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Amazon funds recycling robot startup

The Amazon Climate Technology Venture Fund was established in 2020 with a $2 billion commitment to invest in companies developing potential solutions to emissions reductions and environmental sustainability efforts. On Wednesday, the company announced its support for its 25th venture, an early-stage, female-led San Francisco startup called Glacier that builds the next generation of AI-guided recycling robots.

Climate Pledge Fund and New Enterprise Associates were notable funders of Glacier’s $7.7 million round, which brings the company’s total funding to $13 million. Other investors in this batch include AlleyCorp, Overture VC, and VSC Ventures. Amazon’s participation marks her second investment in the Women Founders Initiative, a dedicated pool of $53 million.

Market revenue for recycling robots is expected to reach more than $10 billion by 2030. Material recovery facilities (MRFs) are struggling with staffing shortages and the sheer volume of specialized materials, approximately 300 million tons in 2018 in the U.S. alone. process.

“To build a future where new materials can be recycled at scale, we need to test options for putting these materials through the recycling system,” said Nick Ellis, director of the Climate Pledge Fund. “Partnering with Glacier will allow us to test the role of new recycling technologies based on AI and robotics, which will ultimately allow us to identify and aggregate new packaging materials that can be recycled and reused. .”

Some of the unique value propositions that Glacier touts include:

  • The cost-effectiveness of the technology. Glacier has not disclosed pricing, but its co-founders said the cost of its robots is significantly lower than other technologies, and the equipment can expect a return on investment within a year. Some recycling robots can cost up to $300,000.
  • The robustness of artificial intelligence software that can identify more than 30 materials, from aluminum cans to toothpaste tubes.and
  • The company’s robots have the ability to squeeze into tight spaces, where other recycling robots are too large to fit.

Ellis said Amazon will collect data from the Northern California MRF commercial pilot site and provide manufacturers with information on how they can increase recycling recovery rates and use it toward waste reduction and circular economy goals. The company is currently considering how to select materials that can be returned.

Glacier plans to provide this type of insight across the entire recycling ecosystem, from product manufacturers to recycling facilities and material recovery companies. “Glacier is a great example of how we can be a catalytic investor, a catalytic customer and a convener,” he said.

Amazon’s interest in industrial equipment

Glacier is one of several industrial hardware companies supported by the Climate Pledge Fund. Here are three other portfolio companies that are disrupting traditional processes.

  • CMC Packaging Automation developed the system used by Amazon to custom fit corrugated boxes, eliminating waste and the need for single-use plastic cushions.
  • Redwood Materials, EV battery recycling startup led by Tesla co-founder JB Straubel
  • Sunfire is a 14-year-old European company developing electrolyzers for green hydrogen that could play a role in Amazon’s warehouses and logistics network.

Ellis said Amazon has not disclosed how much of the Climate Pledge funds have been distributed or the exact amount that is being put into Glacier. The fund’s most notable investment is a $1 billion injection into Rivian, an electric van company that builds more than 100,000 vehicles for delivery.

When does recycling robots make sense?

AI-powered robots and other automation technologies will help MRF build capacity and generate revenue by selling recovered materials to manufacturers who want to achieve their goals of using recycled content in their products and packaging. considered essential for building sources.

They work using sensors and software intelligence to visually identify materials of the same type and separate them from the waste stream. Besides Glacier, two of his companies, AMP and his TOMRA, are trying to play a role.

In addition to selling its technology to MRFs, Glacier will provide information that can be used to adapt product design and packaging characteristics in an effort to improve recycling rates, said co-founder Rebecca Hu. They also hope to provide it to manufacturers.

According to Glacier, up to 80 percent of recyclable household items never make it into the recycling system. As just one example, plastic collection rates in the United States are estimated at 5-6% per year. While many companies advertise their intention to add recycled content back into their products, the reality is that systems do not process enough to meet that demand cost-effectively.

Miriam Holsinger, co-director of Eureka Recycling, a nonprofit recycling company in Minneapolis, said recycling facilities are using robots in places where skilled labor is difficult to hire and “it’s more difficult for sorters to do their work.” He said he is considering introducing it.

Holsinger said cost is an issue in deploying recycling robots, and other considerations include capital investment and the need to install accompanying air compressors and train staff to maintain more complex equipment. pointed out both. The introduction of robots may require MRFs to redesign the location of conveyors and collection chutes, Holsinger said.

“However, they are promising, especially if people cannot cope with the task,” she says.

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