More than 1,000 of the UK’s greenest businesses will share £134m government funding to drive up their productivity, create new jobs and develop new technologies for tackling climate change.
The government investment comes from Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund, which was launched as part of a £550m package of measures to help innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) respond to Covid-19.
Each of the 1,069 businesses will receive up to £175,000 to further advance a range of clean growth projects they are working on, which include robots that patrol UK roads to detect and repair cracks or potholes, using artificial intelligence to help reduce beer waste, and converting seaweed into compostable packaging.
The government says the businesses and ideas receiving funding could transform entire industries, including manufacturing, hospitality and the automotive sector, by helping them respond to the pandemic’s unique challenges and bringing their ideas to market.
The funding is also designed to help the UK reach its target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“The UK’s response to coronavirus has demonstrated the very best of British ingenuity, and it is this resourcefulness that will help us navigate our way through this pandemic,” said business secretary Alok Sharma.
“Today’s investment will ensure that our innovators and risk-takers can continue to scale up their ideas, helping the UK to build back better and ensure we meet our clear commitments on tackling climate change.”
Companies to receive funding include Bristol-based marine technology company Rovco, which is developing tech to enable autonomous underwater inspections of large offshore wind turbines, which can often be dangerous for human operators; and Scottish bio-refinery firm Oceanium, which is developing technology to turn seaweed into food and compostable packaging products, in order to reduce plastic waste.
“Yet again we see the exciting range of business innovation taking place across the UK, despite these difficult times,” said Innovate UK executive chairman Ian Campbell.
“Every initiative we’ve supported here represents an important step forward in sustainable economic development, but also one step nearer dreams becoming reality for ambitious, hard-working company owners and their staff.”
In early September, the government extended its Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund through a £65m cash injection, which is being used to accelerate the development of “future technologies”.
Of this, £6.5m was allocated to five advanced therapy treatment centres across the UK to accelerate the availability to the NHS of advanced healthcare treatments that use “genetic approaches”, such as stem cell transplants.
A further £15m went towards building robots that inspect, maintain and repair nuclear power stations, satellites and wind turbines, while the largest chunk of funding – nearly £44m – was allocated to the government’s Faraday Battery Challenge, an initiative led by the Faraday Institution to develop the next generation of high-performance electric batteries for various modes of transport.
A report published by TechUK and Deloitte in September claimed that already-existing digital technologies have the potential to deliver a 15% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 while also contributing significantly to the UK economy. However, it added that policy interventions are needed to create the right business environment.
The report said that although the UK has a strong base in “renewables, technology businesses and cultural awareness of environmental issues”, there are still several barriers to entry for UK companies. “We have identified four key levers to cement this growth – innovation, policy and regulation, data, and finance and investment strategies,” it said.
Green investments in and by the private sector have also been increasing steadily in recent years. Research from the end of October shows, for example, that investment in UK tech startups addressing one or more of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals has increased nearly ten-fold in six years.
The data further reveals that these UK firms, known as “impact startups”, have raised €1.4bn so far this year, with Cleantech and climate tech companies raising most of the capital.