'Fast-growing' Kiwi Cleantech industry worth half a billion dollars, says new report

A new report on New Zealand's cleantech industry has found the fast-growing sector could become a high-value export earner if there was more investment cash. 

Cleantech is the technology that addresses issues of climate change and sustainability. 

Launched on Wednesday evening, the NZ Cleantech Report said raising capital for startups is challenging and needs further support to connect to international investors, particularly in Australia. 

One Kiwi cleantech company has already done that. 

Will Barker is the co-founder and chief executive of e-waste recycler Mint. His company produces what's known as green gold - that's gold recycled from old computer motherboards. 

Barker told Newshub it's taken eight years to get to that point. 

"We've raised a lot of money in New Zealand that's enabled us to... develop the technology here. HQ ourselves here developed the proprietary secret sauce, if you like, here," he said. 

While the technology was developed in New Zealand, Mint has had to go offshore to scale up its production. It now has a Sydney facility that produces half a kilogram of gold a day. 

Mint is one of the poster companies for the growing Kiwi Cleantech industry.  

The Cleantech report found there are 130 companies which have raised $535 million in private investment. Those companies also generated almost 300 million in revenue in the past two years and grew sales by 29 percent in the past year. 

Cleantech lead at Callaghan Innovation Phil Anderson said the reality is New Zealand is way behind other small countries like Ireland, Australia and Sweden. 

"We simply haven't had the huge amounts of growth capital needed to scale these companies." 

Globally, the cleantech market has attracted $65 billion in private investment and the cleantech report said New Zealand could take a slice of that. 

But getting companies to scale up needs more cash. 

John Worth is the chief executive of Taupō based startup Geo40. 

"In particular, as they climb out of that early startup phase to be serious companies, right? That's the real challenge," he said. "How do we help them not sort of die when they're small?" 

Geo40 is taking its tech to the world. It extracts silica and lithium from waste fluids from geothermal and oil and gas plants and is now showcasing it in the US. 

"We are pulling lithium, for the first time, out of a very large underground basin in Texas, with an oil and gas major. So, this is a global oil and gas company saying, 'Wow, these Kiwis seem to have an important tech here,'" Worth said.  

Previous tech start-ups like Lanzatech have had to leave New Zealand to chase investment. It has a method that converts waste gases from steel and coal plants into ethanol but is now a US based company. 

Mint co-founder Will Barker said the answer to keeping companies in New Zealand is developing a clean tech start up eco-system backed with some Government money. 

"It just makes the whole thing faster, easier," said Dr Barker. 

Otherwise, a great Kiwi cleantech idea may end up making another country cleaner and richer.