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Supporting the next generation of climate technologies

Summary: Tencent’s CarbonX program bridges the gap between promising climate technologies and commercial viability, driving the shift to a low-carbon society.

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Tencent’s CarbonX program will support its 13 chosen finalists in scaling their innovative decarbonization technologies, ultimately contributing to the global goal of achieving net-zero emissions and fostering positive social change. Image courtesy of Tencent.

This article is sponsored by Tencent.

The urgency of our climate crisis is undeniable. As a global technology firm, Tencent has committed to achieving carbon neutrality in our own operations and supply chain by 2030, and we have been making encouraging progress. Yet as warnings mount that the world could miss the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the global community must explore more pathways to a greener future. 

Renewable energy, electric vehicles and nature-based solutions have emerged as bright spots. However, even the combined power of those solutions will not be enough. We must also rapidly explore and invest in promising new technologies that can neutralize emissions in many carbon-intensive industries for which there is no cheap or easy path to decarbonization. The next few years are critical. 

Sadly, many potential climate technology breakthroughs wither on the vine because they lack the resources to leap from the lab to commercial application, or they fail to scale enough to be viable. This phenomenon is known in investor circles as the valley of death. 

Nurturing climate tech innovations 

That’s why we launched CarbonX, an initiative to identify and nurture new technologies and critical capabilities that will be needed in the quest to reach net zero. With our guiding vision of "Tech for Good," Tencent believes in the power of technology to make people’s lives better, including driving progress in the battle against climate change.

CarbonX launched in March 2023 with an initial focus on solutions in the field of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) and technology-based carbon removal. We are committing more than $28 million over three years, with the aim of boosting the next wave of green innovations. 

After evaluating applications from more than 300 teams across China, narrowed down to a pool of 30 finalists, we are thrilled to announce the first cohort of 13 winners. They will receive funding and other support to continue their work and hopefully make an impact in the ultimate global challenge of our era. 

Helping critical industries 

Despite encouraging momentum in renewables and electrification, many industries still have no affordable or practical way to decarbonize. Sectors such as cement and steel emit CO2 as an inherent result of their industrial processes. Yet these businesses are critical to our modern society — and even to the green transition itself — by supplying key materials and components used to build more efficient buildings, electric cars and other products. 

CCUS and technology-based carbon removal offer a solution. By filtering CO2 out of industrial fuels or pulling it directly out of the air, the gas can then be concentrated and safely stored underground or repurposed as an input for building materials, synthetic fuels or greenhouse facilities. Some of these technologies have a dual benefit: help prevent new carbon from entering the atmosphere and also draw down CO2 that accumulated over centuries. 

CCUS and technology-based carbon removal encompass disciplines including chemical engineering, geology, energy and materials. Innovation in technological pathways and strengthening capabilities in areas such as site selection for carbon storage and accounting methodologies are all essential for effective implementation.

To be sure, CCUS is not yet cost effective, but it’s also true that solar and wind power were more expensive than fossil fuels before they became competitive thanks to years of policy and financial support. Indeed, the International Energy Agency expects global carbon-capture capacity to rise more than sixfold by 2030, to 300 million metric tons a year, underscoring its emergence as a major player in the world’s decarbonization strategy. But that is not possible without adequate financial resources and other crucial forms of assistance. 

From research lab to factory floor

CarbonX supports projects across three tracks: Lab, Accelerator and Infrastructure. A panel of experts from academia, industry and the investment community judged the entries and will continue to provide valuable research and commercialization advice. Winners were selected based on the potential they demonstrated in terms of innovation, impact and implementation. They comprise four projects from the Lab track, six from Accelerator and three from Infrastructure:

  • Lab track: Supports nascent technologies under development at research institutions, universities or labs. For example, some teams developed methods to use steel slag to capture and store CO2 directly from blast furnace exhaust, which also has a positive side benefit of reducing industrial waste. 
  • Accelerator track: Supports early-stage startups with commercialization potential. A few startups are converting CO2 into sustainable aviation fuel and valuable chemicals through tools such as electrochemical reactions or microorganisms. 
  • Infrastructure track: Supports capacity building, such as digital infrastructure, methodologies and other resources needed to help the industry develop. Some projects are seeking ways to better evaluate sites for CCUS projects or standardize carbon reduction or removal measurements — developing better methodologies for measuring, reporting and verifying emissions. 

CarbonX aims to help these innovators scale their technologies and solutions to achieve some lofty goals. In addition to financial and advisory support, some winning projects will collaborate with our industry partners to test their solutions in real-world settings. We believe that each technology, once at commercial scale, has the potential to neutralize 100 million metric tons of CO2 emissions every year, equivalent to taking 20 million gas-powered cars off the road. 

Forging the path forward

CarbonX is just one of many ways in which Tencent is driving the transition to a low-carbon society. We have led the industry in building ultra-efficient hyperscale data centers, installed on-site solar and energy-efficient upgrades across our corporate facilities, and contracted supplies of green energy from local grids. In addition, Tencent provides a variety of digital products, services and initiatives to foster low-carbon lifestyles for individual consumers and assist businesses in reducing their own carbon footprints. 

The path forward is not easy. But in uncertainty lies hope. We are excited and inspired by the passion and innovation displayed by every team that participated in this first phase of CarbonX. We also recognize that we’ve only begun our journey to fulfill our mission of Tech for Good and embrace the simple idea that businesses must step up as responsible stakeholders in society. Every product, every service, every person has the potential to drive positive social impact, and we welcome more like-minded partners to join us to create a greener, more prosperous future for all. 

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