Technology is like a double-edged sword: it might seem like the biggest threat for humanity, but at the same time tech is the only thing we can count on for saving the planet. In 2015, the United Nations declared 17 goals for its sustainable economy program to be reached by 2030: no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, clean energy, sustainable economic growth, etc. A decade before the deadline, the global community seems to be in a state of crisis. However, there’re a few technological innovations that are still giving humanity a chance.
Most people are sick of hearing about the revolutionary impact of blockchain, but it seems blockchain could be really helpful. The blockchain boom has disrupted the financial world in 2016, though the dust has settled and nobody hopes that blockchain will ruin capitalism now. Vice versa, a German company OLI Energy managed to create a decentralized network of people who share electricity inside the community. How does that work? People and enterprises who are part of the OLI community equip their buildings with OLI boxes, which monitor and optimize energy consumption and enable electricity sharing. All the energy consumption data is collected in the blockchain system, giving a possibility to share the unused energy between community members.
SOLShare is a similar blockchain-based project created in Bangladesh. The project aims to provide energy access to poor Bangladeshi districts. SOLShare is basically a decentralized peer-to-peer platform that gathers data about energy collection. People who have solar batteries or other electricity generating equipment capture energy into SOLboxes. All the SOLboxes are connected, thus, a machine to machine network enables trading energy. The excess power is delivered to Bangladeshi villages without electricity.
Windows that generate power
While we defined the way how to share energy, the question of how to generate cleaner energy remains. Innovation allows people to install their own power plants. Until recently people who live in apartments didn’t have a possibility to install solar panels on the roof, but now they have a chance to do it from their window. There few technologies that fall under the category of solar windows: power windows, transparent solar panels, solar panel blinds. In 2016 NREL research scientist Lance Wheeler discovered glass that turned black after absorbing infrared radiation and turned cleared back after it was removed from heat. That concept was applied to a material that converts energy from the sun. The first switchable solar photovoltaic goes from a tinted state to a transparent state and that’s what makes a good window a good solar cell. When the sun heats the window gas molecules are released, the glass becomes dark and generate electricity. This method gives a possibility to contribute to enormous energy savings. Solar cell windows could work well in commercial buildings, residential buildings or even automobiles. The challenge is to scale this material without losing any efficiency or durability.
Saving Nemo 2.0.
Ocean pollution is a big issue: by 2050 there’ll be as much plastic as there are fish in the ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch reached 1,6 million km2 which is twice as Texas or more than 2,5 of Ukraine. The Ocean Cleanup organization came with the first technology solution that may help with this problem. The idea is to create a closed loop and concentrate the plastic inside and take it out. The system consists of a 600-meter-long floater and 3-meter-deep skirt attached, which enables to concentrate all the garbage inside using only ocean forces: wind, waves, and currents. The first Ocean Cleanup system was launched on September 8th 2018, however, because of issues with retaining plastic inside it was demobilized, redesigned and is getting ready to relaunch.
Another solution for cleaning the ocean is called Seabin. Seabin is practically a simple bin that uses a solar-powered pump to suck rubbish from the sea surface. It catches plastic, bottles, paper, oil, fuel, and detergent. Still, fish are safe as they don’t go so close to the surface. The plastic collected in the Seabin can be recycled. One bin can gather around 1,5 kg of trash per day. It is already on sale, so everyone can order a Seabin to clean up the nearest pond, river, or part of the sea. The cost of a Seabin is approximately €3,300 each.
How trash becomes ash
When people around the world are searching for ways to utilize trash, Singapore seems to live in the future. In the 1960s, Singapore realized that it would eventually run out of land because of the amount of garbage the small country produces. Fortunately, local scientists came up with a solution and built the first incineration plant in 1975. Singapore was one of the first countries which adopted the waste-to-energy principle. Right now, 4 incinerating plants operate in Singapore. How does it work? Before being thrown into an incinerator, the trash is collected, sorted and placed into a special isolated bunker. During the burning stage, the heat from the combustion generates steam, which is converted into energy. The smoke created from burning goes through an extensive filtration process which removes toxic pollutants and then releases in atmosphere. The only thing that is left from the garbage is ash. The entire process reduces Singapore’s waste by almost 90%.
Green is the color of my car
There are many doubts about whether the traditional way to produce electric cars is such a green alternative to internal combustion engine vehicles. Even though electric cars don’t use any fuel, they still give off a CO2 footprint in the air. Both gas and electric cars release some CO2 while being manufactured, but compared to an internal combustion car in which about 17% of its lifetime CO2 emissions come from its manufacturer, for an electric car, this number can reach up to 39%. On average, the index varies from 15 to 26%, and the reason why these numbers are so high is the batteries. When lithium batteries are manufactured to power e-cars, the CO2 levels add up. This mainly happens because battery supplies come from places far away from the main factory and there’s a lot of shipping that needs to be done. Besides, if you use electricity generated by coal to power your car, you still produce CO2. Is it even possible to reduce CO2 emissions up to zero? Mercedez Benz assures that it is. Mercedes-Benz owner, Daimler AG, claims to create carbon-free vehicles by 2039. The multinational automotive corporation plans to use wind turbines as a resource of renewable energy for both vehicles and batteries. The main goal of Daimler AG to displace all the combustion engine vehicles in the nearest 20 years.
VR to enhance eco-mindfulness
Virtual Reality can be a great tool in drawing attention to sustainability issues. New York design agency called Thinc Design uses VR to provoke people to pay attention to global issues like climate change. In collaboration with museums and exhibition centers, the team creates interactive projects, immersing visitors into the epicenter of various crises. The next VR exhibition by Thinc Design will be on display at Dubai’s Expo 2020. For the expo, Thinc designs a Sustainability Pavilion which aims to guide visitors through different areas around the world that suffer from pollution, droughts, or toxic smog. The main goal of the expo is to reveal the enormous impact every person has on the planet. The experience of taking part in Sustainable Pavillion of Expo 2020’s promises to be moving and emotional revealing the magnitude of individual choices of everyone on Earth. The expo building itself will be constructed based on sustainability principles – the 130-meter-wide canopy is made from solar panels which will generate the amount of electricity able to charge more than 900,000 smartphones, so all the visitors of the expo will use renewable energy only.