In the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, I feel compelled to understand what cleantech strategies are currently available to tackle climate change. California’s cleantech industry was an obvious thought that came to mind. Over the past decade, California’s institutions and companies have been leaders in the U.S. market for producing clean energy and biodegradable materials. This past summer, the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) in the Bay Area received federal funding for innovation in biofuels and bioproducts. Since its inception, JBEI has yielded several startups that are committed to engineering microbes and crops to convert sugars into high-value renewable fuels. But where does Massachusetts stand in the cleantech industry? Fortunately, we’re not too far behind.
The nation’s largest cleantech startup incubator actually exists right here in Massachusetts. The Somerville incubator Greentown Labs hosts more than 100 startup companies and has raised over $200 million in investor funding since its founding. There is an emphasis on solar, wind, and wastewater technology in this incubator that is very unique. For example, the startup WrightGrid has developed a single solar-panel-based charger for robust cell phone charging in rural areas. Furthermore, SolChroma has developed full-color reflective digital billboards that reduce light pollution and energy costs in big cities. The company Sistine Solar can come to your home and design personalized solar panels in all aesthetic shapes and colors, enticing homeowners to switch to solar energy. One company that piqued my interest was Spyce, a startup intersecting food and technology. The company has developed a robotic kitchen that can serve meals with fresh ingredients in less than five minutes. The robotic kitchen is compact and reduces the amount of space and manpower that is typically needed at restaurants to prepare meals.
For the global market, Greentown Labs hosts Promethean Power Systems, a company that manufacturers rural refrigeration systems in off-grid and partially electrified areas of developing countries. In the same vein, Ivys Energy Solutions provides renewable hydrogen fuel cells to the international market. For the agrigulture sector, Raptor Maps fuses drone-based imaging technology to detect pest and weed infestation so to reduce water usage and nutrient management. Multisensor Scientific has also developed imaging capabilities to visualize and quantify in real-time methane leaks from natural gas infrastructures, thus reducing harmful methane emissions that are driving climate change. In the materials sector, Alkemy Environmental recycles industrial waste into lightweight concrete. For water management, Aquafresco is reinventing how we do laundry through a wastewater recycling invention that reduces the amount of water we use by 95%
Just a week ago, Tufts University collaborated with Greentown Labs to support cleantech solutions. The agreement between the parties will allow them to share their expertise, resources, and networks. The collaboration is also exciting because it allows for startups run by Tufts affiliates to directly become members of Greentown Labs. Currently Greentown Labs is tight on space but they are opening up a new building in Somerville next month to host more startups. The expansion of Greentown Labs is very promising for the future of cleantech in the Boston area. Just like Kendall is synonymous with biotech, in the next few years Somerville will be synonymous with yuppies, hipsters, and, perhaps, cleantech.