Three funky solutions to climate change problems

Solar panels in a roll, building materials that make concrete carbon neutral and EV chargers attached to lampposts showcased at Innovation Zero conference

Check out these new solutions to the climate crisis

Check out these new solutions to the climate crisis
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Smart heating systems makers, vertical farmers, carbon offsetting specialists and those involved in combatting deforestation have all made a splash at the Innovation Zero Congress.

It opened in London on Wednesday, as 7,000 policymakers, chief executives, innovators and financiers gathered for the Innovation Zero Congress.

Among the key speakers were Leila Benali, Minister of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development in Morocco, UK Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, John Holland-Kaye, the chief executive of Heathrow Airport, and numerous academics, green fund managers and, of course, innovators and inventors.

The Olympia Hall was packed with more than 200 exhibitors at the UK's biggest clean tech conference showing how their products fit into the battle against climate change.

The National met some exhibitors and highlights some of the stand-out products.

Carbon-neutral concrete

More than 200 exhibitors at the UK's biggest clean tech conferenc. Innovation Zero Conference

By the age of 29, Dr Natasha Boulding had achieved much - she founded a building materials company, became a finalist for the Earthshot Prize and is on the under-30 Forbes List.

She's the chief executive and co-founder of Low Carbon Materials, a company that makes building aggregates from waste materials.

It's estimated that 4 to 8 per cent of carbon emissions come from the manufacture of concrete, but Low Carbon Materials has a solution.

Its product, Osto, is carbon-negative. When it's added to concrete mix, which is carbon-positive, the resulting concrete is neutral.

"I don't think it's a case of 'OK, we've reached neutral, let's stop' - there's always more that we can do and more ways that we can innovate," she told The National.

"Our core competencies as a company are research and development, and innovation. We're materials scientists, that's how we started.

"So, our passion is to go back and really rethink the way we use materials."

Solar panels in a roll

Power Roll at the Innovation Zero Congress in London. Matthew Davies / The National

Power Roll technology is based on microgrooves, which are 1 to 2 microns (thousandths of a millimetre) wide and 1 to 2 microns deep, through which energy can travel.

By using this, the company can create an ultra-thin solar panel that you can roll up.

"Power Roll have, essentially, completely reinvented the silicon PV solar panel," the company's business development manager Steve Quinn told The National.

"The thin film replaces the conventional solar panel and can go places conventional solar panels can't go."

Because the roll is lightweight, it can be installed on surfaces that might be deemed unsuitable for heavy traditional solar panels.

"We look to address that kind of issue, where conventional solar just can't be deployed for reasons of weight, cost and rigidity."

"Everybody sees the potential for this product, because it can go places and do things that conventional panels just can't do."

Charging from a lamppost

Electric car charging demonstrated at Innovation Zero Congress in London. Matthew Davies / The National

Across the floor of the enormous hall at Olympia, is the stand with a product that could be part of the solution for increasing the take-up of electric vehicles in the world's most crowded cities.

At the moment, public chargers for EVs in major cities tend to be scarce and confined to wealthier neighbourhoods, where most of the early adopters of the technology live.

But says its products can change that, by bringing EV charging to the masses.

It has charging units that attach to lampposts, thus tapping into the already existing power supply. installs the software and has technical teams that maintain the units.

"We take care of everything for [local] councils to put charge points in the streets where people don't have driveways, which is one of the big barriers that lots of people have for going electric," Shayne Rees from told The National.

"Believe it or not, lampposts have a lot more power capacity running to them that's necessary for the lighting.

"We can normally get about 5 kilowatts of charging power out of a lamppost, which is great for overnight charging."

A sense of community

All the exhibitors that The National spoke to acknowledged the tremendous sense of community at the Innovation Zero event. It was good to know, they commented, that there were others doing completely different work in completely different areas, but with the same net-zero goal.

When she walks out of the conference when it finishes on Thursday, Dr Boulding will feel inspired, but also aware of the harsh reality of "where we're at as a country, and what we need to do faster and more efficiently to reach net zero".

For Mr Rees, being surrounded by more than 7,000 participants all pulling in the same direction was humbling in itself.

"It's really inspiring," he told The National.

"There is enough of a collective consciousness and willingness to get stuff done. There are so many companies getting involved in tackling this problem, it shows that there's progress."

Updated: May 24, 2023, 5:35 PM