Five amazing bits of green technology
By James Fritz Wednesday 22 October 2014
The world of green technology is evolving fast. We’ve been taking a look at the cleverest new kit, and what it can do for people and the planet.
1. The Silk Leaf
Claimed to be the world's first artificially functioning leaves, the design is able to replicate the photosynthesis process. The possibilities are endless. Not only could it have a huge impact on long distance space travel - the ability to continually produce oxygen would mean that space flights wouldn't be limited to the time it takes to deplete reserves - but there is also talk of integrating the technology into building designs, essentially turning skyscrapers into 90 floor trees. Unbe-leaf-able!
2. Spray on solar cells
Spray on solar technology has been in the works for a while, but this year scientists in Sheffield announced that they had taken a huge step towards making it viable. Using a new material, the clever so-and sos have created a solar paint that can be sprayed onto surfaces, potentially making ugly and cumbersome panels a thing of the past.
The possibilities are endless. Imagine electric cars coated in order to keep their batteries going, or energy-efficient buildings using solar walls to keep their lights on. It could even - brace yourselves - give us the holy grail of technology: a smartphone that never dies.
3. Vertical Forests
The Bosco Verticale (vertical forest) is a pair of residential towers in Milan - one of the most polluted cities in Italy - that are 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, produces oxygen, and absorbs dust and CO2 from Milan's smoggy atmosphere. It's hoped that the development will lead to more innovative integration between urban architecture and plant life, both in Milan and further afield. One day the term concrete jungle might mean something completely different.
4. Wooden Skyscrapers
Ever since the first steel skyscraper sprang up in 1884 in Chicago, we haven't been able to stop building higher and higher. a new skyscraper is topped off in China ever five days, while in the UK - according to The Guardian - 47 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are generated from buildings. With ten per cent of CO2 emissions coming from construction materials, it's safe to say that all this building is no good for the environment. But a new innovation might see us return to the oldest - and greenest - building material of all: good old reliable wood. Thanks to a new type of super-plywood, architects around the world are suddenly able to use wood as a viable construction material for high-rise buildings. By gluing layers of low-grade softwood together to create super-strength timber panels, this 'engineered timber' can be made more than strong enough to support a multi-storey structure.
Since wood continues to absorb carbon dioxide even when part of a building, wooden 'plyscrapers' could potentially be a huge benefit to the environment. In fact, the difference between the carbon produced by a 20-storey concrete building and a 20-storey wooden building could be equivalent to taking 900 cars off the road for a year.
5. Bio-methane gas
We might not like to think about it, but there's a lot of power in poo. Treatment plants have long burnt up some of the bio-methane gas that is a byproduct of sewage to power onsite electricity power plants. Now, however, new gas-to-grid systems have been installed which will allow water firms including Severn Trent, Wessex Water and Northumbrian to pipe a continuous supply of biomethane gas directly from their plants onto the National Grid, and into our homes. That means that the methane generated at sewage works - which is potentially 25 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide - won't be released into the environment but will instead be put to good use, like frying bacon and heating showers. All this means that water companies could finally make the move from greenhouse-gas emitters into renewable energy providers. I'm sure they're flushed with pride.