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‘Eco Tech’: How technology is our planet's last best hope
personLee Bell eventDec 19, 2018

‘Eco Tech’: How technology is our planet's last best hope

Technology is helping us become more eco-friendly and therefore fulfilling our growing consciousness around improving the environment, preventing global warming and integrating sustainability as standard within lifestyle. Here are some of the startup tech firms looking to try and solve these issues.

We’re constantly reminded of how the influx of life-changing technologies will transform the world as we know it. Whether it’s the latest developments in artificial intelligence or quantum computing, we’re told how important technology is in making society richer, smarter, and more efficient. But one thing that often escapes a mention here is the impact tech is having on the environment, and how - if at all - it can prevent any further damage to the planet.

There’s no denying that the world is in trouble. Not only has the burning of non-renewable fossil fuels over the last century led to global warming, which is causing many obvious negative impacts, but also how much we use these energy sources everyday - in vehicles and the like - is causing air quality problems that are a detriment to our health. And fossil fuels aren’t the only issue here. How we mass produce plastics and the lack of recycling, means we are cluttering our oceans, harming wildlife and polluting our water.

Despite everything we - the scientists, the media, the government and the citizens - know about the harm our carbon footprint is causing on the environment, the damage is ballooning, and an even bigger issue is that still, even now, the latest innovations don’t put sustainability first. While many cite being environmentally friendly as a bonus “perk”, it’s not the driving force behind development.

However, things are improving. We are more aware; more conscious of being “eco” than ever before. An increasing raft of startup tech firms are taking note of the issues of global warming, sustainability and the negative effect modern lifestyle is having on the environment, and many are looking to try and solve it. But who, and how? Here are some of the cutting edge innovators that are looking to undo — or at least  limit — the damage we’ve inflicted upon the world and kick-start a new way of living: a lifestyle that puts the environment first.

Walk this way: Pavegen

Pavegen is a start-up specialising in floor tiles. While that doesn’t sound so innovative, just wait until you hear why these floor tiles are special. Pavegen has developed a technology that means these tiles convert kinetic energy from human footfall into low-voltage renewable electricity.  

As pedestrians walk across the Pavegen system, the weight from their footsteps causes generators to vertically displace and, as a result of this radial motion, creates energy through electromagnetic induction. Each tile is equipped with a wireless Application Programming Interface (API) that transmits real-time movement data analytics, whilst directly producing power when and where it is needed.

The start-up’s aim is to connect and empower communities across the globe, using the power of footsteps to contribute to a greater environmental goal.

Source: Pavegen

Caffeine hit: Bio-bean

Unlike the name suggests, baked beans don’t have to be the only thing on the menu if Bio-bean’s energy-efficient cooking method has anything to do with it. The start-up employs an industrialised process to recycle waste coffee grounds into advanced biofuels. It’s latest biofuel technology, Coffee Logs, are biomass briquettes derived from waste coffee grounds. They are a clean, cheap, local and sustainable alternative to imported fuels ­often burning hotter and for longer than conventional fuels.

The company’s factory in Cambridgeshire sees that the waste coffee grounds go through a variety of complex processes to turn them into useful and highly calorific advanced biofuels, eliminating the need to burn imported, expensive and dirty wood and coal.  Which is obviously no good for the environment.

Whereas Coffee Logs can be used in wood-fired stoves, pizza ovens, or smoking ovens. They can also be used for outdoor heating, and could potentially save you a fortune.

Source: Bio-bean

Just drive: Lightfoot

This is an easy solution for any drivers worried about their carbon footprint. This small tech device is said to help reduce carbon emissions by notifying the driver, giving them both visual and verbal alerts to gently nudge them back into a safer, smoother and more efficient driving style.

Smoother drivers use up to 30 percent less fuel, which also helps them save up to £400 per year on petrol costs, Lightfoot says. The device can be used by any driver and bought through the Lightfoot website for just £149.

Source: Lightfoot

Recycle the unrecyclable: Plastic Energy

Plastic Energy uses new tech to transform non-recyclable plastic waste into hydrocarbon products and back into plastic in a bid to transition us into a low-carbon circular economy.

The company uses a patented chemical recycling process called Thermal Anaerobic Conversion (TAC), which converts non-recyclable, contaminated “End of Life Plastics” - that would otherwise end up in landfill, burnt or in the oceans - into oil, or back into virgin plastic.

This includes plastic bags or containers, freezer bags, milk bottles and buckets: such as bin bags and squeeze bottles; drinking straws, tubs food trays, yoghurt containers, vending cups and sachets.

Plastic Energy says that this conversion could prevent plastic pollution and save up to $300billion (or £235bn)-worth of plastic dumped in landfills each year.

Source: Plastic Energy

Sustainability made easy: Eaton’s xStorage Home

Eaton’s xStorage Home is a wall-mounted energy-storing device that aims to increase self-consumption of solar energy and reduce reliance on fossil fuel generated energy from the grid. It’s all housed in a single unit that integrates everything needed to manage and store energy.

It works by storing energy when it is most affordable and gathering some of the energy generated solar panels, for example, when its users are at work, for later use. xStorage Home can also charge electric vehicles, and act as a backup during power outages so you can keep the lights on while your neighbours look for candles.

In turn, it promises to lower electricity bills and thus our CO2 footprints by making it more straightforward for consumers to be a part of a more sustainable lifestyle.

Source: Eaton's xStorage home

Light at the end of the tunnel: Deciwatt’s GravityLight

The GravityLight Foundation is a UK charity working to protect the environment with its first product of the same name, a light that generates power using the force of gravity from a weight that has been developed to provide clean, reliable and safe light.

The idea behind Gravity Light is that it will help people in developing countries to break free from the economic, health and environmental hazards of kerosene lamps.

GravityLight works via an installed pulley and rope system with a drop and weight. For example, the weight is lifted and on release starts to fall very slowly, about 1mm per second, and this movement powers a drive sprocket, which rotates very slowly with high torque. A polymer gear train running through the product turns this input into a high speed, low torque output, that drives a DC generator at thousands of rotations per minute.

This generates just under a tenth of a watt to power onboard LED and ancillary devices. Given the ever-increasing efficiency of LEDs, this produces a light over five times brighter than a typical open-wick kerosene lamp, which are used widely in developing countries. Once the weighted bag reaches the floor, which depends on how high it is installed, it is simply lifted to repeat the process.

The idea of GravityLight is that, as a device that’ll pay for itself within weeks, it will replace the need for kerosene lamps, which are not only dangerous, but continue a cycle of poverty in poorer communities through high fuel prices, and expose them to poisonous fumes everyday.

Source: Deciwatt

Air-so-dynamic: Capture Mobility

Capture Mobility is a startup with an intention to generate green energy by placing specially designed windmills by the side of the runways, highways, metro tracks and motorways. These harvest the air movement of the passing-by traffic, as well as the solar energy.

Designed as a combo product with integrated solar panels, the innovation is able to generate green energy 24/7 by the air movement of the passing-by traffic. Integrated solar panels at the top add extra energy to the system during day time. A small device E-tree is also installed with the wind mills which purify the smoky air on the roads. The cost of each turbine is around £200 and it is able to produce around 300 Watt, which is 90 percent efficient and way more competitive than the typical solar or wind products, according to the firm.

Source: Capture Mobility

It’s a bug’s life: Entomics

Entonomics plans to address the issue of food waste by harnessing the power of insects. Co-founded by four Cambridge University graduates, this company converts food waste into three sustainable fuels for plants, animals and vehicles and most importantly, reduce the amount of the food which is going into landfills.

To achieve this, it makes use of the Black Soldier Fly, which has the ability to efficiently convert organic waste into fats and proteins inside their bodies. These compounds can then be used to produce a nutritional supplement for livestock and what is leftover makes an especially good fertiliser or biopesticide.

Source: Adobe Stock

About the author
Lee Bell
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Lee Bell is a freelance writer and editor, specialising in health tech and fitness innovation and how the latest developments in technology can enhance wellbeing. Lee writes news, features and reviews for a host of national lifestyle and tech titles including Forbes, The Metro, Daily Mirror, The Times, The Sun, GQ, Stuff, and Wareable.

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Science and technology are the principal drivers of human progress. The creation of technology is hindered by many problems including cost, access to expertise, counter productive attitudes to risk, and lack of iterative multi-disciplinary collaboration. We believe that the failure of technology to properly empower organisations is due to a misunderstanding of the nature of the software creation process, and a mismatch between that process and the organisational structures that often surround it.