The Clean Tech News
Cleantech Startup BluePhin Technologies Is On A Mission To Battle The Global Problem Of Water Pollution

“If we’re not creating social impact, then what’s the point, you know?” That’s how Simran Chowdhry explains the work she does at BluePhin Technologies, the cleantech startup that she founded and is now the CEO of. Her company’s product, also called BluePhin, is an autonomous robot that collects surface waste on water. As something that can be operated both manually and autonomously, the water robot sucks in and scoops up floating trash on water, much like a vacuum. Now, when you consider that about eight million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans every year (as per a 2019 National Geographic report), BluePhin’s capabilities offer a lot of promise in battling the scourge of pollution- and that’s what fuels Chowdhry’s mission for her enterprise.

Using robotics and artificial intelligence, BluePhin has been developed to have human-like senses such as vision and decision-making to allow it to locate and collect different types of waste, which includes plastic, algae, and other debris in water bodies like lakes, ponds, canals, marinas, ports, etc. Currently, BluePhin can run for 6-8 hours, and it’s able to “eat” around 300 half a liter of plastic bottles in one full run, without emitting any carbon emissions. Using its sensors, BluePhin can also share valuable data on water or air quality to researchers and provide insights (i.e. on pH levels) to stakeholders. The startup is already at work on developing its robot’s capabilities to include liquid waste collection, with the goal being for it to be one of the world’s most technologically advanced waste management solutions.

Source: BluePhin Technologies

It’s worth pointing out that throughout BluePhin’s ideation, inception, R&D, and current state, Chowdhry was (and still is) a student- in fact, as of writing, she’s in her last semester for her finance degree at the American University of Sharjah (AUS). The founder (along with co-founders Anand Parambil and Irfan Vakkayil, who have since exited the venture) had the idea for BluePhin as a college freshman student. “There was no dorm room epiphany moment,” Chowdhry recalls.

“Just endless nights with karak and a problem in front of us.” And it was the scale of this problem that spurred Chowdhry to action. “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (a collection of marine debris in the Pacific Ocean) is 20 times the size of the UAE now, and it’s growing- if we don’t act, we will have more plastic in our oceans than fish by 2025,” Chowdhry explains. “We have less than 11 years to save the planet, coral reefs are dying, several species are going instinct, and no one is taking action. We are merely debating the reality of climate change, and still pushing for great awareness. Not doing something about it was just no longer an option. For real impact, you need economic drivers that can’t be politicized or influenced.”

Chowdhry says she was always felt compelled to use entrepreneurial pursuits to solve issues- besides helping with building a variety of apps and platforms, the founder and CEO has also participated in several Startup Weekend events, and she was also part of startup competitions like the Hult Prize Competition that was held at AUS. During her freshman year of university, the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa) launched at the campus, wherein she joined Sheraa’s ideathon program, followed by its pre-seed and build program. Chowdhry credits Sheraa to having played a large role in bringing the startup to where it is today, noting that the program “played a vital role in shaping how you validated a problem and effectively tackle it.”

Source: BluePhin Technologies

BluePhin Technologies thus came into being in early 2018, and by May of that year, the startup had a basic prototype for its product. This led to a strategic memorandum of understanding with Bee’ah, a UAE-based recycling and waste management company, which allowed them to take their research and development phase to the next level, including an opportunity to conduct several site visits with the waste collection team in Sharjah’s Al Qasba Canal. By the end of that summer, Chowdhry and her team had their genesis model of BluePhin ready for operational testing, and with it, they went to compete (and win) the 2018 Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival Pitch Competition, as well as the Unilever Young Entrepreneurs Awards in the same year.

As a startup that is keen on working with partners to improve its product, the BluePhin team also underwent four weeks of testing in Dubai Canal with Dubai Municipality, which included seven internal trials, and, not to mention, long hours under the sun. After several such iterations, BluePhin pivoted from being a water quality monitoring unmanned surface vessel, to its final pilot stage as a waste collection system. “We are setting up strategic partnerships globally to help us validate its scalability,” Chowdhry says. “This is because the factors impacting BluePhin’s operations like, [for example] tides, are specific to the region and its geographic location.”

To ensure high impact, Chowdhry says she and her team are making it a priority to listen to their pilot partners, and working closely with them to maximize their efforts. And so far, they’ve hit their first customer milestone, and have also secured three global pilots. “We’ve offset more than 10,000 tons of carbon emissions during our trials, and are in the midst of our most recent software update,” she says. Currently, BluePhin’s base model is priced at US$6,000, and it can be customized to a particular location’s requirement.

Affordability was a key factor the team kept in mind to ensure it would generate high impact, especially in places where waste management solutions don’t exist, or traditional high carbon footprint alternatives were already in use. “We are up to 35% more economical, and 100% more environmentally friendly,” Chowdhry says. When it comes to funds, she says that winning competitions have given them a head start in that department, though they’re looking to open their first formal round of funding this year.

As a startup with a smart robot offering, Chowdhry says that it was essential for her and her team to get as much feedback as possible throughout its development. “During this process, as a founder, you need to learn how to filter constructive criticism from the rest.” This was important for Chowdhry to learn, since early on, though most people commended their work, a few said that BluePhin wasn’t innovative enough, to which Chowdhry responds with: “It didn’t matter, because our purpose was not to be ‘innovative,’ but rather to clean our water bodies, and prevent more waste, and that’s it.”

As for the road ahead, Chowdhry states that being truly autonomous is one of BluePhin’s main goals, with the enterprise planning to launch the smart robot in the US in March, with India also on the horizon. “We’re [looking to] expand our impact… Our ultimate goal is to eventually cease to exist, and effectively drive our global economy to a more circular economy, where there is no more waste for products like BluePhin to clean up.”

10 promising cleantech startups to watch in 2020 and beyond

With the Earth slowly approaching an environmental tipping point, the need to tackle climate change together is bigger than ever. At the forefront of this movement are cleantech startups, guided by the same motto of making the economy and the society more sustainable, efficient and clean.

Here are 10 European startups committed to making the planet better for the next generation.

NorthVolt – Founded by two former Tesla executives in 2016, Swedish startup Northvolt is a lithium-ion battery manufacturer that is ensuring sustainability in the entire process to enable electrification and efficient renewable energy storage. Currently, they are building a gigawatt-scale battery production facility, called Northvolt Ett, scheduled to open in 2021. Their client list already includes BMW, Siemens, Scania and ABB and at the end of 2019, the company pulled in €1 billion from the likes of BMW, Goldman Sachs and Ikea.

Sono motors – The Munich-based company Sono Motors wants to put the first solar car on the streets. Four years ago in 2016, Laurin Hahn and Jona Christians began working on “Sion”, an electric car, equipped with 248 solar cells, a range of 255 kilometers and a possibility to partially recharge itself up to 34 kilometers per day in the sunshine. In January 2020, the startup led a crowdfunding campaign, finishing up with €53.3 million in funding and hundreds of potential customers. With some luck, they should get their cars by 2022.

Zeleros – Zeleros is a Spanish startup, founded in 2016, leading the hyperloop development or the so-called “the fifth means of transportation”. At the heart of their project is an electric-powered transportation system, called hyperloop, for more efficient and sustainable movement of passengers and cargo worldwide, enabling travel at 1000 km/h using clean energies and energy-efficient infrastructure. If it sounds too good to be true, head to Sagunto, Spain, where they are currently building a 1.2-mile test track.

Zolar – With a vision to change the homeowner’s energy consumption to 100% green energy, Zolar enables homeowners to plan and configure a solar system with a few clicks online. Its online configurator seamlessly takes over the entire concept of the photovoltaic system, from planning to insurance and financing, all the way to the final installation. Four years after launching and €14 million in funding. Zolar is well set to democratize the energy sector.

Ecoligo – Founded in 2016, Ecoligo funds solar projects in emerging markets via an online platform. The platform called, functions as a crowd-investing platform for renewable energy projects and closes the finance gap that stops solar projects from being realized in developing countries. The Berlin-based startup has so far introduced its crowd-financed Solar-as-a-Service concept in East and West Africa, Central America and Southeast Asia.

Solytic – Berlin-based Solytic was founded in September 2017 with the idea of ​​digitizing the monitoring of PV systems. The software developed by the photovoltaic startup relies on artificial intelligence to optimize the operation of solar systems by analyzing the existing data, making operation and maintenance easier for the operator. In February 2020 Solytic closed a Series A round, raising almost €5 million from new investor EWE and existing investor Vattenfall, 2 of the top 5 utilities in Germany.

Energy Vault – Energy Vault is a Swiss energy storage startup, founded in 2017 that introduced a novel approach to storing energy: lifting giant blocks of cement with a crane as a form of mechanical energy storage. Combined with their patented system design and control software, this kinetic energy-based storage solution will be capable of storing 35 megawatt hours and delivering a peak power of 9 megawatts if required. The startup recently received €100 million investment from Japan’s SoftBank Vision Fund.

Instagrid – This Stuttgart-based startup is developing portable battery storage units, based on its ‘Software-Defined Battery’ technology. Founded in 2018 by Andreas Sedlmayr and Sebastian Berning, Instagrid’s solution offers flexible access to grid-like power for professionals on-the-move. Its compact and lightweight design, low operating costs and emission-free use convinced High-Tech Gründerfonds to make a seven-digit investment in 2019.

Lancey Energy Storage – Lancey’s solution goes a step further to make smart building real. The French startup, founded in 2016, is offering an intelligent and connected electric radiator, incorporating a lithium-ion battery, that allows users to both keep their home warm while at the same time reducing the electricity bill and the carbon footprint. With the promise of generating energy savings up to 50% of a user’s typical electric heating bill, Lancey was quick to attract both clients and investors, €10.2 million in funding and EDF and Groupe La Poste as clients.

Refurbed – Dubbed as “Amazon for refurbed electronics”, this Austrian startup is changing consumers’ perceptions of refurbished products. The company’s platform offers a 40% discount on used electronic products, with high quality, no risks involved, 30 days of free trial and a one year warranty. Founded in 2017 by Peter Windischhofer, Kilian Kaminski, and Jürgen Riedl, Refurbed is fighting the increasing amount of e-waste and its negative consequences on our planet.

Centrica, Volkswagen agree three-year deal for electric vehicle home charging

British utility Centrica has agreed a three-year partnership with Volkswagen to provide home-charging hardware for new electric vehicle owners, it said on Wednesday.
The deal will see Elli, the main provider of charging hardware and services for Volkswagen Group, work with Centrica’s British Gas to deliver a package of home-charging installations, after-sales services and electrical upgrades across Britain.

This will help customers to switch to electric vehicles, initially across the Volkswagen, SEAT, SKODA and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles brands, with plans for Audi to join later this year, Centrica said.

The British government has said it will ban the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2035 or earlier, subject to consultation, in an attempt to reduce air pollution.

Britain is also the first major economy to pass laws to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, compared with the previous target of at least a 80% reduction from 1990 levels.

Countries and cities around the world have announced plans to crack down on diesel vehicles following the 2015 Volkswagen emissions scandal and the European Union is introducing tougher carbon dioxide rules.

“Getting carbon out of transport by accelerating EV adoption is critical for net zero,” Sarwjit Sambhi, chief executive of Centrica Consumer, said.

Volkswagen Group has committed to introducing 80 electric and plug-in hybrid models by 2025 and sales of 3 million electric cars a year by 2025.

Chevron won’t follow rivals’ ‘aspirational’ climate goals, CEO says

Mike Wirth didn’t beat around the bush Tuesday: Chevron Corp. won’t go carbon neutral anytime soon.

Wirth, chief executive officer of the second-largest U.S. oil company, called the goals set by many European rivals “aspirational.” Instead, he said, Chevron will take a more realistic path for a major producer of fossil fuels with “concrete actions” to reduce carbon emissions within its own operations.

“We’ve not set long-term targets that we’re not exactly sure how we will get to,” Wirth said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “Our approach has been, get on the path, start taking actions, set short-term accountability metrics, make progress and start marching in that direction.”

By contrast, BP Plc last month committed to being carbon neutral by 2050, while Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Repsol SA and Eni SpA have pledged to make large reductions in carbon emissions over the long term. Those promises have won favor with environmentalists and investors. But, according critics, the companies have avoided the difficult truth that no large oil major has yet worked out how to produce carbon-free energy and also turn the big profits associated with oil and gas.

Still, Chevron’s modest climate goals could signify of a lack of ambition, said Jennifer Rowland, an analyst at Edward Jones. “For a business that measures not in years but in decades, you have to question, are they doing enough?”

At its annual investor meeting in New York on Tuesday, Chevron committed to financial targets for the next five years and outlined projects for the next decade. Its targets for “lower carbon intensity” emissions end in 2023.

Wirth’s comments could be a reality check for executives thinking they can have it all. The world’s supermajors are among developed markets’ most prodigious dividend payers. So far, solar, wind and battery storage projects haven’t shown they can fund such payouts over the long term.

At some point, oil and gas companies face a choice, according to Wirth. He said shareholders’ top priority is seeing improving returns in Chevron’s oil and gas business, and the company responded Tuesday by promising to shower them with $80 billion in cash over the next five years.

“If we do things that are only good for the environment and not good for shareholders, that’s not sustainable,” he said. “If we do things that ignore the environment and are only good for shareholders, that’s not sustainable either. It’s finding that intersection — that is the challenge.”

Both long-term aspirations and short-term targets are needed to reduce emissions to net zero by mid-century, according to Kathy Mulvey, a campaign director at the Union of Concerned Scientists. That is what the Paris accord says the world needs to prevent catastrophic climate change.

“It’s totally legitimate for people to focus on how to get to these targets,” she said. It’s hard to give Chevron the “benefit of the doubt” when its own goals are so limited.

Like Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron isn’t concerned about peak oil demand, because a surging global population will need all forms of energy, including oil and gas, many decades into the future, Wirth said. Companies with the lowest-cost assets will be the ones to produce those fossil fuels and Wirth said he is positioning Chevron to be in that category.

European energy companies expect that renewables will become a greater part of their overall production over time.

Chevron will only invest in renewable energy to “support” its oil and gas business for the time being, according to its presentation at the conference. It will continue to invest in novel early-stage technology that could replace oil and gas over time. Its previously announced emissions targets refer to intensity, meaning pollution per unit of energy, as opposed to total emissions, allowing oil and gas production to rise over time.

“It’s the dual challenge of more energy for a growing world and reducing the carbon footprint,” Wirth said. “People are going about it a little bit differently. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

European Investment Bank Launches Agriculture and Bioeconomy Loan Programme

In the wake of COVID-19 the European Investment Bank approves €700m to aid EU agriculture and bioeconomy industries.
The European Investment Bank (EIB) launched a new financing initiative that aims to inject approximately €1.6 billion of investment in the agriculture and bioeconomy sectors.

The Agriculture and Bioeconomy Loan Programme is directed at private companies throughout the value chains of food production and processing, bio-based materials, and bioenergy.

The loan programme offers direct lending to private sector investments from €15 million to €200 million. The EIB loan itself ranges from €7.5 million to €50 million. It will be guaranteed by the EU budget under the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), which forms the financial pillar of the “Investment Plan for Europe”.

These targeted investments support environmental protection and natural resource efficiency, as well as renewable energy, innovation, competitiveness, and energy efficiency initiatives within private cooperatives and companies in the agriculture and bioeconomy sector.

The loan programme also aids in rural development and territorial integration across the EU by creating and safeguarding employment opportunities in rural areas.

Origins of the lending programme
This lending programme is a continuation of the first €400 million Agriculture and Bioeconomy Loan Programme launched by the EIB in 2018.

The first lending programme was particularly successful with bioenergy and agriculture projects from corporate and co-operative counterparties in several EU countries including, France, Poland, Ireland, Italy and Latvia.

A factsheet with the terms and conditions, eligibility criteria and benefits of the Agriculture and Bioeconomy Loan Programme is available on the EIB website.

Input from European Investment Bank Professionals
EIB Vice-President for bioeconomy, Andrew McDowell, said: “Since the coronavirus pandemic reached Europe the EIB has been fully mobilised with the European Commission to deploy a support plan for the hardest hit SMEs, including those in the agri-food sector. Nevertheless, the EIB’s long-term financing of the sector continues in parallel, with a focus on innovation, climate action, environmental sustainability, and rural development.”

Speaking of the success of the programme, he went on to note,”The first €400 million of the agriculture programme loan has already supported 10 transformational investments for European agriculture that have also strengthened rural communities. With this second financing, we are providing an additional €700 million to build on this success and meet market demand.”

European Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, expressed the necessity of the EIB’s strategy, especially in the wake of the pandemic. He stated, “The coronavirus pandemic affects every single one of us and every single sector. In this dramatic context, I warmly welcome this second step in EIB’s strategy under the Investment Plan to finance measures deploying a support plan for the AGRI-food sector. I am strongly convinced that, this will be a very important and useful instrument in helping the sector remain robust and resilient to overcome the crisis.”

$10m Towards Ethiopia’s Sustainable Electrification

Welcoming the decision by the Trust Fund Committee of the Clean Technology Fund (CTF) to extend a $10 million loan for the development of the 50 MW Tulu Moyo Geothermal Power Plant project in Ethiopia, the African Development Bank acknowledges the need for renewable energy in facilitating development.
The CTF empowers transformation in developing countries by providing resources to aid the production of low carbon technologies with immense potential for long-term greenhouse gas emission savings. With their investment, CTF is now the first geothermal Independent Power Producer in Ethiopia, leading the way for the potential development of more CleanTech opportunities in the country.

This loan by the CTF is a positive step for sustainable electrification in Ethiopia. Anthony Nyong, Director of Climate Change and Green Growth at the Bank, stated “We welcome the participation of CTF in this project. This concessional resource will be instrumental in helping the country to diversify its energy mix by facilitating the deployment of renewable energy technologies while supporting Ethiopia in meeting the targets under its National Electrification Plan 2.0”.

The National Electrification Program (NEP) aims to achieve universal electrification by 2025. With this, there has been the development of The Ethiopia Electrification Program which aims to increase access to electricity in Ethiopia and enhance institutional capacity for planning and implementation of the government’s electrification program. This loan by the CTF will help with meeting the targets set by the NEP, as stated by Nyong, whilst reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the use of low carbon technologies.

Sustainability in Ethiopia
Consiting of the design, construction, commissioning and operation of a 50MW geothermal power plant, the project resides under a BOOT scheme (Build, Own, Operate and Transfer). The project will include a sub-station and an 11km transmission line.

The development of this power plant marks the first phase of the Ethiopian government’s plan to build a cumulative generation capacity of 150MW by 2024 whilst, as stated by Antony Karembu, Principal Investment Officer and Renewable Energy Specialist at the African Development Bank, “curb[ing] greenhouse gas emissions by over 10 million tonnes CO2 equivalent over its lifetime and will create around 600 jobs”. This project, therefore, is not only going to benefit the electrification of Ethiopia but aid the reduction of CO2 emissions whilst creating jobs for citizens, supporting its economy.

With the overarching objective to spur sustainable economic development and social progress in its member countries, the African Development Bank is contributing to poverty reduction in Africa’s developing countries. As highlighted by Karembu in his statement, this loan by the CTF will fulfil these overarching objectives, supporting Ethiopia’s social and economic development.

Taking steps towards a clean, industrial Africa
As a step towards industrializing Ethiopia and, in turn, Africa, the loan, which CTF approved on the 20th April 2020, is a critical step to the East African country’s drive to harness sustainable and resilient energy resources, both supporting its economy and livelihoods of the Ethiopian citizens.

In a world more conscious for the development of CleanTech and sustainable energy sources, the development of geothermal power plants, such as this one in Ethiopia, can aid the industrialization of developing countries.

As stated by Karembu, this Ethiopian power plant will create 600 jobs helping create a more industrialised workforce in Ethiopia. This is particularly significant when farming makes up 70% of the continent’s economy as there is potential for a shift from farming into industrialization through the need for CleanTech and sustainable energy sources.

The World Bank provided more than $11.5 billion in financing for renewable energy and energy efficiency in Africa’s developing countries. Not only creating jobs for citizens but giving them access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy.

The development of this new geothermal power plant is a strong step forward in the industrialization of Ethiopia and as stated by Leandro Azevedo, Principle Climate Finance Officer and CIF coordinator at the African Development Bank, “CTF will catalyze the deployment of renewable energy technologies in Ethiopia and will underpin future investments into the sector as first-mover risks are reduced and compliance requirements are better understood to all market participants”. Showcasing how this investment into the geothermal future of Ethiopia is a stepping stone to a new, clean, electrified country.

Viridor and Plastic Energy Announce UK Circular Economy Collaboration

How chemical recycling will integrate plastics into the circular economy.
Earlier this week, UK recycling giant Viridor announced a ground-breaking collaboration with PLASTIC ENERGY, marking a significant step towards the creation of a circular economy.

Both companies have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), with feasibility work is now underway to develop a facility that “makes plastic infinitely recyclable by returning it to recycled oils”.

If successful the project could return up to 30,000 tonnes of previously unrecycled plastic into the UK economy each year, with completion estimated as soon as 2023.

As explained in a press release on Monday:

“Viridor would provide predominantly low-density plastic film – a stream traditionally not recycled due to contamination – to a PLASTIC ENERGY chemical recycling plant. This project envisages a plant co-located with a Viridor energy recovery facility, allowing PLASTIC ENERGY to draw low-carbon electricity generated from the process Viridor uses to put non-recyclable waste to work as a fuel source.”

The facility itself is to be owned, run and operated by PLASTIC ENERGY, who through Thermal Anaerobic Conversion (TAC) will transform this previously unrecyclable plastic waste into TACOIL. This optimal feedstock can then be used to produce clean recycled plastics (Plastic2Plastic) in collaboration with chemical companies such as Ineos, with PLASTIC ENERGY announcing a partnership with them late last month.

Integrated with Viridor’s polymer investments, this project is set to provide a more complete plastic recycling solution through chemical recycling, reducing plastic waste and increasing overall circularity.

The Circular Economy
Plastic waste has long been a topic of both public, and governmental concern. In the UK alone over 2 million tonnes of plastic packaging are used every year, the majority of which end up either in landfill, or exported abroad.

On a global scale, plastic waste figures are even more staggering, with only 9% of the 8.3 billion tonnes of virgin plastic produced worldwide having been recycled, according to a 2017 Science Advances paper.

This cycle of waste is driven by the nature of our economy, which at present is wholly unsustainable. To move towards a carbon net-zero future, our linear path of consumption from manufacturing, to use, to disposal must change through a shift towards a circular economy.

As defined by Plastics Europe, “in a circular economy, we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of their service life. As a result, a circular economy also offers a way to improve Europe’s competitiveness and resource efficiency.”

“The unique characteristics of plastics enable them to play a major role on the road to a more sustainable and resource efficient future,” Plastics Europe continues, outlining their crucial role in construction, renewable energy and as food waste reduction through packaging.

The role of plastics has become even more essential in the present day, as they continue to protect our front-line healthcare workers against the spread of COVID-19. However, although instrumental in ensuring worker safety, this surge in single-use plastic waste poses long term risk to both the environment and human health.

In a recent report, The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) concluded that to mitigate the detrimental effects of plastic waste on a global scale, they must be integrated into a circular economy through recovery and reuse.

Requiring a “fundamental and systemic reforms are required along the whole value chain”, the EASAC recommends several key strategies for addressing these issues, beginning with the development of advanced recycling and reprocessing technology. The EASAC notes that for some materials recycling remains “exceptionally difficult, and a range of options need to be developed to extract value from current low- or negative-value mixed plastic waste.”

As Ineos Olefins & Polymers Europe CEO Rob Ingram said in a press release late last month:

“To take plastic waste back to virgin plastic is the ultimate definition of recycling and will create a truly circular economy solution.”

Therefore, through harnessing the power of chemical recycling, the collaboration between Viridor and PLASTIC ENERGY marks a significant step forward in this area, with enormous potential to reduce plastic waste if done at scale.

However, the EASAC goes on to conclude that “voluntary mechanisms and market mechanisms are insufficient to address the problem.”

Professor Michael Norton of the EASAC argues that “European legislators should adopt rules and incentives to speed up the move toward a circular plastic waste economy. We have to reuse plastic goods and packaging, drastically improve our recycling and, above all, see that no waste is leaked into the environment.”

Therefore, although these innovations mark an important advancement towards these goals, the responsibilities of governments, and legislators should not be overlooked. Rather, as emphasised in a recent report entitled ‘’Plastic packaging – How do we get to where we want to be?’, change must be collaborative, with private and public stakeholders working together to solve the UK’s waste problems.

As the leader of the study Dr Eleni Iacovidou explains:

“The complexity of the plastic packaging system means that there is no one perfect solution to the many problems that plague the plastic packaging system and that a number of targeted, informed ways of addressing these issues is needed.”

As a result, moving forward government agencies such as DEFRA should work with Viridor, PLASTIC ENERGY and Ineos to support and further these developments.

Official Comments
Phillip Piddington, Managing Director of Viridor, said: “This project is further evidence of Viridor’s ongoing commitment to investment and innovation to push the boundaries of what is recycled and reprocessed in the United Kingdom. We are very proud to be working with Plastic Energy to develop a project which further demonstrates how all waste can be considered a resource and not rubbish and that collaboration is the key to achieving our green economy goals.”

Carlos Monreal, Founder and CEO of PLASTIC ENERGY, said: “We are delighted to support the development of an integrated site with Viridor in the UK and provide a solution for plastics previously not recycled. Chemical recycling will support government’s goal to move towards a circular economy and to increase recycling rates for plastics, effectively making plastic waste a valuable resource.”

Energy for Tomorrow – Championing Energy Innovation Despite COVID-19

How this new fund is thriving in spite of current limitations.
Today’s society faces a significant energy challenge. As the climate crisis grows in severity, and net-zero obligations remain largely in place, traditional energy solutions are no longer enough. Rather, to drive the necessary reduction in fossil fuels, cultivating a sustainable energy mix has become essential, and creativity and innovation more important than ever.

This is an ideology that lies at the heart of Centrica’s pioneering Energy for Tomorrow (EfT) fund. This new grant scheme, which launched earlier this year, provides up to ten organisations with the opportunity to secure between £100,000 to £500,000 to develop their proposed ideas, supporting energy innovation despite current economic, and logistical limitations.

Through this program, EfT hopes to build a better society, delivering affordable, accessible and reliable clean energy, alongside positive social impact.

In an interview with CleanTech News, Program Manager Sarah Wright tells us more.

Motivations & goals
“The fund was set up originally and has still has a mission of tackling climate change, but to do that with a social impact.” Wright begins.

“We started off as a corporate responsibility solar panel project where we installed solar panels onto the rooves of around 260 schools throughout the UK. That was at a time when solar panels were the newest technology…the schools benefit from the electricity they generate, there was a CO2 reduction because of what they were saving, and Energy for Tomorrow received the feeding tariff that was generated from those panel systems.”

The solar panels continue to save each school almost £2,500 each year, collectively offsetting 1.5 tonnes of CO2.

“That became our revenue,” Wright continues “and we use that to award the grants to the entrepreneurs and the start-ups that have energy-related propositions and can demonstrate that social impact.”

In addition to this inaugural solar panel project, 2020 marks the end of the pioneering Cornwall Local Energy Market, to which EfT awarded £2 million in 2018. Alongside a £13 million grant from the European Regional Development Fund, this project supported the installation of new solar generation and storage units to over 150 homes and businesses in the area, testing the role of flexible demand through a new virtual marketplace with the hopes of driving down household bills.

With research to conclude this year, the project has been a resounding success, demonstrating the potential of innovation to reduce environmental impact, and cost at the same time.

Applications & the impact of COVID-19
Having launched amongst the COVID chaos, EfT could easily have become another casualty of the pandemic. However, this could be further from the case.

“We’ve had a fantastic response for applications, and our deadline is next Friday so we still have a week to go, and we have 80 applications already,” Wright says.

“We put a very broad theme around the call for applications which was energy solutions to make people’s lives easier and more sustainable,” she goes on to explain. This includes initiatives that relate to energy efficiency and affordability, as well as those that focus on community energy projects in general.

However, although the fund centres around energy solutions, Wright stresses EfT encourages breadth, including a unique ‘wild card’ category to submissions.

She explains that “being a new fund people don’t really know who we are, and what we’re trying to achieve. We’re obviously trying to focus on our theme, but we don’t want to miss anything – so the purpose of the wild card was really to find out what else was on the market place…that could perhaps shape our next initiative.”

When asked about the focal areas that have emerged in applications so far, Wright details that alongside ‘standard’ applications:

“We’re seeing that the current COVID situation is making people think a little more outside the box of what perhaps cleantech and sustainability is, and trying to add that in to take into account the current situation.”

Examples include an incubator program for furloughed or unemployed energy workers, and the addition of virus detection layers to energy monitoring systems.

Alongside these COVID-19 focuses, other areas of note include energy from waste, energy retrofits, and hydrogen applications, with many sharing common threads of accessibility.

“I think there is a lot of focus as well in the apps we’ve seen in making renewable energy measures accessible to all,” Wright says.

Using the example of solar panels as a technology with a large capital outlay, Wright explains that “we’ve had applications looking at how you could tie in your mortgage with your green measures, and with your energy savings,” allowing access to these technologies where cost would have once made that impossible.

The importance of diversity
In addition to its core focus on sustainable energy solutions, a unique aspect of this fund is its admirable focus on diversity.

“I think diversity is really important to get in the different viewpoints, different experiences, and different ways of looking at challenges,” Wright explains, detailing that the proportion of female or minority founders at present is “pitifully low”.

“I think it’s one penny in every pound is given to female founders,” she estimates, supported by recent findings from Beauhurst that revealed 91% of all venture capital investment in the UK is raised by companies with all-male founding teams.

“But when you look on the flip side of that and look at the productivity, its 10% better with female-founded startups, and through general diversity, it can have a 19% productivity increase in innovation revenue. So, the figures are there to support what we’re focusing on, and it’s just about having that vehicle for funding everybody across the board.” Wright concludes.

With the deadline for applications this Friday the 29th of May, CleanTech News is excited to see the future directions of this fund, and the pioneering initiatives it supports.

For more information about this year’s applications, please click here.

Lightspeed & Plug and Play – Investing Through Challenging Times

Barry Eggers & Saeed Amidi talk previous experience, current opportunities, and future trajectories in investment.
The COVID-19 economy is one defined by uncertainty, with many firms both large and small facing stagnation as global trade grinds to a halt. Lacking capital security, these times are particularly challenging for start-ups and entrepreneurs, with market downturns leaving many – including Venture Capital (VC) funds – dreading the worst.

However, looking to the US, this future may not be as bleak at originally feared. As part of Plug and Play’s Fireside Chat series, last Wednesday Plug and Play CEO Saeed Amidi sat down with Barry Eggers, Founding Partner at Lightspeed, to discuss past experiences, current difficulties, and future trajectories in VC. Along the way, they also touched on issues of sustainability and the keys to their success, imparting insightful advice to aspiring venture capitalists and entrepreneurs alike.

Previous Experience
Focusing primarily on information technology infrastructure investments serving enterprise customers, Eggers track record is impressive indeed.

Boasting 23 years of venture capital experience, and 10 years of operating experience, Eggers previous roles notably include six years at Cisco. Recruited to the company by a friend from his Stanford MBA program, Eggers went on to establish many of the company’s largest distribution channels across OEMs, Service Providers, Distributors, and VARs. Since moving into VC proper, he has been named to the Forbes Midas List of top 100 investors multiple times and is now an incoming Chairman of the National Venture Capital Association, demonstrating both his reputation and skill.

With 28 years in the industry, Amidi’s experience is likewise extensive, a General Partner in Amidzad alongside his role as CEO of Plug and Play. The fund itself has been investing in technology companies for over 15 years and holds successful investments in over 1,000 technology companies, some of which are: PayPal, Powerset, Danger, Bix, Powerset, DropBox, Lending Club and Zoosk.

Sharing a common Stanford background, when discussing their career paths Eggers and Amidi reveal that the networks made during their education have played a crucial part in their success. Eggers, in particular, attributes his recruitment to Cisco, as well as several CEOs and limited partner investment to previous classmates, musing that the networking he gained may even be more helpful than the education – an important aspect to note for aspiring venture capitalists.

Current developments & future opportunity
After discussing the arc of their career progressions, Eggers and Amidi turned to the question on everyone’s minds – how will COVID-19 affect VC?

Beginning with the obvious, Eggers notes that the shrinking market will lead to financial austerity among start-ups, needing to conserve funds in this tumultuous economy.

“Something we often forget is we’ve had 10 years of bull market – you know that old adage ‘cash is king’? We need to remember that,” he says.

When asked about Lightspeed’s involvement in company management during this downturn, Eggers was clear that: “It’s the CEO’s job to make sure companies have the right cash flow to get to the next investment stage,” and not the fund’s direct responsibility.

Continuing in this vein, Eggers added: “I don’t have to go remind my companies to reduce cost, they know runway is important and typically when they reduce cost they become more efficient companies.”

As a result, Eggers is unwavering in his faith that the current downturn presents an exciting economic opportunity for funds to invest.

“The best companies are built in a downturn,” said Eggers “they do more with less. Investing is better because prices are lower, but we also believe companies will be built with more discipline from the beginning.”

Therefore, compared to previous frothy markets, new developments have the potential to be fruitful for VC firms and Investment Funds alike.

Eggers’s optimism also stems partially from the lessons we can learn during this crisis, which highlight the crucial importance of both cleantech, and wider green technologies.

“We’ve learned our food ecosystem is very fragile,” Eggers used as one example, noting recent supply difficulties in the US which meant “people were unable to get enough.”

Rather than simply restoring previous practice, Eggers says we now need to start re-evaluating and ask ourselves how we can change the food tech industry for the better. Whether through secondary markets, plastic packaging reduction, or changing consumption patterns, this is all part of an outlook he defines as “recycle, reuse and reimagine”, encouraging growth and investment towards sustainable, net-zero living.

Although their sustainability portfolio is not large at present, Eggers says Lightspeed need and want to do more to invest in the ecosystem of sustainability, as “huge waste equals huge opportunity”. This is an attitude already in practice in the case of Rothy’s: a company current in Lightspeed’s portfolio that makes shoes and accessories out of recycled materials.

Aptly summarized by Eggers, the sustainability solution is “ready for prime time”, with sustainable entrepreneurialism needed now more than ever.

Alongside sustainable practice, Eggers also notes developments in remote working, with large scale corporate models not only probable, but entirely possible, changing the ways we work for the better. This is especially true with the growth of AI, which Eggers stresses is an area in increasing need of investment, with a huge opportunity for change within the market.

Suggestions & advice
Although Eggers sets an optimistic scene set for the VC industry, there is no doubt start-ups and entrepreneurs are facing a significant challenge in the current economy. To help them, Eggers shared some advice, as summarised below.

What advice would you give to aspiring venture capitalists?
“Get some experience with early-stage companies, understanding how they work, what makes them tick, the issues they need to solve,” says Eggers.

“When you’re looking for VC job you want to pick a firm where the platform is strong enough you get good solid deal flow, you can get mentoring from senior investors, and where there is space to rise up the ranks.”

Essentially, you want to “establish a firm track record of your own success” by putting your name on projects, and building your reputation in the industry.

How do you encourage deal flow at Lightspeed?
Eggers says deal flow ultimately involves a lot of people prospecting.

“It’s a very steep ramp, you just want to soak up as much as you can…try to be there when they start the companies,” he advises. “Go to universities and see the research and how these opportunities could come to market.”

Eggers also stresses another key to success is sharing information, stating clearly: “VC is not an independent study it’s a collaborative environment.”

What do you look for when you invest?
According to Eggers, the most important aspect he looks for in a potential opportunity is the team. An experienced team is the most valuable part of the company, as in VC “The company takes twists and turns, and the team is the one that has to navigate that.”

Crucial to this are individuals who have both EQ (emotional quotient) and IQ; who can communicate, collaborate and understand while also having a high level of intelligence.

This is a combination difficult to master, particularly in California, as Eggers comments: “There’s a lot of IQ in the valley, but a shortage of EQ.”

Market opportunity is the second most important, representing an area Lightspeed devotes a lot of time to understanding as to be successful it has to be able to get grow overtime.

The product itself comes third, as it is the element that often pivots and changes the most, with the go-to-market strategy coming last, as it evolves after an understanding of the customer.

Plug and Play – The Future of Sustainable Investment

Global Sustainability Director Matthew Claxton talks investment, innovation, and Plug and Play’s future trajectories post COVID.
Founded 12 years ago by CEO Saeed Amidi, Plug and Play is a global innovation platform working with start-ups, corporations, VCs and international organisations to pioneer cutting-edge technological advancements.

Having grown substantially since its inception, the company now functions in three primary capacities, the first of which remains VC.

Focusing primarily on pre-seed, seed, and Series A opportunities, Plug and Play is one of the world’s most active start-up investors in the world, averaging between 200 and 250 investments per year. Ranging from $50,000 to $250,000, these investments have amassed to a portfolio of over 1,200 corporations, with 12 unicorns including PayPal, Dropbox, and Honey.

Alongside this VC focus, Plug and Play’s operations have now expanded to include corporate investment and start-up acceleration, boasting over 400 corporate partners, and 16 industry programs.

“We are a company that sits in the intersection of all of these players bringing them together on one platform,” summarized Matthew Claxton, Global Director of Sustainability for Plug and Play. “Today we have over 32,000 startups in our ecosystem and growing,” with a breadth of interests that encompass an incredible variety of industrial fields.

However, while their portfolio remains diverse, sustainability is a focus that is becoming increasingly crucial to Plug and Play’s global agenda. In an interview with CleanTech news, Matthew Claxton told us more.

Ethos of Sustainability
Although Plug and Play’s interests in sustainability are longstanding, beginning only a year ago, their targeted Sustainability Innovation Platform represents a relatively new aspect of their operation.

“2020 is the year of sustainability and social impact,” said CEO & Founder Saeed Amidi, addressing this marked acceleration in the company’s drive towards sustainability.

“Companies around the world are waking up to the reality that sustainability is no longer a ‘nice to have’ in their company, but it is a must have in the company and their culture.”

This is an ethos echoed by Claxton when explaining the programs motivations:

“We saw that the startups who had sustainability-focused business models or products weren’t quite getting the attention they deserved so we designed a program that aligned with the UN’s 17 SDGs to give them the attention they deserve.”

Although their work spans a variety of these UN goals, “When you really think of Plug and Play and what we’re doing in sustainability, it much more aligned with number 17”, says Claxton. “We’re bringing all these partners together onto one platform to engage in a very strategic way, where we’re able to connect key stakeholders, and drive real innovation and impact.”

Today, Plug and Play aims to find and elevate sustainable solutions that will centre around plastic waste reduction, water resilience and circularity. Drawing on his decade of experience in the industry, Claxton says:

“We’ve designed sustainability very purposefully where it’s looking at short term solutions for immediate problems, as well as some longer-term ones…Plastic waste initiatives now feed longer term into the circular economy, and then water later down the line because it is needed, but that innovation maturity takes a lot longer.

So, the three working in unison are able to solve a lot of the global environmental problems we’re seeing and really spur innovation and inspire more people to become excited and engaged.”

Ending Plastic Waste
The founding principle focus of P&P’s sustainability program is its focus on plastic waste, launching formally in October 2019 with the Alliance to End Plastic Waste.

Supported by a $1.5 billion fund generated by a coalition of 56 companies, the Alliance aims to end plastic waste by engaging global stakeholders to spur education, innovation and growth in this space.

Plug and Play’s primary role is the operation of the fund’s three regional accelerator programs, running in Silicon Valley, Paris, and Singapore. With the top ten start-ups chosen from each location, these programs will run between three and six months, helping entrepreneurs with everything from investment, to future growth strategies.

Speaking at this year’s virtual Paris Selection Day, President and CEO of the Alliance Jacob Duer said:

“Today the world is facing a silent calamity – a calamity of 8 million tons of plastic waste entering our oceans every year. This equates to fifteen garbage trucks flowing into our rivers and seas every single minute.

Plastic use has exploded across all sectors at a rate that is much faster than the infrastructure that is needed to manage the waste associated with it, and it is the lack of these integrated waste management systems that is our greatest challenge today.”

Water Resilience & Circularity
Circularity and Water Resilience remain longer-term goals of Plug and Play’s sustainable innovation platform, with plastic waste remaining key to both,

Beginning with circularity, connecting collectors with the end-use markets, and pioneering recycling technology remain key to combatting the linear plastic economy, and a core focus of Plug and Play’s sustainable strategy.

One recent example cited by Claxton is the recent collaboration between UBQ Materials and Daimler-Mercedez, aiming to produce car parts for Mercedes-Benz vehicles from 100% recyclable thermoplastics.

Focusing next on water resilience, Claxton explains:

“Water is one of the most fragmented spaces out there and really needs innovation, especially in the midst of COVID.

People haven’t really been able to get to those facilities to maintain the wastewater treatment plants, or the water recycling plants, or people have had to live at the facilities and rotate out.

So, this is where the need for digitalisation and innovation really come in, especially with all the vast amount of water scarcity in many parts of the world we really need to manage this resource, as its one of our most precious ones.”

Outlining their unique fluvial focus, Claxton states clearly:

“We do not focus on ocean clean up because we’ve seen a lot of capital deployed into that space and we’re not seeing a lot of progress, but if you invest in solutions to stop plastic waste at the rivers before flowing into the ocean, it is a far more effective.”

Investment & Acceleration through COVID-19
In light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Plug and Play like many others has been forced to change course, re-imaging their operations to ensure employee safety during these difficult times.

Although they have experienced limited delays with their Singapore program, Paris and Silicon Valley are now running virtually as planned, allowing for extensions as a result of initial logistical difficulties.

“Just because we’re in the middle of a pandemic doesn’t mean we have to hit pause on sustainability,” said Claxton. “Innovation and solutions are going to be needed more than every once we have made it through COVID.”

However, far from a hindrance to Plug and Play’s efforts in sustainability, these forced changes may have had a positive effect. As suggested by Duer:

“One thing is for sure, and that is resilience is critical in the face of calamity…calamities have often given rise to new thinking, that shape our societies, and SARS in 2002 is just one example.”

Claxton shares similar sentiments when discussing their virtual operations.

“What that’s really allowed us to do is engage as a global program and as a network. Our Paris selection day was actually one of our first virtual events, and the way we did that was to have the event shown in Paris, but also had it for a North and South American, and Asian time zones so that people from around the world could view these start-up presentations at a time that was suitable for them.

“You do lose the in-person networking, but it really opened the doors for more cross-collaboration – and what I mean by that is across the world collaboration.”

Looking to the future, Claxton remains overwhelmingly positive.

“I’ve been really excited about how all of these organisations and individuals have been able to come together…we’re never seen this type of excitement and engagement.”