How corporate cleantech partnerships can strengthen climate resilience

With the escalating impacts of the climate crisis posing risks to both the economy and society, the urgency to strengthen climate resilience has reached unprecedented levels. In a conversation with innovation experts, edie explores how industry collaboration to scale green tech can pave the way for climate resilience.

How corporate cleantech partnerships can strengthen climate resilience

The world will need to invest $8trn in climate tech annually by 2050.

Research from BloombergNEF found that the world will need to invest $8trn in climate tech annually by 2050 in order to limit global warming to relatively safe levels.

Yet, a PwC report, analysing nearly 32,000 deals that took place in 2022, found that global investment in climate tech dropped by 40% year-on-year, underscoring the increased necessity for investors and large corporates to assist startups in developing, scaling and deploying climate solutions.

Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy (BE) Fellows Programme is one such climate initiative that provides green tech entrepreneurs worldwide with funding and mentorship to support the advancement of their climate technologies from early stages to widespread deployment.

BE Fellows Programme’s director for recruitment and selection Meghan Bader tells edie that corporates must collaborate with climate-tech start-ups to scale and deploy solutions essential to mitigating the climate crisis.

“We know that climate change is a global problem, and it will need global solutions. We need to explore how we can help the regions that have been hit the hardest from climate change and have an immediate need for these solutions,” says Bader.

Lacey Reddix, the chief executive of Olokun Minerals, one of the US-based climate startups within the Fellows Programme, highlights that funding and mentorship support are two essentials needed by entrepreneurs to scale the necessary climate technology in today’s landscape.

Olokun Minerals is developing a process that enables recovery of minerals from salty wastewaters with a reduced chemical footprint, while producing cleaner water that can be reclaimed.

The startup aims to help local communities by reducing the environmental impact of mineral extraction and providing clean water to areas hit hardest by the water crisis, while also making communities more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Unlocking cleantech solutions for building resiliency

By 2030, the demand for water worldwide in anticipated to outstrip sustainable supply by 40%. Recent findings from the corporate sustainability disclosure platform CDP highlights considerable risks associated with water scarcity and quality for businesses, projecting potential losses of up to $77bn, including an immediate $7bn threat.

Research suggests that climate technology facilitating wastewater reuse can represent a significant opportunity to mitigate water scarcity, as nearly 17% of total global water withdrawals are allocated for industrial purposes.

However, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) found that only 11% of domestic and industrial wastewater is currently recycled. This discrepancy is largely due to the presence of heavy metals, toxic chemicals and nutrients in industrial wastewater, necessitating specialised treatment processes.

Olokun Minerals has developed a technology capable of extracting mineral value from various wastewater streams, including formation waters from oil and gas fracking operations, geothermal brines, salt flats and e-waste recycling processes, all while generating cleaner water streams as a byproduct.

Reddix encapsulates that her ambition to help local communities become more resilient is what drove her to establish the company.

“I come from Jackson, Mississippi. We struggled with a lot of water problems in the past, so access to clean water has been a big passion for me.”

Last year, water levels along the Mississippi River dropped significantly due to a combination of scorching summer temperatures and minimal rainfall, leading to severe drought conditions in parts of the Central US.

It was recorded as the hottest year for Louisiana and Mississippi, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the US.

Research suggests that declining water levels increase the risk of saltwater intrusion within the area, as ocean water penetrates into drinking water systems without the usual strong flow from the Mississippi river.

Reddix adds: “By using these salty wastewater streams to extract the mineral value and get clear water streams, it’s allowing us to have an impact on local communities that we are serving in a way that not only promotes sustainability, but also creates more jobs and economic growth opportunities.”

However, Reddix highlights that securing funding and reducing the risks associated with novel technologies pose significant obstacles for green tech startups, hindering their ability to scale up and address water and climate crisis at the necessary pace.

Breaking barriers in scaling climate solutions

According to Reddix, the primary challenge facing clean tech startups is to build solutions that help rapidly decarbonise industries while ensuring compliance with safety standards. This dual challenge often slows down the adoption of new technologies.

She says: “The real challenge is to validate our process so that we can engage with the customers that are interested in us, and the way to do that is to de-risk as soon as possible.”

Reddix elaborates how programmes like BE Fellows help mitigate risks by providing not just financial support for startups’ research and development initiatives but also by offering access to a network of commercial partners and investors. This enables startups to showcase, at a pilot scale, the potential of their technology.

“When we started out, we had the opportunity to get some private capital funding to get research and development started, but what we also needed was guidance.

“Breakthrough Energy has provided that, and we have already seen a lot of progress from being a part of this programme so far,” she adds.

Bader underscores the importance for the corporate sector to expedite the development and commercialisation of solutions by offering support through the early stages of investment risk.

“It is hard to have a startup. It is hard to commercialise hard technologies. There is a lot of risk involved and it is really important for programmes like BE to take on some of those early-stage risks,” says Bader.

Furthermore, Reddix stresses that this industry-wide collaboration has the potential to yield mutual benefits.

“The more people focus on getting solutions out into the market, the greater the room is for collaboration that we can all benefit from,” says Reddix, urging more individuals and stakeholders to join the climate tech industry.

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