Climate Action

From lab to market: How to support the next generation of climate technologies

Tencent's green data centre in Tianjing, China is an example of the next generation of climate technologies.

The distributed new energy microgrid project started to generate electricity in Tencent’s Tianjin High-Tech Data Center in January 2024. Image: Tencent

Xu Hao
Vice-President, Sustainable Social Value; Head, Carbon Neutrality Lab, Tencent Holdings
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This article is part of: Annual Meeting of the New Champions
  • Many climate technology breakthroughs fail because they lack the resources to leap from lab to application, or fail to scale enough to be viable.
  • CarbonX is an initiative to identify and nurture new technologies and critical capabilities that will be needed in the quest to reach net zero.
  • Backed by about $13.8 million, the first cohort of CarbonX winners have a focus on solutions in the field of CCUS and tech-based carbon removal.
  • After a successful initial phase, CarbonX will launch a second global phase, the next step in accelerating early-stage climate-tech innovation.

The urgency of our climate crisis is undeniable. Yet with research warning the world could miss the goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C – and some studies even indicating that we may have already surpassed it – we must collaborate to explore more pathways to a greener future, which includes embracing business models that can best foster green-tech success.

Technologies such as renewable energy and electric vehicles are now common facets of modern life. However, even those solutions in combination with nature-based solutions such as limiting deforestation and restoring ecosystems won’t suffice. We must all rapidly explore and invest in promising new technologies that can reduce carbon emissions in hard-to-abate sectors such as steel and cement, for which there is no cheap or easy path to decarbonization.

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Given that the mid-point to the Paris Agreement is approaching, the next few years are critical.

Unfortunately, many potential climate technology breakthroughs wither on the vine because they lack the resources to leap from the lab to application, or they fail to scale enough to be viable.

To help more big ideas make it to market and actually succeed in mitigating climate change we have launched CarbonX – an initiative to identify and nurture new technologies and critical capabilities that will be needed in the quest to reach net zero.

CarbonX kicked off in March 2023 with an initial focus on solutions in the field of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), and technology-based carbon removal. We are committing more than 200 million RMB ($28 million) over three years, with the aim of boosting the next wave of green innovations.

After evaluating applications from more than 300 teams across China, we narrowed down the pool to 30 finalists, from which we selected the first cohort of 13 winners. The programme will provide a total of around 100 million RMB in funding and support, such as research and commercialization advice to continue their work and hopefully make an impact in the ultimate global challenge of our era.

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The role of CCUS in decarbonization

Despite encouraging momentum in renewables and electrification, many industries still have no affordable or practical way to decarbonize. Sectors such as cement and steel emit CO2 as an inherent result of their industrial processes. Yet these businesses are critical to our modern society – and even to the green transition itself – by supplying key materials and components used to build more efficient buildings, electric cars and other products.

CCUS and technology-based carbon removal offer a solution. By filtering CO2 out of industrial flues or pulling it directly out of the air – picture a vacuum – the gas can then be concentrated and safely stored underground or repurposed as an input for building materials, synthetic fuels or greenhouse facilities. Some of these technologies can not only help prevent new carbon from entering the atmosphere, but also draw down CO2 that has been accumulating over centuries.

CCUS and technology-based carbon removal is a cross-sector effort, as it involves areas that include chemical engineering, geology, energy and materials. Innovation in technological pathways and strengthening capabilities in areas such as site selection, foundational data and accounting methodologies are all essential for the technology’s effective implementation.

To be sure, CCUS is not yet cost effective, but it’s also true that solar and wind power were more expensive than fossil fuels before they became competitive. Indeed, the International Energy Agency expects global carbon-capture capacity to rise more than sixfold by 2030, to 300 million tonnes a year, underscoring its emergence as a major player in the world’s decarbonization strategy. But that is not possible without adequate financial resources and other crucial forms of assistance.

Image: Tencent

From research lab to factory floor

That’s why CarbonX supports projects that fall within these three thematic categories, which we believe would best allow the advancement of the technologies:

  • Lab: Supports nascent technologies under development at research institutions, universities or labs. For example, some teams developed methods to use steel slag to capture and store CO2 directly from blast furnace exhaust, which also has a positive side benefit of reducing industrial waste.
  • Accelerator: Supports early-stage startups with commercialization potential. A few startups are converting CO2 into sustainable aviation fuel and valuable chemicals through tools such as electrochemical reactions or microorganisms.
  • Infrastructure: Supports capacity building, such as digital infrastructure, methodologies and other resources needed to help the industry develop. Some projects are seeking ways to better evaluate sites for CCUS projects or standardize carbon reduction or removal measurements – developing better methodologies for measuring, reporting, and verifying emissions.

Among this group of winners, selected by a panel of experts from academia, industries and venture capitals, four projects fall within the Lab track, six are from Accelerator and three are in the Infrastructure bucket. Winners were selected based on the potential they demonstrated in terms of innovation, impact and implementation.

In addition to financial and advisory support, some winning projects will collaborate with our industry partners to test their solutions in real-world settings. We believe that each technology, once at commercial scale, has the potential to reduce 100 million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year. Building upon the success of the first phase, we are poised to launch the second iteration globally as early as later this year in pursuit of more early-stage climate tech innovations.

Supporting the future

CarbonX is just one of the many ways in which Tencent is driving the transition to a low-carbon society. CCUS, while critical, is just one green-technology pathway that the world should pursue. Take the tech sector as an example, building ultra-efficient hyperscale data centres and contracting supplies of green energy from local grids are practical ways to reduce the carbon footprint. And we should also never forget the power of nature, taking actions to protect, sustainably manage or restore the nature ecosystem that could address the challenges of climate change. Those diversified approaches will help accelerate decarbonization.

The path forward is not easy. But in uncertainty lies hope. We also recognize that we’ve only begun our journey to fulfill our mission and embrace the simple idea that businesses must step up as responsible stakeholders in society.

As a global technology firm, Tencent has committed to achieving carbon neutrality in our own operations and supply chain by 2030. We believe corporations have a singular obligation to act as leaders in the fight to cool a warming planet. Individual citizens can contribute locally and globally in smaller ways; corporations have the opportunity to contribute on a large scale. Every product, every service, every person has the potential to drive positive social impact, and we welcome more like-minded partners to join us to create a greener, more prosperous future for all.

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