The Top 5 Inventions of 2020

With all the quarantine and shutdowns, it’s easy to feel like 2020 was a lost year. The world may have been on pause, but scientists, engineers, and inventors remained hard at work to improve the world around us so we can leave it healthier and cleaner than we found it. 

Here are five of the most important inventions and scientific discoveries that were created or uncovered in 2020: 

1. The COVID-19 Vaccines

It’s hard to think about any part of the past year without dwelling on the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost and hundreds of millions of people were ordered to stay at home and avoid social gatherings while they waited for a vaccine to stop this unforgiving disease. 

While many thought the vaccine could take years to develop, scientists created a safe and effective vaccine in nine months. Pfizer was the first company to have a vaccine approved and used on the public in the United States, but several other companies have vaccines in the final phase of approval.

One reason the vaccines were able to be developed so quickly is because of innovations in mRNA research. The use of mRNA (messenger RNA) allowed scientists to move quickly because they only needed the genetic sequence of SARs-COV-2 to make the vaccine, rather than needing to grow or transform the virus to make the inoculation. 

2. Solar-Powered Water Purification

Solar Water Solutions, a Finish company, developed the Adaptive Nozzle Valve System (ANVS) in 2020. The ANVS system uses solar power to operate a reverse osmosis filtration system that can purify groundwater and tap water in areas that lack the essential infrastructure to power a water treatment center. 

The membrane filtration system can remove small bacteria and heavy metals that are commonly found in groundwater and tap water, including lead and E. coli. The ANVS system will be used to improve the lives of the more than 700 million people who lack access to clean water across the globe. 

3. Plastic Recycling

As scientists and environmentalists work to keep the planet clean, a new emphasis has been placed on improving recycling processes around the world. That is why SIPA, an Italian bottle making company, and EREMA, an Austrian recycling company, joined forces to change the way PET plastic is recycled and turned back into bottles. 

PET plastic, the resin identified by number one in the recycling logo, is already highly recyclable. Recycled PET is used in many products ranging from Ikea cabinets to playground equipment. The two European firms specifically developed an efficient way to recycle plastic bottles into more plastic bottles. Using a process dubbed XTREME Renew, the two firms integrated the process of turning bottles into recycled plastic chips and reforming those chips into new bottles — two processes that used to be wholly separate. XTREME Renew uses almost 80% less greenhouse gas and 30% less total energy in the recycling process. 

4. Portable Handwashing Stations

The coronavirus pandemic reminded the world how important it can be to maintain good hand hygiene. Handwashing became a top public health priority around the globe, but some areas of the world still lack running water needed for handwashing. 

LIXIL, a Japanese company, developed the SATO Tap, to address this problem. The SATOTap is a portable hand washing machine that can be refilled with clean water. The device has a soap holder and handles to let water flow while families wash their hands. The device is being shipped to half a million homes in areas without running water early next year. 

5. Recycled Clothes

Each year, mounds of clothing end up in landfills. Clothing can be donated, but there hasn’t been a great way to recycle clothing that was too damaged to be worn again. Circulose, a product developed by the Swedish company Renewcell, developed a way to create raw materials for new clothing out of fabric from worn-out clothes. 

Circulose uses eco-friendly chemicals to strip clothing of its color and break down the fabric until it becomes a cellulose pulp. That pulp can be rewoven into fabrics to make new clothing. The clothing giant H&M is already offering products made from recycled clothing and Levi’s is set to follow suit next year.