Developing new, green technologies has been hailed as a way to both achieve Europe’s environmental goals and support its economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic. But what type of green technologies do we need and how do we get them scaled up to a point where they can have a real impact?
Smart windows that control the amount of heat that enters or leaves a building can reduce the need for energy-intensive air conditioning units and help efforts to retrofit Europe’s buildings to make them more energy efficient.
Retrofitting Europe’s buildings for energy efficiency is not enough to slash the carbon footprint of the construction sector and cut emissions in time to meet the Paris climate agreement goals, according to Dr Catherine De Wolf, assistant professor of design and construction management at TU Delft in the Netherlands.
Using light as an energy source, photosynthetic microalgae can be used to produce products like biofuels and cosmetics. But algae grown in a reactor block out the light on which they feed. New reactor designs could solve this problem and help the industry move forward.
Thanks to rapid computing developments in the last decade and the miniaturisation of electronic components, people can, for example, track their movements and monitor their health in real time by wearing tiny computers. Researchers are now looking at how best to power these devices by turning to the user’s own body heat and working with garments, polka dots and know-how from the textile industry.
Today’s silicon solar panels are an industry standard, but these rigid, heavy blocks may be shunted aside by plastic rivals – lightweight, flexible solar panels that could be printed and stuck onto buildings or placed in windows or cars, turning light into electricity in locations inaccessible to their heavier cousins.
Storing power generated by strong winds or bright sunshine by turning it into liquid fuel such as methanol can help to ensure green energy does not go to waste, without having to rely on batteries.
Today, aviation is responsible for 3.6% of EU greenhouse gas emissions. Modern planes use kerosene as fuel, releasing harmful carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But what if there was another way?
Food waste, garden cuttings, manure, and even human sewage can be turned into solid biocoal for energy generation, and, if scaled up, could help match the industrial demand for carbon with the need to get rid of organic waste and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Lithium-sulphur batteries, which are lighter and cheaper than today’s models, may be the next generation of power cells that we use in electric cars or mobile phones – if scientists can get them to last for longer.
Hyperloops could replace short-haul air travel.
Car manufacturers are rolling out higher levels of automation but public acceptance is lagging behind.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.