Clean, Cool and Urban

As I write, the Clean & Cool Mission to San Francisco 2010 is drawing to an end. Some of the UK’s most exciting cleantech companies participated, and showcased their technologies, business ideas, and brands in the world’s premier cleantech venture space.

The Mission was also a good opportunity for UK cleantech firms to gain exposure to the wider technology funding and specialist community: indeed, the Mission dovetailed with the Cleantech Forum XXVI, sponsored by th Cleantech Group.

Some of the most interesting companies and technologies to be featured in the Clean & Cool Mission in California this year have a clear urban focus. Green building, sustainability, energy efficiency and conservation are buzzwords in an era of recession; but they are also new niches and potentially large new cleantech markets. Indeed, when considering the host of ‘green’ or ‘low carbon’ urban communities (or ‘ecocities’) springing up like mushrooms worldwide – from Masdar, Abu Dhabi, to the Sino-Singaporean Tianjin EcoCity.

These projects herald a new appetite for green building from scratch: for example, Fair Deal Investments (FDI) announced this week that it had completed due diligence on Ecocity Brasil, a 20,000 acre project dubbed the ‘Capital of the Environment’. FDI claims that the project is not only green in environmental terms, but in dollar value too: it expects a return on investment of up to 275% within three years. This may seem very high, and the risk may also be considerable, seeing as cost overruns and project cancellations and delays have blighted some recent ecocity developments.

For example, the approval of the plan for Dongtan Ecocity, on Chongming Island, near Shanghai, was announced amid much fanfare a few years ago. And justifiably so: the city was to be the world’s first large-scale ecocity, using renewables to power homes for up to half a million people. Fast-forward to 2010, and the project – organised by engineering firm Arup – seems to have been mothballed (read an incisive commentary by Austin Williams, director of the Future Cities Project, on this debacle here). However, the urban sphere has undoubtedly become the green sphere, and the green building market is a definite target for cleantech firms in the UK, US, and elsewhere.

This means firms like Cambridge-based Breathing Buildings, which develops passive ventilation stacks and other environmental solutions for making buildings more sustainable; or companies like Integrated Environmental Solutions, which apply IT tools to aid in integrated building performance analysis. Indeed, the firm, which boasts customers such as WalMart, was described by the Clean and Cool Mission as a company which is ‘widely recognised’ as a market leader; its Virtual Environment (VE) tool ‘is used by many of the world’s leading building design and consultancy firms‘. Other exciting green building-focused UK cleantech firms in California this past week have also included Modcell, which develops straw bale and hemp wall and roof cladding. The cladding is to such a high standard that buildings using it will be able to meet PassivHaus standards of comfort and sustainability in all seasons: indeed, buildings built using the cladding may well require little to no heating. PassivHaus buildings achieve energy savings of up to 90% compared with standard buildings.

By Federico Caprotti, writing for Skipso from London