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13 August, 2021 - 22:31 By Tony Quested

Gibbs escalates University’s decarbonisation investment

University of Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Toope lit the touchpaper to a decarbonisation revolution recently with a commitment to divest from all direct and indirect investments in fossil fuels by 2030.

It is part of the University’s plan to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2038, more than a decade before the date set by the UK Government. The £3.5 billion Cambridge University Endowment Fund – one of the biggest of its kind in Europe – intends to ramp up investments in renewable energy as it divests from fossil fuels. 

This latest plan puts Cambridge at the head of the race to become the first university endowment of its kind where greenhouse gas emissions from the activities of all investments balance out at zero.

Announcing the move, Prof Toope said: “The University is responding comprehensively to a pressing environmental and moral need for action with an historic announcement that demonstrates our determination to seek solutions to the climate crisis.

“We will approach with renewed confidence our collaborations with government, industry and research partners around the world as together we work for a zero-carbon future.”
Chris Gibbs, Investment Manager in Cambridge Enterprise’s Seed Funds team, has taken responsibility for growing investment in new waves of sustainable technologies that feed into the greater effort.

Chris joined Cambridge Enterprise only last year but is vastly experienced in the broader CleanTech arena. While head of engineering at CMR Fuel Cells in Cambridge, he led multi-disciplinary teams developing and delivering CleanTech products to major multinational partners.

He also co-founded Amalyst, a spin-out from University College London where, as Chief Technology Officer, he led its efforts in novel catalyst development for the energy transition.

Having lived on both sides of the Atlantic, Chris is well aware that investors have been slow in waking up to the outstanding technology emanating from the UK in this arena. 
US investment in CleanTech has long dwarfed that in the UK. But he believes that the University can act as a torchbearer in supporting innovative technologies that will contribute to a sustainable future.

Gibbs says the Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds rapid decarbonisation initiative could invest in as many as 15 new businesses and adds that the ball is already rolling. 

“We are throwing our arms around some exciting opportunities in the space arising from University research and each of these plays impacts on the University’s stated vision to hit Net Zero.”

Gibbs was “on point” when CleanTech in the UK was in its infant years and learned the hard way that getting this kind of company started was a major part of the wider challenge. Now the sector has massively matured, he says. He believes there is a clear and demonstrable appetite on the part of entrepreneurs to build world-class CleanTech companies – and from investors to support them, either privately or through IPO.

He cites a genuine commitment in the UK, among the public and the corporate communities, to tackle and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is the right time for the decarbonisation initiative and the University’s Net Zero strategy. There is real traction, for example, in the field of enhanced high power and rapid recharging battery technology from companies such as Echion and Nyobolt, the latter of which raised £7.5m backed by IQ Capital with participation from Cambridge Enterprise and Silicon Valley investors.

“Cambridge Photon Technology and its patented material increasing solar cell efficiency is also exciting; as is novel materials technology from companies like Xampla. Cambridge Enterprise has a terrific portfolio reflecting advances in all these CleanTech and sustainable technologies.

“Our decarbonisation initiative is already benefiting from increased awareness and outreach and we are confident that we are now pushing at an open door. Seed Funds at Cambridge Enterprise expects to see rapid take-up of exciting opportunities  through our rapid decarbonisation initiative.”

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