Roundup: 5 green tech innovations we’re excited about

Rose Mary Petrass

friends looking at binoculars

Every day we talk about our green future, and what it will take to get there. It seems every smart person who cares about our planet is working on some green innovation or other. 

Let’s take a look at some of the innovations in green technology we’re most excited about at the moment at The Green List.

1. Are plants the future of lighting?

glowing plants

Researchers at MIT have been developing light-emitting plants, using specialised nanoparticles embedded in plant leaves. The nanoparticles contain luciferase, the enzyme that gives fireflies their glow, and coenzyme A, which removes a reaction byproduct that can inhibit luciferase activity.

After a brief charging period using LED, the plants glow brightly for around 3.5 hours, and can be charged repeatedly. 

The researchers believe that with further research the plants will one day be useful for illuminating a workspace or an outdoor setting.

“We wanted to create a light-emitting plant with particles that will absorb light, store some of it, and emit it gradually,” says Michael Strano, professor of chemical engineering at MIT. 

“Creating ambient light with the renewable chemical energy of living plants is a bold idea,” says Sheila Kennedy, professor of architecture at MIT.

 “It represents a fundamental shift in how we think about living plants and electrical energy for lighting.”

Sounds like a beautiful idea and definitely takes the term “plant-based lifestyle” to the next level!

2. Can buildings be their own storage batteries? 

Concrete building

Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have developed a way for buildings to store electricity using the very cement that makes them.

concrete battery
The layout of a metal-coated nickel-iron concrete battery. Image: Chalmers University of Technology

Most concrete structures require a reinforcing metal structure. This means that the structure itself can be used to conduct electricity in what has been called a structural battery. 

Large-scale structural batteries like this can store renewable energy (such as from photovoltaics) during peak production times, and feed it back into the grid during peaks in demand from the grid. 

In the study, the scientists tested mixing cement with metal powders versus plating the electrodes in metal. The best performance came from metal plating with nickel-iron coated electrode. This reached .8 watt-hours per litre, compared with mixed-in metal powders at just .06 Wh/L.

3. Lab-grown meat: coming soon to a supermarket near you

lab grown meat

It sounds like science fiction, but it’s not. 

Cultivated meat, also known as cultured meat, is animal meat produced by cultivating animal cells directly, instead of raising livestock, eliminating the need to raise and farm animals for food. Cells are grown in the same or similar structure as animal tissues, to replicate the flavour and nutritional value of traditional meat. 

Dutch scientist Mark Post first unveiled lab-grown meat live on television in 2013. Since then, the industry has grown to hundreds of companies worldwide, backed by more than $US450 million in investments.

4. Paint so white it can cool our homes

white paint

In an interesting development on the dark roofs vs cool roofs debate, scientists have invented the whitest paint ever – paint so white it can lower the temperature inside buildings, reducing the need for air conditioning. 

Engineers at Purdue University created the barium sulfate paint, which reflects 98.1 percent of sunlight, which the scientists say is the upper limit on paint reflectiveness. The paint can cool surfaces 13 degrees celsius below its surroundings under strong sunlight.

5. Smart buildings 

smart building

It’s so annoying to see empty buildings with the lights left on. And imagine how high the bills must be!

A smart building or intelligent building is one that uses integrated processes, innovative design and smart engineering to self-regulate its environment and operations. Think about buildings that know where the occupants are and when they are there, so it is able to redirect energy usage only to where it is needed. 

Smart buildings put people at the centre of design, automatically adjusting the settings of the facility according to their needs – from lighting to WiFi, heat and cooling, and ventilation – these are the buildings of the future.