What’s next? 7 nascent technologies for 2022

Solar Geoengineering
She seems childishly simple. If the world gets too hot, why not offer her some shade? Dust and ash released by volcanoes into the upper atmosphere are known to have a cooling effect: the 1991 Pinatubo eruption cooled the planet by 0.5°C for four years. Solar geoengineering, also known as solar radiation management, would deliberately do just that.

This is a very controversial issue. It will work? How will it affect rainfall patterns and weather patterns? And won’t it undermine efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Attempts to test the idea are facing fierce opposition from politicians and activists. However, in 2022, a group at Harvard University hopes to conduct an oft-delayed experiment called Scopex. The test consists of launching a balloon into the stratosphere with the aim of releasing 2 kilos of material (probably calcium carbonate) and then measuring how solar energy is dissipated, reacted and dispersed.

Its proponents argue that it is important to understand the technique, in case it is necessary for the world to buy time in the race to reduce emissions. The Harvard group has created an independent advisory panel to study the moral and political ramifications. Whether the test goes ahead or not, it can be expected to spark controversy.

Heat Pumps
Keeping buildings warm in winter accounts for a quarter of global energy consumption. Most of the heating comes from burning coal, gas or oil. If the world wants to meet its climate change targets, the situation has to change. The most promising alternative is the use of heat pumps; in essence, refrigerators that work backwards.

Instead of cooling a space by removing heat, what these pumps aim to do is heat it by bringing in heat from outside. Because they simply move heat from one place to another, they can be very efficient: for every kilowatt of electricity consumed, heat pumps can supply 3 kilowatts of heat, making them cheaper than electric radiators. And, working the other way around, they cool the house instead of heating it.

San Francisco-based company Gradient offers heat pumps capable of providing heating as well as cooling. Its inconspicuous, saddlebag-shaped fixtures can be mounted on windows, like today’s air conditioners; They will go on sale in 2022.

Hydrogen powered aircraft
Electrifying cars is one thing, but airplanes are another story. Batteries are only capable of powering small aircraft and during short flights. Now, would it be possible to use electricity from hydrogen fuel cells, which only expel water? Hydrogen fuel cell passenger planes to be tested in 2022 include a two-seater being built at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. California-based ZeroAvia plans to complete testing of a 20-seat aircraft and aims to have its hydrogen propulsion system ready for certification by the end of the year. Universal Hydrogen, also of California, expects its 40-seater plane to take off in September 2022.

Direct aerial capture
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes global warming. Why not vacuum it with machines? Several startups are pursuing a technology that does just that, direct aerial capture (CAD). In 2022, the Canadian company Carbon Engineering will start building the largest CAD facility in the world in Texas; it will be capable of capturing 1 million tons of CO2 per year. ClimeWorks, a Swiss firm, opened a CAD plant in Iceland in 2021 that buries captured CO2 in mineral form at a rate of 4,000 tons a year. The American company Global Thermostat has two pilot plants. The CAD could be crucial in the fight against climate change. The race to lower costs and scale technology is already underway.

Vertical farming
A new type of agriculture grows. Vertical farms grow plants in stacked trays in a closed, controlled environment. Efficient LED lighting has made the process cheaper, although energy costs are still a burden. Vertical farms can be located close to customers, reducing transportation costs and emissions. Water use is minimized; and insects are kept at bay, so no pesticides are needed.

In Great Britain, Jones Food Company will open in 2022 the largest vertical farm in the world, with 13,750 square meters. The American company AeroFarms will open its largest vertical farm in Daneville (Virginia). Other companies are also going to expand. Nordic Harvest will expand its facility outside Copenhagen and build a new one in Stockholm. California-based Plenty is opening a new indoor farm near Los Angeles. Vertical farms are primarily dedicated to growing high-value leafy greens and herbs, but some are already venturing into growing tomatoes, peppers and berries. The challenge now is to get them to start piling up the economic returns as well.

Container ship with sails
Ships produce 3% of greenhouse gas emissions. Burning marine fuel, a muddy, dirty diesel, also contributes to acid rain. That problem did not exist in the days of sailing ships; and, for this reason, it is turning to candles, passed by high technology, in order to reduce costs and emissions.

In 2022, the French company Michelin will equip a freighter with an inflatable sail with which it is expected to reduce fuel consumption by 20%. Japanese shipping company Mol plans to equip one ship with a rigid telescopic sail by August 2022. Italian company Naos Design hopes to equip eight vessels with rigid, pivoting and folding “wingsails.” Other approaches use kites, “suction wings” with internal fans and giant spinning cylinders called Flettner rotors. By the end of 2022, the number of large cargo ships with sails of some kind will have quadrupled to 40, according to the International Wind Ship Association (IWSA). If, as planned, the European Union adds maritime transport to its emissions trading system in 2022, these unusual technologies will receive an additional boost.

Virtual reality exercise routines
Most people don’t get enough exercise. Many would like to do it, but they lack motivation. Virtual reality goggles allow you to play and burn calories at the same time, punching or snapping oncoming shapes or crouching or waddling around obstacles. VR workouts became popular during the pandemic, as gyms closed and a powerful low-cost headset, the Oculus Quest 2, came on the market. An improved model and new fitness features are coming in 2022. And perhaps Supernatural, a highly rated VR training app available only in North America, will be released in Europe. Will fitness become the star application of virtual reality?