Startup Innovations for Sustainable Materials: BNEF Climate-Technology White Papers

There is an urgent need to scale new climate technology innovations that can deliver equitable, economic and timely decarbonization. In May 2021, BloombergNEF released three white papers that analyze technology innovations and the early-stage companies developing them. These technologies could play an important role in addressing climate challenges.

These publications are part of BNEF’s climate-tech and innovation coverage, tied to our annual Pioneers competition. The Pioneers program identifies a group of game-changing technologies or innovations with the potential to accelerate global decarbonization and address climate change. In 2021, the Pioneers competition focused on recognizing innovators across three key challenges (see this year’s winners here). The BNEF white papers cover these challenges:

  1. Managing and optimizing commercial freight
  2. Advancing sustainable materials
  3. Monitoring and understanding our changing planet

The second paper, profiled in this article, focuses on strategies for making more sustainable materials, with a particular lens on how we can make materials using more sustainable feedstocks.

Advancing sustainable materials

The adoption of renewable power and electrification are decarbonizing some parts of the economy, yet continued reliance on fossil-based materials remains a significant barrier to reducing emissions. Locating sustainable feedstocks for making carbon-intensive materials and products is a major challenge. In this white paper, we analyze technology innovations, profile 52 early-stage companies and provide data on the $7.1 billion of early-stage venture money directed to these technologies since 2011.

Carbon utilization: The IPCC estimates that some 3.3 GtCO2e may need to be captured annually after 2050. To make carbon capture work, there will have to be effective, economic and long-term carbon storage options. This paper reviews new technologies for storing CO2 in concrete and for turning CO2 into petrochemical substitutes.

Taking advantage of under-utilized biomass: Bioenergy already supplies 10% of the world’s energy needs, but less than half of this is considered sustainable. To displace larger amounts of fossil fuels, companies could find new ways of converting waste and residual biomass to sustainable products and materials. This paper reviews technologies for converting agricultural and forestry residues to materials (by accessing lingo- and hemi-cellulose), and for converting algae and seaweed to materials.

Closing the loop: Of the 391 million tons of plastic produced in 2014, some 42% was discarded, and most of what was collected was incinerated rather than recycled. There is also a growing concern around waste lithium-ion batteries. Current recycling methods are often ineffective and costly. This paper reviews technologies able to convert used plastic to virgin-grade materials, technologies for higher quality battery recycling, and recycling automation and digitalization that will improve the sorting and tracking of waste.

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.
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