Illustrated graphic depicting a 'map' of the world in 2050. This idyllic scene shows a land with four islands that are home to a mixture of rural and urban scenes, with people of different ethnicities doing a mixture of science, agricultural jobs and everyday tasks, and various types of technology including drones, solar panels, green buildings ships and electric cars. Full description of the contents can be found in the text at https://imperialtechforesight.com/the-world-in-2050/[Explore the world in 2050: Working with Imperial’s TechForesight team and Grantham Institute colleagues, Digital Communications Officer Lottie Butler worked with designer Matthew Hart to develop an interactive feature to bring to life the best ideas and products designed by inventors, entrepreneurs and startup companies supported by the Grantham Institute, which could transform our relationship with the planet. © Designed by Matthew Hart for Tech Foresight /Grantham Institute]


All parts of society must adapt to tackle climate change, meaning there are many exciting opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs. Our startup accelerator has been growing insightful ideas into thriving businesses for more than ten years, helping innovators raise more than $250 million to nurture their enterprises and see them succeed.

The Grantham Institute is delighted to have secured more than £4.5 million from banking firm HSBC and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to continue this work for another five years. The Greenhouse is the name for this new accelerator programme, which is taking in its first startups in January 2021. In parallel, plans to create wide-ranging programmes and a physical hub for climate change innovators have won support from the Mayor of London.

A new Centre for Climate Change Innovation (CCCI) will bring together financiers, entrepreneurs, policymakers, NGOs and other parts of civil society to drive innovation, change and help London and the United Kingdom capitalise on the opportunities in creating a resilient, zero-carbon society. Business and philanthropists who are interested in getting involved or connecting with innovators, should contact Dr Sarah Flew, Deputy Director of Development, on s.flew@imperial.ac.uk.

Designing the future

The world in 2050, mapped by imperial innovators

A lot can happen in 30 years. Remember 1990, without cheap short-haul flights, mobiles were the size of bricks and no Google, Amazon, Facebook or Netflix? The previous 30 years have also shown that unsustainable development has widened the gap between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, plundered the natural environment, fuelled climate change and devastated biodiversity. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the modern world. So, do we now return to normal or choose to change?

Given this challenge, the Grantham Institute created an interactive feature that asked: “What kind of world do we want to inhabit in another 30 years?”. Speaking about the feature, Digital Communications Officer Lottie Butler says: “The World in 2050 came from a simple question: ‘What would the world look like if we successfully limit climate change?’. It offers a positive future vision by exploring ideas, technologies and opportunities that exist today in the context of the next 30 years. These technologies have the potential to transform humanity’s relationship with the planet and create prosperity, helping to build a cleaner, greener, fairer future.”

Startups that inspired the interactive feature include Arborea, whose founders have developed a technology that facilitates the growth of micro- scopic plants to produce healthy food ingredients, all while generating oxygen and absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide; and Lixea, who have commercialised a process that enables wood waste to be used for the production of renewable chemicals, materials and fuels.

EXPLORE:  World in 2050 interactive feature

Science fiction shows far-out vision for a green future

There are many uncertainties to consider when planning the transition to a clean, green future, and reality rarely follows a predictable path. The Grantham Institute’s Dr Ajay Gambhir and Dr Joeri Rogelj have investigated how to use different methods of ‘futures analysis’ to better understand our dynamic world and anticipate hard-to-imagine hurdles or unseen opportunities in the quest to halt climate change.

They have written a briefing paper with ClimateWorks Foundation in which they show that using qualitative scenarios, expert judgements, simulation and agent-based models, and even science fiction narratives, can produce more imaginative, but also realistic predictions when planning for the zero-carbon future. “Policymakers,” they write, “should be aware of, and prepare for, the full range of potential challenges that will face their mitigation strategies in the coming years as a result of future developments.”

READ MORE: Futures analysis briefing paper 

Why do we need to expand our imagination when it comes to planning for the zero carbon future?

There are lots of uncertainties to consider when planning the transition to a zero-carbon future. How can different futures analysis methods help us to better understand our rapidly changing world and how to shift to a cleaner, greener future?

 

Podcast: Accelerating to a Better Future

Accelerating to a Better Future logoA new podcast series celebrates the work of the Grantham Institute’s accelerator programme, with stories from successful entrepreneurs who have transformed bright ideas into useable products that create prosperity and help tackle climate change.

Contributors include Solveiga Pakštaite, Founder & Director at Mimica, Elena Dieckmann, Co-Founder & Head of Innovation at Aeropowder, and Naveed Chaudhry, Head of The Greenhouse at the Centre for Climate Change Innovation.

LISTEN: Accelerating to a Better Future

The Tyre Collective curbs microplastic pollution

Vehicles are a major source of pollution, even aside from the carbon emissions created by combustion engines. Every time a vehicle brakes, accelerates or turns a corner, tiny particles of the tyres wear off producing half a mil- lion tonnes annually in Europe alone, and the second largest microplastic pollutant in our ocean.

The Tyre Collective, a startup founded by Imperial students, has created a device that uses electrostatic technology to capture microplastic particles straight off the tyre. They envisage their device becoming as common as the catalytic  converter, and a new environmental standard for vehicles.

“As a team, our strength lies in our diversity. We come from all four corners of the globe and bring with us a wealth of knowledge in mechanical engineering, product design, architecture and biomechanics”, explains co-founder Hugo Richardson.

In 2020, the team, who took part in the EIT Climate-KIC Climate Launchpad Programme, won the UK national James Dyson Award as well as prizes in Imperial’s Venture Catalyst Challenge and the Mayor of London’s Entrepreneurship Programme.

Students make fish-food out of cheap plant oils

Fish farming, or aquaculture, is seen as a more sustainable way of satisfying the global demand for seafood – an essential source of dietary protein for at least 1 billion people worldwide. However, a third of all fish taken from the ocean are used to feed farmed fish due to the nutritious Omega-3 oils they contain.

“You need 4,200 wild caught fish to provide enough Omega-3 for just one farmed salmon during its lifetime, so if you multiply the amount of wild fish needed to support the industry it’s really alarming,” explains Imperial undergraduate Reiss Jones, co-founder of student-led startup Synthesea.

Synthesea have developed a way of using synthetic biology to convert sustainable plant oils into Omega-3. This process is up to 88% cheaper than using current methods and helps to prevent overfishing from the ocean. “We are trying to replace the use of wild fish in the system with a sustainable and cheaper alternative,” says Reiss.

Synthesea took part in the 2020 EIT Climate-KIC Climate Launchpad Programme run by the Grantham Institute. As well as winning the UK-England competition, they finished in the top-16 globally.

Quick read: Ones to watch

With support from the Grantham Institute, startup Treeconomy, founded by Master’s students Harry Grocott and Robert Godfrey, provides a one-stop-shop for landowners to earn money by planting trees to combat climate change. They use satellites to quantify the carbon captured by forests, creating a highly verifiable and trusted value as an ‘offset’ for carbon emissions. Selling certificates for carbon offsets can earn money for the landowners and provide an incentive to maintain forests. Treeconomy won the People’s Prize in Imperial’s Venture Catalyst Challenge.


A startup founded by students has developed an algae-based alternative that could replace microplastics commonly found in toiletries, paints and detergents. Pieces of plastic smaller than 5mm pass through water filtration systems and harm wildlife, but Green Beads, founded by Lu Ai, use non-toxic algae grown naturally in water to create biodegradable beads. Green Beads won the £15,000 top prize in the 2020 WE Innovate final, an Imperial Enterprise Lab programme to inspire and boost women entrepreneurs.


A team of Imperial graduates is turning waste crustacean shells into a biodegradable, compostable material, providing an alternative to plastic packaging. The Shellworks, founded by Insiya Jafferjee, Amir Afshar and Edward Jones won the Venture Catalyst Challenge top prize of £30,000. After graduating from the Accelerator, they secured paid pilots with two global cosmetics companies to make bottle caps, trays and outer packaging.