16 companies, people, and ideas that might save the planet
Without much effort, you can find news every day that confirms—over and over—that we are in a climate emergency. Droughts, fires, floods, hurricanes, and heat waves are now happening with such frequency, it can be hard to remember which tragedy happened last, while the political reaction is, at best, muted—entirely incommensurate to the challenge at hand.
In the absence of a grand political solution, we are forced to nibble around the edges and hope that science and technology can make enough advances to mitigate the problem, to give more time for world governments to act on broad de-carbonization. There is no cause for techno-optimism: We will not invent a perpetual motion machine that can somehow eliminate all the carbon in a way that allows life to continue as is, all without pushing political and business leaders. At the same time, you don’t need to surrender to complete techno-pessimism because scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs are making slow but steady advances in ways to replace the vital carbon in our economy with clean alternatives.
Forty years ago, solar and wind power were considered by some to be expensive boondoggles, only for the wealthy hobbyists, that would never make a difference at scale. Now—after decades of research and development—they’re the cheapest source of power we have. This list contains just a few of the recent advances that could be the next technology that can grow into part of a future, clean economy. Some of the items on this list will turn out to be too expensive, too hard to scale, too small in impact to matter. But others could become part of the solution. No one piece of technology will save us, but together many of them can be the building blocks that undergird the political solution we need. —Morgan Clendaniel
MOVING TO RENEWABLE ENERGY
- 1-This giant wind turbine blade can be recycled. Energy companies are trying to redesign wind energy so the giant components don’t end up in landfills. Siemens Gamesa’s RecyclableBlade can be broken down into its raw materials at the end of its life.
- 2-During a power outage, this tech keeps the electricity on in the most important places. A grid powered by renewables requires managing much more complexity than one powered by a single, always-on coal plant. Intel has designed a new platform to help.
- 3-This startup helps build solar farms where the grid is dirtiest. Renewable installations usually get installed where it’s easiest to build, which leaves some areas without new clean power. Clearloop wants to even out the distribution.
REDUCING CARBON FOOTPRINT
- 4-This sleek, climate-friendly cooling unit reduces the footprint of HVAC by 75%. Heat pump technology is the future of cooling and heating, but it’s been expensive to install. Now you can get a small heat pump for your window.
- 5-How the shipping industry can go from global polluter to carbon neutral. From hydrogen to sails to green ammonia, the shipping industry is rethinking how it moves the massive amount of goods that undergird the global economy.
- 6-This startup ensures that forestry-based carbon offsets deliver on their promises. The market for carbon offsets could be worth $100 billion by 2030. Pachama cofounder and CEO Diego Saez Gil is keeping it transparent and accountable.
- 7-These carbon-capturing robotic seaweed farms are like planting forests in the ocean. Phykos is trying to pioneer a new form of carbon sequestration: using automated boats to grow seaweed in the middle of the ocean, then sinking it to the ocean floor.
REDESIGNING HOW WE LIVE
- 8-What if walking around on your wood floors powered your home? Scientists have figured out how to make pieces of wood generate a charge when you apply pressure to them, which could reshape how we make buildings more efficient.
- 9-100 ways to make better use of urban rooftops, from parks to tiny homes. Cities have a lot of roofs. Let’s put some stuff on them!
- 10-Every new car and truck in the U.S. can be electric by 2035. The transition to EVs can happen faster than you think.
- 11-Austin, Texas, just voted to spend $7 billion on a transportation revolution. The Texas capital will build a 31-station rail system, rapid bus routes, and bike lanes to get more people out of cars.
SOLVING FOOD SHORTAGES AND WASTE
- 12-Everything you need to know about the booming business of fighting food waste. A new wave of companies is figuring out how to make new products from food that used to end up in the trash, from pulp popsicles to beer bread. Here are 20 to watch.
CLEANING THE PLANET
- 13-These drones will plant 40,000 trees in a month. By 2028, they’ll have planted 1 billion. We need to massively reforest the planet, in a very short period of time. Flash Forest’s drones can plant trees a lot faster than humans.
- 14-This beach-cleaning robot sifts sand for the tiny plastics that humans miss. It’s hard to pick up all the plastic trash on beaches by hand. BeBot, a solar-powered robot, speeds up the process.
- 15-This “sustainable infrastructure company” just raised $2 billion to build more clean tech. Generate Capital makes the often-costly upfront investments in sustainable projects—from solar panels to electric vehicles to food waste digesters—and then sells the services to other companies.
- 16-Microplastics are in everything. What if they were biodegradable? Microplastics are used everywhere from laundry detergent to agriculture. Biotech startup Calyxia is making a new version of the tiny capsules that dissolve in nature.