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5 Sustainable Innovations to Be Thankful For

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These surprising inventions may soon be coming to a community near you.

By Nicole Price-Morin Posted Nov 24, 2016

Heart hands around the sun

On the cover of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an intergalactic guidebook, the words DON’T PANIC remind characters that help is at hand. In a universe fraught with almost constant disaster—from a narcissistic, brief presidency to the imminent destruction of the entire planet Earth—the helpful guide points out surprising instances of goodness in every corner of the galaxy.

In a similar way, goodness in the form of innovation is making waves on our own planet, with the possibility of creating a better world. Right now there are hundreds of amazing inventions currently contributing to sustainability, though not all have practical applications for the mainstream consumer. For real change to happen, the best sustainable innovations should be able to be adopted by, or benefit, everyone. For this reason, broad-range benefit was this list’s main criteria. The end result is that most of the innovations selected have to do with the basics: clean energy, waste reduction, green transportation, and clean water.

1. Sewage-Powered Bio Bus

Sewage-powered bus
Thanks to a successful experiment that began in 2014, there is now a growing movement of city buses in the United Kingdom powered by human waste. The 40-seat “Bio-Bus” uses biomethane gas sourced from human sewage and food waste and processed by a Bristol sewage treatment plant. The company, GENeco, already supplies gas from waste to the national gas grid because biomethane has the same composition as natural gas and can be used directly as a substitute, but the Bio-Bus goes a step further to completely replace diesel buses. What’s fascinating about this project is that each household along the bus routes contributes directly to fueling the bus, and it is estimated that they can collectively produce enough waste to run the bus for 2.5 million miles!

The Bio Bus also produces far fewer emissions than a diesel bus. There is a 97% reduction in dangerous particulate emissions (microscopic matter that can pass easily from the lungs to the bloodstream), and an 80-90% reduction in nitrogen oxides. There is also at least 20-30% less carbon dioxide emissions. No wonder there are plans to increase the fleet by at least 130 more busses.

2. The Seabin Project

Seabin project
The Seabin is a very new innovation that addresses a very old problem: ocean and lake garbage. While it’s not a fix for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it is a solution for the garbage that is endlessly generated at the shore by marinas, docks and yacht clubs or anywhere else humans interact with water. The Seabin is an automated garbage bin that collects floating debris, replacing the need for humans to go out on a boat and fish out garbage with a net. If you have ever lived by the water, you will understand what a tremendous job that is and what a lifesaver this invention could be.

The Seabin started as an Indiegogo project that was funded at the beginning of 2016 for a total of $267,000. The project has since won over a sea of supporters (no pun intended). When positioned in the water, the Seabin is tethered to a dock and a shore-based water pump. The pump pushes water into the bin, which is then caught in a mesh bag. The clean water returns to its source. The designers also claim that in four years of testing, no marine life has ever been caught in the bin. The invention even filters out oil and fuel.

Since the Indiegogo campaign, the Seabin team has been busy building the newest version of the product, which can now function in a tidal zone, something the original Seabin couldn’t do. The catch bag is biodegradable within two years, and recent advances suggest the product can also help remove microplastics from the water. Although this project is still in development, it is the only one of its kind that will be available to consumers in the near future.

3. Biotrans® Food Waste Digester

Biotrans
While having two waste processing innovations on this list may seem redundant, this food waste digester goes hand in hand with the Bio Bus. Waste is one of our biggest problems, and Denmark is one of the world leaders in sustainable waste processing. The country’s brand, State of Green, showcases Denmark’s ambitious initiatives as the leader of the ‘green growth economy’. BioTrans Nordic has created a product for restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions that turns food waste into biomass. While excessive food waste is a big problem at grocery stores and restaurants, even if we reduce that waste, there will always be some. This system works like a giant blender, grinding food into a usable form (otherwise known as biomass), and pumps it into a storage tank. It is then able to be hauled to biogas plants and turned into renewable energy (like Bio-Busses!).

The end result is that institutions are able to easily and efficiently prevent their food waste from going to the landfill without any extra labor and especially without any health hazards from the storage of decaying food matter. Considering that American restaurants alone are responsible for approximately 150,000 pounds of garbage each year, diverting food waste to sustainable energy production just makes sense.

4. Dew Harvest Groasis Waterboxx

Groasis Waterboxx
This solution is an important invention in a world that is a victim of climate change. Since North America currently gets most of its food from the deserts of California and Mexico, the Groasis Waterboxx is the kind of tool that may need to be the norm for agriculture in the very near future. It’s also a great idea for self-sufficient gardeners looking for drought -tolerant watering methods that use less water than drip irrigation. The Groasis Waterboxx Plantcocoon has an entertaining name but also makes some astonishing claims. Not only can it grow trees and vegetables with only one (or just a few) waterings, even in the desert, it also uses a specialized container that shelters the soil, holds water, and channels dew down into a reservoir. The reservoir has a wick that allows water to drip down into the soil through capillary action, encouraging root growth.

The company, based in the Netherlands, claims that Groasis technology gives plants a 90-95% survival rate in any climate, along with a 30% faster growth in any soil, in any weather, at any time of year. This even includes locations above the tree line. The product uses up to 99% less water for trees and 75% less for vegetables—and, if used before the rainy season, requires no irrigation. Groasis technology has also been used successfully to reverse desertification and for large-scale reforestation projects. Compared to other agricultural irrigation technology, it is also less expensive.

5. Tesla’s Powerwall 2 and Solar Roof Tiles

Tesla's solar roof panels
By far my favorite innovation is Tesla’s Powerwall 2 coupled with their newly announced Solar Roof. The original Powerwall was a rechargeable lithium-ion battery storage product, which was built for home use and stored electricity. It was intended as a backup power source when using alternative energy, with a max storage of 7 kWh, and a power output of 7 kWh peak and 5 kWh continuous power. This is quite a bit smaller than the new Powerwall 2, which is specifically designed to work with solar panel roof tiles and has a capacity of 14 kWh of storage. Although a single Powerwall 2 still can’t supply the average power usage of a regular American home, the real progress here is moving away from lead acid batteries which have a lot of downsides, including not being very efficient, taking up a lot of space, having a shorter lifespan, and making a bigger environmental impact during the production process.

The solar roof tiles are a beautiful and functional glass that looks like traditional roofing materials but is actually much more durable. Tesla estimates that the tiles can last three times longer than a traditional roof tile, which may offset the high cost. They also claim that covering your roof with these tiles will be able to power a standard home, which is impressive since they are 98% as efficient as a regular solar panel. (The company claims this will increase with better coatings). Combined with the superior storage of a Powerwall 2, Tesla may have created a product that will revolutionize energy consumption.

Looking Towards the Future

Researching sustainable inventions reveals that it takes a global community of thinkers to create innovations that are capable of fueling real change. The countries represented here include a community of British, Danish, Dutch, American, and Canadian-South-African-Americans who are dedicated to sustainable development and the prevention of climate disaster. We are in an unprecedented time of technological development, when new inventions are being created faster than at any point in human history. If we can use these innovations to solve some of the Earth’s most pressing problems, that’s something we can all be thankful for.

Author photo

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Nicole Price-Morin is an urban farmer and best-selling author of books on sustainable agriculture and food policy. Originally from Montana, she now lives with her husband, four kids and giant dog on the West Coast. Find out more at http://deliberatelife.ca or connect with her on LinkedIn.
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