Weekly dose of microtrends that will shape our future

Our AI read 80M patent filings to find the best solutions for tackling climate change

Pulkit Jaiswal

Edited By Sarah Gupta, Thet Naing

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a harrowing report on the state of global warming, citing a future 1.5°C to 2°C increase in global temperature, in addition to severe weather events and other impacts.

Now, more than ever, sharply reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is extremely urgent, and recent legislation reflects this priority. We previously wrote about how the Infrastructure Bill plans to address climate change, and in this piece we’ll dive into some of the major technologies addressing carbon emissions, all surfaced through our platform.

The Infrastructure Bill will put billions of dollars towards carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration (CCUS), a host of technologies that could provide large-scale solutions to the ongoing climate crisis. Exxon believes the carbon capture and storage (CCS) addressable market will be $2 trillion by 2040.

In order to take effective action against climate change, gigatons of carbon must be removed from the air -- but how? Some companies store tanks of carbon dioxide deep underground, while others utilize carbon to make everything from batteries and fuel to plastics and cement.

The signal for “carbon sequestration” has steadily grown over the past few years, and NWO.AI predicts a sustained high Impact Score in the future.

NWO.AI Signal: Carbon Sequestration

Methodology

NWO.AI’s core algorithmic engine leverages a set of bleeding-edge natural language processing (NLP) technologies to extract core themes, ideas, and concepts from over 5 petabytes of human behavioral data across search engines, online media, TV, scientific literature, and e-commerce. In particular, our patent database (which dates back to 1976) is a goldmine for users to understand the emerging frontier of technology innovation happening across various industries. These patents, numbering 80 million, were modeled into a semantic knowledge graph. We use this graph as a historical benchmark to draw out novel, unique, and topical concepts related to our area of interest -- namely, Carbon Capture.

NWO.AI Constellation: Carbon Sequestration

By producing our Impact Score signal for each of the concepts, we’re able to tease out issues that are exploding from the ones that have the least amount of support from the general public. We can also identify issues that are out of the ordinary and stand out -- something that is cumbersome for industry leaders to do even with a team of human analysts. Here are the broad themes and key inflection points surfaced by our platform:

1. Carbon sinks

Soil, vegetation, and the ocean are all-natural carbon sinks; that is, they absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Research on the effectiveness of these natural processes has prompted investments into planting trees, among other related initiatives.

Soil

Due to soil composition and chemical interactions, nitrogen deposition plays a role in accelerating carbon sequestration. However, it is important to note that nitrogen is also a greenhouse gas, and large amounts of it would have a negative atmospheric impact.

NWO.AI Signals: Soil & Carbon Sink, Carbon Capture & Nitrogen Compound


Algae

While planting trees has become a common approach to reducing carbon emissions, it has some drawbacks. On the other hand, algae are easily grown and hundreds of times more efficient than trees at pulling out carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. Algae not only accomplish the goal of carbon sequestration, but can also be repurposed in everything from shampoo bottles to tennis shoes, and also as a biofuel.

NWO.AI Signals: Biomass Diesel, Biological Plastics, Carbon Dioxide Storage Tank

Ocean carbon capture

Though the ocean is a major carbon sink, high amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere have caused ocean acidification, which has a negative impact on sea life. Ocean carbon capture addresses this by extracting carbon from seawater and turning it into solid carbonates that can be used in construction.

NWO.AI Signals: Ocean Acidification, Ocean Carbon Capture

2. Carbon dioxide → energy

As we continue to search for renewable sources of energy and work towards net-zero emissions, carbon dioxide can actually be a useful ingredient.

Batteries

Building batteries as a carbon capture technology is nothing new, but there has been an increased interest of late. Our patents show data on lithium-ion batteries from 2017, and more recently we can see that vanadium nitride (VN) is also a material associated with carbon capture.

Fuel

Carbon dioxide into jet fuel? That’s right, recent advances could mean creating fuel that is effectively carbon neutral: CO2 is used to create the fuel, which then turns back into carbon dioxide once it’s combusted. Air travel makes up 2.5% of global carbon emissions, and has been considered one of the hardest sectors to decarbonize, but alternative fuel sources offer a viable solution.

3. Carbon storage

Direct Air Capture

Companies like Climeworks and Carbon Engineering have led the way in building massive direct air capture (DAC) hubs, which will remove thousands of tons of carbon dioxide from the air each year. It remains to be seen how scalable this technology will be, in terms of the amount of carbon processing as well as the cost.

NWO.AI Signals: Direct Air Capture, Climeworks, Carbon Sequestration

Cement

As construction continues to boom, it’s estimated that we will have “2 trillion square feet of buildings by 2060—the equivalent of putting up another New York City every month for the next 40 years.” How can we be mindful of reducing concrete’s global carbon footprint as we look to the future?

Cement accounts for 8% of carbon emissions, but it can be replaced as an ingredient in concrete without sacrificing quality. The process of mineral carbonation involves injecting CO2 into a byproduct from steel production in order to create a sturdy and carbon-negative substitute. With more construction expected, companies are incentivized to cut their net CO2 output through tax credits.

NWO.AI Signals: Carbon Credits, Industrial Emissions, Cements, Concrete

4. Stakeholders

This year, CarbonBuilt and CarbonCure won the Carbon XPRIZE for their approaches to carbon storage in cement. If the XPRIZE Foundation sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same organization that Elon Musk partnered with to launch a $100 million prize for carbon removal at the beginning of the year. He’s not the only billionaire pitching in: Bill Gates also pledged to invest in climate change projects. However, some argue that carbon capture technology is used to justify fossil fuels rather than research alternative energy sources.


As various stakeholders propose solutions to carbon dioxide emissions, it is clear that change must come on the industrial level. Importantly, the budget bill extends tax credits for clean energy credits, including energy storage.  We have likewise seen a change in Impact Score of +119% for carbon credits. This comes as no surprise, given the recent popularity of ESG investing.

Who are the Influential Voices?

And now, a word from one of our stakeholder intelligence scientists, Thet Naing. He’ll give us more insight into recent key players in the carbon space.

Hi, my name is Thet Naing, and I am a Data Scientist at NWO.ai. I recently designed a new platform tool called Influential Voices, which leverages artificial intelligence to identify the relevant and emerging stakeholders within a given context by leveraging a variety of factors and sources.

This approach uses advanced techniques in natural language processing (NLP) to identify and disambiguate entities in social and news chatter and searches a given trend to find the most relevant and influential stakeholders. We first generate an Impact Score for each stakeholder based on the general chatter around them, akin to our Impact Score for microtrends. Our cutting-edge algorithm then takes this Impact Score, as well as the chatter context and recency into consideration to calculate what we call an Influence Score. Using these signals, we are able to identify influential stakeholders (whether they are emerging or established players) in the context of any trend.  

In the below table, we see a sample of the top stakeholders for “carbon sequestration,” as ordered by Influence Score.

Stakeholders: Carbon Sequestration

Which sectors are represented?

  • Climate engineering companies: Climeworks, which is building Direct Air Capture (DAC) hubs, appears at the top of the list with a high Influence Score. This Swiss company is responsible for some of the largest DAC facilities in the world and is partnering with governments and smaller companies to expand. Most recently, Climeworks helped to open the largest DAC center in the world in Iceland. On the other hand, Indigo Agriculture, which has its own environmental technologies, offers carbon credits to farmers who reduce emissions, thereby attempting to improve existing practices rather than building large-scale centers.
  • Oil and energy: Interestingly, carbon dioxide can be used to release oil from underground; some companies even purchase previously extracted carbon dioxide that is lying in wait. It comes as no surprise that large oil companies are investing heavily in carbon capture technologies -- Occidental Petroleum, Shell, and BP make up some of the most Influential Voices on this topic. Energy companies are also big players in the space: NRG Energy sponsored this year’s XPRIZE, and Canadian TC Energy is looking to invest in the upcoming Alberta Carbon Grid project.
  • Government and non-profit: The Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), a government organization established to support agricultural interests, could help to carry out soil carbon sequestration as part of the Biden administration’s commitment to acting against climate change. Carbon storage has been around for a while, and other non-profit organizations like Batelle Memorial Institute have partnered with the Department of Energy in the past. Batelle continues to work on numerous carbon projects, both government and commercial. Another non-profit, Forest Trends, releases reports on climate issues and associated financial information, which in turn can help various stakeholders make investment decisions.
  • For-profit: Shopify, one of the many well-known e-commerce companies, has committed to Direct Air Capture. With a large revenue and reach, it’s interesting to see how even commercial companies are getting involved in the journey to reduce carbon emissions. Only time will tell if more will join, and which incentives will make them take action.

Next, we’ll look a little more in-depth at selected stakeholders from the various sectors: Climeworks, Commodity Credit Corporation, Occidental Petroleum, and Shopify.

The below graph shows the Impact Score for these selected stakeholders over the past 3 years. We can see that Climeworks has increased in Impact Score recently, likely because the discussion around its Iceland plant has continued to pick up. On the other hand, something like the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), a government organization, usually has less impact overall, although there was a spike in July 2018, when it was involved with an aid package for farmers.

Stakeholder Impact: Carbon Sequestration

This final graphic charts the relationship between a stakeholder’s impact and influence. On the X-axis, we have the Influence Score, and on the Y-axis we have the Impact Score, both of which are on a scale of 0 to 100. These axes allow us to visualize if a stakeholder is more of an established voice or is only now emerging, and to what degree. For example, Shopify and Climeworks both have similar Impact Scores, but Climeworks has a much higher influence on “carbon sequestration,” so we see it on the far right of the graph.

Stakeholder Map: Carbon Sequestration

A Final Note

Did you know that there were 352,049 patents granted in 2020 within the US alone? Keeping up with the frontiers of innovation across industries can be extremely cumbersome even with an army of patent experts. NWO.AI solves this while also teasing out technology micro trends that are ripe for adoption by consumers across geographies.  Get in touch with us to discuss how we can help your business transform unstructured & noisy data into insights in seconds.

About NWO.AI
NWO.AI's predictive platform enables leading Fortune 500 companies and government agencies to anticipate and track global cultural shifts by aggregating, analyzing, and producing actionable reports on human-generated data. We are leveraging petabytes of external, noisy, and unstructured data from various sources - including search, social media, blogs, news, patent databases, SEC filings and we are continuously adding more sources. Our mission is to answer the what, when, and most importantly 'why' behind a consumer trend and enable our customers to detect these shifts as early as possible.

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