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Forget about the doom and gloom—it’s time to get excited about some of the biggest, coolest, most innovative technologies and developments in the world of sustainability. Here are five up-and-coming “green” inventions and industries that could change the world for the better… or already are.

Vertical Farms
vertical farms


How do we continue to feed an ever-growing population on our planet without running out of land to grow our food? A burgeoning alternative agricultural industry might have the answer. They’re called vertical farms—farming systems that grow crops exclusively in controlled indoor environments.

While traditional farms typically require access to many acres of land for cultivation, vertical farms are able to create farming systems entirely indoors in multi-tiered buildings, greatly limiting the amount of land required to grow food in cramped regions of the world. These indoor systems can grow crops far more efficiently as well, often without the need for soil, limited need for pesticides and herbicides, more efficient water use, and no need for natural sunlight (LED lights and other artificial light systems are used instead).

The best part is that vertical farms already starting to appear. For instance, one US-based company, Aerofarms, is building a vertical farm in Newark, New Jersey, and plans to build more farms in other regions in the near future. Maybe you will see a vertical farm in your community in the not-too-distant future. And don't forget: if you live in an apartment in a crowded urban center, you can always make your own vertical farm. That's what we call DIY sustainability! 

Modular Electronics
modular electronics


How often have you purchased an electronic device, only to hear a new version is slated for release in a few months? When the urge to upgrade becomes too strong, those older devices tend to end up in the garbage can. Even when you try your best to hold onto that device for as long as possible, they typically only last a couple of years before needing replacement.

New innovations in the world of modular electronics have the potential to get us out of this endless cycle of replacement. Unlike traditional electronics with immovable components soldered onto a single device, modular electronics can be taken apart, repaired, and upgraded with ease.

The Fairphone 2 is one example of a modular smartphone just about ready to enter the market. While the $600 price tag seems typical of modern phones, the Fairphone will undoubtedly last longer than traditional smartphones: when the Fairephone camera breaks or an updated processor is released, simply remove that “module” and replace it. If a module needs repair, you’ll only have to send that particular component back to the manufacturer without giving up the whole phone. No longer is your entire device rendered obsolete when updated technology hits the shelves!

Google plans on unveiling its own modular smartphone sometime within the next few years, so we may finally be on a fast track toward more sustainable, less wasteful, cheaper electronic devices.

Tesla’s Gigafactory

Flickr, Steve Jurvetson

It seems like Tesla Motors never stops innovating. While Tesla’s increasingly popular all-electric vehicles have taken much of the world by storm, the $80,000-plus price tag continues to be the biggest barrier to entry for most consumers.

Enter the Gigafactory, Tesla’s ambitious 20 million square foot lithium-ion battery manufacturing facility set to be completed by sometime later this year or in 2017. The Gigafactory has the potential to bring 6,500 jobs to the market, and will be capable of producing nearly 500,000 lithium-ion batteries every single year. The company claims this mass production will decrease battery costs by as much as 30 percent, hopefully lowering the barrier to entry for less wealthy consumers hoping to jump onto the Tesla bandwagon.

Greener, Better, Faster Transportation
greener faster better transportation

Flickr, Sam Churchill

We might not have flying cars just yet, but lightning-fast public transportation capable of bringing us across the country in less than an hour could be just around the corner. Elon Musk, the brains behind Tesla Motors, announced in 2013 a theoretical design for the “Hyperloop”—a unique transportation system capable of traveling upwards of 700 miles per hour. Instead of traditional train tracks, the Hyperloop uses an elevated system of tubes to propel cylindrical transport pods, using a combination of air pressure and magnets to thrust the pods through each tube at incredibly high speeds.

For environmentalists, the best part of the Hyperloop is Musks’s assurance that it can run on solar power, and doesn’t require nearly as much energy as traditional forms of high-speed transportation (e.g. air travel). And at a proposed maximum speed of over 700 mph, travelers could potentially go from New York to California in 60 minutes or less.

While the initial Hyperloop concept was designed by Musk, actual development will not be done by the Tesla Motors CEO or his aerospace company, SpaceX. Instead, Musk and SpaceX will play support roles to other companies and innovators interested in developing the technology and the first successful prototype. SpaceX will even be running a racing competition for companies and university engineers interested in testing their own Hyperloop pod designs. With so much support and global interest in Hyperloop, a prototype track may come as early as mid or late 2016.

Improved Solar Energy Technology
improved solar energy


There was a time when solar power and other sustainable energy technologies were seen as temporary niche trends with limited long term viability. But if the past few years are any indication, solar is fast becoming the go-to form of sustainable energy across the world.

Previously, one of the biggest problems with solar energy was that there were limited systems capable of actually storing the collect energy—solar panels could power a home during the day, but once the sun goes down, alternative energy sources had to fill in the gaps. To help solve the issue of storage, the U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded six companies with grants for their solar energy storage designs. These up-and-coming innovations, along with Tesla’s Powerwall (an in-home battery that can store solar energy for residential use), are making the large-scale adoption of solar energy far more viable and more realistic than ever before. / Issue 177 - September 2018
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