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Five Fab Ideas Fight to Be Financial Times Challenge Champion

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Wednesday March 25th, 2009 | 1 Comment

FT_chall.jpgPre-fabricated, low-cost bamboo housing to meet growing demand in Latin America. Climate forecasting designed to help business mitigate the impacts of environmental changes on their firms. A text-messaging service that acts as a bulletin board for taxi-sharing. These are just a few of the 300 entries received in the Financial Times Climate Change Challenge, a competition designed to spur carbon-cutting innovations (and sponsored by Hewlett-Packard and Forum for the Future).
The judging panel, which includes business tycoons (Sir Richard Branson, HP CEO Mark Hurd, Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy) as well as policy and research experts from groups such as the Pew Center, MIT, and Forum for the Future) has whittled the list down to five contestants, from which it will pluck a winner on April 3. The winner gets $75,000 to help develop their product or service and bring it to market. But you get to help pick the winner, too, by voting on FT.com. Here are your options:


1: The Black Phantom. This is a machine designed to turn biomass into charcoal, which can then either be sunk into the ground (an abandoned mine, say) or used to fertilize soil. A third option is to burn the charcoal in power stations or cooking stoves. Startup Carbonscape created the Black Phantom and says the machine captures and locks away significantly more carbon than is created by the electricity used to power it. The company hopes to eventually be able to capture the gases the burning charcoal produces and utilize them for energy, as well.
But while using charcoal as a carbon sink is attracting a lot of attention worldwide, and has been identified as a possible means of earning carbon credits, but at least one study has called into question whether biochar is a suitable material for carbon sinks because it promotes microorganisms that decompose carbon in the surrounding soil.
2: The Deflecktor. This is a simple way to cover the gap on a large truck wheel (where a hubcap is placed on conventional car tires) to reduce drag and thereby boost the fuel efficiency of truck – the creator says it cuts consumption by 2 percent. Plus, users might more than cover the cost of the covers by plastering advertisements on them.
Here’s a video showing a Deflecktor being installed.
That 2 percent seems paltry if the trucks continue to burn fossil fuels, but if paired with ATDynamics’ list of drag-reducing products, that 2 percent reduction can grow to 14 percent. (Still, how about new fuels?)
3: The Kyoto Box. Singapore-based KYOTOenergy submitted its Kyoto Box, a simple stove that is made mostly of cardboard. It uses solar power to reduce the amount of firewood needed for cooking. The company claims that the stove can be made in existing cardboard factories, flat-packed, and easily distributed. This could serve as a means of helping families produce food in developing countries.
How KYOTOenergy will make money from this product isn’t immediately clear.
4: Mootral. British biotech firm Neem says its Mootral feed supplement for livestock will reduce the methane that cows and sheep emit by 15 percent. It does this by reducing the bacteria in the stomachs of cows and sheep. It’s a garlic-based extract and acts as a natural antibiotic. Neem estimates the world’s herds and flocks are responsible for 20 percent of global warming.
I could see major agriculture firms wanting to embrace a solution like this. Still, there’s the rest of the carbon footprint linked to conventional meat and dairy production to address.
5: Ceiling Tiles. Researchers at the UK’s Loughborough University have developed ceiling tiles that play a part in an air cooling system – either replacing or supplementing traditional air conditioning systems. The tiles are hung in a low, false ceiling. Each tile contains hollow sections that draw warm air out of the room and holds it on a wicking surface in the tile. The air then evaporates the water. One of its designers likens the effect of this process on a room to how cooling it feels to dip your hand in water and blow over it.
Ah, but will this trade carbon consumption for water consumption? The researchers claim it uses two cubic centimeters (.12 cubic inches) of water per second to cool about 100 square meters (1000 square feet) of space. That’s 1.9 gallons of water per hour, which is less than what the Coolerado system uses per hour, plus, Coolerado uses a scant amount of electricity while the ceiling tiles use none (unless you count the embedded energy in manufacturing). But the Coolerado systems’ figure of 4 gallons an hour is based, I believe, on cooling 2,500 square feet of space. (That much math is heating up my brain.)
You can place your votes here.

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  • Anonymous

    who is at dynamics – do they have a single customer yet?

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