BNEF Pioneers Competition 2021: Seeking the Best Climate-Tech Innovations

We are pleased to announce that BloombergNEF’s annual technology and innovation competition – BNEF Pioneers – is now accepting applications! BNEF has run a startup innovation competition for the past 11 years, in total awarding 105 companies with the title of “BNEF Pioneer”. In 2021, we are updating the program to focus on innovations moving the world closer to net zero.

What is BNEF Pioneers?

For more than a decade, the BNEF Pioneers program has identified 10 game-changing technologies or innovations annually – each with the potential to accelerate global decarbonization and halt climate change. Pioneers can be innovators serving the energy, transport, materials, manufacturing, consumer and agriculture sectors − or providers of solutions and technologies that help increase understanding of the climate, scale-up carbon capture, utilization and storage or promote climate adaption.

What’s new this year?

Since the inception of the BNEF Pioneers program a decade ago, cheap, clean technologies such as renewable energy and electric vehicles have changed the world. Although these technologies will decarbonize large parts of the world economy, there are still significant challenges to address in achieving net-zero emissions and slowing climate change. As we enter this pivotal decade in the fight against climate change, the Pioneers program will recognize transformative technology solutions that fill the remaining net-zero innovation gaps. Specifically, BNEF experts have chosen three net-zero challenges to focus on in 2021, addressing important frontiers of climate tech innovation.

Pioneers 2021 net-zero challenges:

  • Managing and optimizing long-haul freight: The transport sector was responsible for 22% of global CO2 emissions in 2020. A significant portion of these emissions come from road, maritime and airborne freight – areas with few near-term decarbonization options. The problem of decarbonizing long-haul freight is compounded because up to 40% of miles traveled are ’empty’. We need to find innovations to manage payloads better, match supply and demand to reduce empty miles, eliminate bottlenecks and route congestion, decarbonize cold-chain transit and protect perishable goods. These could range from IoT software to quantum computing, better forms of city planning and new cold storage materials.
  • Advancing materials and techniques for sustainable products: From concrete to steel, plastics and electronics, everything we use has a carbon footprint. Creating these products generates about 20% of global emissions and decarbonization options are currently limited. Making high-quality, functional, carbon-neutral goods will involve innovations in materials and feedstocks, manufacturing techniques and product configurations. Designing for decarbonization can include creating products that are stronger, lighter, easier to repurpose or recycle, and longer lasting.
  • Monitoring and understanding our changing planet: Humanity has emitted over 1,500 gigatons of carbon dioxide since the industrial revolution, raising the atmospheric CO2 concentration to over 410ppm. To tackle climate change we must understand more about greenhouse gas emissions, as well as how the natural systems around us absorb them. New innovations must help us understand more about our planet’s carbon cycle and enable us to better monitor carbon sources and sinks. Innovation gaps include accurate detection and tracking of greenhouse gases, monitoring and managing the carbon systems within our sea, forests and lands, and technologies that can identify and predict planetary changes.

Beyond these three challenges, we will select a wildcard as our 10th Pioneer. This winning entry can address any issue that helps the world decarbonize, and we encourage submissions for all climate-tech solutions that lie outside the three challenges outlined above.

Who can apply?

BNEF Pioneers have historically been early-stage startups. This year we are expanding our criteria to take applications from:

  • Early-stage climate-tech companies that can be for-profit or non-profit, private, public or subsidiaries
  • Any innovative pilot projects or joint ventures working on net-zero challenges
  • NGOs, university or state-sponsored labs, and any other innovation groups creating net-zero products or technologies with commercial implications

Application details: Applications are now open and will close on February 19, 2021. For more information or to apply, please visit the Pioneers webpage. For any questions about the competition, please email


About BloombergNEF

BloombergNEF (BNEF) is a strategic research provider covering global commodity markets and the disruptive technologies driving the transition to a low-carbon economy. Our expert coverage assesses pathways for the power, transport, industry, buildings and agriculture sectors to adapt to the energy transition. We help commodity trading, corporate strategy, finance and policy professionals navigate change and generate opportunities.
Sign up for our free monthly newsletter →

Want to learn how we help our clients put it all together? Contact us