Friend or Foe to the Environment

Gilles Berdugo
5 min readAug 23, 2020

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Technology green tree by Gilles Berdugo
Cleantech Tree

Exploring Cleantech

I recently wrote about how meat can now be grown in a lab using technology. This got me thinking of how technology is not always the evil some paint it to be. Yes, it can be bad for the environment for various reasons, like:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions through transportation and manufacturing
  • Hazardous waste
  • Unsustainable use of raw materials in various tech based manufacturing processes
  • Clearing of land for raw material extraction
  • Use of environmentally destructive chemicals in production
  • Water contamination

But it’s not all bad. As the call for cleaner and more sustainable ways to do business becomes more urgent, more and more tech companies are putting green policies and eco-friendly practices in place. Until recently, most of us only really thought about cleantech as solar energy and electric vehicles, if we thought about it at all. While solar and EVs are super important, it’s not nearly all cleantech is about. In fact, this only scratches the surface. The demand for an eco-friendly world has given rise to an exciting range of new technologies with all kinds of applications. But let’s first look at what cleantech actually is.

What is cleantech?

Cleantech is every type of business that includes environmental, clean energy, sustainable or green products or services. It covers multiple sectors including energy, transportation, agriculture, water and waste management, and biofuels. The objectives of cleantech are to:

  • Manufacture products that are more cost-effective and efficient
  • Reduce the negative effects fossil fuels have on the planet
  • Increase the use of renewable resources
Cleantech by Gilles Berdugo
Green Energy Illustration

The business of cleantech

Between 2006 and 2011, venture capital and corporate investors put over $25 billion towards funding cleantech startups. But over half of this capital was lost due to the long lasting effects of the 2008 financial crisis. The thing is, cleantech investments are expensive to scale and they take time to begin developing. Back then, it was still a relatively new concept to the world, which made it even more difficult to sell both to investors and to clients. Thank goodness things have changed, though! VC firms these days have learned from the mistakes their predecessors have made and are emerging with improved ecosystems for cleantech investments. More and more large corporate companies and investors are joining forces with smaller ventures, which is helping startups to scale up their products and services quickly.

Top cleantech sectors

The cleantech market is rapidly advancing and its applications cover a massive range. Here are some of the main sectors currently evolving:

1Energy and power generation
This can be subdivided into:

  • Wind energy
  • Solar power
  • Geothermal energy
  • Hydro/ocean power
  • Energy storage and efficiency
  • Energy infrastructure

Wind and solar are leading the markets. Solar energy is getting cheaper and cheaper and has been growing like crazy. This is mainly because of the increase in pollution which is pushing governments into offering tax rebates and other incentives for installing solar panels. As a result we are seeing a surge in rooftop solar panel installations and even changes in landscape and architectural design, which are beginning to include solar installations in the initial plan. It makes sense that solar is so popular, it’s reasonably priced and quick to install. With intensified investment, the demand for this is skyrocketing and can only increase. Something interesting I recently discovered is that, in terms of investment, wind energy is even bigger than solar. This is because it’s a form of energy that works even in adverse weather and it’s simple to operate and cheap to maintain.

2 Agriculture and food production
From lab grown meat through aeroponic systems to food growing, cleantech is becoming immersed in every aspect of agriculture and the food chain. This industry is growing really fast and is attracting more and more venture investment. Companies like AeroFarms and AgBiome are doing great things in this sector. AeroFarms is the biggest indoor vertical farm and is making it possible for us to grow food without sun or soil. AgBiome is developing products geared to overcome pesticide resistance.

Indoor Vertical Farm by AeroFarms
Indoor Vertical Farm by AeroFarms

3 Transportation
The transportation industry is highly dependent on fluctuating oil prices and has received serious flak from environmentalists over its carbon footprint. This may be the industry with the most potential in terms of cleantech development and investment. Major prospects include electric transportation and aviation systems. There is a drive to create technology that powers vehicles with zero emissions and this is fuelling collaborations between startups and corporates. An interesting company in this sector is Ather Energy, an Indian startup that designs and sells electric scooters and has created a huge network of charging stations. Another cool company is BioGTS in Finland. They are using organic waste to create biofuel.

Ather 450 Electric Scooter by Ather Energy
Ather 450 Electric Scooter

What’s on the horizon for cleantech?

I think we’re in for an interesting ride when it comes to cleantech in the coming years and that we’ll be amazed at what humanity can come up with to help save the planet. Even though cleantech hit a serious roadblock in the 2000s, it seems its back on track and is once again getting much needed and deserved funding. While some people are still skeptical about the future of cleantech businesses, one thing is certain — we need this. We’ve been warned of the consequences of global warming and recent studies have shown that we are running out of time, and fast. Unless we do something about it, we’re in serious trouble. Now is the time for a new age for cleantech and a great time for corporate companies to add sustainable projects to their portfolios.

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Gilles Berdugo

Eco-friendly globetrotter seeking to make the world a greener place and creator of https://facilementecolo.com/