01 CIRCULAR ECONOMY
1.1 A Sustainable Lithium Battery Storage Ecosystem
Renewable energy is the cornerstone when we try to ‘Build Back Better’ after the pandemic. But due to their intermittency, renewable energy technologies need the support of battery storage for when the sun isn’t shining, and the wind isn’t blowing.
Battery storage is vital. However, the lithium-ion or lead-acid batteries traditionally employed are usually welded or glued together, making individual components difficult to replace. If one part fails, the whole battery is usually thrown away – often with more than 80% of its potential life left unused.
We can gain a lot of benefits by applying the circular economy model to the lithium battery. By being able to repair, repurpose and reuse the components within the battery pack prior to recycling, it is possible to maintain and service batteries rather than replace them, reducing both waste and cost over time
1.2 Circular Economy Furniture Startup Designs its Couches for Rental and Reuse
Around 12 million tons of furniture ends up in landfills in the U.S. each year. A startup called Feather wants to change that by shifting ownership: instead of selling furniture, the company rents it out. When someone moves or wants a different sofa, he or she can send it back, and the company will clean and repair the furniture and rent it to someone else.
All products are designed to be as durable as possible, and easy to clean or repair. Instead of a glossy finish on wood components, for example, the designers chose a natural finish so scratches can be buffed out. And some components use a powder coating so they can be touched up. Fitted fabric covers for easy replacement, sofa legs that work on different models for simple stocking, and rug made from recycled PET bottles for easy cleaning are all examples of their circular economy design application.
The company represents larger changes in the industry. Other startups are also focusing on furniture rental, though not always for sustainability reasons. Even Ikea is shifting to a circular model, recognizing that it’s necessary for it to reach its climate goals, and beginning to experiment with furniture rental and repair.
02 NEW MATERIAL
2.1 Turning Fibrous Waste from Palm Oil into New Material
Bosnian designer Nataša Perković recycled the fibrous waste from palm oil factories to create the Reclaimed Oil Palm collection, which was made using as little material as possible. Comprising a 3D-printed, stackable chair, three plates and a pendant lamp, the collection was developed in a bid to turn the by-products of the palm oil industry from an “environmental nuisance” into a sustainable material.
A mixture of high-tech and low-tech production methods were used when creating the products in order to demonstrate the diversity of the material. The high-tech approach was used to create the chair, which involved blending oil palm tree fibre micro powder with polylactic acid (PLA) – a bioplastic made from lactic acid – to form a new composite material. This composite can then be made into filament for 3D printing, or alternatively as pellets for injection moulding. If produced on an industrial scale, the chair would be made using injection moulding. Perković’s model adopted the 3D printing method.
Low-tech production methods were used to demonstrate how the waste material could be used to create household objects like bowls, plates and lamps. Perković and her team experimented with traditional paper-making and compression moulding techniques to create the items: soaking, boiling, beating and then finely shredding the oil palm fibre. According to the designer, this low-tech process of repurposing waste oil palm fibre using basic kitchen equipment and minimal energy could be adopted in developing countries using other cellulose waste fibres such as wood or bamboo.
2.2 Wool for PPE Masks
A company from New Zealand is working to develop a biodegradable face mask made of wool, to protect users against COVID-19. The company, Lincoln Agritech, is a research and development company owned by Lincoln University. The research will use newly-developed technology that completely changes the physical form of the wool fibre, creating light and paper-like membranes that look and feel much more like the PPE masks we typically see mass-produced. Dr Kelly, the new materials group manager at Lincoln Agritech, said wool was an ideal material for the filtration and binding needed to develop PPE, but its coarse structure could present limitations.
It will go towards an 18-month research programme that uses patented technology from the Wool Research Organisation (WRONZ) to change the physical format of the fibre and improve its absorption and virus-neutralising properties. The masks would be both highly effective and environmentally sustainable. The new format also enhanced the absorbency and binding properties of wool, making the fibre even more suitable for PPE use.
2.3 Cement-free Alternative to Conventional Concrete
Concrete is a vital cog in modern infrastructure projects. While it may have become indispensable to major developments, concrete also has a significant impact on the environment. Concrete is made by combining water, a material like sand or crushed gravel – known as aggregate – and, importantly, cement, and it’s this component that has a considerable environmental impact. According to a 2018 report from Chatham House, over 4 billion metric tons of cement are produced annually. This, according to the policy institute, accounts “for around 8 percent of global CO2 emissions.”
Around the world, efforts are being made to develop new techniques and processes to reduce the environmental effects of our reliance on concrete:
Earlier this month an Australian firm, Boral, announced the launch of a five-year partnership with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). The company stated this partnership would look to “accelerate product innovation and the research, development, and commercialisation of low carbon concrete.”
A Netherlands-based firm says its “WasteBasedBricks” are produced “from a minimum of 60% waste” and “suitable for interiors and exteriors.”
In the U.K., the DB Group has developed Cemfree, which it describes as a “totally cement-free alternative to conventional concrete.” To date, the material has been used in a number of settings, including part of the M25, a major motorway in the south of England.
Another firm working in the area of sustainable building products is Kenoteq, a start-up spun out from research carried out at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. The firm has developed a brick produced from what it describes as “90% recycled construction and demolition waste.
03 CLEAN TECHNOLOGY
3.1 An Israeli start-up Turning Harmful Wastewater into Renewable Energy
Seeking to bring the field of wastewater treatment into the 21st century, and to embrace the popularity of circular economy technologies, Shfar’am-based AgRobics has developed a new “bio-stabilizer” technology that both improves wastewater treatment and collects biogas for energy production from the microorganism-rich waste.