It’s hard to go a week without hearing about the ever-growing necessity to secure a green future. The term ‘green technology’ has started to pop up with more frequency, but what exactly is green technology, and why is it important? Above all, what does green technology look like, and how can it be applied to the world around us?
Green technology can be defined as the use of technology and science to create products that are friendly to the environment (Source, Singh 2021). Their intention is to reduce the harmful effect by finding safe and sustainable methods of working, which can include the technological infrastructure used for recycling waste, purifying water, creating clean energy, and conserving natural resources (Source Singh 2021).
Green technology can be incredibly useful in reducing the carbon footprint of businesses, reducing waste, conserving water, and reducing the consumption of energy. In addition, green technology has massive potential to completely improve our quality of life, and in this article we will be highlighting a few examples of green technology that have shown huge strides with regards to innovation and sustainable development.
The SmartFlower is unlike anything you have ever seen. It is a solar panel system mounted on the ground and shaped like a flower. The SmartFlower consists of 12 solar panel petals which are programmed to sense sunlight and open up with the sunrise and close with the sunset (Source SmartFlower, 2022). Whilst most traditional solar panels require some kind of installation, the solar flowers are completely portable and ready to plug in.
The biggest difference between the SmartFlower and a traditional rooftop panel is that it includes a sun tracker, meaning the SmartFlower automatically orients itself towards the sun for optimal energy conversions. The advanced robotics and automation that it uses to intelligently track the sun mean that it makes up to 40% more energy than traditional stationary solar panels (Source SmartFlower, 2022). On top of that, every day at sunset, the SmartFlower will automatically fold up and clean itself to maintain peak solar utilisation. The SmartFlower produces between 4-6 MWh/year depending on the location, enough to fulfil the average electricity needs of a household in Europe (Source, Odyssee Mure 2021), and half of an American household (Source, ElectricChoice, 2021).
There’s no arguing that the SmartFlower is an incredible feat of engineering. It’s a stand-out piece of green design, and can even protect itself in a storm via adopting its curled up ‘safety position’. It’s difficult to find any factors that haven’t been considered in its design, and its portability, self-sufficiency and high energy output can be very advantageous in both commercial and residential application.
You may have started to see more of these within the last couple of years. The truth is, Plant/Green Walls have become an architectural marvel in recent times. They are vertically built structures that hold enough soil to sustain the growth of different types of plants and other greens. Because these structures contain living plants, they also feature built-in irrigation systems, usually enhanced with features of smart technology to enable monitoring and self-irrigation, which will ultimately improve its survivability, aesthetic, and air purification potential (Source, Gonçalves 2021).
Plant Walls are a stellar example of Green Tech that give us much more than just the aesthetic value they exude. Outdoor plant walls can serve as a highly effective means of insulating buildings, capturing rainfall, and providing habitats for insects. In addition, the transpiration process of plants can slightly reduce temperatures and purify the air indoors as well (Source, Naava, 2017).
There are a few leading companies within this field that are pioneering their plant life applications in architecture with the aim of securing a sustainable outcome. Some of these brands include Green Fortune, Plant Walls, Plants on Walls, and Natural Green Walls.
Vertical Farming is an eco-friendly technology and an alternative to horizontal farming, where produce is stacked in vertical layers instead. The benefit of vertical farming is its increased sustainability – some vertical farms don’t even require soil and reduce water use exponentially.
A pioneering company within this space is AeroFarm.Their technology within vertical farming, such as intelligent root misting systems for indoor produce, allow vertical farms to use 95% less water than a regular field (Source, AeroFarms, 2022). Moreover, their vertical farms are more space-efficient, using up to 99% less land than the field, which is very important to consider given that the world has lost ⅓ of its arable land in the last 40 years due to soil erosion and contamination by toxic metals that may be used in conventional farming methods (Source, AeroFarms, 2022).
Overall, AeroFarms design vertical farms that significantly reduce the use of fossil fuels (as there are no tractors involved in the process), whilst also eliminating agricultural run-off and reducing the use of water and pesticides. Vertical farms can also produce crops all year round, and they have also been discovered to be an effective means of utilising empty buildings, which are estimated to be around 635,000 in the UK alone (Source, Science Focus, 2017).
Another massive benefit of Vertical Farming is that it cuts greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating the need to transport produce over long distances. Over the last few years, vertical farms have been sprouting all over the world including places like Vancouver, Panama, Singapore, and cities in the UK and US (Source, AeroFarms 2022).
Concrete “The Destructive Material on Earth” and is responsible for up to 8% of annual carbon emissions (The Guardian, 2019), it is also one of the worlds most used materials with 4.1 billion tonnes used in 2020 (Statista, 2021). All concrete cracks eventually and needs repair and replacement which is responsible for up to 35% of all emissions from concrete (IPCC, 2018). Self-healing concrete is a technology that reduces the carbon emissions from concrete, by reducing the need for carbon intensive repair and replace activities.
Self-healing concrete repairs itself in methods akin to how the body or biological organisms repair damage and there are three primary methods for self-healing concrete: Intrinsic, Capsule and Vascular (Grandview Research, 2020). Intrinsic self-healing concrete exhibit self-healing properties due to the composition of the cementitious matrix. Capsules involves embedding small capsules into the concrete such as with dutch company Basilisk using microorganisms (bacteria) embedded within capsules that produce limestone repairing the concrete structure (Basilisk, 2022).
Vascular Self-healing concrete, like the technology developed by Cambridge based Startup Mimicrete, uses biomimetic vein-like structure to deliver healing liquid to cracks as they form (Mimicrete, 2022). The benefits of a unique vascular system like Mimicrete’s is that it allows for multiple healings and can heal any size of crack width, whilst increasing the structural integrity of the concrete.
Self-healing concrete solutions are essential in reducing the global carbon emissions and reducing the impact that concrete has on the environment.
These examples should give you a clear idea of what Green Technology sets out to achieve, as well as what it could resemble in terms of its application in our daily lives. Green Technology is designed to take into account the long-term and short-term impact that something has on the environment, and it tends to be centred around the core principles of sustainability, such as energy efficiency, recycling, renewable resources, and the health of humans as well as planet earth. It is encouraging to see these developments in Green Technology taking place, and these innovations will not only transform a wide variety of sectors, but also our futures and how we live life from here onwards.