Climate change is a pressing threat to our Earth – it is “unequivocally” happening and will require solution-focused thinking from every sector and all groups of people. Scientists and trailblazers around the world are investing time and resources into creative ways to mitigate the crisis. Here’s a closer look at some of the newest technological climate solutions.
1. Artificial Intelligence and Energy effort
Computer science, economics, and environmental science intersect in the development of intelligent energy storage to tackle some of the obstacles in the transition to a clean-energy society. Namely, the irregular nature of sunny days and gusty winds make solar and wind power supply less consistent than fossil-fuel energy sources like coal. Artificial intelligence can assist by analyzing data to forecast when demand is the highest, what supply may be like depending on satellite weather data, and electricity pricing at any given time. This “smart” ability to understand patterns in data and to accurately predict outcomes allows for more reliable and cost-effective clean energy.
2. Ocean Plastic Pollution
The Ocean Cleanup is a project that uses a “floater” and “skirt” system that floats on top of the ocean to capture plastic debris in its 3m-deep skirt net. It operates on the natural forces of currents to accumulate trash, which can then be extracted from the water. The project is being deployed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a region of swirling plastics that is over twice the size of Texas located halfway between Hawaii and California. Currently, the system is on its second update in a series of different iterations to find the most effective way of retaining the plastics that it collects. Once scaled up (to approximately 50 systems), models indicate that this could clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years.
3. Energy and Batteries
Scientists at the Universities of Surrey and Bristol have developed new polymer materials that have electrical conducting properties 1,000 to 10,000 greater than traditional lithium-ion batteries. Testing of this polymer is still in the early stages, with hopes that the superior conducting properties can be achieved in production at larger scales. Ultimately, this development could change low-cost electrical energy storage by allowing rapid charging for electric vehicles, a cheaper method of storing energy from intermittent sources like solar power, or even to transform flight with battery-powered electric airplanes.
4. Floating Wind Turbines
You may have heard of the miles of wind farms in Palm Springs, California, but did you know that “offshore wind” – that is, wind power produced from turbines in the ocean – is far more consistent and powerful than terrestrial wind power? But Typically, offshore wind farms are installed on the seabed, but that method does not work in deeper oceans like the areas off of California’s coast and the waters around Japan. Hywind, the first floating wind farm in the world, solves the depth problem by using buoys and anchors to stabilize turbines instead of the conventional bottom-fixed approach. The Hywind turbines have already reached levels of efficiency greater than average land-based wind farms, and are lighting a path for the future of expanded offshore wind.
5. Capture CO2 from Air
Canadian-based company Carbon Engineering asserts that their Direct Air Capture, or DAC, technology can remove carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere at an affordable price point. It works by using water and renewable energy to suck the carbon dioxide out of the air, producing a stream of pure, concentrated CO2 that can be sequestered (buried underground to remove it from the atmosphere – a process that would be carbon-negative), converted into low-carbon energy like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, or sold in applications like growing veggies in greenhouses. An individual DAC plant could capture 1,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
6. Lab-Grown Meat
The “Impossible” and “Beyond Meat” burgers have exploded in name recognition as popular restaurant chains and grocers have embraced plant-based patties as an alternative to meat burgers. However, a lesser-known alternative to traditional beef patties is “cell-based” or “lab-grown” meat. These methods sample a live animal’s adult muscle stem cells without killing the animal, and then cultivates them in a nutrient-rich environment until they take on the look and shape of the desired meat. The final product is then fully animal cells, albeit unstructured–more similar to ground beef than a chicken wing. Companies are now in the process of perfecting the fat to lean meat ratio to improve taste while reducing the cost per unit (the cost per pound has already dropped from $1.3 million to roughly $50, with projections that it will soon become price-competitive or cheaper than livestock meat). The environmental benefits of cultured meat are rather startling – it could require 99% less land and 96% less water than livestock agriculture, and a total switch to cultured meat from beef could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 74 to 87%.
7. Nuclear Fusion Power
Nuclear power has had its share of controversy—the Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island disasters have contributed to general wariness about the place of nuclear power in the clean energy revolution. Conventional reactors use nuclear fission, where atoms collide and split into smaller pieces while releasing energy. The new nuclear frontier, however, centers on the sun’s process of energy production–nuclear fusion, or the process of fusing two atomic nuclei together while releasing energy. Fusion produces far less radioactive waste that lasts for a much shorter period of time, with no threat of meltdown. Using the abundant element of hydrogen as a fuel, producing no greenhouse gas emissions, and providing large-scale energy on-demand, commercially-viable nuclear fusion could be a key part of the clean energy revolution.
Discussing climate change can sometimes feel like “doom-and-gloom,” but it doesn’t need to be. These technological innovations can serve as inspiration to think creatively about climate solutions in a new world.
Image credits: Floater and skirt system (The Ocean Cleanup); Floating wind farm (Equinor); Meat in petri dish (Mari Gibbons/The New Food Economy)