Technology is changing everything--even the way we use our planet’s resources. Smartphones and the internet have changed the way we do business, interact socially, and spend our free time. As tech continues to advance, our lives and societies will change even more in what many have dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
And economists, entrepreneurs, and historians are predicting that our lives and societies will change even more this time around than during any prior revolution, and the environment may very well take center stage.
Whether this is true remains to be seen. But according to MIT research scientist and writer Andrew McAfee, this time around will be different regardless, and in the best of ways, because we’ve finally reached a point where our prosperity doesn’t have to depend on taking resources from the planet.
We have listed a few of the world’s most likely environmental saviors that very well may ring in this revolution.
#1 Giant Carbon-Sucking Vacuum
Imagine a huge vacuum cleaner that can suck in CO2 from the air to reduce carbon emissions in the surrounding area. There’s actually no need to imagine this, because it already exists. A small Swiss company known as Climateworks invented a modular system that uses fans that soak up carbon dioxide.
The giant carbon-sucking vacuum needs two to three hours to collect CO2 and release it in a pure form that can be buried underground or even sold to make other products, such as beverage companies that use CO2 for sparkling water or soda.
So far this vacuum is used to plump up vegetables at a nearby greenhouse because the volume of collected carbon dioxide, just 1,000 metric tons, is still insufficient for greater use.
Although the company received about $50 million in private investments, it still faces huge skepticism and financial obstacles. The installment of 18 units costs between $3 million and $4 million while removing one metric ton of CO2 from the air costs between $500 and $600.
But how do we make this happen at a price that will bring this invention to a larger commercial-scale?
With only six million metric tons of CO2 annually, greenhouses and soda beverages are still a small market, so they are looking to bring expenses down so they can sell CO2 into a much bigger market that doesn't even exist right now. They are planning to pull a huge amount of CO2 out of the atmosphere and bury it, forever, deep underground, and sell that service as an offset.
The most likely customers will be corporations who need to reach ambitious climate goals. After all, absorbing CO2 by planting trees or preserving existing forests is not nearly as efficient. Capturing is roughly a thousand times more efficient than photosynthesis.
#2 Waste Shark Aqua Drone
Next up is a vacuum cleaner--for the water--modeled after the whale shark and developed by the Danish company RanMarine Technology. But this vacuum cleaner doesn’t suck up dirt--it sucks up garbage from the water, helping to reduce ocean and river pollution.
According to the UN's data, eight million tonnes of plastic enter the world’s oceans each year. Even more alarming, a 2016 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation says plastic rubbish will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050 unless drastic action is taken to recycle it, noting that 95 percent of plastic packaging is thrown away after a single use.
Users control the device with a remote control or an iPad, which tracks its movements through a GPS signal. When trash is gathered, it is delivered to a collection point.
This trash-eating shark drone called WasteShark swims through water collecting floating garbage, swimming for up to 16 hours on a single charge and eating as much as 1,100lbs of trash in a single go. This aquadrone also has a capability to measure environmental data such as depth, salinity, chemical makeup, pH balance, and temperature.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, around 1.3 billion tons of food produced for human consumption is either lost or wasted every year--but with all the other environmental concerns out there, how to turn food scraps into energy hasn’t ranked very high on the problems-to-solve list.
In Israel, one company has developed a system that can be described as an ideal solution if we are to address a comprehensive healthy future for our planet: a biogas system that integrates air purification and waste disposal to create energy.
“This is our vision for the rest of the world. Every HomeBiogas system saves six tons of greenhouse gases a year, which is about equal to the CO2 footprint of a car. We believe that a biogas system is an accessory that needs to be in every house. We believe that this is the future,” Yair Teller, HomeBiogas Co-Founder, said.
How it works is pretty simple: scraps of food--anything from fruit to meat--are collected in a bin. The system uses bacteria that helps turn food those scraps into biogas. At the end of these processes there is a bag for collecting the biogas with a capacity of 700 liters that can then be used for cooking, electricity, or heat.
HomeBiogas is working to improve the system and create a different and wider field for its use, and they already have a project to launch a bio-toilet, which uses biodigester to convert the waste that people generate every day into methane. It can then be used as a fuel for cooking.
This simple renewable technology protects the environment and promotes a circular economy.
#5 Croissant-Inspired Solar Energy
Storing the energy from wind and solar is challenging, mostly due to the fact that capacitors and batteries have their limitations. A team of scientists at Queen Mary University of London have created a more efficient storage method that can hold a dozen times more energy than any other device of its kind on the market right now.
Being inspired by croissants, scientists invented a device that could deliver solar-powered energy even when the sun isn’t shining. Currently, there are three main energy storage options: batteries, electrochemical capacitors, and dielectric capacitors.
Dielectric capacitors are ultra-high density for functions that require power to be released quickly, but dielectric capacitors are limited by the low amounts of power they can retain. The study says it can tackle the storage limitation.
“After pressing and folding a capacitor which is covered with a plastic film” the London-based researchers said they were “able to store 30 times more power than the best-performing model on the market, the dielectric capacitor, biaxially oriented polypropylene (BOPP).”
The croissant-like capacitor could also improve other types of technology that people use all the time--anything that needs to store energy and release it quickly.
The permanent answer to hotel and camping waste is here, and forget about tiny homes, too. Boasting 88 square feet with space for two, this little capsule can be brought alone no matter where your destination, forgoing carbon-intensive hotels and the unniceties of camping.
It uses solar and wind power, collects rainwater, and is 100% off-grid, generating zero carbon footprint. The cost? $88K.
By Anes Alic for Oilprice.com
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