Innovation That Matters

Spotted: In 2023, for the first time, global investment in solar energy will surpass the amount invested in oil production. Knowing that much of the global community seeks a more sustainable way of life, Delft-based Biosphere Solar is harnessing the power of the masses to create a circular photovoltaic (PV) market. 

Current solar panels are relatively durable, working well for around 25 years. Once something breaks or they stop working, however, the panels that are a cornerstone of solar energy become highly unsustainable. Nearly impossible to recycle because of the laminate glue used to hold the glass panels and photovoltaic cells together, end-of-life solar panels are generally shredded for use as a filler in concrete or dumped in landfill.  

To tackle this, Biosphere Solar has created an open-source design that promotes repair and contains room for technology upgrades as they become available. The company’s panels use an edge seal, rather than laminate, to hold the glass panels and PV cells together. Additionally, each PV cell is attached individually, making it possible to replace a single broken cell rather than have to dump the entire panel. 

Another important aspect of the design is that it makes local production and maintenance possible, helping to redress the imbalance between wealthy and developing nations in their ability to access renewable energy sources. 

Because it is open source, the design encourages continual improvements, and the company asks creators to submit their own designs for possible inclusion in future iterations of the panel.

Currently field testing the panels, Biosphere Solar hopes to have its product commercially available by 2024.  

Solar energy is becoming such an important part of the global economy that Springwise has spotted innovations improving almost every aspect of the industry, from a new design that also provides clean drinking water to an industrial-scale recycling facility that captures 95 per cent of usable materials from the old panels.

Written By: Keely Khoury

Spotted: The construction industry is responsible for nearly 40 per cent of global greenhouse emissions. Yet, while industry actors often claim they follow stringent Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) guidelines – it’s difficult to prove this. Now, startup Carbon Title has a new idea for bringing radical transparency to the ESG claims of the real estate industry. The company has unveiled its decentralised platform designed to bring transparency and verifiability to the sector. 

The blockchain-powered platform makes it easy for anyone to access and search emissions data from both existing buildings (including carbon emissions caused by lighting, heating, and cooling) and those under construction, and creates a permanent record for each building. Building data is stored as a non-fungible token (NFT), making it easy for companies to benchmark their progress and differentiate their building from competitors. 

The platform also uses smart contracts to associate any carbon credits purchased with a particular building, creating a permanent record of each building’s “carbon story” and allowing anyone to trace the credits back to the source. 

By providing users with the tools to quickly calculate the carbon footprint of an entire portfolio, Carbon Title makes it easier for organisations to make informed decisions, assess sustainable building options, monitor and track progress, and purchase high-quality carbon removals. It also defends against claims of greenwashing by providing proof to back-up carbon reduction claims.

Data is being used in a wide number of innovative ways to reduce the carbon in the real estate industry. In addition to Carbon Title, Springwise has also spotted projects like an artificial intelligence (AI) platform that optimises concrete recipes to reduce emissions and the use of smart sockets to reduce energy consumption.

Written By: Keely Khoury

Spotted: In March 2023, the European Commission adopted a proposal that sets out the rights consumers have to ask sellers to repair damaged goods. Advocates call the measures the ‘right to repair’, and so far, many products included in the directive are repairable up to 10 years after purchase. After many years of products being designed for almost instant obsolescence, consumers are pushing brands to improve the robustness of items and make it possible for items to be repaired. 

As well as seeking increased accessibility of repairable parts, consumers want more durable goods. With the plethora of products now available online, it can be difficult to ascertain a reliable estimate of the life cycle of a product. Helping to remove that obstacle for consumers is Longtime label, a tool developed by France-based Ethikis. The label indicates repairable designs that are made to last. 

Shoppers can shop more confidently, with the knowledge that should something break, the design is fixable. To earn the Longtime label for a product, companies complete an application and an audit of their processes, assisted by the Longtime team. For organisations seeking a more informal assessment, Longtime offers the Durability-Self-Diagnosis tool, which helps businesses gain an understanding of their product’s strengths, alongside areas needing improvement.  

Longtime provides an ever-growing list of items on its website that have earned the certification, and consumers are encouraged to nominate products and brands that they believe meet the requirements.  

Reducing waste is an essential part of the world’s fight against climate change and Springwise is spotting innovations in every industry that are creating new ways of producing less, or are re-using items that have been discarded. A new platform helps producers track and collect post-consumer products, and a novel type of rubber panel uses recycled tyres to cool buildings.

Written By: Keely Khoury

Spotted: Despite all pledges to reduce emissions to reverse the worst effects of climate change, scientists believe that even if we fully implement all 2030 nationally determined contributions, pledges, and net-zero targets, global warming of nearly two degrees Celsius is still expected later this century. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) operational costs will naturally rise alongside temperatures, and use of those systems further exacerbates environmental damage. 

One way to help reduce reliance on traditional HVAC systems is to retrofit existing structures with energy-neutral solutions that reduce indoor heating during the summer while allowing the sun’s rays in during winter. French technology company Immoblade has taken inspiration from the space industry to create low-cost, quick-to-install, custom sunshade blades on windows and roofs.  

The blades are available in a range of shapes and sizes, from the barely visible designs of the Immoblade Mini to the wide, closely fitting stripes of the Immoblade Serigraphy. Installed in the same way as regular double glazing, the blades allow light into the building while blocking heat when the sun reaches a certain angle. Similarly, when the sun is below a certain angle during the winter, the blades allow heat to enter the building.  

Each solution is custom designed for the location and the structure, with the Immoblade team conducting a full thermal review of the building’s façade and local environment. The design of each set of blades meets the exact heating and cooling requirements of each piece of glass, and performance is monitored throughout the duration of the lifespan of the blades. Maintenance costs are zero as the designs and applications are fixed.

Immoblade was first spotted by Springwise in 2021, and was one of the featured solutions at ChangeNOW 2023.

Glass bricks that collect solar energy and nailable solar shingles are two other recent innovations in solar energy that Springwise has spotted helping to make renewable power more accessible and widespread.

Written By: Keely Khoury

Springwise: Growth in interest in plant-based foods and meat replacements is driving an increase in the global mushroom market at a compound annual growth rate of more than six per cent until 2028. For businesses in the hospitality and grocery industries, a Brooklyn, New York-based food technology company has created a means of transforming in-house waste streams into a new supply of sustainably grown mushrooms.  

Peat upcycles food waste from restaurants, grocery stores, and distributors using a hyperlocal, zero-emissions transport model. Drop-off points are open to the public as well as businesses, and provide companies with a way to reduce their waste management costs. Peat uses a zero-emissions, electric cargo bike to transport waste from drop-off points to the mushroom farming facility, and again to deliver the harvested mushrooms back to food establishments, who can purchase the mushrooms generated by their waste from Peat at a lower cost.  

Moisture from the gathered waste helps irrigate the farm, and Peat provides customers with a daily analysis of the volume of their scrap food. Businesses use the data to measure improvements in their work towards sustainability goals, and the mushrooms grown on the farm are fully traceable, providing businesses with an important piece in their ESG work. 

The entire process takes several weeks from collection of waste to delivery of mushrooms. Peat further contributes to positive environmental change by planting mushrooms in forests, as a way to encourage greater carbon sequestration.  

Bone grafts made from eggshells and industrial chemicals made from coffee grounds are two other ways that Springwise has spotted food waste being used to create a valuable new product.

Written By: Keely Khoury

Spotted: As the Earth’s climate changes, insurers and other businesses are constantly striving to understand and assess the risk of various events. Mitiga Solutions, a Barcelona-based risk assessor, combines artificial intelligence (AI) and physics to build a Climate Score for a variety of hazards, helping organisations make informed decisions on the latest data, rather than historical information. The company’s goal is to prevent natural hazards from becoming disasters.

Working with the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre, Mitiga reviews dangers, including cyclones, volcanoes, floods, rising sea levels, wildfires, and drought. The company’s Climate Score provides businesses with analysis of how any or all of those risks affect potential product loss, supply chain continuity, fleets of vehicles, delivery routes, and more.  

Mitiga’s risk modelling includes details such as local vegetation, topography, and active weather systems. And importantly, the Climate Scores always include a quantification of what is unknown, which ensures that those aspects are included in the assessment, rather than left out because of a lack of data. For areas of the world with developing economies, Mitiga includes a Climate Equity tool in its AI analysis. That allows the scores to reflect the varying burdens of different locations already there because of climate change, as well as make it possible to fill in gaps in data collection. 

Climate scores range from real-time to short and long term, stretching up to 100 years out from the current date. Mitiga’s services are available currently in more than 20 countries, and after a successful series A funding round that raised €13 million, the company plans to continue expanding to more locations and further develop its analytic capabilities.  

Extreme weather events are becoming so much more common that a host of innovations have been created to help communities deal with them. Springwise has spotted solar-powered sensors that warn communities of possible flooding and global, AI-powered weather monitor that provides updates every 15 minutes.

Written By: Keely Khoury

Spotted: The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified falls as being a major public health problem, and estimates that around 684,000 fatal ones occur each year. That makes falling the second leading cause of unintentional injury-induced death, after road traffic accidents. As the world’s population ages, the pressure on health service systems is likely to increase as more older people seek care for a fall. 

French healthtech company AbilyCare decided to focus on prevention and rehabilitation as a means of reducing that public healthcare burden. Developed by and for healthcare professionals, the AbilyCare software-as-a-service (SaaS) system includes a mobile testing kit, digital evaluations and data analysis, and a dashboard for monitoring patient progress.  

The mobile testing kit includes movement sensors and a balance platform that help caregivers identify patients’ areas of weakness. Earlier identification of increased risk of falling makes it easier for healthcare teams to set up preventive care programmes that, ideally, will reduce emergency hospital admissions. Reduced emergency admissions means better long-term health outcomes for patients, as well as reduced financial burdens on overstretched care systems.  

When used in rehabilitation settings, the AbilyCare platform and dashboard make it easy to track improvements over time. Detailed reports are available for both carers and patients, and the system is adaptable to a range of medical needs. AbilyCare is available as a one-off, to buy or rent as a long-term service, and as a bespoke programme.  

As populations age, Springwise is spotting more innovations that focus on care for the elderly, including an assistive robot and a platform that connects seniors with qualified care providers.

Written By: Keely Khoury

Spotted: A millennia-old fabric, wool remains popular worldwide. And as researchers delve deeper into its characteristics and capabilities, they are discovering new ways in which the material can be useful. Significant amounts of wool are discarded during production, and rather than burn or compost it, Estonian company Woola has identified an opportunity to turn wool waste into a valuable replacement for plastic. 

Woola has created sustainable, reusable, recyclable wool-based packaging as a means of eliminating the need for fossil-fuel-based bubble wrap. The company’s mission is to reduce by half the amount of bubble wrap used globally by 2030. Wool is soft, flexible, and naturally water- and temperature-resistant – all qualities that make it perfect for packaging fragile items. It is also extremely durable. 

Production of the packaging takes place in Estonia and is powered by renewable energy. The company works closely with local and regional farmers to provide them with an additional source of income, as most sheep farmers in the country raise the animals for meat rather than wool. By sourcing waste wool from Estonia, the company has also greatly reduced its transport costs and emissions.  

Woola packaging can be reused many times, and the company recently set up a pilot returns system with Estonian department store Kaubamaja. A returns box is available in stores in two locations, Tallinn and Tartu, and Woola would like to expand the returns option to all areas where its products are used. And as an alternative to returning the packaging, Woola provides a list of reuse suggestions on the company website. 

The versatility of wool is evidenced by the range of innovations spotted by Springwise that use the material, including sneakers and a completely traceable, zero-waste fabric.

Written By: Keely Khoury

Spotted: Around one billion tyres reach the end of their life each year, and there are already more than four billion tyres in landfills around the world. Such pollution is really a waste of useful supplies. Experts have recognised end-of-life tyres as being an inexpensive, yet valuable, resource for the circular economy for use in a variety of applications. Dutch tyre recycling consultancy company Ceyes agrees, providing businesses with several tyre recycling service options along with green roof cooling panels.  

For smaller industrial organisations or projects, a single container recycling box called the MTB Gator rips and grinds used tyres into rubber grain. For larger facilities, the four container-sized MTB Tire Recycling system handles from one to six tonnes of waste tyres per hour.  

Urban buildings use Ceyes’ CE Green City stormwater retention panel as the basis for a green roof that reduces heat and noise stress. As well as used tyres, Ceyes incorporates the waste from artificial grass playing fields into the company’s green panels. Built in a grid shape with small pockets to hold water, each Green City panel holds around 20 litres of liquid.  

In hot weather, the water evaporates, providing a cooling effect for the building. In cooler temperatures, the water sits longer and provides irrigation for plants, helping make green roofs self-sustaining with minimal maintenance and each CE Green City panel has a lifespan of more than 100 years. 

Video source Ceyes

The Green City panel can be produced in bespoke sizes and shapes, making it ideal for any rooftop or outdoor space seeking to retain water and cool the built environment. Ceyes’ products and services are available commercially, and the company is seeking new partners interested in setting up a production hub as part of the development of a local, circular tyre economy.  

As well as recycling old tyres, innovations that Springwise has spotted include the use of new materials such as recycled plastic bottles and soy oil to manufacture more sustainable tyres.

Written By: Keely Khoury

Spotted: The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) analysis of the solar photovoltaic industry found that “more than [a] threefold increase in annual capacity deployment [is needed] until 2030” in order to meet the global net-zero emissions goal for 2050. That is a huge increase in capacity and is a volume most agencies and governments struggle to meet. Solar farms in general require a significant amount of ground space, making it difficult to find locations that are large enough and close enough to the communities they serve to minimise transport costs. 

France’s HelioRec is looking to coastal waters as a potential solution to this challenge. Many densely populated urban areas lack the land needed to build renewable energy sources at a usable scale. Many of those cities are, however, located on the coast. By looking to the surface of the nearby bodies of water as a potential foundation for a renewable energy plant, an entirely new space of opportunity is created.   

HelioRec’s floating solar systems are customisable, made from recycled plastics, and designed to minimise maintenance costs and time. The floating solar farms use water for balance and stability, rather than costly and environmentally damaging concrete or metal. The company’s bespoke, flexible connectors make a range of configurations and sizes possible, with output ranging from 10 kilowatts (kW) of energy up to 100 megawatts (MW).  

The company uses algorithms to help predict energy generation, making it easier for users to plan for a volume of power to sell and to project how much should be available for times of peak demand. The solar farms can also be used as a dock and charging station for electric boats.   

Innovators are increasingly looking to the world’s waterways for solutions to global challenges. Recent developments spotted by Springwise include a nanogenerator that harnesses the energy of the ocean to power sensors and a floating platform for generating continuous electricity from rivers.

Written By: Keely Khoury