Our Favorite Sustainable Tech of 2021
Believe it or not, 2022 is upon us. While most folks spent the past year navigating shared challenges of daily life, innovative thinkers among us continue combating the ever-present threats to the health of our planet.
No matter how high the stakes get, humanity always manages to instill new hope via breakthrough technologies. Unfortunately, public attention isn’t always part of the process. The following are a few of our favorite new technologies we learned about in 2021.
Tire Dust Collector
Whenever we think of harmful pollution spewing from a car, we imagine it being ejected from a tailpipe as the vehicle chugs along a highway. However, tires are just as blameworthy.
When a vehicle accelerates, turns a corner, or breaks for a red light, pieces of plastic shed from the tires. Considering the sheer volume of cars on the road each day, that’s a lot of plastic waste. In fact, this specific plastic waste is the second largest source of microplastics found in our planet’s oceans. Worse yet, few have even thought about this problem.
That’s where The Tyre Collective comes in. This group of students from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art, turned heads this year with a new invention that may eliminate this waste stream entirely.
It’s a device that’s attached to the vehicle. Using an electric charge, it sucks up tire dust as it’s produced, preventing it from escaping into the ecosystem. In laboratory testing, it can currently capture 60% of particles emitted. As efficiency improves, the group hopes to integrate the device into all electric vehicles.
Food Waste Solar Panels
For decades, solar panels were embedded into our cultural zeitgeist as a leading innovation, positioned to lead us into the clean energy economy. But not until recently has this technology seen such a radical reinvention. A solar panel made from food waste.
Carvey Ehren Maigue, an electrical engineering student at Mapua University in the Philippines, invented the AuReus system when he discovered he could harness electricity from ultraviolet rays using recycled crop waste. Unlike traditional solar panels, which rely on direct visible sunlight, AuReus’ material can harness power from the sun’s UV rays. These rays can pass through clouds, so AuReus solar panels will also function on completely overcast days.
The system is so dynamic, it can be applied to windows or walls, even capturing UV rays reflected off nearby buildings, streets and sidewalks. The material uses luminescent particles from waste fruit and vegetables. Maigue’s hope is that by upcycling waste crops, the system will also help farmers negatively impacted by severe weather events caused by climate change.
Lead Pipe Finder
Water contamination and its association with lead pipes have always been a hot-button issue throughout communities across America. More recently, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan generated substantial concern and media attention focusing on these risks.
In response, professors Eric Schwartz of the University of Michigan and Jacob Abernethy of Georgia Tech University developed BlueConduit. This predictive modeling technology detects lead pipes using an algorithm based on multiple factors, including utility records and the age of homes. Their data-driven approach is currently being used by 50 cities and has led to the removal of more than 15,000 service-line pipes.
In 2022–armed with a $3 million grant from Google–BlueConduit will be providing a free open-source machine learning tool to help communities start identifying lead pipes in an initial step toward eventual removal.