Climate Action: the green technology opportunity in the UK’s net zero transition

28 Jul 2022

The Centre for Climate Engagement and Institute of Directors East of England are collaborating on an event series throughout 2022, with regular events for non-executive directors, board members and business leaders in the East of England to accelerate business climate action in the region. This second event in the series focused on Green Technology and how this sector plays an important role in the net-zero transition, as well as the opportunities available to businesses in this sector. 

You can also watch the full event recording here.

Top Takeaways

  1. Partnership is key – leverage from the appropriate networks and work collaboratively, you don’t have to tackle the challenges you face alone.
  2. Build diverse teams – take a systems thinking approach to build diverse teams with specialists and non-specialists.
  3. Take it step by step and don’t lose sight of the bigger picture both over time and at scale – costs should go down as scale goes up, and added low carbon benefits should be quantified.

The event was opened by Dr Elizabeth Warham, Agritech lead at the Department of International Trade who spoke about green tech policy and opportunities in the UK, with a focus on agritech. By 2050, the UK has pledged to decarbonise all sectors of the economy to reach net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This transition is predicted to increase jobs in the ‘green-collar’ sector by 2 million, and to grow the value of exports in the low carbon economy to £170 billion by 2030 alone, presenting a huge economic opportunity. 

A key sector in this transition is agritech. The National Farmer’s Union (NFU) has set its own target to reach net zero GHG emissions by 2040. The food supply chain is responsible for 24% of global Greenhouse Gas emissions, with 82% of this from agricultural production. The opportunities in this area are vast, and the Government has identified five High Potential Opportunities (HPOs) for investment building on existing strengths at a regional level:

Dr Elizabeth Warham, Agritech lead at the Department of International Trade

Focusing on the East of England, the Plant Science Norfolk & Suffolk HPO provides access for investors to a hub of world-class plant science, nutrition and health research. The region also boasts a strong supply chain in agritech which is attractive for investment.

The Department for International Trade  is collaborating with a number of trade associations to develop The AgriTech-UK Directory, a portal for clients and investors highlighting agritech opportunities in the UK.

Innovate UK and Innovate UK Edge support businesses looking to scale up by helping to secure investment and highlighting trade opportunities.

Panel presentations from Green Tech Business and Research

Material technology company making biopolymers from seaweed
Unlocking the power of waste into the fuel of the future
Research institute made up of four partners: bioscience, NHS, University of East Anglia and Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Council

Francis Field, Co-founder and Managing Director, SoluBlue – a material technology company making biopolymers from seaweed

Mission of SoluBlue: to tackle the world’s ocean plastic and food waste problems

Drive for SoluBlue: the Blue Planet effect

  • 50% of ocean waste is from single-use plastics
  • Recycling of plastics is not fixing the problem, with only 9% of plastics recycled
  • There are many examples of single-use plastics which are invisible to the consumer, such as the 38 billion polybags produced by the retail industry a year as part of clothes production
  • Bioplastics have their flaws:
  • They don’t biodegrade fast enough, which also leads to poorer quality soil
  • The water and land-use for feedstocks of bioplastics uses natural resources which are already scarce in supply
  • The benefits of seaweed as the source of packaging: it’s a globally abundant, available material using the ocean as a resource over land. Part of a regenerative system – captures carbon through it’s photosynthetic properties and at the end of life when it is composted. It is permeable, so removes excess moisture from food, extending shelf-life and reducing food waste. Importantly, it is a scalable solution.
Francis Field, Co-founder and Managing Director, SoluBlue

Opportunities Solublue have taken advantage of along the way:

‘The Full life cycle [of our product] is a very good economic proposition – looking at the big picture, in time and at scale, it works’

Advice for businesses from SoluBlue’s learnings:

  1. Often first investors are not the best offer – at the start of your journey, use money without strings attached to explore all options, talk to food suppliers and in SoluBlue’s case: pharmaceuticals to validate the technology. Bring in venture capital at the right time that has a tolerance to risk.
  2. Structure your company and board the right way – if an investor wants a board seat, ask yourself what they will bring to the table? A major obstacle for green tech companies is scalability. There are several venture firms which deal solely with this problem and are experts in the field. If you can, bring them onto the board, they are invaluable at accelerating your progress and guaranteeing success in the future.
  3. Diversity is key to success – SoluBlue has benefited from building a team of specialists and non-specialists, allowing them to approach the development of their product from an end-user perspective, through design and systems-thinking.

Thomas Fudge, CEO, WASE – unlocking the power of waste into the fuel of the future

Mission of WASE: to provide SMEs in the food &drink and agriculture sector an affordable and accessible solution to turn their organic waste into renewable energy on site.

The Drive of WASE:

  • Globally 80% of waste water is discharged untreated into our environment.
  • In the UK, there are 30,000 cases of sewage pumped into rivers and the sea.

The need for WASE:

  • There is currently huge energy price volatility and fluctuation due to supply limitation
  • Upfront capital costs are a huge barrier to SMEs, WASE operate a service-based model which guarantees fixed energy prices. It is sustainable, reduces waste and saves a large amount of carbon.
Thomas Fudge, CEO, Wase

The opportunities WASE has been able to build from:

  • New legislation for dairy farms to cover their lagoons, where the majority of waste from cows end up and is a huge source of methane. WASE is able to recover this and feed it back in for heating and biomethane as fuel for tractors to remove use of diesel
  • WASE has been able to implement circular technology into their strategy by developing products with longevity and reuse them across the supply chain. This has allowed for the rapid growth of their company.

Challenges faced by WASE:

  • Access to Capital: rising interest rates over the next 3 years present a challenge for WASE’s service based business model. However, they believe this is a manageable risk as they are creating a product which fights against inflation as it fixes client’s energy costs and builds resilience.
  • Supply chain issues: the fluctuations in materials prices and disruptions in supply mean WASE must answer the question: Where is the best strategic place to manufacture their products?

Andrew Stronach, Head of External Relations, Quadram Institute – research institute made up of four partners: bioscience, NHS, University of East Anglia and Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Council

Mission: to deliver healthier lives through innovation in gut health, microbiology and food.

Opportunities and Research streams as a result of net zero transition:

  • Increasing number of plant-based diets: as more of the population turn to the more sustainable plant-based diets, it becomes increasingly important to understand implications of these for human health. If not properly managed, these diets can lead to nutritional deficiencies in vitamin B12, iron and vitamin D. The Institute is working on multiple projects to enrich foods in these substances, e.g. breeding tomatoes with vitamin D in them.
  • Vertical farming on a domestic scale: to reduce food miles and food waste, the Institute is working on an EIT project to develop kitchen gardens and again introduce vitamin B12 into these plants to achieve healthy and balanced diets.
  • Pulses: by increasing production and use of these crops as a source of alternative protein, that is a high in fibre resistance starch, land and water-use is minimised. These crops can also be grown in the UK which reduces food miles and increases food security.
  • Microbiology and food safety: 25 % of food waste is attributed to microbes, research at the Institute is being undertaken to understand this further, to reduce the amount of food waste from microbes.
Andrew Stronach, Head of External Relations, Quadram Institute

Business Opportunities to come from research at Quadram institute:

  • Pulson: a company whose research from the institute on a novel chickpea flour, aims to put this ingredient into the food chain on a mass scale.
  • Smarter Naturally: company producing broccoli soup whose health benefits were identified from research at the Institute.

Watch the recording of the event: