When you think of Earth Day, do images of recycling and ocean clean-ups come to mind? Do you think of all the rules you should follow to save the planet? Save water by turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth. Shut out the lights in a room you aren’t using. Reduce disposable plastics. Recycle! As a Gen Xer, these were the behaviors I was taught by PSAs and probably at school. At some point, I learned that aerosols were bad for the environment because they ate away at the Ozone Layer, and I felt proud because I didn’t use that kind of hairspray. I was mortified by the scene in Mad Men when Betty Draper cleaned up after her family’s picnic by shaking off the trash from their blanket onto the grass field, and Don tosses a used can like a football. Is that how my parents’ generation treated nature? What kind of earth would they leave us?
That’s the question on my 13-year-old daughter’s mind. She isn’t worried about my littering or plastic recycling habits (they’re pretty good). Instead, she’s happy to talk upcycling and the downside of fast fashion. And she’s more concerned about CO2 emissions, which have risen 90% since 1970. Greenhouse gas was not in my vocabulary in 1986.
But as an adult, I have the privilege of learning about and promoting technologies that can make a difference in the world my daughter will raise her children and grandchildren. Here are some of the developments I’m most excited about:
- Electrification of everything. There were so many Super Bowl ads for EVs this year that it feels like we’ve crossed the chasm. I never want to purchase another combustion engine. My husband and I are still arguing over what minimum range we would need, but once wireless EV charging from WiTricity is mainstream, it won’t matter because we’ll be power snacking as we go about our day. Plus, just like the storage on our iPhones, I think the range of batteries in the next year or so will dwarf what’s available now. Earlier this year, Our Next Energy (ONE) demonstrated a battery with 700 miles of range retrofitted into a Tesla Model S! We are so close.
- Renewable energy transition. The great thing about EVs is that they use electricity instead of gas, but our collective enthusiasm for electricity is likely beyond what our power grid can handle in the U.S. Also, truth be told – a lot of electric utilities are powered by fossil fuels. Thankfully, there are developers like Agilitas Energy that are building out distributed solar and storage projects that make renewable energy available to utilities and municipalities. Companies like ESS, Quidnet, Form Energy and Malta are building better ways of storing intermittent energy for longer periods of time. These LDES (long-duration energy storage) technologies are important because renewables are great except they are only available when the sun is shining, and the wind is blowing.
- Carbon neutral cement. Seriously, cement. Did you know that the production of cement, of all things, contributes 8% of global CO2 emissions? That’s about the same as cars! But there are amazing new cement production technologies that can replace their CO2-emitting counterparts. Check out green cement companies like CarbonCure, Ecocem and Brimstone Energy. As the U.S. invests in outdated infrastructure, wouldn’t it be nice if they built it with carbon-neutral materials?
- Carbon capture. The idea is to remove CO2 from the air and either store it (like underground) or use it in the production of materials. CarbonCure, for example, is both a cement company and a carbon storage play: it injects captured CO2 into fresh concrete and locks it away. Recently, the industry can’t stop talking about carbon capture as a way to clean up the mess we’ve already made. The conversation heated up earlier this month when the UN climate body noted how essential CO2 removal is in our ability to achieve net-zero emissions. Then, a Swiss carbon capture company, Climeworks, announced it had raised $650M in financing, and last week, a bunch of tech companies committed to buying $925 million worth of carbon removal offsets over the next eight years. We need a clean-up strategy to complement CO2 reduction, so I hope we see even more innovation in carbon capture and sequestration.
If your version of Earth Day feels outdated, I recommend reading the latest IPCC Report or a nice summary by Cat Clifford on the climate desk of CNBC. The net-net is we aren’t currently doing enough to stop global warming. There are two interesting charts in the report: one, a cost-benefit analysis of mitigation options, and two, how consumer behavior changes can lower demand for emissions. It’s good to see my recycling habits are still important. Still, I’m thankful for the scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs who work every day to solve significant challenges like climate change.
Note: in full disclosure, some of these companies (Agilitas Energy, WiTricity) are V2 clients; some others are companies that have received investments from V2 client Breakthrough Energy Ventures.