For some people, green technologies are futuristic. As if we’re waiting for the ripe time when these sustainable solutions will come to fruition. When in fact, green technologies are already here changing the world.
In a previous post, I mentioned the more mainstream green technologies today such as solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles. There were mentions of relatively new concepts as well, such as wetlands, Oil Fuel 6, and artificial meat.
In this post, let’s explore more examples of green technologies that are already here. These green technologies address problems in fossil fuel energy, waste management, water scarcity, and food security.
Green Real Estate
Commercial and residential real estate made up 13% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the 2019 data of the U.S. EPA Inventory Report (1990–2019).
As part of climate change policies, real estate developers seek to construct modern sustainable buildings. National organizations like the U.S. Green Building Council (through LEED) and the U.S. EPA (through ENERGY STAR) recognize green buildings when they can minimize their environmental impact in every stage of the real estate value chain. From design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation or retrofitting, and down to green demolition.
When combined with green architecture, they make world-class green buildings that truly raise the standards! BREEAM is one of the international award-giving bodies that highlights sustainable infrastructures around the world annually. As the world’s first sustainability assessment method for buildings, BREEAM has given over 500,000 certificates across 93 countries.
Here are the regional winners for BREEAM Awards 2021 held on March 23–25, 2021:
Among the regional winners, the highest score goes to PENNY Market Otopeni. The 1,400-square meter retail store located in Otopeni, Romania has been awarded because of its innovative green technologies that were intricately designed into the retail store. The most striking sustainable feature is the building’s 1,000-square meter green roof with 120 photovoltaic panels — providing 30% of the store’s electricity during sunny days. Its parking lots also have EV charging stations.
Ocean Thermal Energy
Although solar energy has come far with scalability, there are still limitations with the surface area on which the sunlight covers. Meanwhile, a lot of the Sun’s energy gets absorbed by the oceans’ surface waters. Instead of building floating solar panels (albeit this market is an emerging technology), we can still harness the Sun’s energy into electricity through ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC).
As of 2017, these are the status of OTEC projects around the world according to Ocean Energy Systems.
Oceans are the Earth’s natural heat sink because the surface waters absorb a lot of the heat coming from the Sun (25–35°C). But deep down in the oceans, water can be chilling cold (3–7°C). This temperature difference (at least 25°C) between the ocean’s surface waters and the deep waters can power turbines and generators. Here’s how it works:
The world’s biggest existing OTEC plant is located in Hawaii, U.S.A — Makai Ocean Engineering. After several years of planning since 2006, Makai started producing electricity to the U.S. grid in 2015. It has an annual power generation capacity of 100 kW which can supply electricity to 120 homes in Hawaii 24/7. Aside from operating as a power plant, they are also a research facility for building large-scale OTEC plants ranging from 1 to 100 MW.
Vertical Indoor Farming
Crops and vegetables thrive with sunlight, nutrients from the soil, water, and stable temperature. Through science and technology, farming indoors within metropolitan areas is achievable! Vertical indoor farming is exactly what it sounds like — food production through farming inside buildings or warehouses. How does this green technology work?
Aerofarms is the largest aeroponic indoor farm today in the world. In place of soil, they use a patented reusable cloth. There’s no need to worry about seasonal food availability because algorithmic systems mimic the favorable environmental conditions for the crops and vegetables to grow 24/7. Instead of natural sunlight, LED lighting emits the proper spectrum, intensity, and frequency needed for photosynthesis.
This green technology solves several global warming-related problems. It significantly uses less land space, can save 95% less water compared to conventional irrigation, reduces carbon footprint from transportation, and ensures food security for the communities.
Blockchain-based Waste Management
When you throw away your trash, do you pause and wonder where it’s going to end up? For the not so environmentally conscious citizens, not really. That’s the least of their problems already.
The lack of systematic accountability of waste disposal is a huge culprit of the waste management problem we’re facing. When blockchain technology is used properly, its decentralized feature can profoundly improve waste segregation at the source, waste disposal, and recycling. Yes, blockchain is not only about Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies!
For example, Recerreum and Swachcoin are both Ethereum-based cryptocurrencies that incentivize waste generators when they sort their trash at the source. These e-coins will be rewarded at waste deposit centers. Real-time data of wastes such as the type, volume, shipping location, and every transaction along the waste management chain will be recorded in the blockchain. These fraud-proof and transparent data will be used to find optimal truck routes to reduce the carbon footprint or to remotely manage waste bins.
There are also companies like Plastic Bank (Canada) that incentivize waste collectors to sell plastic wastes to recycling manufacturers. They are already operating in developing countries such as Haiti, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, the Philippines, and Egypt. Plastic Bank has won prestigious sustainability awards like the 2019 UN SDG Action Awards and the 2019 Game Changer Award in the Green Awards.
Waste-to-Energy Power Plants
Waste-to-Energy power plants are green technologies that hit two sustainable solutions at once — better waste disposal and a low-carbon energy source.
This green technology mainly solves the landfill problem while producing electricity as a by-product. Approximately 292.4 million tons of municipal waste were generated in 2018 in the U.S. — 32.1% were recycled and composted, while about 50% of this was landfilled. Landfilling has its upsides, especially when natural gas from methane is produced and properly collected. However, the leachate can be hazardous if it contaminates the groundwater.
A better alternative is to burn the end-of-life waste by incineration. It reduces waste volume at a much faster rate compared to landfills. The bottom ash by-product can also be recycled in construction materials. Plus, electricity can be generated from the heat produced during incineration.
The biggest waste-to-energy plant in the world is on its way to operation in Shenzhen, China. Upon its expected completion date in 2022, Energy Ring can process 5,000 tons of waste per day — producing 550 million kWh of electricity per year. That doesn’t count the energy produced from its solar panel roof!
Truth is, those green technologies I mentioned above have been brewing in the research and feasibility stage for quite some time now. After careful implementation, they’re already starting to set trailblazers for the rest of the world to follow on. I mean, look at solar panels — they’re widely available commercially now! You can easily shop and set one up on your house’s roof.
Sooner, these green technologies will gain traction and become more mainstream. And innovation will keep on rolling — perfecting more efficient technologies in the future. After all, there’s no time left to spare if we want to reverse the effects of climate change.
We have to act smart and fast. And we must do it together.