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Sustainable tomorrow

Sustainable tomorrow

Global emissions need to drop by 80 percent by 2050 or the world is set to experience the true reality of the global warming crisis.

In less than 35 years, extreme weather, higher sea levels and pollution will be the norm, and delicately balanced natural ecosystems will be permanently disrupted or destroyed. Global warming is no longer a maybe, a possibility or a threat uttered by a madman on the corner of the road with a cardboard placard and an interesting beard. Sustainable energy sources and solutions must be sought out and implemented, emissions must be drastically cut and countries must keep to their global warming promises. Or else.

Fortunately, there are entrepreneurs and enterprises with sustainability top of mind, inventing alternatives to the traditional fossil fuels which power the globe. In Norway, Seaweed Energy Solutions AS cultivates seaweed as an energy source, planting a forest and finding ways to harness the endless potential of this versatile weed. At the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, researcher Khanh-Quang Tran is investigating a way of turning seaweed into a biocrude which can be refined and used as a biofuel. Thanks to the fjords and restless oceans of Norway, the area is ideally suited to the growth and development of this plant, and the research is showing positive results.

Interwaste in South Africa is a company which pulls energy from waste. Considering the vast expanses of rubbish which lie across lands around the world, the ability to harness it as a sustainable energy source is both brilliant and essential. The solution has seen a 648.82 percent increase in the diversion of hazardous waste from landfill with statistics pointing to continued success - in 2014, 2, 239.85 tons were used, in 2015, the figure rose impressively to 16, 772.55 tons.

“The blending platform is the first of its kind in Southern Africa and is a 50:50 joint venture between Lafarge and Interwaste,” says Jason McNeil, Sales and Marketing Director at Interwaste. “We have developed an environmentally sound solution for combustible waste products that are banned from landfill. By blending it in this processing facility, we produce a sustainable replacement for coal that services the high fuel demands of Lafarge Cement and indirectly takes pressure off South Africa’s existing natural resources.”

Still sitting under the African sun is a company called Solartrack. Started by Russel Bowden in 2013, the idea behind Solartrack was to create a solution which could move or track Solar PV panels so they remained permanently perpendicular to the sun. The technology available at the time wasn’t cost-effective nor did it justify the level of energy yield it delivered. His research found that dual axis tracking systems could yield up to 35 percent more energy than static panels and that a single axis system could deliver up to 27 percent more energy.

“After three years of development, we have finally produced a cost-effective product which is ready to go to market,” says Bowden. “The dual axis tracking system on our test site has shown increased energy yields of up to 39 percent. We have designed it from scratch and the electronics have a very low energy consumption while delivering great energy output. They use 0.1kWh of energy to yield 20kWh of additional energy.”

Moving up along the coastline to Mozambique finds Rolls-Royce investing in sustainable energy through the use of its B35:40V20 natural gas engines. A perhaps unexpected enterprise to be investing in the sustainable energy demands of a small African country, but a welcome one nonetheless. The power plant consists of 13 of these engines, each one delivering an electrical output of 120MW and helping an energy-strapped country stabilise its power supplies.

“This is a very successful and efficient project for Rolls-Royce Power Systems and we are ready to scale into Africa,” says Andrea Nono, CEO of MTU South Africa, a wholly owned Rolls-Royce Power Systems Company.

From engines to geysers – Amahlathi Eco-Tech recently made the finals of the Global Cleantech Innovation Programme in South Africa for the development of the Hot Spot. This geyser sleeve or conduit can be retrofitted to any standard geyser element to push hot water from the bottom to the top. This delivers 50 litres of hot water within 30 minutes at 50 degrees Celsuis and helps alleviate the impact of geysers on grid consumption – 6.2 million geysers consume 40 percent of monthly electricity at an average heating time of 1.5-3 hours.

Still on the awards track, at the 2016 Ashden Awards, 12 sustainable energy organisations and programmes from four continents won top spot for sustainable work. In the UK, the Low Carbon Hub won the Ashden Award for Sustainable Communities thanks to its focus on scaling up renewable energy generation in local areas. Their work has included solar panels for schools and a micro-hydro project on the Thames. Then Greenlight Planet won the Ashden Award for Increasing Energy Access by developing and manufacturing reliable solar products which anyone can afford. They sell their products across 40 countries and focus on delivering them to remote regions so people in rural areas gain access to light at night.

Back in Africa, Energy Partners has decided to put tyres to good use by extracting oil from them while in the recycling process. The pilot plan is capable of producing around 50,000 litres of oil per month from used tyres using a process which is both cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

“The environmental impact of the recycling plant cannot be discounted,” says Andre Agenbag, Head of Business Development, Energy Partners. “You need to be able to manage and dispose, or create a market for the by-products of this process. We are looking at expanding the plant next year and our process is set to produce a low-cost and environmentally friendly alternative fuel.”

Another notable company, Hyperdrive Innovation, has recently announced it is about to become the first commercialised product using Nissan LEAF technology for electric vehicles and energy storage. This addresses one of the biggest challenges which has surrounded solar and sustainable energy sources – storage. Most solutions are either too big or expensive for installation in homes or rural locations so there is always a need for a solution which is low on price, but big on capability.

“The commercial availability of this technology allows for homeowners, businesses and network operators to expand their energy storage capacity,” says Stephen Irish, Hyperdrive Innovation’s Managing Director. “For homeowners they can store the energy they generate from renewable systems such as solar panels and for businesses it will bring operational benefits, energy cost savings and grid continuity.”

Finally, at the end of October 2016, Elon Musk, eternal driver of all things sustainable, revealed a new range of energy products. Two of these were of particular interest – the Tesla Powerwall 2 battery with extended capacity and the company’s new solar roof tiles. The latter look incredibly stylish, a far cry from the usual solar seen on rooftops today, and are both durable and adaptable. The price point is, according to Musk less than a traditional roof plus solar, and for the design-conscious, they make solar look sexy.  

Coupled with reliable storage and stylish design, perhaps these entrepreneurs and their solutions are going to be the reason the planet cuts its emissions enough to prevent the warming crisis.

 

Read the January 2017 issue of Energy Digital magazine

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