Urine batteries and impossible food: the best green innovations of the week

In a week where businesses ramped-up resource efficiency methods, edie rounds up some of the latest and greatest green innovations that could strengthen and already solid business case for low-carbon technology.

It’s been a triumphant week for the private sector. Against a political backdrop that has seen Brexit negotiations accelerate and the US discuss the eradication of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), businesses have stood defiant in the pursuit of a low-carbon economy.

Chief among the vanguard this week was Costa Coffee, which took huge strides in the war on waste coffee cups with the rollout of a pioneering cup recycling scheme to more than 2,000 of its stores across the UK.

Elsewhere, Ikea has launched a new range of kitchen fronts made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles and reclaimed wood, and Primark unveiled the results from the third year of its sustainable cotton initiative.

The sustainability agenda is also being pushed to the public. The BBC announced that all of its television shows are now required to track their carbon footprint using a “hotspot” identifying calculator.

Google has also turned to mainstream television to help raise climate awareness. The tech giant teamed with Game of Thrones actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to visually demonstrate the impacts of climate change in Greenland.

The frequency of new business initiatives is increasing and the revolving door of innovation provides a plethora of exciting new alternatives to the way incumbents do business. 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.

Impossible is nothing…but food

Those of you who have listened to edie’s podcast with sustainability leadership expert Alexandra Stubbings will know that veganism is viable, yet overlooked, way to reduce your own carbon impact. Indeed, this was also pointed out to us at the Sustainability Leaders Forum.

For those still not convinced they can give up their carnivorous ways, a solution may be on the menu. Impossible Foods is a US-based firm that has already caught the interest of Google, which bid for the company in 2015. Since then, the firm has sold products across the US and has created a buzz in mainstream media in the last few months.

The company has introduced a non-meat burger, which cost $80 million to produce, that uses 95% less land and around 75% less water than traditional burgers. The lab-engineered burger is made from water and plant-based sources such as textured wheat protein, coconut oil and potato protein. As well as producing 87% less emissions, it is also designed to “bleed” like normal red meats.

A new meaning for net-positive

This round-up has covered fog-harvesting concepts in the past, such as water-producing boat sales. Alas, these have only been designs rather than reality until now. High-up Mount Boutmezguida in Morocco, the German Water Foundation have been turning fiction into reality.

The Foundation has developed CloudFisher, an “innovative fog collector” that is “simple to install and maintain, and requires no energy”. Plastic, triangular nets are strung across metal frames. The mesh then catches water vapour in the air, which trickles down into freshwater storage tanks on the ground.

CloudFisher has gone through an extensive two-year testing period and has shown the ability to collect between four to 14 litres per square metre, and peak values demonstrate 600 litres of collected water each day per net. In Morocco, the feature is proving much more cost effective than tap water.

Exhausting all options for carbon re-use

European air quality laws are being flaunted in more than 130 cities across 23 of the 28 EU member states. One of the main drivers of this unwelcome trend is vehicle emissions. In the UK, transport is the only sector that has increased its emissions since 1970. Basically, radical change is needed.

Graviky Labs is a spinoff company from MIT Media Lab working out in India, and it believes it has a solution that limits emissions while producing products in the process. The firm has launched a Kickstarter campaign for its innovative Air-Ink system to scale-up it up for mass production.

The process converts tailpipe emissions into ink by attaching a “Kaalink” device to vehicle exhausts. The process is being kept under wraps by the firm, but the device can capture around 93% of the emissions from internal combustion engines, taking just 45 minutes to convert it to an ounce of ink.

The French EV-olution

On the topic of transport emissions, one country taking the lead in decarbonising vehicles is France. From pedestrianisation in Paris to solar roads (more on that later), the French Government has introduced a range of innovative measures to combat spiralling pollution levels.

One such innovation was rolled-out two weeks ago, when the city of Paris unveiled its first driverless electric shuttle bus service. The EZ10 shuttle uses sensors and cameras to direct movement, speed and stopping actions.

The service operates along a 132-metre test route from Gare de Lyon train station to the Austerlitz station, either side of the Seine river – an area scheduled for pedestrianisation by the Government. Other routes will be introduced this year, EurActiv reports.

Urine for a treat

Battery storage has been turning heads in the energy sphere and turning vehicles into battery hubs in the transport sector. Demand response could generate around £8bn for the UK economy, as long as questions are answered over grid stability and battery prices.

For the latter question, Standford University feels it has the answer, and it involves a lot of urine. In 2015, the Stanford University lab researchers made a rechargeable aluminium battery, which would charge in less than a minute across thousands of charging cycles. However, expensive electrolytes made the project economic unfeasible.

Going back to the drawing board, the lab has introduced a new version that is 100 times cheaper than the old model. By using urea – commonly found in mammal urine and fertilizers – the lab developed a new aluminium-ion battery that can go through 1,500 charge cycles, although charging times now last 45 minutes. It is capable of storing solar power and distributing it, but more tests are needed to see if it has the lifespan for commercial battery storage.

Welcome to the new sunshine state

Remember the solar road we alluded to earlier? Well, it’s back. Developers Wattway deployed the original 30,000 sq.ft solar road in the small village of Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy for a cost of $5.2m.

Now Wattway is running a new pilot version at the Ray C. Anderson Foundation in west Georgia. If you head out to the boarder bewtween Georgia and Alabama, you’ll find 538 square feet of solar road.

The “road” is capable of producing 7,000 kilowatt-hours annually and is situated next to an 18-mile stretch of living laboratory for green innovations. Nearby, drivers will find electric vehicle charging stations and systems that highlight fuel efficiencies of vehicles by examining tire pressure.

Matt Mace

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