10 new innovations that will shape a more sustainable future

The new technology that will make an impact in the next five years

Virtual reality experiences that encourage sustainable behaviour is just one of the innovations at the forefront of sustainability innovation.
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From alternative energy sources to immersive artificial experiences designed to change behaviour, sustainable innovations aim to drastically reduce the effects of human life on planet Earth.

Renewable energy use needs to increase six times to achieve sustainability goals laid down by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. Rapidly improving energy efficiency will contribute a percentage of the progress required.

But the importance of new technology and innovation has never been greater to limit the average global temperature rise to below 2°C from pre-industrial levels. Mubadala's development company Masdar is central to many new developments and innovations in the UAE.

It has commissioned a report on the top 10 sustainable innovations likely to make the greatest impact over the next five years.

1 Biomass converted into coal substitutes

Energy pellets composed of biomass such as wood chips and bio-crops can be used as a clean and renewable alternative to coal under a process designed by innovation company Agri-Tech Producers. The company converts plant and wood biomass substances to fuel.

2 Briquettes made with biomass

Sun-dried organic material such as paper and cow dung can be converted into energy-rich briquettes by a special machine developed by a small enterprise in Kenya.

The fuel briquettes can burn for up to three hours thanks to the process developed by Kayole Environment Management Enterprise.

3 Virtual reality that inspires behavioural change

New York company Thinc Design is using virtual reality to immerse people in an interactive experience and educate them about climate change and the need to support sustainability projects.

Groups of up to 30 people at a time can share the experience to better understand the environmental impact of behavioural change.

Thinc Design has created interactive exhibits for museums, zoos, aquariums and expos, and the company’s head of content Amanda White says similar methods can be used to engage people in the sustainability message.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - January 10th, 2018: General views of Masdar City. Wednesday, January 10th, 2018 at Masdar City, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Abu Dhabi's Masdar City was built with the goal of becoming the world's most sustainable eco-city. Chris Whiteoak / The National

  4 City water fountains that save water and plastic

Single-use plastic water bottles have become the scourge of the planet’s oceans, but encouraging wider access to public water fountains could help to curb their use.

Refilling stations providing clean still and sparkling water in highly populated areas would encourage more people to reuse water bottles, which are being discarded at sea.

The Italian ProAqua Group has drastically reduced plastic waste by installing water stations around the world.

5 Environmentally friendly water-based paints

Switching from solvent-based paints to high-performance water-based alternatives could reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals and limit environmental damage. Volatile organic compounds are commonly used in commercial paints, releasing solvents into the air as the paint dries. Sachin Joshi, managing director of SK Formulations, said technology was aiding the development of safer products with a greater field of applications.

  6 Shared electricity using blockchain

Small, regional power producers will find it easier and cheaper to provide renewable energy thanks to the latest breakthroughs in blockchain-supported software and hardware.

A safe network of self-generated energy that allows communities to share access to power generated from renewable sources is being made easier to control by German company Oli. The Oli box captures and optimises the use of electricity and heat, making it easier to share energy generated from solar or wind.

Photo of a worker holding smoke chips in his hands.
Energy pellets composed of biomass substances such as wood chips and bio-crops can be used as a clean and renewable alternative to coal.

7 Sustainable computer centres powered by green energy

The recent surge in cryptocurrency markets has increased demand for inexpensive electricity to power the supercomputers required to unlock new digital coins.

Soluna, a company powered by its own renewable energy, aims to address the problem by building computer centres powered by clean energy. "We believe that blockchain technology has the potential to bring a new wave of innovation to the energy space," said John Belizaire, chief executive of Soluna.

  8 Peer-to-peer energy sharing

Social enterprise Solshare is paying its part in sharing the sustainability message through its affordable solar energy programme in Bangladesh.

Interconnected solar home systems offer a secure shared network, allowing households to capitalise on excess solar energy.

In partnership with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Solshare plans to install 100 grids in energy-deprived areas of India and Africa.

Decorating house facade. Full Frame Camera and L Glass Used
Japanese firm to purchase Australian rival in one of biggest recent deals. Getty

9 Using waste heat from industry as a power source

UAE start-up Seramic uses waste heat from industry as a power source, and converts industrial aggregate in materials used in the oil and gas sector. Seramic is developing a customised Waste Heat Recovery system to use carbon-free energy.

“Waste heat represents an enormous potential of available energy that is already paid for by the industry and is usually dumped into the atmosphere without any valorisation,” said Dr Nicolas Calvet, co-founder and chief executive of Seramic.

10 Using vegetable oil and antimicrobials to produce power

Farm waste and vegetable oils are being used to help with batteries that can power most household appliances.

Nigerian company Berekotry has developed a cost-effective process to create biopolymer electrolytes.