The planet is using resources at an alarming rate. According to European Commission DG Environment deputy director-general Dr Alan Seatter, sustaining the European economy currently requires 16 tonnes of raw material per person per year of which six tonnes ends up as waste. It is estimated that we currently require 1.5 planets to satisfy our consumption of natural resources. In the developed world our appetite for consumption shows no signs of waning despite resource shortages and the impending peril resulting from inevitable climate change.
However, the real challenge to the earth’s fragile resources is present in the highly populous developing nations whose wants are increasing in line with GDP. In this blog post we look at some sustainable product innovations that are making a difference however large or small and serve as inspiration that while innovation may not be the answer it can certainly help!
Based upon the research work performed by Professor Dan Nocero at MIT, Sun Catalyst have developed a technology that can use sun light to split water in hydrogen and oxygen that can then be used to generate fuel cells during the hours when the sun isn’t shining. The “artificial leaf” technology is a silicon solar cell coated with catalytic materials on its side that, when placed in a container of water and exposed to sunlight, splits the H2O into bubbles of oxygen and hydrogen. Using this technology the company can turn three litres of water into enough energy to power the average US home for one day.
Using the world's highest reflectivity mirror film, 3M’s sunlight delivery system can take sunlight from a rooftop and deliver it deep into the recesses of a building. The technology uses proprietary polymeric "mirror" film to provide more than 99% luminous reflectivity and transports sunlight in both vertical and horizontal paths.
Is an MP3 player that is powered by a person’s body heat. The device is shaped liked a plaster or band-aid that can be stuck on and has a start-stop button and integrated flexible speakers. Not sure if it will catch on but an interesting idea.
The Grameen Bank provided a revolution in the financial world by providing micro-finance loans to impoverished people without collateral. The bank was the brainchild of Muhammad Yunus who along with the organisation were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. The bank uses a group-based credit system that relies upon peer-pressure to ensure financial discipline. The bank originally started funding small projects in Bangladesh and the majority of the lenders are women.
Have developed a carbon negative cement that absorbs more CO2 during its manufacturing process than is emitted. This is truly ground-breaking when you consider that traditional cement production is one of the most carbon intensive manufacturing processes due to the CO2 release during calcination with an average of 900 kg of CO2 released per tonne of cement produced. The new cement is based upon magnesium oxide which is extracted from abundant magnesium silicates.
Virgin have partnered with LanzaTech who have developed technology to recover biofuels from the waste gases from steel plants, municipal solid waste and forestry processing. The resulting ethanol is then converted into aviation fuel. This represents a major zero carbon fuel source as LanzaTech estimate that 15 billion gallons of aviation fuel can be produced from waste gases from steel plants alone and this represents over 20% of the world’s aviation fuel requirement.
Uses solar cells and lithium batteries to run two powerful LED lights for up to eight hours. Nothing particularly innovative about that I hear you say. However, what is unique is that the Azuri solution is focused on providing low cost lighting to remote parts of Africa and other developing countries and even more unique is that Azuri lease the equipment to villagers at a fee they can afford. The cost of the lighting works out at roughly half of the cost of an equivalent kerosene lamp.
Ostara has developed a technology that recovers precious nutrients from waste water streams. As the world population increases the demand on food supply chains will only increase which will in turn drive demand for phosphorus based fertilizers. The current production and use of fertilisers can have significant environmental impacts as it eventually finds its way into waterways resulting in deadzones that can destroy aquatic life. Discharge of effluents is highly regulated and monitored but even still the environmental impacts are largely unquantified and can be significant. The Ostara model treats waste water as a raw material as opposed to a waste. By reclaiming the nutrients in their municipal, industrial and livestock wastewaters, most countries could actually become phosphorus-independent – and help protect water resources from these otherwise polluting nutrients.
So that’s my pick of sustainable product innovations. Some will have more of an impact than others but all very forward thinking. I’d be interested in hearing from you about any sustainable innovations that have caught your eye.
Green Oak is also innovating. As a result of winning the SMEnviroapp competition, we are currently developing an app aimed at providing SMEs with some practical and easy to access resources to help them become more sustainable. The app will be free to download and use.
We are planning to launch in spring of 2013 and are currently looking for companies who would be willing to get involved with the project. We’re offering an unlimited supply of good kharma for anyone who is interested in helping us.
Just click here and fill out your contact details. It’s completely painless and won’t involve the removal on any bodily parts….honest!