Eco Technology now and in the future

Emily Buchanan takes a look at four of the most innovative ecological advances of our time.....
This research could potentially save the polar bear

As we march towards an "irreversible change" on our planet, scientists are urgently searching for alternatives to our unsustainable consumption of natural resources. Whilst a cultural and political overhaul is needed before any of these alternatives are considered a social priority, they display a scientific willingness to change and to live in harmony with nature.

Yes, the technology for a number of the following ideas does not actually exist yet however, it's important to bear in mind that only a few hundred years ago we believed that man would never fly.

1) Smart Roads

The Smart Highways project by Studio Roosegaarde proposes five energy-efficient motorway concepts. Whilst some are still in development, others are being tested on a stretch of highway in the Brabant province of the Netherlands.

From a photo-luminescent powder that glows in the dark for up to 10 hours, to temperature-responsive paint that generates ice-crystal warning signs in hazardous conditions, Smart Highways have already been hailed as the 'Best Future Concept' at the Dutch Design Awards.

However, by far the most ambitiously environmental of all is Roosegaarde's priority lane for electric cars. Although the technology is in its infancy, the lane will charge electric cars as they travel. The basic idea is that moving objects generate energy and this can be recycled and used to boost the vehicles battery. How that will work is another question.

Whilst insurers are promoting electric vehicles with lower premiums and government tax breaks are being used to incentivize a hybrid or electric car purchase, if (or when) this technology exists, the way we power cars may change irrevocably.

2) Artificial Photosynthesis

More solar energy strikes the Earth's surface in one hour of each day than the energy used by all human activities in one year. Knowing that, scientists are working on an oil substitute made with ‘artificial leaf' technology that could mimic the process of photosynthesis and so harness the energy of sunlight.

This research could potentially save the polar bear

The artificial leaf has a sunlight collector sandwiched between two films that generate oxygen and hydrogen gas. When dropped into a jar of water in the sunlight, it bubbles, releasing hydrogen that can be used in fuel cells to make electricity. On the other side of the leaf, a cobalt film generates oxygen gas. However, instead of producing organic material from carbon dioxide, scientists plan to manufacture a hydrocarbon 'fuel' which could be used instead of oil.

Considering that the 1.3 trillion barrels of known oil left in the world's major fields are estimated to run out in 40 years, this is a hugely important step in the right direction.

3) Supertrees

Singapore is not known for its environmental credentials. In fact, it's often in the media for the exact opposite - particularly this time of year when the city smog descends and Singapore looks more like 19th century London than a modern super power. Indeed, it's been said if everyone in the world used as much energy as individual Singaporeans do, we'd need 3.5 planets worth of resources.

That being said, Singapore is actively trying decrease their carbon foot print and the interesting thing here is that Supertrees aren't a concept or a research project, they're real. Situated in the heavily built-up Marina Bay area of Singapore, 11 of the 18 trees are embedded with environmentally sustainable functions like photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy. Plus, over 162,900 plants comprising more than 200 species are planted on the "living skin" of the Supertrees and these are watered using a unique reservoir system that collects rainwater. The reservoir also collects enough rainfall to feed the parkland, the huge greenhouses and the surrounding water fountains - making the Supertrees self-sustainable and then some.

Check out a 360 view of the Supertrees here.

4) Cloning Endangered Species

In 2009 the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corp. (Embrapa) and the Brasilia Zoological Garden began scavenging and freezing blood, sperm and umbilical cord cells from road kill. In the years since, the two institutions have collected at least 420 tissue samples of some of the world's rarest birds and mammals.

The stumbling block here is that cloning techniques have an average success rate of less than 5 percent in domestic animals and less than 1 percent in wild. However, the organizations hope that the DNA in these specimens will improve breeding and cloning as a whole. After all, Dolly the sheep was only born in 1996, meaning the technology is still relatively new.

The ambition is for scientists to be able to save endangered or soon-to-be extinct species by cloning them. There are many ethical issues to consider here but then again, this research could potentially save the polar bear.

Emily Buchanan is a writer for the Huffington Post and an outdoor education specialist.

Follow her @MileyChanbuna

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