Cleantech is on the rise. With growing urgency for the planet’s future comes growing recognition of the power of technology to address environmental challenges, and generate returns for investors; the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that in a net zero scenario, the global market for clean technologies could rise from US$122 billion to US$870 billion, surpassing the value of the oil market.
However, challenges remain to harness cleantech at speed and scale; the same IEA report suggests that investment in cleantech needs to be three times higher than 2021 levels for the rest of this decade in order to reach net zero by 2050.
What is the role of the start-up and scale-up ecosystems in driving the future of cleantech? And what is the role of financial institutions in accelerating progress? At the BNP Paribas Sustainable Future Forum (SFF) in London and Paris, experts and entrepreneurs shared their insights.
A fund for progress
Launched in 2017 with the aim of identifying solutions that are both clean and profitable, labelling them and supporting their implementation at scale, the 1000 Solutions challenge from the Solar Impulse Foundation has identified circa 1,450 solutions to date.
In 2021, the Foundation teamed up with BNP Paribas to launch the BNP Paribas Solar Impulse Venture fund, a €150 million investment fund dedicated to supporting innovative cleantech start-ups with positive environmental impact.
To decarbonise our economy, we need all the existing solutions to be better known and implemented everywhere.Bertrand Piccard, Chairman, Solar Impulse Foundation
Speaking at the SFF, Bertrand Piccard, Chairman of the Solar Impulse Foundation explained: “To decarbonise our economy, we need all the existing solutions to be better known and implemented everywhere. Creating a fund with BNP Paribas is a very concrete way to help promising small companies to grow, reach the market sooner and contribute to a more sustainable world.”
The fund will invest in high potential growth start-ups and scales-ups (mainly series A to C) solutions that have been awarded the Solar Impulse Efficient Solutions label, following a stringent process involving a network of more than 350 experts, that reviews not only the environmental impact but also the technical feasibility and profitability potential of the solutions.
Two companies have already benefitted from the fund, with the injection of capital allowing them to expand their operations. Phenix is a Paris-based company that has developed tech solutions to help supermarkets, industrials, wholesalers and food producers reach food and non-food zero waste targets, while Nature Metrics is a UK-based company monitoring biodiversity – from bacteria to larger species – by analysing the tiny fragments of DNA that species leave behind in their environments.
As a fund that is investing in the ecological transition, BNP Paribas’ partnership with the Solar Impulse Foundation really made a lot of sense as it combines the expertise of two very complementary teams.Laura Wirsztel, Partner, BNP Paribas Solar Impulse Venture Fund
Laura Wirsztel, Partner in the BNP Paribas Solar Impulse Venture Fund commented: “There are so many innovations emerging, in fields from energy transition and mobility to circular economy, food, agriculture and biodiversity. The fund aims at investing in high potential growth start-ups, with the objective of accelerating their development and significantly changing their scale. As a fund that is investing in the ecological transition, the partnership with the Solar Impulse Foundation really made a lot of sense, as it combines the expertise of two very complementary teams. ”
Net zero 3.0
Across the channel, London-based growth platform Tech Nation aims to fuel the growth of scaling transformative tech companies and their founders with coaching, content and access to a collaborative network across the UK, a hotbed for start-up and scale-up activity. According to platform, in 2022, the country ranked second globally for start-up funding, with a tech ecosystem valued at just under US$1 trillion, predicted to reach US$2.6 trillion over the next ten years.
BNP Paribas has partnered with Tech Nation on the Net Zero 3.0 programme, the third cohort of the first UK government-backed programme to assist scale-ups in accelerating their sustainable technologies. The bank also supported the previous Tech Nation Net Zero programmes since 2020.
When you look at the numbers, 40% of companies that will enable us to have a decarbonised atmosphere are yet to scale. We are here to connect companies to investors, the markets, customers, knowledge and information.Gerard Grech, Chief Executive Officer, Tech Nation
At the SFF event in London, Gerard Grech, Chief Executive Officer of Tech Nation explained: “When you look at the numbers, 40% of companies that will enable us to have a decarbonised atmosphere are yet to scale. We are here to connect companies to investors, the markets, customers, knowledge and information. Our programme can accelerate growth by three times within two years, in terms of headcount and turnover”.
Transforming hard-to-abate sectors
So far, 34 companies have joined the Net Zero 3.0 programme, each employing innovative ideas to tackle climate-related challenges in polluting industries: construction, transportation and agriculture. The three scale up founders joined the London SFF cleantech panel event to share their perspectives.
Cercula uses life cycle assessment technology helps companies analysis and reduce carbon footprint by design before a project starts. Speaking at the event, Isabelle Gough, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Cercula explained how it’s tackling decarbonisation in the construction industry.
“Just under 40% of emissions come from buildings, and progress in the industry is slow”, she said. “At Cercula we believe in starting with a design approach; we have a very short window to influence the carbon footprint of a building and that comes at the early stage of design. We make it as easy as possible to access carbon metrics at this early stage.”
Signol, meanwhile focuses on improving operator behaviour in the aviation and shipping industries. The company combines behavioural science techniques and big data to set operators personalised goals on fuel efficiency. For example, Signol nudges airline pilots to turn an engine off while taxiing in an airport, or nudges chief engineers to efficiently use the vessel’s auxiliary engine while at sea. To positively reinforce these sustainable practices, Signol also highlights novel performance insights and special achievements for operators.
Gavin Laidlaw, Chief Commercial Officer of Signol explained: “We set goals that connect users, often for the first time, to the actual carbon emissions created by their own personal operating decisions and individual ‘styles’. This motivates them to change behaviour, implement fuel economy manoeuvres and actions more frequently, and so become incrementally more fuel efficient, one flight or voyage at a time”.
Agreed Earth also uses behavioural science to nudge farmers towards small modifications that also make business sense, in an industry balancing its own economic challenges with the need to accelerate decarbonisation of global food systems, which currently for around one third of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Kelly Price, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of Agreed Earth explains: “Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is made from methane, which has a huge carbon and environmental footprint, as well as a huge financial cost to farmers. We are using satellite data to build a tool that can give farmers an insight into how much is lost to the system when they apply it to their fields. Our aim is to help farmers reduce their reliance on nitrogen by adopting targeted sustainable practices that rehabilitate their soil’s natural fertility and improve their profitability.”
Gerard Grech concluded the event: “Twenty years ago, we were at an inflection point for digitisation. Now, the same is happening for decarbonisation. We are seeing many large companies trying to differentiate themselves in a much more crowded space, while scale-ups are looking for new customers and new markets. This collaboration is a win-win, and Tech Nation is here to connect the two.”
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