Home » Startups in the spotlight: Accelerating climate action through innovation 

Startups in the spotlight: Accelerating climate action through innovation 

by Madaline Dunn

From initiatives like Future 100 to the introduction of the Golden Visa, the UAE has its sights set on becoming a global startup hub. 

Ranking second in the region for its startup ecosystem, the UAE has also set the ambitious target of becoming home to 20 startups worth $1 billion by 2031. 

Nurturing its reputation as a startup-friendly location, it was no surprise that COP28 allocated a dedicated space to startups. 

The Startup Village, found in the Green Zone, hosted over 100 startups over the course of the climate summit, where businesses shared their stories and ambitions with delegates and locals alike.

From circular mycelium-based protein products to biodiversity-boosting concrete, the startups on show were a diverse display of entrepreneurs thinking outside the box to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.

ESG Mena spoke with some of the startups exhibiting during COP28 to learn more about their businesses, and the role innovation has to play in the climate change fight. 

Boosting ocean-based diversity 

ECOncrete was founded 12 years ago by the late Dr. Shimrit Perkol-Finkel and CEO and Co-Founder Dr. Ido Sella, both marine biologists. 

“It actually started as a thesis,” explained Danielle Weerth, Business Development Director North America, ECOncrete. As divers, she said, they noticed that there was no biology growing on infrastructure in the water, but there was biology growing on areas where there was no infrastructure. This led to a paper investigating why that was happening. 

Through this, they learned more about concrete’s toxicity, its surface composition and the impact of this on marine life.

“What they discovered is that concrete is made from very toxic materials that leach out into the water, and prevent the initial recruitment of species onto the concrete. So that’s one thing they wanted to address. The other thing they wanted to address is the surface composition. Usually, concrete is very smooth, and it doesn’t provide the ability for organisms to attach, even if it isn’t toxic. So, the surface complexity and toxicity were what they addressed by the use of an Admix,” said Weerth.

At a ratio of one part admix to ten parts concrete, during the curing process, the addition allows for crystallisation within the structure, which seals in the concrete’s toxins and changes its PH levels to attract marine organisms. 

There are also texture agents to emulate porous qualities to recruit microorganisms for the initial stages of biodiversity, while the macro design can be adjusted depending on the location, application and the native species’ needs, said Weerth.

Weerth also noted that the company works with several universities, which has resulted in peer-reviewed papers.

“For instance, in San Diego, Scripps and the Port of San Diego have done monitoring. In the surrounding areas, we were able to find about nine native species. Within two years, we were able to develop 56 native species that hadn’t been seen in that region for a while.”

The company is now present in 40 countries, with projects everywhere, from the North Sea to the Caribbean. 

“Anywhere there’s saltwater, our applications can be implemented,” said Weerth.

The plastic problem

From tackling one toxic material to another, UAE-based cleantech startup Avani is aimed at addressing the plastic pollution epidemic. 

Producing biodegradable, eco-friendly products, from shopping and garbage bags to laundry rolls, the company is on a mission to reduce the staggering number of plastic bags used every year. 

Indeed, the figure stands at around 500 billion globally – that’s one million bags used every minute. These bags eventually make their way into landfills and oceans, where they degrade the environment, pollute waters, destroy habitats and kill animals and sea life. 

Avani, alternatively, uses a mix of vegetable materials to produce its packaging. 

The materials derived from cassava polymers are sourced from Indonesia, while the vegetable polymer is sourced from Portugal. 

The company also uses FSC-certified paper for its coffee cups, and cornstarch for its PLA cups, which degrades in two months.

Its products are already being used in widely, including in hospitality in range of hotels, from Accor Hotels and Marriott Hotels, to Four Seasons and more. 

The path to tackling pollution

Launched just four months ago, Clean Air by Resysten also exhibited its offerings within the Village. 

Aimed at addressing the impacts of the world’s worsening air pollution problem – an issue that came into focus during COP28 – Will Tyler, Director at Clean Air by Resysten, explained that the product can be applied in a fine mist to any external surface, and using nanotechnology, adds a sealant, breaks down harmful pollutants, such as NOX, and turns them into a harmless byproduct. It lasts for twelve months.

According to Tyler, the application of the mist across 25,000 square metres could remove the equivalent of one million car journeys. 

Between the UK – where the company is based – and the UAE, the company aims to remove the equivalent pollution of 100 million car journeys.

Growing the food of the future 

While food has been left off the menu in previous COPs, for the first time, the climate summit formally addressed food and agriculture and their climate impact. And while food was largely sidelined in the Global Stocktake, on the sidelines, discussions opened up, and food and ag innovation were out in full force – including in the Startup Village. 

Based in Hamburg, Germany, Infinite Roots was founded back in 2018. Founder and CEO Mazen Rizk explained the company is on a mission not only to replace meat but also to create a more sustainable, healthier, and equitable future.

“Especially when we think about the MENA region where food insecurity is such a huge issue,” said Rizk. 

Rizk also highlighted the huge environmental impact of our food systems, responsible for around a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

“This is where Infinite Roots comes in; we use the roots of mushrooms, the mycelium,” said Rizk, “We grow them in fermentation tanks in a very sustainable and controlled process.”

The process, which takes less than a week, also promotes circularity, with the mycelium fed with byproducts from the agrifood industry, including chocolate waste, coffee waste and grain waste. 

Mycelium is a high-protein, high-fibre ingredient with an umami taste that can be used for a diverse range of applications in food products. 

The process, Rizk said, requires 220 times less water than conventional meat and 2700 times less land due to everything being grown vertically, while the process emits around 40 times less CO2 emissions. 

The tanks in which the mycelium is grown can also be deployed anywhere in the world, irrespective of temperature and external conditions.

Understanding the importance of localisation for widespread adoption, Infinite Roots is also focusing on developing products suited to regional tastes to connect to the cultures, traditions, and cuisines of the place where the company is growing and developing its food products. 

“We very genuinely believe that the culinary aspect at the end is very important. We know that the technology has so many advantages, but in the end, the food needs to make sense, and it needs to make sense from an emotional perspective, not only from a health perspective and a taste perspective,” said Rizk. 

Enabling a zero-carbon grid 

From feeding the future to fueling it, software company Arenko also made a splash in the Startup Village. 

Darren Toner, Commercial Manager at Arenko, explained that as demand for wind, solar and other renewables ramps up on the road to net zero, energy storage will be essential to bridge intermittency. “We’ll need more batteries onto the system to provide crucial grid stability services,” said Toner, adding: “That’s quite complicated, and so you need a piece of software to facilitate that.”

That’s where Arenko comes in. The UK-based company, founded back in 2014, began operating its own grid-scale battery, and is now a technology provider. “We’ve developed a product that operates batteries and renewables using AI,” said Toner.

Adding: “We’ve been able to operate batteries and renewables at scale in the UK. We’ve got around 25 per cent of the UK market share signed up to us, and we’re at a point where we’re looking to bring the product to the international markets.”

Maintaining momentum toward change 

COP28’s Startup Village demonstrated that there’s a growing international hub of innovation targeted at providing sustainable solutions for the world’s increasingly complex problems. 

Serving as both a place for knowledge sharing and a platform for these companies to expand their reach and raise investment, the Village in the Green Zone stood alongside a much larger corporate presence spread across the venue. 

This is something that drew criticism from climate campaigners, with concerns of undue influence on climate talks and the transformation of the climate summit into a trade show. And indeed, the number of business representatives at this year’s COP was much higher than the number of government officials, while the number of fossil fuel and big meat and dairy lobbyists attending broke previous records. 

However, putting the spotlight on startups, climate tech and sustainable innovation at the Village provided a pathway to maintaining the momentum built at COP28, despite its outcome and some of the criticisms that can be launched at the climate summit. 

With 2023 seeing the highest-ever global temperatures, the need for action on climate change has never been more evident, and sustainable innovation will be a key part of continued mitigation and adaptation efforts. 

By Madaline Dunn, Lead Journalist, ESG Mena.

You may also like  | About Us | Careers | Privacy & Policy

 © 2024 ESG Mena