CES 2023: Companies promote environmental technological innovations

LAS VEGAS — The bright green mottled leaves of a pothos plant stood out against the eye-catching spread of electric vehicles and smart products at the CES tech show in Las Vegas this year. This particular version of the familiar houseplant was bioengineered to remove 30 times the amount of indoor air pollutants as a typical houseplant, according to Neoplants, the Paris-based company that created it.

Clients are already joining a waiting list for seedlings still in the nursery.

Neoplants founder and CEO Lionel Mora is a passionate ex-Google employee who sings a slightly different tune than other founders at the electronics convention, with his vibe that technology can solve anything. He says that before people turn to engineering solutions, they need to address consumption. But, “when it comes to innovation, we believe that biology is the way to go because it is sustainable by design,” he said.

As countries grapple with how to limit global warming and protect natural resources and biodiversity, more companies are increasing their own commitments to build sustainable supply chains and reduce emissions. For others, like Neoplants, tackling environmental issues is their whole raison d’être.

Companies and startups at CES mentioned a wide range of such efforts. Austin-based Pivet displayed biodegradable phone cases. The Candela electric boat company introduced a 28-foot electric speedboat. Ukrainian start-up company Melt Water Club presented its water purification method that uses freezing.

The Energy Department even had a booth, its first, said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who spoke to The Associated Press before her keynote address Friday.

Granholm said she’s excited about a variety of technologies at CES and beyond, from John Deere’s newest electronic farm equipment to battery storage with alternative materials like sodium salt, both of which she said the Department of Energy helped to finance.

Granholm also spoke about expanding the use of clean energy, including some forms of hydrogen, fusion and geothermal energy, highlighting the latter as an opportunity for the oil and gas industry.

“If they have used fracking to get to oil and gas, they could be using that same technology to be able to extract the heat from under our feet,” he said.

It could be a while before the oil and gas industry stops extracting fossil fuels. Meanwhile, more companies are getting serious about emissions reductions. And the first step to reducing emissions is to fully understand them, said GreenSwapp founder Ajay Varadharajan. The Dutch company intends to help online grocery stores and food delivery services understand their carbon footprint, including those in their supply chain or “Scope 3”, often the hardest to track.

Varadharajan wrote an algorithm that extracts information about various grocery products from published research papers, allowing him to assign a carbon footprint to each food’s barcode. The algorithm then adjusts that number with information about growing techniques and a product’s packaging.

Using the GreenSwapp app, CES attendees could scan the barcode of various milk cartons on display to instantly compare their carbon footprint. The company claims this works on any food with a barcode.

The data is useful for conscientious consumers, but Varadharajan says the real impact comes when food companies use it to track their emissions.

Some companies may want to share the information with customers. But he expects many to use it internally, preparing for possible regulations, he explained. The Securities and Exchange Commission is expected to soon require publicly traded US companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions. Larger ones may need to disclose Scope 3 emissions related to their supply chain. Once finalized, the US would join a growing number of countries, including the UK and Japan, that require large companies to disclose this information. The European Union is finalizing reporting standards.

Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company didn’t have a booth this year, but it did demo new tires on blue-and-yellow-painted vehicles that rolled around Las Vegas.

The company currently has the largest replacement consumer tire market share in the US It says its new demo tire contains 90% sustainable materials and has improved rolling efficiency, helping people to save energy, even when the tires are on electric vehicles.

Goodyear did not specify how much carbon is reduced in the manufacturing process of new tires, or how much energy is saved through rolling efficiency.

“It depends a lot on the type of vehicle and the type of tire that is used,” said CEO Rich Kramer.

But the company’s line of ingredients seems to be moving in the right direction. Tires use many materials and this new one switches from petroleum products to surplus soybean oil to maintain flexibility. Uses rice hull residue residue silica to improve grip and fuel efficiency. The list goes on, and Kramer says the tire is an important step toward the company’s goal of reaching zero emissions by 2050.

However, obtaining these materials in large quantities is a problem, he said.

“Can you get them to scale so you can increase production? And then how do you change the manufacturing process for that? That’s a challenge, but a challenge we welcome,” she said.

There is still room for improvement in sourcing Goodyear’s rubber, said Sean Nyquist of the Forest Stewardship Council, which works to certify sustainable rubber.

“In the last 20 years, there has been significant deforestation as a result of natural rubber,” he said, as demand grew for rubber from trees rather than synthetic versions made in a lab.

Goodyear’s rubber sourcing follows the guidelines of the Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber. Nyquist says this is an important step, but third-party certification would add even more validity to sustainability claims.

Several tire companies are on a similar path, he said. The tires that Pirelli manufactures for the plug-in version of the BMW X5 have obtained FSC certification, which guarantees that the rubber was sourced in an ethical manner, including forest management and labor practices.

There may not be a simple path to reduce emissions and build sustainable supply chains. But one place American businesses can now get more help is the record federal funding available to decarbonise buildings and transportation through the Cut Inflation Act. Granholm says that he believes the incentives to reduce energy use and scale up clean technology are powerful.

“There is policy innovation and there is technology innovation,” he said. “We are all looking to see what has the best impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reaching our ultimate goal of saving the planet.”

Associated Press writer Suman Naishadam contributed from Washington.

The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of environmental and water policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit: https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

For more CES coverage, visit: https://apnews.com/hub/technology

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