Environmental sustainability is one of the most pressing needs of our time.
What Is Greentech/Cleantech? A Guide.
Greentech, also known as environmental technology, green technology or cleantech, utilizes some combination of environmental science, chemistry, environmental monitoring or electronic devices to produce new technology and methods for conserving the natural environment and the resources necessary for continued prosperity on Earth.
Goals and Purposes of Greentech/Cleantech
The primary goal of greentech is to reduce the negative impacts humans impose on the planet. Producers of green technology are working to accomplish this through harnessing the power of renewable energy sources such as the sun, wind, moving water, organic plant material and the earth’s heat. By inventing new ideologies, methods and products, greentech seeks to identify and replace existing wasteful or harmful habits developed over time to improve the quality of the Earth’s environment and course-correct for a resource-rich future. Some specific goals of greentech include:
- Sustainability – The act of fulfilling societal needs in a manner that can be utilized well into the future. Preserving resources is key to sustainability.
- Cradle-to-cradle design – Current manufacturing processes often create products with the ability to be used only a limited number of times, sometimes intending for products to be used just once before disposal. “Cradle-to-cradle” manufacturing replaces this “cradle-to-grave” method of production by shifting focus to creating products that can be reused or recycled.
- Innovation – Technology that is in-use today can have catastrophic results on the environment, global health and the survival of future generations. Innovation seeks to replace these technologies with more efficient means through constant research, design and development.
- Viability – Adopting new methods of green technology, creating new careers that facilitate preservation and designing supportive economic measures that embrace sustainability enable the success of preservation efforts, creating viability.
- Source reduction – Changing production methods and reducing the consumption of resources in a widespread manner reduces waste and pollution, facilitating the success of conservation efforts. This can be referred to as source reduction.
Some of the most important subject areas encompassing green technology include environmentally-preferred purchasing, green building, green chemistry, green nanotechnology and, most crucially, green energy production.
Green Technology Categories
- Green energy is the development of alternatives to fossil fuels by discovering new and efficient ways of generating energy.
- Green building takes every aspect of sustainability into account when forming new structures, including building materials, choice of land, the use of energy-efficient appliances/equipment and the undertaking of additional measures when possible.
- Green chemistry refers to the invention, design and application of chemicals or reactions that have the capability to replace hazardous materials.
- Green nanotechnology combines green chemistry and green engineering principles to manipulate materials at minuscule scales, leading to revolutionary new means of production.
- Environmentally-preferred purchasing is a method of government purchasing that mandates products created through energy-efficient means of production and those containing non-hazardous materials are purchased for use over dangerous or less efficient options.
Green Energy Production
The main function of green energy is to produce electricity and fuel through the use of renewable, naturally occurring energy sources. New greentech is being invented and refined on a consistent basis to make better use of recurring resources and harness their power in hopes of replacing fossil fuels and destructive production manners entirely. Current widespread methods of green energy production include:
- Solar – Solar panels, combined into a tower, placed in a field or affixed to a roof, are used to convert sunlight into electrical energy through photovoltaic components or mirrors that concentrate solar radiation.
- Biogas – Produced during the breakdown of organic matter when oxygen is absent, biogas is primarily composed of methane and carbon dioxide. Biogas can be compressed once carbon dioxide is removed and used to power motor vehicles. Technology is developing to further harness these gasses to reduce fossil fuel use on a larger scale.
- Geothermal – Geothermal energy is produced by harnessing the Earth’s heat just feet below the surface. Temperatures increase by approximately 1°F every 70 feet, so heat pumps and geothermal systems can be used to harness this energy for powering and cooling indoor spaces and water.
- Biomass – Biomass can be chemically converted into liquid fuel or oil, creating products typically made from petroleum that generate electricity or facilitate transportation.
- Nuclear power – Nuclear power is a zero-emission clean energy source that produces power through fission, splitting uranium atoms for energy. Heat released by fission creates steam that spins a turbine and generates electricity. Nuclear energy production successfully eliminates the harmful byproducts emitted by fossil fuels, possesses a minimal footprint and produces little waste.
- Low-impact hydroelectric – Utilizing damns, mills, stream-reach applications and other technologies, low-impact hydroelectric systems extract energy from moving water. Though the energy produced is clean, existing hydroelectric systems can be damaging to local ecosystems, so new infrastructure is needed to reduce the impact of harnessing this energy.
Recycling & Upcycling
Another massive component of conservation and sustainability is recycling, and by extension, upcycling.
- Recycling is the result of cradle-to-cradle design and is defined as reusing any item after fulfilling its initial purpose. Recycling can be as simple as reusing a jar as storage.
- Upcycling is a form of recycling that refers to reusing an item for a purpose other than its original purpose, including combining or transforming items to form something entirely new. A good example of upcycling is cutting a glass bottle in half and painting it to create a decorative vase.
- Composting has been used for centuries as a way to turn organic waste of all kinds into nutrient-rich natural fertilizer for the earth. During the composting process, bacteria work to break down and decompose waste into simpler compounds that are filled with microorganisms and nutrients, enriching soil and facilitating healthy plant growth. Composting can be done in large and small quantities, whether on a farm or at home.
Greentech can often look like looming wind turbines and expansive rows of solar panels, but in reality, greentech is commonly found in the devices that people use every day. As more producers of technology adopt environmentally-friendly innovation as the path forward, our technological interactions will place less of a burden on our environment. Some examples of consumer greentech include:
- Solar panels – Many homeowners can now choose to affix solar panels to their roofs or place them within their yard to begin generating electricity. Though the initial cost to acquiring solar panels can be expensive, generating solar energy can reduce the overall cost of energy delivery over time.
- Electric vehicles – The introduction of hybrid vehicles, and recently, fully-electric vehicles, at a large scale reduces the heavy burden of fossil fuel pollution produced by gas vehicles every day. As of 2020, there are more than three million electric cars in use in Europe and more than 1.8 million in use in the United States.
- Lithium-ion batteries – Lithium batteries have become standard in the majority of portable electronic devices to hit the market. These batteries are rechargeable and able to be reused multiple times, unlike alkaline batteries. The downside, however, is that lithium batteries can present fire risks and contain heavy metals that do not break down. Alkaline batteries do not possess these metals but must be replaced more often, creating excess inorganic waste.
- Cloud storage – Computers, hard drives and home or office servers can consume massive amounts of electricity and require non-renewable resources, but thanks to advancements in technology, computing has become more efficient. One of the most impactful innovations was the creation of cloud storage, which enables users to store nearly unlimited amounts of data on superpowered third-party servers built to ensure security and fast access from anywhere. This eliminates the need for having massive amounts of power or storage on hand and consolidates these power-drawing computing networks to a limited number of distributed locations.
- Smart power bars – Computers and other home appliances can still draw massive amounts of power, even when not in use. Smart power bars combat this by featuring specially designed outlets that restrict the power being used unless the outlet registers an “on” signal from the appliance.
- Programmable thermostats – These thermostats can be controlled by smartphones to change the temperature of a home at any time. Reducing heat or shutting off air conditioning reduces the use of fossil fuels and electricity, leading to lower monthly costs and better preservation of crucial resources.