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COP26 technology challenges taken on by Cambridge companies

COP26 in Glasgow provided valuable networking benefits which are already accelerating climate-related solutions in Cambridge for sectors including automotive, pharma, agricultural, aviation and farming.

The Armadillo, Exhibition Halls and SSE Hydro, on the Scottish Event Campus alongside the River Clyde in Glasgow, hosted COP26
The Armadillo, Exhibition Halls and SSE Hydro, on the Scottish Event Campus alongside the River Clyde in Glasgow, hosted COP26

Nyobolt’s co-founder and chief scientist, Professor Clare Grey, spoke at the COP26 Decarbonisation Summit. Nyobolt’s niobium-based batteries are the world’s fastest-charging Li-ion batteries: Prof Grey linked the technology to decarbonisation.

“The future of battery technology is transformational to sustainable energy,” she told her audience. “It will not only enable net zero both in the electrification of transport, but also the storing of clean and renewable energy on and off the grid. Without ultra-fast charging, high power batteries and commitment from government to implement the infrastructure to make electric power a priority, we simply won’t be using the technological power that we have in our hands to reach our clean energy goals.”

Dr Clare Grey, founder and chief scientists of Nyobolt, at Pembroke College. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Clare Grey, founder and chief scientists of Nyobolt, at Pembroke College. Picture: Keith Heppell

For Eagle Genomics, the summit presented an opportunity to generate discussions on the health of the soil – and, in so doing, ensuring that humanity eats healthier food.

Eagle Genomics’ microbiome innovation platform elevates the gut and gut bacteria to a primacy it has never previously enjoyed: in so doing the potential for understanding the microbiome is just starting to be explored.

CEO Anthony Finbow’s talk was titled ‘How do we address key health and nutrition challenges within 1.5º?’. It took place at a special COP26 session at the Global Innovation Hub, organised by EIT Food (an agrifood programme at the European Institute of Innovation and Technology).

Eagle Genomics is a ‘rising food star’ in the EIT Food programme,” said Anthony after the summit ended. “We’re transforming the way we deliver foods from the farm to the fork.

“I spent a day in Glasgow, and there’s been lots of fascinating conversations that have come out of that. The positive response to my talk was good, but why are we interesting to these communities? It’s because we are focused on system change, not just solution change.

Anthony Finbow, CEO of Eagle Genomics
Anthony Finbow, CEO of Eagle Genomics

“Since the end of the Second World War food companies have targeted on delivering calories. This has had a catastrophic impact and half the world is now malnourished, and half is over-nourished, and this focus on calories has brought about new diseases: cardiovascular diseases and autoimmune challenges, among others.

“To fully grasp how microscopic life works within its infinitely complex ecosystem, we need to network microbiome science. Thanks to future-forward technologies, we’re starting to build a network of understanding that conceives life as more of a complex system than was previously appreciated. This includes our understanding of the microbiome, which has the potential to transform food value chains and consumption patterns.”

One of the key sectors where emissions reductions must be made to reduce the effects of global warming is aviation. Angus Walker, partner at law firm BDB Pitmans, attended panels on decarbonising the aviation industry.

He said: “Hydrogen looks like a better bet than electric planes – as one speaker noted, 18 tonnes of traditional aviation fuel will get you from Luton to Dubai; an 18-tonne state-of-the-art battery will get you from Luton to Dover, but 18 tonnes of hydrogen will get you from Luton to Sydney.”

A ZEROe hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft
A ZEROe hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft

However, there were contrasting views on SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel) being part of the roadmap.

“SAF is generally agreed to be the ‘bridge’ needed between now and around 2035 when hydrogen, and possibly batteries, will be able to power planes,” said Angus. “Like gas replacing coal for electricity generation, there is a concern that SAF will need to be around for longer than it is needed if it is to be commercially viable: however the savings in emissions from now until 2035 means that it is likely to be worth encouraging it.”

Nathan Wrench, head of sustainability innovation at Cambridge Consultants, is sceptical about switching to SAF.

“All I ask is ‘where on earth will you get the carbon from?’ The hydrogen portion of the SAF is simple... it comes from water. But where does the carbon come from? How much energy does it take to get that carbon into the reactor vessel with the hydrogen, to make something that looks like kerosene?

“It’s an enormous factor – probably an order of magnitude worse than green hydrogen. There’s no viable scenario in which we can keep flying at this rate and at these costs.”

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