Sustainable technologies are built to reduce the human species’ short- and long-term impact on the environment.
Climate change and new regulatory efforts could force us to look for new, sustainable sources of energy.
This past January, Microsoft pledged it would be carbon negative in the next 10 years, and launched a $1 billion climate innovation fund. Also in January, BlackRock—the world’s largest asset manager with more than $7 trillion under management—announced that climate change would be a primary focus in all of its future investment decisions.
Meanwhile, China is installing a record number of solar projects and wind turbines to deal with the country’s crippling smog. The Chinese government will invest $560 billion over the next year to make green tech more accessible not only within China, but also for its export partners around the world.
Wind and solar energy are getting a lift: Billionaire Philip Anschutz, who built his fortunes in oil and railroads, plans to build large-scale wind farms in Wyoming, while tech billionaire Elon Musk will work with a number of companies to build attractive solar panels that look more like slate shingles than the reflective rectangles we’ve seen to date—he, and others, are also developing new methods to create and store energy using battery systems.
A team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology is developing offshore wind turbines that can store power on the ocean floor in huge concrete spheres. Makani, recently acquired by Google X, makes high-altitude kites to harness wind energy.
Researchers at University of California-Los Angeles built bio-mimicking smart material that bends to follow the sun. Think of the technology as a responsive, artificial sunflower that can harvest energy and send it back to the grid. Compared to traditional solar panels, which are bulky and run afoul of some neighborhood association covenants, bio-inspired cell panels are much thinner and discreet, and work more efficiently.
European scientists developed a new kind of wind turbine that transmits energy using a superconductor. The EcoSwing project uses high temperature superconductors and has already passed readiness tests for commercial use.
Heliogen, a startup backed by Bill Gates, developed a new system to collect solar energy and concentrate its power. Large mirror panels point toward the sun—and toward each other—for a multiplying effect, which produces heat topping 1,000 degrees Celsius. Concentrated solar power can be used in industrial applications, like melting steel, but the hope is that someday it can be stored and distributed as needed.
Green tech is still a young market, but plenty of new technologies and scientific breakthroughs have people excited. Talk of regulation and global initiatives on climate change have garnered investor interest, which will likely grow in 2020 and beyond.
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