No April Fools: 5 off-the-wall green inventions that really exist

No April Fools: 5 off-the-wall green inventions that really exist

shrimp electricity sustainability
FlickrWilliam Warby
Researchers at Queen Mary University of London have used chemicals found in shrimp shells to create electricity.

Innovating for sustainable business requires intellect, insight, creativity and maybe a bit of craziness.

Just as Aristotle once said, “No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.” If the Greek philosopher were to observe today’s sustainability situation, he likely would say that we are in desperate need of a lot of genius — and a little “madness.”

If we hope to secure solid solutions to such herculean sustainability quandaries as climate change, deforestation and water scarcity, we must be willing to venture well beyond the basic, and even consider what initially seems inane. Many companies already are doing that.

Here are five innovations that may sound crazy, but actually could help to advance sustainable business:

1. Solar cells made from shrimp shells

The next time you have a martini, save the shrimp shells. Researchers at Queen Mary University of London successfully have created electricity-generating solar cells with chemicals found in the shells of shrimps and other crustaceans. This could offer a more affordable alternative to the metals currently used in making nanostructured solar-cells.

The solar cells consist of standard zinc oxide nanorods coated with carbon quantum dots (CQDs), which are created through a process called hydrothermal carbonization. These are made from chitin and chitosan — the widely and cheaply available chemicals found in crustacean shells.

Once the solar cells' energy-efficiency improve, they could help power everything from wearable chargers for tablets, phones and smart watches, to semi-transparent films over windows, the researchers say.

2. Pee-powered toilets

Clean technology isn't always sanitary. Yes, researchers at the University of the West of England in Bristol and the charity Oxfam have developed a toilet that generates electricity from urine. The technology uses urine-fed microbial fuel cell (MFC) stacks to generate electricity that can power indoor lighting.

Besides fulfilling the dream of every eight-year-old ever, this technology also could be used to help provide light in refugee camps.

3. Swimming pools that clean rivers

Cleaning up the sewage-scourged Hudson River might seem like a pipe dream, but a startup called PlusPool (+ POOL) hopes to do just that with a floating, water-filtering pool for New York City. + POOL is designed to filter the river it floats in through the walls of the pool, making it possible to swim in clean river water. The layered filtration system incrementally removes bacteria and contaminants to yield clean, swimmable water that meets both city and state standards.

But this will be more than just a recreational structure — the Olympic-size pool will filter over 500,000 gallons of river water daily, making a measurable contribution towards cleaning the city's waterways.

4. Soccer fields powered by player footsteps

Talk about a power play. Shell and Brazilian soccer player Pelé late last year unveiled a first-of-its-kind soccer field capable of capturing kinetic energy created by players' movement and combining it with nearby solar power to generate renewable electricity.

Located in a Rio de Janeiro favela called Morro da Mineira, the field uses 200 high-tech, underground tiles that capture kinetic energy created by the movement of the players. The energy then is stored and combined with the power generated by solar panels next to the field to convert into renewable electricity for the new floodlights, thus providing everyone in the favela a safe and secure community space at night.

While soccer fields likely won’t be replacing power plants anytime soon, further developing kinetic energy technology could yield to some revolutionary energy breakthroughs down the road — or should we say, up the field.

5. Self-cooling cans

Imagine a beer can that never gets warm. This idea may sound impossible, but a startup called Chill Can actually claims to have created it. The company produces beverage cans with built-in heat exchanger units, which use a carbon dioxide adsorbent-desorption system to cool the beverage in the can. If further developed, the technology eventually could reduce or even eliminate the need for energy-intensive refrigeration systems.