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Accelerating to Decelerate – Three New Zealand startups that tackle climate change

Accelerating to Decelerate – Three New Zealand startups that tackle climate change

Participants in an accelerator programme that supports companies tackling climate change head on believe New Zealand is well placed to be a global leader in climate response.

“There is no one silver bullet for climate change,” says Ben Hamm Conard. “There’s not one single thing that’s going to fix the problems that we have… [But] within the sector of innovation, entrepreneurship and startups, we’d like to be doing our part to push that change forward.”

Conard is the manager of the startup programme at Creative HQThe Climate Response Accelerator program’s second cohort has been selected by, The programme is partially funded by the Ministry for the Environment. It will last 12 weeks and provide resources, training, and $20k equity-free funding for 10 teams to accelerate their growth. The programme is aimed at companies who are “tackling climate change head-on”, Conard says. 

As the Climate Response Accelerator programme starts, teams chat at the Wellington bootcamp. (Image: Supplied).

The program began on April 7, just seven days after the last. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate ChangeThe report found that the world had nearly run out time to reduce its carbon emissions. The report found that emissions needed to peak by 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by around half by 2030 to meet the 1.5°C warming limit set by the Glasgow climate pact at COP26. The world must also achieve net zero CO2To keep the target from being exceeded, emissions must be reduced by 2050. Currently, scientists estimate that the average global temperature has risen by 1.0°C since pre-industrial levels, and we’ve already begun feeling those impacts in the form of sea-level rises, ocean acidification, and increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather patterns. 

COP26 countries agreed that funding must be used for both climate change mitigation as well as adaptation. This means strategies to reduce existing emissions as well as strategies for transitioning to an economy that is permanently net carbon-zero. Both strategies are included in the 2022 Climate Response Accelerator startups that were selected. 

The adaptation end is the fight against climate change Alimentary Systems. Matthew Jackson, the founder and commercial director of the company, believes New Zealand can be a global leader in climate action if it makes the right investment. His company aims to “create value from waste” by mixing and treating waste streams to create a source of clean energy. The integrated waste treatment facility combines green, agricultural, and human waste, consolidating the treatment process. The resulting product undergoes anaerobic digestion, where microbes process the waste and convert it into “fossil-free organic fertiliser” as well as methane, which can be captured and used as a source of energy. 

Matthew Jackson, founder and commercial director at Alimentary Systems (Photo: Supplied).

“It’s effectively a perpetual energy system and an infinite carbon loop,” says Jackson. Although it might sound complicated, the integrated waste treatment plant is essentially an efficient way to recycle waste products into energy and fertiliser. This could help us transition away from our dependence on fossil fuels. The best part? Jackson’s waste plant would generate its own power, making it zero waste, zero emissions and energy neutral. There are many other benefits. Jackson points out that waste is often treated separately in our current system. This leads to separate systems and separate costs. But by consolidating agricultural, human and green waste, “you consolidate the amount of land required [and] you’re not running two sets of operations”.

“We need to start changing the built environment now,” urges Jackson. “We have to stop building based on the linear model and start building based on the circular… we can create a different type of economy.”


Other program participants ARCubedThey are working to create a circular economy with a new approach. Their company balances adaptation and mitigation of climate changes by focusing on improving the performance of existing recycling systems. Recycling contamination is a major problem in New Zealand. Only 28% of all waste is currently recycled. This is due to the presence of harmful materials in recycling streams such as broken glass and refuse in plastic bins. 

The One Bin prototype (Images : Supplied).

ARCubed CEO and co-founder Carl Lickford says contaminated recycling often “just gets dumped, because it’s just too difficult to process”. ARCubed developed One Bin to help improve the situation. It uses machine learning technology to identify recyclable materials and sort them into correct streams at the source. They envision One Bin being deployed in public spaces, where Lickford says the current recycling problem is “shocking”. ARCubed discovered that public recycling bins are often thrown straight into the landfill by the contamination. “They’re not even sorting [the rubbish], because the contamination is so high nobody will actually take it… there’s a lot of wasted effort with existing public recycling bins,” says Lickford. 

The five-member team met at Waikato University to discuss how they could use the technology developed in their department to solve real-world problems. In addition to One Bin’s ability to identify and sort refuse, ARCubed also wants One Bin to have an educational component, so users can be aware of what’s recyclable in their jurisdictions. It could be another way to reduce recycling contamination, and increase New Zealand’s recycling rates. 

The ARCubed team (right), including Dr Mohammad Hedayati, Carl Lickfield, and Dr Mohammad Hedayati. (Image: Supplied).

Dr Mohammed Hedayati is a machine learning and computer visual scientist who was also a co-founder of ARCubed. He believes the software could be extremely accurate in the future. “We can extend to any kind of product and recycling,” he says. Currently, the team is focusing on identifying and nailing its market to best customise One Bin’s capacities. 

At the mitigation end of the spectrum for climate change, however, Capture6 is working on carbon sequestration – a process that removes CO2Directly from the atmosphere and stores it. “The climate crisis is today,” says co-founder and president Luke Shors, whose aim for Capture6 is to fight climate change using existing technology deployed at a scale that could make a meaningful dent in our current emissions. Capture6 is different than other carbon sequestration firms because their process would also fight ocean acidification by producing calcium Carbonate, an alkaline compound that would be deposited back in the ocean. 

Luke Shors, cofounder and president of Capture6. (Image: Supplied).

Like Jackson, Shors believes New Zealand is “a leader in the [climate response] space”, and is “excited about commercialising the technology in New Zealand”. Shors admits that there may be concerns about the injection of calcium carbonate into oceans, but Capture6 is currently in dialogue with policy experts to determine how safe the technology could be deployed. 

An artist’s impression of the Capture6 system (Image: Supplied)

Alimentary Systems, ARCubed and Capture6 are just three of 10 teams participating in the 2022 Climate Response Accelerator at CreativeHQ, which Conard describes as more of a “condensed period of time where they’re getting lots and lots of support.” This includes mentorship by former founders, industry experts, and other players within the ecosystem, as also dedicated coaching from Creative HQ.

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Each of the teams is contributing to the climate change response in a unique way, which Shors notes means that “there’s a lot of potential synergy in the cohort … no one has all the strengths, so finding others that can give us advice or support is always welcome.”

Similarly, Lickford says they’re “really looking forward to being with some like minded people”, and Jackson says he’s most excited about talking to other founders and “working with a group of people that are kind of heading in the same direction”. 

Although business is often viewed as a competition in business, each team has a vested interest seeing others succeed. This is due to the immense climate problem. 

“I hope there are many, many winners in this space,” says Shors.

“I don’t think there’s any more important work to be doing at the moment,” says Jackson.

“We want to take care of the world,” agrees Lickford. “We only get the one planet.” 

But although we only have one planet, there’s no single solution to the scale of the climate crisis. That’s why Conard believes in the work they’re supporting at Creative HQ. 

“My hope for [the Climate Response Accelerator]The idea is that seeing these teams at work encourages people at all stages of their careers. [to realise] there are things that we can do to actually help mitigate and address the effects of climate change.”

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