BusinessGreen takes a look at some of the most exciting green products showcased at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show
CES, the world’s largest annual consumer technology trade show, wound to a close last week in Las Vegas after trialling a hybrid format for the first time.
Despite a slew of last-minute cancellations from both exhibitors and attendees due to the sharp rise of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in recent weeks, roughly 40,000 people still decided to attend the conference in person, according to event organiser the Consumer Technology Association. On offer were a raft of clean tech innovations, from the latest smart home gizmos through to the world’s most powerful e-bikes and e-scooters.
For all those not able to make it Las Vegas or attend virtually, here is BusinessGreen‘s take on the most eye-catching clean technology innovations on display at this year’s show.
Bladder-power underwater energy storage
One of the more quirky innovations unveiled at CES 2022 was an undersea energy storage system that can soak up excess energy from offshore renewable energy plants using gigantic “bladders” distended across the ocean floor.
Working like a pumped hydro system, the Ocean Battery technology involves the construction of concrete reservoirs under the seabed capable of holding up to 20 million litres of water at low pressure. These reservoirs are then connected through a system of pumps and turbines to flexible bladders that stretch out on the ocean floor, which are capable of storing the same quantity of water, but under high pressure from the surrounding seawater.
When excess renewable power from offshore wind turbines, floating solar farms, tidal arrays or wave energy systems is routed to the Ocean Battery, water is pumped up from the reservoir to the bladder, with the battery becoming fully ‘charged’ when the bladder is full and most extended. When power is needed, the bladder releases the water back into the concrete reservoir, driving hydro turbines along the way to generate energy that is then pumped to the grid.
Dutch start-up Ocean Grazer, a spin off from a research project at the University of Groningen, claims the system has an efficiency of between 70 and 80 per cent, and should be able to run a “virtually unlimited” number of cycles over an operation lifetime of more than 20 years. Each concrete reservoir has a capacity of 10MWh, but multiple reservoirs could be built at one site to scale the technology for larger offshore energy projects, it said.
The company claims the technology is more sustainable than battery energy storage systems because it does not rely on finite rare earth minerals, such as lithium or cobalt. There is also a unique opportunity for developers embracing the tech to create “artificial safe havens” for marine species that could help restore natural ecosystems ravaged by other marine activities, such as fishing and shipping, according to the firm.
The company, which scooped a Best of Innovation award at this year’s CES in the sustainability, eco-design, and smart energy category, is hoping for rapid growth for its technology, despite the fact it is yet to be deployed offshore. It expects to capture 10 per cent of the offshore wind market in Europe and New England by the end of the decade as the global energy system becomes increasingly reliant on intermittent offshore renewables. Helped by an unnamed angel investor, it is aiming to deploy offshore systems by 2025.
Solar roofs, revisited
The concept of solar shingles that blend seamlessly into roofs has been around for decades, but the technology has largely failed to take off commercially to date. BP Solar and Dow Chemical are just two companies out of a long list that have suffered significant financial setbacks from ventures that aimed to deliver roofing that generates clean power, and Elon Musk’s solar roof venture has similarly been beset by high manufacturing costs and complications with the technology, not to mention a slew of law suits from shareholders since launching in 2016.
However, GAF Energy, the solar product arm of one of the largest roofing companies in the US, is hoping to buck this trend. At CES 2022, it unveiled a product called Timberline Solar, which it said would be cheaper and more reliable than other products on the market, largely because it had been developed by a roofing specialist that is attuned to the needs of customers and installers.
Unlike previous solar roofs which took weeks to install and required specialist labour force, Timberline Solar shingles are pinned to a roof with a nail gun just like a regular shingle and can be installed by regular roofers, the company claims. As such they will benefit from GAF Energy sister company GAF’s extensive network of roofing contractors across the US.
The trade-off for these benefits is that the shingles don’t blend as completely into a rooftop as Tesla’s solar roof tiles. That said, they remain significantly less bulky and obvious than rooftop solar racks that are currently set to become an increasingly common fixture on homes as the net zero transition gathers pace.
GAF Energy claims its new product “marks a turning point in residential solar energy”, and the judges at CES appear to have been sold by the concept. The solution scooped three innovation award at the conference, in the smart cities, smart homes and ‘best of’ categories.
Credit: GAF Energy
Smart, autonomous delivery robots
Passengers waiting at their gate at Cincinnati International Airport will soon be able to get snacks, drinks, and other travel accessories delivered to them by robots on wheels, as part of a deal inked between the airport and US start-up Ottonomy.
The California-based company announced at CES 2022 that it had signed deals to supply the airport, restaurant automation technology vendor Presto, and Los Angeles-based last-mile food delivery company Crave with a fleet of electric, autonomous robots dubbed ‘Ottobots’.
Unveiling the Ottobot for the first time at the conference, the firm said it is aiming to target its technology at players within the retail and restaurant industry who want to cut down on staff costs, reduce their transport emissions, and offer contactless deliveries to customers. It claims the four-wheeled Ottobot is the first fully autonomous delivery robot that can deliver in both indoor and outdoor environments.
Ottobots, which are three foot tall, are programmed with a digital map of the serviceable area where they will operate, with the live location being updated on the map while they are navigating autonomously during order deliveries. Ottonomy’s proprietary contextual mobility navigation software enables Ottobots to navigate through environments, even when they are crowded and unpredictable, according to the company.
An electric motorbike that’s ready to take on the petrolheads
E-mobility was once again a major theme of this year’s CES conference, from Sony’s announcement that it would launch a new electric mobility division to the launch of the latest models of new electric bikes and scooters from Aventa, Bird, Cake, Delfast, Okai, and Segway. But one of the most headline-grabbing announcements was the unveiling of a new electric motorbike by Canadian company Damon in the form of the HyperFighter Colossus.
While the performance and design of electric passenger cars has improved rapidly in recent years, the electric motorcycle segment remains in relative infancy, with pick-up to date hampered largely by the fact most electric motorbikes do not come anywhere close to their petrol-powered counterparts in terms of range, acceleration or speed.
Damon is hoping to have cracked this problem. Unlike other electric motorcycle companies, it makes electric batteries a central load-bearing part of its motorcycles, in a bid to simplify the design and keep the machine as light as possible. This innovation will enable the HyperFighter bike to carry up to 20kWh of batteries, giving it a longer range than other models on the market, which typically max out at 16kWh, the company said. The larger-battery models can be recharged in two and a half hours to 90 per cent capacity from a 240V supply, while the smaller variety is slightly quicker-charging, reaching 90 per cent in two hours, according to the firm.
Describing the bike as a “stripped-down demon of a bike that is not for the faint of heart”, Damon said both the 20kWh and 15kWh versions of the bike came with a 260-degree advanced warning system that used radar, cameras, and non-visual sensors around the bike to keep riders safe.
Damon is currently taking deposits for the HyperFighter and intends to begin production in British Columbia this year.
A not-so-dull dishwasher
Underpinned by the launch of the Matter smart home standard last year, this year’s CES saw a wave of smart home announcements designed to give people the opportunity to optimise their energy use, with smart fridges, lighting, blinds, and doorbells all on display. Conserving water was also a focus for numerous exhibitors, with water appliance specialist Moen expanding its ‘smart water network’, which enables people to monitor their water use, with the addition of a hands-free faucet that is controlled with nearby hand motions.
Another company to unveil a product designed to limit household water use was Daan Tech, which debuted a mini-dishwater that it claims uses five times less water than washing by hand. Dubbed ‘Bob’ by its French makers, the compact dishwater can be placed on a kitchen countertop and draws water from a built-in one-gallon integrated water tank. The dishwasher also has an optional additional feature of a UV-C cleaning cycle that can be used to disinfect items that cannot get wet.
Daan Tech says that in addition to slashing water use, Bob “adresses the circular economy challenge” because it is made from recycled plastics and has been designed to last at least a decade, without any kind of programmed obsolescence.