Can we innovate our way out of the biggest crisis facing humanity?
This year will be "make or break" in the fight against climate change, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned in the run-up to COP26.
The next United Nations climate summit, COP26, the 26th Climate Change Conference of the Parties, takes place in Glasgow this November, and countries will be expected to announce new climate targets as well as reveal the action plans they intend to follow to achieve them. While COP26 is largely focussed on the political leaders who will discuss the future of climate action, the action plans will rely on the collaboration and innovation of the global business community.
Since the early 2000s we have seen growing global interest and investment in the Cleantech sector – which is now reportedly the third largest venture capital investment sector after ICT and biotech.
How can Cleantech help us all tackle the climate crisis?
Cleantech as a term embraces existing and emerging technologies, and some people use it interchangeably with Climatech or Greentech. It can encompass everything from renewable energy systems and emissions-free transport to business and consumer technologies that help improve operational efficiencies or reduce resource use, material waste and pollution. Demand for Cleantech partly comes from social and political pressure to tackle climate change, catalysed through things like the UN Sustainable Development goals and the UN Principles of Responsible Investment,and partly from ethical consumers, businesses and investors. Increasingly legislation is also a driving factor; as a business owner not only will you have to pay fines if you pollute but you can also make cost savings and increased earnings from reducing your carbon footprint.
A Corridor for life
Source: Cambridge Norwich Tech Corridor: Vision and Spatial Strategy Report 2020
The Cambridge Norwich Tech Corridor is an ideal location for ambitious Cleantech companies, whether start-ups, scale-ups or high-growth corporates. We have a deep pool of tech talent with experience in sectors as diverse as ICT, advanced engineering, integrated energy systems and life sciences. They work with innovative companies such as the international energy firms Vattenfall and EDF, and technology giants like BT, as well as new generation Cleantech businesses such as electric drive train specialists Equipmake.
This diversity of sectors not only makes us well placed to address some of the major challenges that are facing humanity including climate change, food security and health, it has also made us more resilient than other parts of the UK (according to both the PwC Good Growth study 2020 and New Statesman Brexit Vulnerability Index). This diversity, resilience and connectivity between business communities across the and our links to the rest of the UK and Europe makes the Tech Corridor a great place to run a sustainable business.
One such business, Colorifix, is developing a revolutionary environmentally friendly dyeing process for the textile industry. The Colorifix process uses at least 68% less water than conventional dyeing practices and their methods are already being trialled by major household names in the industry including Stella McCartney and H&M. As its co-founder Dr Jim Ajioka says: “You have everything here, spanning basic research through to the most advanced crop science and biotech; backed by the institutions at Norwich Research Park and organisations like The Sainsbury Laboratory and NIAB in Norwich and Cambridge. The level of expertise available here is beyond that which you’d find anywhere else on Earth.”
Colorifix: a multi-disciplinary team spanning bioinformatics, synthetic biology and textiles, as well as business administration, development and management.
Support for ambitious Cleantech innovators
We are particularly keen to identify and support emerging disruptive tech companies in our region – you can read about some of the newest ones on our radar at the end of this article. We share their stories through our website and newsletter with a growing audience of innovators, tech enthusiasts and international investors. At the same time, we bring them the latest information on funding opportunities from national partners and local organisations.
For instance, the £40m Industrial Energy Transformation Fund is currently open to applications from companies looking to develop ‘deep decarbonisation’ technology (closes Wednesday 14th July 2021). Meanwhile the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is looking to invest up to £22m in innovative projects to develop the EV supply chain (closes 30th June 2021). UK registered businesses can apply for a share of up to £7 million for R&D projects with the potential to significantly impact the 2025 UK Plastic Pact targets, via the ISCF smart sustainable plastic packaging fund, which closes 8th Sept 2021, 11:00. There are also grants of up to £20,000 (or 40% of total cost) available from BEE Anglia to help businesses in the region reduce their carbon footprint and Workplace Charging Scheme grants to encourage SMEs to install EV charging points.
As well as funding, there are also a host of networks and organisations in the Tech Corridor who can support founders on the journey from initial idea, to fully fledged sustainable business. the recently launched Carbon13, based in Cambridge, works with founders to build startups that reduce C02e emissions by millions of tonnes. Each of the 50 founders on the 8-month programme is focussed on tackling the biggest challenges of Net Zero and achieving meaningful impact on emissions. Their next cohort begins on 21st September. Click here to read more.
Other support organisations include Cambridge Cleantech, a membership organisation supporting the growth of environmental goods and services or ‘cleantech’ companies in the Greater Cambridge area and OrbisEnergy, a 3,300sqm landmark innovation and incubation centre for clean energy businesses overlooking the North Sea at Great Britain’s most easterly point in Lowestoft, Suffolk. For more information about the support networks and organisations in the Tech Corridor, click here.
Innovative Cleantech companies in our region are helping businesses and people develop a more sustainable, clean growth economy
Accelerating the rollout of Electric Vehicles
EVs are growing in popularity with motorists around the world. Demand in the UK, in particular, is set to increase as the government has banned the sale of new cars with petrol and diesel engines from 2030. However, the slow rollout of charging points is creating a bottleneck for EV adoption.
Jumptech, based on the Cambridge Science Park, aims to unplug that bottleneck by providing installers with workflow management software that makes the installation process more efficient. Its platform enables engineers to provide quotes remotely, based on customer information supplied online, and schedule the installation work including commissioning. It also enables installers to outsource excess demand for charging points to certified contractors and so rapidly scaleup their installation work.
Offering a fresh approach to irrigation
There are more than 500 million small-scale farmers in the world and billions of people depend on them for their food. However, these farmers face two big challenges when it comes to watering their crops. Many depend on irrigation pumps that use expensive and polluting fossil fuels, while others have no choice but to rely on seasonal rains made increasingly erratic by climate change.
Futurepump, in Bungay, is on a mission to change that. They have developed a robust, portable solar-powered water pump that can deliver sustainable, low-cost irrigation even in remote rural areas. These pumps, made in a purpose-built factory in Rajkot, India, offer huge economic benefits to farmers, their families and communities by making harvests more reliable and improving yields.
Creating sustainable smart cities
Cities around the world are looking to save energy, work smarter and provide more joined up services to their citizens. Telensa, in Cambridge, is helping them create a data-driven future by delivering wireless smart city applications through LED streetlight infrastructure. Its PLANet system is now the most deployed intelligent streetlighting system in the world, with over 2 million connected lights across more than 400 cities.
The firm’s Urban IQ system builds on its PLANet offer by providing cities and utilities with an open technology, low-cost platform on which they can add multiple sensor applications. This gives users real-time insights into street use (including traffic and pedestrian movements), so helping them optimise public services and meet citizens’ needs. Telensa is manufacturing these products with Sony UK Tech in Pencoed, Wales, and has regional operations in the USA and Australia.
Cutting emissions from industry
If the cement and construction industry were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of CO2, after China and the USA. Coomtech Limited, in Cambridgeshire, aims to reduce that environmental impact through its patented engineering technology. This radical new method for drying and upgrading bulk solids can cut energy use and CO2 emissions by up to 75%.
Bulk solids include sands, salts and minerals from mining, inorganic industrial materials and fuel industry waste. Many of these bulk solids, particularly cement, go into building the infrastructure that supports our society. Decarbonising such industry sectors could deliver significant cost savings while accelerating the global transition to net zero – find out more about Coomtech here.
Growing environmentally sustainable food
UK consumers are increasingly environmentally conscious in their shopping habits. That includes wanting to buy more fresh fruit and vegetables grown locally and sustainably. Sterling Suffolk is doing its bit to help by designing and building energy efficient glasshouses that work with nature to grow sweet ripe tomatoes.
The firm’s first glasshouse, which it built at its Blakenham nursery in 2018, covers around nine hectares and is the most technologically advanced of its kind in the UK. This innovative semi-closed, hydroponic glasshouse has only 15% of the roof vents found on conventional glasshouses and relies on water evaporation to cool the air instead. The firm grows its tomatoes in coconut fibre, using captured rainwater to irrigate the crop and bumble bees to pollinate it.
Helping us to take steps to tackle the climate crisis
We all need to exercise more – and we all need to do more to reduce our carbon footprint. Now you can use your footsteps to do both, thanks to a new carbon-offset app from Treekly, a startup based in Norwich. All you need do is download their free Treekly™ app and start walking – the more you walk, the more trees you help plant.
Treekly has partnered with the Eden Reforestation Project and communities in Madagascar to plant mangrove trees. This is an environmentally important species because it locks up CO2 and helps stabilise coastal regions affected by rising sea levels. You can help Treekly hit its initial goal of planting 5 million trees and removing 61,500 tonnes of CO2 by the end of 2022.
Will you take the Treekly challenge?
Simply download the free Treekly™ app, on iOS or Android, and connect it to your favourite fitness tracker or smartwatch. Then set yourself a target of 5,000 steps a day, 5 times in a week. As a reward for hitting your target, Treekly will turn your steps into one tree each week.
Turn your steps into climate action today by clicking here – and share your progress with us @TechCorridorUK on Twitter using the hashtag #TreeklyChallenge