Waterless toilets and hydrogen-powered HGVs: The best green innovations of the week

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

With the publication a new study revealing that action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) had generated $233bn in business revenue last year, this week has once again served as a reminder that business success and positive environmental and social impact can go hand-in-hand. But, with an estimated $5trn of funding needed to achieve the 17 Global Goals in full – and with just 12 years left to achieve their aims – the pressure to find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges is building.

When striving to spur the transition to a low-carbon world and to create a sustainable future, it is always worth looking at the green innovations of today that could become mainstream in the coming months and years. With this in mind, this week’s round-up covers six products and systems that could help nations and businesses accelerate sustainability commitments.

‘Smart’ home EV chargers


As top carmakers such as Jaguar Land RoverVolvo and VW move to electrify their vehicle portfolios, innovators are moving to develop technologies that will support the 30 million electric vehicles (EVs) set to be sold worldwide each year by 2030.

One of the latest technologies comes from EV charging firm EO and smart grid solution supplier eMotorWerks, which have partnered to develop a device they claim is the UK’s “smartest” at-home EV charger. Called the Mini Pro, the device can be controlled remotely and dynamically using cloud-based software, enabling charging to take place when energy is cheapest and in greatest supply.

The device, which has been designed to help balance the grid and avoid overloading it at peak times of demand – while saving users money on their energy bills simultaneously – is set to go on sale in 2019.

Hydrogen-powered lorries


Another innovation which could help to decarbonise the carbon-heavy transport sector comes from truck maker Nikola Motor Company, which this week unveiled plans for a new autonomous, hydrogen-powered lorry.

The new vehicle, which is expected to come onto the European and US markets by 2023, will come with a range of up to 1,200km per 20-minute charge. It is set to feature redundant braking, redundant steering, redundant 800Vdc batteries and a redundant 120kW hydrogen fuel cell.

To support the roll-out of the trucks, Nikola Motor Company has pledged to deploy more than 700 refuelling stations for the vehicles across the US and Canada, as well as an undisclosed number in Europe, by 2030. The company previously featured in one of edie’s weekly roundups after securing a contract to produce 800 zero-emission, hydrogen-electric semi-trucks for brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev).

Compostable coffee pods


With consumer and corporate attention still firmly fixed on plastic-centric issues of resource efficiency, some companies are now developing innovative ways to make their other single-use packaging and products more sustainable.

Among them is British coffee company Halo, which this week released a range of coffee pods and packaging that is 100% home-compostable. The boxes and pods, which are made from plant fibres, are designed to decompose within four weeks, release nutrients such as nitrogen and potassium to the compost as they degrade. They can also be thrown into normal bins.

The move from Halo comes after the company’s own research found that 73% of customers did not know what happened to coffee pods once they were thrown away. Around 95% of the pods on the market are estimated to be made from a mixture of plastic and aluminium, making them hard to recycle, with Halo estimating that 59 billion will have been produced globally in 2018.  

Water-from-air technology


Due to climate challenges, population growth and water-hungry business practices, the UN now estimates that 1.2 billion people – one-fifth of the world’s population – are affected by water stress. With the IPCC’s recent report on climate change revealing that a 2C temperature increase would result in twice as many people experiencing water scarcity than there are now, the pressure is on to develop innovative solutions.

One such technology comes from US-based architect David Hertz, who recently led a team of designers and researchers in developing a low-carbon, energy-efficient device that extracts fresh drinking water from the air around it. Called WEDEW, the gadget uses suction to combine hot and cold air, creating condensation and forming artificial clouds. The clouds, which are housed within a shipping container during the process, are then harvested for water.

Hertz estimates that the device, which was produced under a partnership with green technology non-profit Skysource, can generate up to 2,000 litres of clean water a day. The innovation this week won the coveted Water Abundance XPRISE, securing funding to help scale-up production.

Waterless toilets

Despite the fact that water and sanitation sit at the core of sustainable development, the Centres for Disease Control estimate that more than 780 million people worldwide are without access to water that is safe to bathe in or to drink. In some developing countries, this lack of sanitary water has led to a habit known as “flying toilets”, where residents defecate in a plastic bag, tie it up and then throw it on to roofs.

In a bid to improve sanitation in water-stressed areas, researchers at Cranfield University have developed a toilet that treats human waste onsite, without the need for energy or water, called the Nano Membrane Toilet (NMT). Using kinetic power harnessed from the lifting and closing of the toilet lid, the NMT separates liquid and solid waste within a collection tank. The solid waste is then incinerated and disposed of as ash, with the waste heat being harvested to evaporate the liquid waste.

Throughout the process, a full visual and odour barrier separates the collection tank from the user. The NMT is set to enter late-stage product development in the coming months, when it will undergo intense human testing before being commercially marketed.

Biodegradable coffins

With UK funeral costs having risen by 70% over the past 10 years – and with the average cemetery acre now estimated to house 2,000 tonnes of concrete and almost 100 tonnes of steel – some businesses are turning to innovation in a bid to make burials cheaper and more sustainable.

Among them is Liverpool-based startup Koffin, which has developed a biodegradable coffin that is produced using 3D-printing technology. Because it is made from a lignin-based biopolymer, Koffin claims that it emits less CO2 during cremation or decomposition than wooden alternatives. It also requires less energy to cremate than traditional, Victorian-style coffins, which typically consist of a coated hardwood outer, metal handles and a textile lining.

Twenty of the coffins went on display at the Anglian Cathedral Oratory, in Liverpool, this week. The display is part of Koffin’s bid to crowdsource funding to scale up production.

Sarah George

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