5 amazing bits of green technology

22 October 2014 | OVO Energy

The world of green technology might be evolving fast – but we’ve always got one eye on new innovations, and what they can do for people and our planet.

1. The Silk Leaf Project

Winner of the 2017 Arts Foundation Award for Materials Innovation, the silk leaf project grew the world's first artificially functioning leaves.

The clever design from British-Italian engineer, Julian Melchiorri is able to replicate the photosynthesis process. There’s talk of integrating this technology into building designs, essentially turning skyscrapers into forestry.

2. Spray on solar cells

Solar technology is evolving fast, with the production of printable solar panels, spray ons, and thin, flexible films – all able to store energy. It means it’s now possible to spray solar paint onto surfaces, or coat windows with solar films.

The new and exciting ‘perovskite cells’ are both cost-effective and highly efficient. In 7 years they’ve gone from converting 3.8% of the light they soak up into electricity, to more than 20%.

The possibilities are endless. Imagine electric cars coated with the stuff to keep their batteries going, or energy-efficient buildings using solar windows to keep their lights on. It might even give us the technological Holy Grail – a smartphone that never dies!

3. Vertical Forests

The Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest), designed by Stefano Boeri, is a pair of residential towers in Milan – one of the most polluted cities in Italy – and home to more than 900 trees, 5,000 shrubs, and 11,000 floral plants. The greenery not only makes the buildings a lovely place to live, but also provides much needed urban habitats for birds and insects.

No wonder it’s up for the 2018 RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) International Prize. The foliage produces oxygen, and absorbs dust and CO2 from Milan's smoggy atmosphere. The development is among the first of many more innovative projects fusing urban architecture and plant life – in Milan and elsewhere around the world. One day the term concrete jungle might mean something completely different.

4. Plyscrapers

In the UK, 34% of greenhouse gas emissions are generated from buildings. And with 10% of CO2 emissions coming from construction materials, it's safe to say that all this building is no good for the environment. But new innovations in good ol’ fashioned wood have architects rethinking how we look at high-rise buildings.

New cross-laminated timber is as hardy as steel. And since wood continually absorbs carbon dioxide, these 'plyscrapers' could become a big benefit to the environment.

PLP Architects now have plans for an Oakwood Timber Tower in London’s Barbican Centre and Zaha Hadid Architects have been commissioned to build an all-timber football stadium for Forest Green Rovers in Gloucestershire.

5. Bio-methane gas

We might not like to think about it, but there's plenty of power in poo. Treatment plants have long used the bio-methane gas from sewage to power electricity power plants. But now, new gas-to-grid systems allow water firms to pipe a continuous supply of biomethane gas directly from their plants into the National Grid, and into our homes.

It means the methane generated at sewage works – 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide – won't be released into the world, but will instead be put to good use, like heating showers and firing up oven hobs. Biogas production in the UK doubled in 2016 and the UK now has almost 90 plants injecting biomethane into the gas grid – a giant step in the right direction.