Technology is an area the whole world is looking at. It can help transform how we live, go on with our daily lives and the miniscule recurring rituals involved with it. At the crux, technological advancements are made to improve the quality of life but in doing so we often ignore some of its drawbacks. It is a double-edged sword that although has its benefits comes with its own set of vices that harms the environment which we often ignore, just so we can go on with our lives easier.
The first inventions were landmark achievements but were not optimal to what we see them now and only years of research and working on it to improve made them not only efficient or economical but also eco-friendly.
1. Sustainable Batteries🔋
A backpacker’s best friend, batteries have been assisting humans with their power needs since their inception in the commercial markets in 1898, as introduced by a Columbia U.S. based dry cell battery manufacturing company. What started as an invention to power street lights and train carriage lights whenever they stopped at any station, within a century became an essential household necessity which we find in most of the home appliances we use today.
There has been a significant evolution in science and technology from the kite flying experiment in discovering electricity to being able to store this harnessed power in disposable, easy-to-carry battery cells. Such advancement is also seen in battery tech as we see a new revolution of upcoming batteries addressing concerns related to sustainability.
The recent technological dependency in this fast-paced agile environment has made people adapt to be more mobile and always on the go. More cellular phones are produced every year, people have moved from desktops to tablets and laptops, the EV sector is blooming, and people want to be instantly connected and remain wireless with their gadgets.
This new demand for more batteries has put a substantial strain on the resources needed to make them as it is estimated to grow by 30% in a span of 8 years. The production of batteries has caused both environmental and human hazards which has led many countries to advocate policies for their safe procurement to mitigate the detrimental impacts it has on our ecosystem.
To complement the efforts set by policymakers, companies are starting to inculcate practices such as collecting, reusing, and repairing used batteries along with recycling by a process called lead acid battery recycling. But to tackle the overall issue, preventive measures and making changes in the supply chain aren’t enough.
Lithium-ion batteries, which were commercialised in the 90’s, were the most popular form of batteries that stayed the same over the years with manufacturers having already done what they can do with this technology. As the industry desired increased density in batteries for high power storage there were alternatives in batteries developed by changing its material and chemistry.
There is a need for alternatives, batteries produced that are long-lasting, safer, and produced with minimalist impact on the environment. There are these interesting current technological developments in batteries which manufacturers are adopting and future corporations can also look at.
i.Solid State Batteries:
There is already a shift from Li-on batteries to Solid-State battery design for the many benefits it provides.
Solid-state batteries offer significant safety advantages over conventional liquid electrolyte batteries, as they eliminate the risk of leakage, overheating, and thermal runaway that can pose hazards. Unlike traditional batteries, they do not contain volatile materials, and their design, materials, and performance differ from everyday batteries. Solid-state batteries charge faster, have higher discharge rates, and boast an increased cycle life, allowing them to be charged and discharged more times without degradation. Additionally, they are notably lighter in weight compared to conventional batteries, making them more portable.
By omitting all the extra number of parts which in general constitute around 40% of a battery, Cell-to-pack design in the next upcoming interesting battery technology is an approach that involves directly integrating the core battery components in a battery pack.
With this approach manufacturers can reduce the price of the battery at the expense of its rigidity and flexibility. Commonly seen and used in the EV industry where it thrives, CTP helps to remove wasted space and materials usage and increases packaging efficiency. Having an increased energy density enables it to store more energy, in cases of EV this helps to increase its driving range. Among its other benefits, It helps to dissipate heat more efficiently as the cells are closely packed keeping the battery temperature remaining at optimal range. As it eliminates all the extra casing and structural components, it also helps to decrease the overall weight of these batteries.
iii. Metal Free Batteries
A cleaner and a greener alternative to metal batteries that use polypeptide organic radial construction containing redox-active amino-acid macromolecules which can degrade on demand.
2. Cultivated Meat 🥩
The Forager a.k.a Hunter-Gatherer, a practice for collecting meat that dates back 2 million years had been the norm for humans for so many years until they learnt how to store their produce and created a granary. It wasn’t until 9500 BC they learnt that and would store grains for later use, or for shipment.
The transition time from this hunter-gather to proper agriculture methods wasn’t immediate as they needed to develop methods that were sustainable. Humans have come a long way since then producing a new category of edibles. Among them the most popular is plant-based meat which we now very commonly find in our local grocery stores
Meat that is produced from plants and mimics meat products, acting as a friendly alternative to people on a vegetarian diet is plan-based meat. Commonly found as burgers, ground meat, sausages, scampi, prawn, salmon and tuna. It can be a great alternative for people wanting to avoid red-meat for health reasons.
Tasting very much like traditional meat, cultivated meat is unlike plant-based meat which is produced directly from plants and their protein. Cultivated meat first introduced in 2000, is a result of a scientific culmination produced through tissue-engineering techniques borrowed from regenerative medicine.
It is produced when cells are taken from an animal and put in a bioreactor to be replicated, taking the help of nutrients like amino acids. This definitely sounds like a scintillating plot from a Hollywood movie but it isn’t.
Increasing demand of land and scarcity in free land available is one of the reasons for the emergence of such technology. As of 2012, a quarter of the land available is already used for livestock and that itself contributes to 15% of the Overall Global Greenhouse emissions. Adopting this technology projects drastic reduction in the use of water and land by 98%.
The best method to mitigate this problem is if we just shifted our diet, adopting more vegetarian options in our meal. But for some people, meat is a deciding factor that contributes towards their nutrition and wellbeing, palette and dietary needs. In this aspect, cultivated meat can act as an alternative to conventional meat, with the potential to match or even surpass it in terms of taste and texture.
One of the major drawbacks of manufactured meat is that it takes a massive capital infrastructure to create. The questions at large are the relative safety of lab-grown meat and the health risks associated with it. Sadly, the novelty of this alternative means that the answer is yet to be final.
3. Regenerative Agriculture 👨🌾
The agriculture industry was greatly impacted by the Industrial Revolution. What was once a labour-intensive industry, witnessed a transition where machines replaced people. This further led to traditional farming tools and practices becoming obsolete.
The industry reaped the rewards of automation as harvest produced more yields. But as the use of heavy machinery, fertilizers, pesticides increased to maximise production, the soil where these crops grew got affected. Years of such practices led to slow degradation of the quality of the soil resulting in erosion and loss.
Intensive farming practices like these disrupt the water table, CO2 present in soil, cause climate change and make the land more prone to extreme weather phenomenon like floods.
The UN reported a staggering figure of 39% of Global Emission caused due to pesticide use, whereas land use and livestock that produce methane contributed to 38% and 35% of the emissions respectively. Regenerative Agriculture is an effective method to tackle such problems. It is a farming method that minimises the ploughing of land substantially, to help keep the CO2 levels in the soil balanced, increases its water retention capacity and protects the important biological organisms present in it.
It greatly reduces the emissions by naturally absorbing the CO2 emissions present in the atmosphere. According to a report by Drawdown 2020, the restored agricultural lands could help to absorb 2.6-13.6 gigatons of CO2 a year.
Some of the steps involved in Regenerative Agriculture are:
No-Till farming- where tractors or machines are not used over the agricultural land to prevent killing of the essential organisms present in the soil. It instead uses cover crops that break up the soil and let the organisms naturally aerate the soil and fill it with nutrients.
Regenerative Grazing- A planned form of cattle grazing technique where biomass can be accrued when applied during a specific time from the life cycle of the crop, which can lead to increased growth of the pasture.
Agro-forestry- A technique that involves observing the flora and fauna, the relationships with each of them and recreating all this in a new controlled environment called Food Forest. Each part of this forest contributes to the system as a whole to self-suffice.
Change brought on by these technology advancements will only create an impact when it is just not adopted by a few people. For mass-scale improvements there need to be more awareness until the grass-root levels. When key players from the Industry do adopt them, they create a path for other small organisations to follow. For the general mass, just by being mindful of what they purchase, consume and knowing what its adverse effects are to the environment, they can do their part in contributing towards a sustainable environment.