Technology

New ideas to make the world more sustainable

 By Mike Scott

The journey to decarbonising the global economy is well under way, thanks to a number of low-carbon technologies, such as solar and wind power, firmly embedded in the mainstream. Electric vehicles, battery storage and others are poised to join them…

But that doesn’t mean innovation to cut emissions or help people deal with the impact of climate change has slowed down. From energy storage to 3D printing and electric aircraft, the low-carbon marketplace is developing and evolving in a variety of directions.
Fast Company‘s World Changing Ideas 2019 competition is one of many initiatives that identifies a number of new clean energy and climate adaptation innovators to watch.

Improving energy storage brick by brick

Energy Vault is a Swiss group that takes an interesting approach to energy storage. It utilizes large cranes powered by surplus solar or wind power to lift and stack giant bricks weighing 35 tons to create a tower up to 30-stories high. When energy is needed at peak times, the crane effectively drops the bricks, and the effects of gravity spin a generator to produce power.
The company, which is building a pilot project in northern Italy and claims Tata Power as its first customer, says the bricks can be built from industrial waste, and that facilities can be set up more efficiently and cost-effectively than a new battery plant. In addition, the system does not have the environmental impact from batteries.

Energy Vault's new Energy Storage Tower

Storm awareness, there’s an app for that

Flood Concern, an app from One Concern, allows residents and businesses to see up to five days in advance of impending storms where they be will hit hardest, giving them vital warning and an opportunity to react by moving property or erecting flood barriers. This is a service that will be much in demand as climate change increases the frequency and severity of storms across the world.

Worse (climate) case scenario

Another app, Outrider, shares insight on how climate change and natural disasters may affect its users’ homes and neighborhoods. And if that’s not apocalyptic enough for you, it also visualizes the effect of a nuclear bomb landing on your city.

Improving agricultural resiliency

BanQu, a blockchain-based software-as-a-service platform, creates a decentralized digital ledger of agricultural transactions in the developing world. While that may not appear to have obvious climate change implications, it actually helps to make some of the world’s poorest people more resilient in the face of climate impact by helping them gain access to financial services, such as banking and crop insurance.

BanQu, for Global Supply Chains

Pioneer Awards

Bloomberg NEF
‘s Pioneer Awards recognize companies that have the potential to scale with global impact in mind thanks to innovative technology and/or business models. In addition, recipients must have demonstrated the ability to evolve by forming strong commercial partnerships, establishing distribution channels and growing revenue.

IIoT targeted to maximizing industrial effectiveness

Uptake improves industrial efficiency by using artificial intelligence to allow companies to intervene with maintenance and machinery repair prior to a breakdown. Another Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platform, Metron, allows industrial plants to optimize their energy usage and decrease their energy bills by up to 15% by creating energy transparency using data science and artificial intelligence that can predict energy patterns and recommend optimizations.

new-low-carbon-technologies-global-economy
Industrial data science generates OEM-agnostic insights, predictions and recommendations for any asset, connected or not (uptake.com)

High-tech protection of low-tech centers

Nozomi Networks specializes in cyber-security for energy, transport and industrial facilities. Their mission is to improve the industrial infrastructure of the low-carbon economy by enabling it to become more resilient and secure in the face of increased digitalization.

Lightening the load of heavy metals

Desktop Metal spans the digital and physical worlds with its 3D printing systems, which are among the fastest on the market. Their services increase the possibilities for manufacturers to mass-produce high-resolution metal components that are as strong as their predecessors but lighter and with less material in them.

new-low-carbon-technologies-global-economy
Desktop Metal's new Studio System+ office-friendly metal 3D printing solution (desktopmetal.com)

Carbon dioxide-turned-concrete

From CarbonCure comes a proprietary process that uses CO2 captured from industrial processes and uses it (and therefore sequesters it) in one of the biggest contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions—making concrete. Simultaneously, the method strengthens it. The company is also working on using CO2 to reduce the amount of water needed to make concrete, providing further environmental benefits.

Driving change across industries

Other innovative companies BNEF highlighted include NavyaSunfolding and Ubitricity.
Navya touts itself as the leading developer of low-speed autonomous shuttles. The zero-emissions, all-electric first and last-mile transportation solution was designed “to return fluidity to congested urban centers”.
Sunfolding’s motor-free solar trackers allow for the faster installation of solar panels at lower costs.
Ubitricity boasts smart electricity cable for EV charging that minimize the production cost and space needed for charging spots.

Making the impossible possible

Perhaps the most innovative products lurk at the end of the alphabet: Zero Mass Water‘s Hydropanel uses solar power to generate water out of thin air, producing up to 20 bottles of water a day. And there is also Zunum Aero, a Boeing-backed startup that is well on its way to making electric aircraft. Until fairly recently, these were thought to be physically and commercially impossible, but may soon become a reality for short- and medium-haul flights.

new-low-carbon-technologies-global-economy
Zero Mass Water's Hydropanel uses solar power to generate water out of thin air (Jesse Rieser)

IRENA’s Innovation Report

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has also showcased new solutions that will increase the deployment of renewable energy and its integration into energy systems around the world in recent innovation report, which highlights 30 innovative technologies and 11 innovative solutions that can accelerate the roll-out of variable renewables.
These include enabling technologies, such as battery storage, renewable power-to-heat or power-to-hydrogen and renewable mini-grids. Also showcased are new business models like peer-to-peer electricity trading and demand side management, as well as innovations in market design, such as increasing granularity in electricity markets to allow for variable tariffs that change according to demand. In addition, technologies that provide for changes in system operations were also recognized, including the advanced forecasting of renewable power generation and virtual power lines, in which batteries or power-to-hydrogen/power-to-heat technologies are installed on both sides of a congested part of the grid to reduce grid congestion and avoid the need to build more power lines.
As stated in the IRENA report, “innovation is the engine powering the energy transformation, and the pace of innovation around the world is accelerating. A multitude of innovative solutions have been key to making renewables into the competitive energy option that they are today”.

Cover image by: BanQu

READ MORE: Ten ways to fight climate change by Nicholas Newman

about the author
Mike Scott
Journalist. Environment, Sustainability, Climate Change, Investing, Energy, Supply Chain, Transport, Circular Economy, Stranded Assets, ESG, Smart Cities, Wealth Management, Family Offices, Asset Management, EU.