Top 10 technologies to accelerate sustainable development

16 JAN 2019
Opinion articles Reports

Masdar report identifies top 10 technologies to accelerate sustainable development over the next five years based on industry survey

• Innovations expected to have the most impact include carbon capture, energy storage, 3D printing, artificial intelligence (AI), and data analytics to fast-track global sustainability transition

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 16 January, 2019 – The convergence of emerging technologies has the potential to address global warming and accelerate the transition to a sustainable future, according to ‘The Future of Sustainability’ report launched today by Masdar, Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, in partnership with The National newspaper and the World Future Energy Summit at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW).

The report identifies ten technologies that could have the biggest impact on sustainable development across key sectors over the next five years based on a survey of 151 international and local business decision makers, students and industry professionals linked to the six ADSW pillars of Energy and Climate Change, Water, Future Mobility, Space, Biotechnology, and Tech for Good.

Commenting on the report, HE Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said: “The world today is witnessing a shift from the business-as-usual paradigm to a more sustainability-conscious one, and the UAE is leading the way, powered by its youth and the seamless collaboration between its public and private sectors. Platforms such as Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week provide a global stage for cutting-edge sustainability concepts and solutions by enabling networking between entrepreneurs and investors and the transfer of knowledge.”

The top technologies identified in the research include a type of char made from biomass that can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of coal-fired power plants; ‘green’ briquettes made from biomass that reduce the felling of trees and reliance on dirty coal; a virtual reality system that inspires more sustainable behaviour; a city water fountain that saves water and avoids the use of millions of plastic bottles and environmentally-friendly paints that protect surfaces and improve energy efficiencies.

Also identified in the report were blockchain systems that enable electricity sharing; renewable energy-powered blockchain computing facilities; peer-to-peer solar energy sharing platforms that extend clean energy to remote areas; a waste heat recovery system that recycles industrial byproducts into a value added carbon-free energy source; and a 3D printable solid-state battery powered by vegetable oil that has potential applications in energy storage.

Between 7 December 2018 and 3 January 2019, 151 online and phone interviews took place, featuring respondents in a number of countries, including the UAE. Of the total online survey respondents, one was under 21, 24 were between the ages of 21–35, 70 between the ages of 36–55, and 40 over 55.

Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi, CEO, Masdar, the host of ADSW 2019, said: “This report reflects our efforts to support sustainable development, consolidating Masdar’s knowledge and experience over the past 12 years through our global renewable energy portfolio and our sustainable real estate development Masdar City.

“It aims to shed light on the innovative technologies that governments, leading businesses, industry experts, innovators and academics believe will have the greatest impact to drive industry convergence to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals, as well as emphasising the critical role youth will play in shaping future businesses and industries sustainably.”

Dr Alexander Ritschel, Head of Technology at Masdar, said: “As a company that invests in the commercialisation of advanced clean technologies, Masdar participates in setting the trends shaping the technologies of the future. With more and more industries now entering the sustainability sector as a result of digitalisation and the entrepreneurship of many youthful startups, this report offers an insight into the potential advances within and beyond renewable energy based on the perceptions of ADSW attendees.”

The report also examines key technological advancements that will enhance sustainability across the sectors of energy and climate change, water, mobility, biotechnology, space, and tech for good. These include carbon capture and energy storage, renewable energy-powered seawater desalination, electric and autonomous vehicles, nanofabrication and advanced manufacturing, gene editing and biofuels, and robotics and sophisticated software systems.
Several technologies, such as 3D printing, nanotechnology, data analytics, blockchain, and AI, impact all six sectors. These technologies and others are converging to improve efficiencies, optimise electricity consumption, and produce smart systems that will reduce our carbon footprint.

The Future of Sustainability Report Key Findings:

1. Energy and climate change innovations, in particular, are viewed as critical to fast-tracking a more sustainable future.
2. Improved energy storage, including innovations in hydrogen storage, must be achieved for a successful energy transition.
3. Smart networks and connectivity will facilitate improved energy management and less waste overall.
4. Desalination requires a transition to renewable energy sources.
5. Smart city transit technologies will pave the way to a more sustainable mobility sector.
6. Critical innovations in the space-exploration sector will provide sustainable practices on Earth.
7. The biotechnology industry is seeing vast development that could assist in solving serious medical, agricultural and environmental challenges.
8. 3D printing is gaining traction across industries, from the medical to the manufacturing sectors, and is even printing food.
9. The youth believe that climate change will be the biggest threat to the world within a decade and are taking on more responsibilities, and innovating, to find solutions.
10. Education is critical to improved sustainability.