From Batteries To Building Materials, Green Manufacturing Startups Are Raising Billions

Modern humanity’s carbon-spewing ways probably have their roots in manufacturing. If it’s not the things we mass-produce, then it’s likely the processes used to make them. Or, in many cases, both are to blame for emitting copious quantities of CO₂.

Given this state of affairs, it’s not surprising that founders and venture capitalists have taken an interest in greener manufacturing. The space emerged as a popular theme, even amid a toned-down funding climate last year, with more than $10 billion invested globally across the larger rounds, per an analysis of Crunchbase data.

The dataset also enabled a closer look at where investment is going. Below, we curated a list of 34 of the larger financings, covering areas from battery recycling to green steel.

Upon closer examination, it looks like a few sectors and investment themes dominate much of the list. Here are a few that stood out.

No. 1: Batteries

Battery funding has been on a tear in recent quarters, driven by the growth of electric vehicle adoption. It seems like everyone wants to fund a startup that develops technology for batteries that are longer-lasting, cheaper and easier to produce, or more environmentally friendly.

For the past year, the biggest funding recipients are out of Europe: Verkor, a French startup focused on low-carbon battery manufacturing, and Stockholm-based Northvolt, a maker of lithium-ion batteries.

Battery recycling is also big, with outsize rounds in recent months for Redwood Materials, the Nevada-based battery recycling startup founded by former Tesla CTO JB Straubel, and Ascend Elements, a Massachusetts manufacturer of sustainable battery materials using elements from discarded lithium-ion batteries.

No. 2: Transportation

A number of funded startups are also working on more environmentally friendly modes of and components for transportation.

Texas-based Infinitum, for instance, has picked up more than $350 million to date to develop engines it says are 50% lighter and smaller than a traditional iron-core motor, with mobility among its use cases. Glydways, based in South San Francisco, which makes small, autonomous electric vehicles for public transport, has picked up over $90 million.

Much is happening on water too. Arc Boats, out of Los Angeles, is making emissions-free electric boats. And Rhode Island-based Regent is working on electric seagliders to operate along coastal routes.

No. 3: Building and materials

Construction is one of the most carbon-intensive activities we engage in, so it’s not surprising to see investors keen on backing startups pursuing a greener approach. It’s a topic we addressed in part a few months ago, looking at the recent surge in funding to clean-concrete companies. In addition, we’re seeing active funding to environmentally conscious startups tackling other building materials.

Among these is Oakland-based Mighty Buildings, which has raised more than $150 million to date for 3D-printed panels and materials it says can enable faster construction with a lower carbon footprint.

Glass is another focus area. Halio, based in Hayward, California, is working on dynamic glass that would enable windows to change tint, thereby saving on heating and cooling costs. And Michigan-based LuxWall is working on vacuum-insulated glass to make buildings more energy-efficient.

No. 4: Metal

Steel has not historically been an eco-friendly metal. Per some estimates, it accounts for more than 7% of global CO₂ emissions.

Startups are looking to do better. To this end, Stockholm-based H2 Green Steel is the leader on the funding front, with $5.4 billion in debt and equity financing to date. It’s producing “green steel” through a process that it says releases 95% less emissions compared to traditional steelmaking. In the U.S., meanwhile, Boston Metal is commercializing an electricity-powered metals technology platform that it claims will “decarbonize steelmaking and transform how metals are made.”

Risk and reward

As billions pour into manufacturing startups, it’s probably not lost on even their most ardent backers that these are expensive, infrastructure-intensive and risky bets.

But while software may reign supreme in the startup world, until you can drive, live in or eat the stuff, someone will still need to manufacture things. If we can figure out how to do that without unduly polluting our planet, the rewards will far outweigh the upfront risks.