The big, green, breakthrough technologies of 2019
Technology to get excited about
By staying at the forefront of research & development, we are able to constantly offer our customers the leading technologies at the best value. However, huge progress is being made across all green industries and we wanted to compile a list to reflect this.
Plant-based alternatives and lab-grown meat
We’re sure you have noticed that alternatives to meat are taking up more shelf space in our shops. From the beetroot burgers to the Quorn mince, inventors are trying to trick our taste buds into eating meatless meat.
And even if you don’t want to give up meat, it is a way of tackling climate change and global warming. The global population continues to grow and get richer; more people can afford and eat meat. The IPCC reported in 2014 that globally, the agriculture sector was the second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases (24%). Something needs to change.
Social ideas like Meatless Mondays have caused the number of vegans and vegetarians to proliferate. Over the past decade, the number of people who have quit meat increased by 360%. In the past two years, that percentage was 700%. This has amounted to over 10 million people in the UK either being vegan or vegetarian.
There are even off the curve ideas being pitched too. some research suggests feeding cattle seaweed instead of normal feed would reduce their emissions by 99%. Other scientists are advocating for lab-grown meat.
Animal agriculture is the leading cause of global deforestation.
Lab-grown meat works by extracting an animal’s stem cells and turning them into multiple fibres creating a piece of meat. This would then be manufactured, similarly to normal meat, but without the need for mass amounts of farm space. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of global deforestation.
It’s hard to change the way people think and live. The problem is we’re not all going to stop eating meat anytime soon. However, as consumer awareness increases, we will continue to see more plant-based alternatives compete with meat in 2019, and hear more about developments on lab-grown meat.
If we can’t stop emitting it…
Many people, maybe the slightly more pessimistic, believe we have now passed a point of no return. As if mitigating climate change is about damage control.
To prevent a global crisis caused by temperature rises, the UN has concluded that we need to remove 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by the end of the century. We need urgent action in the present because the warming effect of carbon dioxide lasts thousands of years.
Carbon capture involves trapping carbon dioxide at the source and storing it safely to prevent any emissions into the atmosphere. But where to store it?
Certain corporations are using the captured carbon dioxide to create synthetic fuels and others are selling it to the soft-drinks industry. Iceland’s ongoing project, CarbFix, is evidence that carbon capture is a solution. The country’s largest geothermal plant captures carbon dioxide from steam, liquifies the gas and pumps it underground to mineralise into rock. This permanently stores the carbon.
Capturing carbon is currently niche but climate scientists predict that it will be an essential part of climate change mitigation, especially as costs continue to decrease.
Life-saving and changing toilets
In 2013, six billion of the globe’s seven billion inhabitants owned a mobile phone but just four and a half billion had a toilet. Even worse, over two billion people don’t have access to safe sanitation. This means human waste continues to spread bacteria and disease, causing millions of deaths per year.
Over two billion people don’t have access to safe sanitation
Now innovators and inventors are tackling this issue by creating toilets that are cheap, efficient and don’t require sewers. Due to the lack of funds, certain areas are at higher risk because they need large volumes of water for flushing, kilometres of pipes to transport waste and trained people to maintain the system.
New designs are overcoming these obstacles by replacing transporting with transforming. These toilets can create clean water, fertiliser, animal feed and electricity. Most of us take access to safe sanitation for granted, but innovative solutions are being invented to help improve a quarter of the world’s day-to-day lives.
The World Resources Institute predicts there will be 9.8 billion people on earth by 2050. This means even more pressure on our existing resources. For example, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2019 ranks ‘water crisis’ with the fourth largest impact. People don’t realise how much water is used for us to lead our daily lives.
For example, from farming to transporting, a kilo of beef requires on average 15,415 litres of water. Making a t-shirt requires on average 2,720 litres of water. Due to scarcity, we need to reduce our use of water and improve efficiency in a number of sectors. Otherwise, align with a growing population, the number of people who don’t have access to clean water and basic sanitation will continue to escalate.
Will it be the fuel of the future?
As lithium-ion dominates the battery market, an ever-increasing demand is putting a lot of pressure on manufacturers. Many see hydrogen as an alternative source of energy but it has the obstacles of cost, infrastructure and safety to overcome.
When hydrogen is mentioned as a fuel or source of energy, you may think of the Hindenburg disaster. The documented disaster that brought the idea of an airship to an abrupt end. But, hydrogen does have the potential to help move towards a low carbon economy.
In order to extract hydrogen, it requires a lot of electricity. And using fossil fuel electricity would defeat the purpose of using hydrogen, meaning we need to be able to produce large amounts of renewable energy first.
Hydrogen has the potential to heat and power our homes as well as our vehicles. As batteries don’t last forever, hydrogen can take advantage of already existing gas pipeline infrastructure; using electricity from renewable energy sources to help produce the gas and provide us with fuel.
Over 95% of hydrogen is produced by the chemical synthesis steam methane reforming. By using high temperature and pressure, hydrocarbon fuels like natural gas can help produce chemicals like hydrogen. We can then reform fuel cells with hydrogen to help create low/no-carbon energy and transport.
Hydrogen provides another option which can help make our grid more flexible and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Shell opened its first hydrogen pump at a fuel station in the UK last year. And it also offers the possibility of long-term energy storage.
Hydrogen is in abundance and produces no carbon emissions when burned with oxygen. It will continue to be heavily invested in but except for developments in research, we can expect lithium-ion to remain in first place for at least the next 10 years.
Batteries, batteries, batteries
Lithium-ion, new alternatives, EVs, recycling
It may not be as new or exciting as other technologies on this list, but we are going to see significant progress in regards to improved battery density and a reduction in costs.
It has now been reported that we will never run out of lithium. It’s also projected we will have high-energy density batteries without cobalt within the next three years. Cobalt is currently the most unethical material found in batteries.
Lithium will see competition. Alternative batteries like solid-state are being invested in heavily as an alternative to lithium. Dyson and Toyota are both developing electric vehicles which use solid-state batteries and hope to have them on the road within the next three years. These batteries have the potential to offer more capacity at a lower weight, as well as charge faster and last longer. There is a lot of healthy competition currently in the battery storage market.
Bernstein recently reported in a conference that there is ample material available to make multi-terawatt batteries in the near future. These units will have lifespans of 25-30 years and when recycled, the refined materials extracted are better than when they were newly mined. Recycling is still currently a niche market but businesses and the public sector, like the Faraday Challenge by the UK Government, are working to find solutions for this.
Automated vehicles & intelligent highways
Self-driving cars on electric producing roads
Qilu Transportation’s motorway in Jinan, China is 1,080 metres long. Under the transparent concrete, lies solar panels collecting sunlight. The company claim the electrified highway will power all of the streetlights for the motorway and 800 local homes.
Projects like Qilu Transportation’s motorway is a part of China’s strategic plan: Made in China 2025. The country is aiming to produce higher quality products and services in the near future. At the heart of this is technologies such as renewables, electric vehicles and AI.
Using recharging wires and sensors, the electricity from the panels can be used to wirelessly charge any vehicles driving on the road above. As software advances, we will see innovation positively impact all sectors, not just automotive.
As automated vehicles continue to increase in popularity, we may see less point of car ownership and an increase in public transport again. Private companies, from the car-hailing startups like Uber and Lyft to the tech giants like Google, are all trialling their own versions of automated services.
Baringa recently reported that 40% of Brits believe that electric cars will be more popular than petrol/diesel cars within the next 15 years. Recent history shows that progress has been exponential in the EV market. It’s likely that electric and automated vehicles will become the norm a lot sooner than we expect.
Both the public and private sector are under more pressure than ever before to make greener decisions. After the Paris Agreement, the general consensus is that not enough progress has been made. We have witnessed teachers join students in global climate strikes; landmark reports, like by the IPCC, detailing the consequences of not tackling climate change; and actual, devastating events like California wildfires, insect population diminish and cases of air pollution causing deaths.
The automotive sector, like the agriculture sector, now needs to figure out their place on the global stage. It may be more complicated for the latter but car manufacturers can continue to commit to electric and retain market share. Ford, the best-selling carmaker in the UK today, plans to have 40 electrified models in its global lineup by 2022. Volkswagen, the second best-selling carmaker, is targeting 80 electrified models by 2025.
It is not only the private sector which is investing. Electric bus fleets, funded by governments and councils, are taking to the roads globally. Electric buses and current buses already share a similar upfront cost. But the former’s running costs, in maintenance and fuel, is at least 50% cheaper than the latter. Adopting this can help mitigate the effects of air pollution — a growing epidemic in our cities.
In Tokyo, they are preparing to use automated, electric vehicles to help tourists travel during the Olympics 2020. And then this raises questions like “will automation cause unemployment?” and if so, “what will this mean for society?”. Technological unemployment luckily only occurs in the short-term and we should embrace a more productive and innovative world.
Electric driverless cars that wirelessly charge on the go by solar roads? We doubt many predicted that.
Building Cities Differently
Air taxis, ditching concrete and vertical gardens
National Geographic published an article titled: “To build the cities of the future, we must get out of our cars” in their April 2019 issue. The article discusses how cities need to be rethought and redesigned in order to be a part of the future.
What is happening in our cities is a part of a global social movement. The industrial revolution was a massive turning point in human history. The whole population witnessed an improved standard of living. But since we have become more conscious, we are now having to reverse, repair and replace some aspects of this revolution to save our planet.
The automotive sector is now being altered. Government policies mean more people will drive electric, hybrid and plug-in vehicles than ICE vehicles by 2030. Cities are meant to bring populations together but instead, people are spending a lot of their time stuck in traffic jams trying to get from A to B.
From electric to automated, we are already seeing projects globally testing the possibility of driverless cars and buses to replace the way we use roads now. Some companies are even developing pilotless planes which will pick you up and drop you off to your destination.
We can expect more green spaces, less air pollution, less inequality, more prosperity. Cities will become more livable rather than keep heading in a direction of costly living with a large environmental footprint.
Cities like Singapore already show what is achievable. Hotels already use numerous species of plants, trees and vines in their vertical gardens for a natural way of cooling. Cities can benefit from incorporating nature in their designs.
La Paz, Bolivia introduced cable cars to their city in 2014. These cars, floating above the congested mountain roads below, provide the city with an alternative to the congested mountain roads below. In 2018, 250,000 people were carried in these cable cars each day. By making the city more accessible, La Paz became more equal.
And it’s the same for concrete. Another material, idea or sector which has helped us reap huge economic benefits but now we have to rethink it. A huge carbon emitter, research is trying to change the way we use concrete or even replace it. Concrete is the second most used substance in the world — behind water — and as the global population increases, we will need to build more accommodation.
Scientists and builders are innovating other materials to help replace concrete. Some cities are championing the return of timber; competing to have the tallest wooden buildings in the world. Looking at byproducts in other processes, we can reuse fly ash or slag from plants and furnaces as a possible alternative. Some countries favour bamboo and others are inventing new substances like graphene.
Cities will continue to be at the centre of our own universes. And they will look completely different in the near future.
Innovation takes place every day. We are constantly progressing and making developments in different industries. These big, green, breakthrough technologies of 2019 can only benefit our own sector and wider society.
These advancements will help shape the way people think, how we approach and use technologies, and even improve our standards of living. Solar PV has continued to quietly progress: improving in wattage, efficiency, aesthetics and affordability. It has even developed its own law, named Swanson’s Law (based on Moore’s Law), that the price of a PV module drops by 20% for every doubling of cumulative shipped volume. At present rates, costs halve every 10 years.
Renewable energies, like solar PV, have a big part to play in the future as society changes.