Britain is the third most inventive country in Europe when it comes to patenting environmental technologies, according to new data from the European Patent Office.
Europe as a whole invents just under a fifth of all new green technologies. Britain also continues to increase the proportion of its energy produced by renewable sources. In the second quarter of 2015, renewables outstripped coal for the first time in the UK, generating a record 25% of the UK’s electricity, while the UK has been judged as one of the few major European economies on track to meet the EU’s goal of producing 15% of its energy, including for transport and heating, from renewable sources by 2020.
So what kind of green technology have British scientists been developing? A great example is a project by researchers from the Universities of Bath and York, who are developing a yeast-based alternative to palm oil which they hope to one day produce on an industrial scale. This could be a significant development as palm oil is used widely as a food ingredient, biofuel and in cosmetics. In fact, it’s present in half of all consumer goods. However, palm-oil plantations are responsible for widespread deforestation: an estimated 300 football fields worth of rainforest is lost each hour globally. This is especially concentrated on the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra, where habitat for endangered orangutans and critically endangered Sumatran tigers, elephants and rhinos is disappearing rapidly. In addition, deforestation, especially the widespread slash-and-burn method, is responsible for releasing huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
By developing an alternative to palm oil, researchers hope to relieve our dependence on the crop and move to a much more ecologically friendly production process. They believe that under the right conditions, yeast will be able to produce oil which matches the composition of palm oil exactly. While scaling the process up and making it cost-effective provides challenges, this is one British technology which could have an enormous impact on global efforts to protect the environment.
Other exciting projects by UK companies include organic solar cells, which could eventually see our windows replaced by transparent solar panels, whilst another is aiming to produce engines which run on untreated gas from landfill sites. With the recent Paris climate agreement, green technology will be in demand around the world like never before. This means there’s an enormous potential for innovative British companies to export green technology around the world, as well as meet increasing demand at home. There is no question that science and engineering hold the answers to our environmental challenges.
Would you like to go green with your career? There are plenty of fantastic opportunities for engineers in the renewable energy sector, and you can also search our jobs for eco-friendly roles in other industries.