🧬 ClimateHack Vol 8: Synbio and Climate

PLUS: Space Mining Is Here, Led by This Tiny Country.

This week I'm in Luxembourg and one thing I've come to love about this country is their ability to continuously re-invent their economy. 

In the 1960s it was steel.In the 1980's it was banking.In the 2010's it was fintech. 

And the future?

You wouldn't believe it, but its "space mining". 

The country is doubling down to prepare for the future use of extraterrestrial minerals, water and gases to provide energy and materials for human activities beyond Earth.

Big ambitions for such a small country (population of just 600k!)

What’s in today's edition? 👩🏻‍🔬 Berkeley scientists develop a “cheap and easy” carbon capture process.🌾 Why dried ground is bad news when it comes to flash floods.🧬 Conversation on Synbio x Climate with a deep tech VC.

Digest x Climate

📈 Whats up? Data from Crunchbase shows that companies focus on energy-efficient heating and cooling have collectively raised over $1.1 billion in the past couple of years.

📉 Whats down? An international group of climate scientists has analysed how much sea levels might rise if the greatest ice sheet in the world, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, were to melt as a result of climate change. It’s not good news.

💡 Good Read: This article explains how the Inflation Reduction Act, passed in the US Senate this week and potentially marking the largest federal clean energy investment in US. history, would impact carbon capture.

🇬🇧 The UK government is exploring funding to support biomass carbon capture and storage, as part of its plan to hit net-zero emissions by 2050.

💧 Watch: this interesting little video showing how long it takes for a cup of water to soak into parched vs dried ground.

Carbon x Climate 

🦠 SecondCircle, based in Copenhagen, closed a €1.2 million pre-seed funding round led by Atlantic Labs, and received a €43 million EU grant as part of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. The startup claims to be able to capture CO2 from industrial emitters using synthetic biology to develop biocatalysts, which then convert the carbon dioxide into chemical compounds that are sold back to industry.

💨 UK-based Econic Technologies secured £10.4 million Series D funding to support commercialisation of its catalyst and process technology, designed to convert CO2 to usable raw materials.

🛒 British supermarket Morrisons is opening a “lower environmental impact store” that will use 43% less carbon and be almost waste-free by using less packaging and enabling consumers to return their waste to the store. It will also prioritise locally-sourced products.

🧑‍🔬 Scientists at Berkeley have developed a “cheap and easy” carbon capture storage process using melamine. The researchers say they hope to “design a future attachment for capturing car exhaust gas, or maybe an attachment to a building or even a coating on the surface of furniture.”

Food x Climate 

🥘 Israeli startup Anina has developed plant-based ready meals packaged in capsules made from dehydrated, upcycled waste vegetables, in a bid to reduce food waste and plastic packaging.

🥕 LA-based “climate candy” startup PurePlus’ first consumer brand, Faves, is a sustainable alternative to Starburst. Each pack contains six carrots, three beetroot, one sweet potato, half a squash and qurarter of a pumpkin, all of which would have otherwise been considered surplus or imperfect.

🌾 Researchers from James Cook University and The Australian National University have discovered an “exquisite” natural mechanism that will help generate more resilient crops, capable of withstanding extreme weather events, that helps limit water loss in plants while having a minimal impact on their ability to absorb carbon dioxide.

📊 Data: Interesting data from Arizona State University estimating the environmental impacts of 57,000 food products - tldr, it's what we all know, but backed by numbers. 

Transport x Climate

🚗 UK-based energy company GRIDSERVE, which provides infrastructure for solar farms, energy storage, electric car leasing and highway charging, raised £200 million to support its electric vehicle infrastructure.

🔋 British electric vehicle charging app Zap-Map, which lets users find and pay for public EV charging points, raised £9m in a Series A funding round led by American fuel card and payment provider Fleetcor to grow its development team and fund international growth.

Energy x Climate

🏭 SunGreenH2 raised $2 million seed funding and claims it can double green hydrogen production, lower the cost and reduce reliance on platinum and other rare elements thanks to its electrode technology.

🚢 Japanese shipping giant Nippon Yusen Kaisha is set to take part in a Singapore tidal power project focused on the development of off-grid tidal power systems, to hopefully replace diesel generators.

🌬 The California Energy Commission has set the most ambitious offshore wind target, in the US, with the goal of reaching 25 gigawatts by 2045, enough electricity to meet the demands of 25 million homes.

Funds x Climate

🙋‍♀️ Women Angels In Food/Climate: It's no secret that women are underrepresented across the sector, so we profiled 30 Female Food and ClimateTech angel investors who are at the forefront of funding breakthrough technologies that shape a better future for people and planet.

🤝 Stella McCartney joined forces with venture capital firm Collaborative Fund to launch the SOS Fund, a $200 million sustainability fund aimed at “cleaner businesses, founders and sustainable solutions” in the fields of decarbonisation, food and agriculture, and materials solutions.

🚀 SVG Ventures Thrive launched two new programs to support the agri-food sector, and secured $3.7 million to help entrepreneurs, researchers, and early-stage startups working on “some of the most pressing issues across the agri-food value chain.”

Materials x Climate

💡 Tsung Xu (featured here in edition 3) just put out a fantastic long-read article about why we need a new materials paradigm. It discusses the rise (and stagnation) of the age of plastics, and how startups today have created value as material innovation has slowed. It also hints at biomanufacturing materials as what’s next (more on that next week).

Conversations x Climate: Synbio and Climate

This week I reached out to Brad Pruente, Partner at Prime Movers Lab, the deep tech VC backing breakthrough technologies, to learn more about what's exciting him in the intersection of Synbio and Climate. 

Biggest area(s) in climate you’d like to see more founders working on and investment going to?

Imagine a future where eating a hamburger or wearing a leather jacket doesn’t mean a cow was killed. Synthetic biology is going to redefine manufacturing. It will impact everything from pharmaceuticals, agricultural inputs, food, and industrial materials. 

At Prime Movers Lab we invest in breakthrough science solving the largest problems. Synthetic biology will be the foundation for a lot of the innovation we expect to see in the next decade. 

One of my fundamental beliefs is that the best way to have a massive impact is to make products that are better and cheaper than incumbents. Synthetic biology enables this across a range of sectors.

❓ What: Synthetic biology is the ability to use engineering approaches in the biological domain. In engineering we can build to meet performance specifications. In the past, biology has been limited to far more trial and error than we would like. Today we can use gene editing tools like CRISPR to engineer new types of microbial, plant and even animal life to address specific challenges or present specific traits. 

🤷‍♂️ Why: We live in a society where the demands of capitalism and of the environment are often at odds. Synthetic biology offers an elegant way to align those interests. Climate change is among the greatest threats humanity faces and synthetic biology lets us make the stuff we want while dramatically reducing our environmental impact. This technology lets us have our (genetically modified) cake and eat it too.

Market Drivers: Synthetic biology is emerging as several technologies converge and reach maturity including: 

1) DNA sequencing costs have dropped by many orders of magnitude. 2) The ability to read, write, and edit DNA with tools like CRISPR-Cas9. 3) Cell-free biology has led to faster iteration cycles, more precise control of reactions, and less “background noise” than would occur in a full cellular system.4) Advanced biosensors make testing faster and cheaper and speed up feedback loops.5) Computing power allows us to synthesize data and digitally model the physical world, leading to cheaper, faster iteration.

Climate change is going to have lots of second-order effects that we should start thinking about now. Vanilla only grows in a specific microclimate that could be disrupted. Warmer temperatures mean insect populations will increase. Rising sea levels threaten rice paddies. And of course, changing weather patterns will have myriad effects on where we grow crops and how productive they are. Synthetic biology provides the tools to manage these impacts without relying on the same methods that got us into this situation – fossil fuels and petrochemicals, industrial agriculture, etc.

💡 How: This is a broad domain and there are several ways to think about the different approaches. A straightforward model is end-use or industry. Here are a few examples of how this can be applied. 

  • Materials: replacing or improving materials we use with alternatives that are lower impact. E.g. leather, dyes, or mineral ores. 

  • Pharmaceuticals: microbes can produce compounds, proteins, etc that we can’t make using other methods or more efficiently. E.g. Insulin. 

  • Agriculture: making seeds more resilient or grow faster, making crops healthier, or reducing the need for chemical fertilizers or pesticides.. E.g. salt-tolerant rice, “golden rice”, Pivot Bio’s PROVEN® 40. 

  • Foodtech: Milk or beef without cows, etc. We can grow cells without an animal. Companies are targeting everything you can imagine, from fish, to chicken, to pork, to wooly mammoth. 

👀 Examples

  • MycoWorks* is disrupting the leather industry with a fungi-based alternative

  • Iridia* stores data in DNA

  • Melibio makes honey without bees

  • Joyn Bio develops microbial inputs for agriculture to improve performance

  • Wildtype makes sushi-grade salmon through cellular agriculture

  • Moderna and BioNTech produced Covid-19 vaccines using syn-bio. 

*MycoWorks and Iridia are Prime Movers Lab portfolio companies. 

Data x Climate

For those of us (like myself) to lazy to read the full climate bill... 

That's all for today and have a great weekend ahead! 

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Curated by Nicola & Arman