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Baltic startups: renewing forests and cleaning the oceans while cutting pollution

| 2022-01-04 4 min read

Baltic startups: renewing forests and cleaning the oceans while cutting pollution

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In our first deep dive into the innovative Baltic startup scene, we look at companies with new approaches to recycling, reforestation, oil disposal and even nuclear energy .

Fighting deforestation with satellites

Estonia’s Single.Earth was founded two years ago based on a belief that it is possible to save trees while doing business. Forests play an essential role in ecosystems, Tarmo Virki of Single.Earth told CET. “It is a natural starting point,” Virki told CET.

Single.Earth has created a satellite-based system that generates a token whenever it detects 100 kilogrammes of CO2 being captured. These are then issued to owners of land and forests who can trade them on the Single.Earth marketplace. Instead of felling trees and profitting “every 50 years”, Single.Earth offers a “continuous cash flow”. Tokens can, for example, be exchanged to offset carbon footprints. 

Photo credit: Single.Earth

Most of the land monitored by Single.Earth is in Europe, with some presence in Central Africa too. Forests are not the only ones in Single.Earth’s sights, Virki said, as the company is already looking at preservation of grasslands and waters.

University project becomes ocean cleaning app

Inobiostar, on the other hand, is already working on water preservation. The startup, established at Klaipeda University in 2020, is pushing the move towards a fossil-free economy by diminishing the negative impact of oil waste and oil spills. Tatjana Paulauskiene, a senior researcher at Klaipeda University and the founder of Inobiostar, who has been engaged with this issue for a decade, said for collecting oil waste from the water surface, modern industry either uses sorbents, which have to be disposed of with the oil waste when collected, or chemicals, to make the oil waste heavier and allow it to sink to the seabed.

To meet the need for sustainable solutions that protect ecosystems, Inobiostar is developing sustainable oil spill cleanup methods that uses waste paper made of cellulose, a non-toxic, biodegradable natural polymer. “The problem which we are solving has never been so timely for human beings with arising awareness on climate change and health,” Paulauskiene said.

The startup is not planning to produce its product. Inobiostar instead aims to licence the product and issue production rights to manufacturers. The licensing deadline must be met within two years, but product commercialisation will be the major challenge, Paulauskiene told CET.

Global problems and global support

EU policies and priorities are joining forces with business interests to generate climate solutions, and Baltic startups are attracting the interest of investors . Sustainability has become an opportunity to earn money and the news flow on climate is also massive, said Ivar Kruusenberg, CEO of Estonian company PowerUp Fuel Cells, which produces CO2-free portable hydrogen fuel cell generators. Kruusenberg’s startup already operates a factory in Estonia and is planning to open another in Germany or Poland.

Starting-up outside the Baltic borders

Many startups in environmental or climate startups begin life outside the business mainstream – and their goals, development and challenges are similarly atypical. Latvian startup WinGo Deposit has challenged standard waste separation methods for some years since inventing a machine that reads bar codes and divides rubbish into different boxes, co-founder Vismands Menjoks explained. The system even accepts flattened cans and plastic pots, while another WinGo device in the pipeline will accept e-cigarette batteries.

However, according to Menjoks: “Latvia for us is lost because of the lobbies in politics: the waste deposit system (founded by business and supported by politicians) has nice slogans, but does not solve environmental problems.” Menjoks said the current system does not accept non-standard packaging, therefore some manufacturers, especially smaller ones, are losing competitiveness due to varied packaging used by the market. Despite this, non-standard package waste collection could be a niche for WinGo, Menjoks added.

Photo credit: WinGo Deposit

WinGo is planning to locate its machines not only in Latvia, but also in Estonia, Lithuania and Sweden. “Latvian startups typically prove themselves in the wider world and only then return home, as Latvia is too conservative and passive regarding innovation,” Menjoks added. Unlike other entrepreneurs interviewed by CET, Menjoks underlined the expense of environmental protection and said startups in the sector can barely survive on EU funding. “It is a very expensive hobby, but we are interested in this field,” he said.

EU decarbonisation policy an opportunity for green startups

Naco Technologies completed its first year of manufacturing nano-coatings by banking a profit of over EUR 100,000. The Latvian startup’s anti-corrosion nanocoatings are used in fields where diesel and other fuels have dominated but in which they are seen as increasingly redundant, such as vehicle manufacturing and agriculture. Parfinovics explains that the EU is currently the best market, as it has identified hydrogen as an “energy rockstar”. Investors are likewise interested in this field: at present Naco has around a dozen clients, mainly in the EU, and will open a factory in Latvia this year, and another plant in Germany in 2023. Naco’s turnover increased tenfold year-on-year in 2021, thanks to developing supply chains, falling market barriers and improving sentiment regarding non-fuel activated generators.