Amid soaring global temperatures and the recent revelations of a mass decline in insect numbers, we may finally have reached the tipping point where the climate crisis becomes an emergency. Within this changed context, radical and novel solutions are now required to arrest global carbon dioxide emissions and mitigate against the already alarming effects of climate change. Here are five startups and innovators with ideas that could make a big difference if sufficiently scaled up.
Pavegen’s technology converts the kinetic energy of pedestrians’ footsteps into electricity and data. Its high-tech walkways have been installed in Abu Dhabi Airport, the University of Birmingham and Dupont Circle in Washington DC, among others. The system works by using pedestrians’ weight to compress electromagnetic generators, producing two to four joules of off-grid electrical energy per step. The technology was invented by Loughborough industrial technology and design graduate Laurence Kemball-Cook, who developed the first Pavegen flooring tile with money from a Royal Society of Arts Student Design Award. The company has worked on projects with Google, BNP Paribas and Adidas.
PHYSEE develops solutions for architectural exteriors that can reduce the energy consumption of buildings. It makes windows that can generate electricity thanks to a coating on the outside windowpane that collects light, while strips of solar cells in the windowframe convert it into electricity. The system collects temperature, air pressure and humidity data in order to autonomously regulate building climate and facade elements, such as sun blinds. The company was founded in 2014 by two applied physics students at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Its first project was the Rabobank office in Eindhoven and it is now working with the Kells commercial redevelopment project in Dublin. The company won the 2016 Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge.
Swedish Algae Factory
The Gothenburg-based Swedish Algae Factory is making waves with its research into the amazing light-harvesting powers of microscopic algae called diatoms. These remarkable single cell entities have the ability to make their own shell out of a glass-like substance in order to more efficiently photosynthesise sunlight. The company is cultivating its own diatoms to be used to radically supercharge solar panels. Founded in 2014, it is also working on ways to use the diatom shells to produce environmentally friendly cosmetic products, and the organic biomass of diatoms for the production of feed, fertilisers and energy.
UK-based startup BioCarbon Engineering specialises in large-scale, data-driven ecosystem restoration. The company uses drone and satellite imagery to map landscapes slated for reforesting to determine the ideal location to plant various species across a given distribution to achieve landscape restoration.
Advanced planting drones then deliver biodegradable seedpods or spread mixes of seeds to each location within a given area, providing a scalable, efficient solution to deforestation – which had previously been limited to planting by hand or inefficient mass delivery by scattering seeds from helicopters.
Harnessing plants initiative
Not strictly a startup, but a potentially gamechanging project at the Salk Institute in California that takes a more novel and natural approach to the work being done by many “carbon removal” startups. While these companies are working on technologies to physically remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – or even at source from the smokestacks of power plants – the processes remain difficult and controversial. By contrast, researchers at Salk are working to enhance the natural ability of plants to suck carbon dioxide out of the air and store it in their roots. The plants would need to be planted on a massive scale to have a significant impact, but the idea is at least based on the natural processes of the planet. The project has been backed by private equity veteran Howard Newman.
Are you working on an idea with the potential to contribute to a sustainable planet? The Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge is one of the world’s largest sustainable entrepreneurship competitions. This year’s contest is now open and looking for innovations with a viable business plan and the potential to scale. Find out more at greenchallenge.info. Deadline for entries: 1 May 2019.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010