Necessity is the mother of invention, and these innovations certainly fit the bill.
Innovation in clean energy, sustainable infrastructure and eco-friendly solutions to environmental hazards are the need of the hour. The burden on the world’s natural recourses is immense, and it is high time we focus on renewability and diversification. While we are only scratching the tip of the iceberg, here are three innovations working to create an environment-friendly future.
1. Tulip-shaped wind turbines
Wind turbines are some of the most effective tools for producing clean and renewable energy. A traditional single offshore wind turbine can produce over eight megawatts of electricity, enough to power around six homes with clean energy for over a year. However, they do have some downsides. First, traditional wind turbines require massive tracts of open land to function to their maximum capacity. They are also extremely noisy and pose significant risks to avian wildlife, like birds and bats, with many considering them an eyesore in the countryside. These factors limit the widespread adoption of wind turbines in regular city planning.
Founded in 2013, Netherlands-based company Flower Turbines is looking to change all of this for the better. It hopes to blend art and functionality together by developing tulip-shaped wind turbines. When placed in small groups, the turbines become highly efficient because their curved, petal-shaped rotors can push air into neighboring turbines, maximizing the potential of a single gust of wind by bouncing it back and forth. Also, their vertical design makes them much quieter than traditional wind turbines.
To make their integration into public and private spaces easier, the company offers tulip-shaped turbines in various sizes, colors and designs. Moreover, due to the reduced surface area of the rotating blades, they are less likely to harm wild animals flying next to them.
The company currently has turbines in three sizes up for purchase. The small-sized turbines are one meter (3.3 ft) in height and can fit everywhere. The medium size—the most popular choice—stands at three-meter (9.8 ft), suitable for installations on flat rooftops and concrete ground. The largest size is five-meter (16.4 ft) high and can create around three to five kilowatts of electricity in open spaces, like parking lots or field edges.
2. Hair mats to clean up oil spills
Oil spills have presented some of the most devastating environmental hazards in history. Large spills can harm aquatic and avian wildlife, and many chemical dispersants used to clean up these spills are also potentially deadly to human beings. While better infrastructural and security checks have significantly reduced the number of large oil spills in the past decade, the problem remains.
A San Francisco-based non-profit organization created a revolutionary solution: mats made of human hair. Matter Of Trust, founded by Lisa Gautier in 1998, produces mats from donated human and animal hairs to soak up oil spills. The original idea to use hair to clean up oil came from Phil McCrory, an Alabama hair stylist who correlated the hair he shampooed and cut and its oil-absorbing capacity. McCrory realized that the hair that he had to sweep off the salon floor that would otherwise have no use could be used to clean up oil spills. Gautier and her husband later collaborated with McCrory to bring the idea to life.
The first iteration of the idea was to stuff donated hair into nylon stockings to create a sort of hair buoy. The buoys would absorb the oils effectively but would get heavier and become difficult to retrieve. Then, the organization moved on to create felted mats using donated hair and fur. The hair mats, which look similar to a large doormat, are more effective than the buoys due to the increased surface area. With the mats, one kilogram of hair can absorb oil up to five times its weight. The lack of nylon covering also means less risk of leaving plastic in the water.
The organization has since diversified the usage of the hair mats to protect urban and rural waterways from oil spills due to leaky vehicles, road spills or other petrochemical-related accidents. The hair mats and rolls can be placed around storm drains, gutters etc., to filter petrochemicals and debris from the water and thus prevent water contamination.
3) Hemp building blocks
To anyone fond of Lego sets, Canada-based company Just BioFiber’s building blocks may seem like a fascinating way to build one’s home.
The company makes sustainable, eco-friendly building materials called hempcrete by creating a mixture of the wooden core of the hemp plant, limestone and water. It can harden into a consistency similar to concrete with CO2 addition and moisture removal.
Each block is embedded with a structural frame made of vegetable oil-based polyester. The frame protrudes from the block’s top surface and can be inserted into holes in another block. This allows blocks to be stacked like Lego blocks, creating a sturdy interlocking system. The blocks do not contain sand and can be cut to size using band saws or other power tools.
Also, the blocks are lightweight, with each weighing only about 25 pounds (11.33 kg). Hence, they are easier to handle than traditional concrete blocks and help to speed up the construction process. The company also claims a host of other benefits to hempcrete blocks, such as having a high insulation value and being flame, insect and mold resistant.
They are also more sustainable, as hemp fibers are naturally durable and sequester about four times the amount of CO2 than trees. Also, compared to wood, where a tree has to be around 20-80 years old to be useable, a hemp crop requires only 90-120 days to be fully grown and ready to use. Moreover, you can break the hemp blocks to compost the hemp part in your garden!
On top of that, the company claims that building with its hemp blocks will make the entire construction process (e.g. extraction of raw materials, transport and installation) carbon negative, meaning that it absorbs more CO2 than it releases.
However, hemp blocks cannot be used underground because they are biodegradable and can decompose in the soil. To combat this, Just BioFiber designed waterproof foam blocks made of recycled plastics or soybean oil.
Innovations like the ones in this article are a major part of normalizing best practices that put our environment and our futures first. Coupled with the rising popularity of ESG investing, we can expect to see more companies developing tech solutions to conserve and preserve our environment.
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