Green technology in 2021 is the intersection of much new terminology and a wide range of innovative solutions around energy production, pollution reduction, and climate damage reversal. Here we offer a Complete Guide to Greentech – Climate Tech, Cleantech and everything in between.
Consumer awareness of human impact on the planet is on the rise, with it green technology is growing, adapting and developing. 2021 is set to be the year of extensive growth and development after documentaries and key speeches by David Attenborough, protests from Extinction Rebellion and multiple speeches by Greta Thunberg have placed the issues of climate change and the environment in front of the consumer.
Joe Biden has taken office as President of the United States and has made many public statements that his term will see the US pursue a strong green agenda.
Everything from fashion to energy consumption will be impacted by government there and worldwide, and personal goals to tackle the pressing threat of environmental problems. Therefore, being aware of key terms and developments will keep you ahead of the trends as we embrace a greener lifestyle.
To stay ahead of recent trends and developments, we will be taking an in-depth look at green technology in 2021. This article outlines what green technology is, some key terms and their definitions, developments in greentech, types of technologies being developed, and leading companies within each type.
What is greentech?
Greentech is often split into two areas that are referred to as climate tech and cleantech. Between them, their technologies look to deal with existing and future damage to the environment caused by humans, as well as reducing or eliminating sources of further damage from our energy production and pollution.
Although there is current speculation around the use of these terms and whether there are better alternatives out there, we will be referring to each technology as a section within these two areas.
Clean Energy Ventures defines climate tech as “expressly concerned with the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions” and cleantech as focusing on humanity’s impact on the environment.
Climate tech has a focus on greenhouse gas emissions so therefore includes sectors such as carbon capture and afforestation. The focus of these sectors is to reduce the severity of greenhouse gas emissions, either through trapping the already existing gases or considering how greenhouse gases can be reduced moving forward.
We can define this area by considering whether the sector considers its impact on the planet beyond greenhouse gas emissions, if there is little consideration or this has been considered but the impact on greenhouse gas emissions is greater then the main goal of the company or project sits within climate tech.
Cleantech looks at cleaning humanity’s impact from the environment. This includes areas like pollution and air quality as well as recycling and waste management.
These sectors don’t necessarily consider the impact of this work on emissions but know that the work will impact and reduce humanity’s impact on the wider environment. For example, recycling and waste management may require vehicles or machines that emit greenhouse gases but the impact on human waste seeping into oceans or waterways is reduced, therefore its focus is cleantech.
Greentech in 2021
Within the two areas of climate tech and clean tech, we find a whole host of sectors that focus on certain aspects of business and society that make up the landscape of greentech in 2021. Some of these sectors solely occupy climate tech or cleantech, others overlap and look at both areas in order to create change in society.
For example, clean energy is concerned with mitigating greenhouse gas emissions while also reducing human impact on the environment through the extraction of resources to be used for creating energy.
Though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they do not mean the same thing. The two areas share similar ideas but the overall goals they are working towards are different. Some companies and sectors may overlap in their actions and ideas but returning to the main goal of their actions is the best way to understand what area they belong within. Placing green technologies within the two areas allows us a better understanding of the goals driving those technologies and the key focus of companies who work within that sector, defining every action they take in order to ensure effectiveness and efficiency.
Below you’ll find a useful diagram from Clean Energy Ventures that outlines many of the green technology sectors that are explored throughout this article, and highlights the intersection and difference between cleantech and climate tech:
What is climate tech?
Climate tech is green technology that focuses on the reduction and mitigation of the effect of greenhouse gas emissions. This includes both reducing the greenhouse gases currently being produced, capturing or removing the greenhouse gases that are currently in our atmosphere and reducing the greenhouse gases that will be emitted in the future.
Carbon dioxide is the main gas contributing to global heating, therefore the thinking behind carbon capture involves catching the carbon at the source of it being created and then piping it to a place where it can be stored or used. It can be used as the carbon dioxide for things like carbonating drinks but can also be used to create hydrogen which can be used in factories as a clean-burning fuel. According to the IEA, carbon capture could reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 70% (The Guardian, 2020).
Carbon capture allows manufacturers to avoid expense in adapting to run on clean energy and the technology already exists in order to get carbon capture projects up and running. It also opens up new business opportunities in creating hydrogen which could then be sold on as fuel.
The National Grid have already set up a large carbon capture project in the Yorkshire and Humber region and are now looking to continue developing on this work with their partners Drax and Equinor. The project could see the Humber become the world’s first net zero carbon region. For this project, the carbon is taken from industrial factories in this region and piped into storage in the North Sea.
The “storage” is a porous rock under the seabed which is injected with liquid carbon dioxide. Alongside this project, Phillips 66, Uniper and Vitol have proposed the Humber Zero decarbonisation project, placing the UK as global leaders of carbon capture technology alongside Scandinavia and the United States.
Finally, a UN report has recently called for an increase in the use of carbon capture in order to drastically combat climate change, identifying key barriers to the development of this technology. The future looks promising for carbon capture, especially for UK businesses who may benefit from world-first net zero manufacturing.
Afforestation is the creation or establishment of a forest where there was previously no tree cover. This action aids carbon capture but the trees also reduce carbon dioxide levels and add more oxygen into the atmosphere, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A number of government and non-government organisations partake in planting trees to offset their carbon emissions, including government goals to achieve within a set time as part of the action to tackle climate change. There is also scope to use other technologies within afforestation plans to speed up the process and some businesses build tree-planting into their product as a benefit to the eco-conscious consumer.
Symbiosis Investimentos is a Brazilian privately owned investment company that transforms degraded areas into established forests by restoring native species, working within the timber industry to improve quality of wood and quality of the planet.
Agtech is short for agricultural technology and includes a whole range of companies that support the agriculture industry to become greener. From smart robots that gather data from crops to reducing livestock manure through LIvestock Water Recycling (LWR), this sector encompasses a range of innovative technological developments to improve efficiency of agriculture and mitigate greenhouse gases.
As outlined by Deloitte (2016), agriculture businesses are having to be more open to innovation and change in order to keep up with the changes in the market. Their report also predicts that start-ups and innovators will seek to disrupt the industry through the introduction of new technology.
Future Growing LLC is an industry-leader in Agtech through the development of the aeroponic growing process which removes the need for soil when growing herb crops and places these crops in vertical towers, instead of into long rows in the ground.
Commonly referred to as climate engineering, geo engineering is a large-scale intervention in the climate system of the Earth. Within this sector, there are a number of subcategories such as solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal. Climate engineering looks predominantly to environmental modelling to present solutions to current problems placing much of the work in this area as theoretical and difficult to action in the short-term.
Projects can be expensive and risky but given the current climate emergency, could provide a breakthrough to complement the work of other sectors.
The Climeworks’ direct air capture technology allows the company to suck carbon dioxide straight from the air with a similar route for the carbon dioxide as carbon capture, storing it below ground. This is an expensive process and will not be enough to solve climate change alone.
Alongside this work, there is a solar geoengineering research project run by Harvard University (Voosen, 2020) that hopes to use particles in the atmosphere to block the sun’s rays and therefore prevent the warming of the Earth.
The project has made progress using models and theories and is now looking to release a balloon into the atmosphere, release chalky particles and then monitor what happens.
What is cleantech?
Cleantech is green technology that increases the performance, productivity or efficiency of production while reducing the impact on the environment. The technology may focus on the impact on a particular environmental element, such as water or air, that would normally be subjected to chemicals or pollutants as part of the production process. Some of these technologies might impact or influence your day-to-day life without you even realising.
Water is essential for human life yet universal access to clean water is not available. Innovative technologies for clean water allow communities across the world to thrive and grow, promoting the growth of families, businesses and education in places where this wasn’t possible before. On top of this, as the global population grows and industries use more and more water for manufacturing, having enough clean water for everyone is a rising concern.
Supporting businesses to clean and re-use water creates a cycle where new water does not need to enter the process, allowing that water to be used elsewhere in the community.
Innovative Water Technologies developed water filtration systems that were portable, solar and wind powered and reliable, providing 20,000 litres of clean water every day for 10 years or more. The Lifestraw is another portable technology that filters water as you drink, providing much-needed water access during emergencies where clean water might not be readily available.
Recycling and Waste
What we do with our waste matters. Whether it is household waste or manufacturing waste, for a long time we were just dumping waste into the ground or the ocean and we have now realised that eventually, the space will run out.
On top of that, the waste will poison our sources and make growing food or finding clean water more difficult. Recycling programmes have been rolled out globally, with governments changing their approaches to waste and changing behaviours of entire nations in the process.
Most recently, plastic recycling has come to the forefront of this sector. Plastics are hard to recycle due to them being mixed with other things in the production process and therefore becoming hard to separate and take back to its original form.
Unlike something like glass which can simply be melted down and reformed several times over its lifetime. PureCycle aims to reduce plastic waste through research and development of the recycling process to create pure recycled polypropylene that can be used in an endless loop.
Air quality and Pollution
Air quality impacts health. It’s as simple as that. Poor air quality will impact people living and working in that area, causing the development of new and underlying illnesses and making existing illnesses worse.
On top of people, air quality impacts the growth of wildlife and nature, impacting the ability of trees to photosynthesise and respire and therefore affecting the homes and lives of wildlife.
The UK government has researched into air pollution and its impacts on people, creating a specific website to track air pollution across the UK. The use of data to create real time images and forecast future pollution is a way to support those whose health may be impacted in times of peak air pollution, choosing to avoid certain times and areas for being outside.
On top of this, the UK now has years of data tracking air quality and pollution across the entire country, which can be drawn upon to create technological developments that can help to find a resolution.
Cleantech and Climate tech
Where cleantech and climate tech overlap, we find sectors that permeate every aspect of society and our existence. Everything from moving goods around the world to the careful choice of energy providers by businesses and consumers.
From a business perspective, these sectors are at the forefront of the green technology impact on how a business looks to grow and develop in the future. These sectors also provide interesting approaches and insights on how consumers and businesses can impact the environment through small changes in behaviours and choices.
Clean energy is probably the most well-known environmental industry, from wind farms to solar panels. Clean energy is technology that creates energy from renewable, zero emission sources. These are probably the most familiar technologies to us out of all green technologies.
Many companies in this sector are thriving through businesses and consumers demanding access to green energy, supported by the emergence of a number of challenger energy providers who can offer green energy at a competitive rate and have enjoyed rapid growth.
One of the most recent developments in clean energy is floating solar panels which removes the use of soil while still allowing the capture of energy from the sun. This is a promising growth trend for this sector and has been widely tested in Japan, China and Southeast Asia, countries which will need this adaptation in order to cope with their lack of accessible land. Water-based panels also improve the performance of panels as the water and winds cool the cells.
The use of renewable hydrogen opens up a new opportunity for businesses, set to grow to a size similar to the oil and gas industry with much lower rates of emissions, there is a lot of potential here that has been grasped by industry experts.
Over 10 countries are currently competing to be world leaders, and Air Liquide is one company who has recently announced plans to introduce 200 hydrogen filling stations across the US by 2025.
With so much clean energy already present in our lives, this sector presents many promising opportunities for development, whether that be in wind, turbo, geothermal, solar or somewhere else. The technology is accessible with lots of work already completed which allows new innovators room to adapt, develop and grow the already-existing technology.
When referring to built environment, we mean buildings and human structures. The adoption of green technology in construction helps to increase the efficiency of the building in staying warm or cool, using water effectively and ensuring that your building materials have a low impact on the environment.
From simple things such as green insulation made from recycled materials to electrochromic smart class that electrically charges windows to change the amount of solar radiation they reflect, the choices range wildly between simple solution and ultra-technological design.
Biotecture is a company that designs and builds living walls made from plants for community and work spaces, reconnecting people with nature in their everyday spaces. The company can create both interior and exterior living walls that provide a calming feel to any space.
They have created work for Centrica, Heathrow Airport, Smeg stores and other spaces, making a stand-out impact on visitors and workers who regularly use these spaces. By introducing plants, the interior air quality is improved and the actions taking place within the space improve too.
Transport encompasses public and personal transport as well as the transportation of goods around the world. In the clean tech sector, the main discussion is currently around the use of cars, electric cars and charging stations for electric cars.
Governments are placing bans on the creation of new petrol and diesel cars to accelerate the industry’s development and the public’s uptake of electric vehicles, making developments in this area crucial to car manufacturers and the success of electric vehicles with the public.
AFC energy recently unveiled a new hydrogen-powered rapid charger to support the introduction of electric vehicles and improve options of charging vehicles efficiently. The charger, called CH2ARGE, sees compressed hydrogen delivered to on-site units that use the gas to generate electricity, stored in a 40kW battery which can then be used to rapidly charge an electric vehicle.
Environmentally friendly practices can be implemented at almost every stage of the supply chain. From packaging options to transporting goods, companies can choose green solutions to help decrease the environmental impact of their business and products. These options are becoming more popular due to being cost-effective and planet-friendly.
Examples of green technology in the supply chain may be ethical sourcing, closed-loop manufacturing and reducing fuel emissions. Consumers are becoming more invested in the impact their purchase may have on the planet so will carefully research a company’s supply chain before considering buying.
Greenpeace have created a report which documents the progress made by industries and companies globally – Destination Zero. The report also highlights barriers and makes suggestions for how these could be overcome in the future, challenging the global market to do better and strive for further progress.
With relation to drinks, Good Things Brewing Company, based in Sussex, UK, has recently unveiled a closed-loop brewery and implements several green options within their supply chain, such as using cans instead of bottles as they are lighter to transport and using a fleet of electric vehicles to deliver their products.
The closed-loop brewery means they keep their sources within the loop of their brewery, treating waste on site and using the water elsewhere in the business as well as creating their own energy through photovoltaic panels.
The future of green technology
As the market of green technology grows there are new opportunities for businesses and governments to fund prospective projects and ideas that may grow into a world-saving technology. As climate change and environmental issues have been carefully portrayed as societal, governmental and individual issues, the general public are looking for ways to support and promote products and practices that are friendly to the planet.
Investing is becoming a popular way to save and grow money towards financial goals and through the development of investing platforms and the prominence and access of finance education on social media platforms, more people are considering investing their money in order to make it grow.
With this readily available information and climate issues at the forefront of society, green investing (or ESG investing) is gaining traction with investors around the world. The coronavirus pandemic has intensified discussions about the interconnectedness of finances and green technology, resulting in key trends in climate change and social unrest emerging as areas important to investors.
What is ESG Investing?
ESG stands for Environmental, Social and Governance. These are non-financial factors that can be selected when you choose to invest your money. These factors are not mandatory but companies are increasingly disclosing information linked to their sustainability.
There is also demand from investors for these factors which is, in turn, influencing companies to disclose and ensure they look good to secure investors’ wealth.
It is key to know that there are no ESG standards that companies have to follow, therefore there is not one list for comparing. ESG factors link and can be hard to classify in one area and the factors can often be measured but sometimes do not have a monetary value.
ESG investing is similar to Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) but they are not the same. SRI has a process of screening with a specific set of criteria whereas ESG looks for a broader sense of value.
Cleantech and climate tech are amazing areas of technology and innovation, offering up opportunities to support businesses, agriculture, health and future generations.
Green technology has seen real ebbs and flows in public interest and government support, but in 2021 it looks like green technology is only going to rise and rise through government targets to reduce the climate’s temperature growth and through the empowerment of individuals looking to invest their money where it will make an environmental and social impact to support generations to come.
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