Young entrepreneurs were born into a world where the commercial internet was already an everyday reality, and mobile phones were ubiquitous.
These digital natives approach the world of work with a different mindset to their parents, emphasising the broad outcomes of what they do. They also see sustainability as the prime aim of their businesses, rather than add-ons.
Several young green leaders spoke at the Start-ups and Young Business Leaders’ Insights thematic breakout session at the Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s Belt and Road Summit earlier this month.
Dr Martin Zhu, Co-Founder of Hong Kong innovator and Start-up Express laureate i2Cool, said the firm, which develops a heat-reflecting paint to cut down on air-conditioner use in buildings, was impressed by the many opportunities the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Mainland China offered.
In May i2Cool signed a deal with Abu Dhabi-based Leading Hospitality Services, engaging the UAE hotel firm as its strategic partner in the region.
The electricity-free coolant surface has been applied to 41,500 square metres of surface, saving 712 megawatt hours of power and removing 640 tons of carbon emissions.
In addition to energy use, food waste is a leading problem in both Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates, and architect-turned entrepreneur Ceylan Uren, who was originally from Turkey but moved to the UAE, decided to take a natural approach to the problem.
Her firm The Waste Lab turns food waste, which was destined for landfills, into compost to build up farm soil and help the UAE fulfil its ambition to expand its agriculture sector.
Food waste could also be used for energy, building materials and even textiles, she pointed out. The Hong Kong SAR Government has set up a similar composting project in O Park on Lantau Island. The facility takes in 200 tons of food waste every day, generating biogas and compost.
Another entrepreneur taking a natural approach is Hayley Wong, Sustainability Strategist at Archireef. The firm practices natural carbon capture by placing three-dimensionally patterned tiles and coral fragments on the sea floor to seed reef formation. The reefs then capture carbon dioxide and use it to create calcium carbonate coral skeletons, locking up carbon for millions of years.
The reef-building project had drawn interest in both Hong Kong and the Middle East.
She pointed out that coral reefs provided habitat for 25% of marine species. Persuading investors to buy into such long-term projects was difficult and required a whole new mindset.
In addition to reducing waste, cutting energy use and capturing carbon, reducing pollution by adopting renewable energy is a critical step in protecting the environment. But while renewables, such as solar and wind power, are completely clean, they are intermittent. When the sun shines and wind blows, their output is abundant and effectively free but needs to be stored for dark, still times.
Dr Zengyue Wang, CEO of Luquos Energy, said the current solution of choice, lithium-ion batteries, were expensive mainly because key components such as lithium and cobalt metal were hard to obtain. The solution from Luquos is quite literally that, a liquid solution inside a flow battery.
Unlike Li-ion batteries, flow batteries use abundant materials, allowing easy power storage on a utility scale. Flow batteries can greatly extend the availability period of renewable energy, supplying power long after the source has stopped shining or blowing. Flow batteries can also support microgrids, balancing swings in supply and demand. The cost was just half that of Li-ion batteries.
The topic drew strong interest from Belt and Road Summit attendees, despite the session being the final one on the last day.