Space technology helps mitigate climate change

5 January 2010

Space technologies have led to a number of inventions that benefit the environment and save energy. Satellite-based systems are reducing vehicles’ carbon dioxide emissions, remote-sensing technology is making wind turbines more efficient, and information from weather satellites is helping solar cells to produce more energy.

These are just some examples of how spin-offs from space technology and satellite services can make a difference. Over the years, ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme and its Business Incubation Centres have fostered and supported many innovative technologies and business ideas that contribute to new services and products to mitigate climate change.

Space tech for renewable energy

To maximise the amount of electricity from new wind turbines, the French company Leosphere developed a small instrument to measure wind speed and direction from the ground up to heights of 200 metres. The ‘lidar’ technology is similar to that which ESA will use on its Aeolus satellite to provide global observations of wind profiles from space.

ESA’s expertise from this mission was important for Leosphere and was used to improve their instrument during the company’s start-up phase at ESA’s Business Incubation Centre (BIC) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. More instruments based on the same technology have followed and these are now being used in more than 100 countries.

By using data from weather satellites, ‘SolarSAT’ from Italian company Flyby can accurately predict the power output of photovoltaic power plants. This information is used to design improved systems and quickly identify faults in operating photovoltaic plants – faults that can reduce energy production by more than 10% a year. This system has already been installed on several photovoltaic systems in Italy.

Space sensors reduce emissions from heating systems

Miniaturised ceramic gas sensor technology, developed originally for measuring oxygen levels around spacecraft reentry vehicles, is now being used in systems that accurately control heater combustion, one of the major sources of pollutants.

“It can reduce exhaust gases that are harmful for the environment and ensure that heating systems work at an optimum level. It also reduces fuel consumption by 10–15%,” explained Rainer Baumann from TU Dresden. Supported by ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme and its partner MST, this technology is now used by the German company ESCUBE in systems controlling industrial heaters.

Satellite data reduces car emissions

Conventional satnav systems help people to find their way. Now, several innovators have come up with interesting developments that use the same information to reduce fuel consumption and pollution by cars.

Repeated rapid acceleration and abrupt braking increases the fuel consumption of even the greenest car. Alex Ackerman and Yossef Shiri have developed the intelligent GreenDrive system that combines information on the type of car, its location and the road conditions to advise the driver on the most economical driving style to use: when to accelerate, when to brake and when to keep the speed constant. On average, this can result in a 15–25% fuel saving.

Another system proposed by Prof. Gerhard Güttler for the European Satellite Navigation Competition is Galileo-Ecodrive. This uses data on a road’s geodetic height profile provided by satnav systems to optimise the operation of auxiliary devices such as electricity generators, air conditioning, power steering, the deep freezers used on trucks for perishable goods and the moveable parts of a cement mixer –devices that consume up to 20% of the fuel. This could amount to savings of up to 2 billion litres a year across Europe, avoiding the emission of 5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Changing lifestyles

A reduction in harmful emissions requires a change in our habits, and for this more awareness is needed. Andreas Zachariah from the UK has developed a helpful system called Carbon Diem to track carbon footprints in real time. The concept is to help reduce global warming by making people more aware of their carbon footprint, encouraging them to change their mode of travel.

Carbon Diem runs on a mobile phone. “The beauty of our system is that it’s easy, when you make the effort to walk instead of taking the car you can immediately see the result which should encourage you to stick with it,” says Mr Zachariah.

ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office (TTPO)

The main mission of the TTPO is to facilitate the use of space technology and space systems for non-space applications and to demonstrate the benefit of the European space programme to European citizens. The office is responsible for defining the overall approach and strategy for the transfer of space technologies, including the incubation and funding of start-up companies using space technologies and satellite services, at the Agency’s four Business Incubation Centres in Europe. For more information, please contact:

ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office
European Space Agency ESA
Keplerlaan 1, 2200 AG, Noordwijk
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 71 565 6208
Email: ttp@esa.int

Technology Transfer website: http://www.esa.int/ttp
Business Incubation website: http://www.esa.int/bic

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