From laundry to air-con, smart bricks to fridge designs, here are our top innovations helping us to be more sustainable at home.
The majority of us have spent more time at home this year than perhaps any other in living memory. But with the COVID-19 pandemic raging on, it is important not to lose momentum with our efforts to curb climate change and to implement sustainability into all aspects of our daily lives.
Over the past year, we have continued to spot various innovations aiming to make it easier to be more sustainable, and in the year of lockdown, much of this has centred on what we do at home. Indeed, when we are in our houses all day, we use more water, we produce more food waste and particularly in the hot summer months, we rely on air-con. Here, we round up our top seven innovations that help us to be more sustainable when doing all of these things.
1. MODULAR FRIDGE DESIGN HELPS PREVENT FOOD WASTE
Refrigerator user experience is probably a fairly rare area of interest. Thank goodness for Thalis Nicolaou. His PRESENTA fridge design completely reimagines the appliance, with the specific goal of improving user experience, and reducing food waste. Having identified the depth of refrigerators as the cause of most foods being forgotten and so thrown away, Nicolaou has created a folding, modular storage system that easily reveals the contents.
The door of the new design completely folds aside, thus eliminating the need to awkwardly hold it open with a shoulder, while searching for something in the back. The storage racks pull out and rotate, allowing users to see what is on the shelves at a glance. Each shelf is itself a removable, modular storage unit that can be moved up and down or taken out entirely. This design flexibility makes it much easier to accommodate cumbersome items, as well as alter the layout as contents change.
2. WASHING MACHINE FILTER CAPTURES MICROPLASTICS
PlanetCare has developed a filter which can be attached to a washing machine and catch around 90 per cent of the fibres shed from clothes. The cartridges need to be changed monthly, and the used ones can be sent back to PlanetCare, which cleans and returns them to customers. PlanetCare has plans to recycle the microplastics it collects in the cartridges, back into the backing material used in car upholstery.
The company offers a subscription service for around $11 (€9.90) a month, and customers receive a filter with seven months’ worth of cartridges. PlanetCare is working to create a range of filters that will fit existing washing machines and is also negotiating with appliance manufacturers to install built-in filters. They are also developing an industrial filter for larger laundry facilities.
3. AIR CONDITIONER USES CLOSED SYSTEM TO ELIMINATE EMISSIONS
Traditional air conditioners use a man-made, chemical-based refrigerant that transitions between liquid and gas, absorbing and releasing heat over and over again. In contrast, the OxiCool system uses the properties of a synthetic molecular sieve to boil the water in a vacuum chamber. The affinity of the polar water molecule for the sodium-impregnated pores of the sieve causes a phase change which draws heat away from its surroundings, cooling the heat exchanger. Once the pores are occupied, a source of heat such as natural gas, solar thermal or hydrogen is applied to release the water molecules and recharge the system for additional cooling.
OxiCool uses only pure water and contains no refrigerant. The water is contained in a maintenance-free closed loop, from which the water cannot evaporate, and the system contains no compressor, making it virtually silent. It also uses only about 10 per cent of the electricity of a compression air conditioner of the same size — a traditional air conditioning unit can account for almost half the electricity used in homes during the summer.
4. HOME HEATER USES INFRARED RADIATION, SAVING ENERGY
The Solus+, by the Swiss startup Koleda, delivers heat via infrared radiation, whereby heat is transferred directly to the objects in the room. This uses around 30 per cent less energy than traditional convection heating systems. The heater can be installed by simply plugging it in, and is designed as a smooth, flat panel that fits almost everywhere in the home, requires no ongoing maintenance and will not burn out.
The Solus+ can also connect to a companion app, which allows users to monitor and adjust the heat of each unit individually. It also lets users turn units on while on their way home, for a warm house the minute they walk in the door, and prevents them from accidentally leaving the heat on while away.
5. SMART BRICKS POWER HOME ELECTRONICS IN PROOF OF CONCEPT STUDY
Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, created a super-capacitor brick that stores energy and provides electrical power. Super-capacitors are rapidly recharged structures that store large amounts of energy that are quickly and easily discharged. The typical red brick used in construction around the world gets its ubiquitous colour from the mineral hematite. When the porous structure of a brick absorbs a polymer called PEDOT, the reaction with the hematite produces electrical conductivity.
As supercapacitors, the bricks charge and recharge hundreds of thousands of times each hour, without the degradation of materials or output. When used in large numbers and connected to renewable energy sources such as solar panels, the bricks could provide significant savings in cost, time and maintenance.
6. SHOWER DRAIN WARMS WATER WHILE CONSERVING ENERGY
The Switzerland-based company Joulia has created a shower drain that preheats cold water using heat recovered from previous showers. The shower drain offers an efficient and accessible way to reduce energy consumption.
With traditional systems, heated water drains into the sewer system after a shower. The Joulia system, however, is connected directly to the cold water pipes and uses heat recovery technology to capture the warmth from used water to preheat fresh cold water. That means less hot water is needed to reach a comfortable temperature for future showers, reducing energy consumption.
7. WINDOWS THAT CHANGE COLOUR AND BECOME SOLAR CELLS WHEN HEATED
Having windows may be a blessing in the winter, as they let in ample amounts of natural light, but can come with a price in the hot summer months. In a new study, researchers at the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have combined two technologies, developing windows that automatically change colour when heated and act as solar panels as well. The thermochromic photovoltaic tech can block glare and reduce the need for cooling, while also harvesting the energy from the light that can chip in for electricity.
The windows are made from a thin film of an emerging solar cell material called perovskite. This is wedged between two panes of glass, with a solvent vapour injected into the gap. When the humidity is low, the perovskite remains transparent and natural light is let in as normal. But when the glass reaches temperatures between 35 and 46 degree Celsius, the vapour causes the perovskite crystals to rearrange themselves into different shapes, each one changing the colour of the glass in about seven seconds. Changing from yellow, orange, red and brown, each colour blocks light to different degrees and cools the room down in the process.
Written By: Holly Hamilton
13th November 2020