Best Technological Breakthrough

in association with Nissan

Pelamis Wave Power – Pelamis Wave Energy Converter

The Pelamis P2 harnesses the motion of waves to generate enough electricity to power 500 homes. Shaped like a floating rocket, the giant machine is 180 metres long and weighs 1,400 tonnes. It has five tube sections linked by joints which can flex in two directions. As the sections are shifted by waves, the movement is converted into electricity. One of the most innovative aspects of the design is that it can be remotely installed, and removed from its anchoring and electrical systems when required for maintenance and testing. Each machine can generate up to 750kW of electricity. The P2 has taken five years and over £50 million to develop and has been designed for mass production. It will be tested at the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney with the aim of building commercial scale wave farms in future.

Department for International Development – Drought-Resistant Maize

A new type of maize which can survive with very little water is helping farmers in Africa adapt to the effects of climate change. About 200 million of Africa’s most vulnerable people depend on maize grown mainly in rain-fed fields. When the rains don’t appear life becomes very hard – in 2011 alone, 12.5 million people suffered from the effects of drought. The Department for International Development provided core funding for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre to develop maize that can survive moderate drought. Scientists identified drought resistant strains of maize to help develop a crop which also has high yield, good cooking qualities and resistance to disease. More than 2 million smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are growing the new varieties and are already experiencing the benefits firsthand. The crops not only help farmers across Africa cope with current levels of drought, but will also help them deal with the more frequent and extreme droughts that climate change is expected to cause in future.

Nexeon – Silicon Anode

The rechargeable battery could play a big role in a low-carbon future and Nexeon has devised a technology which powers them up for the challenge. The company has created a new type of silicon which is structured at the microscopic level like the spines of a hedgehog, and enables a battery to store more power. Most modern devices, such as mobile phones and laptops, use batteries which store electricity using carbon anodes. Silicon can store ten times as much energy as carbon but until now has been unsuitable for batteries because it is unstable – increasing and decreasing in size as its temperature changes during the absorption and release of power. Nexeon’s new silicon anode, based on nanotechnology research from Imperial College London, has created a stable device that will allow batteries to last longer and store more energy. This technology could be crucial in improving the performance of renewable power generation from wind and solar sources, allowing more energy to be stored during peak generation periods for use later. It would also mean that anything using batteries, from laptops to electric cars, would run for longer on a single charge.

Carbon8 – Construction Aggregates from Incinerator Residues

Carbon8 is turning waste from incinerators into a useful building material through a process which also absorbs CO2 from the air. The company, a spin-out from a University of Greenwich research project, produces an aggregate that can be put to use on building sites. The aggregate locks in carbon by using ash generated by incinerators burning municipal waste. The ash is hardened and converted into carbonate salts or limestone. A tonne of the ash can permanently capture 100kg of CO2. After successful trials, a plant is being built at Brandon in Suffolk which in Spring 2012 will start producing 36,000 tonnes of aggregate per year. The UK currently produces 180,000 tonnes of incinerator residue a year. If it were all treated using Carbon8’s process, 18,000 tonnes of CO2 would be directly captured each year and 360,000 tonnes of aggregate would be produced.