Against the Odds: Climate Innovation on the Rise in Oil-Dominated Regions

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By Diana Zaharia

What do you picture when you think about top green business ideas? Do you imagine a cool office in an environmentally-friendly coworking hub in The Netherlands, Silicon Valley, or somewhere in Norway? Well, think again!

Solid cleantech ideas can arise anywhere around the world, and increasingly they are coming from talented entrepreneurs in countries, even those with economies that are focused on oil, like Nigeria and Kazakhstan. Or cities like Baku in Azerbaijan, where oil is literally pouring out of the soil. So how do these brave minds plan to succeed there, right in the middle of the fossil fuel universe?

Feeling the Heat

It comes as no surprise that the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia regions are feeling the heat. Although still endowed with a huge deposit of natural resources and often the income that comes from those resources, water and food security are a critical concern for many of these countries.

climate launchpad
This month was the first ClimateLaunchpad Bootcamp in Nigeria.

According to a report from the Emirates Wildlife Society and World Wildlife Fund (EWS-WWF): “by 2050, humidity levels in United Arab Emirates will increase by 10 percent; air-conditioning demand will rise by as much as 35 percent; overall energy consumption will grow 11 percent annually; and utility costs for residents and building owners will reach $834 million per year.”

“While the oil-and natural gas-producing nations may be able to afford building district cooling facilities to protect residents indoors, construct water desalination plants and modernize infrastructures to address seasonal street flooding, poorer countries will struggle to cope with the adverse impact of global warming,” writes Eniday, the media portal of one of the global super-players in the oil and gas sector.

Bridging the Gap

The Paris targets show that we need to leave more than 80% of known fossil fuel reserves underground. However, few companies are truly committed to leaving the coal, oil, and gas in the earth, and next to zero nations are willing to make them do so. So how do green and cleantech entrepreneurs in these regions bring their solutions to market and solve the problem of energy access by using renewables?

Part of the solution is initiated by the world’s largest green business ideas competition, called ClimateLaunchpad*, and supported by EIT Climate-KIC, a body of the European Union. In recent years the platform opened up for entrepreneurs and green business enthusiasts in countries like Nigeria, Kazakhstan, India, Malaysia, and Azerbaijan. And the numbers are astonishing.

Every year, new countries join the global network, now reaching close to 4,000 green business ideas submitted globally over the past five years, currently running in 50 locations in 45 countries. This year the Global Grand Final will take place in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 1-2 November. On top of choosing the 2018 winners, it promises to unlock a global conversation with 700 people about fixing climate change.

Fertile Grounds for Green Tech Innovators

For the second year in a row, Azerbaijan has landed in the top three of countries to enter the highest numbers of green business ideas in ClimateLaunchpad. And by doing so they are outperforming countries like England, Germany, Norway, The Netherlands in Western Europe, and Australia.

Azerbaijan is one of the birthplaces of the oil industry, with a history strongly linked to the fortunes of petroleum. But these days the country also produces some of the brightest young entrepreneurs, green tech innovators, and game changers.

Take Reyhan Jamalova, the CEO and founder of Rainergy, the Azerbaijan start-up that produces electricity from rainwater. Reyhan is 15 years old and she was 14 when she joined ClimateLaunchpad. She was recently named one of the most promising entrepreneurs on the Forbes 30-Under-30 list.

Her technology is a smart generator that harvests energy from rain. Piezo electric crystals have the unique property to convert external pressure on the crystal into electric current. When the rain falls on the piezo electric crystals, the pressure of the raindrops generates small amounts of energy. The initial prototype of Rainergy produces 22W of power and feeds up to 22 LED lamps. While piezo electric rain generators produce only 25 micro-watts of power, the Rainergy model is much more efficient. Also it stores energy in the accumulator with the help of batteries, so that it can still be used when there is no rain. Moreover, Rainergy reduces the amount of CO2 emissions to 10 g per kWh during the production of the electricity. That is very low compared to the other current alternative energy solutions.

“I can say that as a 14 year old student I didn’t know anything about building a business. During ClimateLaunchpad I learned a lot about it, met amazing teams, and expanded my network,” says Reyhan. “We have applied for patent and the process continues. Also, we applied with The Republic of Azerbaijan State Agency on Renewable and Alternative Energy and we are still negotiating our conditions. Our main goal now is to increase the efficiency of the product and develop it further.”

Another example is CO2atalyser. This startup founded by Professor Yusif Abdullayev joined ClimateLaunchpad in Azerbaijan in 2017 to transform research into a business. Efficient conversion of CO2 being a key challenge for the chemistry community, but Prof. Abdullayev and his team developed a product that can save up to 85% in CO2 emissions for every factory using it. The technology is a unique catalyst that enables higher efficiency and long-term stability compared to traditional metal catalysts, such as nano-gold, platinum, and ruthenium.

The team from CO2atalyser at the 2017 ClimateLaunchpad participant.

CO2atalyser ended up being one of the top 15 out of 105 start-ups from 35 countries participating in the Global Grand Final last year in Cyprus. Following this result, the startup is now taking part in a larger acceleration program in Edinburgh. “ClimateLaunchpad systematically carries out opportunities to educate young people and researchers about creating successful start-ups. That’s why the programme is a great opportunity to turn green projects into real businesses,” says Prof. Abdullayev.

These are just two examples of a long and exciting list of similar examples that ClimateLaunchpad sees on the rise in oil rich countries.

Fixing Climate Change, One Startup at a Time

Frans Nauta, founder of ClimateLaunchpad says: “I have to be honest. When we launched our competition as a start-up movement to fix climate change, we did not expect to see the highest number of clean tech ideas coming from countries that are essentially oil-run economies. But both quantity and quality of the entrepreneurs and their ideas are impressive. And I have said it before; we need massive amounts of ideas if we want to stop climate change. Because there is not one cure, there will be thousands of little cures all across the globe. That will fix climate change.” Read more in our CleanTechnica interview with Frans Nauta and the ClimateLaunchpad team here.

This post was supported by ClimateLaunchpad

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