Sunken data centres and ‘sexy’ plants: the best green innovations of the week

A number of eye-catching and potentially transformational innovations have emerged that could help businesses and nations deliver on resource efficiency, low-carbon transitions and combat climate change. Here, edie rounds-up six of the best.

This week marks both World Environment Day and World Oceans Day, with both events understandably focusing on the current plastics storm. Away from the high-profile waste dilemma, businesses strive ahead to ensure that the environment is at the heart of operations and products alike.

With this in mind, this week’s round-up covers a variety of ideas, concepts, products and systems that could help nations and businesses accelerate sustainability commitments.

Lost data of Atlantis

Microsoft has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2030 and with the vast amount of energy that data centres use, the tech firm is looking for innovative solutions to lower energy demand.

The company’s latest venture to lower the energy use of its data centres has seen a small-scale centre of 12 racks sunk underwater off the coast of Orkney. Undersea cables are used to power the data centre, which has enough room to store the equivalent of five million movies worth of data.

The trial, dubbed Project Natick, is based on a belief that the cooling costs and energy use of the centre will be reduced by placing them underway. The centre will sit on the sea floor for the next five years, but computers can’t be repaired if they break. If successful, Microsoft believes the construction and deployment of data centres will shrink from years to just 90 days.

AI, Captain

The shipping industry is playing catch-up on the global climate movement, but that hasn’t stopped some of the sector’s big players for forging ahead with sustainability targets. European shipping firm Stena Line, for example, connects 17% of its terminals to shoreside electricity instead of conventional diesel generators.

The company is aiming to reduce fleet carbon dioxide emissions per nautical mile by 2.5% every year and has now turned to technology to help streamline fuel consumption. Stena Line is partnering with Hitachi Europe to implement artificial intelligence (AI) technology on ships to help with this aim.

Stena Line aims to become the world’s leading “cognitive shipping company” by 2021 and the AI technology will identify factors that cause high fuel consumption and advise on how these can be tweaked to save on fuel efficiency and costs.

It’s windy up on the fence

By the end of 2017, almost 550GW of wind capacity was installed globally, up almost 70% to four years ago. Of these installations, small-scale turbines (ranging in size from 0-20 meters and with power ratings of up to 50kW) accounted for just 1GW.

The market trajectory is moving towards larger turbines that can generate even more power, while lowering costs, but a new concept has been launched that could create clean energy demand for small community-scale wind farms.

Spinetic Energy’s Wind Panels can link together to create a “Wind Fence” that is modular and transportable. The company is targeting emerging markets in the developing world to deploy the scalable community solutions, and secured financial backing from Green Angel Syndicate – the only angel syndicate in the UK specialising in green investments – earlier this month.

3D-bedroom home for sale

Earlier this week the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) issued a rallying cry for the sector to target net-zero emissions by 2030. However, some countries are suffering from a skills shortage that makes construction tricky enough without then having to embed sustainability aspirations.

The Netherlands, specifically the city of Eindhoven, is one such area with a skills shortage. Fortunately, the city will also be the first in the world to sell habitable homes made using a 3D printer.

Project Milestone will see five new houses put onto the market by Dutch construction firm Van Wijnen. The exterior and inner walls will be printed, although it is hoped that drainage pipes and other installations will also be created through the printer, located offsite. As well as lowering costs, the method will cut environmental damage. The houses are set to be completed in summer 2019.

Step aside pesticides

In a bid to feed a growing population, pesticides have become common practice on agricultural farms, only recently being subjected to certain bans across the European Union. As well as critically endangering certain species like bees, some pesticides are linked to environmental damage and water pollution.

Scientists from the Earlham Institute in the UK, which is backed by three years’ worth of European funding for this particular project, are working on ways to replace pesticides by producing the sex pheromones of insects to disrupt their actions, including mating and consumption habits.

Some crops, including tomatoes and berries are now genetically engineered as “sexy plants” to produce the sex pheromones of a moth to ward off unwanted interest from insects. Current methods are too expensive, but the scientists are working on ways to inject the plants to bio-engineer the desired results for other insects, including mealybugs.

Storage’s latest LAES craze

The energy storage market is poised for rapid acceleration, set to grow to around 125GW by 2030, attracting more than $100bn in investment as a result. So far, the market has been dominated by battery solutions, but in Bury, UK a new plant came online that could act as a gamechanger.

The world’s first grid-scale liquid air energy storage (LAES) facility can draw energy to power 5,000 homes for around three hours. Those involved in the project believe it could act as the next wave of storage technologies, currently dominated by battery solutions, for its ability to last for around 40 years.

The technology works by cooling air to turn it to liquid form, storing it in high pressure tanks and then pumping and heating it to gas form which is then used to drive a turbine to generate electricity. The LAES plant at Bury also converts waste heat to power using heat from the onsite landfill gas engines and no carbon emissions are released. At the end of life, the plant can be decommissioned, and its steel assets recycled.

Matt Mace

Comments (1)

  1. Roger Munford says:

    Caption for "Lost data of Atlantis". "Have you tried switching it off and on again?" Kudos to Microsoft for their innovation. I heard elsewhere that they had another data centre in Denmark which was attached to the local heat grid so there is clearly some interesting information about to emerge.

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