• Question: What invention does your think is most environmentally friendly?

    Asked by anon-314233 on 1 Apr 2022.
    • Photo: Daisy Shearer

      Daisy Shearer answered on 14 Mar 2022:

      Great question! I think that for me it would have to be an invention that helps generate renewable energy. One technology that is currently being developed is quantum dot solar cells which I think has huge potential to improve the efficiency of solar panels and would decrease our need to use fossil fuels for energy.

    • Photo: Luke Humphrey

      Luke Humphrey answered on 14 Mar 2022:

      For environment, the key is sustainability: inventions whose processes can continue indefinitely without fail.

      This principle can apply to many things. For example, sustainable fishing requires leaving enough fish alive to reproduce at least as fast as you fish them, or the fish will go extinct and you will have no fish left. You also have fossil fuels, which use a limited resource that took billions of years to form, and will soon run out – they also release carbon into the atmosphere, which changes the environment to be one more hostile to humans. These are examples of unsustainable processes.

      Thus, any sustainable invention or process is environmentally friendly, but the *most* friendly ones are those that displace/replace unsustainable inventions and processes. Renewable energy sources are the big one for me, as they’ve already started to provide a decent chunk of our growing energy needs, but we still use fossil fuels, so on their own they’re not enough. As we improve them, and improve our ability to store energy, they will continue to displace fossil fuels by providing energy sustainably. I’m focused on energy here because it really is where we have the most impact, and if we can create electricity sustainably, it’s already possible to electrify other things like transport (e.g. cars) to avoid using fossil fuels there.

      However, we also need a “baseline” energy supply as well as renewables. This is because we need to create exactly the right amount of electricity that we’re using at any given time. A good example of this is that the national grid ramps up energy production during advert breaks on TV, because they whole country turns the kettle on at the same time. (This happens less nowadays with Netflix etc. but you get the idea).

      This means we need a mix of energy sources including an always-on, high efficiency baseline like combustion or nuclear plus fluctuating supplies like wind and solar (it also helps to have good energy storage to give us more “wiggle room” and let us store solar energy from sunny days to use on rainy says etc.).

      At my job, we’re working on fusion energy to displace fossil fuels and nuclear fission as unsustainable choices for baseline energy. So if you ask me in 2050 I will say “fusion reactors”, but for now I will say renewables. Windmills, solar cells, hydroelectric dams, geothermal generators etc.

    • Photo: Lucy Lawrence

      Lucy Lawrence answered on 14 Mar 2022:

      I think edible cutlery / straws is not only cool, and really interesting, but a great environmentally friendly invention.

      Eat your utensil and prevent waste at its source! 🥰🌏❤

      I’ve linked an article to one of the best edible cutlery places here if you want to read some more about it: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/apr/13/edible-cutlery-company-eat-plastic-pollution-oceans

    • Photo: Alex Headspith

      Alex Headspith answered on 14 Mar 2022:

      Myself and Dr Alex Bainbridge are both working on a Tuneable Permanent Magnet called ZEPTO.

      Currently, electromagnets used on particle accelerators require large amounts of power and some serious water cooling. This uses a lot of energy. The idea of ZEPTO is to use permanent magnets that can be moved to vary the field strength in order to control the beam. As they are permanent they require no energy to sustain the field, and only require a 24 VDC control circuit and need no water cooling.

      Accelerators by nature use a lot of energy, so this technology will help to reduce the energy consumption of accelerators.

    • Photo: Alistair McShee

      Alistair McShee answered on 15 Mar 2022:

      I think stars are fairly environmentally friendly given they define a lot of our environment!

      Since they make no greenhouse gases and other nasty waste, if we could make a star on Earth and then use that to get all our energy from that would be a very good move for our planet!

    • Photo: Matt Kasoar

      Matt Kasoar answered on 17 Mar 2022:

      This is a great question that I thought a long time about, and have now ended up with three different answers which I can’t decide between 😋 So here they are:

      1) Public transport. Particularly mass transit rail systems (e.g. London Underground, New York Metro, Singapore MRT, etc.) – they move millions of people around every day very efficiently, and also in principle are easy to power entirely by renewables (which some countries already do, e.g. the Netherlands, Austria, already use 100% renewables to power their rail networks). (Also the humble bicycle, and bike sharing schemes that lots of cities now have. Very environmentally friendly invention that’s been around for ages 😁)

      2) Meat alternatives, e.g. Quorn, Beyond Meat, etc. Now starting to get very convincing. Meat and dairy are one of the biggest contributors to most people’s carbon footprints, as well as using lots of land (leading to deforestation) and loads of water to produce. So if everyone would switch to non-meat alternatives it would make a huge difference

      3) Earth observation satellites. The invention of weather satellites that look at the Earth from space, has massively increased our understanding of climate change and how it is impacting our planet. Most of the surface of the earth is ocean, or uninhabited, and so before satellites we didn’t have much climate data for most of the world!! Satellites let us see what’s happening everywhere, not just the weather but also measuring things like the amount of CO2, methane, ozone etc. in the atmosphere, how ocean currents are changing, how the quickly the amount of sea ice or deforestation is changing. In some cases this has made us realise that the climate is changing faster than we had expected – for instance sea ice is melting faster than we had realised. It also lets us check that our climate models are getting things right. So the importance of satellites for improving our understanding of the climate and environment is hard to understate.