Six Climate Innovators Make Waves at TED Countdown

The four-day summit spotlighted ventures that champion climate solutions across fertilizer, aquaculture, electrolysis, metals, concrete, and aviation, with sessions facilitated by leaders from BCG and BCGDV.

By Danielle Ullner, Kanika Chandaria, BCG Digital Ventures, and Marco Duso, BCG

As BCG Green Ventures, the new joint offering from BCG and BCG Digital Ventures (BCGDV), continues its commitment to accelerate climate action through innovation while creating value for both shareholders and society, we collaborated with Prelude Ventures to host six game-changing ventures at the recent TED Countdown event.

Danielle Ullner, MD & Partner, BCG Digital Ventures and BCG Green Ventures, shared, “We launched BCG Green Ventures to invest in, co-build, and scale sustainable businesses, so attending TED Countdown and speaking to like-minded collaborators only reinforced our commitment and enthusiasm about this initiative.”

In addition to being an urgent societal mandate, climate action is a major value creation opportunity, generating shareholder returns at levels similar to those of such high-flying tech firms as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Venture capital investment into climate tech is growing at five times the average rate across all industries.

“There has frankly never been a better time to be a climate tech entrepreneur,” stated Marco Duso, Principal, BCG and BCG Green Ventures.

Joining politicians, business leaders, policy makers, scientists, indigenous peoples, artists, philanthropists, youth activists, and others from around the world, the first-ever in-person TED Countdown was held in collaboration with UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) to shine a spotlight on climate solutions and pathways to a net-zero future. BCG facilitated two sessions at the climate conference, featuring the next-gen climate innovators who are literally changing the world by making a net-zero future a reality.

Agriculture and Fuels:

Pivot Bio: Nitrogen’s Turning Point

Nitrogen fuels the world’s food supply. With soils depleted due to overproduction, synthetic nitrogen is estimated to have doubled food production since its introduction nearly a century ago. However, the use of synthetic nitrogen has also had unintended negative climate impacts. Farmers have had no choice but to use synthetic nitrogen — until now.

Pivot Bio has transformed the way fertilizer is produced and used by the world’s farmers. With their environmentally sound fermentation production process that replaces synthetic fertilizers, Pivot Bio’s microbes offer farmers a more efficient and sustainable nitrogen to fuel their crops and be more productive, profitable, and sustainable. And not incidentally, the microbes can reduce global GHG emissions by ~2%.

CH4 Global: Zero-Methane Aquaculture

Livestock naturally produce methane, a greenhouse gas that is shorter-lived than carbon dioxide but 86 times more potent over a 20-year period. But attempts to reduce methane emissions from livestock are either ineffective or not feasible for another 10 years. We can’t wait that long.

CH4 Global is creating a global aquaculture ecosystem to slash methane emissions from ruminant livestock and positively impact climate change. Specifically, the venture is growing the seaweed Asparagopsis and formulating it into supplements for cows and other farm animals, not only reducing their methane production by up to 99% but also positively impacting ~14.5% of global GHG emissions.

Enapter: Clean, Green Hydrogen

Hydrogen is used globally for chemicals, iron and steel, transportation, energy storage, and research. Yet because around 99% of hydrogen is still produced from fossil fuels, processing it emits huge amounts of greenhouse gases. The answer is water electrolysis.

Enapter’s highly efficient hydrogen generators make water electrolysis universal and affordable. This allows renewable solar and wind electricity to be stored during oversupply for later use. Hydrogen can be kept losslessly over a long period of time and later transformed back into electricity when required, with the potential to address ~25% of global GHG emissions.

Hard-to-Abate Sectors:

Boston Metal: Decarbonized Metals Production

Global steel production has more than tripled over the past 50 years and shows no sign of slowing down. Yet we’ve been producing steel in the same way for thousands of years — and it’s a major contributor to global CO2 emissions. It’s time to change that.

Boston Metal decarbonizes primary steelmaking with renewable electricity via its patented Molten Oxide Electrolysis process for high-quality, cost-competitive, and zero-CO2 products. There’s no coal and no coke; oxygen is the byproduct of this highly scalable, energy-efficient manufacturing process. Global GHG emissions could be lessened by ~7%.

Material Evolution: Carbon-Negative Materials

From Rome’s Pantheon to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, concrete has fortified the greatest structures in the world for millennia. But the carbon footprint of cement, concrete’s primary ingredient, is massive. How can we keep pace with rising global development without also raising global CO2 levels?

Material Evolution uses machine learning to formulate smart and sustainable “algorithmic concrete.” The resulting product is five times more durable than traditional concrete and reduces the carbon footprint of production by 85%. Cement production currently drives ~8% of global GHG emissions, so this is a major step forward.

ZeroAvia: Hydrogen-Electric Aviation

Transportation produces a third of the US’s CO2 emissions, more than even coal. And aviation accounts for over 12% of total transportation emissions, growing at the fastest rate on the way to doubling by 2050. Batteries have an unsuitable energy-to-weight ratio, and synthetic fuels still produce climate-warming non-carbon emissions. There has to be a real, truly scalable solution.

ZeroAvia is the first practical zero-emission aviation powertrain. Hydrogen-electric engines will enable zero-emission air travel with up to 75% lower fuel and maintenance costs. The company is developing a hydrogen-electric powertrain for 19-seat planes capable of flying up to 500 miles, and it will next tackle larger aircraft with the aim of true zero-emission flight being the status quo within 20 years.

“We desperately need to debunk the misconception that climate solutions are nonprofit and solely about doing the right thing. The climate innovators we are seeing today are disrupting sectors with solutions that are cleaner, better, and sometimes even cheaper than heavy-emitting incumbent solutions. This is about value creation and growth in every sense . . . and it’s happening now,” said Kanika Chandaria, Venture Architect at BCG Digital Ventures and BCG Green Ventures, about the urgency of BCG Green Ventures’ mission.

Climate innovation is needed everywhere, in individual companies as well as technology and business models. In order to achieve a net-zero future, we need to continue supporting entrepreneurs, technologists, academics, researchers, and leaders by giving them the means to take risks, act with forward-thinking vision, and create solutions with fervent passion. Together we can change the conventional wisdom and make the seemingly impossible possible.

Want to find out more? Start the conversation with BCGDV.

Find us on Twitter @BCGDV, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

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BCG Digital Ventures - Part of BCG X

BCG Digital Ventures - Part of BCG X

BCG Digital Ventures, part of BCG X, builds and scales innovative businesses with the world’s most influential companies.