Clean Tech 101

What is Clean Technology?

A large group of wind turbines making up a wind farm on land
Image credit: majeczka / Shutterstock.com

Clean technology, sometimes referred to as Cleantech, is a term generally used to define a set of technologies that either reduces or optimises the use of natural resources, whilst at the same time reducing the negative effect that technology has on the planet and its ecosystems.

Examples of such technologies are relatively new sustainable energy sources, such as wind and wave power, or improved conventional energy production processes, such as clean coal technology.

In the examples above, clean technology solutions have a positive benefit in relation to climate change and sustainable development. In the eyes of the investment community it is also important that clean technology solutions are economically viable and have the potential to be profitable.

Conversely, for environmental groups and governments, the beneficial impacts on the environment of clean technology solutions are likely to be of greater importance than current profitability calculations.

One should also remember that technology which is currently considered to be unprofitable, when oil is fairly cheap, may well have a future when oil hits another record high in price as it did towards the end of 2014. The “total cost” of clean technology and hence profitability, is hard to define and often depends on individual agendas.

What is Clean Technology?
Video credit: Veolia North America / YouTube

Key Clean Technology Sectors

To most people clean technology is centered around the following key areas; sustainable energy and reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, the provision of clean water to all who need it, pollution reduction, recycling and waste management.

Within each of the above sectors it is possible to further sub-divide clean technology into several sub-classes, the list below provides some examples:

Sustainable Energy

There are various technologies which make use of sustainable sources of energy. Listed below are some of the most common which are being used across the globe:

  • Wind power – this sustainable resource is typically exploited in the form of vast wind farms, often found offshore. A wind farm contains a large group of individual wind turbines connected to one another, which generate electricity without producing any greenhouse gas emissions.
     
  • Hydroelectric power – this refers to the use of the gravitational force of water falling or flowing to produce electricity. Once constructed, a hydroelectric power-plant will produce extremely low levels of greenhouse gases when compared to fossil fuel-based techniques.
     
  • Solar energy – two techniques are used to generate electricity from solar energy; photovoltaics (PV) or concentrated solar power systems (CSPs). The former uses the photovoltaic effect to directly convert light into an electrical current, whilst the latter uses lenses or mirrors to focus a beam of light directly onto a small area which is converted into heat which subsequently drives a heat engine to generate electricity.
     
  • Geothermal energy – this is simply the heat from the Earth itself. This heat can be used in a similar fashion to the directed light beams for CSPs to heat up water to drive heat engines thus generating electricity.

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Clean Water

  • Water treatment – this refers to the treatment of raw water to ensure that it is safe for human consumption.
     
  • Wastewater treatment – the conversion of wastewater into water that can then be entered into the water cycle or reused, is referred to as waste water treatment.

Pollution Reduction

  • Emission control – there are several methods to reduce global emissions. The adoption of clean technologies, such as the sustainable energy sources listed above, as well as a transition from petrol-based vehicles to biofuels and electric vehicles are just a few of the suggested ways to control emissions.
     
  • Pollutant monitoring/sensing – air monitoring stations are used throughout the United States of America in a system called State Local Air Monitoring Stations (SLAMS) which provide annual reports on the volume of pollutants in each American state. Similar techniques of monitoring the levels of air pollutants are employed across the world.
     
  • Remediation of polluted sites – when a request for environmental remediation of a location is made by government or land remdiation authorities, immediate action must be taken by the landowners to ensure the location is made safe for humans and animals. This can involve cleaning soil, groundwater, surface water or sediment, by removing pollutants and contaminants.

Recycling and Waste Treatment

  • Recycling of consumer products – the majority of consumer products nowadays have large numbers of parts or components which can be recycled. Once a product reaches its "post-consumer" stage, it should be sorted correctly to ensure it does not end up in landfills.
     
  • Reduction and treatment of toxic waste – often in the form of dangerous chemicals or products, toxic or hazardous waste should be treated very carefully. Most governments across the world have plans in place for the reduction, collection, treatment and regulation of toxic and hazardous waste.

Underpinning the development of clean technologies are developments in information and communication technology, materials science and nanotechnology, semiconductors and electronics.

What is Clean Technology?

The Nissan "Leaf" is pictured here being recharged in Yokohama, Japan at the Nissan Headquarters. Image credit: Joel_420 / Shutterstock.com
A collection of wind turbines forming a wind farm. Image credit: majeczka / Shutterstock.com
A modern "clean" coal and gas power plant. Image credit: LukFu / Shutterstock.com
Geothermal power stations use the heat from the Earth to drive their turbines. Image credit: N.Minton / Shutterstock.com
A farm of solar panels in Spain. Image credit: Vibe Images / Shutterstock.com
A farmer in Northern Vietnam uses clean technologies to grow vegetables. Image credit: nguyenkhacthanh / Shutterstock.com
A modern home is built with solar panels on its roof. Image credit: SusaZoom / Shutterstock.com

Clean Technology and Regulation

There is a global drive to adopt clean technology solutions due to the current and future effects of climate change as a direct result of our reliance on fossil fuels for energy. Governments around the world are now adopting to a greater or lesser extent, regulatory regimes that require industry and individuals to reduce their environmental impact.

To support these regimes voluntary reduction schemes and carbon trading schemes are being introduced. The mounting pressure from global communities and organisations should result in a widespread adoption of clean technologies across the world in the coming years.

Alessandro Pirolini

Written by

Alessandro Pirolini

Alessandro has a BEng (hons) in Material Science and Technology, specialising in Magnetic Materials, from the University of Birmingham. After graduating, he completed a brief spell working for an aerosol manufacturer and then pursued his love for skiing by becoming a Ski Rep in the Italian Dolomites for 5 months. Upon his return to the UK, Alessandro decided to use his knowledge of Material Science to secure a position within the Editorial Team at AZoNetwork. When not at work, Alessandro is often at Chill Factore, out on his road bike or watching Juventus win consecutive Italian league titles.

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