Cleantech Innovate 2017 – the best bits!

A full day’s conference that showcases 35 innovators, all pitching for funding; Cleantech Innovate has the potential to be something of an endurance test for the audience. This year, however, while the seating in the famous Royal Institution’s amphitheatre remains as uncomfortable as ever, the overall quality of the presentations was excellent. Unlike previous years, none of the questioners felt compelled to ask: “Um, could you just explain exactly what you do again?”

Chris Huhne, Co-Chair ET Index Research, gave a powerful presentation to kick-off proceedings. His central theme was that we are within an unstoppable revolution, because the technology benefits are now more important than government policy in determining success. What’s more, from an investment perspective, low carbon now means low risk. More often than not, low carbon businesses are financially outperforming the market.

A few of the biotech pitches really stood out. When someone kicks off their presentation with the statement “We have the technology to solve world hunger” and later states that their approach is “as revolutionary as the plough”; you’re probably going to sit up and listen. The economics of Airponix’s agtech solution are impressive: 85% water saving and 4-18x yield over conventional agriculture means that it is economical for growing staple crops as well as higher-value produce. And the secret sauce? An inkjet print head that produces an irrigation ‘fog’.

The presentation from Green Lizard Technologies left me wondering why their solution isn’t mandated by government. I’m not a chemist, so excuse the simple explanation here, but my understanding is that they have a neat, cheap, sustainable way to synthesise dimethyl carbonate (DMC). DMC has multiple uses, but the stand out application is to create sootless diesel. Simply blending DMC with diesel reduces particulates by 80%, with no engine or infrastructure modifications required. Pollution levels in London this year are worse than Beijing, so just what, exactly, are we waiting for?

Moving on to low-carbon transport, ZAP Digital’s mission resonated with me. As a driver of an electric vehicle, you have to be pretty darn motivated and prepared if you want to charge your car away from home. Did I register with the company operating the charging scheme in Bristol? What about Oxford? Do I have the card with me? Have I downloaded the app and connected my credit card? Can I remember the password? If ZAP can realise its vision of creating a single interface to access and pay for charging, then charging away from home will become less of an ordeal for EV owners.

No self-respecting cleantech event is complete without a battery storage presentation these days, and Cumulus Energy Storage met the brief for this event. It is targeting grid-level storage based on proven technology (Copper/Zinc), which promises to deliver the lowest levelised cost of energy. To quote Cumulus’ CEO, “the market potential is seriously exciting”.

Highlights from the Energy Efficiency presentations included Resero Energy; a new entrant that has plans to shake up the utility market using a smart data engine, which dynamically balances demand with supply. The upshot for consumers is the potential to reduce their costs by 40%.

There are relatively few energy saving technologies that target the private rental sector today; few renters want to spend their money on home improvements that they can’t take with them when they move.  OpenTRV/Radbot is bucking the trend with a novel thermostatic radiator valve (TRV). Using machine learning and artificial intelligence the ‘Radbot’ senses presence and predicts occupancy to provide a ‘fit and forget’ approach to heating control. The TRV’s low cost should mean a quick payback, and if the renter moves on, they can simply take their TRVs with them.

Decarbonising the UK’s heating is a government priority, and one solution is to make better use of heat networks. Today, district heating schemes provide just 2% of the UK’s total heat demand. To drive that figure up, heat networks need better control mechanisms to improve their efficiency and residents’ comfort. Minibems’ solution provides real-time control and monitoring of pumps and other controls to reduce energy demand and costs.

It was heart-warming to see a cluster of innovations dedicated to dealing with waste and the circular economy. I’ve never quite understood the logic behind driving 26-tonne bin lorries around the countryside to pick up people’s garden waste, for example. I loved the simplicity of Binit’s proposition: a collective buying platform for waste collection services for SMEs would see white vans taking rubbish away as well as delivering goods.

‘Disruptive’ is too often used as a throwaway adjective these days. If you’re looking for proof points for a truly disruptive technology, consider Tecnored’s value proposition. Steel manufacturing today creates 10% of the world’s CO2 emissions and a single processing plant requires a billion dollars of capital investment. Tecnored’s steel manufacturing plant costs just $30m and enables the use of cheaper raw materials, including the use of biomass char as fuel.

Towards the end of the day, just as the audience was flagging, Savortex stepped up to deliver its adDryer pitch. To be honest, I was slightly sceptical about its value proposition at first. Displaying 10-second ads on hand dryers… really? Anyway, what do I know. Any business that manages to get a testimonial from Intel must have some serious kudos – it grabbed my attention anyway. Savortex presented a convincing business case with some impressive numbers, and easily won my quote of the day award by proclaiming that “Advertisers are demanding a lot of real eyeballs, rather than guesswork”. What’s more, its hand dryers use a third less energy than Dyson’s.

These were my highlights from a day filled with wall-to-wall innovation. Hats off to all the presenters – we hope they get the funding they deserve. And congratulations to the organisers for pulling off an impressive event.