5 Innovations on Climate Change

(Photo: Carbon Engineering)

(Photo: Carbon Engineering)

Engineers across the world are coming up with high-tech solutions to tackle climate change. There are many startups, organizations, and governments projects that are already available and also ongoing. There also many sectors that we should cover from food and agriculture to landfill and oceanic waste.

Reducing global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) through technology innovations is very important. But it will require increased numbers of engineers and scientists across a variety of disciplines. It would also require a lot of funding and resources.

To address the challenges of climate change, we all have roles to play. It can be as an inventor or supporting the development of available innovations. The government and the private sector also have critical roles to play in attracting the best people and funding the best projects.

Here are just some of the many startups and projects that creating innovation to address climate change issues.

Food and Agriculture

1. Plant-based meat

Livestock may be responsible for 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. One cow can consume up to 11,000 gallons of water a year. The US consumes 26 billion pounds of beef a year.

The demands on meat creates a massive industrialized livestock system that is problematic to our planet. And the livestock system rarely has the animals’ best interests in mind. By moving to meat alternatives, it will cut down the usage of natural resources, gas, and prevent animal rights abuses.

Many startups and companies already work on plant-based meat such as Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and many others.

Plant-based meat by Beyond Meat
Beyond Meat is a company based in California, US that produces plant-based meat substitutes. Their products designed to simulate beef, chicken, and pork sausage. The company has received funding from such as Bill Gates and Tyson Foods.

They have created the world’s first plant-based meat burger. The meat burger made mostly from the vegetable protein found in peas. Their beef products “bleed” are achieved by using beet juice extract.

Plant-based meat by Impossible Foods
Impossible Foods is a company based in California, US that develops plant-based substitutes for meat products. It aims to give people the nutritional benefits and taste of meat without the negative health and environmental impacts.

They work by researching animal products at the molecular level, then finds specific nutrients and proteins from plants. So that it recreates the nutrition and taste of specific meat products. In July 2016, their signature product, the Impossible Burger was launched.

2. Lab-grown meat

Scientists have been culturing meat in labs for years. Lab-grown meat, cultured meat, or clean meat is any meat produced by in vitro cultivation of animal cells. So, it doesn’t come from slaughtered animals.

In the lab, cells can be encouraged to divide even outside the body under the right conditions. Cultured tissue offers a way to potentially transform a handful of cells to many artificial meals’ worth of meat.

Even if lab-grown meat is economically sustainable for companies to produce, that doesn’t mean it will be more environmentally sustainable than traditional meat for people to eat.

Many startups already work on cultured meat such as JUST, Finless Foods, Memphis Meats, and many others.

Lab-grown meat by JUST
JUST (formerly Hampton Creek) is a company based in San Francisco, US that produces plant-based foods and one of several startups working on cultured meat. How does their cultured meat is made really?

First, their scientists take live cells from biopsies that don’t require the death of animals. Then isolates the cells that have the most chance to grow. It then incubates them with heat and feeding them nutrients like proteins, sugar, and vitamins. Their cell media is free of serum.

Lab-grown meat by Memphis Meats
Memphis Meats, a food technology company based in California, US, is aiming to develop sustainable cultured meat. Memphis Meats have been funded by Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Cargill. Their goal is to get to cost parity and then beat commercial meat.

They have made the world’s first cell-cultured meatball and chicken strip. They also have already cultivated and harvested edible chicken, beef, and duck in its bioreactors. The company expects to have a product in stores by 2021.

Lab-grown meat by Finless Foods
Finless Foods is a company based in California that develops cell-cultured fish rather than beef or poultry. They aim to make cultured bluefin tuna. It is to bolster conservation efforts on Bluefin tuna that oftentimes on and off the threatened species list.

Their process of making a cultured fish goes like this. First, they take a bit of fish meat and filter it for a particular kind of cell. Then feeding them nutrients like salts and sugars. The cells can turn into muscles or fat or connective tissue.

Forest and Ecosystem

3. Tree-planting drones

Ecosystem reforestation by hand-planting seeds is accurate but extremely time-consuming. Moreover, aerial planting via helicopters is effective on large areas but results in much lower survival rates. Relying only on these methods will make it harder to match the pace of industrial-scale deforestation.

To counter industrial-scale deforestation, we need industrial-scale reforestation. Aerial planting via drones fills the gap. It can plants seeds with both accuracy and speed across diverse landscapes.

Many startups already work on tree-planting drones such as Dendra Systems, Droneseed, and many others.

Tree-planting drones by Dendra Systems
BioCarbon Engineering (now Dendra Systems), a company based in Oxford, UK, is using drones and air-fired planting systems to plant trees. How it works?

First, the best location to plant each tree is determined by data collected from the satellites and mapping drones. Then, the planting drones hover six feet above the ground and fire a biodegradable seedpod into the ground at 120 seedpods per minute. The seedpods are filled with a germinated seed, nutrients, and other vital components.

Two operators with 10 drones can plant 400,000 trees per day. And 400 teams could plant 10 billion trees each year. This technology plants 150 times faster and 4-10 times cheaper than current methods. They aim to plant 500 billion trees by 2060.

Tree-planting drones by Droneseed
Droneseed, a company based in Seattle, US, is using drones to reverse wildfire destruction by planting tree seeds from the air. How it works? It’s pretty same.

First, the drones scout a burned area, mapping it down, autonomously fumigate it, then deploy designed seed-nutrient packages to the identified locations. As many as five drones are deployed in the air at once.

The unique part is that their drones are the first and only FAA heavy-lift certified drone, capable of lifting over 55 pounds of payload they carry.

Energy and Emission

4. Carbon capture plant

What if we could take all the CO2 emissions in the atmosphere and send it somewhere else? No need to worry, because the technology is already here. It’s known as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

CCS is a technology that could capture up to 90% of the carbon dioxide emissions produced by electricity generation and industrial processes that use fossil fuels. So it prevent the release of the CO2 to the atmosphere. It consists of three parts: capturing the CO2, transporting the CO2, and storing the CO2.

CCS technology also comes with its drawbacks. Current technologies require a lot of energy to implement and run. Creating a CCS-enabled power plant also requires a lot of money. Also, there is an environmental concern. Underground leakage of the CO2, and increased ocean acidity caused by the excess amount of CO2 in the water.

There are 37 large-scale CCS facilities around the world as of September 2017. The majority of this industrial carbon capture is done using post-combustion capture. There are also several smaller-scale projects and pilot plant using alternative capture methods such as Carbon Engineering, Climeworks, and many others.

Carbon capture plant by Carbon Engineering
Carbon Engineering is a Canadian-based clean energy company focusing on the commercialization of Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology. They have been removing CO2 from the atmosphere since 2015 and converting CO2 into fuels since 2017.

The technology is also known as carbon capture and storage. It could captures carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere and then permanently store it deep underground, or converted into carbon-neutral fuels.

The pilot plant in Squamish is only set up to suck up 1 ton of CO2 per day. Individual DAC facilities can be built to capture 1 million tons of CO2 per year. And over 9,500 plants would be needed to offset the estimated 2 billion vehicles’ annual CO2 emissions by 2035.

Carbon capture plant by Climeworks
Climeworks is a Swiss-based company specializing in carbon dioxide air capture technology. It captures CO2 from the air with the world’s first commercial carbon removal technology. They have three plants, one which contributes to negative emissions and the other two simply recycle CO2.

Their first DAC plant was launched in Zurich, Switzerland in May 2017. It capable of capturing 900 metric tons of CO2 annually. Then the second plant began operating in Hellisheidi, Iceland capturing 50 metric tons each year. And in 2018, the third plant was launched in Troia, Italy capturing 150 metric tons annually.

Landfill and Oceanic Waste

5. Waste reduction and cleanup system

There are around 8 billion tons of plastic trash dumped to the sea every year. It’s equivalent to one garbage truck full of plastic trash dumping the ocean every minute. Around a third of this likely comes from China, and 10% are from Indonesia. One of the top 20 worst offenders are developing nations.

On the other side, rivers are the main source of ocean plastic waste pollution. They carry waste from land to the ocean. There are 1000 rivers responsible for roughly 80% of ocean pollution.

There are many startups and environmental organizations that already work on waste reduction and cleanup systems such as The Great Bubble Barrier, The Interceptor, and many others.

The Great Bubble Barrier
The Great Bubble Barrier is a Dutch-based startup that created the Great Bubble Barrier. They won 2018 The Green Challenge, one of the world’s largest competitions for sustainability entrepreneurs in the Netherlands.

It works by producing a wall of air bubbles rising in the rivers or canals to redirect plastic waste before it can get to the ocean. The bubble barrier is created by the pumping of air through a tube with holes on the bottom of the river. The bubble barrier still allows marine life and passing ships to pass through, but plastic is stopped.

The Interceptor by The Ocean Cleanup
The Interceptor is a technology developed by The Ocean Cleanup, a non-government engineering environmental organization based in the Netherlands. Its purpose is to combat river plastic emissions into the world’s oceans. They aim to tackle the world’s 1000 most polluting rivers by 2025.

The Interceptor is 100% solar-powered. It works by guiding flowing river waste through its barrier. Then the current moves it onto the conveyor belt and delivers the waste to the shuttle. A shuttle automatically distributes the debris across six dumpsters. When it’s full, the barge can be collected by the operators, and send them off to local waste management facilities.

References:
Gray, A. 2017. “5 Tech Innovations That Could Save Us from Climate Change.” World Economic Forum. January 9.

McCarthy, J. 2018. “8 Crazy Innovations That Could Save the Planet from Climate Change.” Global Citizen: Environment. April 20.

Wung, T. 2019. “24 Innovative Startups Making Climate Change Impact in 2019.” RocketSpace. April 10.

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