Think you know German innovation? Think again. These five clean tech startups put a new spin on mixing business with environmental stewardship.
“People are not realizing how serious the issue is becoming,” said ZaaK Technologies founder, Abbas Khan.
Sand is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking clean tech, but ZaaK technologies is truly innovation at its finest. The first company of its kind, ZaaK recycles industrial waste, fresh fly ash and stockpiled ash – byproducts from coal-fired power plants – into a light weight sand for use in the construction industry.
A necessity since sand, believe it or not, is becoming harder and harder to get your hands on, ZaaK CEO Abbas Khan said. “Consumption [of sand] is two times the amount produced in nature,” he continued, and countries like Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Vietnam and the entire African continent, are already facing shortages due to rapid urbanization. Many other countries are already importing sand to meet their needs.
This global phenomenon, is on one hand quite sad, Khan said, “but from a company business point of view, it makes an interesting case for us.” The companies ultimate goal is to become the leading supplier of lightweight sand, while reducing the ecological footprint from the coal-fired power plants, especially since they will stay a predominant energy source in many countries for decades to come.
The sand is not limited to use in construction, but can also be used as a growing media, such as in hydroculture and green roofing, Khan explained.
“Our model, and our next milestone, is to create a community that is open for everyone,” said Philipp Schroeder, Sonnen’s managing director.
Sonnen lets individuals to generate, store and share clean energy with the supply generated from their own solar panels, instead of relying on an energy provider.
The sonnenBatterie, a lithium battery that comes with a 10-year warranty and costs around 4,000 euros, lets users become 100 percent energy independent, said Phillip Schroeder, Sonnen’s managing director. It also makes adjustments based on the energy use in each respective home.
Back in 2011, “nobody knew about storage,” said Schroeder. But that changed quickly. By 2015, the company was active in Germany, Britain, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy and Austria, and focusing its efforts on expanding the sonnenCommunity.
The sonnenCommunity allows individuals connected to the Sonnen grid to share and remain completely reliant on clean energy, Schroeder explained. This can be up to 25 percent cheaper than traditional energy sources. Users can also “opt-in”to help stabilize the grid, which must always be at 50 Hertz, in exchange for free energy.
By scaling the production of electricity and storage, it won’t be long before Sonnen delivers clean energy to conventional apartment owners. Then everyone, not just those who can afford solar panels, “can get clean electricity out of our virtual power plant instead of energy corporations,” Schroeder said.
“I became fascinated by the potential this technology had in bringing food production closer to consumers in cities,” Agrilution co-founder Max Loessl said.
Vertical farming meets modern design with Agrilution’s plantCube. Approximately the size of a dishwasher, the appliance streamlines gardening so that anyone can grow vegetables at home – without a yard or any bugs. “Our idea was to basically develop a tool that democratizes vertical farming and brings food production closer to consumers,” Agrilution co-founder Max Loessl said.
Agrilution was founded in 2013 and the plantCube, which is in its fifth prototype, will sell for approximately 2,000 euros, Loessl said. Everything is fully automated and the appliance optimizes cultivation conditions with precise watering, climate control and ideal lighting using LED lights. And everything comes included: Seeds, organic substrate, fertilizer.
“I think we’ve gotten totally out of touch with where food comes from, how it is produced and how much work and energy is actually needed to grow what we just buy off the shelves in supermarkets.” Vertical farming gives people the food transparency they are asking for, Loessl said.
Green City Solutions
“The plants themselves are a technology that has worked for millions of year,” said Green City Solutions CIO Liang Wu.
Green City Solutions launched in 2014 and combines plants’ abilities, mosses in particular, to filter air, with the Internet of Things (IoT). The startups says that that a single installation, with several varieties of moss, provides the air filtering capacity of 275 urban trees.
“We are constantly improving the product,” said Wu, who hopes to bring the technology to countries where air pollution poses a more immediate threat. In China, an installation will have immediate implications for human health, Wu said. The installation is also nearly self-sustaining. It collects rainwater and uses solar panels to generate electricity for data collection, Wu explained. And furthermore, studies have shown that the moss can live and clean the air for up to ten years.
“Once you have a system…, a digital infrastructure that is sustainable and can be reused… new services come up very fast,” said CEO Ramin Mokhtari.
ICE-Gateway, established in 2013, is taking the IoT concept to a whole new level. The startup developed technology that uses street lamps for more than just lighting by equipping them with a wireless infrastructure that allows sensors to collect data for leveraging.
“Smart cities require a whole range of services and intelligence,” CEO Ramin Mokhtari said. This includes information like traffic flow at peak hours and car count. “Things are developing very fast on our side,” Mokhtari continued. By 2020 there could be 50 billion sensors in place, he said. His customers are essentially “whoever owns the lights,” which includes railroad operators, airports, cities, contractors and metro stations.
The system also reportedly reduces operational costs for street lights by 50 per cent, by using LED products and precision timing to dim lights or to turn them on and off.