18 Technologies That Could Save the World

When life gives you poop, just make drinking water. The world might seem to be going down the toilet, but there are some incredible technologies out there poised to save it.

1. Solar Glass

13 technologies save world solar glass
Source: Solarshade Window Films

America would need to find a space the size of Rhode Island just for wind turbines if it were to run on natural power alone. But what if we didn’t need that much space?

Solar glass will let us turn every window into a source of clean and natural energy. Every building window, car door, patio sliding door, and bus terminal wall has the potential to capture energy already beating down on Earth every day.

The beauty lies in how much glass we already use. We can phase in solar glass without making any significant changes to our infrastructure or lifestyles. Who knows—we might even be able to power our phones this way, given enough time.

2. Solar Lamps

solar lamp
Image: Solar Garden Lighting

A more specialized version of solar panel technology, solar lamps represent one of the most intuitive ways to make infrastructure power itself. Imagine how much energy it takes to power our highway system, let alone an entire city. A single lamp running on solar energy could save anywhere from 8-12 hours of energy per day.

Don’t start counting the lamps on your street… but you get the idea. Solar lamps are also great for the home, and they’re affordable. Like all revolutionary technologies, that’s the key to spreading an idea across the world—automobiles, computers, and the Internet. It’s about access, and solar panels have nailed it.

3. LEDs

13 technologies save world LED Lights
Source: Soudure Design

The unsung heroes of world-changing technology, LED lights have significantly improved society’s energy consumption levels without us even realizing it. Light sources account for 15% of the world’s energy consumption and 5% of greenhouse gas emissions. Now imagine cutting that down by 75% just with LEDs. It’s so simple in execution that many people don’t even realize they use LEDs.

Just remember the number “25.” These light-emitting diodes (LEDs) use around 25% of the energy it takes to power traditional incandescent light bulbs, and they can also last up to 25 times longer, too.

4. Nuclear Fusion Power

Wendelstein 7X. Image: DPA/Alamy

In a world struggling to abandon its dependency on fossil fuels, there’s one technology in development that almost sounds too good to be true: nuclear fusion. Fusion power offers vast amounts of clean energy with a near limitless fuel source and virtually zero carbon emissions. There are teams of researchers around the world and billions of dollars being spent on making sure it will kick off.

It is planned that by around 2021, Wendelstein 7-X, a test reactor in Germany, will be able to operate for up to 30 minutes duration.

5. Algae

13 technologies save world algae
Source: Wikimedia

Who thought the slimy green stuff underneath the lakeside pier could help save the world? Even stranger—that this nasty stuff could curb excessive carbon dioxide emissions? Not so much a technology as an accidental saving grace, a team of British scientists discovered that melting ice caps released iron into the ocean currents, spreading it around the world.

That iron feeds algae, which sucks up carbon dioxide before sinking to the bottom of the sea, locking away the substance for centuries. That’s not a permanent solution by any means, but the pattern could buy precious time for humanity to find one.

Even better: Florida-based company Algenol plans to create affordable energy by extracting ethanol from algae—much in the same way that we extract ethanol from grapes. In fact, algae produces ethanol approximately 50 times faster than land plants, according to the company’s CEO, Paul Woods.

6. Osmotic Power

13 technologies save world osmotic power
Source: Wordless Tech

Imagine that could not only pull freshwater from saltwater, but also generate energy in the process. That’s exactly what osmotic power does. Make no mistake—desalination is both possible and scalable.

Why not create power in the process of bringing fresh water to the world’s population? This is a classic example of how the world’s changing environmental, energy, and consumption needs can be solved with multiple solutions working in tandem.

7. Carbon Capture

13 technologies save world carbon catpture
Source: The Star Phoenix

Canada turned on the world’s first carbon capture plant in Alberta. It still burns fossil fuels, yet it’s projected to cut emissions by 90%.

That sounds like an oxymoron, but the plant traps the carbon dioxide underground before it has a chance to escape into the atmosphere.

The first power plant could reduce carbon emissions by one million tons per year, equivalent to removing 250,000 vehicles from our roads. Imagine how many proverbial cars we could take off the road with more plants like this around the world?

8. Passivhaus Principles

13 technologies save world passivhaus principles
Source: eLearning Passivhaus

“There’s around 48 million people living below the poverty line. In a given month, if it’s too cold, they might need to choose between heating and eating.” – Dan Hines, DC Habitat
That’s a powerful statement, and it doesn’t even account for the rest of the world living in similar conditions (or worse).

The core idea is that houses conserve heat just like a Thermos. The heat stays inside the house to keep energy consumption at an all-time low—and the associated costs, too. The Passivhaus principles could reduce that consumption by up to 90%. What began as a project for low-income families could become a standard practice for house designs of the future.

125.8 million American households existed in 2016, according to Statista. If every house followed these principles, they could all run on enough energy for 12.58 million households.

9. Supergrids

13 technologies save world supergrid
Source: Think Grid

One of the fundamental problems with energy is that you lose it while transmitting it over great distances. That’s why we need power plants close to major population centres. But a new kind of cable may just let us connect distant power sources with cities that need the power—and for pennies on the dollar when combined with cost-efficient energy sources, like wind turbines.

In fact, Oklahoma plans to export its wind-generated energy to nine million electrical consumers in the Tennessee Valley with a 684.5 mile (1,100-kilometre) cable. And that’s the basis of the supergrid. We can generate massive amounts of clean energy in remote areas of the globe for use in more habitable areas. It could change the way we create infrastructure for the world.

10. Water From Poop

13 technologies save world poop water
If it’s good enough for Bill Gates… Source: Janicki Bioenergy

It’s the only crappy technology on this list, but for good reasons.

All joking aside, two billion people use latrines that are never drained properly—in turn spreading waterborne diseases that kill upwards of six to eight million of them. It’s a serious hazard to the quality of life for a huge chunk of the world’s population, and this technology can take significant steps toward solving it.

The Janicki Omniprocessor, a steam-driven, self-powered waste processor takes the one thing no one really wants (poop) and turns it into the one thing everyone needs (water…duh). 783 million people lack access to drinking water as well. This technology could solve both problems at a regional level by turning the liability of poor sanitation into the advantage of access to drinking water.

11. Electric Cars

A Mobilivolt charging in Angouleme, France.
Source: Wiki Commons

We need to admit that our love affair with our automobiles is a toxic relationship. We may adore having our own cars that go vroom vroom, but the world needs us to break up with the gas guzzler and opt for healthier options for getting out and about.

Electric is the way to go. The Sierra Club estimated that in order to take any kind of bite out of climate change America needs 10 million electric cars on the road by 2025. Considering that there are still less than a million on the road in the US, that’s going to be a tall order. But we are getting there, one Tesla at a time.

Of course, to really make a difference, we need to make sure that the way we produce electricity isn’t worse than running internal combustion engines, and it would also help if everyone charged their cars at night during off-peak hours. A really clever electric driver would charge up at night when it’s cheaper, and sell their unused battery power back into the grid during the day. But let’s start with just getting the cars on the road, and worry about the finicky bits later.

12. Graphene

Image: Wikimedia.org

Just one atom thick, graphene is the strongest known material in the world and conducts more electricity than copper. Here are some proposed uses for the new material:

  • Filtering salt out of ocean water to make it drinkable
  • Creating lightning-fast electrical chargers
  • Nearly unbreakable touch screens
  • Revolutionizing biomedical procedures and implants

Like the Bronze and Iron Ages, graphene’s strength and wide applicability might come to define an era. From life-saving devices to better headphones, graphene could come to underpin everything we know.

13. Geo-engineering

13 technologies save world geo-engineering
Source: Geo-Engineering Watch

Geo-engineering is one of the riskiest technologies on this list. While not quite as cutting-edge as it sounds—and yet to be proven as a positive force for humanity—there is far too much potential to ignore.

The core idea is to alter certain patterns or environments of the planet to ensure its long-term survival (and ours). Here are some examples of what geo-engineering would look like:
· Cooling the atmosphere by spraying sulfur into the atmosphere, mimicking volcano ash
· Cooling the Arctic circle by injecting aerosols into the air, keeping ice caps in tact
· Making our clouds more reflective to manage the Sun’s UV rays
· Planting more trees on a global scale
· Depositing dissolved rocks into the ocean to trap more carbon dioxide

But there are serious concerns with geo-engineering. If we block UV rays from the sun, this could directly impede agricultural production in certain parts of the world, or dry out entire regions of the world.

Anywhere from 1.2 to 4.1 billion people could see negative effects from geo-engineering, even if it does save the world from a disastrous four-degree rise in global temperature. Despite the consequences, we might need to begin geo-engineering the planet’s atmosphere anyway.

14. Underwater Turbines

13 technologies save world underwater turbines
Source: Planet Green Recycle

The ocean’s currents are powerful, and now we have the technology to harness it. Scientists in the UK successfully delivered energy to a power grid in 2007, and companies exist to develop the technology for commercial scalability—companies like Aquantis.

Wind and solar energy dominate the headlines, but our oceans could cover 9% of America’s energy needs by 2030. Ocean power could catch on faster than solar and wind technologies now that we’ve seen they can work at an affordable level. Keep an eye out for ocean turbines in the news!

15. Mycelium

Mycelium can be used to make plastic.
Source: Wiki Commons

MMushrooms are more than just a delightful pizza topping, they may actually be instrumental in saving the world. Mycelium fungus is everywhere. Literally, it’s everywhere. All kinds of it. Some of it is yummy (delightful pizza anyone?), some is scary (check out our story on cordyceps if you dare), but some is very very promising on the save-the-world front.

For example, there are some fungi that like to eat polyurethane plastic, others with a taste for petroleum, some like heavy metals like lead, arsenic, and mercury, and still others with a hankering for radioactive waste. A bit of industrialization, and a lot of our mounting waste concerns could be solved by mycelium.

A bit more industrialization, and it’s possible to turn fungus into a really kick-ass building material. Strong, cheap, and with zero harmful by-products, our grandkids might someday be living inside mushroom houses.

16. Pollinating Drone

A honeybee sits on a flower.
Source: Wiki Commons

We’ve all heard the dire warning from the world’s apiculturists — that’s bee-keepers to you and me — about the decimation of the world’s bees. Pesticides and other factors are slowly killing off honey bees faster than hives can replace them. And a lack of honey bees means a lot more than a sad Pooh Bear. It means and end to a lot of fruits and vegetables that need pollinating bees to survive.

Ok, maybe it’s not a doomsday scenario on par with global warming wiping out life as know it, but a world without bees would be a flavorless place. We need those weird little bugs and their pollinating powers.

Or do we?

Japanese researchers have developed tiny robots capable to doing the job. The little drones are covered in horse hairs to mimic a bee’s fuzzy knees, that are coated in a liquid gel that carries a current to make the pollen stick. Programmed to bounce from flower to flower, they can do the job as well as any bee.

It does raise an important question, though: do we need to worry about the rise of some robot queen going all Skynet on us?

17. Vertical Farming

Source: Wiki Commons

The invention of agriculture was a big step forward in the birth of civilization. The next big leap might be another breakthrough in farming: growing up.

Traditional farms take up a lot of real estate. They are at the mercy of the fickle whims of weather. And they have to take a break in winter time. But vertical farms are subject to no such restrictions. And you can build them anywhere — in fact, the closer to the centre of a large city, the better.

These indoor grow ops are stacked up in layers up as high as the ceiling will permit, using artificial light to mimic the perfect solar cycle all year round. The perfect amount of nutrients for each specific plant can be fed at just the right time, and harvest can be planned for the optimum moment to maximize quality and quantity of the product.

And yes, we are talking about food production, not cannabis. Although you can probably guess where the skills for this kind of thing were first developed.

18. Underwater Turbines

13 technologies save world underwater turbines
Source: Planet Green Recycle

The ocean’s currents are powerful, and now we have the technology to harness it. Scientists in the UK successfully delivered energy to a power grid in 2007, and companies exist to develop the technology for commercial scalability—companies like Aquantis.

Wind and solar energy dominate the headlines, but our oceans could cover 9% of America’s energy needs by 2030. Ocean power could catch on faster than solar and wind technologies now that we’ve seen they can work at an affordable level. Keep an eye out for ocean turbines in the news!