If the technology of industrialization can be blamed, at least in part, for humanity’s effects on the planet, can technology also offer a way out?
This is the purpose of green tech, which aims to reduce humanity’s impact on the environment. And to reverse the damage we have caused.
Let’s dig into where green tech is right now, where it’s headed, and what some of the key green tech players are up to.
What Is Green Tech?
Green tech is technology designed to improve the state of the environment, by mitigating the negative effects of human society on the planet, or actively reversing those effects.
There are many fields within this category. For example, companies working within the circular economy look to design systems where waste products can be repurposed, effectively creating a closed (or mostly) closed loop of sustainable technology that minimizes waste and pollution.
Companies within battery technology look to find the next generation of designs that allow for higher energy density, and lower environmental cost of construction. These won’t just be used to power EVs and mobile devices, but to act as storage for renewable energy methods like solar, wind and hydroelectric.
There are the hydrogen and electric car technology companies that can help loosen fossil fuels’ grip on modern society. Carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) projects seek to pull carbon out of the atmosphere to reduce or negate the carbon footprint of heavy industry.
While these all sound extremely promising, a lot of what may initially appear to be obvious solutions, or mitigators, to the climate crisis have significant practical drawbacks.
It’s also important to differentiate between companies that work on these forms of green tech and tech companies with green aspirations. For example, Apple, Microsoft, Google and Meta are among the tech companies that have pledged to reach net zero operationally. But not all of these “green tech companies” actually develop and produce the green tech under discussion.
Some of these efforts deserve to be viewed skeptically, too, as many initiatives are reliant on carbon offsetting, which is where companies fund projects meant to compensate for their carbon-creating activities. Why? A collective research project by The Guardian, Die Zeit and SourceMaterial published in 2023 found up to 90% of these “carbon credit” initiatives were “worthless” and would not result in anything like the emissions reductions claimed.
Top Green Tech Companies Paving The Way
While there are countless green technology companies out there, some to look into include Google X spin-off Malta, which works in molten salt batteries, CCUS specialist Carbfix, Geothermal energy company Eversource and hydrogen fuel cell developer Plus Power.
Malta Inc. began as one of Google’s X “moonshot” projects, and works in molten salt power storage. This type of battery uses an electrolyte that is in a frozen state at room temperatures, and allows for energy storage of renewables for months at a time. It does then have to be heated to 200 to 300 degrees centigrade to work as a power supply, though.
Carbfix is an Icelandic company that works in carbon capture, but does not rely on finding immediately commercial uses for captured carbon dioxide. Instead, it effectively injects it into underground rock sediments.
“Carbon dioxide is dissolved in water and interacts with reactive rock formations, such as basalts, to form stable minerals providing a permanent and safe carbon sink. The Carbfix process captures and permanently removes CO2,” says Carbfix.
However, carbon capture techniques often face significant criticism, for being too expensive to implement practically and for acting as an excuse to slow down the transition away from the use of fossil fuels.
Here’s a closer look at two other key pioneers of different forms of green tech.
1. Samsung SDI
While Samsung is for the most part a company that uses its net zero climate aims as part of its marketing strategy, some of its constituent parts are involved in green technologies, like Samsung SDI. It is a key proponent of solid state batteries.
These are like the lithium ion batteries used in everything from phones to electric vehicles, but they use a solid electrolyte rather than a liquid one. This means if the battery is damaged, it retains its integrity much better and isn’t susceptible to causing fierce fires like punctured lithium-ion batteries.
In turn, this allows for the batteries have less outsized protection, and reduces the need to produce smaller cells in the wider battery structure. This in turn leads to higher energy density per volumetric unit, which is why Samsung SDI is priming this technology for use in electric cars from 2027 onwards.
2. Mosa Meat
Netherlands technology company Mosa Meat works on lab-grown meat. This means the actual cells in a Mosa Meat steak are just like those of a cow’s flesh, but they don’t come directly from an actual animal. The cells are instead grown from a culture sample.
The company’s work is derived from tech you may have encountered before. Mosa Meat was co-founded by scientist Mark Post, who presented the “first lab-grown” burger in 2013. It was eaten during a press conference in London, and early reports on the experience of actually eating a patty were pretty positive, according to Inverse.
That burger cost an estimated $330,000 to produce, though, and part of the work of the last decade has been in devising production methods to bring that cost way down.
In May 2023 Mosa Meat opened a 30,000 square foot production plant in Maastrict to that end, upping production to tens to thousands of burgers a year.
More recently in January 2024, the company submitted its proposal to hold tasting events to a Dutch government committee designed to evaluate these forms of “novel food.”
It’s progress, but affordable lab-grown meat products are still a long way off, and even the more conventional meat replacement companies are struggling at present. Beyond Meat
However, there is still hope green tech like Mosa Meat may have a hand in leading the most stalwart of meat fans away from eating farmed animals. Livestock rearing accounts for anything from 11.1% to 19.6% of total greenhouse gas emissions according to studies cited by The Breakthrough Institute.
What Is The Future Of Green Technology?
Green technology is almost all “future.” Even projects already in operation are likely hoping to expand their scope. This becomes a question of which green technologies have the most promising future. And like every other area in tech, you can expect plenty of talk about AI in the short to medium term.
As noted in a Next Web report, analysis by Pitchbook also suggests the funding issues that plagued green technology companied throughout 2023 will continue into 2024. However, this is indicative of the wider fiscal outlook, not necessarily a slight on green concepts themselves.
Forrester senior analyst Abhijit Sunil also predicts big moves in the right to repair space across “three global Fortune 200 manufacturers,” which should help cut down on e-waste significantly.
Green tech will be a key factor in the world’s efforts to combat climate change. However, the technologies it refers to are diverse, and the links between them are at times limited.
They often share challenges, though. Green tech faces the recurring roadblock of reducing costs enough that wide-scale use becomes viable, and in some cases this is an insurmountable problem.