World Economic Forum Names 2015 Technology Pioneers

This year’s World Economic Forum announced a number of companies that they designated as Technology Pioneers in three categories: Information Technology, Life Sciences & Health, and Energy Environment & Infrastructure. Fourteen of these were in the last category, several of which have some very innovative and potentially significant products.

For example, Blue River Technology has developed smart machines that deploy a highly sophisticated form of targeted agriculture that can increase production while providing an alternative to the chemical-intensive agriculture used today that is so costly and environmentally damaging. These machines use imaging technology, robotics and machine learning to analyze each plant and identify weeds that are then removed mechanically. Blue River began with the "LettuceBot" in California and will be expanding to other crops soon. They envision a future where robots "make every plant count", allowing a farmer to individually care for each plant in their field. Of course these robot will need power to run, which could come from solar or biofuel, but using them could increase yields and reduce or eliminate the need for many herbicides.

Another exciting company is Carbon Clean Solutions. These folks are capitalizing on the idea first put forth in the now famous book Cradle to Cradle which espouse the concept that in nature waste equals food. Their technology radically reduces the cost of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from various industrial processes and energy generation plants. The then turn around and use this captured CO2 as a feedstock in downstream industries, ranging from the plastics, chemicals, oil & gas and biofuels. Industries served include fertilizers, iron and steel, and power generation. Carbon Clean's technology not only reduces CO2 in the atmosphere, mitigating climate change, but also produces economic incentive to do so.

Plant-e produces electricity directly from plants. As plant waste matter is broken down by bacteria, electrons are released. It’s possible to harvest those electrons without affecting the plant’s growth in any way. They have two of these systems operating in the Netherlands, powering outdoor lighting. Other small-to-medium scale applications such as WiFi or charging mobiles, or incorporation into a green roof to generate electricity for a building as well as insulating it, can also be served.

STEM intelligent storage combines big data, predictive analytics, and energy storage to match supply and demand nearly seamlessly. It also learns the customer’s usage patterns, enabling them to purchase power from the grid at the most economical times, while ensuring an uninterrupted supply of electricity. This ultimately reduces peak demand at the system level, which reduces emissions and facilitates the use of renewable energy sources.

Two companies aim their innovations at the question of wastes. BlueOak Resources is focused on electronic waste. They build mini-refineries that use proven, capital-efficient refining processes to extract precious metals and rare earth elements from e-waste. As natural supplies of various metals become scare, this use of e-waste is becoming a sustainable source of critical metals and rare earths for the technologies of tomorrow. Not only does this circular economy process keep harmful waste products out of circulation, it also eliminates or reduces the need for hazardous and toxic mining processes.

Miniwiz, on the other hand, not only recycles e-waste, it deals with a multitude of materials, turning them into a variety of products. Some examples include interlocking bricks made of recycled plastic that can be integrated with solar panels and LED lights as building elements. They also make  snap-together modular shelving systems made of recycled aluminum, polycarbonate from post-consumer CDs and DVDs, and FSC certified Mahogany or Teak

Sensity combines LED lighting with sensors and networking to provide highly targeted and super-efficient lighting solutions for tomorrow’s smart cities.

And Heliatek makes a non-toxic flexible solar film that performs well in all conditions, producing electricity at an impressive 12% efficiency with a high degree of transparency. It can be incorporated into building facades, bonded to concrete or metal, or even onto window glass, where it can provide as much as 50% transparency. Likewise, they can be incorporated into automobile sunroofs.

Speaking of sunroofs, Coelux, makes a nano-fabricated material for windows and skylights. Designed to be used where no natural light is available is produces light with properties that are indistinguishable from natural sunshine.