Climate Complexity Meets Innovation

Five Initiatives Could Impact the Future



Mitigating the climate crisis will require bold, ambitious initiatives—and project teams willing to grapple with complexity and uncertainty. These five promising projects could point toward the future.



Power Pivot

Denmark ranks as the largest oil producer in the European Union. So after it declared that it would stop new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea and phase out fossil fuel production by 2050, it became clear that clean energy initiatives would be needed to help the country pivot. In February, the government approved a US$34 billion project to build an artificial offshore island capable of producing and storing enough clean energy to power 3 million homes. The island hub, surrounded by up to 600 offshore wind turbines, will be the largest construction project in the country’s history.



Waste Not, Want Not

Consumer products giant Unilever has more than 300 factories worldwide, but the company discovered a big problem when it wanted to make smaller batches for seasonal items or new products. “It’s not commercially viable to use a mass production line for this, and it ends up creating a lot of waste,” Olivera Trifunovic, the project lead for the development of its new nano-factories, told Fast Company. The 40-foot (12-meter) full production lines could one day be shipped anywhere production is needed, with the goal of using local ingredients and slashing carbon emissions and materials waste.



Material Matters

Researchers at the University of Louisville launched a pilot project earlier this year to develop a process that transforms soybean shells left over from processing into a commercially viable material for 3D printing. Teams can extract micro and nanoscale fibers from the hulls, then convert them into lightweight fiber composites and thermoplastic packaging products.



Robot Ready

The electric vehicle’s mass potential has so far been hamstrung by a need for serious charging infrastructure. But Volkswagen is testing a solution that’s an alternative to building millions of stuck-in-place stations. The automaker unveiled a prototype for an autonomous mobile charging robot, designed to roll from car to car, potentially turning any parking lot into a sea of charging stations. The project could prove vital to Volkswagen’s larger goal of being allelectric by 2040.



Fast Forest

The startup Terraformation (helmed by the former CEO of Reddit) recently completed its project to build the world’s largest fully off-grid, solar-powered desalination system, capable of removing salts and minerals from 34,000 gallons (130,000 liters) of water each day. That water feeds an irrigation system for 1,900 native trees planted on a previously deforested plot of land in the U.S. state of Hawaii—and it’s part of a larger program to speed reforestation efforts around the world. Teams are also building open-source software to collect and analyze data after trees are planted and creating portable seed banks that can store millions of native seeds to kick-start large planting projects.



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