for the programme and claims that the seeds – developed by the Corps of Engineers’ Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory – will be safe for animal consumption.

What happens in Vegas, powers Vegas

Las Vegas has always been welcoming towards innovation. Hosting the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) the city has been keen to foster new concepts as digitalisation engrains into society. The city revealed this week that all city-owned buildings now run on renewable energy, some forms of which are extremely innovative.

New York-based start-up EnGoPlanet has installed four streetlights at a Vegas intersection that are powered by kinetic energy from tourists walking underneath them during the night. The streetlights run on solar power in the day and then harnesses kinetic energy – with each step generating four to eight watts.

The streetlights are currently being trialled in the location but could be expanded across Las Vegas and New York depending on results. Each light also acts as a Wi-Fi hotspot and mobile phone charging station and is equipped with environmental sensors and security cameras.

edie’s innovation month

The month of January sees edie shift the editorial spotlight to green innovation, with a series of exclusive interviews, features and podcasts running throughout the month to celebrate the very best of emerging clean technologies and low-carbon systems.

Change will not happen without genuine innovation and so this month will explore the bleeding edge where change is really happening. From emerging tech to new business models; breakthrough approaches and creative leaders, we’ll shine the spotlight on the real game-changers and sort the facts from the fads.

Read all of edie’s innovation content here.

Matt Mace

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