A CARBON-ZERO aggregate made from waste materials and by-products for use in construction, a curtain of bubbles intercepting plastic before it reaches the oceans, and a city in the Netherlands trying to establish a fully circular economy by 2050 are just a few of the 15 solutions in the running to win a £1m (US$1.1m) environmental award at this year’s Earthshot Prize ceremony overseen by the Prince of Wales.
Now in its second year, ideas selected by Earthshot fall into one of five categories, that underpin scientifically agreed targets including the UN Sustainable Development Goals and other internationally recognised measures designed to help fix our climate. They include; protecting and restoring nature; cleaning our air; reviving our oceans; building a waste-free world; and fixing our climate.
One of the finalists vying for a prize in the Oceans theme is a team from the Netherlands led by Francis Zoet, Anne Marieke Eveleens, and Philip Ehrhorn who have developed a way to stop harmful plastic from reaching our oceans, a device known as the Great Bubble Barrier.
The team says the technology behind the Bubble Barrier is simple: “air is pumped through a perforated tube placed diagonally on the riverbed to create a “curtain” of bubbles, which directs plastic up to the surface and into a waste collection system, all without obstructing wildlife or boats.”
It’s a concept that has been used in the past by the oil industry to contain spills, but has now been developed to help local authorities remove debris from our rivers.
The Bubble Barrier has on average caught 86% of plastic waste and along with the installation of several Bubble Barriers in The Netherlands, two new Bubble Barriers will soon be implemented in Germany and Portugal. The team now hopes to scale the technology for use in polluted rivers around the world, especially in Asia.
Meanwhile, in the Fix Our Climate category, three UK-based PhD students are hoping to clean up construction with the creation of OSTO, a carbon-negative alternative to traditional aggregate, one of concrete’s main ingredients. Made from a combination of waste materials and by-products, the team, known as LCM, say it is working with the industry to create a new zero carbon concrete block with OSTO making up 10% of its overall weight.
“The UK Government has said it wants to build 300,000 new homes each year. If just 10% use OSTO, 65,000 t of CO2 emissions would be avoided in just five years,” said LCM. The team said that they have also tested OSTO’s suitability for other objects commonly made from concrete, like curbs, street furniture and paving stones.
Narrowing down the ideas in each category to choose just one winner is the job of The Earthshot Prize Council, a diverse team of influential individuals, all of whom are committed to championing positive action in the environmental space.
In addition to being in the running for a £1 million prize award, all finalists will receive tailored support and resources from The Earthshot Prize Global Alliance Members, a group of organisations and philanthropists that fund the Prize.
The prize is open to any country or sector, and as long as the solutions are evidence-based, beyond the idea stage and ready to be scaled or rapidly replicated, then just about every individual, team or collaboration can enter.
Some of last year’s winners include Costa Rica which sought to plant trees and restore ecosystems; Vidyut Mohan, whose social enterprise, Takachar, reduced air pollution from burning agricultural waste; and Vaitea Cowan, from New Caledonia, whose anion exchange membrane electrolyser turned renewable electricity into green hydrogen.
Launched in 2020 and only running until the end of the decade – a timespan that is seen as a critical period in which to make the necessary changes to help to repair our planet – this year’s prize-giving ceremony will be held in Boston, the hometown of President John F. Kennedy, whose Moonshot push to see humans land on the Moon, inspired the concept of Earthshot.
“The innovators, leaders, and visionaries that make up our 2022 Earthshot finalists prove there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of our planet,” said Prince William, founder of the Earthshot prize. “They are directing their time, energy, and talent towards bold solutions with the power to not only solve our planet’s greatest environmental challenges, but to create healthier, more prosperous, and more sustainable communities for generations to come.”
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