Wireless EV charging robots and next-gen plant-based proteins: The best green innovations of March 2024

As March comes to a close, edie and our innovation partner Springwise have rounded up six of the best breakthrough technologies for the green economy, including next-generation plant-based protein and robots that can wirelessly charge electric vehicles. Read on to find out more.

Wireless EV charging robots and next-gen plant-based proteins: The best green innovations of March 2024

As of the end of February, there were 57,290 electric vehicle (EV) charging points in the UK, up 47% year-on-year. But even with this increase in charging infrastructure, range anxiety remains an issue for would-be electric car buyers, and innovators continue to experiment with new ways of delivering charging to customers.

In line with this, our first innovation this month comes from a startup delivering wireless charging via autonomous robot chargers. Beyond the cars themselves, our second innovation is a startup replacing oil-derived bitumen in road surfaces with an alternative made from unrecyclable plastic.

Outside the transport sector, innovators continue to experiment with new sources of renewable energy that supplement intermittent solar and wind power. One startup, our third innovation this month, has developed a system that harnesses the power of ocean waves as they move back and forth.

It has often been said that a transition in food and agriculture on the same scale of the energy transition is coming. Innovators are increasingly looking to find alternative proteins, and our fourth and fifth innovations are extracting protein from different sources. In New Zealand, one company is making protein powder from green leaves, while, in Belgium, another is making versatile protein products from a filamentous fungi strain.

Finally, beyond the food we eat, our last innovator is changing what we eat it with, having created cutlery made from natural – and edible – ingredients.

Robotic, on-demand tech for seamless EV charging


Image: Kolbev

According to a McKinsey survey, the availability of chargers is the most significant challenge for sceptical EV buyers. Hoping to tackle this problem is Kolbev, a Swiss company that envisions a future where renewable energy seamlessly integrates into urban landscapes. The company’s innovation is an on-demand, wireless EV charging system that is designed to be swiftly deployed to city locations.

Subscribing customers can use Kolbev’s app to request e-charging in specific car parks and city hotspots. The robotic charger will then autonomously locate the e-car and manoeuvre beneath the vehicle to initiate charging, offering a space-saving solution in compact city areas.

Importantly, Kolbev’s technology removes the barrier of costly upfront investments by operating without the need for infrastructure. This approach not only ensures easy implementation but opens up the possibility for rapid scalability. Additionally, Kolbev’s solution charges using renewable electricity.

Road resurfacing with waste plastics


Image: Magorium

While we like to think that any waste placed in a recycling bin is recycled into new products, the reality is that in some places, the refuse is either incinerated or exported to landfills elsewhere. This was the situation faced by Singaporean Oh Chu Xian, who in response and in partnership with her sister founded Magorium – a deep tech company seeking to capture plastic waste for new forms of recycling and reuse.

Oh’s family had been in the road construction and asphalt manufacturing business for almost five decades, so this was a logical place for Magorium to start. The company’s product, NEWBitumen, is a replacement for bitumen, the liquid binder used to hold asphalt together. Where traditional bitumen is produced using crude oil, NEWBitumen is made from plastic waste that would have otherwise been considered non-recyclable and destined for incineration or landfill.

Contaminated plastic waste is put through a multi-step process, which breaks down the long chains of polymers in the plastic, and then reformulates the materials to create a substance with similar characteristics to bitumen. By-products, such as synthetic gas, are captured, cleaned, and used as a heating source to power the process. Organic contaminants are converted to biochar and used as filler.

Wave rollers to harness ocean energy


Image: AW-Energy

There is a lot of energy embedded in ocean waves. According to the US Energy Information Administration, waves off the coast of the US alone have a theoretical energy potential of 2.64 trillion KWh – enough to meet around two-thirds of the country’s 2021 energy demand.

Hoping to tap into this abundant but underexploited energy source is Finnish company AW-Energy with its WaveRoller wave energy converter. WaveRollers are hinged panels that harness the power of ocean waves as they move back and forth. Interior hydraulics and an integrated power storage system convert the movement of the waves to electricity.

The zero-emissions devices are mostly or completely submerged in the water. They are fixed to the ocean floor anywhere from half a kilometre to two kilometres away from shore, at depths ranging from eight to 20 metres. That near-shore location makes the technology particularly useful as it minimises the chances of faults in the subsea cables used to connect WaveRollers to the on-shore grid infrastructure. One WaveRoller generates 350 to 1,000 KW of energy depending on the size and strength of the waves in each location, and multiple devices can be used together to boost energy generation.

The WaveRoller system comes in a variety of sizes for utility-scale use and to provide rapid response support for fluctuations in grid supply. AW-Energy has also created a smaller-scale WaveRoller-X. All components of this smaller device fit within a single shipping container, and the fully built device is small enough to be suitable for remote locations.

Extracting a plentiful protein from leafy greens and sprouts


An analysis of the global animal protein market predicts continued growth throughout 2024, albeit at a slightly slower pace than in previous years, and points to the need for companies to improve their productivity to adapt to long-term structural changes in the marketplace. One method of improving agricultural productivity is for farmers to grow their own animal feed rather than relying on imported soy.

New Zealand foodtech company Leaft Foods is helping growers do this by producing a plentiful, natural protein from plants. Called Rubisco, the protein is a complete amino acid that is very similar to beef protein, making it an ideal replacement and supplement for both human and animal diets. All green leaves contain Rubisco, which suggests there is significant opportunity for its production.

For farmers, dedicating one-fifth of their arable land to crops such as alfalfa could provide a range of benefits. Alfalfa enriches the soil with nitrogen, helping reduce the need for chemical fertilisers. The Leaft Foods system then extracts the protein from the plants and turns it into a food-safe powder for human and animal consumption. And the crops that aren’t used for Leaft protein production are already valuable feedstock for animals.

Once the protein has been extracted, it can be used as a supplement in many different forms. The powder dissolves and has no flavour, making it easy to combine with other nutrients and minerals and it can also be added to complete foodstuffs.

Mycelium: A game-changing protein from fungi


Global consumption of alternative proteins needs to increase significantly to reduce pressure on agricultural systems. In the EU, meat and dairy production are the single largest source of methane emissions, and the livestock sector takes up more than 70% of Europe’s farmland. If alternative protein consumption grows as needed, analysts predict that its production could free up enough arable land to meet Europe’s 25% organic farming target, while also meeting climate neutrality goals.

Belgium-based protein producer Maash is focused on helping to make that transition to sustainable proteins a reality. Maash uses submerged fermentation to grow food-grade protein from a filamentous fungi strain that has been approved for human consumption by EU regulators. Maash uses only a handful of ingredients to grow the protein, called LoCylia, and the speed at which fermentation occurs makes the entire production process efficient, scalable and sustainable.

Compared to traditional commercial beef production, LoCylia protein production requires 99% less land, produces 95% less greenhouse gas emissions, and consumes 90% less water. LoCylia proteins are complete, which means that they contain all essential amino acids. What is more, the versatility of the final version of LoCylia allows for a range of food applications, with LoCylia AQ for fish, LoCylia PF for pets, and LoCylia FD for humans.

Using LoCylia protein in human food allows new products to better replicate the texture and mouthfeel of traditional proteins. And unlike meat protein and other plant alternatives, LoCylia protein is both vegan and free of dairy, gluten, soy, and nuts. Plus, mycelium-based proteins are easily digested and contribute to feelings of satiety.

Biodegradable cutlery that’s good enough to eat


Image: Koovee

It’s estimated that up to 50$% of all plastic produced every year is single-use, meaning it’s only needed for a few moments before being thrown away. In a bid to cut that figure, in 2021 the EU implemented a ban on various single-use plastics, including cutlery. This ban has since created a big gap in the market for disposable cutlery made using alternative materials. French startup Koovee is working to fill that gap.

Koovee has developed edible cutlery designed to replace all types of single-use plastic utensils. The edible forks and spoons are made from a mix of flour, rapeseed oil, salt, and natural flavours, and have the taste and texture of crackers. Customers can purchase various flavours of the cutlery: natural, almond, and Herbs de Provence. To improve the sustainability of the cutlery further, Marseille-based Koovee also sources its flour from French wheat.

The edible utensils can last more than five minutes when completely submerged in 70 degrees Celsius water, so can be used for soup and other hot foods.

The cutlery was developed with financial support from the French Bank of Public Investment (Bpifrance) and the company also raised €500,000 in an angel round of funding in 2022. Koovee currently produces more than 7,000 pieces of cutlery a day and has several commercial customers.

Springwise is the global innovation platform for leaders looking to drive positive and sustainable change. The Springwise Innovation Library contains nearly 14,000 inspiring solutions to the world’s biggest problems. To access them, find a membership that’s right for you.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie