[Special Feature III]
Superhero Technologies to Fight Climate Crisis
Dec, 2021

“Think of people around you first. Skills are next,” said Yahoo founder Jerry Yang. This might mean that people should be the foundation of technology and that thinking about life is important. Clearly, technology has enriched our lives. But, from an environmental perspective, technology has also contributed to climate change. Nonetheless, the general proposition that technology changes life is still valid, so development of green technologies focusing on environmental sustainability is needed. Novel technologies for making life better have had power in all ages. 

It is important that everyone is aware of the climate crisis, but awareness itself doesn’t change anything. Diverse technologies based on awareness should emerge. Technologies keeping the earth in mind should move industries and change the environment. This is where technology gains greater power. Environmental regulations by governments around the world may reinforce this trend. This is also in line with companies’ tendency to introduce new technologies with attention to environmental friendliness. 

If what the Yahoo founder said is translated into the relationship between the climate crisis and technology, it would be “Think of the earth around you first. Skills are at the heart of this.” This is actually happening. It is in its early stage though, but green technologies are emerging in diverse sectors. They are, in many cases, just innovative ideas or novel attempts, but such new technologies could transform the world at some point. 

The third part of Q CELLS’ special issue on the climate crisis spotlighted “green technologies” emerging in a variety of sectors around the world to overcome climate challenges. They demonstrate the efforts to turn despair over the climate crisis into hope. We might not notice that diverse green technologies are at work across the board. For the earth’s happy revival, what are the technologies moving us toward the environmental-friendliness goal? Let’s explore them, and hope that there will be many. 


 Green transportation technologies being expanded, from land to sky 

Recently, electric vehicles are increasingly commonplace on the road. The field of emissions-free EVs has been expanded as a means of transportation in the eco-friendly era. This was a rare sight just ten years ago, but EVs have now become familiar in our daily life, as awareness of, and regulations on, eco-friendliness have increased. 

The transportation sector is closely linked to our daily life and, the more eco-friendly it is, the greater impact it has. That’s why green technologies are in the spotlight in this sector. In addition to EVs, hydrogen fuel cell cars are promising. How about in the sky? To go green, you should think flexibly. Just as EVs have replaced internal combustion engine vehicles, which have been taken for granted for a long time, a new path will open only when you think differently.  

uSky Transport, a passenger and cargo transport company in Belarus, changed its way of thinking. Should people or cargo be transported only on or below ground? The question broadened its horizons, leading to the decision of opening a route in the sky. This was about “uCar,” a transport system running on an elevated rail. It was not a simple concept but a prototype traveling a 400-metre test track in Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates. 

<uCar from uSky Transport website> 

uCar looks like a future version of a ride suspended from the ceiling of an amusement park. Of course, it runs on electricity. It is cost-effective because a sky rail network could carry about 10,000 passengers per hour. In addition, it would cost about 15 times less to build a uCar than a subway based on the same distance. Originally, the uCar transport system was designed to open green spaces on the ground. In other words, it aimed for travel via a sky rail and create forests in urban areas. Don’t you feel like you’ve seen this in an Sci-Fi movie? That would be the future painted by uCar technologies. 

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), means of transportation, such as cars, trains and aircraft, account for about 23 percent of global carbon emissions. In particular, airplanes using internal combustion engines emit air pollutants, such as carbon dioxide, during flight, contributing significantly to global warming. 

The recent eco-friendly trend is reaching the aviation sector. Could airlines fly on electricity in an era when cars are powered by electricity? Indeed, this idea is being developed into technology. It’s not easy, though. easyJet, a U.K.-based carrier, and Wright Electric, a U.S. start-up, announced the launch of the “E-Fan X Project” to develop a 186-seat electric aircraft by 2030, as well as the commercialization of electric planes. But, in reality, they found it difficult to balance the plane’s weight and efficiency, and finally suspended the project after three years. An airliner requires a large battery capacity, which in turn increases its weight. This is the start of a vicious cycle, as a heavier plane needs more power. But, recently, the strategy has shifted to development of small electric aircraft, which is relatively favorable in achieving the balance between weight and efficiency. Turning to the sky, diverse companies are creating their own blueprints. 

Delivery drones are likely to fill the sky in the near future. While passenger drone technology is in its infancy, the drone delivery sector is coming closer to commercialization. Amazon, the world’s largest distributor, established a drone delivery R&D center in 2012. Its successful drone delivery in Cambridge, U.K, in 2016 demonstrated the potential of the service. Globally, drone delivery is still taking flight. But, if interest grows and relevant technologies are developed, the world could change rapidly. If transportation volumes are dispersed into the sky from roads, and delivery systems are powered not by fossil fuels but by electricity, stress on the environment would ease. 

 When you change the environment around you, the earth will change 

Suppose that solar reflectors in the sky adjust the earth’s temperature; trees grow in a building; and garbage is decomposed to generate energy for city management. These, too, look like a future depicted on screen, but could become a reality because some brilliant people are working hard to turn this inspiration into reality.   

Harvard University planned a climate manipulation experiment to combat global warming by creating “solar reflectors” in the earth’s upper atmosphere. This is not about building actual giant reflectors but about attempting to create a layer that serves as a reflector. The project, called “SCoPEx”, is to spray calcium carbonate or sulphate particles into the atmosphere, which would become a layer that absorbs solar heat. This is similar to volcanic ash, expelled from a volcano during a volcanic eruption, covering the sky and blocking sunlight. The project seems like an innovative idea or plan but also is met with concern over the impact that calcium carbonate particles used for the experiment could have on the atmosphere. In the film Snowpiercer, the injection of climate control particulates into the upper atmosphere caused an ice age. However, the SCoPEx experiment is moving toward one possibility. At the end might be a breakthrough that we are looking for. 

You could be familiar with green-colored buildings one day. Even if trees do not actually grow in a building, a technology to add greenery to buildings has emerged. A London-based research team thought deeply about the region’s air pollution issue. This led to a technology to install bio solar panels to create green spaces in a building. This works by growing phytoplankton and microalgae in a solar panel. The goal is to filter carbon dioxide out of the air and emit oxygen through panels installed on the rooftop of the building, thereby reducing air pollution. Indeed, this technology has the same air cleaning effect as 100 trees at a specific location.  

<CitiTree from Green City Solutions website> 

CityTree, invented by Green City Solutions, an eco-friendly start-up in Germany, is expected to produce a similar effect. It grows moss on a wall that is three meters wide, four meters high, and 2 meters deep. The technology takes full advantage of the air cleansing capability of moss. CityTree is operated in an eco-friendly way because solar panels, installed on the moss wall, generate their own power to grow the green plants. One CityTree is as effective in purifying the air as up to 275 trees. This innovative technology also creates a vast forest in less space at a lower cost. Currently, about 20 CityTrees are in place in major cities in Norway, France, and Germany.  


 Imagination changes the world 

Recently, a large number of start-ups have developed diverse technologies to combat the climate crisis. In addition, investment companies from around the world are increasingly investing in green technologies, which are emerging as a new source of revenue in Silicon Valley. Morningstar, a U.S. company that evaluates funds, said that USD20.6 billion, or approximately KRW24 trillion, flowed to eco-friendly green-tech start-ups last year – more than four times that of two years earlier. This means that chances are higher that diverse technologies could be commercialized. 

Canada’s CarbonCure has introduced a technology that captures CO₂ during the concrete manufacturing process to reduce the cement content in concrete. Existing deicers cause environmental pollution, but Star’s Tech in Korea has created a green deicer using starfish. A technology designed by The Tyre Collective in the U.K. captures synthetic rubber particles expelled from car tires. These green-tech startups boast sustainable technologies, presenting solutions for climate change in our daily life. 

Green technologies are on the horizon in various forms, while new technologies are appearing in a wide array of sectors around the world. Of course, it is difficult for a specific technology to have magical power in preventing the climate crisis. But, if technologies are brought together to change the world, overcoming the climate crisis could be the result. Q CELLS is committed to participating in the global movement to respond to the climate crisis with green technologies.  

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