Tensie Whelan of the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business makes the business case for sustainability in the Harvard Business Review. She calls attention to sustainable investing’s potential to drive technological innovations that better meet societal and environmental needs. Some of those innovations stand to make a serious impact on global goals—if they develop to maturity.
Here are three areas of sustainable technology that hold promise for our future.
1. Energy Storage
Emerging energy storage technology is vital in determining the feasibility of clean energy targets and how quickly the world is able to migrate to renewable energy sources, as Vox reports. The variable nature of wind and solar power means energy storage is important when matching those renewables’ output with the demands of the electricity grid. The efficacy and cost of energy storage therefore underlie the long-term potential of renewable energy sources.
Fortunately, ongoing innovation and economies of scale have lowered the price of lithium ion battery technology, which can help meet short-term storage needs. New developments are also addressing the longer-term energy storage required for utility-scale power. For example, Google X spin-off Malta aims to store renewable energy in molten salt, while others are working with flow batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.
2. Seawater Desalination
Because of rising global temperatures and the growing problem of drought, some 300 million people around the world now depend on desalination for their water supply. Desalination generally falls into two categories—thermal, where seawater is heated to capture condensation, and reverse osmosis, which uses a membrane to remove the salt content.
While the cost of desalination has fallen dramatically thanks to technological improvements, desalination still uses substantial amounts of energy, raising concerns that the industry’s growth is adding to the problem of global warming. Desalination plants powered by renewable energy could therefore become more critical in the coming years, as improvements in solar and wind technology make such plants increasingly competitive with those powered by fossil fuels.
3. Plastic Recycling
Plastics pollution has become a major global issue, particularly given the highly visual toll it has taken on marine life around the world over recent years. Pollution adds roughly 8 million tons of plastic waste to the ocean each year, while plastic production is predicted to double over the next 30 years. Relatively little plastic—less than 10%—has been recycled.
That said, McKinsey predicts a significant increase in the volume of plastics being redirected to recycling by 2030, and sustainable technology is likely to play a vital role in improving plastics recycling. For example, BP recently developed an enhanced technology it claims will allow currently unrecyclable polyethylene terephthalate plastic waste to be transformed into valuable plastic feedstocks. Others are looking to use a chemical recycling method called pyrolysis to cut down on plastic waste.
Technology is only one part of the push toward a more sustainable future, but it is one experiencing ongoing exciting innovations.
Want to learn more about sustainable technology? Read:
- New Technology in Agriculture Creates Opportunity
- Low-Cost Renewables Have Big Implications for the Utilities Industry
- Electric Vehicles Bring New Relevance to the Environmental Impact of Batteries
- Business Approach Seeks to Scale Clean Cooking Solutions
- Can 3-D Printing and Additive Manufacturing Help Fight Climate Change?