Each year, BloombergNEF runs the BNEF Pioneers competition to identify three key challenges in building towards a net-zero economy, and highlight innovative companies developing technologies to overcome these challenges. The challenges are chosen based on the technology gaps that emerge from BNEF’s long-term outlooks on energy, transport and materials.
Descriptions of each of this year’s challenges, why they were selected, and the finalists of each challenge for the BNEF Pioneers 2022 are outlined below. Also listed are the companies named as wildcard finalists. These wildcard finalists are developing technologies that BNEF believes could have an important role in decarbonization but were outside the scope of the three focus challenges.
Challenge 1: Providing round-the-clock zero-emissions power
Solar, wind and existing storage technologies can provide around three-quarters of our electricity needs in future, but to reach net-zero emissions requires other technologies to close the remaining gap. Eliminating the use of unabated fossil fuels, affordably, could require innovation in new and/or improved forms of net-zero baseload generation; technologies that can store renewable electricity for long periods of time; or technologies that can provide inertia, other forms of frequency and voltage regulation, and bolster system strength.
Challenge 2: Scaling long-term carbon removal technologies
Meeting net-zero targets will first and foremost require rapid, deep emissions reductions, but it is becoming clear that carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere will also be needed to avoid warming above 1.5 degrees. Calculations of how much removal is required vary dramatically, but BNEF’s Gray Climate Scenario requires 21.5 billion tons of carbon removal between 2023 and 2050, and Mark Carney has called for a $100 billion per year voluntary offset market. Current carbon removal projects rely on planting and protecting forests, but this can be hard to certify and is often only temporary removal. New innovations could include ways to improve existing nature-based carbon removals or finding ways to scale regenerative farming and ocean fertilization. Innovations for new technologies that offer measurable, scalable and long-term removal – such as direct air capture – must also be explored.
Challenge 3: Decarbonizing aviation
Commercial aviation accounts for 2% of annual global CO2 emissions and airplane contrails contribute towards global warming. As air travel becomes more affordable for an increasing share of the world’s population demand for air miles is set to triple between 2019 and 2050. While there is some promise in electrifying short-haul flights, and some use cases of biofuels and hydrogen, none of these have scaled. New innovations could include advances in these technologies, as well as new engine and component design, flight efficiency and traffic control improvements.
Wildcard finalists this year are focused on the sectors of battery innovation, point-source carbon capture from industrial flue gases, carbon negative materials for the textile industry, and decarbonising air conditioning.
Learn more about the BNEF Pioneers program and winners from previous years here.