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Blog Post 9 November 2021

Five sustainable innovations to watch in 2021

Science and innovation will be crucial to providing the solutions we need this decade to keep the global temperature rise to the Paris Agreement’s target of 1.5°C.

Today at COP26 (Tuesday 9 November) will show how science and innovation can deliver urgent climate action.

Here, we take a look at five sustainable innovations* – from microwave-powered boilers to bladeless wind turbines – that may change the way we interact with our world in the face of the climate emergency.


Bladeless wind turbines

Spanish startup Vortex Bladeless has come up with a turbine design that harnesses wind energy without needing moving blades.

The company’s 3m tall bladeless turbine is fixed vertically into the ground with an elastic rod. It’s designed to oscillate – or sway – within the wind range and generate electricity from the vibration this creates.

According to inventor David Yáñez, the main benefit of these bladeless turbines is in their potential to be used in urban or residential areas, which lack the space needed to build traditional windfarms.

They could also be used alongside solar panels in residential settings, as Yáñez explains: “They complement each other well, because solar panels produce electricity during the day while wind speeds tend to be higher at night.

“But the main benefit of the technology is in reducing its environmental impact, its visual impact, and the cost of operating and maintaining the turbine,” he adds. The noise the turbine creates is at a frequency virtually undetectable to humans, so it’s unlikely to disrupt those living or working nearby.


Microwave-powered boiler

The company behind the world’s first microwave-powered boiler believes its product could contend with heat pumps as a replacement for gas boilers in UK homes.

Heat Wayv’s boiler uses electricity to heat water, which is then pumped through existing radiators and to hot water taps, showers and baths. While the product is currently a prototype, home trials are expected by the end of 2022.

The unit is the same size as a gas boiler and would cost about the same – around £3,500 for one suitable for a three or four-bedroom home. Heat Wayv claims the boiler is 84% efficient in converting electricity into hot water, with a further 12% of waste heat recycled back into the system.

Co-founder Paul Atherton said: “The beauty of our microwave boiler platform is that it is completely compatible with existing home radiators, easy to install and maintain, but with zero emissions.”


Preventing plastic pollution

When a vehicle brakes, accelerates or turns a corner, tiny pieces of plastic are shed from the tyres. This plastic waste is the second biggest source of microplastics in the world’s oceans – but it’s a problem that is often overlooked.

UK startup the Tyre Collective, a group of four students from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art, has come up with a solution. Their prototype design is a device that can be attached to a vehicle, which uses an electric charge to suck up tyre dust as it’s produced, preventing it from escaping into the environment.

The device is currently able to capture 60% of airborne particles in laboratory testing, with the goal to increase this efficiency and integrate the product into electric vehicles.

Credit: The Tyre Collective

Hillside hydropower

Thousands of hills across the UK could be used to generate renewable energy through a pioneering underground hydropower system.

British company RheEnergise has adapted traditional hydropower energy storage into a high-density system, which can store and release electricity from slopes less steep that those usually required for hydropower dams to work. It uses a fluid with more than two and a half times the density of water to create the same amount of electricity from gentler slopes.

When electricity demand is low, the system pumps this dense fluid up a hill no taller than 200m, where it is then held in an underground storage tank. When electricity is needed, the fluid flows back down the hill over generating turbines, returning the electricity used by its pumps back into the grid.

The company believes there are around 9,500 suitable sites for the technology in the UK alone, which would be quicker and cheaper to build than traditional hydropower dams. Construction of the first plant is due to begin in 2023.


Solar panels from food waste

Solar panels have been used to generate energy from the sun for decades – but that hasn’t stopped engineering student Carvey Ehren Maigue from inventing a new type of solar panel: one that’s made from food waste.

The AuReus system converts waste crops into cladding that can generate clean energy from ultraviolet (UV) light. Unlike traditional solar panels, which must face the sun directly as they rely on visible light, AuReus’ translucent material is able to harness power from the sun’s UV rays. These rays of light can pass through clouds, meaning that AuReus’ solar panels work even on overcast days.

The fluorescent cladding-type material can be applied to windows or walls and can also capture UV rays bouncing off nearby buildings and pavements. This maximises the amount of energy that can be generated, with the panels able to produce energy close to 50% of the time in testing.

The brightly coloured material uses luminescent particles from waste fruit and vegetables. By upcycling waste crops, Maigue hopes to help farmers who have been affected by severe weather events caused by climate change.

“I aimed to create a future-facing solution in the form of renewable energy and at the same time integrate a present-day value-creating solution for our farmers, who are being affected negatively by the present-day effects of climate change,” he explained.

*We have not tested any of these products and cannot verify the claims made by their developers.

Cover image: AuReus solar cladding. Credit: The James Dyson Foundation.

Last updated: 9 November 2021