This week, another shout out to the team at Startupbootcamp (SBC), for not only nurturing some of the most interesting startups emerging in key tech sectors, but also for managing to co-ordinate accelerator programmes and virtual demo-days in the very challenging circumstances of the past two years. The most recent virtual demo day I attended was Decarbonize last December, which was backed by corporate partners Mitsubishi Corporation and NYK Line.
Here is a summary of the ten participating projects (links are in the project names):
According to the presenters, more than a third of all food is wasted – and all that food ending up in landfill is generating tonnes of methane. Using a biological-electrochemical process, this team is developing the use of electron-generating bacteria to convert food waste into hydrogen, powered by renewable energy. The bacteria-powered system can be installed onsite for commercial applications (which reduces transportation costs), and can contribute to the decarbonisation of food and waste transportation and associated industrial processes. As a further bonus, this waste management solution is also a source of carbon credits.
Sea urchins are responsible for devastating swathes of kelp forests. This project is designed to re-home the echinoderms in land-based farms (“ranches”) with natural feed, and re-position them as a premium sea-food (especially sushi restaurants, who are willing to pay above-average prices). In doing so, vital kelp stocks will be replenished.
With its origins as a solution to defining and achieving “measurable sustainability”, Nozama is designed to track the amounts of carbon dioxide emitted, reduced and extracted from the environment. This particular presentation focused on single-use plastics, which makes sense given we all need to do a better job of reducing/removing these items from the environment, and at every stage in the manufacturing, packaging, distribution, consumption and disposal life-cycle. However, they have chosen to complicate the process. As part of the tracking solution, the project has decoded to introduce blockchain technology, in the form of smart contracts and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). They aim to do this by capturing the data associated with waste collection and processing, to demonstrate that no waste has gone into landfill or the environment, and that it has been repurposed or recycled. So far, so good, but then it gets even trickier. This recycling data is converted into an NFT, and sold via the “Plastiks” marketplace, which acts as a form of recycling guarantee, and a “proof of capture”. The NFT minting occurs at the point of invoice to the waste customer, by uploading the recycling data and issuing a certificate. from waste collection and processing. Further, the NFT is combined with art, to “create an emotional engagement with recycling”. The re-cyler selects art to be associated with the NFT, or the artist selects the re-cycler. Finally, the plastics producers need to buy the NFT (certificate plus the linked artwork?) and offset it against appropriate waste/carbon/energy credits. What wasn’t clear is whether the re-cycler has to keep the art, as continued proof of certification…
Clean Hydrogen Technologies
This is a project that produces hydrogen without using water, and by using less energy, and at less cost. Natural gas is a stop-gap solution for hydrogen production, and current solutions create too many carbon dioxide emissions, or they are energy hungry or they are too expensive. Instead, the process “extracts” hydrogen from natural gas – not by burning it, but using a patented catalyst to produce “turquoise” hydrogen, along with conductive carbon (which can be used to build batteries).
With a tagline of “Grow with the Planet”, Handprint have an ambitious goal to turn 30% of the world’s land and oceans into natural reserves by 2030. They plan to achieve this by connecting companies to regeneration projects like planting mangrove swamps, and then divert part of their customer revenue towards funding of those projects. The founders believe that this combines company values with market credibility and customer engagement. Further, they claim that consumer transactions (at the point of purchase) in themselves generate regeneration actions (and repeat transactions).
The premise for this project is that seaweed is better at absorbing carbon dioxide than trees. And once harvested from the ocean, seaweed can be added to the soil as a natural fertiliser. In this way, giant kelp plants become offshore seaweed farms, and also contribute to decarbonising transportation (from the production of bio-fertiliser and bio-fuel). The combined effect is also carbon negative.
Positioning their product as “Fitbit for carbon”, the founders want to remove the “guilt” associated with measuring, tracking and reducing our carbon footprint. The resulting data analytics (from enterprise customers as well as individual consumers) can help change behaviours. Initially launched as a solution for business (to track the carbon footprints of companies and their employees), the analysis is designed to not only track carbon emissions but also provide tips for footprint management and offset. Then there’s “Aerial for Crypto”, which seems to be a way for NFT creators (musicians, artists and designers) to “reduce the environmental impact of their work”.
This project deploys nano technology to produce hydrogen via water electrolysis, but at a lower production cost by using low-cost and earth-abundant materials as electrolytes. Under this patented solution, the founders expect to reduce the cost of green hydrogen from #2 per kg to less than $1 per kg.
Carbon Asset Solutions
The task of soil carbon sequestration needs accurate measurement, and is currently uneconomic. This project has developed a patented digital system, using high-precision soil carbon measurement technology. By connecting this measurement process to advanced software, the team can offer instant tracking, and they are currently seeking ISO certification. Serving both the supply-side (via carbon farming) and the buy-side (financial institutions and carbon markets) they can support trading of carbon credits (with plans to use blockchain technology to track the credits?). Essentially “Carbon as a Service”, the founders believe their solution is also attractive to investors, who want access to reliable carbon credits (without necessarily having to be part of the supply chain). However, some regulatory hurdles remain, particularly licensing laws in respect of financial products and market places. But, it seems that the emerging voluntary carbon market could be one of the fastest-growing financial markets, so no doubt smart capital will find a way to overcome these regulatory barriers.
Finally, a project looking at renewables storage, still one of the major challenges to renewable energy, thanks to the cost and (in)efficiency of existing battery technology. This team is looking beyond their current kinetic storage technology, to achieve “rapid response power on demand”. This will have the the combined benefits of prolonged life on energy distribution assets (and therefore, greater ROI), electric vehicle fast-charge points, and a path towards scalable manufacturing and deployment.
Overall, each of these projects has a clear value proposition, although some are more developed or were better articulated than others. Also, it was evident that most of these startups are working in complementary technologies and solutions, such that the combination of two or more of these projects could create some significant development progress and enhanced decarbonization outcomes. It also felt that much of this work is being done in spite of (rather than thanks to) government policy and public sector efforts in this area. Let’s hope the founders manage to raise the capital they need to bring their solutions to a wider (and willing) audience.
Next week: How digital brands are advertising