Top 10 emerging technologies of 2024: from cooling solutions to carbon capture

27 June 2024 | Muriel Cozier | Image from WEF report

‘The issue with all new processing routes to useful chemicals is the need to scale.’

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has published its Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2024 (pdf). This is the 12th edition of the list, which covers technologies predicted to make a positive impact on the world in the next three-to-five years. The technologies cover applications in sustainability, health, infrastructure and communications.

The report draws on the expertise of more than 300 academics from the WEF’s Global Future Councils and Frontiers’ global network of chief editors. The rankings also take into account academic literature, funding trends and patent filings.

At number seven on the list are elastocaloric heat pumps, centred on materials that emit heat when subjected to mechanical stress and cool down when the stress is relaxed. The technology could enhance access to cooling in regions with limited or no grid access. According to the WEF, research and development in the field is advancing, with the rate of scientific publications doubling every 22 months. Patent applications have come from the automotive sector and industries focused on cooling.

Engineered organisms to convert carbon dioxide emissions into valuable products also make the list. However, despite significant progress, microbial carbon capture systems face a number of challenges that are hindering their widespread adoption and commercialisation. Barriers include the fact that microorganisms are less effective in capturing carbon dioxide from hot industrial exhaust gases, and the high cost of existing microbial carbon capture systems. Overcoming these challenges could allow the full potential of the technology to be realised.

The collaborative Flue2Chem project, of which SCI is a partner, is developing a process for taking carbon dioxide from industrial waste streams to be used as feedstock for household cleaning products and coatings. Commenting on the challenges of novel carbon capture and utilisation systems; David Bott, SCI’s director of innovation said: ‘The issue with all new processing routes to useful chemicals is the need to scale. Many of the common building blocks of the modern chemistry industry are used in the millions of tonnes scale – and produced in plants that have been optimised for scale and cost over decades.

‘If we are to realise the promise of these new technologies, we need the physical and financial infrastructure to evaluate, develop and implement them at the scale needed to satisfy society's needs, at a cost which will make them commercially viable. We also need to evaluate the complete life cycle impact on the environment.’

Alternative livestock feeds are ninth on the list, and are highlighted as offering sustainable solutions to address the growing demand for protein in animal agriculture. These feeds, sourced from insects, single-cell proteins, algae and food waste provide viable alternatives to traditional ingredients like soy, maize and wheat, the report says.

In 2023, Future Market Insights valued the global animal feed alternative protein market at $3.96 billion – and projected it to reach $8.2 billion by 2033. Challenges highlighted include environmental regulations, ethical concerns and competition, where sustainable feed resources are competing with sustainable fuel production, for example.

The full list of emerging technologies are:

  1. AI for scientific discovery
  2. Privacy-enhancing technologies
  3. Reconfigurable intelligent surfaces
  4. High altitude platform stations
  5. Integrated sensing and communication
  6. Immersive technology for the built world
  7. Elastocalorics
  8. Carbon-capturing microbes
  9. Alternative livestock feeds
  10. Genomics for transplants

Jeremy Jurgens, managing director, World Economic Forum said of the latest report: ‘It spotlights technologies with immense potential for revolutionising connectivity, addressing the urgent challenges of climate change and driving innovation across various fields.’

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