Innovation at the service of sustainability
Van Gogh once said, "What would life be if we hadn't the courage to attempt anything?" And I ask you, what would the planet be if we did not have innovation to attempt to achieve a more sustainable world?
Sustainability and innovation are two concepts that must go hand in hand. The very definition of the verb to innovate speaks of doing things differently, to be better than before, to change things by introducing new elements.
Perhaps sustainability is not precisely about changing things? Another better world is possible. One where society progresses based on three pillars: environmental protection, social development and economic growth. In this article, we would like to present innovative projects that are already working towards serving sustainability.
The Ocean Cleanup: A multi-kilometre structure to trap rubbish
Eight million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the sea each year. To date, cleaning up ocean plastic has been done using large collection boats that sail for thousands of nautical miles in pursuit of islands of rubbish. This enormous effort has so far been scantily rewarded as it has only collected and processed a small proportion of the waste; it has been calculated that it would take thousands of years to clean up this waste using nets and boats.
The Ocean Cleanup project appears to be a much more efficient solution. It is a static rubbish collection system which has a minimal environmental impact and it would only need ten years to clean the Pacific Ocean of plastic. The invention consists of a mega 'V'-shaped structure more than two kilometres long positioned in a strategic part of the ocean in order to amass all of the rubbish being swept along by ocean currents. Once inside the structure, the plastic remains trapped within and is collected and processed.
Fuel cells powered by wood residues
Lignin is separated from cellulose as part of wood-to-paper processing and is then discarded. Every day, tonnes of this substance is sent to landfill, even though it could be used in some quite interesting applications. One example of this is a lignin-based fuel cell which generates electricity in a similar way to that produced by current ethanol or methanol cells.
Although not as common as lithium or cadmium batteries, fuel cells already provide energy in many situations. One of the most common uses is in transport, especially urban buses, but they are also used as portable electricity generators to supply between 5 kW and 500 kW of power.
Using wave power to rebuild an island
Up to 40% of the world's population lives in coastal areas that will be impacted by rising sea levels. Unfortunately, reversing climate change will take much longer than these areas have left to survive. That is why, together with the growing pressure to use more renewable energies, palliative strategies are being developed to mitigate the most serious effects of global warming.
One such approach is that adopted by an American team at MIT, which has managed to use nature's own forces to reclaim some of the lost land. Specifically, by channelling the energy from ocean waves to promote sandbank formation. Over a period of four months, this innovative technology project has resulted in part of the coastline widening by half a metre.
Trashpresso, the portable recycling plant that transforms plastic into tiles
Imagine a cross between a capsule coffee machine and a portable 3D printer. Then make it exponentially larger and add some photovoltaic panels to power the resulting machine using solar energy. And instead of using prefabricated printing material, imagine the device is capable of recycling plastics from waste to make building materials. This is the main idea behind Trashpresso, the recycling machine developed by Miniwiz, a Taiwanese company specialising in sustainability and recycling industrial and household waste following the principles of the circular economy.
This portable recycling plant can process any plastic items, including bottles and containers, and convert them into decorative tiles. Another advantage of this technological innovation is that the water used to clean the plastic waste is also reused, thus its water consumption is extremely low.
A new coating turns buildings into solar farms
Self-sufficient buildings are the holy grail of sustainable urban planning. To achieve this, a thin film has been developed with photovoltaic properties which, when applied to concrete facades, could significantly increase the amount of solar energy generated by buildings.
The system, which integrates one-millimetre-thick photovoltaic film into concrete panels, can produce twice as much energy as a solar roof. In fact, a ten-storey building with 60 % of its surface covered with HeliaFilm, as this energy solution is known, could meet 30 % of its electricity needs.
Hydraloop, an innovative home wastewater treatment plant
The Hydraloop home wastewater treatment plant looks like a futuristic refrigerator, but inside it contains a number of sophisticated technologies that enable substantial savings in water consumption. After ten years of research, its developers have incorporated six water purification processes: sedimentation, flotation, dissolved air flotation, foam fractionation and an aerobic bioreactor, along with UV light disinfection as the final step. The result is the reuse of 85 % of the water consumed in the home, with a 45 % reduction in water consumption and a similar reduction in sewage emissions. It also reduces the carbon footprint by 6 %. We should make something clear at this point: The purified water is not used for human consumption, rather for showers, washing machines and dishwashers. The company has also developed a model for outdoor watering.
Moss that eats pollution
A small forest in the middle of the city. No, it is not the typical garden or park, nor is it a bunch of trees. Its name is City Tree, and according to its inventors it offers the same environmental protection as 275 natural trees. Thanks to this, the issue of pollution can be reduced a bit.
City Tree, created by German scientists, is an intelligent moss capable of breaking down harmful nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide particles, all while generating oxygen and cooling the surrounding air.