From: Emily Buchanan, The Ecologist, More from this Affiliate
Published July 11, 2013 08:08 AM

Eco Technology now and in the future

As we march towards an "irreversible change" on our planet, scientists are urgently searching for alternatives to our unsustainable consumption of natural resources. Whilst a cultural and political overhaul is needed before any of these alternatives are considered a social priority, they display a scientific willingness to change and to live in harmony with nature.

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Yes, the technology for a number of the following ideas does not actually exist yet however, it's important to bear in mind that only a few hundred years ago we believed that man would never fly.

1) Smart Roads

The Smart Highways project by Studio Roosegaarde proposes five energy-efficient motorway concepts. Whilst some are still in development, others are being tested on a stretch of highway in the Brabant province of the Netherlands.

From a photo-luminescent powder that glows in the dark for up to 10 hours, to temperature-responsive paint that generates ice-crystal warning signs in hazardous conditions, Smart Highways have already been hailed as the 'Best Future Concept' at the Dutch Design Awards.

However, by far the most ambitiously environmental of all is Roosegaarde's priority lane for electric cars. Although the technology is in its infancy, the lane will charge electric cars as they travel. The basic idea is that moving objects generate energy and this can be recycled and used to boost the vehicles battery. How that will work is another question.

Whilst insurers are promoting electric vehicles with lower premiums and government tax breaks are being used to incentivize a hybrid or electric car purchase, if (or when) this technology exists, the way we power cars may change irrevocably.

2) Artificial Photosynthesis

More solar energy strikes the Earth's surface in one hour of each day than the energy used by all human activities in one year. Knowing that, scientists are working on an oil substitute made with 'artificial leaf' technology that could mimic the process of photosynthesis and so harness the energy of sunlight.

The artificial leaf has a sunlight collector sandwiched between two films that generate oxygen and hydrogen gas. When dropped into a jar of water in the sunlight, it bubbles, releasing hydrogen that can be used in fuel cells to make electricity. On the other side of the leaf, a cobalt film generates oxygen gas. However, instead of producing organic material from carbon dioxide, scientists plan to manufacture a hydrocarbon 'fuel' which could be used instead of oil.

Considering that the 1.3 trillion barrels of known oil left in the world's major fields are estimated to run out in 40 years, this is a hugely important step in the right direction.

Continue reading about Supertrees and Cloning Endangered Species at The Ecologist.

Eco-technology image via Shutterstock.

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