BloombergNEF (BNEF) has announced the twelve winners of the 2021 BNEF Pioneers – early-stage companies that are pursuing exciting and important low-carbon opportunities. The winners were selected as their innovations fill important gaps in optimizing long-haul freight, making sustainable materials, tracking greenhouse gases, valuing carbon sinks and reducing energy and chemical use.
Since the inception of the BNEF Pioneers program more than a decade ago, cheap, clean technologies such as renewable energy and electric vehicles have changed the world. Although these technologies will decarbonize large parts of the world economy, there are still significant challenges to address in achieving net-zero emissions and slowing climate change. The 2020s will arguably be an even more pivotal decade in the fight against climate change, and the Pioneers competition this year has recognized transformative technology solutions filling some remaining net-zero innovation gaps. In 2021, we solicited applications from companies, non-profits and projects that addressed three climate-tech innovation areas:
- Managing and optimizing long-haul freight
- Advancing materials and techniques for sustainable products
- Monitoring and understanding our changing planet
The competition received over 250 applications from 36 different countries. A team of lead analysts at BNEF evaluated candidates against three criteria: the potential impact on greenhouse gas emissions and the planet; the degree of technology innovation and novelty; and the likelihood of adoption.
The 2021 BNEF Pioneers are:
Challenge 1: Managing and optimizing long-haul freight
- Convoy (U.S.) provides a digital freight network and moves thousands of truckloads around the United States each day through its optimized connected network of carriers, saving money for shippers and eliminating carbon waste.
- Nautilus Labs (U.S.) advances the efficiency of ocean commerce through artificial intelligence. It provides a predictive decision-support solution that drives sustainability and profitability in global maritime shipping.
- Ontruck (Spain) is a digital transportation company that combines automation and machine learning to drive out waste in the logistics process. Ontruck offers an efficient and low-carbon solution to move freight, helping shippers to reduce transportation costs, increasing earnings for carriers, and removing carbon emissions generated from empty trucks.
Challenge 2: Advancing materials and techniques for sustainable products
- Cemvita Factory (U.S.) engineers microbes that use carbon dioxide or methane as a feedstock for the production of carbon-negative industrial chemicals. These chemicals are used by oil and gas, chemical, mining and aerospace companies that seek to apply nature-inspired technologies for reducing their carbon footprint.
- Pyrowave (Canada) electrifies chemical processes in the circular economy of plastics. Pyrowave uses microwave technology to supply the chemical industry with recycled raw materials that are drop-in substitutes for virgin chemicals.
- Via Separations (U.S.) targets U.S. energy consumption that is wasted each year through the process of separating chemicals, by electrifying energy-intensive steps in chemical production.
Challenge 3: Monitoring and understanding our changing planet
- Pachama (U.S.) uses machine learning with satellite imaging to measure carbon captured in forests. Pachama brings the latest technology in remote sensing, satellite imaging and AI to the world of forest carbon in order to enable forest conservation and restoration at scale.
- Planet (U.S.) provides global, daily satellite imagery and geospatial solutions to better manage risk across various sectors, such as agriculture, forestry, energy and natural resources.
- QLM Technology (U.K.) offers its quantum technology to provide an understanding of greenhouse gas emissions in an affordable, accurate, scalable way using camera systems that visualize and quantify emissions as they occur.
- 75F (U.S.) is an IoT-based building management system using smart sensors and controls to make commercial buildings more efficient, comfortable and healthier.
- ECOncrete (Israel) provides technology for coastal and marine infrastructure – increasing concrete strength and durability, while creating ecological value and an active carbon sink.
- Pivot Bio (U.S.) makes nitrogen-producing microbial products that can replace the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer for cereal crops, giving farmers a crop nutrition solution to achieve more consistent yields and improve air and water quality.
Claire Curry, selection committee co-chair and head of digital industry research at BloombergNEF, commented:
“This year we selected three specific areas – heavy-duty transport, materials and the climate – where BNEF believes technology must play an important role in decarbonization. For the last decade, the BNEF Pioneers award has been essential in highlighting exciting innovations in solar, wind, storage, smart grid and electric vehicles, to name a few. By focusing on specific themes each year where technology innovation is sorely needed, we hope that the competition will continue to shine a light on important, pioneering innovations.
“We had some particularly strong applicants, making it both fun and challenging to select the winners. We have chosen nine winners across the three main challenge categories that we believe highlight some important innovation gaps in transportation, materials and climate. While much transport will electrify or turn to green hydrogen, the heavy-duty goods sector will continue burning fossil fuels for years to come. This makes optimizing route planning, reducing idle time and eliminating empty miles truly essential in the near-term. Our winners Convoy, Ontruck and Nautilus Labs are leading the charge in tackling these problems.
“Displacing petrochemicals from everyday products will be a difficult task, even after we are no longer burning oil as a fuel. Displacing petrochemical feedstock with biomass, or even with added carbon dioxide, will create carbon sinks, trapping CO2 in plastics, fabrics and chemicals. Our winner Cemvita Factory is looking to do just this. Sustainability issues in the petrochemicals sector include inefficient, energy-intense, manufacturing processes and poor recycling options, which our winners Via Separations and Pyrowave are looking to solve respectively.
“Finally, to truly address climate change we need to understand a lot more about our planet, track emissions more closely and quantify the natural carbon sinks in forests, seas and land. Our winners for the third challenge category are all using different technologies, including hardware and software combinations, to track our changing planet from the sky (Planet), to spot industrial emissions on the ground (QLM Technologies) and to quantify our valuable carbon sinks (Pachama).
“Alongside the three key challenge areas we also picked three wildcard winners – innovations that did not fit in the selected challenge areas but are each pioneering and unique in their own way. I’m excited to see the future impact on marine life of ECOncrete’s coastal infrastructure invention; the significant emissions impact that 75F will make on commercial buildings; and the exciting future of sustainable agriculture that Pivot Bio is swiftly building with its microbial fertilizer.”
Video interviews with each of the Pioneers will be posted once per week on the BNEF website at https://about.bnef.com/bnefpioneers/ starting in the second half of May.
Read more about the winners.