Climate change is real. If you are still in doubt about that, you might as well stop reading this now. Not only is the evidence for climate change irrefutable at this point, it is clear that the process is accelerating year by year. This is happening, whether we believe it or not.
Luckily, there are things that we can do to slow down, pause, and ultimately even to reverse climate change. Innovation in this area goes well beyond the most commonly known solutions like solar panels and EMVs. There are many areas of climate tech innovation that most people have not yet heard of. And collectively, they represent some of the biggest investment opportunities that the world has ever seen.
Slowing Down Climate Change
Cement: After water, concrete is the most used material on Earth. But cement production is responsible for three billion tons of CO2 annually, more than the aviation and rail industries combined. According to McKinskey, 75% of this CO2 can be eliminated by 2050. 80% of that reduction will come from new technology innovation.
Companies like Carbon Cure and Solidia, for example, turn CO2 from cement production into a solid, integral part of the cement itself, preventing its release into the environment. Minus Materials cultivates carbon-negative limestone for cement production using algae, sunlight, and seawater, while Biomason produces a cement alternative with calcite-producing microbes. Chement produces low-temperature cement with sustainable energy, drastically reducing emissions.
The global cement industry is on target to reach a $500B in market value within the current decade. For entrepreneurs and investors in this space, the opportunities are simply staggering.
Animal agriculture: Another major contributor to global warming is methane gas. Because methane traps heat 20 times more effectively than CO2, it is responsible for ~30% of global warming, despite its lower volume. Animal agriculture, principally the $600 billion dollar beef industry, is the single largest contributor to global methane emissions.
Given the difficulty of altering human behavior, we urgently need additional means to reduce methane, besides plant-based and lab-grown beef alternatives like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
They have arrived from innovative startups who aim to solve the problem at the point of livestock digestion. Bezoar Laboratories, for instance, make a probiotic bacteria additive for cattle feed that can reduce methane emissions by 50%. Others, like Symbrosia, Blue Ocean Barns, and Rumin8, use seaweed and other anti-methanogenic plants in cattle feed to improve digestion and reduce methane output. And Arkea Bio is working on a livestock vaccine against the microorganisms responsible for methane synthesis in a cow’s digestive system.
Each of these innovators claim to reduce methane emissions by 80-85%!
Pausing Climate Change
The energy sector is responsible for ~75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. But is it possible for us to completely rid ourselves of petroleum and natural gas? This question has helped create the greatest breadth and depth of innovative solutions—in both energy generation and storage.
Energy Generation—Besides wind and solar, there’s one highly untapped source of renewable energy, and it’s all around us—the ocean. Now, startups like Calwave are using special devices anchored offshore to capture and convert the force of waves into clean, cost-effective energy.
Another innovative energy idea is pyrolysis—splitting a compound into its basic elements under high heat. The Hazer Group and Monolith, for instance, split methane (CH4) into pure hydrogen fuel and high-quality graphite or carbon black, each used in a wide range of industrial applications. Likewise, Amogy has worked out how to safely and cleanly convert ammonia (NH3) into hydrogen fuel for tractors, 18-wheelers, and commercial ships, promising up to 10% reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory made exciting progress towards the holy grail of clean, safe, and limitless energy—cold nuclear fusion—but it is still at a very nascent stage.
Energy Storage—Renewable energy sources like wind and solar have one significant shortcoming: When the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, there is no energy generation. It is therefore crucial to have reliable and cost-effective means to store energy for future use. The cheapest solution is pumped storage hydropower, which leverages gravity to cheaply store energy. But this system requires water reservoirs adjacent to alternating elevations, which are naturally scarce. Hence, Energy Vault created man-made towers and concrete blocks to mimic pumped hydropower, at a cost that may soon approach that of the original.
Annual global investment in renewable energy is estimated at about 2.5 trillion dollars. The opportunity for innovators and investment in this space is enormous.
Reversing Climate Change
To avoid a cataclysmic outcome, it’s not enough to reduce the amount of carbon we are pumping into the atmosphere. We must begin removing it. That is already happening via the direct air capture (DAC) process, wherein ambient air is drawn through large, outdoor fixtures, and an absorptive material sucks out carbon from the air. The DAC market, led by ventures like Carbon Capture< Carbon Engineering, and Climeworks, is predicted to grow at nearly 40% CAGR, reaching $1B in market value by 2050.
Other carbon capture innovations have emerged from Verdox, which uses electro-swing adsorption to separate carbon from air, using electrodes, Charm Industrial, which converts excess biomass from farms into a CO2-rich liquid which can be stored underground, rather than released into the atmosphere through combustion or decomposition, and Carbon Limit, whose building material supplements suck carbon from the atmosphere like a sponge.
These methods offer exciting and vital options for reversing the damage we have done to our atmosphere, but they are all still subscale and need work to bring down both CapEx and OpEx before they can be widely deployed.
Collectively, the opportunities to slow down, pause, and reverse climate change contained in this article represent many trillions of dollars in market size. And this just scratches the surface! The climate crisis is worrisome, indeed. But not only is it the investment opportunity of a lifetime, it is simultaneously an opportunity to—quite literally—save the world.