Global warming and other ecological challenges continue to face humanity, as people around the world look to solve a growing range of environmental problems. While technology is often seen as a catalyst for environmental destruction, it will also play a big role in the solution. Environmental scientists and eco-tech companies across the globe are likely to make their biggest splash yet in 2017, including projects related to wind power, artificial photosynthesis, and smart transportation.
According to a report from the International Energy Association, 2016 was the first year that renewable energy capacity around the globe eclipsed coal power. Growth was in large part due to new installations of solar power and wind projects, with half a million solar panels installed every day in 2016 and two new wind turbines installed every hour across the globe. Wind power is the fastest growing form of clean energy, with Japan’s Atsushi Shimizu just inventing the world's first typhoon turbine that "could power the nation for 50 years”.
While solar power generation has been used for decades, one exciting new project has taken solar technology to the next level. The Artificial Leaf project developed by Berkeley Lab researchers at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) has been working on ways to mimic the process of natural photosynthesis and harness the energy of sunlight. The artificial leaf collects sunlight between two films that generate oxygen and hydrogen gas, with this technology releasing hydrogen that can be used in fuel cells to make electricity.
New environmentally friendly technologies are also ready to hit the roads in 2017, including the ongoing development of smart cars and smart highway systems. Some of the eagerly awaited electric cars to hit the market in 2017 include the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the Hyundai Ioniq Electric, the BMW i3, and the Ford Focus Electric among others. Along with the evolution of electric vehicles, cleaner trains and aeroplanes are also being developed, including the The Embraer E170 prototype recently unveiled by Boeing and its Brazilian manufacturers.
The Smart Highway is an interactive and sustainable road network designed by Daan Roosegaarde and Heijmans Infrastructure in the Netherlands. The goal of this project is to combine light, energy, and information networks that interact with traffic and prioritise electric vehicles. From a photo-luminescent powder that glows in the dark through to temperature-responsive paint that generates ice-crystal warning signs in hazardous conditions, the Smart Highway project has already been recognised as the 'Best Future Concept' at the Dutch Design Awards.
The Internet will also have a huge effect on the environment in 2017, including a number of apps that share information and promote sustainability. For example, Australian company Yume offer an app that connects farmers and manufacturers with cafes, restaurants, caterers, hospitals or anyone else with a commercial kitchen. With a mission “to create a world without waste because all good food deserves to be eaten,” Yume enables donations and food sales up to 20 percent less than cost price. The Future Earth Media Lab has a separate project that uses virtual reality to address urban sustainability, with the JouleBug app also encouraging sustainability online. Instead of seeing technology as a problem, people are increasingly learning how to harness its power to create positive change.
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