In a year marked by environmental and social problems made worse by a pandemic that refused to go away, scientists, engineers and other types of intelligent people have found solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

From lab-grown furniture to net zero alcohol, Eco-Business shines a light on sustainability innovations that have given humanity some hope in another troubling year.

Milk pants

Milk pants from Inner Mettle, made from waste milk. Image: inner courage

Underwear made from waste milk does not seem particularly hygienic. But the United States-based sustainable fabric brand, Inner Mettle, claims to be able to recycle underwear from surplus milk. The underwear is natural, breathable and super-soft, according to the manufacturer, which also makes shoes from recycled lycra and vegan suede..

Laboratory furniture

The loggers take note. The furniture could soon be produced in the laboratory. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say they can grow in a laboratory what would take decades to develop in nature. They could even design the wood fabric to take the specific shape of the chair or table. “Trees grow in large cylindrical poles, and we rarely use large cylindrical poles in industrial applications,” Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, senior scientist at MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories, told Fast Company of his report. research article, published in Journal for Cleaner Production. “So you end up ripping down a bunch of material that you took 20 years to cultivate that ends up being junk. Although the research is still in its infancy, the MIT researcher says this could be the start of a new way to produce biomaterials that could also help replace single-use plastics.

Net zero alcohol

Producing a single bottle of vodka emits an average of 6 kilograms of carbon, according to New York City carbon-neutral alcoholic spirits start-up Air Company. The company produces carbon-negative vodka, makes its alcohol from recovered CO2, and removes an additional 45 grams of carbon from the air. Air Company’s carbon neutral alcohol won an award at Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Awards this year.

Surf to save the ocean

Smart surfing

Tyler Cyronak, post-doctoral fellow at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Image: YouTube

A surfboard measuring the acidity of the water, temperature and wave movements could be used to learn more about the degrading health of the ocean. “The reason these parameters are important is that they change directly as a result of climate change,” says Dr. Andrew Stern, founder of Smartfin, in a video interview with Great Big Story. “We have detailed information on the deep ocean, but very limited specific information on the near shore.” Data is collected from an implant in the fin of the surfboard and sent to the user’s phone for analysis.

Coffee capsules that die

Respectful of landfills

Coffee capsules suitable for landfills. Image: Nexe Innovations

The kind of invention that should have been invented a long time ago and before disposable aluminum and plastic coffee capsules began to cover landfills: coffee capsules that actually decompose in the environment. The Nexe Pod, developed by plant-based materials design company Nexe Innovations, is for people who want to drink half-decent coffee instantly, without worrying so much about the packaging footprint of such convenience. (because they are already worried about the deforestation footprint of coffee). Nexe pods are plant-based, compostable in just over a month, non-toxic to soil, and apparently can hold more coffee than a standard single-serve Nespresso capsule. “We are chasing the compostability side of the market, ”said Ash Guglani, president of Nexe Innovations, in an interview with Proactive in May. “There are many recyclable alternatives. But recycling takes work. We bring convenience to individual service.

Rubber wheels

Skateboard wheels made from recycled chewing gum

Early versions of chewing gum were made from the sap of trees, but most modern chewing gum is made from the same substance as car tires, a synthetic rubber called polyisobutylene. Image: Dezeen

Recycled chewing gum skate wheels. Design students Hugo Maupetit and Vivian Fischer, from Nancy, France, found a way to collect discarded gum, encouraging people to stick their used gum on a sign rather than drop it on the floor. After 10-30 used gums were collected, they were melted and cast into wheels.

Stacks of trees

The most common material used for anode in Lithium-ion batteries are made from synthetic graphite, which is not renewable. Finished pulp and paper maker Stora Enso says it can replace synthetic graphite with lignin, the solid substance found in the cells and bark of trees, for use in batteries found in electric vehicles, cell phones and laptops.

Houses from shipping containers

Old shipping containers used to make houses

A house made from used shipping containers. Image: Sean Woolley

There is a growing surplus of shipping containers that have reached the end of their life. German architects and developers of the Schween family have teamed up with real estate expert Sean Woolley at to create aesthetic and affordable homes made from used containers in Marbella, Spain.

Industrial water

German chemicals giant BASF has found a way to create the scent in fragrances and aromas in food from industrial waste. Called n-octanol, the product, which is made from a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, comes from waste from the steel industry. With this technology, companies will be able to make any product containing n-octanol from municipal and industrial waste gases, replacing fossil fuels in the production process and also preventing them from entering the atmosphere.

Beauty without water

Raël's snowball melts the humidity.  Image: Wunderman Thompson

Raël’s snowball melts the humidity. Image: Wunderman Thompson

Freeze-drying was a popular food preservation technique for astronauts. Beauty brands such as Korean brand Saro de Rúe and Beijing-based biotech company Weibo Hi-Tech Cosmetics are now using this method for skin care products. Freeze drying allows the product to last longer, as there is no water on which bacteria multiply, so no need for preservatives, and the product ingredients can be transported in vacuum sealed bags rather than in liquid containers, which saves space. If there is a downside, they always use plastic packaging.

Photovoltaic pavement

Paver PV Image: Ayuntamiento de Barcelona

Photovoltaic paving stone. Image: Ayuntamiento de Barcelona

The city of Barcelona is on a mission to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. To achieve this, it has started installing solar panels on the tracks. The first installation is 50 square meters of photovoltaic panels in a park in the Glòries district. The path will generate 7,560 kWh per year, enough to power three homes. “We will have to assess the wear because obviously it is not the same thing as putting panels on a roof, even if they are very resistant”, declared Eloi Badia, responsible for the climate emergency and the ecological transition at Barcelona City Hall. Guardians’ Journal.

Wash with waste

OMO of industrial waste

OMO capsules, made from industrial waste. Image: Unilever

Personal care giant Unilever has partnered with biotech company LanzaTech and green chemicals company India Glycols to make laundry capsules made from recycled carbon emissions. Launched in China in April, the capsules are made from recovered industrial emissions that are reused in surfactants, a product normally made from fossil fuels.

Electric steps

Steps can be converted into enough electricity to power LED bulbs or other small devices, by attaching an energy harvesting device to the parquet. Called a nanogenerator, the device is based on sandwiching two pieces of wood between electrodes.

Vegan diamonds

Ether

Aether’s “Conflict Free, Carbon Positive and Vegan” Diamonds. Image: Ether

Diamonds are usually unearthed or produced in a laboratory. Both methods are environmentally intensive. US company Aether claims to manufacture the world’s first diamonds that “help reverse historic damage to ecosystems and the environment caused by the diamond industry.” The company’s air collectors suck carbon dioxide out of the sky, pulling it through specialized filters. The CO2 is then synthesized in the right hydrocarbon for the growth of the diamonds. The raw materials are placed in powerful reactors for the diamonds to be cultivated. The energy used comes from “renewable, low-emission sources,” the company told Forbes. The product is now certified vegan.

Did we run out? Let us know by writing to [email protected] or leave a comment in the comments box. This story is part of our Year in Review series, which identifies the stories that shaped the world of sustainability in 2021.

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