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Solutions Spotlight: Advanced Building Materials

We are pleased to share Part One of two pieces from our solutions collaborator, IN2, on tangible steps the private sector can take in addressing climate change. We welcome readers’ insights and perspective as they conduct business across regions and industries. Wells Fargo’s Ramsay Huntley is an expert in sustainable finance, clean technology, and innovation philanthropy. 

Almost every sector of our economy is in urgent need of efficiency improvements, but investing in advanced building technologies is arguably one of the most effective and impactful areas of opportunity. Glass materials, commercial energy management tools and HVAC systems are particularly ripe for disruption. Smarter buildings help create smart cities, which in turn lead to better climate outcomes for our society.

The Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2) was initially launched with building energy advancements in mind. The program is now a $50 million collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) that identifies, validates, and scales promising cleantech startups, with the goal of commercializing high-impact, low-emission solutions for the built-environment and agriculture sectors.

IN2’s technology breakthroughs and the real-world impact of participating startups have only been possible with the program’s emphasis on R&D and bringing different industries and scientific experts together. This type of public-private partnership model can serve as inspiration for how the private sector can help bring new and critical resources to market, faster.


Why buildings?

According to the Energizing America report from Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy, residential and commercial buildings are the single largest energy-consuming sector in the US economy. Our homes, offices, schools, hospitals and other structures account for approximately 75 percent of the nation’s electricity consumption, which results in Americans spending $400 billion each year to power our built environment.

The same report notes that the U.S. The Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office (BTO) aims to reduce the average energy use per square foot of US buildings 30 percent by 2030. In order to meet this ambitious target, advanced building technology investment and R&D as well as cross-industry collaboration must be a priority.

There are many notable examples of participating IN2 startups that are making a difference in our urban landscapes today—through pilot programs, research breakthroughs, lab discoveries and more. A few successes include:

  • UbiQD is making transparent solar panel windows with nanoparticles. Traditional building glass is coated to reflect and absorb heat, but UbiQD’s innovation uses order to use this energy rather than just mitigate its impact on occupant comfort. The team’s researchers just set a new efficiency record for color-neutra solar cells by achieving 8.1% efficiency and 43.3% transparency.
  • Maalka is an open, energy efficiency platform designed to help cities and building owners easily meet their commercial benchmarking goals. The company recently partnered with global commercial real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield, and received $1M in Department of Energy (DOE) funding for its building efficiency project. The DOE award will be used to advance Maalka’s application called KAVA, which provides rapid, calibrated portfolio-level energy analysis. KAVA allows users to make informed, targeted energy efficiency strategies with visibility on payback periods and other investment metrics. Maalka’s resources have been proven through the startup’s previous work with the City of Chicago to automate data validation and compliance assurance for 3,000 buildings.
  • 75F creates IoT-power building management systems with wireless sensors, equipment controllers and cloud-based software to improve heating and cooling efficiencies and maintain occupant comfort in commercial buildings. The company responded to rapidly changing priorities during COVID-19 by creating a new sequence of operations called Epidemic Mode. This sequence implements federal and scientific guidelines for each piece of HVAC equipment in a building based on capacity and weather conditions, and is designed for spaces with partial or reduced occupancy. In order to truly reduce the huge amounts of energy consumption and waste associated with heating and cooling our built environment, commercial building managers must be able to automate as many controls and decisions as possible. 75F aims to do so with a self-optimizing system that prioritizes efficiency and comfort.



A Collaborative Model

These startup companies are developing hugely impactful technologies that can be scaled for maximum impact. But it is important to recognize the complexity of reducing emissions in our built environment, and we’ll only make progress within the sector if we bring the greatest minds and resources together. IN2 tackles multiple pain points and challenges at once by prioritizing connection and collaboration—the program’s network has facilitated approximately 90 fruitful connections between participating startups and corporations, government entities, investors, utilities and other members in the program’s ecosystem. This is a model the private sector can replicate, or engage with directly.

Learn more about other IN2 cohort companies, and stay tuned for part two: a deep dive into the agriculture sector and the most significant areas of opportunity for deploying new technologies.

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