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Two Swiss Firms among 2020 Technology Pioneers

Climeworks CO2 capture plant design of a waste incineration plant in Hinwil, canton of Zurich. (Credit: Keystone)

Two Swiss firms - Climeworks and Akselos - are among the 100 awardees of this year’s Technology Pioneers announced the World Economic Forum Tuesday. The two companies are leaders in technologies for carbon capture and advanced engineering technologies to support the efficient design of infrastructure and renewable technologies such as wind turbines. Other winners included ranged from companies with ventures in food security and vege-based meat alternatives to innovators in circular economy solutions.

Why are we talking about this? The two Swiss nominees are amongst the “future headline-makers addressing global issues with cutting-edge technology”. Overall, the WEF Technology Pioneers are at the cutting-edge of a wide range of industries that span smart cities, healthcare cleantech, finance, logistics and more.

Says Susan Nesbitt, Head of the Global Innovators Community, World Economic Forum:

“These are the companies that think differently and stand out as potential game-changers. We’re looking forward to the role they’ll play in shaping the future of their industries.

“From artificial intelligence (AI) to carbon capture, this year’s cohort is using innovations to protect the climate, improve healthcare and much more, helping us to reset society and build towards a better future.”

Akselos. Founded in 2013, Akselos, based in Lausanne’s Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) Innovation Park, creates engineering simulations that can optimize the energy efficiency of new infrastructure design. The company's flagship product, the Digital Guardian, is a simulation model that operates 1000 times faster than traditional techniques, using a technology called “Structural Digital Twins”. The Akselos technology has been used, for instance, to improve the efficiency of wind turbine design, contributing to more environmentally friendly wind farms. Akselos’ CEO Thomas Leurent:

“It’s very humbling to be acknowledged as a technology pioneer by the World Economic Forum. It’s an accolade that confirms our technology is a game-changer, and that it can be used with great purpose – to accelerate the energy transition. Using breakthrough algorithms licenced from MIT, our software will help make sure the next generation of renewable energy assets are designed and deployed at the speed and scale required for the energy transition, as well as being economically sustainable.”

Climeworks. Founded in 2009, Climeworks, a spinoff of the Zurich branch of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), invented a direct carbon capture technology. Jan Wurzbacher and Christoph Gebald, founders and CEOs, were motivated by glacier retreat and other stark signs of global warming. Their solution is one among several, so-called “negative emissions technologies” (NETs), which aim to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Others include afforestation, bioenergy production in combination with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and enhanced weathering. The carbon capture technology consists of modular CO₂ collectors that can be stacked to build machines of any size powered solely by renewable energy or waste-to-energy platforms. For every 100 tons of carbon dioxide captured, at least 90 tons are permanently removed and only up to 10 tons are re-emitted.

Spotify, AirBNB and Twitter among past Technology Pioneers.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the WEF Technology Pioneers community. Past recipients have gone on to become household names including, Airbnb, Google, Kickstarter, Mozilla, Palantir Technologies, Spotify, TransferWise, Twitter and Wikimedia.

  • Of the 100 firms selected this year, over one-quarter are female-led, more than double the industry average.

  • The firms also come from increasingly diverse regions of the world that extend stretch beyond traditional tech hubs.

Other countries represented among the winners include: Argentina, Austria, Brazil, China, Chile, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong SAR, India, Israel, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, Luxembourg, Singapore, Taiwan (China), Spain, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

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