PACKAGING solutions made from seaweed, and rocks that lock away CO2 are just two of this year’s Earthshot Prize winners revealed by the competition’s founder, Prince William.
Launched in 2021, and with an aim to funding five ground-breaking solutions each year until the end of the decade to help fix some of the greatest environmental challenges facing our planet, the five winners were announced at a ceremony held in Boston, US, the hometown of President John F Kennedy, whose Moonshot push to see humans land on the Moon inspired the concept of Earthshot.
Taking the top prize in the “Building a waste-free world” category, London-based startup Notpla has already made a start on weaning off humanity’s reliance on plastic. Around 380m t/y of plastic is produced and approximately 91% of that plastic is not recycled. Roughly half of that produced is destined for a single-use product, and the vast majority of plastic either ends up in landfills, in the oceans or is incinerated. However by using a natural alternative made from a globally-abundant and fast-growing underwater plant, plastic pollution could be drastically reduced.
That product is Notpla, a non-chemically modified, polysaccharide-based material made from seaweed, that the firm has used to create a number of different products including Notpla Ooho, Pipette, Pearls, Rigid, paper, film and coating.
Some of these are designed to replace single-use plastic packaging for liquids, such as the Notpla Ooho, Pipette, and Pearl, and some are used in place of traditional polystyrene products. For instance, Notpla coating has many of the same grease- and water-resistant qualities of traditional coatings used in takeaway food packaging, but as it is made from seaweed it will break down naturally without releasing any microplastics. Notpla paper is made from the fibres and biomass of seaweed after the gelatinous part is extracted, and Notpla film is designed to replace conventional fossil-derived, and bio-plastic based flexibles.
“Fourteen million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans each year. We founded Notpla when we discovered the solution lies in our oceans too. We are already replacing plastic that plagues our seas, and working with seaweed farms that give back to the environment and the local economy,” said Notpla co-founder & CEO, Pierre Paslier.
Notpla says using seaweed is a win-win scenario, as it doesn’t require fresh water, land or fertiliser, and as it reduces ocean acidification and effectively absorbs carbon it is one of our greatest weapons against climate change.
Also taking inspiration from nature is 44.01. Named after the molecular mass of carbon dioxide, the winner of the “Fix our Climate” category, 44.01 a team from Oman, believes that humanity needs to be removing CO2 from the atmosphere permanently, not storing it away.
44.01’s solution is to remove CO2 permanently by mineralising it in peridotite, a dense, coarse-grained igneous rock consisting mostly of the silicate minerals olivine and pyroxene that is found in abundance in Oman as well as in the US, Europe, Asia and Australasia.
Carbon mineralisation in peridotite is a naturally-occurring process, it’s just a relatively very slow one. 44.01 is accelerating the process by pumping carbonated water into seams of peridotite deep underground, so that mineralisation takes place in under 12 months, not years. And as peridotite reserves are so widespread there is the potential for an unlimited capacity of CO2 storage through mineralisation, said 44.01. Furthermore, there is no need for high pressure underground storage, and no risk of leaks once mineralisation has occurred.
“The answers to the problems our planet faces can often be found in the natural world. At 44.01, we have found a natural process that removes carbon and we’ve accelerated it. We believe this process is replicable globally and can play a key role in helping our planet to heal,” said 44.01 founder Talal Hasan.
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