Spinning solar panels and water-harvesting sails: The best green innovations of the week

In a week where climate mitigation subsided in favour of economic growth, edie rounds up some of the latest and greatest green innovations that could strengthen and already solid business case for low-carbon technology.

What a weird, weird week for the low-carbon transition. While both Spain and Sweden made positive progress in efforts to go 100% renewable, the UK has again angered the green groups by approving the “climate-wrecking” third runway at Heathrow Airport.

The approval has done little to ease concerns that the UK might miss key climate goals, and this has been exasperated by the solar industry’s letter to Government, calling for clarity on reforms to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

Even the renewables forecast – which has been “significantly” upgraded on a global scale – is looking bleak for the UK. New analysis from EY has seen the nation fall to an “all-time low” of 14th place in regards to renewable investment attractiveness.

With the UK treading on shaky ground, the shift to the low-carbon economy again falls at the feet of the private sector. Fortunately for us, it is showing a willingness to proceed. Earlier today (27 October) paint manufacturers AkzoNobel issued a record number of carbon credits in a shipping industry still devoid of political drivers.

With water scarcity yet to reach mainstream ears in the way that climate changes has, Ceres and WWF called on seven leading food companies to embrace water stewardship and set ambitious new goals in water-stressed areas.

If there was still any doubt as to the willingness of businesses to mitigate and combat climate impacts, then CDP’s Climate A List has shed more light as to the ongoing transformation within the private sector. In total, 193 companies received an A Grade for climate action, with these companies generating on average 6% higher returns.

With this in mind, edie has once again pulled together the best innovations that could drive the global low-carbon, resource efficient transition into this neat and tidy little green package.

UK company finds landfill liquid gold

With the focus going into this round-up focusing on UK decisions, it seems fitting to start with a UK company. Led by Forbes “30 under 30” pioneer Devin Walker, Renovare Fuels has developed a new process that turns organic waste found in UK landfills into liquid fuel.

Using technical consultants who work closely with NASA, Renovare Fuels has developed a carbon-neutral process of creating petrol – which is scheduled to become available in 2017. While current anaerobic digestion (AD) uses a fraction of the gas produced from biodegradable waste, this new method uses 100% of the available gas – including CO2 – to generate the fuel.

Renovare Fuel claims that this method provides ready-to-use fuel without the need for engine modifications. However, the company also believes that the efficiency of the process would also remove the need for AD plants to rely on government subsidies – which could soon be slashed regardless.

Volkswagen’s throwing a water fiesta

Volkswagen’s (VW) new Sustainability Council has only been around for a month, but fresh off of a new €20m pledge the company is already introducing new innovations. In an attempt to release itself from the carbon clouds that arose from “dieselgate”, VW has ramped up its low-carbon drive and unveiled a new waste water fuel.

Somewhat mirroring the Renovare Fuel model, VW’s subsidiary group SEAT has partnered with Spanish firm Aqualia to launch the SMART Green Gas project, which aims to obtain 100% renewable biofuel – from Spanish origins – to be used in compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles.

Using a waste water treatment in Cadiz, the five-year project could potentially lead to the daily production of around a million litres of biofuel – which would create enough fuel to power more than 300 CNG vehicles around nearby cities.

The search for the white sails

While the maritime industry refuses to set sail towards the low-carbon economy, Tokyo-based architects Christopher Sjoberg and Ryo Saito have mimicked boat sails to provide almost 30 million gallons of drinking water in California each year.

This will provide little comfort to the drought-stricken area because it’s only a design competition, but nonetheless the “Regatta H2O: Familiar Form, Chameleon Infrastructure” was named the winner of the Land Art Generator Initiative. The competition calls on architects to develop site-specific innovations to mitigate environmental issues.

Regatta H20 uses 44 sails made from fog-harvesting mesh-like material. The sails stand in the ocean where veins collect moisture and funnel the water to a set of storage vessels located on the Santa Monica coast. The design also pumps the water using electricity generated from wind – using an oscillating ribbon located between two electromagnets that harvests surrounding wind.

The air we breathe, the water we drink

While the eerie white sales are just a concept, this next innovation is one step closer to the reality of generating clean drinking water out of the air. VICI-Labs, UC Berkeley and the National Peace Corps Association have worked together to produce the Water Seer, a low-cost wind turbine that can create 11 gallons of clean drinking water each day.

With water now acting as an economic risk, this low-cost, crowdfounded prototype needs no external energy supply and generates no emissions. It simply uses a wind turbine which spins internal fan blades that push air down into a chamber located six-feet under the earth.

The chamber is cooled by the surrounding earth, causing water to condense and the chamber to fill with drinking water. It is designed for harsh climates next to villages where there is little access to drinking water and the companies hope to eventually produce “orchards” of the prototype.

Idaho is walking on sunshine

If you happen to take a trip to Sandpoint, Idaho in the near future you may stumble across a miniature dancefloor out in the open. This dancefloor is actually an array of LED-infused solar panels that can melt ice and snow.

Developed by Solar Roadways, a set of 30 SR3 panels with flashing LEDs are being used to test the viability of solar roads and paths. Each tile contains a 44-watt solar panel with LEDs that change colour based on what road marker they need to be used for.

The company estimates that a set of 30 could generate 5.28 kWh daily and are designed to heat themselves so they don’t freeze in winter, as well as powering the LEDs internally. While not quite as expansive as the electric road in Sweden, the trial looks set to be pushed out to Baltimore and Missouri by the end of the year.

Solar gets in a spin 

“Producing energy when the sun isn’t shining” has been used as a caveat as to why solar shouldn’t replace traditional energy sources by the likes of Donald Trump. There are also efficiency issues around a solar panel’s ability to collect maximum levels of sunlight.

For Nectar Design these inefficiencies could provide a route-to-market for its V3 Spin Cell. These cone cells allow for maximum exposure to sunlight during all hours of the day and all angles of the sun’s position – all year round.

Reportedly capable of generating more than 20 times more electricity than their flat brethren, the panels also spin to keep sunlight saturation at its highest level, while the spinning also cools the surface of the cell to prevent generation loss. Still in the design phase, the company believes that the V3 cell could reduce costs of solar farms once the size of the array has been reduced.

Matt Mace

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