Well, it is finally upon us – Two thousand and seventeen. 2017. 2K17. However, you refer to it doesn’t really matter, what matters is that it’s finally here and what comes with it is even more environmental responsibility than years previous.
So what do we have to look forward to within the environmental world this year? According to Scientific American, there’s a plethora of technological advances ahead of us this year, as well as many daunting challenges that will be presented us too. Arguably, the largest challenge for the global environment is the inauguration of president-elect Trump, who poses a massive threat to the Paris climate deal, announced just last year in 2016. But for now, back to the positives of the year ahead. Here I’ve detailed just a few of the environmental technological advances that we can look forward to in 2017, but this by no means is an exhaustive list. Here’s my top 5:
Altering Coral Bacteria
As an ocean advocate, this first one particularly excites me. The alteration of coral microbiota in order to replace those lost due to abiotic factors like increasing temperatures, which will only worsen with climate change, is initially a fantastic potential idea. The fragility of coral reefs due to bleaching caused by increasing temperatures and rising sea levels, not to mention higher levels of alkalinity, is widely known and publicised. Just last month the world cried out for help as it was announced that parts of the Great Barrier Reef are dying, with some already being pronounced dead. As a result, you can imagine the enthusiasm behind the idea of inserting bacteria, potentially either thermophilic or psychrophilic, into existing coral communities in order to replace those that are no longer adapted to their changing environment. Of course, there are negatives to this proposed solution. For example, it is not currently known what ecological impacts these bacteria will have on the existing ecosystem communities. There may also not be any suitable natural bacteria for this solution, therefore requiring a genetically engineered microbe to fulfil this proposition.
The solution to a zero-fossil fuel future may nearly be upon us. Researchers, Daniel Nocera and Pamela Silvers at Havard University have produced pioneering research for ‘bionic leaves’, which are roughly 10 times better at photosynthesis than the average plant. By utilising a catalyst made from a cobalt-phosphorous alloy, water molecules are split into hydrogen and oxygen. Engineered bacteria then engulf the carbon dioxide and hydrogen to produce liquid fuel. It really does sound like something out a science fiction movie to me. Science has advanced so much that we can now harness the sun’s energy to produce liquid fuel via photosynthesis, better than a plant can. It’s ludicrous. But absolutely ingenious at the same time. At present, bionic leaves are not commercially viable; however, since this research was presented in summer 2016 considerable advances have already been made, with some scientists arguing that this technology may be available globally within the next few years.
The Ocean Cleanup
The inspirational story of Boyan Slat, who founded The Ocean Cleanup in 2013 at the age of 17 is purely sensational. What an innovative idea. If you are yet to hear of the principle behind The Ocean Cleanup, let me break it down for you. The Ocean Cleanup utilises technology which allows ocean currents to concentrate plastic found in the oceans into solid screens. These screens catch the floating plastic, funnelling it towards the central collection point. From here, the plastic is extracted and sent to the land where it is recycled. How ingenious. It is innovative technologies like this that, in my opinion, are the main answer to our environmental problems. Although this technology has been around for almost four years now, it is set to become more prominent in 2017, with the pilot Ocean Cleanup Array being deployed this year. Most excitingly, in 2020 there is a scheduled launch date for the full-scale clean-up of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
There are a number of different technologies and initiatives that are included within the ‘smart highway’ framework, such as intelligent transport systems and wireless vehicle charging for electric cars. Most recently, the world’s first photovoltaic opened in Tourouvre, Orne, France in 2016 Although being less than a mile long, and costing a whopping $5.2 million, I believe this is a step in the right direction and with time, could be a viable source of solar energy. According to reports, this kilometre of photovoltaic road is proposed to produce 767 kilowatt-hours/day, which is enough to power the street lights of a 3,400 population village. In addition to the huge cost of the product, as with all solar energy sources, there is also the slight problem that there is not a guaranteed level of production each day due to fluctuating weather patterns. The photovoltaic roads are currently in a two-year testing period; however, the technology is predicted to become really prominent within the next five years with France aiming to have installed 1,000km within that period.
Featured in the spectacular Planet Earth II: Cities episode, Singapore’s Supertrees are part of a botanical oasis within the Marina Bay area of the city. More than 162,000 plants from 200 species have been intertwined into the 18 tree project, with 11 having been equipped with environmentally-friendly equipment, such as photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy. Although unknown for its ecological advances, Singapore is an example to other cities across the globe. It presents a perfectly eloquent and self-sustaining example of what cities can build and achieve with relatively not that much space. Furthermore, they’re aesthetically pleasing and add to the beauty of any parkland or open space. Despite no plans being announced as of yet for any other cities in 2017, I firmly believe that these could be a fantastic addition to any major development. I find them to be an excellent example of sustainable engineering and am completely in awe of them. Well, to be fair, they are almost 16-storeys high, so it is difficult to not be overwhelmed by their immense height.
So, what do you think? Do you agree with my top 5 ecotechnology advances for this year? Maybe you have some other thoughts or even better advances that I haven’t listed here. Send me a tweet @HannahSRudd or visit me on Facebook if you have any thoughts! I’m excited to hear your views.
Have a good week 🙂