Although many industries and individuals have made strides to become more environmentally friendly in recent years, humanity as a whole is still pretty wasteful. And with global warming now set to shift into high gear, we’re gonna need some pretty huge breakthroughs in science and engineering if we hope to avoid a Kevin Costner Waterworld-type scenario in the future. Fortunately, there seem to be a few brilliant minds on the job. Here are eight great solutions for our pollution problems.
8. Turn Air Pollutants into Printer Ink
Because air pollution is a leading factor in a myriad of illnesses such as lung cancer and heart disease, many professionals consider it to be one of the greatest environmental health risks around today.
In an effort to remove some of the pollutants in the air, Anirudh Sharma from MIT developed the Kaala-printer—a printer that takes the soot particles commonly found in air pollution and turns them into a type of powdered ink. By combining the powdered ink with some oil and rubbing alcohol, Sharma was able to print at 96 dots per inch. It’s thought that the soot particles gathered from a diesel engine exhaust over the course of an hour would be enough to fill a typical ink cartridge.
7. Turn Plastic Bags into Carbon Nanotubes
It’s estimated that anywhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are used globally every year, and a lot of them end up being thrown out immediately after the groceries are unpacked. This has led to millions of tons of plastic bags ending up in landfills where they could take centuries to decompose, that is, if they break down at all. But there’s good news; Scientists at the University of Adelaide have developed a way to turn plastic bags into carbon nanotube membranes. These sophisticated membranes are about one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair and can be used in a variety of fields, including electronics, energy and health care.
6. Turn Beer Wastewater Into Protein Rich Animal Food
The process of making beer produces a lot of wastewater. Now, the Nutrinsic Corporation wants to take advantage of that water by turning it into food for fish and other animals.
Beer wastewater still contains traces of yeast and barley. The process developed by Nutrinsic alters the condition of the water so that it facilitates the growth of protein producing microorganisms. The protein is then collected, concentrated, sterilized and dried. The finished product can be used as food for fishes while a separate byproduct can be used for other animal food. Best of all, the process purifies the wastewater so that it can be reused by breweries.
5. Turn Wood Waste into Biofuel
There’s an enormous amount of waste that results from producing wood products. For all of the wood that ends up in paper products, furniture and building materials, a comparable amount is left on the production room floor. And unlike metal and plastic waste, which can often be melted down and recycled, wood waste typically doesn’t have many uses save for burning. But that’s all set to change thanks to the development of a process called fast pyrolysis in which wood waste is converted into biofuel.
Much like fossil fuels, the wood waste biofuel can be used in vehicles and machinery, and also in the production of plastic. The biofuel is also much cleaner and cheaper to produce than conventional fossil fuels. However, the developers have no plans of competing directly with current fuel providers—which is good because the increased demand for wood-based biofuel could lead to environmental degradation—they merely wish to make effective and efficient use of waste.
4. Turn Carbon Dioxide into Synthetic Fuel
As the leading cause of climate change, governments and businesses have been trying to find ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions for years. But recently, scientists at Calgary’s Carbon Engineering have developed a potential method of sequestering carbon dioxide from the air and converting it into fuel. Their approach involves the use of a large wall of fans that draws air through a liquid that transforms the carbon dioxide molecules into salt. Once in salt form, the carbon dioxide can either be stored underground, or used to make a low-carbon synthetic fuel.
With the implementation of the full-scale plant, the scientists are confident they’ll be able to generate 100,000 barrels of the synthetic fuel a year.
3. Turn Bad Plastic into Good Plastic
Most of the disposable plastic bottles in circulation today are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Rather than biodegrading, this type of plastic undergoes a process called photodegradation in which it breaks down into smaller fragments that absorb toxins which can then pollute the waterways and soils they get into.
With 30 billion disposable water bottles sold each year in the United States alone, plastic pollution has become a serious issue. Thankfully, a group of researchers at University College Dublin might have a solution. They’ve found a way to transform the cheap PET plastic into a higher grade of plastic called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). The process involves using pyrolysis to melt the bottles down and change the PET plastic into terephthalic acid (TA). Once that is accomplished, a strain of bacteria known as Pseudomonas is able to flourish on the TA and convert into PHA plastic that can be used to make a wide range of things, including valuable medical supplies used in tissue engineering.
2. Turn Cigarette Butts Into Batteries
Billions of cigarettes are sold around the world every day and, after a few puffs, many of them wind up just being tossed in the street. Remarkably, some scientists from Seoul National University in South Korea are looking to turn all that litter into storable energy. They’ve discovered that by putting the cigarette butts through a thermochemical decomposition process, the cellulose acetate fibers in the cigarette filters can be made into a carbon-based material that can be used in batteries—specifically supercapacitors.
These innovative batteries would last longer, charge faster, and hold more energy than traditional batteries. This makes them excellent power sources to be used in things like vehicles and portable electronic devices.
Amazingly, after conducting tests, the researchers reported that their cigarette butt supercapacitors performed even better than supercapacitors made from sophisticated materials like graphene and carbon nanotubes.
1. Use Old Tires To Make Steel
Due to the large volume produced, their durability, and the fact that they contain a number of components that could be deemed environmentally unfriendly, old unusable tires are among the largest and most problematic sources of waste in the world. Which is why the estimated 1.2 billion tires that get thrown away every year mostly end up just sitting around in junkyards and landfills.
Now, Veena Sahajwalla of the University of New South Wales has developed an inventive strategy that will not only get rid of all those old tires, but also help make another industry cleaner. By using rubber tires and certain plastics, she plans to make a new type of fuel to replace coke in steel making. Since coke fuel is made from coal, it burns at a high temperature but is bad for the environment. Using Sahajwalla’s process removes impurities and incorporates more iron into the steel being produced. This results in as much as a 15% reduction in the amount of fuel required to make steel. So, in addition to reducing tire waste and improving the quality of steel, it also reduces carbon emissions. Now that’s how you solve a problem.