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While there are no shortage of daunting challenges facing humanity, there are a shortage of ambitious startups working creatively to solve them. It is a shame to encounter talented entrepreneurs pursuing ideas of lower ambition than the founders are capable, not fully reaching their potential to solve the bigger problems that they care most about addressing. 

Our world faces enormous challenges today: global climate change, improving human health, and creating more equal opportunities to learn and live, well and meaningfully under peace and justice. The Founder Institute believes that all of these global challenges can be met in the 21st century, and that entrepreneurs will catalyze these changes. The United Nations created its 17 Sustainable Development Goals to drive forward human innovation, and measure global progress over the next decade to 2030. Earth today needs more moonshot innovators, more wild visionaries working to solve these greatest challenges of our time.

This is Part 1 of a new 5-Part Startup Idea Banks series, inviting founders to steal these startup ideas from FI's bank, and use them as a jumping off point for building new businesses - if that is you, and you're looking for an accelerator program to help your startup venture achieve traction or fundraising goals, then apply to the Founder Institute today! Here, we’re excited to share a list of emerging and potential energy technology ideas: innovations that the environment could benefit from today, if the potential solutions can be built and scaled into sustainable business models. We implore entrepreneurs everywhere to steal these ideas, and solve these global problems!

Part 1: Extra-Alternative Energies 

(Sustainable Development Goals 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13)

While solar and wind-produced energy prices do continue to fall and become increasingly cost-competitive in more areas, market adoption of these technologies is still moving far too slowly. If we really want the planet to transition to a fully-green / zero-carbon economy quickly, we should be pursuing as many different and innovative green energy models and ideas as possible. Here are a few for a diversified and resilient network of solutions, to build the energy economy of the future:

Put Solar On Everything

Transparent photovoltaic cells and even spray-on varieties of see-through solar panels are not completely new ideas —but they still need entrepreneurs to forge these emerging technologies into wider windows and glass construction, materials, and manufacturing supply chains and installation processes. 

Similarly, there are existing demonstrations of various solar roadways, commercial parking lot canopies, and residential carport technologies also already coming online — but they still need more entrepreneurs to ambitiously hustle to find these panels’ product-market fits.

The most wild-idea for untapped solar opportunity could potentially be in space itself, with various projects pursuing ideas for placing solar panels in orbit, then beaming the captured electricity via microwaves back to power receiver-stations on Earth.

Recommended Resources to Get Started

Fuels 2.0

Lifting almost anything sizable into the air (and everything into space) burns a lot of carbon-based fuels. That’s because lift requires dense energy sources. Even many of the most carbon-conscious consumers among us —including Millennials who otherwise mindfully ride bikes to work, and watch their locavore diets for carbon footprint— still regularly take relatively CO2-intensive commercial flights on jetliners, whether to visit far-flung family or travel for international vacations.

But even with a 100% clean electrical grid, airplanes will still need innovative fuel technologies, and soon. While some point to dwindling prospects for the once-hyped future of algae-derived hydrocarbon fuels, NASA and others are also now exploring liquid battery technologies that could instead become a new green ‘fuel’ pumped into your aircraft.

Other new so-called ‘electrofuels’, produced using chemical reactions that sequester carbon directly from CO2, are also in development — but these technologies will all need to be coupled with intensive alternative energy production systems, in order to power the creation of these high-energy fuel molecules. More entrepreneurial thinkers will be needed here, to help navigate these emerging technology ecosystems and build the first business models that can bring these new innovations into the market.

Recommended Resources to Get Started

An Airbus A319 from Brussels Airlines begins to land at Brussels National airport. Thierry Tronnel/Corbis via Getty Images

Let the Wind Blow

Last year in 2018, the United States grew its wind energy production by a whopping 8% capacity above the year before, and the winds industry is just starting to blow. Whether it’s the offshore wind farms of the future, or the power already being captured across the heartland, the potential for this resource is enormous around the world. 

All of the supporting businesses that will help underpin wind turbines as one of the green energy of the future — from financing, to manufacturing, to installation, to maintenance — will all present opportunities for entrepreneurs who can identify and solve problems within the emerging industry.

Recommended Resources to Get Started

Next-Gen Nuclear 

Sadly, there are relatively few big, developed locations around the wold whose energy economies are currently managing to run on very low-carbon systems (e.g. Ontario, France). In fact, with the exception of a handful of places blessed by hydroelectric luck-of-the-draw, the only places on Earth doing clean energy production successfully, today and at scale, are doing so using nuclear base load power. 

While many today exhibit too much aversion to these technologies, a responsible respect for the power of nuclear energy is a good thing. The industry must always be regulated for public safety — but that’s no excuse for innovation to have ceased decades ago. Whether the industry was more paralyzed by public distrust or bureaucratic overreach, what the nuclear industry needs today is an injection of radioactive innovation.

Countries like France already simply do a much more thorough and efficient job of processing or ‘re-cycling’ of nuclear fuel materials, reducing nuclear waste products and long-term storage costs. Ideas for next-generation meltdown-proof liquid fluoride thorium reactors have seen little innovation since the 1970s, yet are highly promising technologies, finally now starting to see growing interest from projects in countries around the world.

And of course, there is the holy grail of long-sought nuclear power: the elusive Fusion Power Reactor. While the old saying goes that ‘Nuclear Fusion is 30 years away and always will be,’ harnessing nuclear fusion is still an intriguing idea. Fusion is what happens inside our sun and other stars, combining relatively small atoms together to produce energy, while producing no nuclear waste — this is NOT what happens inside any of today’s current nuclear power technologies, which all perform various nuclear fission reactions, breaking atomic nuclei apart to produce energy.

Recommended Resources to Get Started

Riding the Waves

While traditional hydropower has only been feasible in certain ideal locations — where water can be dammed, or otherwise made to spin a turbine efficiently — there’s also a bigger body of water always in motion: the oceans.

While the current tech appears mostly nascent and confined close to shore, the world’s waves offer the intriguing possibility for an alternative energy source that is much more constant, regular, and predictable than the weatherly-whims of the sunshine and wind. And there are in fact many different ideas for tidal power production already being developed — but none have yet won out. So for the hungry entrepreneur looking to help scale these technologies, ‘there’s plenty of room in the sea.’

Recommended Resources to Get Started

*  *  *

This Part 1 of a 5-Part Startup Idea Banks series, featuring FI For Good startup ideas for working to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

We first look at the environment: Part 1 above visited some outside-the-box potential and emerging energy technologies worth exploring. Part 2 will focus on environmental impact viewed through the lens of the entire carbon cycle, including natural and agricultural carbon cycling, as well as the need to develop new technologies and market pricing for carbon capture and permanent sequestration. (UN SDGs 7,8,9,11,12,13,14,15). 

Parts 3 & 4 will focus on social impact: the SDGs that primarily concern human life directly: education and opportunity, health and wellbeing, and peace and governance (UN SDGs 1,2,3,4,5,6,10,16,17)

Part 5 will launch an open-source entrepreneurial Call-To-Action, seeking ideas from founders across the FI global network. We need your contributions to build this resource list of social+environmental impact business ideas that the world needs now.

Social and environmental impact-related or not, if you're an entrepreneur building a new business towards achieving traction or funding goals, then apply now to the next Founder Institute program cohort nearest you. 

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