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Real Tech: Capturing Emerging Innovation Opportunities in Climate and Sustainability

Cosmin Laslau, Ph.D., Director, Research Products
February 28, 2019

Climate Change and Sustainability are at the Top of Innovation Executives' Agendas, Now More Than Ever

As independent studies find that, for example, the world’s oceans are warming more quickly than previously thought, researchers, policymakers, and companies alike are facing urgency to act. After analyzing thousands of questions submitted to us, and key initiatives shared by hundreds of innovation executives we concur that the climate and sustainability megatrend is a top priority for the world’s largest companies. 

However, sustainability still remains a vague, ill-defined trend: It’s easy to pay lip service to, but spotting real innovation opportunities within climate and sustainability can be a difficult, subjective, and contentious process. 

Using Data Science to Empirically Spot the Winning Opportunities 

To quickly and reliably identify actionable opportunitieswe applied our own, custom-developed data science algorithmsFirst, we built a massive and diverse data lake, containing most of the world’s patents, papers, and funding, as well as proprietary Lux research. Secondly, we objectively quantified the innovation interest that competing technologies are attracting from real-world researchers, developers, and investors, based on this data lake. Third, we calculated leaderboard (which we call the Lux 299 Top Innovations) and used interactive data visualization to easily spot the emerging opportunities. 

Climate and Sustainability Emerging Innovations From the Lux 299 Top Innovations Leaderboard 

 Lux Research - Climate and Sustainability Emerging Innovations Radar (1)

How to read the radarTechnologies are organized into four key areas – Energy, Materials, Digital, and Health* Technologies are ranked by innovation activity – the outermost ring corresponds to lower levels of innovation activity, while the inner rings indicate higher levels of innovation activity, implying progress towards commercial impact. 

Findings: A Quantitative Analysis Identifying the Leading Technologies That Will Drive Sustainability Innovation

Our findings go beyond conventional renewables and electric cars, which are already table stakes in 2019. Based on the radar-visual above, and the described methodology, we identified the next wave of technology opportunities. 

Immediately clear is that energy-focused emerging innovations will play a key role: From next-generation batteries like solid-state designs powering future electric vehicles, to novel wind power engineering via tethered wind, there are ample opportunities for companies to engage. But our radar highlights opportunities with more pragmatic and incremental approaches too: Carbon conversion shows relatively high levels of innovation activity, like Thyssenkrupp’s improvement of steel production processes by launching a highly efficient alkaline electrolyzer. 

However, energy innovations are far from the only opportunities identified by our data-driven approach. Future materials opportunities highlighted include nanocellulose, a material offering improved renewability, biodegradability, and low toxicity. Materials process innovations feature too, such as upcycling – Ioniqa recently began construction of its first PET upcycling plant. Other innovations highlighted by our data science algorithms include digital technologies like wide bandgap semiconductors (WBGS) for more efficient power conversion, and – in another quadrant of the radar altogether – health and food innovations like cellular agriculture using the right resources. 

These highlights and the radar figure itself, are only a subset of the range of emerging innovations applicable to the climate and sustainability megatrend. To see more, explore the Lux 299 yourself here, or contact us to start a conversation about how data science can help bolster your strategic planning for this and other megatrends. 

*These key areas represent Lux’s program areas of expertise – innovation in sustainability is by no means limited to these areas, these are just the ones about which we have the deepest knowledge.


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