Five Innovations We’re Watching to Accelerate Sustainability

Jesse Rebello, VP, Strategy & Corporate Development at ENGIE Insight

It’s an exciting time for ENGIE, as we are celebrating ENGIE Innovation Week, June 17-21. For the past 30 years, this annual event has provided ENGIE Group the chance to mobilize, promote, discover, discuss, showcase and celebrate the Group’s innovative employees and partners all over the world. Examples of different themes from the week include smart cities, mobility, connectivity, smart homes, energy efficiency, smart industries and more. As we celebrate some of our own innovations coming from ENGIE, we’d also like to take the chance to highlight just a few emerging industry trends and sustainability innovations that we find fascinating and are pushing change forward.

1. AirCarbon Sustainable Plastic

While almost all plastics are made exclusively from oil or other fossil fuels, Newlight Technologies has developed AirCarbon, a carbon-negative material from cradle to grave. AirCarbon™ is a naturally-occurring biopolymer made by combining air with methane-based or carbon dioxide-based greenhouse gas emissions to produce a material that is approximately 40 percent oxygen from air and 60 percent carbon and hydrogen from captured carbon emissions by weight. The material is able to meet the performance requirements of a wide range of applications and can be used in extrusion, blown film, cast film, thermoforming, and injection molding applications.

2. Delivery Trucks Fueled by Food Waste

CNG Fuels, based in the United Kingdom, operates high-capacity bio-CNG (compressed natural gas) stations and has plans to grow to ten stations by 2020. The company develops, owns, and operates CNG refueling infrastructure to serve all of the UK’s major trucking routes, and sources 100 percent renewable biomethane or bio-CNG for its stations. Biomethane is 100 percent sourced from food waste, independently verified and approved by the Department for Transport’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO). In 2015, Waitrose, a British supermarket chain, rolled out its first two dedicated bio-CNG trucks, added 10 more in 2016, and another 64 in 2017/2018. Its goal is to have its entire fleet transitioned to bio-CNG by 2027/2028, helping to “fuel” the demand for alternative fuel sources for delivery fleets across the world.

3. Leveraging Artificial Intelligence to Accelerate Sustainability

Data can help tell us about the health of our planet, including the conditions of our air, water, land and the well-being of our wildlife. It also helps businesses understand the ‘energy health’ of their facilities. But we need technology to help humans interpret this vast amount of data and convert it into actionable insights. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in. A recent report from the World Economic Forum: Harnessing Artificial Intelligence for the Earth, outlined some of the more fascinating, “game-changing” applications for AI: autonomous vehicles that help reduce emissions through route optimization and eco-driving algorithms; improved distributed energy grids; smart agriculture that increases the resource efficiency of the industry, reducing the use of water, fertilizers and pesticides; next-generation weather and climate prediction; and even AI-designed intelligent cities. Among the risks, which need to be assessed and understood as we transition into an AI-enabled world, are poor decision making, bias, low transparency and, of course, job losses.

4. Selling Energy to Your Neighbors

When you have good neighbors, you can ask them for pretty much anything: a cup of sugar, dog sitting, or even some help around the house. But LO3 Energy is envisioning a future where small neighborhood microgrids can use blockchain technology to buy and sell renewable energy, and the Brooklyn Microgrid is a community in action. Hundreds of participants are enrolled and testing a digital platform, Exergy, that allows them to sell their excess renewable energy on their own, autonomously in near-real time in their local marketplace. Last year the ENGIE Insight met with leaders of the Brooklyn Microgrid on the Coast to Coast Sustainability Tour: revisit the tour video here.

5. Technology-Powered Sustainable Supply Chains

Supply chains relate to the way goods are moved, managed and monitored from where they’re made to where they are sold. More and more, companies are not only looking from within for a sustainability transformation but are also working back through their supply chains for sustainable operations. One example is McDonald’s, which has committed to sustainably source 100 percent of its coffee by 2020. It launched its McCafe Sustainability Improvement Platform (SIP) in 2016 as a framework to guide its coffee supply chain in sustainable sourcing. Suppliers and roasters therefore have clear guidance about four key elements they must achieve in order to have a SIP-approved program. A recent article in Information Age provided some additional highlights of tech-powered supply chain innovations, including blockchain to track assets and logistics; fully autonomous “truck platoons” driven by smart technology; and automated warehouses with new skill training for human operators.

Even though ENGIE puts our innovative ideas on display for the world for one week, it is firmly ingrained in our company culture and promoted and cultivated year-round. Our world is changing rapidly, so we encourage you to seek out and celebrate sustainability innovation wherever it is, because it could be the start of the next big idea to help our planet.

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