👕 ClimateHack Vol 9: Biomaterials and Climate

PLUS: the environmental impact of 57,000 grocery items.

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What’s in today's edition? 🔎 57,000 grocery store items and their environmental impact. ❄️ $2.5 million seed funding to scale sustainable cooling solutions.🥤 Conversation on Biomaterials x Climate with Synthesis Capital.

Digest x Climate

🔎 A massive new study has estimated the environmental impact of 57,000 grocery store items. The researchers are among the first to assess the impact of products with multiple ingredients, and their work has the potential to pave the way for wide-spread use of eco-labels on foods.

📈 Whats up? A report by nonprofit research group First Street Foundation claims that the US could see a new “extreme heat belt” as far north as Chicago by 2053.

📉 Whats down? New findings from a Deutsche Welle investigation show that European corporate plastic pledges are falling short, and some of the targets reported as being met were “more marketing ploys than long-term improvements.”

💡 Good read: Currently, climate adaptation initiatives — that is, those that help people, animals, and plants to survive despite rising climate volatility rather than trying to reverse it - receive only 7% of climate-related investment. Here's why that needs to change.

Food x Climate

🌾 Arable secured $40 million Series C funding, in a round led by Galvanize Climate Solutions, to advance climate resilience in agriculture through its field intelligence technology, which provides data on weather, soil, plant health and other critical environmental conditions.

🚜 California-based Groundwork BioAg raised $18 million in a Series B funding round led by Climate Innovation Capital for its BioPlatform, designed to deliver ROI to both conventional and regenerative farmers while permanently sequestering carbon in their fields.

🌎 This year, for the first time, the United Nations’ climate change conference, COP27, will host pavilions dedicated to food system change featuring ProVeg International, marking a “tectonic shift in the UN’s approach to food systems”.

🇪🇸 Spain is introducing food waste legislation that will come into force next year. Under the new legislation, food companies will have to formulate food waste reduction plans, and e.g. supermarkets will have to drop the price of food as it nears the sell-by-date.

Energy x Climate

❄️ Sustainable cooling company Koolboks closed a $2.5 million seed funding round led by Aruwa Capital Management. It plans to scale its accessible offgrid solar refrigeration solutions across Nigeria to help reduce food waste and GHG emissions.

🔋 BlackRock Real Assets has committed over AUS$1 billion “to support the build-out” of more than 1 gigawatt of battery storage assets, which are set to become increasingly important as renewable energy capacity expands.

☀️ Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed flexible, ultra-thin electronics which float on water and are inspired by photosynthesis, designed to convert sunlight energy to fuel.

🧂 Dutch startup Thorizon secured €12.5 million to complete the first prototype of its thorium molten salt reactor, a next-generation nuclear reactor designed to address current energy issues.

🌡 Also based in the Netherlands, Gradyent raised €10 million for its technology platform, designed to help heating companies optimise their heat systems and save CO2 to deliver affordable and reliable heat.

Materials x Climate

🍄 South Korean startup Mycel secured $10 million pre-Series A funding to scale manufacturing and commercialise its mycelium-based leather alternative, designed for use in automobile seats, high-end cosmetics, and fashion items, in 2023.

🇮🇳 A Big Indian Story, based in Pune, closed a pre-Series A funding round to support its plans to “pioneer the sustainable fashion movement in India” with its collections featuring sustainable leather alternatives such as Pinatex and Desserto.

Transport x Climate

⚡️ Exponent Energy, based in Bangalore, secured $13 million Series A funding to deliver 15-minute rapid charging for electric vehicles with its its proprietary battery pack and charging infrastructure.

🍔 Swedish freight technology company Einride is partnering with Beyond Meat to provide the plant-based meat pioneer with electric transport solutions for its US operations.

Funds x Climate

🇱🇹 Lithuanian climate tech investor Contrarian Ventures is raising $100 million for its second seed-stage fund. To date, its completed 21 deals, including e-bike maker Zoomo and solar data firm PVcase.

🇩🇪 Berlin-based Future Energy Ventures is raising a €250 million fund to support Series A and B startups focusing on transitioning traditional energy towards net zero, in Europe, North America, and Israel.

🍟 McDonald’s Canada and McCain Foods have teamed up to launch the Future of Potato Farming Fund, a $1 million investment to help improve soil health using regenerative farming practices.

Conversations x Climate: Biomaterials and Climate

This week I reached out to Catherine Tubb, Director of Research at Synthesis Capital, the largest global foodtech focused VC having raised over $300m in capital commitments.

Her introduction to the word of foodtech was through RethinkX. In 2019 she wrote “Rethinking Food and Agriculture 2020-30: The Second Domestication of Plants and Animals, The Disruption of the Cow and the Collapse of Industrial Livestock Farming”, still seen by many as key reading in the space.

While firmly back in the world of food today, she most recently worked at Planet Tracker as Head of Textiles, and that has given her a unique view on the materials and textiles sectors.

What's the pitch for synbio and materials, and why should we care?

🥤 The context: Materials pose a unique challenge that we don’t see (as much of) in food. Non biodegradable waste. As such, the environmental challenges posed by the sector have an additional layer of complexity.

For the purposes of this let’s think about materials as products currently made from plastic. Plastic is of course ubiquitous, important, extremely useful, and very maligned.

❌ The Problem: It is not the plastic itself that is bad (just as a cow is not “bad” more the impact of it), but how it is produced (from oil), and where it ends up – a result of it taking a long time to biodegrade.

Microplastics have been found on top of Everest, deep in the Arctic, in the placentas of unborn babies and deep in the lungs of living people. The health ramifications of these are still relatively unknown, but probably not great! The environmental statistics around plastic pollution are damming – and beyond production, it is the waste that is the real issue.

When plastics are disposed, they generally go to landfill or are incinerated (releasing yet more toxic gases into the air). Textiles is a particular issue (according to the IUCN about 35% of microplastics originate from synthetic textiles, and another 28 from tires) when it comes to waste, with fast fashion contributing because of the high churn.

But let’s be clear, everyone reading this is likely using plastic in some way all day everyday with through their consumer electronics (iPhone, computer or the reusable coffee cup), packaging their food and the clothes you wear. It is likely that without plastic, the progress we benefit from as humans would not have happened.

💡 The Pitch: Synbio could revolutionize how materials are made, used and recycled.

With Synbio we have the potential to not only access new types of materials, but also enable less resource intensive manufacturing processes, and a way to break down plastics at the end of their life. For new materials, you might be familiar with the same technologies we are seeing in foodtech. Like the alternative protein space, we are seeing plant, cell and fermentation-based alternatives all making up the “next-gen” materials market.

However, synthetic biology is offering the potential for plastics to have a circular production system. Circularity continues to be the key “get out of jail free card” for plastics producers (which are often the oil majors). Everyone talks about the promise of circularity, but we are not there yet.

📈 The Market: In their recent “State of the Industry Report: Next Gen Materials” the Materials Innovation Initiative forecasts that the next-gen material wholesale market will grow from USD 65 million in 2020 to USD 2.2 billion by 2026, a CAGR of 80%. While many of these companies are focusing on replacing animal-based materials, like leather, ultimately these new technologies and materials could be used to replace all sorts of materials.

👀 The current state:- VitroLabs are using cell-based techniques to replicate the hide of a cow (or any animal).- Spiber are using precision fermentation to make their Brewed Protein™ which you can buy today at Pangaia.- Geltor, have made collagen protein (the core protein found in skin and therefore leather) and then turned it into leather – they famously used a jellyfish-based collagen to create a lab-grown leather book cover.- Bolt Threads has developed Mylo™ using mycelium technology, and Mycoworks has partnered with the luxury brand Hermès to bring their Reishi™ myco material to the premium market.

The sustainable materials company Natural Fiber Welding has a plant based material called Mirum™ which ‘performs on-par’ with animal-based leather, yet sidesteps the downfalls of other leather types and has been invested in by BMW iVentures. Meanwhile, Piñatex, a textile made from pineapple leaf fibre, have collaborated with Zara, where as of today, you can buy trainers or bags made with their material.

💰 The Funding: Investment so far is behind alternative proteins for food. Which is surprising as arguably, materials offer a simpler route to market; with less regulation, and a more segmented market with luxury goods companies and discerning customers in a better position to pay higher prices.

🔮 The Potential: But Synbio is not just changing the materials and their sources but impacting the whole process. For example, Colorifix is using an entirely biological process to produce, deposit and fix pigments onto textiles, cutting out the use of harsh chemistry and leading to huge reductions in water consumption. The microbial production of dye has not gone unnoticed. The Forbes Pigment Collection – a repository of some of the rarest and culturally significant pigments employed by artists across the world since 1,000 BC – had a new addition to the library in the form of a set of instructions for creating colour from micro-organisms.

Synbio also has the potential to speeding up how we degrade these materials and recycle them. Decomposition after all is a chemical process and as such has the potential to be accelerated by a catalyst. Most biochemical reactions in nature are sped up by enzymes. The decomposition of plastic waste is no different. Scientists have discovered enzymes that can break down plastic waste in days. While this discovery is early, it clearly has incredibly important potential!

Finally, while some of these seem a world apart from food, ultimately there are overlaps and so the good news investment in materials is likely to help discoveries in alternative food – and vice versa! Don’t be surprised if the next foodtech company comes from the materials space.

📚 Further Reading:

You can read more on the impact of microbes on textiles and the possible consequences in “Will Alternative Textiles Disrupt Proteins” and “New Skin in the Game: Consequences of Adopting Next Generation Leather Faster than Expected”.

The Ellen McArthur Foundation has published extensively on circularity across a range of areas (plastics, fashion and food).

Memes x Climate: The Metaverse

Who spent it better?

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

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Curated by Nicola & Arman