From global warming to wildlife trafficking, today’s pressing challenges are inspiring a host of inventions, breakthroughs and discoveries that are as exciting as they are promising. And a good chunk of those are paving the way for sustainable solutions that could brighten up our planet’s future.
So here’s a list of some of the most impressive trends we can look forward to and how they can help you lead a biotarian lifestyle.
The next big thing in eco-friendly personal transportation? Zero-emission vehicles that run on hydrogen fuel cells. As fuel, hydrogen is clean-burning. Its only byproduct is water vapor, so air pollutants are nowhere in the picture. Using hydrogen compressed gas, the fuel cells directly produce electricity that is stored in batteries until needed.
In most electric cars, the batteries require external charging. But with fuel-cell vehicles, you can refuel in three or so minutes, much the same way you do in diesel and petrol refilling stations. Plus, you get to cover pretty long distances (up to 650 kilometers per tank) and maximize efficiency through regenerative braking.
Auto companies are already gearing up to launch fuel-cell vehicles, initially at a $70,000 price tag. Don’t worry. Mass production is expected to take off in the near future, as hydrogen from low-carbon sources becomes more economical and its distribution infrastructure develops. And when that happens, this remarkable breed of cars will surely be more affordable.
Not all plastics are “bad” for the environment.
Case in point: recyclable thermoset plastics in the form of poly(hexahydrotriazine)s, or PHTs. This recently discovered class can be dissolved, broken down and reassembled to manufacture new goods. And just like traditional unrecyclable thermosets, PHTs make for tough, rigid and heat-resistant structures, so it will probably steal the spotlight within the next five years. By 2025, chances are you’ll see it used in everything from circuit boards and mobile phones to aerospace components.
Also winning points for sustainability is the carbon-neutral plastic AirCarbon, which Newlight Technologies produces from greenhouse gases captured in the air. Used in furniture, bags, cell phone cases and packaging materials, AirCarbon is at par with oil-based plastic in terms of both performance and price, making it a viable alternative.
Another company looking at ways of turning pollutants into valuable resources is Liquid Light, where carbon dioxide from factory and power station chimneys is converted into plastic products.
Ever had trouble finding ingredients or dishes that fit your biotarian lifestyle? Additive manufacturing, popularly known as 3-D printing, saves you trouble by letting you whip up your own food, exactly to your liking. While it’s still a nascent technology, 3-D printing has successfully been used to produce biscuits, hummus, cheese, celery and sushi, among other meals. But that’s just a slice of what it can do. In fact, 3-D printing is a huge hit in the aerospace, automotive, entrepreneurship and health care sectors.
It all begins with a 3-D design of the object to be printed. After you send the design to the printer and select the materials, the printer starts a layer-upon-layer process of printing, dispensing materials with each pass until all layers are formed. This means you aren’t likely to end up with material scraps or leftovers, which in turn helps reduce waste.
With some of the latest 3-D printing initiatives, you can even recycle waste. Say you have a pile of plastic bottles at home. Just throw in a plastic bottle into the printer and the machine will convert it into a new product.
Connected home technology
In the future, your appliances and devices at home could be smart enough to help you save tons on water and electricity. Some systems might also be able to “talk” to each other, ensuring that your resources are optimized.
Many of the latest innovations let you program or control remotely their functions. Droplet’s water sprinkler can adjust water allocation according to plant type. Whirlpool’s Smart Front Load washer and dryer system keeps tabs on your energy consumption and lets you know when it’s most economical to do your laundry. LG’s HomeChat solution can be told to set your appliances on power-off or low mode whenever you’re out.
Things will get even better (and smarter) in the years to come. Imagine lighting systems that auto-adjust based on your mood or routine. Or windows that monitor the temperature outdoors and “tell” your HVAC system to change indoor climate settings as necessary.
Waste to energy
Rather than wasting waste, new solutions turn it to energy. There’s the Biotrans system, which zeroes in on food waste. Set up in canteens and restaurants, this closed, odor-free system collects leftovers and grinds them into a homogenous biomass, which is stored in a tank before being hauled to plants that convert it to biogas—a renewable energy source.
At Alphabet Energy, it’s all about waste heat. Designed primarily for remote oil, gas and mining operations, the company’s E1 thermoelectric generator captures hot air coming from the exhaust of their diesel-fueled power plants. The generator’s thermoelectric material—made from tetrahedrite, an abundant and environment-friendly mineral—efficiently and economically transforms waste heat into electricity. Its industrial and automotive applications are being explored next. Experts also see the technology extending to consumer devices (think a dryer powering an alarm clock).
Recycling has never been more rewarding, thanks to recycling kiosks. In Australia, those kiosks are part of a “Cash for Containers” program, in which people who bring in recyclable cans and plastic bottles are given cash or other incentives such as bus tickets in exchange.
Outerwall’s EcoATM is based on the same concept, except it addresses the e-waste problem in the United States. At this automated self-service kiosk, customers get cash in return for depositing their old cell phones, tablets, MP3 players and other gadgets. The devices are evaluated using electronic diagnostics, artificial intelligence and advanced machine vision.
For its part, Switzerland is promoting sustainable practices in the fashion industry via systems like I:CO, which focuses on textile recycling. The I:CO drop-off receptacles are located in retail outlets and stores, and people who turn in used shoes and clothing are rewarded financially.
Energy-efficient air conditioning
A biotarian lifestyle calls for an energy-efficient home. Air conditioning, however, makes cutting back on power consumption a lot more challenging. The good news is help is on the way. Advantix, for instance, has come up with a saltwater air conditioning system that’s less energy-intensive than regular units. Instead of reheating, the system dehumidifies air by funneling it through fluid saltwater, using 40 percent less electricity in the process.
Chemists are also testing metal-organic framework (MOF) compounds capable of absorbing four times the water that silica gel does. The more water an air conditioner traps, the less energy it requires. If the materials turn out to be suitable for commercial absorption chillers, electricity used on space cooling can be reduced substantially.
With a host of sustainable innovations under way, leading a biotarian lifestyle is more fitting than ever. So do your part. It doesn’t have to be an exciting breakthrough or invention. Small simple changes in the choices you make every day are just as valuable.