Category Archives: Business Investment

Carbon Capture & Utilization

Professor Charlotte Williams, founder of Econic Technologies

Professor Charlotte Williams, founder of Econic Technologies

Climate change dictates that we need to reduce carbon emissions to net zero or even to net negative emissions as fast as possible. There has been much talk of carbon capture and storage. However just pumping carbon dioxide into old oil and gas wells seems both a waste of a potentially valuable resource and a rather insecure method of storage. I’ve long argued that carbon capture and utilization was a much better path to explore. There are many methods of doing this, from very well known and old to the most innovative high tech fields of research.

Photosynthesis takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Using high quality timbers like oak and teak in construction locks this carbon up in the fabric of a building, potentially for many centuries. Algae grow rapidly and are potentially the basis of a whole range of sustainable renewable energy and chemical industries. In 2009 Scottish Bioenergy built a very interesting algal bioreactor at the Glenturret Whiskey Distillery in Crieff, turning industrial waste into energy and a range of useful products, including high protein fish food. Using photosynthesis to capture carbon in timber, algae and other useful plant materials has a powerful positive role to play in carbon sequestration and in modern industrial innovation.

Carbon can also be directly captured from the atmosphere, or from flue gases, and used in a whole range of other useful products, from cement to plastics. A few years ago I got very excited at the prospect of carbon negative cements, which have great potential but which unfortunately cannot yet compete on price with ordinary Portland cement. Currently there is a lot of interest in making the plastics industry more sustainable. One of my favourite examples of this is Econic Technologies.

Econic Technologies is an amazing UK start-up. It was founded in 2011 by Professor Charlotte Williams to use carbon dioxide as a feedstock in the production of polymers. These are used in an extraordinarily wide range of products from trainers to mattresses, coatings and adhesives to appliances and in construction. The process they use will help reduce the energy use and ecological footprint of this whole range of industrial products. Econic Technologies, like MeshPower that I blogged about last week, was started by people from Imperial Collage in London. They have now grown due to investment from Imperial Innovations, Jetstream Capital, Norner and most recently Woodford Investment Management. This has allowed them to hire more staff and to open a new Application Development site at Alderley Park in Cheshire. This small start up seems to be growing well, and the technologies they have developed may have a huge role in helping reduce the pollution caused by the global chemical industry. I wish them every success.

Shifting Investments

Glenn, David & Cathy from SHIFFT, with 6th form students.

Glenn, David & Cathy from SHIFFT, with 6th form students.

A couple of days ago I went along to the Hereford River Carnival: lots of great floats, stalls and good community fun for all the family. There was a sort of festival within a festival as New Leaf had created the h.Energy village which featured a number of local organisations advocating greater sustainability. I stopped and chatted with lots of old friends and met some new faces. One of the groups with a stall was the new SHIFFT group, which stands for Stop Herefordshire’s Investments in Fossil Fuels Today. It’s part of the rapidly growing global movement lobbying for disinvestment from fossil fuels.

A few days earlier I went up to Llandrindod Wells to have a look around and talk to the people at Riversimple and see their amazing hydrogen fuel cell car. Robert Llewellyn, the actor and comedian from Red Dwarf fame, also happened to be visiting, making an edition of his Fully Charged video blog. I think we were both suitably impressed with what a breakthrough this car is. I’ve sung its praises a number of times on this blog. Riversimple currently are crowdfunding. This is to raise equity, so has a fairly high degree of risk involved, but also the potential to buy into an early stage start-up company which might well be a very lucrative investment. It is also of course just about as ethical an investment as I can imagine. They’ve kept the minimum investment at just £50 and would love to have many thousands of small investors.

Globally vast sums of money are flooding out of the fossil fuel sector, in part driven by the ethical arguments about the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground to prevent the worst ravages of climate change, and in part due to the realization that these reserves are very likely to become stranded assets, so undermining the perceived value of oil, gas and coal companies. The money is beginning to flow into the renewables sector in vast amounts. I mentioned in my last blog about the £229 billion that went into renewable electricity generation last year. On top of all this wind and solar comes the whole raft of cleantech innovation start-ups such as Riversimple. I do hope they achieve their crowdfunding objective, initially of one million pounds, with a further two similar sized tranches following on.

Renewables Resurgent!

renewables investment 2015

renewables investment 2015 in $

I’ve long been arguing for the transition from ‘The Fossil Fuel Age’ to ‘The Solar Age’. Climate Change dictates we must, and the opportunities to build a better future for all while making this transition are almost infinite. We are witnessing the death spiral of the coal industry: Peabody, Arch and a host of other coal companies have all filed for bankruptcy in recent months. They all had planned on continued expansion of their industry and massively underestimated the growth of renewables. And the rise of renewables is now happening dramatically quickly in many countries.

The figures for 2015 are now available. Global investments in renewables were £229 billion, an all time high, compared to just £90 billion in coal and natural gas. Renewables used to be seen as a small niche market: not anymore! Globally it’s a very mixed picture. France and Germany saw decreases in investment, but most countries saw rapid increase in investment. China was by far the biggest single player, but some smaller countries saw extraordinary growth, led by Mexico, Chile, Morocco and South Africa. Japan led the rooftop photovoltaic sector, Morocco the concentrating solar thermal sector, China, Germany and UK all opened impressive offshore wind farms over the last year. Wind and solar are becoming well established industries. Some other renewables are about to emerge onto the global stage. Geothermal power is expanding in Turkey, Kenya, Ethiopia and elsewhere. The UK might yet become a leader in the tidal energy sector, as the MeyGen tidal flow project in the Pentland Firth is currently under construction, a similar tidal stream project off the Isle of Wight has just been approved and the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project will hopefully soon get the go-ahead, opening the way for many more such projects. Other technologies are waiting in the wings, such as wave power and algal bioreactors. Energy storage and interconnection technologies are improving rapidly so a 100% renewable energy future becomes ever more achievable, for electricity, heating, cooling and transport. My prediction is that this global energy transition will happen very much more quickly than our politicians and the old energy incumbency are planning for.