From sustainable textiles to technology capable of growing coral reefs, the Expo 2020 Dubai has showcased innovative ideas for solving some of the world’s most pressing challenges.
As far back as 1851, world expositions have served as a platform to reveal new technologies catering to the needs of the age. From Alexander Bell’s telephone in Paris in 1878 to the demonstration of Honda’s humanoid robot Asimo in Japan in 2005, this event has long reflected the defining inventions and unique demands of its era.
Expo 2020 Dubai started in October 2021 (it was re-scheduled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic), and made sustainability, mobility, and opportunity its central themes. As such, the exposition’s 200 pavilions aim to showcase the latest technology focused on tackling climate change and the unique problems it creates, and to encourage further innovation in this critical field.
Visitors to the exposition are confronted with the centrality of sustainable technology as soon as they arrive – not just as a key area of focus, but also built into the exposition’s architecture. The main thematic pavilion is called Terra, and is wholly dedicated to sustainability.
Designed to resemble trees, Terra’s carbon fibre and steel canopy draws inspiration from a forest’s self-sufficiency. With an array of over 1,000 solar panels, the sustainability pavilion can generate its own energy and water in addition to managing its own cooling. Rainwater and dew are collected by “water trees”, while grey water is filtered and recycled, and black water is purified in reed beds. Having the building partially sunk below ground helps to keep the exhibition space cool.
The pavilion is dedicated to educating visitors on the negative impact of humans on earth, from marine pollution to carbon footprints, and encourages them to reflect on their choices.
Cleantech and green research
Another important dimension of the Expo’s drive to promote green solutions is the shows and presentations making the case for greater investment in sustainable technology and research. As a crossroads for tourists, businesspeople and even policymakers, the events held at the Dubai Expo are an important forum for exchanging global best practice in sustainable solutions.
One summit held at the beginning of the conference was entitled “Research and Innovation as a Driver Towards Climate Neutrality”. The two-day event, hosted by the EU in the Sweden Pavilion, included a presentation by the Coordinator of eCOCO2, a project which aims to create and scale a technology for the conversion of CO2 into carbon-neutral fuels using renewable electricity and steam.
In February, a “Farms of the Future” event will be open to members of the public in the Australia Pavilion. It will attempt to tackle the problem of how to cut down the environmental damage caused by agriculture while simultaneously providing for two billion more people by 2050.
The message behind all of these events is one of innovation, creativity and persistence. Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives, summarised this sentiment in a Climate and Biodiversity Week panel talk: “One of the most important things is not to lose hope. There is a bit of gloom… we seem to feel that it is uncontrolled, but if we go with the pessimistic picture, it will be difficult for us to find solutions. I believe in human ingenuity and I think we do have solutions.”
As it embarks on its penultimate month, the Expo 2020 is maintaining its steady focus on sustainable solutions to the world’s climate problems. But many of the upcoming conferences target not only governments and consumers, but also business leaders themselves: from discussions on developing a sustainable seafood industry to lessons learned from beekeeping in Ghana and the opportunities offered by sustainable infrastructure, these events seem to be rallying entrepreneurs to the green transition.
In one recent event at the Expo, representatives of four sustainable “scaleups” competed for a panel of judges in front of a live audience, in a mock boxing ring. These four businesses – Entoprotech, Gazelle, SOLHO, and Digital Energy – were selected from 1,220 candidates across three continents, and battled it out in short debates to be crowned winners of the Uniting Water, Energy Food (UWEF) Tour.
The joint victors were Entroprotech and Gazelle. Entroprotech is an Israel-based startup using black soldier fly larvae to process food waste and recycle it into animal feed, fertiliser and other valuable products.
Meanwhile, the UAE’s own Gazelle offers a floating wind power platform. This can be launched much more easily and cheaply than fixed offshore wind turbines, and is also more economical than alternative floating platforms.
Both victors have already received support and partnerships from the likes of feed producer Granot and shipping giant Maersk Supply Service. But at their stage of development, the companies still need connections and exposure. The UWEF Tour is designed to put them in touch with potential investors, other innovative tech startups and scaleups and with expert judges.
“We are ready to go,” affirmed Entoprotech CEO Sasha Babitsky. “The solution is technologically ready. We just need partners and money to deploy it globally and to make an impact,” he added.
In the best of world exposition traditions, the Dubai 2020 Exposition has presented an extravaganza of innovations for tackling the era’s most pressing concerns. The spectacle has surpassed even the high bar set by previous world fairs over the last 150 years. With two months left before the Expo concludes, though, observers will be hoping that the weird and wonderful solutions presented by modern science and technology will be put into practice with just as much enthusiasm.