The last decades have seen an incredible advance and deployment of innovative technologies but it is the convergence of these technologies that could really transform our future, according to Forbes magazine.
Whether the biggest concern is climate change, air pollution, plastics, food security or one of the many existential threats facing the world today, it seems that there are technological solutions that can really help us meet the goals of the Paris 2015 climate agreement or achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Masdar, the Abu Dhabi-based company that researches future energy, in partnership with The National newspaper and the World Future Energy Summit organized during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) launched a new report «The Future of Sustainability», which highlights how innovations as diverse as carbon capture, energy storage, 3D printing, artificial intelligence (AI) or data analysis could accelerate the global transition to a sustainable, low-carbon world.
The report also examines key technological advances that will improve sustainability in six sectors defined as energy and climate change, water, mobility, biotechnology, space, and technology for good. Several technologies, such as 3D printing, nanotechnology, data analysis, block chain and artificial intelligence, affect all six sectors. These and other technologies are converging to improve efficiency, optimize electricity consumption and produce intelligent systems that will reduce our carbon footprint.
The top ten technologies
- The ‘block chains’, which allows to buy and share electricity as for example the OLI in Germany
- The blockchain and cryptosystems in renewable facilities. With this technology as the startups of Soluna;
- Peer-to-peer solar energy exchange platforms that extend clean energy to remote areas like SOL-Share’s, based in Bangladesh;
- Waste heat recovery systems that recycle industrial byproducts into a carbon-free energy source. This is the case of Seramic in the United Arab Emirates;
- A 3D printable solid-state battery powered by vegetable oil that has potential applications in energy storage, such as that of Berekotry Ltd (USA)
- A type of coal made from biomass that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is already used in Agri-Tech Producers’ coal-fired power plants in the USA;
- The «green» briquettes made from biomass that reduce tree felling and dependence on dirty coal such as the one created by the environmental management company Kayole in Kenya;
- A virtual reality system that inspires more sustainable behavior like that of Thinc Design in New York;
- A water fountain in the city that saves water and avoids the use of millions of plastic bottles This was proposed by the ProAcqua Group;
- Environmentally friendly paints that protect surfaces and improve energy efficiencies such as Zero-VOC.
There are also other areas that require a greater focus to make an impact, with smart city transit technologies a key innovation to develop more sustainable mobility services.
As water is a critical issue, both in terms of agriculture (which consumes 70% of global fresh water each year) and in terms of energy use, desalination will need to be developed rapidly.
Biotechnology will become increasingly widespread, with the potential to solve a wide range of medical, agricultural and environmental challenges. In industries ranging from medical to manufacturing, 3D printing will continue to play an increasingly important role, while space exploration will move from the realm of governments to the development of sustainable practices and industries.
One area that appears clearly in the report is the importance of young people. While in the global north the population is aging, worldwide, demographics are moving downward. Most young people today believe that climate change will be the greatest threat to the world in the next decade and are turning to innovation to solve the challenges. This in itself is linked to the last major finding of the report, which is that education is absolutely critical to the achievement of sustainable best practices.
«The world is experiencing a shift from the business paradigm as usual to one more aware of sustainability,» said Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment.