In his new film Before the Flood, Leonardo DiCaprio explores the topic of climate change and finds that human activity needs to change in order to prevent catastrophic disruption of life on Earth. Finding a way to curb our reliance on fossil fuels depends on developing new green technology and eco-friendly solutions that will not only provide alternative forms of energy, but also protect the flora and fauna that share our planet - here are some of the exciting ideas that could shape the future of green technology, and with it the world as we know it.
Solar roof tiles
Elon Musk, the Tesla chief executive, isn't content with just churning out super-efficient electric cars, he recently unveiled some incredible new solar roof tiles. Unlike currently used solar technology, these glass tiles look almost indistinguishable from typical roof tiling, and come in a broad array of shapes and colours.
Given Musk says they look better, generate electricity, last longer, have better insulation, and also cost less than a normal roof, it seems almost definite that they will be highly integrated into housing in the future.
Living up to its name of the ‘sexiest sustainable solar plant on Earth’, the smartflower POP is an incredible feat of engineering. It unfolds first thing in the morning and follows the Sun throughout the day, providing significantly more power than regular solar roof panels. In fact, the smartflower can provide the entire electricity requirements of a well designed and insulated home. That, over time, will come to compensate for its £20,000 price tag.
The smartflower POP is also portable, cleans itself and can protect itself in a storm via adopting its curled up ‘safety position’. A truly incredible piece of green design, could this also be the solution to providing electricity to undeveloped areas? Its portability, self-sufficiency and high energy output would be highly advantageous, but the high cost and energy management would present strong challenges. Still, an area to consider...
An alternative to solar panel roofing, particularly on large open-topped buildings, is also to plant a garden or a ‘living wall’.
Aside from being very aesthetically pleasing, roof gardens and walls have a huge array of benefits. These include absorbing heat, carbon dioxide, and rainwater, and provide insulation. They also conserve electricity, alongside providing a habitat for animals in an otherwise desolate urban location. With these in mind, could the future of our cities entail becoming something similar to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? It would certainly change the meaning of ‘the urban jungle’ if so.
It is scary to think that the human population is likely to reach eight billion by 2023, and with it comes a whole plethora of problems. Amongst these is the problem of providing enough food, as arable farmland becomes progressively limited by space and productivity. The solution, however, may actually lie within our densely-populated cities.
Vertical farming or ‘indoor farming’, has an amazing range of environmentally-friendly benefits. It significantly reduces the use of fossil fuels (as there are no tractors chugging out pollutants), it eliminates agricultural run-off, reduces the use of water and pesticides, and can produce crops all-year round. It is also effective in utilising empty buildings, which are estimated to be around 635,000 in England alone!
Innovative wind turbines
Although the benefits of wind farms are clear in exploiting renewable wind energy, they often cause controversy as locals report them as being "noisy and ugly". But wind is one of the most prolific natural energies available, and so presents a key developmental area in green technology.
As seen in the ‘Savonius vertical axis wind turbine’, Iceland, these wind turbines show durability in strong weather and an attractive sculpture-like design.
Contrastingly to this, the French company NewWind focused its new product Tree Vent to function in low-wind environments. It is also aimed to be visually pleasing, as the array of vertical wind turbines resemble a tree. These demonstrate a cheerful playground-like appearance and so could work well in many communal urban areas.
Speaking of trees, another amazing green design called Capsula Mundi is providing an eco-friendly alternative to being buried in a coffin. Their design involves placing the deceased in a biodegradable pod, with a tree planted above. Over time, the body degrades and so provides nutrients for the tree to grow. This proposes a beautiful future ideology; Instead of visiting tomb stones in graveyards to remember the dead, we visit forests.
In light of the 2015 statistics that there are five trillion pieces of plastic pollution in the ocean, there is a huge ecological incentive to address this. Amongst several proposals of biodegradable alternatives to plastics, there is actually a development that makes items, such a six-pack rings, edible to marine life.
Imagine if all the plastics in the ocean were edible! We may have even increased the abundance of marine organisms by now if so.
Many designers have aimed to reduce the ocean pollution by extracting plastic and converting it to novel things. For instance, Adidas has released eco-friendly trainers, Pharrell Williams has launched clothing, and Studio Swine has designed furniture.
Fabric that generates electricity
This exciting green development involves harnessing the kinetic energy we produce ourselves. Developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology, this smart fabric is thin, flexible and generates electricity as it moves. This could monitor health indicators, but also charge small electronic devices. Can you imagine how useful this would be if you ran out of battery on a run?! Or how much electricity could be generated from the thousands that run the London Marathon?
Although not available currently, the researchers think the material will be on the market in the next two years. Watch this space…
Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have designed incredible wooden floorboards that use electro-magnetic induction to generate electricity from footsteps. The floorboards are also sustainable and inexpensive as they are made from wood pulp, and the embedded nanofibres within the design could save a lot on bills as they power electrical household items.
This lays the pathway (excuse the pun) for some great future applications, such as inviting friends over for a party and also simultaneously creating electricity. The researchers also suggest its potential future application in pavements and high footfall areas, such as football stadiums and airports. Perhaps a vital green development of the future will lie unbeknownst beneath our feet…