My week started on Sunday as I heading down south in advance of an early Monday start. My route took me past the river Avon and scenes of some minor flooding and caused me to reflect on the increasing problems we are facing with water in the wrong place. It wasn’t that long ago we had winter droughts and now we have a saturated water table, spring tides and unseasonable amounts of rain causing misery for many. The images of how flooded London would be without the Thames Barrier should cause plenty of people to think.
EA image 11/2/2014
What is frustrating for some of us working in sustainability is this is precisely what was forecast. When I first started in this area such predictions were being made including the serious implications for infrastructure such as industrial and energy generation plant (particularly as these are often near the coast). Indeed the recent destruction of the south west train line at Dawlish was forecast in a 2010 report: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jul/01/network-rail-study-climate-change
At the TSB we have been running competitions to stimulate innovation to tackle such challenges for several years; in particular our work on designing for future climate which was targeted at the built environment. At the end of last year we ran a competition called Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data which sought to bring together environmental data experts with digital experts and those with challenges in dealing with the effect of environmental externalities on their business and markets. Several of the successful projects sought to look at increasing the resilience of infrastructure and supply chains and one in particular aimed to use river gauge data to help forecast problems (and favourable conditions) for those at the mercy (or reliant on) our water courses. This project is led by Shoothill who also developed FloodAlerts using Environment Agency data. Environmental change is an increasingly important issue and a market driver that can no longer be ignored.
Monday brought an extended session on our ‘outreach and engagement’ strategy. With the imminent changes to our Knowledge Transfer Network(s), discussed by Iain Gray in his recent blog in The Engineer, we looked at how we can both work closer and productively. It was an energising day – always is when I get to spend several hours with colleagues in our Innovation Programmes team.
Tuesday was spent in Birmingham which had no floods but did hit me with rain, hail and snow! Mick and I met with International Synergies to discuss our plans in industrial symbiosis and how they can help as well as be updated on the interesting projects they are doing. They have some fascinating work helping companies track their resources better and gain efficiencies. We then headed to the impressive Birmingham Library to catch up with Ewa Bloch who has been a National Contact Point (free expert in helping understand and apply for EU funding) for a while and now with Horizon2020 will focus on resource efficiency and climate adaptation. She is becoming a closer part of our team and together with the KTN and WRAP will provide the best source of help accessing European support in this area within the UK. I finished the day with a telecon on how textile recycling can be improved. Any important technologies for fibre recovering out there we should know about?
Wednesday and Thursday was spent in London, starting with a quick trip out to Maple Cross to meet Skanska UK. Skanska UK are very proud of their status as a construction company with a strong sustainability record and we talked around their challenges is going further. A particular highlight is the Supply Chain School which they established with competitors to improve the knowledge and skills of their suppliers to help them achieve these aims. We talked about promoting it further through the KTN and the need to build in social sustainability training.
After a productive call with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and agreeing a more extensive meeting at their headquarters soon, we heading into central London to meet with PwC, courtesy of their wonderful Director of Corporate Sustainability, Bridget Jackson. We were treated to a tour of their building at Embankment Place and learnt more about how BREAM Outstanding was achieved in their new building. They want to keep going further as a leader on sustainability and the discussion we had centred on eliminating their waste streams and how The Great Recovery could help. I challenged them to consider the consumables they used now and question what they were for and whether any could be delivered by a service or a change in behaviour. This route to eliminated resource use should happen before optimising the current systems.
Thursday was CleanTech Innovate where 40 young companies come to pitch to an audience of experts and investors. I was on the judging panel this year to select the finalists and enjoyed hearing them all tell their story. There was a huge range of ideas and fascinating solutions to sustainability challenges. It was good to see Clean and Cool Mission alumni such as Alquist who have a cooling system for data centres that helps reduce power outages. They use lasers to measure temperature changes in a fibre optic cable (tech developed for oil & gas so reliable) to give a heat map across the data centre. The product is less complex, cheaper and more robust that competitors.
Other presenting companies that caught my eye included:
· Avalon who are abseiling insulation installers to avoid scaffolding costs (typically largest proportion). They have done 20,000 installations to date and are developing new insulation technology and want to go international.
· SkyRad who do solar heating/hot water but use the house walls as dynamic insulation – store warmth with solar energy and draw in heat to cool when it is hot outside. They are targeting social housing for field trials and one in Birmingham showed 80% reductions in energy use and improved comfort.
· ADFerTech have retrofitable anaerobic digestion (AD) technology that takes AD digestate liquor waste and converts it to a granular fertiliser.
· Azotic Technologies have developed a nitrogen fixation formulation using bacteria that is food grade to coat seeds as a treatment before planting, that is non-GM.
· Frigesco have solved the problem with supermarket freezer defrost cycles requiring energy to heat the coils. They use a phase change material to store waste heat and simply switch circulation direction when defrost is needed. M&S tests showed 40% reduction in energy and 1/3 time to defrost. Their solution can be retrofitted.
· B9 Shipping who have developed renewable powered cargo ships and have worked on the wider system challenges of moving to this new fleet in a sustainable way.
The week ended with several catch up meetings and an interview on UK performance towards eliminating waste as part of a European project.
Other topics discussed this week: identifying designer shoes, absorption versus adsorption, travel disruption, comfortable bike seats.