How an Indian Architect is Sucking Carbon Emissions Out of the Air and Turning it into Stylish Tiles

An Indian architect has developed a revolutionary new way to serve the housing needs of a population, while also fighting air pollution.

Tejas Sidnal is the mastermind behind Carbon Craft Design: a Mumbai-based startup that specializes in capturing carbon emissions from the air and turning it into stylish tile.

Using a device called the AIR-INK, the company is able to draw CO2 out of the polluted city air, combine it with a mixture of marble chips and powder, and then press it into elegantly-designed tiles.

Since Sidnal says that India is in need of maintaining the world’s third largest housing industry, his sustainable tile recipe can help meet the industry demand for building materials in an eco-friendly way.

(WATCH the Great Big Story video below)

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Buried Roman City Mapped in Stunning Detail Using Ground-Penetrating Radar

For some years now, archaeologists have been employing a technology called ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to discover what lies beneath their feet without the risk of damaging ancient artifacts and structures with shovels and trowels.

Over the years the technology of GPR has advanced, and it was recently used to produce a map of an entire Roman city buried underground without overturning a single grain of soil.

The GPR produced images of the roman city of Falerii Novi in stunning detail, revealing the existence of a market, roads, a temple, monuments, and a bath complex with a network of underground pipes suggesting a sophisticated plumbing system.

The team, from the University of Cambridge and Ghent University, were able to map the city in layers, and deduce how it changed over time; something that could only be done previously with risky, costly, and laborious excavation processes.

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“The astonishing level of detail which we have achieved at Falerii Novi, and the surprising features that GPR has revealed, suggest that this type of survey could transform the way archaeologists investigate urban sites, as total entities,” said Professor and author of the discovery’s corresponding paper, Martin Millett from the University of Cambridge in a statement.

Furthermore, different kinds of radio waves can be thrust into the ground to create even more detailed images—including catching anomalies that not have been detected by other forms of radar. The forum tabernae (shop units) appear, for example, in an earlier magnetometer survey, but not in the GPR survey.

L. Verdonck, Cambridge

One small problem with the technology was encountered however: the sheer amount of data required for such detailed imagery necessitates around 4.5GB and 20 hours of manual computer work per-hectare surveyed, and the authors suggest that assistance from new computer processing programs may be needed in the future.

What was Falerii Novi like?

GPR works like regular radar, bouncing radio waves off objects and using the ‘echo’ to build up a picture at different depths. By towing their GPR instruments behind a quad bike, the archaeologists surveyed all 30.5 hectares (90 acres) within the city’s walls, taking a reading every 12.5cm.

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Falerii Novi was just under half the size of Pompeii and was located 50 km north of Rome. It was first occupied in 241 BC and survived into the medieval period until around AD 700. Although small, Falerii Novi is characterized by some truly remarkable details.

In a southern district, just within the city’s walls, GPR revealed a large rectangular building connected to a series of water pipes which lead to the city’s aqueduct. Remarkably, these pipes can be traced across much of Falerii Novi, running beneath city blocks and houses in a meticulously-organized system of plumbing, rather than only alongside them as has been documented in other places, such as Crete.

L. Verdonck, Cambridge

The team believes that the large-rectangular structure was a natatio, an open-air pool close to the bathhouses, forming part of a substantial public bathing complex—a sort of Roman waterpark.

Even more unexpectedly, near the city’s north gate, the team identified a pair of large structures facing each other within a porticus duplex (a covered passageway). They know of no direct parallel in existing Roman architectural sites but believe these were part of an impressive public monument.

Porta di Giove (Falerii Novi) – CC license

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“It is exciting and now realistic to imagine GPR being used to survey a major city such as Miletus in Turkey, Nicopolis in Greece or Cyrene in Libya”, Millett said. “We still have so much to learn about Roman urban life and this technology should open up unprecedented opportunities for decades to come.”

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Newly-Developed Enzyme That Breaks Down Plastic Bottles in Hours is On Track to Change the Recycling Game

Utilizing an enzyme found within composted leaves, scientists are now breaking down plastic all the way into a recyclable form in a matter of hours.

Carbios, the French company responsible for the breakthrough, is already collaborating with Pepsi and L’Oréal to unleash industrial market-scale production of the new substance within five years.

“We are the first company to bring this technology on the market,” the deputy chief executive at Carbios, Martin Stephan, told The Guardian. “Our goal is to be up and running by 2024–2025, at large industrial scale.”

Their discovery, which sources described as a major advance, joins an arsenal of solutions for plastic pollution control that have appeared over the last decade.

Just like Boyan Slat who took on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or the bracelet folks at 4Ocean who took on the problem of ocean pollution in rivers, the scientists from the University of Toulouse are applying their breakthrough to another part of the problem—the recycling of plastic.

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Plastic isn’t straightforward to recycle. There are common varieties of plastic made from multiple layers of different esters, each one requiring different equipment or temperature to breakdown. And, there are a lot of plastic esters that could be recycled but aren’t because the market value for the recycled material is so low it can’t financially sustain the operation.

In the scientist’s paper published in Nature, they detail how poly(ethylene terephthalate) PET, the most common polyester plastic, loses much of its mechanical utility when heated for recycling. Therefore, creating new material is preferred, and PET waste continues to accumulate.

Their new enzyme achieves a minimum of 90% de-polymerization in just 10 hours, meaning that the polymers—large complex particles, become monomers—small single particles in less than a day, and perhaps even more amazing, end up as biologically depolymerized plastic that can actually be reused to create things like plastic bottles.

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While manufacturing plastic bottles from recycled PET made by this enzyme would cost about 4% of the amount needed to make new bottles from fresh petroleum, the recycling infrastructure, including the grounding up and heating of the plastic bottles before the enzyme is added would still make it more expensive in the end.

Nevertheless, the future is bright for this technology. Co-enzymes could be synthesized, companies could produce more inexpensive recycling infrastructure—both of which could finally bring down the cost of producing recycled plastic goods.

Carbios has also begun tackling the normally unrecyclable plastic film problem. In an alliance with several other European companies under the name Carbiolice, they demonstrated a plastic film last year that can be compostable in home or municipal compost piles. Their objective will be to address the markets of plastic films and single-use bags—and later on, rigid packaging and disposable tableware.

“These milestones reinforce our ambition to offer the market circular economy solutions that are both competitive and eco-friendly, and which will revolutionize the end of life for plastics and textiles.”

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These New Solar-Pavement Driveways Made of Plastic Bottles Can Power the Average Household

Photo by Platio Solar

Solar panel driveways may soon be powering all our households with clean electricity thanks to this Budapest-based startup.

For the last five years, Platio Solar has been developing new ways of implementing solar technology into urban spaces—and one of their latest developments is a residential solar paneled driveway made out of recycled plastic bottles.

According to a video that was published by the company last week, the solar system is the first to generate power from the pavement of a residential household.

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Each “Platio Solar Paver” is made from 400 polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles—one of the most common forms of consumer plastic. Compressed into pavers, the material becomes more durable than concrete while still being non-slip and sustainable.

The system can either be used to generate electricity for a residential household or power an electric car. According to the company’s website, a 20-square-meter (215-square-foot) Platio driveway system has the capacity to cover the yearly energy consumption of an average household.

The company is now offering resell opportunities and installation quotes for their driveway systems available in brown, blue, red, and green designs.

(WATCH the demonstration video below)

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This App Delivers Instant Sign Language Interpreters For Those Tricky Moments That Need More Than Pen and Paper

A new video app has the potential to revolutionize the way deaf people interact in their every day lives, no matter which country they are in.

Writing notes back and forth can be painfully slow and inconvenient, especially in a retail environment, but the Jeenie language-translation app has launched a new option which instantly connects users with an ASL interpreter to help them quickly solve tricky conversations.

“It can be challenging to communicate in everyday life with people who are not fluent in ASL,” Laura Yellin, a deaf woman who has been testing the app’s new ASL feature, told Fast Company. “For example, dealing with an issue at the dry cleaners and needing to talk to a supervisor or manager can be tricky via paper and pen or typing on the phone back and forth. It makes it a lot easier to have an interpreter available for situations like that.”

Within one minute of placing a request for help, users can be connected with an interpreter at any hour of the day, according to Jeenie, which says it has 100 operators on-call.

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One of the best features about their video calling app is its low cost. Although traditional Video Relay Services (VRS) may be available for free in the US, they are no good in Canada, for instance, and they may need special requirements.

As the company researched products that provide in-person interpreters, they found very expensive fees because services were geared toward the business world—charging $90 to $125 an hour.

Jeenie charges $1 per minute, but their packages take that fee down even further—and the interpreters earn half of all the revenue generated.

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Jeenie is not just paving the way for the next generation of ASL interpreter services, they are hoping to expand to other sign languages, such as British and Chinese Sign Language, leading to millions more convenient and detailed interactions between people across the world.

(WATCH the demonstration video below)

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Company Collects 80% of City’s Recyclable Plastics and Turns It All into Lumber

Photos by Mike Chassie

This trailblazing Canadian company is building a new standard for sustainability since they started recycling the bulk of their municipal plastic waste into lumber.

Roughly 80% of the plastic recyclables collected throughout Halifax, Nova Scotia are now being processed by Goodwood Plastic Products Ltd so they can be turned into building blocks.

The plastic lumber can be drilled, nailed, glued, and handled the same way as wooden lumber—but without any of the same deterioration.

The other 20% of municipal plastics are reportedly being sent to other Canadian recycling markets, but Halifax Solid Waste Division Manager Andrew Philopoulos says that provincial legislators are particularly grateful for Goodwood’s initiative.

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“We are very, very fortunate here in Nova Scotia to have that local company taking the material,” he told CBC’s Information Morning. “Without them, I think we would find it challenging to find a market for a lot of the plastic packaging that we are collecting.”

Goodwood also made a name for themselves back in December when they partnered with a Sobeys grocery store in order to create one of the nation’s first parking lots made entirely out of post-consumer plastics saved from local landfills.

Although the bulk of Goodwood’s recycled plastic comes from single-use bags, they also process food jars and other common consumer packaging.

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Thus far, CBC says that the lumber has been used to make everything from picnic tables and park benches to agricultural posting and guardrail structures—and Goodwood vice president Mike Chassie says he hopes their business model will inspire other regions to launch similar ventures.

“We can take this business—the knowledge and our skills—and we can export it and take it to other places,” he told the news outlet. “Post-consumer plastic is not going away, so we need to continue to find ways to give it a new life so it becomes a resource, instead of a waste.”

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