Clever Climate Tech Innovations of the Last 12 Months

KEY TAKEAWAYS

As new innovations emerge, the key thing is economies of scale — starting the ball rolling in a new sector is expensive. Here are four green techs that made waves in 2023.

Climate change is one of the most significant issues faced by mankind today, and tackling it is the key to preserving the earth for future humans and species.

As governments work on policies to make the world greener, many positive strides were made in 2023. Last year saw not only international politicians and industry stakeholders gather in Dubai for COP28 but also the emergence of many new climate tech innovations.

From sustainable aviation fuels to smart farming solutions, recent advancements in climate tech innovation are easing the path to Net Zero and helping to ensure a more sustainable planet for us all. We explore some of the innovations of 2023.

Climate Tech Innovations of the Last 12 Months

4. Sustainable Aviation Fuel

With the aviation industry making up 13.9% of transport-related emissions, improving the sustainability of airplanes is crucial. One way this is happening is through creating and using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which is based on recycled oil, city waste, and other elements. According to the International Air Transport Association, SAF has the potential to decrease emissions by as much as 80% in the commercial aviation industry.

While SAF has existed for several years, 2023 saw Virgin Atlantic complete the world’s first international flight using only this form of fuel. In November, the transatlantic flight was made from London’s Heathrow Airport to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. It’s widely accepted that transition to SAF is the key to achieving net zero status in the airline industry by 2050.

Matt Briggs, key account lead at Metta, which supports startups during their growth phase, described Virgin Atlantic’s Fight100 as “an indication of the beginning of a crucial shift in the attitude of industry stakeholders”. He believes that using SAF to power airplanes is the “only viable solution” to reducing their carbon emissions in the next few years.

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“A rapid shift towards SAF decarbonizes the operation of existing aircraft fleets, and it decarbonizes the operation of new planes being sold today,” he says.

“When you consider the 20-30-year lifecycle of a commercial airliner, you see how important that distinction is versus the promise of electric or hydrogen flight at some point in the future.”

Despite Virgin Atlantic’s recent strides in proving the effectiveness of SAF, Briggs argues that widespread adoption is currently affected by “a lack of joined-up policy-making” globally.

He explains: “SAF is currently about twice as expensive as traditional jet fuels, but a large reason is the lack of scale in production. In 2022, SAF represented just 0.1% of all aviation fuel sold.”

3. EV Solid-state Batteries

Another area of transport that has benefited from clever climate tech innovations in recent times is the electric vehicle industry, with the emergence of solid-state batteries. These differ from lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries as they use solid, non-flowing elements rather than liquids or gels.

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John Ellmore, editor of Electric Car Guide, called the emergence of solid-state batteries in 2023 a “huge advancement” that promises to transform the storage and efficiency of EVs.

He explains that using a solid material like ceramics in EV batteries instead of liquid electrolyte will deliver “higher energy density, faster charging, enhanced safety, and greater longevity”.

Additionally, Ellmore believes that advancing solid-state batteries will solve EV challenges such as “range anxiety, charging infrastructure, safety concerns, and environmental impact.”

He adds: “As these batteries move closer to commercialization, they could play a pivotal role in accelerating the transition to electric vehicles and making them a more viable and attractive option for the mainstream market.”

2. Smart Farming

Looking to help farmers make more environmentally friendly decisions is a German agriculture technology startup called Nerit’e.

The company has developed a smart farming solution that enables farmers to track soil nutrients to reduce fertilizer usage and ultimately improve the sustainability of their farms.

Humberto Martinez Barron, CEO and founder of Nerit’e, says: “This is achieved through utilizing a patented filtering system coupled with electrochemical sensors. Acquiring this high-quality data enables machine learning to learn how to optimize soil management practices.”

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In 2023, Nerit’e became a member of the first cohort of Ireland’s 2050 Accelerator program, which aims to connect startups and industry experts as the country transitions to net zero.

Since its launch in 2022, Humberto and his team have tested this technology in Mexico, Germany, Ireland, and the US. And they are planning to deploy the solution in more than 3000 farms globally. He said this represents “a turning point in how we manage greenhouse gas emissions from farms.”

1. The Power of AI

With governments continuing to introduce new environmental regulations and consumers looking to make more sustainable purchasing decisions, implementing an ESG strategy has become a critical priority for businesses of all industries.

But how can they do this successfully? Peter Schelstraete, co-founder of Ubuntoo, believes that artificial intelligence (AI) offers the best solution. In November, his company launched an AI-driven platform that provides companies with customized information to help them improve sustainability across their operations.

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Positioned as the “green ChatGPT,” the solution is already used by corporations like Coca-Cola, Target, and Subway as part of their ESG strategies. It covers topics such as reducing plastic usage, recycling, food, improving the efficiency of supply chains, transitioning to clean energy, and more.

“AI technology can draw from the highly technical and specialized knowledge of cutting-edge science and help that knowledge find its way into the hands of those who need it the most,” says Schelstraete.

“In the future, those companies and governments who are most able to harness AI technology, working in harmony with it to achieve their goals, will be those who can progress the furthest with their environmental targets.”

Other Climate Tech Innovations and Trends

Matt Cranfield, founder of Your Simple Hosting, has witnessed a “shift toward green data centers” over the past 12 months. He says: “These centers now use clever cooling techniques, renewable energy sources, and AI to wisely use electricity.”

Christoph Cemper, founder and CEO of AIPRM, views the production of green hydrogen as an exciting climate tech innovation to emerge in 2023. He comments: “Electrolyzers that use renewable electricity to turn water into green hydrogen got better at what they did, and costs went down. This led to more investment in building hydrogen infrastructure as a clean energy source.”

Nicole LeBlanc, partner at Woven Capital, stresses the importance of increasing talent and investment in the climate technology space. She concludes: “More smart people are choosing a career in climate, and more investors, including many generalist VCs, are making climate investments. When people and capital enter an industry consistently, it can begin to truly scale and have an impact.”

The Bottom Line

It is a bumpy road to a greener planet after hundreds of years of using oil, gas, and other non-renewables without caution.

As new innovations emerge, the key thing is economies of scale — starting the ball rolling in a new sector is expensive.

But as speed picks up, infrastructure gets established, and inefficiencies get removed, the cost of producing reduces, and it begins to make economic sense to the end-user to ‘go green’.

Hopefully, this trend will continue for both existing and emerging technology as the years go by.

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Nicholas Fearn

Nicholas is a freelance technology and business journalist from South Wales, UK. With a journalism career spanning a decade, he has written for major outlets like Forbes, the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and Huffpost, as well as tech publications like Gizmodo, TechRadar, Computer Weekly, Computing, IT Pro, and many more. When he's not writing about the latest tech trends, Nicholas is probably listening to Mariah Carey on repeat.