A Green-Tech Future

An exploration of 5 technologies aiming to define our sustainable lifestyles of the future and whether they really may have what it takes to change our lives for the better.

Corlett Novis
Feb 7, 2019 · 5 min read
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What do the cities of the future have in store?

Carbon Capture

Imagine a future world in which mankind can undo, at least in part, the vast emissions of CO2 it has made into the atmosphere in order to lessen the impact of global warming trends. This kind technology, which would allow us to remove CO2 directly from the air is being developed right now. It’s known as “carbon capture” and has become as inexpensive as $100 per metric tonne of CO2 removed thanks to the clean-energy company Carbon Engineering. Best of all, the only inputs are water and low amounts of energy: a prime example of green chemistry.

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An artist’s rendition of a future carbon capture system. Credit: Carbon Engineering

Because of this remarkable feat, far surpassing previous costs of $600 per metric Tonne from competing company Climeworks, carbon removal technology is set to play an essential role in combating CO2 emissions and climate change in the coming years: and investors have already begun to buy in. As of January the 9th, Chevron and Oxy Low Carbon Ventures (a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corporation) have both made big investments in Carbon Engineering based on this impressive progress. Both companies are leaders in the energy industry, so this collaboration suggests high hopes from all parties for the future of this amazing piece of upcoming technology.

Multidirectional Wind Turbines

The 2018 Dyson awards, founded after the famous British inventor James Dyson, highlighted a brilliant new solution for clean energy. Nicolas Orellana and Yaseen Noorani, two students from the university of Lancashire, managed to create a turbine that can harness wind power from any direction: even the chaotic air currents within cities. They call it “O-Wind”, and it’s one of several new multidirectional turbines in development.

Currently, wind power has certain setbacks. Not only are there issues around how unseemly and costly they are, but conventional wind turbines are only capable of harnessing wind from one direction and must be able to constantly turn in order to face oncoming wind. Multidirectional wind turbines, on the other hand, may be able to avoid all these problems. Not only are the new turbines smaller, less obstructive, less expensive and generally more attractive than conventional wind turbines, they also offer the ability to harness wind from any direction without needing to be adjusted.

O-Wind Inventors, Yaseen Noorani and Nicolas Orellana

These new multidirectional turbines are not intended as replacements for standard turbines, however, since they are only a fraction of the size. Instead, it is hoped that they can be attached to buildings as a supplementary power source in cities. One of O-Wind’s inventors, Nicolas Orellana, expressed his hope that this may “improve the usability and affordability of turbines for people across the world.”

Synthetic Meat

With recent estimates placing the carbon emissions of eating meat at up to up to 105kg of greenhouse gases per 100g, it’s becoming increasingly clear that farming livestock is one of the least sustainable industries around. As a result of this, and out of concerns for animal well-being, all kinds of meat substitutes have arisen from products like soy, nuts and even “fungal mycoproteins” (which sound about as appetizing as a PETA infomercial).

Within this emerging market of fake meat, an even more fascinating possibility has been emerging. Synthetic meat, which made headlines in 2013 for the world’s first lab grown burger, has received a great deal of attention as a more authentic alternative to other sustainable meat substitutes. The world’s first lab grown steak was revealed just last December at a (relatively) cheap $50 per strip, though it is still a few years away from commercial sale. Though, on the other hand, this is an eye-wateringly steep cost compared to normal steak or meat-free alternatives, is especially promising given that the cost of the 2013 burger was a staggering €250,000. With progress like that, who knows? Maybe a few decades from now we’ll all be chowing down on some low emission and slaughter free meat!

Living Buildings

The idea of “living buildings”, a futuristic architecture of structures lined with a thick layer of greenery, is certainly an image which can appeal to the imagination. Cities dressed in green like a vast hanging garden, providing sustainable insulation and air purification sound, by all accounts, downright utopic. But do these structures really provide us with new and sustainable solutions to old problems or are they merely another sustainability fad, a symbolic gesture like the recent ban on plastic straws in Britain?

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A “living building” with plants growing on its surface on Russel square road near University College London

Despite looking the part, it’s difficult not to be critical when realising that these kinds of architectural feats do not come cheap. Estimates can vary greatly, but you should expect a fee around £20,000 for 25 square meters of greenery alongside upkeep costs to boot.

In truth, living walls are unlikely to make as big of an impact on sustainable living as many of the other options in this list, but they have attractive perks none the less. In urban settings, these structures can be useful for absorbing rainfall to prevent flooding, filter out pollutants from the air, provide a habitat for local insect and animal life and, of course, can turn architecture into vertical green space.

Vertical Farming

The world’s population is quickly reaching 8 billion, and with all those new faces to feed we may need all new ways to grow food. An increasing body of scientific literature is exploring the numerous issues with conventional farming facing the future of our rapidly growing needs alongside the terrible environmental side-effects of the agricultural status quo. From unsustainable emissions from tractors and harvesters to the use of pesticides which are harmful to insect and bird life, there are plenty of issues surrounding contemporary farming techniques.

With this in mind, many innovators are turning to a new phenomenon of indoor agriculture: vertical farming. Without a need for pesticides or emission-heavy machinery like tractors, companies like AeroFarms have started to grow vegetables indoors using up to 95% less water than conventional farms. The benefits are clear: lower emissions, lower risk to biodiversity, less water usage and a means of re-purposing empty buildings of which there is estimated to be 635,000 in England alone.

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