A system of energy harvesting bumpers could help reduce carbon footprint in future

Decarbonathon green-tech winners empower citizens to clean up cities

The best every-day technology projects empowering citizens to reduce their carbon footprint in usual ways have been selected in a global green-tech competition, run in conjunction with the World Economic Forum.

A device reducing the energy consumption of air conditioning and heating systems in cars, a corporate platform encouraging people to share rides to and from work, a system for harvesting mechanical energy from passing cars and an app for sharing household tools and objects that are not frequently used were selected by the Decarbonathon jury as the most promising solutions that could help turn our lives around in a more sustainable way.

“If we want to meet the targets set out in Paris, we would need to decarbonise our economy,” said Jane Burston, Head of Climate and Environment at National Physical Laboratory, who was on the Decarbonathon judging panel.

“To do that, we would need large government-funded infrastructure projects like new renewable power plants, but there would also have to be some behavioural changes from individuals. I think that our way of life in 2050 is going to be quite different from now in so many different ways, some of which we can’t even predict.”

It’s not simply about switching to electric vehicles and building renewable power plants, Burston explained. The Decarbonathon looked for solutions that could help decarbonise the world on every imaginable level.

The first-prize winner – a device called air-booster – tackles fuel consumption in the conventional way by optimising the energy-efficiency of air-conditioning and heating units in cars. As Burston explained, air-conditioning and heating can increase fuel consumption of cars by up to 10 per cent, which means an increase in both carbon emissions and customer bills.

The second prize went to a simple online platform aiming to teach people to share cars instead of travelling to and from work on their own. Unlike already existing car-sharing schemes, the BYND platform was designed for corporate environments.

“What we found interesting about this platform compared to other similar ones was the fact that it can take data from the company that is using it and display all potential ride-shares that could be available to the user,” Burston described. “Already the first person in the company who logs into the system can see the benefits and can in turn encourage colleagues to do the same in order to take advantage of the possibilities.”

The third prize went to TEBS (for Traffic Energy Bar System), which is essentially a system of smart bumpers that can be embedded into the road to harvest the energy of decelerating vehicles. Every time a car passes over the bumper, it gets mechanically pushed down, effectively translating the kinetic energy of the car into electrical power.

“There are quite a few science groups researching energy harvesting options within a vehicle, but this was the first energy harvesting mechanism that we had seen that would be built into the road,” Burston said.

“It’s quite different from anything we have seen before and it would make sense for toll passes and other areas that might be quite far from sources of energy generation as a way to generate energy locally.”

The fourth award went to Mutum, which took a completely different approach to sustainability. The firm designed an online platform for sharing various tools and household objects that are rarely used. Instead of buying things that are only needed once in a while, people could simply share them with their neighbours. The platform even tries to make tool sharing a game by awarding credits to users for every object they offer to share with others. The approach, Burston said, makes quite a lot of sense, as the average drill, for example, is only used for approximately 16 seconds a year.

The wide range of technologies represented in the Decarbonathon shows the breadth of the problem the world needs to tackle if it wants to stop global temperatures from rising beyond the 2°C threshold, the limit to which global leaders committed at the Paris convention.

“We will have to speed up the level at which we are developing and applying new technologies,” said Burston. “We can’t rely on a single technology to decarbonise. We need to look at all possible technologies and probably implement a large mix.”

175 entries were submitted to Decarbonathon following the initial call for proposals ahead of the UN climate change talks in Paris last December. Created via a Young Global Leaders initiative of the World Economic Forum, the competition was supported by ENGIE, the Centre for Carbon Measurement from the British National Physical Laboratory, Climate-KIC and the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) in France.

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