Season 4, Post 41: Rail reading round-up
Germany’s trains were historically renowned for their reliability and punctuality. Not so much so these days, as your author found to his cost last week. Delays and cancellations formed part of the story as he travelled roughly 800km (albeit spread over three separate legs), crossing the country from Munich to Hamburg. The good news, at least, was that there was lots of time to catch up on reading. Below follow three of the most eye-catching stories from a future trends perspective.
Helsinki may be about 1500km from Hamburg but we were impressed to read that buildings are being erected in the city constructed out of wood. Finland benefits from around 75% of the country being covered by forests, but the decision to build increasingly from wood reflects part of its desire to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035 and become Europe’s leading circular economy. Wood works not just from an aesthetic perspective, but since wooden buildings remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they emit, in contrast to the substantial carbon footprints of either concrete or steel. Over 15% of commercial buildings constructed in Finland now comprise wood as a key material. We first made the case for smarter citiesover a decade ago.
Moving on, the warm summer of 2022 may now feel like a distant memory, but the growing prevalence of droughts across the world is fuelling concerns about both food insecurity and global hunger. Might machine learning provide a solution? There’s a lot of logic in analysing data to see how plants may thrive in different conditions. Recent work from the University of Florida highlights, for example, how some strains of drought-tolerant corn may be able to deliver higher yields than more conventional alternatives. Similar work pioneered by Google’s Deep Mind software is looking at the merits of different potato varieties across varying temperatures. We first wrote in 2019 that the world is hungry for more agtech and we anticipate this theme to continue evolving.
Finally, consider the case for the ‘Plastics Piranha’. Yes, you read that correctly. This novel device, pioneered by Ohio-based start-up Clean Earth Rovers constitutes an innovative approach to tackling the problem of plastic waste. Think of the Piranha as being an autonomous, fully electric vehicle that operates in water – most recently spotted on trial in California – and can collect up to 25kg of waste before returning to its home base to be emptied. With the US recycling less than 10% of its plastic annually (and Europe only about a third, per the European Environment Agency), we need solutions. We have followed this theme since 2018 (and have exposure via a listed business which produces sustainable packaging for consumer products), but expect to see more Piranhas out and about.
20 October 2022