Transport efficiency, carpooling and resource sharing tools win tech competition

Cross posted from Business Green

When it launched back in October the Decarbonathon competition – run by the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders initiative – aimed to uncover some of the best ideas to tackle the carbon footprint of the world’s cities.

The results are in, and it appears the future of our cities lies in smart speedbumps, green air conditioning, online goods sharing and communal commuting.

The four winning start-ups were revealed yesterday, following a weekend hackathon in Paris earlier this month where 16 shortlisted finalists battled it out in a series of final pitches to a judging panel of energy and climate experts.

BusinessGreen spoke to Jane Burston, founder of the UK’s Centre for Climate Management and a member of the judging panel, to find out what made the winning ideas stand out from the crowd.

First place: Mobiliteam

First prize for the Decarbonathon went to Mobiliteam, the start-up behind an “air booster” that reduces the energy consumption of electric vehicles by improving the energy efficiency of air conditioning systems.

The judging panel were impressed by the team’s technical design as well as the solution for saving energy that does not require a change in driver behaviour, Burston says. She says the judges liked the idea that it would work “behind the scenes” to save energy without the driver – or passengers – needing to compromise on comfort. An added bonus was that the technology has an easily identifiable target market in the air conditioning manufacturers.

Mobiliteam is also developing a mobile app that displays traffic conditions in real time, in a bid to encourage greater use of public transport.

Second place: Bynd

Based in Brazil, the Bynd team have developed a ride sharing platform that makes it easier for colleagues to share lifts to work. Burston says the strategy of pairing directly with companies means the service can be useful from day one.

“With these kinds of applications often the barrier to scalability is the need for lots of people to sign up, and if they don’t then the technology isn’t that useful. Whereas with this one even the first user of the system could automatically see the anonymised data [as it is taken direct from one company],” she said.

The judges also liked how user-friendly the app is – alongside showing potential rides departing from a user’s local area it also analyses journey data to provide pick-up options along a driver’s usual route.

Third place: TEBS

The Traffic Energy Bar System (TEBS) uses wind turbine technology that has been specially adapted into modules installed on roads, to harness the kinetic energy from passing cars. The best way to explain it, Burston says, is by imagining a hump in the road similar to a speed bump, which is fitted with a suspended plank and a generator. Every time a car drives over the bump, it moves the plank and drives a piston, which generates energy.

“We thought that TEBS was an interesting take on energy harvesting,” Burston says. “Many of the energy harvesting technologies that are out there are in-vehicle technologies, whereas TEBS is built into the road to harvest the energy from cars that are slowing down, for example at a toll plaza or before a traffic-calming measure.”

The TEBS team said 15 TEBS units generate 1MW of energy, enough to power 5,000 200W public streetlights and save $884,520 in electricity costs.

Fourth place: Mutum

“The average drill is used for less than 20 seconds every year,” Burston says. “Yet every household has one.” French start-up Mutum aims to tackle this inefficient use of resources with a new goods-sharing platform that encourages people to lend and borrow useful items from others in their neighbourhood.

Although other goods sharing platforms already exist, what the judges liked about Mutum was its use of a credits system that rewards people with credits for loaning their items which can be used for when they want to borrow something. The team are also working on integrating a range of environmentally friendly “end of life” options for goods – so if your drill has been lent and borrowed through the site and then breaks down, the Mutum site would be able to suggest facilities where owners can get it repaired or recycled. “They really appeared to focus on the whole life of the items,” Burston says.