Engineering is helping Nature, as it is not just about problem solving – it’s about developing solutions that make our lives better. So, when it comes to the environment, innovation can literally help us save the world. For instance climate change, resource depletion, over-population, pollution, waste disposal, water shortages – these are just some of the environmental issues we’re facing. But there is always hope. And here are some of the innovations, and their engineers, who are working towards getting a more sustainable future.
1. SOLAR GLASS: Engineering is helping Nature
Just like it sounds, solar glass is a suitably transparent window material. And it captures the sun’s energy and converts it into electricity.
But the big hurdle has been the efficiency. While, the high-performance solar cells can achieve 25% efficiency or greater, but maintaining transparency means sacrificing the efficiency electricity conversion. But a University of Michigan team is developing a solar glass product that offers 15% efficiency and climbing while letting a full 50% of light pass through. Also, according to projections from nearby Michigan State, a 5 to 7 billion square meters of usable window space still exists. And this is enough to power nearly 40% of a city’s energy needs with a solar glass product.
Stronger than steel and thinner than paper. It is more conductive than copper and is truly a miracle material, which until recently is a theoretical one. Now, talking of Graphene, it is an ultra-thin layer of graphite that was first discovered in 2004 at the University of Manchester. And is now the subject of intense research and speculation, with many future predictions for its strength and tenacity. So, they say it will be next in line after bronze, iron, steel, and silicon in promulgating the cultural and technological evolution of our species. And this also makes it suitable for a huge range of planet-healing applications. For instance in water filtration, in making superconductors that are capable of transferring energy across vast distances with minimal loss. And also in various photovoltaic uses.
3. PLANT-BASED PLASTIC:
Now, a plant-based biodegradable plastic is one palatable solution to our raging plastic problem. As they could, in theory, replace many of the hazardous plastic products already in circulation. Thus, an Indonesian company called Avani Eco has been making bioplastic out of cassava since 2014. And like fake meat and solar glass, this should become a booming sector in the years ahead. But beware: Not all bioplastics biodegrade. And the merit of some production techniques is still debated. So, becoming a responsible consumer and knowing the life cycle of the products, we buy from creation to entropy also adds to helping nature.
4. FAKE MEAT :
Fake meat is good. Like really good. So, companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are delivering delicious alternatives to meat that stand as pretty decent substitutes for the real thing. And as far as the technological achievement and advanced food science go, the real triumph of these companies is that they’ve made fake meat culturally hip. You can today, order meatless burgers at Burger King and get a meat-free taco at Del Taco too. Also read top 10 chemical reactions in human body.
5. SMART GRIDS :
Power production is largely centralized and distributed downstream, eventually reaching end users. But, the problem is that these grids are highly sensitive to fluctuations in usage and also the output. So, to make them work reliably, they demand an overproduction of energy. And for this, smart grids are already rolled out in testbeds internationally. As appliances get smarter, the grid may start to automatically signal them to shut off to conserve power. All of this could add up to a huge change in how our power infrastructure functions. According to a study by the Electric Power Research Institute, by 2030, Smart Grid technologies might help us reduce carbon emissions by 58% compared to levels from ten years ago.
6. CARBON CAPTURE:
There’s too much carbon dioxide in the air, and it’s warming our planet. What if we could capture and sequester it? That’s the premise of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), an emerging class of technologies that are primed to play an important role in the health of our planet. According to the CCS Association, capture technologies allow the separation of carbon dioxide from gases. And the carbon is transported by pipeline and stored in rock formations far below ground to show how engineering is helping nature.
In 2017, the world’s first CO2 capture plant went live in Switzerland. And Startups in the US and Canada have developed carbon capture plants of their own. At scale, the technology could help reverse one of the most alarming environmental trends of our time.
7. NUCLEAR FUSION:
Our sun is powered by the fusion of hydrogen nuclei, forming helium. For decades, scientists have been working on harnessing the same process to create sustainable terrestrial power. And the effort is extremely compelling from an ecological standpoint because it represents a zero-carbon emissions form of energy. Unlike nuclear fission, the process that powers current nuclear plants, fusion does not result in the production of long-lived radioactive nuclear waste. Thus, this makes another great example where engineering is helping nature.
8. ECO-CONCRETE & ECO-BRICKS:
Researchers in Australia have figured out a way to create cement from the hundreds of thousands of tons of glass that a failing recycling system was no longer processing. To create waste glass-based concrete, researchers break the glass waste down into extremely small size to make a fine powder. And the powder is then combined into the cement mix with other, more traditional industrial waste-products (e.g., fly ash, blast-furnace slag, etc.) and tested for stability.
The Australian researchers are currently making cement with a 10 to 30 percent waste-glass composition, resulting in cheaper, stronger, and lighter cement with functional insulation, fire-resistance, and a lower emissions threshold. Researchers are confident that over time, the high-quality prefabricated slabs of concrete made from glass-waste can contain more glass and eventually be scaled up to industrial production.
9 .THE SKYWATER TECHNOLOGY:
To tackle the enormous issue of water scarcity, researchers took to the sky—or, more accurately, the atmosphere. While the atmosphere only contains an estimated 0.04 percent of the world’s freshwater, that percentage translates into 12 quadrillion gallons of water. According to the chief officer of XPRIZE, a design competition to create technological advances for a better, safer, and more sustainable world, that 120,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons is 300 million times the amount 7 billion people require for household needs! The prize-winning innovation combines two formerly separate technologies: dehumidification and biogasification. The dehumidification process combines warm and cold air, condenses atmospheric humidity, and replicates a rainstorm inside the shipping container.
10. TIGER TOILETS:
The “tiger toilet” is a self-contained vermicomposting toilet that requires no sewer system and very little water to function. It is a simple pour-flush toilet on top of a worm-filled compartment. The name of the toilet comes from the tiger worm, whose natural habitats are animal dung heaps and who are the star player in the tiger toilet revolution. The toilets are simple yet extremely effective. After doing their duty, a person’s fecal matter drops down into a vermifilter (a container) where the tiger worms then eat and process the waste. After feasting on a meal that they find quite tasty, a natural chemical reaction occurs and the worms remove 99 percent of the pathogens and leave behind less-than-15 percent of waste by weight, a biomatter rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon, and potassium that can be removed from the system and used for fertilizers.