The World Economic Forum today announces its annual list of breakthrough emerging sustainable technologies with the greatest potential to make a positive impact on the world. These include flexible batteries, generative AI and sustainable aviation fuel. The technologies featured in the Top 10 Emerging Technologies Report 2023, produced in collaboration with Frontiers, are chosen by a group of experts against several criteria. In addition to promising major benefits to societies and economies, they must also be disruptive, attractive to investors and researchers, and expected to have achieved considerable scale within five years.
“New technologies have the power to disrupt industries, grow economies, improve lives and safeguard the planet – if designed, scaled and deployed responsibly,” said Jeremy Jurgens, Managing Director, World Economic Forum and Head of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. “We hope that this year’s report serves as a powerful tool for business leaders and policy-makers to unlock the transformative potential of emerging technologies and shape their inclusive adoption.”
Since the first edition in 2011, the report has identified little-known technologies that went on to have global impact. These include genomic vaccines, which were featured in the 2016 report and later became the technology underpinning most COVID-19 vaccines, as well as AI-led molecular design, which was featured on the 2018 list, two years before the first AI-discovered drugs entered clinical trials.
Entering its second decade, the report builds on the legacy of the past 10 editions by broadening its scope to include a qualitative assessment of how each of the technologies is set to impact people, the planet, prosperity, industry and equity, based on survey responses from curated groups of experts for each technology. Also new for the 2023 edition is a collection of Transformation Maps on the Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform. Theses provide deeper insights and context on each technology by showcasing how they connect to other topics on the global agenda and surfacing the latest trusted publications for further reading.
“We find ourselves standing at a crucial juncture in society, where the power of knowledge becomes our guiding light amidst the obstacles ahead,” says Kamila Markram, co-founder and CEO, Frontiers. “This comprehensive report serves a vital purpose in opening the gates to such knowledge, shedding light on ground-breaking scientific breakthroughs and equipping leaders with the essential insights needed to comprehend and harness these advancements effectively.”
The Top 3 Emerging Sustainable Technologies of 2023 are:
Standard rigid batteries may soon be a thing of the past as thin, flexible batteries – made of lightweight materials that can be twisted, bent and stretched – reach the market. This new generation of battery technology – expected to hit a market value of $240 million by 2027 – has applications across medical wearables, biomedical sensors, flexible displays and smart watches.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel
With 2%-3% of annual global CO2 emissions coming from aviation, and no sign of long-haul electric flights, sustainable aviation fuel produced from biological (e.g. biomass) and non-biological (e.g. CO2) sources could be the answer to decarbonize the aviation industry in the short to medium term.
Data centres consume approximately 1% of the electricity produced globally. Multiple technologies are intersecting to make the dream of net zero-energy data centres an achievable reality. Bucketed together as “sustainable computing” technologies, they include liquid cooling systems, AI analytics and modular data centres that can be co-located with existing energy sources such as methane flares.