Last Friday I attended the annual Business Green Technology Awards. I always enjoy these events as they provide a great snapshot of innovation activity in the cleantech sector in the UK.

This year I was a member of the judging panel and so got an opportunity to dig a bit deeper into the entries.

There were over 70 innovations across 14 categories, as well as an innovator of the year category and a lifetime achievement award. Full details on the Business Green website.

Looking across the range of entries two messages come through clearly; the shift to a more sustainable economy is throwing up new business opportunities, and clean technology solutions are seen to be better solutions to most business challenges.

So here are some of the category winners that most intrigued and excited me, and my apologies to all the other entries and winners that I don’t have space to cover.

Small improvements can unlock big markets

Not every innovation has to be a breakthrough or a blockbuster. Sometimes what appears to be a simple and modest improvement can make a big difference to the technical and economic viability of a cleaner alternative.

Masterfilter provides an advanced dual-flow filtration system to clean oil used in hydraulics and for lubrication. One of the most exciting applications is in wind turbines, where bearing and gearbox repair and maintenance due to lubricant degradation are a major cost. It is a big enough problem for onshore turbines, but for offshore windfarms anything that can increase life and reduce the frequency and cost of maintenance visits could shift the economics dramatically.

Cold and inefficient homes are a major problem in the UK. To improve performance we need to increase insulation and eliminate draughts. Unfortunately, older buildings are ventilated through gaps in the building envelope, and sealing those up can lead to condensation, mould and rot. Airex has developed a smart air-brick that uses temperature and humidity sensors together with weather data to control ventilation. It is a simple retrofit, increases comfort, improves air quality and reduces energy costs by 10%-15%. With the energy efficiency of 26 million existing homes to be significantly improved by 2050, there is a large potential market in the UK alone.

Small efficiency gains in big numbers

Another important strategy on display was to make small efficiency gains in some very big numbers.

In 2012 shipping accounted for just over 2% of global CO2emissions. Following a business as usual pathway, this could reach 20% by 2050. In April 2018 the International Maritime Organisation adopted a vision of cutting emissions by 50% from a 2008 base by 2050. Silverstream Technologies system generates a thin layer of air bubbles under a ship’s hull to reduce drag. This reduces fuel consumption by 5%-10%. A major commercial benefit as well as a significant contributor to cutting greenhouse gas emissions from shipping.

Superchargers and turbochargers on internal combustion engines allow you to get the same power out of a much smaller engine, improving fuel economy and cutting emissions. Aeristech has developed a range of electrically driven compressors with much better performance than conventional mechanically driven devices, allowing engines up to 60% smaller. The same compressor technology is now being tested to improve the efficiency of fuel cells.

Better energy management

Better management of electrical supply and demand is a hot topic.

Eaton has installed a large battery energy storage system at the Johan Cruijff ArenA in Amsterdam. It combines 2.8MWh of storage using a mix of new and second life batteries with a large PV installation on the roof. The system supplies the peak power during events, and when there is spare capacity can help balance the local grid.

Highview Power is making progress with energy storage using liquid air. The liquid air is produced using excess renewable energy. Allow the stored liquid air to warm up and turn back to gas and you can drive a turbine to recover the energy. Their latest installation can supply 200,000 homes with electricity for a day and costs half the equivalent battery installation.

limejump provides a platform where electricity generating and using assets are combined into virtual power plants. It allows assets from battery stacks to CHP engines and refrigeration units to be part of load balancing on the grid; producing energy or shaving use when demand is high and increasing use when spare capacity is available. Asset owners get the best return and the best performance.

Solving a really irritating problem

The tide line in the Philippines

Aluminium plastic laminates make great packaging materials used in billions of pouches and sachets. Lightweight and protective they are great for food, cosmetic and other consumer products, but they are extremely difficult to recycle. In many parts of the world, they are a major litter problem. Enval has developed a process that uses microwaves to pyrolyse the plastic to a mix of gas and oils used as fuel or as a chemical feedstock. The leftover aluminium foil goes into the recycling stream.

“…the demand for clean technologies will only grow in every sector of the economy. It’s your future market.”

Clean technology innovation in the UK is healthy. There are lots of exciting ideas coming forward. We now need to scale the best to support a transition to a sustainable economy.

And for the innovators and entrepreneurs out there – the demand for clean technologies will only grow in every sector of the economy. It’s your future market.

Clean Technology Innovation in Good Health
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