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10 innovative Irish companies steering us towards a green future

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Enterprise Ireland has launched a new campaign spotlighting companies from Ireland that are scoring sustainability goals.

This week, as the world turned green for St Patrick’s Day, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, TD, launched an international green innovation campaign from Enterprise Ireland.

Taking the opportunity of the national holiday to showcase Ireland’s green innovators and the contribution they make around the world, Varadkar said: “Climate action is, after all, an enormous business opportunity.

“As the world emerges from Covid-19, we need to understand that there will be no return to the old normal. We’ll need to build back better and prioritise the sustainable investments that underpin a global green recovery and the transition to low-carbon economies.”

Ready for a Green Future puts 10 companies that are leading by example at the fore of its campaign. These companies are helping to reduce the use of fossil fuels and tackling emissions-heavy sectors such as food production, construction and transportation with creative sci-tech solutions.

Abbey Machinery

Abbey Machinery has an agricultural heritage dating back to the 19th century, but the company has evolved with the times and is a pioneer of low-emission slurry spreading (LESS).

Slurry spreading is just one of the factors contributing to agriculture’s significant ammonia emissions. But with Abbey Machinery’s LESS applicators, farmers can reduce emissions by placing slurry in narrow bands.

Continuing to innovate, Abbey’s new smart slurry tankers are fitted out with automation and sensing technology. For example, a near-infrared sensor analyses the slurry make-up, enabling farmers to target nutrients when and where needed, reducing the widespread use of artificial fertiliser.

CitySwift

Transport is a huge contributor to global carbon emissions and passenger road vehicles are the main culprit, accounting for almost three-quarters of all transport CO2 emissions.

Any effort to reduce the number of road vehicles can change that, which is where Galway-based start-up CitySwift comes in.

CitySwift’s cloud-native platform aims to improve the performance of urban bus networks through data analytics so that more people can ditch the private car in favour of public transport. The data engine is already used by bus services in the UK and last year the company raised €2m in funding and began expanding.

Cygnum

Irish construction company Cygnum uses automated systems to build precise, computer-designed timber frame structures. This off-site construction reduces energy use on-site, but the material also makes a big difference.

While much of our world is built using concrete, its key ingredient – cement – is the source of about 8pc of global CO2 emissions. Timber, however, actually stores carbon, and so Cygnum’s structures act as a carbon sink.

In 2014, the Cork company was contracted to build the UK’s largest sustainable commercial building. More recently, a street of low-energy houses built using Cygnum’s highly insulated timber structures was awarded the coveted RIBA Stirling Prize.

Davra

The internet of things (IoT) means we can gather data from many sources, and that data can reveal opportunities for energy efficiency, emissions reduction and better management of resources.

Davra is a Dublin company helping organisations to leverage the power of IoT. Irish Water uses Davra’s technology to monitor pipes across the nation and prevent millions of litres being lost through leaks. Bus services in the US have used the technology to measure fuel efficiency. And, using European Space Agency satellite data, Davra also helps the mining industry monitor underground activity, which in turns helps to protect surrounding farmland and prevent pollution.

Ecocem

As already mentioned, the cement used widely in the construction industry has a massive carbon footprint. This is why Ecocem is focused on making a low-carbon alternative.

Ecocem manufactures ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBS), which it claims produces 32kg of CO2 emissions per ton, compared to upwards of 800kg from regular cement. Also, GGBS is manufactured using leftover material from steel mills, saving it from landfill.

GGBS and cement are typically mixed together to make concrete blocks, though they tend to take longer to set. However, Ecocem has patented an accelerant that can speed up drying time.

GridBeyond

GridBeyond started life as Endeco Technologies, a company using IoT technology to help businesses reduce energy consumption. That mission has expanded as GridBeyond also aims to power the switch to 100pc renewable energy.

The Dublin-headquartered company applies AI and machine learning to help businesses optimise their energy use. Further to that, GridBeyond encourages businesses to store excess energy from renewables which they can then sell back to the grid using the company’s robotic trading technology.

GridBeyond’s vision is to build a shared energy economy and it is already working with large energy consumers such as data centres, hospitals and refineries.

Hanley Energy

Headquartered in Co Meath, Hanley Energy has been providing software to monitor energy use since 2009. It has particularly proven its expertise in critical power management for data centres.

Using Hanley Energy’s proprietary technology, businesses can track all energy usage, analyse trends and identify significant energy losses or overuse. Armed with this information, efficiency measures can be taken that not only cut energy costs but reduce the business’s carbon footprint.

By the end of this year, Hanley Energy itself aims to have a supply chain that is 100pc sustainably sourced, using only certified green suppliers and materials.

Keenan

Carlow company Keenan produces farm animal feeders that combine engineering and IoT technology to capture data on animal feed mixes in real time, in order to optimise the mix quality. The result is herd nutrition that is precise and tailored, which not only reduces waste but can also improve yields of milk and beef.

This contributes to an improved feed conversion efficiency in livestock, and the Carbon Trust has validated Keenan’s feeder as a more sustainable approach that can help to reduce on-farm emissions.

Established in 1978, Keenan was acquired by US animal feed company Alltech in 2016.

OceanEnergy

Part of Ireland’s ‘blue economy’, Cork company OceanEnergy captures and converts wave energy using its unique technology.

There’s more than a decade of R&D behind OceanEnergy’s groundbreaking device, which floats on the ocean’s surface, generating electrical energy. Each one can produce enough electricity to power 1,000 homes.

OceanEnergy is backed by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and also received $11.5m in funding from the US Department of Energy. It has partnered with the US Navy in a $25m project to launch a grid-connected device in Hawaii. This project will be used to test and optimise the device for future use.

Xocean

As OceanEnergy and other key players have noticed, the ocean economy presents an expansive opportunity. What businesses operating in this space will need for their operations is data.

Xocean is a Louth-based start-up that remotely operates unmanned surface vessels to gather ocean data for survey companies and other organisations. To date, the company has supplied data to more than 12 offshore windfarms across the EU, North and South America.

In a funding round that closed in November 2019, Xocean secured €7.9m from investors including Enterprise Ireland, the Marine Institute Ireland and the Creative Destruction Lab.

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Chinese could hack data for future quantum decryption, report warns | Hacking

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Chinese hackers could target heavily encrypted datasets such as weapon designs or details of undercover intelligence officers with a view to unlocking them at a later date when quantum computing makes decryption possible, a report warns.

Analysts at Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm, say Chinese hackers could also steal pharmaceutical, chemical and material science research that can be processed by quantum computers – machines capable of crunching through numbers at unprecedented speed.

In a report titled “Chinese threats in the quantum era”, the consultancy says encrypted data could be stolen by “Chinese threat groups”. It says quantum-assisted decryption will arrive faster than quantum-assisted encryption, giving hackers an edge.

“Encrypted data with intelligence longevity, like biometric markers, covert intelligence officer and source identities, social security numbers, and weapons’ designs, may be increasingly stolen under the expectation that they can eventually be decrypted,” the report says. It says “state-aligned cyber threat actors” will start to steal or intercept previously unusable encrypted data.

However, it adds there is a “very small” likelihood that quantum computing could break the latest encryption methods before 2030. The analysts say quantum computing’s advantages over classical computing – the computing used in everything from laptops to mobile phones – are at least a decade away.

“Although quantum computers’ current abilities are more demonstrative than immediately useful, their trajectory suggests that in the coming decades quantum computers will likely revolutionize numerous industries – from pharmaceuticals to materials science – and eventually undermine all popular current public-key encryption methods,” the report says.

Quantum computing is viewed as an exciting development. For example, experts say it could predict accurately what a complex molecule might do and thus pave the way for new drugs and materials.

China is already a strong player in the field, and Booz Allen Hamilton says it expected the country to surpass Europe and the US – where IBM recently made the most powerful quantum processor – in quantum-related research and development.

“Chinese threat groups will likely soon collect encrypted data with long-term utility, expecting to eventually decrypt it with quantum computers,” the report says. “By the end of the 2020s, Chinese threat groups will likely collect data that enables quantum simulators to discover new economically valuable materials, pharmaceuticals and chemicals.”

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UK Space Agency asks kids to make a logo for first launches • The Register

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Good news for those in the UK with primary school-aged kids and wondering what to do when the next bout of home-schooling hits: design a logo for the first UK satellite launches.

2022 could be a big year for launching satellites from Blighty’s shores as the first launchers gear up for a historic blast-off. Assuming the facilities have been built and all the necessary consents given and boxes ticked.

There are currently seven possible spaceport sites across the UK, from Cornwall in England through Llanbedr in Wales and up to the Western Isles in Scotland. Cash has been lobbed Cornwall’s way to support a horizontal launch by Virgin Orbit from Spaceport Cornwall and more toward Scotland for Orbex’s ambitions to launch vertically from Sutherland.

Should all the approvals happen and construction be completed, there is every chance the UK might host its first launch at some point in 2022.

Hence the need for a logo and thus a competition aimed at inspiring kids to consider a career in the space industry. And, of course, it is all worthy stuff: “Logo designs,” intoned the UK Space Agency, “should reflect how data from small satellites can help inform solutions to climate change as well as generate a source of pride in the UK’s space ambitions.”

What, we wondered, could possibly go wrong?

We put this question to Rob Manuel, one of those behind web stalwart b3ta.com. B3ta has a long history of (among other things) image challenges, the results of which tend to pop up, often unattributed, in timelines around the world. Now heading into its third decade, the site continues to push out a weekly Friday newsletter to email subscribers.

In terms of how to engage participants, Manuel said: “If anyone asks me, and they rarely do, I encourage competitions to be as open as possible – publish the results as they’re coming in. Try and create a buzz that something is happening rather than everything going in the bin.”

“As for things going wrong,” he went on, “well, there’s always an element who’ll want to subvert it.”

The competition is open to children aged 4-11 and will run until 11 March 2022. There are two age categories (4-7 and 7-11) over 12 regions in the UK. Designs can be drawn, painted, or created on a computer and either submitted on the logoliftoff.org.uk site or via post. Some basic questions also need to be answered, and children can work on their own or in a team of up to four.

We asked the UK Space Agency if it would take Manuel’s advice and post entries ahead of the competition close. We will update should it respond. ®

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Video analytics platform RugbySmarts named ‘most investable’ at SportX

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The Galway tech start-up was one of two winners at the sport-focused pre-accelerator programme.

A start-up developing real-time video analytics for sports has been named ‘most investable’ at SportX, a new pre-accelerator in Ireland for founders with sports and wellness business ideas.

RugbySmarts took the title at the inaugural SportX showcase last week, securing a cash prize.

The Galway-based start-up aims to automate and simplify sports analytics using AI,  machine learning and computer vision, helping coaches to improve player and team performance with a platform that could also be transferred to other sports.

RugbySmarts was founded last year by CTO William Johnstone, who has previously worked with Connacht Rugby, and CEO Yvonne Comer, who is a former Ireland international rugby player.

Meanwhile, the award of ‘best impact on sport’ was given to TrojanTrack. This start-up, founded in 2021 by Dublin-based Stephen O’Dwyer, is looking to combine quantitative biomechanical analysis with deep neural network tech in the equine industry.

The aim is to gain feedback on a horse’s injury or gait imbalance without using invasive technology, such as motion-tracking software that requires markers to be attached to the animal’s skin.

‘Next-gen sports-tech entrepreneurs’

SportX was launched earlier this year by advisory firm Resolve Partners, Sport Ireland and ArcLabs – the research and innovation centre at Waterford Institute of Technology.

The aim of the pre-accelerator programme was to build on tech and business ideas for the sport and wellness industries, giving founders access to academic, clinical and commercial resources.

The six-week programme involved workshops and engagement with advisers, entrepreneurs, subject experts and investors. Participants also had the opportunity to pitch to the US-based Techstars Sports Accelerator.

At the SportX showcase last week, nine teams had five minutes each to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges.

The two winners were selected by the panel, which featured Gary Leyden of the ArcLabs Fund 1 GP, Sport Ireland’s Benny Cullen and Niall McEvoy of Enterprise Ireland.

At the launch of SportX earlier this year, Leyden said the goal of the programme was to find “the next generation of sports-tech entrepreneurs who can leverage the amazing enterprise and sports-related supports within the south-east of Ireland”.

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