Can tech help fight climate change? Five innovations making a difference today

Climate change is the world’s hottest topic. Literally. What role can the technology industry play? These five technologies are making a difference right now.

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Professionally dressed man and woman standing in a field surrounded by greenery, solar panels and bees

As we say goodbye to the last decade, we usher in a new and crucial one for our planet. According to research, Earth has warmed around 1c since the industrial revolution, which is wreaking havoc on the planet we call home.

This is just the start, according to this fun, but terrifying sliding scale.

Since the 2016 Paris Agreement – which aims to keep global temperature increases under 2c – climate change has become a critical conversation for all nations and industries. But, as the research of agricultural economist Ester Boserup shows, humankind has the potential to adapt using technology to overcome its problems.

These five technologies are designed to help us combat the number one issue we face as a species: global warming.

Vacuuming gas from the atmosphere

Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere have risen 48 percent since the start of the industrial revolution. We need to start reducing it, with the help of direct air capture (DAC) technology. But what is it?

Giant vacuum cleaners remove CO2 from the atmosphere, sequestering it underground and, in some cases, supplying it back to specific industries, like fertilizer for farmers or bubbles for drinks companies to carbonate their products.

One of the companies already using Direct Air Capture tech is Climeworks. They’re removing and sequestering thousands of tons of carbon from the atmosphere every year.

The CO2 fighting resilient crop

Arborea has developed the world’s first BioSolar Leaf – which puts a whole new spin on natural photosynthesis. Using unique, photovoltaic-like panels, coined ‘bionic leaves,’ BioSolar Leaf uses sunlight to grow microscopic plants which can grow in high concentrations within arid and infertile ground. These tiny plants, in turn, produce healthy food ingredients while generating oxygen and sequestering high amounts of CO2.

Bees glorious bees

Bees. You’d be hard pushed to find someone who doesn’t appreciate them. But you’d have an equally tricky time sitting down for a coffee with one (the bee, not the person). They are vital to a healthy environment, but unfortunately, their numbers are declining globally.

It’s time to save these winged wanderers.

The World Bee Project and Oracle have teamed up to do just that. Their Hive Network uses cloud technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and smart sensors to collect information about honey bee decline to protect them better.

The Hive Network allows researchers to ‘listen’ in on honey bee enclosures, analyzing data like wing movement, temperature and honey yield. By monitoring bee colonies at this level, conservationists and beekeepers can detect patterns and predict bee behaviors, giving them vital information to keep our (real-world) honeypots alive.

Lab-grown cuisine

Not a new technology by any stretch, but a new way of looking at a traditional industry. Meat has a much higher energy footprint than any other food type. It takes 75 times more energy to produce than corn and an area seven times the size of the European Union (EU) to produce enough food for the region’s cattle and livestock to eat.

In an attempt to curb our carnivorous habits and save our planet from total annihilation, start-ups like Impossible Foods are rearing fake meat – in labs. They’ve discovered that both animals and plants share a common protein – heme. In plants, this is leghemoglobin, whereas in animals, like cows, this would be hemoglobin. By taking heme from leghemoglobin and growing it in a lab, the product can be colored, shaped and even cooked like a piece of meat because they share the same properties.

But there’s more. Solar Foods are now turning water into different foods by taking bacteria from soil and multiplying it using hydrogen extracted from water – the result (in this case): flour. Although the flour isn’t licensed for sale currently, it’s been used to make an edible pancake. Not a bad start. Eventually, the flour will be used to replace fillers in thousands of food products. It can be modified to mimic milk and eggs, and can even be manipulated to create lab-grown fish with all those healthy omega-3 acids.

The power of energy storage

Many countries around the world have committed to a 100 percent carbon-free future, but how exactly will it happen? With renewables, in the first instance. But we also need to manage better the energy we produce to power the right tech to help us, like electric cars.

The stage is set for interconnectors. These power lines not only move energy across long distances between regional power grids but also store excess energy for later use using lithium-ion batteries – those used in mobile phones and electric cars. The use of these interconnectors is expected to grow tenfold by 2024. They help to store energy for longer to transport it to places where there’s less produced – a win-win.

Right now, current storage tech can handle four hours of storage. But, technology firms aim to improve that drastically like Energy Vault, a Swiss start-up. They use windy days and automated cranes to stack bricks, recapturing the kinetic energy generated when the bricks fall back to the ground. Watch the video to see it in action.

Smart cities are the next port of call

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that climate change could increase deaths by air pollution by hundreds of thousands between 2030 and 2050. One of the big problems: congested cities.

Now with advances in artificial intelligence, internet of things (IoT) and smart sensors, smart cities are being designed to help keep earth-defiling emissions down and citizens’ lungs healthy.

Hamburg is a case in point. A prominent port city in Germany, it’s bustling with shipping containers, cruise ships and other sea vessels – but struggling to manage increasing air and noise pollution. Air pollution is due to ships burning marine fuels for on-board equipment while they’re docked in the harbor.

After Hamburg Port Authority teamed up with Siemens and adopted the Siharbour technology (a mobile-operated generator), Hamburg’s ports can now hook incoming ships onto the mainland power supply, stopping them from burning unnecessary fuel and keeping emissions down.

What happens next?

The teams behind these innovations (and countless others) are working around the clock for a better chance of saving our planet. Which ones do you think will help make a difference? And what innovations could your business develop now that could help protect our world?

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About authors

Ryan Loftus is a freelance writer specializing in topics like technology, climate change, and the future of agriculture. He's interested in farming advancements and how they can help combat global warming.