News In Context

2024 Tech Pioneers Offer Ways For World To Escape Climate Hell

The planet just marked a new milestone: Every single month from June 2023 to May 2024 was the world’s hottest such month on record, according to new data from Copernicus, the European Union’s climate monitoring service.

Copernicus released its data on June 5, the same day as United Nations Secretary General António Guterres made an impassioned speech in New York that urged world leaders to swiftly take control of the spiraling climate crisis or face dangerous tipping points. “We are playing Russian roulette with our planet,” he said.. “We need an exit ramp off the highway to climate hell.”

The next day, the World Economic Forum provided some potential escape routes. Among the 2024 cohort of Technology Pioneers announced on June 6 were 14 companies working on both established and emerging green technologies in areas such as carbon-negative and circular materials, carbon capture, regenerative agriculture, alternative proteins, nuclear fusion as well as carbon-negative and circular materials.

“The 2024 Technology Pioneers are revolutionizing industries on a global scale,” Verena Kuhn, Head of Innovator Communities, World Economic Forum, said in a statement. “These innovators are leveraging the most advanced technologies to drive the radical changes needed to confront the world’s most urgent challenges.”

Take the case of Captura, which maintains that the ocean is the answer to reducing carbon emissions. Its Direct Ocean Capture system runs with just two ingredients: seawater and renewable electricity. The California-based company uses its proprietary membrane and electrodialysis technology to extract CO2 directly from seawater to be permanently stored or reused ( see the photo.) Once the carbon is removed, the ocean naturally draws down CO2 from the atmosphere to rebalance.

Other companies in the cohort have come up with novel ways to turn industrial waste into useful products.

France’s Dioxycle, for example, has developed a carbon electrolysis technology that transforms industrial emissions into sustainable ethylene, the most used organic chemical globally and integral in many everyday products, using only renewable electricity and water. It says it can produce this carbon-neutral ethylene at equal or lower costs to the fossil equivalent, offering an economically appealing route to decarbonize numerous industrial and commercial sectors. The French company says its sustainable ethylene can be used to make fabrics, piping, pharmaceuticals, solvents, adhesives, fuels, collants, packaging, construction materials, automotive parts, containers, detergents, furniture and more.

Canada’s Carbon Upcycling’s platform uses carbon dioxide emissions from any industry, combined with natural materials or industrial wastes—from coal plants, steel plants, glass manufacturing and more—to unlock new materials with improved performance and lower emissions.  Its innovative approach converts waste carbon into a circular asset, addressing the persistent reliance on fossil fuels and promoting material resource independence

The U.S’s Nth Cycle partners with industrial scrap recyclers, miners, and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to take a variety of feedstocks, including black mass, primary ore concentrates, and waste streams and refine them into metal products for the domestic clean energy economy. Recently, Nth Cycle announced that it would be the first company in the United States to offer a domestic nickel mixed hydroxide product (Ni MHP), helping the country to meet the goals of establishing a domestic supply of critical metals crucial for the growth of the electric vehicle sector established by the Inflation Reduction Act.

Switzerland’s DePoly focuses on the chemical recycling of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic back to its main components, creating a sustainable circular economy for plastics.

Some of the 2024 Tech Pioneers are decarbonizing in other ways. For example,to ensure that the CO2 stored by trees is permanently locked in, Germany’s Made of Air creates biochar from wood waste by burning it without oxygen. The recyclable material stores around two tons of Co2 for every ton of thermoplastic. Made of Air mixes the biochar with a binder made from sugar cane to create a material that can be melted and molded. The granules can be used in traditional plastic-forming processes such as injection molding and can be processed using the same machinery as regular plastic. The material produced can replace polluting materials like fossil plastic and aluminum. Made of Air spent two years co-creating a version of biochar that car maker Audi could use in the facades of its dealerships to replace aluminum. H&M, another client, has created a limited-edition pair of sunglasses with Made of Air’s biochar material. (For more on this company see The Innovator’s story).

In March the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations  announced that 2024 Tech Pioneer Brimstone Energy, a U.S. company specializing in industrial decarbonization, was selected to negotiate a $189 million federal award to finance the construction of the first commercial-scale plant deploying the company’s decarbonized process for producing cement. The first-of-a-kind plant would produce up to 140,000 metric tons per year of industry-standard ordinary portland cement, the cement used in virtually all construction globally, and another core concrete ingredient (supplementary cementitious materials, or SCM)—while avoiding 120,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

Meanwhile, another U.S. company, Heirloom Carbon, which is harnessing the natural powers of limestone to remove billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the air, has been awarded a contract from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstration  to establish one of the nation’s first Direct Air Capture (DAC) hubs in Louisiana, as part of a project called Cypress. Cypress is a partnership that involves Heirloom Carbon, Battelle, an independent nonprofit applied science research and development organization and carbon removal technology company Climeworks, a 2020 Forum Tech Pioneer.

Energizing The Fight Against Climate Change

Two of the 2024 Tech Pioneers – India’s Amperehour Solar and the U.S.’s Fourth Power – provide innovate ways of storing renewable energy while three others: Germany’s Marvel Fusion and Proxima Fusion and the U.S.’s Thea Energy are all working on fusion energy. (See The Innovator’s in-depth story about Proxima Fusion and its story about Marvel Fusion). Fusion energy has great potential as a safe, abundant, zero-carbon source of reliable electricity and is recognized as a potential game-changer in addressing climate change and rising global energy demand.

Developing fusion and other new solutions – such as energy storage peer-to-peer energy generation, green hydroge, electric car charging, and carbon management technologies –  at scale will require huge amounts of capital as well as new types of collaborations and actions by governments, financial institutions, and large corporates in traditional businesses.

Corporates can, for example, move whole markets by successfully deploying green alternatives and by partnering within and across industries to massively accelerate new technology development and decarbonization, says a January Forum report entitled: Bold Measures To Close The Climate Action Gap: A Call For Systematic Change By Governments And Corporates.

The Forum has created a group called Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a CEO-led community committed to accelerating the Net Zero transition by setting science-based targets, disclosing emissions and catalyzing decarbonization and partnerships across global value chains.

The 2024 Tech Pioneers will be invited to join Forum meetings and discussions throughout the year, offering them a chance to engage with large corporations and governments. The first event will be the Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2024, which takes place in Dalian, China June 25-27.

There is no time to waste, the U.N.’s Guterres reminded the world in his June 5 speech. “We are at a moment of truth,” he said, adding that the battle for a livable planet will be won or lost in this decade.



U.S. Sets Stage For Anti-Trust Probes Into Microsoft, OpenAI and Nvidia.

The U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission have reached a deal that clears the way for potential antitrust investigations into the dominant roles that Microsoft, OpenAI and Nvidia  play in the artificial intelligence sector, according to news reports.The agreement between the two agencies shows regulatory scrutiny is gathering steam amid concerns over concentration in AI. Microsoft and Nvidia not only dominate their industries but are two of the world’s biggest companies by market capitalization. Nvidia’s market value recently surpassed $3 trillion.

Jonathan Kanter, the U.S.’s top antitrust enforcer, said in an interview with the Financial Times that he was examining “monopoly choke points and the competitive landscape” in AI, encompassing everything from computing power and the data used to train large language models, to cloud service providers, engineering talent and access to essential hardware such as graphics processing unit chips. Regulators are concerned that the nascent AI sector is “at the high-water mark of competition, not the floor” and must act “with urgency” to ensure that already dominant tech companies do not control the market, Kanter said.

Note to readers: The Innovator highly recommends a June 7 well-resourced investigative story in The Wall Street Journal about the tactics of a  lawyer that has helped tech companies to fend off antitrust suits.

Silicon Valley In Uproar Over California AI Safety Bill

Members of California’s tech sector are protesting against a state bill that would force technology companies to adhere to a strict safety framework including creating a “kill switch” to turn off their powerful AI models, in a growing battle over regulatory control of the cutting-edge technology.The Californian legislature is considering proposals that would introduce new restrictions on tech companies operating in the state, including the three largest AI start-ups OpenAI, Anthropic and Cohere as well as large language models run by Big Tech companies such as Meta. The bill, passed by the state’s Senate last month and set for a vote from its general assembly in August, requires AI groups in California to guarantee to a newly created state body that they will not develop models with “a hazardous capability”, such as creating biological or nuclear weapons or aiding cyber security attacks. Developers would be required to report on their safety testing and introduce a so-called kill switch to shut down their models, according to the proposed Safe and Secure Innovation for Frontier Artificial Intelligence Systems Act.

But the law has become the focus of a backlash from many in Silicon Valley, who claim it will quash innovation and force AI start-ups to leave the state.


Optogenics Startup Aiming To Revolutionize Biomanufacturing Raises Fresh Funding

Prolific Machines—a California-based startup harnessing light-sensitive proteins to control cells used in biomanufacturing raised fresh funding from A-list investors that include Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Mayfield. Founded by stem cell biologist Dr. Deniz Kent (CEO), physicist and biomedical scientist Dr. Max Huisman (CTO), and computer scientist and ML engineer Declan Jones (CIO) in 2020, Prolific Machines introduces light-sensitive proteins to cells that are used to biomanufacture everything from vaccines to high-value ingredients used in infant formula. Rather than controlling cell function by adding expensive growth factors or other molecules to cell culture media, as companies do now, Prolific Machines exposes cells containing light sensitive proteins to light at specific wavelengths, a technique known as optogenetics. This can activate or deactivate certain genes, proteins, or cellular pathways, delivering what the company says is  “unprecedented cellular control.”

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About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.