Saving the planet, one tech at a time
If we want to save the world from climate change and pollution, we’re going to have to drastically change our behaviour over the next few years. But the aim of reducing energy consumption, minimising waste and cutting back on harmful industries doesn’t necessarily mean stopping our normal activities altogether – it can involve making small changes to make them more environmentally friendly.
One of the best tools we have at our disposal in the fight for the planet is technology. Greentech, also known as envirotech, are technologies which help people reduce their impact on the environment. From saving electricity to finding alternatives to non-recyclable materials, there is a host of greentech solutions on the market.
Here we take a look at five companies tackling the sustainability crisis with technology.
Based in Cambridge, Polysolar creates photovoltaic glass for use in buildings (also known as building-integrated photovoltaics). With the company’s transparent solar panels, energy can be generated by houses or offices without impacting on the building’s aesthetic. The cost of installing these panels is offset by the renewable electricity they produce, with energy used to power homes, charge electric cars or generate additional income for the owner. One application which is particularly well suited to photovoltaic glass is greenhouses, with the large expanses of industrial greenhouse roofs perfect for generating solar electricity. Using renewable energy in indoor food production is an optimal way of reducing the carbon footprint of agriculture.
MacRebur‘s mission is to help solve the plastic waste epidemic and improve the quality of the roads we drive on. The Scottish company does this by using non-recyclable plastic waste to extend the bitumen used in road production. Not only does this give a new lease of life to plastic that would otherwise have been incinerated or ended up in landfill, it also reduces the amount of fossil fuels needed for road production, and results in a higher quality finished product. MacRebur’s roads can be found all over the UK, where the Department for Transport recently assigned £1.6m to extend the use of plastic roads in Cumbria. They have also begun operations in various countries around the world. For every kilometre of road laid, the company uses the equivalent weight of 684,000 plastic bottles or 1.8 million single use plastic bags.
North American based Recleim styles itself as a next generation recycling company. In partnership with Germany recycling technology company Adelmann Umwelt GmbH, it offers closed-loop recycling to businesses and organisations. This involves collecting materials to be recycled, processing them, and repurposing them to be used again. Recleim’s proprietary system includes a logistics operation to recover items from businesses and take them to their de-manufacturing plant, where they are cleanly and safely taken apart. This process recovers 95 per cent of components by weight from items such as refrigerators, other large appliances, and electronics. To date the company has worked with clients including GE and Whirlpool, and retailers such as Lowe’s and Home Depot.
HERU – which stands for Home Energy Resources Unit – is a washing machine sized appliance that turns rubbish into energy. The brainchild of British inventor Nik Spencer, HERU is designed for use in the home like any other domestic appliance. It takes rubbish such as plastics, cardboard – and even used nappies – breaks them down, and converts them into energy which can then be used to heat a boiler. Although HERU cannot process glass or metals, these materials pass safely through the machine. This makes the device ideal for processing items made from a range of different materials, which are difficult to recycle via traditional routes. While the technology is still in its prototype stage, the company hopes to deliver HERU to the commercial market in 2020. This follows a successful trial of the appliance at Wychavon District Council, where HERU uses the resources generated in the building’s cafe to heat water.
It’s no secret that a lot of the food we buy goes to waste, but the true scale of the problem might come as a surprise. According to food sharing app OLIO, over a third of all the food produced globally is thrown away, and if food waste were a country it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the USA. OLIO hopes to combat these depressing figures by connecting individuals in possession of food they don’t want with people who could make use of it. Businesses, organisations or individuals simply join the app, take a photo of the foodstuffs they want to pass on, and arrange for it to be collected by another member nearby. To date, OLIO users have helped to prevent over 1.5 million portions of food going to waste. After launching in the UK in 2015, the app has now helped people to share food in 49 countries all over the world.
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