Volvo’s electric truck and reusable food wraps: The best green innovations of the week

A number of eye-catching and potentially transformational innovations have emerged that could help businesses and nations accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy. Here, edie rounds-up six of the best.

This week saw thousands of people gather in London for the capital’s annual Fashion Week event, spurring those with critical eyes to focus on the environmental and ethical impacts of fast fashion. This year’s shows increasingly focused on sustainability, with designers moving to use fabrics made of recycled metal cans and compostable flax.

The event served to highlight the green fashion innovations of today that could become mainstream in the coming months and years. But while models strutted on the catwalk, researchers across all sectors have continued to develop a variety of ideas, concepts, products and systems that could help nations and businesses accelerate sustainability commitments. Here, edie covers some of the most promising.

Volvo’s all-electric delivery truck

The electric vehicle (EV) revolution is just starting to hit the heavy goods vehicle (HGV) sector, with the likes of Grundon and Veolia recently launching some of the sector’s first zero-emission lorries for waste collection purposes.

Following on from the unveiling of its first electric truck designed for heavy-duty roles in May, automaker Volvo this week revealed that it is developing an all-electric, autonomous HGV called Vera. The zero-emission vehicle is significantly lighter than its diesel counterparts, as it does not need a driver cab because it can be controlled and monitored via a control centre.

The Vera concept is still under development and requires more safety testing before it is brought to the market. Volvo is currently looking for other companies which are interested in Vera to collaborate with, in order to develop transport solutions surrounding the concept.

Green taxi software

On the topic of low-carbon transport, cab operator Go Green Taxis has partnered with software firm Magenta Technology to implement an artificial intelligence (AI) platform that reduces fuel consumption by calculating the most fuel-efficient route available.

Called autonomics, the software uses arrival times based on real traffic conditions and driver availability, rather than zones and queues. It also reduces “dead” mileage by calculating the quickest route a driver can take.

Since implementing the software, the Oxford-based taxi firm has reduced its fuel-related expenses by 10% while increasing the number of bookings it completes by the same amount. The company also estimates that the platform has accounted for its drivers collectively travelling around 15% fewer “dead” miles.

Vegan eggs

The Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) organisation estimates the alternative protein sector will be worth $5.2bn by 2020. As a result, a number of new plant-based products have hit supermarket shelves and restaurant menus in recent months, including Sainsbury’s vegan “beef mince” and Omnipork’s plant-based alternative.

With the meat, egg and dairy industries estimated to account for around 15% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, another plant-based alternative has emerged in the form of JUST Egg, a mix of water, mung bean protein and canola oil which is designed to look and taste like scrambled eggs.

Produced by innovative food startup JUST, the product reportedly takes 77% less water to produce than traditional eggs, with the manufacturing process emitting 40% less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than egg farming. It is set to go on sale in European supermarkets later this year, following successful launches in the US and Hong Kong.

A hybrid solar panel and heat-pipe system

As an ever-greater proportion of the world’s energy mix is generated from renewable sources, a number of innovative solar technologies have featured in this round-up in recent times, including golden solar ‘sandwiches’ and solar panels which double as televisions.

Another development in the field comes from Brunel University, where researchers have developed photovoltaic (PV) panels that also incorporate flat-head heat pipes, enabling waste heat to be turned into hot water. The pipes are also used to cool the PV panels, making them more efficient and extending their life cycle.

The “Lego-style” snap-together panels currently cost £260 per square metre and will be installed on eight buildings across Spain, Greece, Austria and Portugal as part of a trial. The trial is being funded by the European Union’s (EU) Horizon 2020 programme, which aims to spur the creation of innovations that could accelerate the shift to a low-carbon economy.

Reusable food wraps

Plastic waste has undeniably become a hot topic over the past year – among consumers, politicians and sustainability professionals alike. As consumer demand for plastic-free products continues to grow, Cambridge-based startup BeeBee Wraps has developed a plastic-free alternative to Cling Film and Ziploc bags for food.

The company’s food wraps are made by coating organic cotton with beeswax, tree resin and organic jojoba oil to make them waterproof and therefore reusable. It also claims its products are 100% home compostable and ethically sourced.

While the company has been selling the wraps online and through retail stockists since January, it this week received support from innovation specialist Cambridge Consultants to scale up production. The consultancy has designed a manufacturing process that enables production to be accelerated by a factor of 30.

The Plastics Cloud

Global plastic production is now more than double what it was two decades ago, with 311 million tonnes recorded in 2014 compared to 150 million tonnes in 1998. Several tech-based solutions to the plastics problems have emerged recently, including an offset platform which uses blockchain to purchase tokens that offset the amount of plastic consumed by an organisation or individual.

Following this trend, software firm SAP UKI has revealed plans to create a digital “Plastics Cloud” by collecting live data from supply chains. The company will use machine learning to forecast trends in the purchasing and recycling of plastics, in a bid to boost plastic recycling and reduce the purchasing of virgin plastics by corporates.

Created in collaboration with London-based Design Thinkers Academy, the cloud platform will be backed by businesses that are committed to reducing single-use plastic waste. SAP additionally claims that the data can be shared with consumers to help them measure, understand and act on their own plastics impact.

Sarah George

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