Solar trains to Mars and oyster-breeding toilets: the best green innovations of the week

In a historic week that has seen the world's two largest emitters officially ratify the Paris Agreement, edie rounds up the latest low-carbon, resource efficient technologies and innovations that could drive the word to a 2C pathway.

Saturday 3 September: the day we decided to save our planet, according to US President Barack Obama, as China and the US officially ratified the Paris Agreement. The globe is now closing in on the target of having 55 countries worth 55% of emissions ratify the global agreement to combat climate change.

The historic announcement was met with envious glances from across the pond, as both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party here in the UK called on the Government to ratify the deal as soon as possible.

While Prime Minister Theresa May has kept her climate-cards close to her chest during her first few months as Prime Minister, there is a growing belief that more could be done to improve the UK’s energy and environmental prospects – as captured by Part One and Part Two of edie’s green economy wishlist this week.

If May’s tenure does spread disillusion among the green groups, then there could be a chance for Jeremy Corbyn to step in. The Labour leader recently unveiled his energy and environment manifesto, which – depending on which side of the fence you sit – will either be viewed as “wishful thinking” or a welcome change to “isolated” climate policies.

But while the political debate rages on, the private sector has continued its role of carrying the low-carbon flag in the UK. Gatwick announced it would become the first airport in the world to generate energy from an onsite waste facility plant, while London catering firm Vacherin received a zero-waste to landfill business status, one year ahead of schedule.

So, as politicians attempt to align national ambitions with the increasing willingness of the private sector, edie has pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.

Sunlight found in the Big Apple’s underground

The concept of vertical farming and green walls – which have featured in this round-up before -usually revolve around futuristic, Tower of Babel-esque designs the push farming and plant life up towards the skies.

But in New York, they’re taking a different approach. The New York City Economic Development Corporation has recently approved the development of the Lowline project, which will see an abandoned Manhatten trolley tunnel filled with exotic plant life from around the world.

While London’s underground farm uses LEDs to source sustainable herbs and vegetables, Lowline will create an underground park home to 100 varieties of plants, such as herbs, pineapples, strawberries, and lemon trees. The park – set to be completed in 2021 – will use natural light, siphoned from the streets above using rotating mirrors and solar collectors.

By using the mirrors to follow the path of the sun, the lighting system loses just 7% of the sunlight absorbed, creating a natural eco-system underground.

To the window, to the call

While New York could be using sunlight to power its underground greenhouse, individuals could soon be using it to charge mobile devices during journeys. Innovators XD Design have introduced the Solar Charger, which essentially turns any window into a renewable energy source.

The charger first uses solar energy to charge an internal lithium battery, which then sends electricity to a mobile device connected by a USB cable. It uses an adhesive surface to stick to car, train and office windows and can charge a smartphone up to 60%.

XD Design actually offers a range of different solar chargers, from portable chargers for mobile devices to tree-shaped solar collectors for laptops and tablets. The silicone paper that sticks to surfaces is also durable, providing multiple uses across different windows.

Cruising on sun, wind and kitchen waste

At first glance, a cruise ship powered by wind and solar doesn’t seem that impressive; after all we’ve already seen the world’s largest solar boat at COP21. However, this Ecoship, which was introduced as a concept at the Paris talks, has just received a memorandum of understanding to make it the world’s greenest cruise ship.

Ecoship is being developed by Peace Boat and DNV GL and will feature an array of systems that reduces emissions, re-harvests waste energy, minimises water consumption, uses biofuel and even has a garden on-board.

The full story about Ecoship can be read here.

All aboard the solar express to Mars

While the solar ship looks set to become reality, this next concept was born out of pure imagination, and while it is perhaps unlikely to take-off, it provides an interesting solution to an arguably over-populated planet.

Frequent visitors at the Imaginactive forum have developed the Solar Express, a cylindrical “mobile city” that uses solar power to transport people, crops and cargo around the solar system.

The space train would negate the “most expensive” portions of travel – acceleration and deceleration – by continuously moving as a means to preserve energy. Using rocket boosters to accelerate, the train would also use the force of gravity to slingshot itslef to planets.

The train would be fitted with huge solar arrays – as well as others along the trains trajectory path – which would transfer renewable energy to supercapacitors. Water could also be harvested from comets or even small moons to supplement human life or generate hydrogen to be used as a propellant.

Toilets to let for oysters in Jamaica Bay

From the implausible to the ingenious.

While many people associate the devastating impacts of climate change with polar bears, a new wildlife conservation programme is protecting oysters from climate change – by using porcelain toilets.

The Mayor of New York recently joined the Department of Environmental Protection to kickstart the largest installation of breeding oysters in New York City. Located in Jamaica Bay, the project uses porcelain salvaged from 5,000 toilets to create new habitats for the oysters.

It is hoped that the installation, now three months old, will help 50,000 oysters while also improving the resiliency of coastal areas from the effects of climate change – by using what would otherwise be considered discarded waste.

Sol Invictus with solar in its soul

Much has been made over the ongoing constructional shift to cater towards green buildings. While some areas are adopting a quantity over quality approach, green building certification systems such as BREEAM have set the benchmark for sustainable buildings.

Unfortunately, skyscrapers don’t have this luxury. Curtain-walled high rises often trap a lot of heat and require a lot of energy to cool. However, the Sol Invictus project, which has been submitted to the planning commission in Melbourne, could turn these heat traps in solar traps – by utilising solar panels across its windows.

The 60-story building would use cladding that doubles up as solar panels. Peddle Thorp, the group behind the design, claims that using this cladding system would almost increase the solar array’s surface area tenfold (4,000 sq ft to 37,000 sq ft).

The Group believes that this method would cover half the building’s energy needs through on-site renewables including nearby wind turbines. LED lighting, double-glazed glass and battery storage would also be added to the building, which could become reality in four years.

Read more green innovation round-ups here.

Matt Mace

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