These sustainable technology solutions could propel our society into the future

Resource efficiency can help boost green technological innovations that could curb our carbon footprint.

  • The future of agtech: Vertical farms and AI-powered farming
  • ‘Woven City’ and NEOM: cities of the future
  • Smog-eating paint cleans the air in urban areas
  • Futuristic solar panels made from food waste
  • FabBRICK: turning old clothes into bricks
  • On the path towards sustainability

The secret to securing growth and employment for Europe is improved resource quality. This provides substantial economic benefits, lowers costs, and increases productivity. To achieve that, we need to improve resource management, reduce waste, optimise manufacturing processes, and upgrade outdated business practices. Also, the rising awareness of the adverse effects of greenhouse gas pollution leads to a growing demand for low-carbon energy, pushing the global demand for various renewable and sustainable energy solutions. AI and predictive analytics, as well as other cutting-edge and innovative sustainable tech solutions will play a prominent role on the path towards this greener future. According to The “Green Technology and Sustainability Market Research Report: By Technology, Application – Global Industry Size, Share, Trends, Growth Analysis and Forecast Report to 2030” report, the industry is predicted to generate revenues to the value of $57.8 billion in 2030, growing at a global annual growth rate of 20 per cent.

The future of agtech: Vertical farms and AI-powered farming

Tech appears to be penetrating every segment of the food industry. From 3D-printed meat and plant-based diets to robotic kitchen assistants, the way we prepare and cultivate food has dramatically changed – or rather, improved and advanced. And this is a good thing because we need new ways to make more and better-quality food using fewer resources. One of the fastest-growing trends in the food industry is vertical farming. Using LEDs and a highly regulated indoor climate, vertical farming uses considerably less water, space or fertiliser than what we’re used to in conventional agriculture. The Danish vertical farming company Nordic Harvest has started constructing a facility in the Taastrup area outside Copenhagen. Comprising 7,000 square meters across 14 floors, the farm will use more than 20,000 LEDs to provide enough light to grow different plants. “Vertical farming helps Denmark to reduce CO2 emissions per unit of agricultural crop produced, and thus we at Nordic Harvest help agriculture with the green transition that is highly needed when Denmark has to deliver a 70% reduction in greenhouse gases in 2030,” says Anders Riemann, CEO and founder of Nordic Harvest.

Amsterdam-based Connecterra, an AI-driven agritech startup set to improve the dairy industry, has developed the predictive intelligence platform Ida. The platform provides farmers with actionable insights to make their farms more sustainable and efficient. “Empowering farmers and the industry with a connected, AI-driven platform is a necessity for the future of food production. The COVID-19 outbreak has brought into sharp focus the weaknesses in our food system that is disconnected and faces threats from climate change and a dwindling labor workforce. With the support of our top-class investors, customers and partners, we are well positioned to democratize access to our technology to millions of farmers across the globe”, emphasises Yasir Khokhar, CEO of Connecterra.

‘Woven City’ and NEOM: cities of the future

Toyota will begin constructing Woven City in early 2021. The project is envisioned as a prototype city of the future that will be located at the base of Mount Fuji. The 175-acre urban ecosystem will be an enormous laboratory-like complex, powered by hydrogen fuel cells at the base of Mount Fuji. Woven City will boast three types of streets: one for faster vehicles, a second for lower-speed personal mobility vehicles and pedestrians, and a third strictly reserved for pedestrians. “These three street types weave together to form an organic grid pattern to help accelerate the testing of autonomy,” the company says. “The homes will use sensor-based AI to check occupant health, take care of basic needs and enhance daily life, creating an opportunity to deploy connected technology with integrity and trust, securely and positively.” Scientists and researchers will focus on developing and testing cutting-edge technologies like AI, robotics, smart homes, to name a few. “With people, buildings and vehicles connected and communicating with each other through data and sensors, we will be able to test connected artificial intelligence (AI) technology,” explains Toyota President Akio Toyoda.“We welcome all those inspired to improve the way we live in the future to take advantage of this unique research ecosystem and join us in our quest to create an ever-better way of life and mobility for all.” 

Another project set for a post-hydrocarbon age is NEOM, which is currently being developed in Tabuk, northwestern Saudi Arabia. Initially, the project was to be completed by 2025 but was put on hold due to the pandemic. Despite these obstacles, the plan is still to have it completed on schedule. “We have to preserve and make all our capacities available to realise this project”, emphasises Prince Abdulaziz. The NEOM zone would “operate as an independent economic zone powered solely by regenerative energy and will have self-governing laws and regulations”, aiming to produce 15 gigawatts of renewable energy in the next decade.

Smog-eating paint cleans the air in urban areas

Warsaw, Poland has become a home to a massive mural made of rare, sun-activated, smog-cleaning pigments. The sportswear giant Converse organised the project as part of their City-Forests campaign. Polish artists Dawid Ryski and Maciek Polak partnered to create a mural using photocatalytic KNOxOUT paint that contains titanium dioxide, a compound known to attract airborne pollutants. Then, the chemical compound converts them into non-toxic nitrates through a chemical process with sunlight acting as a catalyst. According to some estimates, the mural has the air purifying power of 720 trees. “In my dream future city, billboards would disappear, and everybody here would switch from cars to bicycles,” says Ryski. “I tried to make sure that these were actually the buildings of the future – as you can see, they are free from billboards and that Maciek could fit in his plants beautifully.” Polak was inspired by nature whose elements are often found in his work. “I think that nature is a perfect inspiration for an artist’s work because it has endless possibilities in terms of shapes, colours and forms.”

Futuristic solar panels made from food waste

The use of solar energy is on the rise, but with this power source, there is one major obstacle. Carvey Ehren Maigue, a student at Mapua University, has built a solar panel that solves the current panels’ common efficiency problem – their dependence on optimal sunshine conditions. Approximately three feet tall and two feet wide,  AuREUS panes are designed in such a way that they continue harvesting light and produce energy even during cloudy weather conditions. Inspired by the Northern Lights, a natural phenomenon where “high energy particles are absorbed by luminescent particles that re-emit them as visible light,” AuREUS relies on the bioluminescent particles found in food waste – that are mixed into a resin substrate. When UV light hits the particles, they absorb and reflect light. Since they don’t rely solely on sunshine, they will generate energy almost half of the time, whereas current panels only produce 15-25 per cent of the time. ”We can create curved panels, more intricate shapes for the walls, or the design they want without suffering lesser efficiency,” explains Maigue, pointing out the benefits these innovative panels provide. “In this way, we can show people that adapting sustainability to fight climate change is something that can benefit both the present and the future generation and in doing so, we can rally more people in this fight against climate change.”

FabBRICK: turning old clothes into bricks 

After the oil industry, the textile industry is the world’s second most polluter. To help minimise the overconsumption of textile, eco-conscious consumers increasingly shop for second-hand clothes or donate old clothes to various organisations. The young architect Clarisse Merlet believes, however, that we can do much more than that. Merlet managed to combine her expertise in architecture with environmentalism, resulting in the creation of the Paris-based startup FabBRICK. This small company is focused on producing building material from recycled shredded textiles combined with eco-friendly glue. The mixture is placed in a mould and mechanically compressed. Merlet argues that it’s high time we did with waste and recycling and upcycling.“It’s urgent and very important that we find new ways to use recycled clothing. Since I started this project, I’ve made 12,000 bricks. That represents around 5 tonnes of recycled textiles. Nowadays, these bricks are mostly used for decoration, to make furniture or partition walls. But in the future, I’d like to continue my research and make it into a real construction material.” While the innovative bricks respond well when exposed to humidity or fire, their consistency isn’t still suitable for construction. This is just a bump in the road, and the architect is planning to perfect her bricks and turn them into valid building material to provide a sustainable alternative to traditional construction materials. 

On the path towards sustainability

Growing resource efficiency is the key to securing development, not only in Europe but worldwide as well. To achieve that, we need to reduce waste, optimise production procedures, and update inefficient and environmentally detrimental industry practices. Luckily we’re seeing a growing number of scientists coming up with different cutting-edge innovative solutions to help us along on the road to increasing sustainability. 

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