The term ‘Valley of Death’ is often used to talk about the challenge to emerging technologies which are technically proven but have not yet reached the level of commercial development required to attract private capital. The practical implication here is simple: promising climate technologies often become stranded and fail to mature to commerciality without intervention. We see three distinct valleys the aviation industry can help promising technologies overcome:
- Technological valley: Fundamental research is often diffuse and loosely coordinated, with long development cycles. This often results in technological breakthroughs being ‘stranded’ in academia, meaning few ideas are further developed and converted into commercial concepts. Forces driving this effect include lengthy publication timelines, limited mechanisms and incentives for researchers to collaborate, disconnect between researchers and enterprise and no clear mechanisms for coordinating technological developments
- Commercialization valley: Across both the development and demonstration phase, it is critical for promising technologies to find the funding required to prove and scale pre-commercial solutions. And yet climate-related technologies are notoriously underfunded. Requirements for both expertise and capital are greater for clean tech product development than for those of fields more traditionally associated with venture capital. In the words of RMI, “physical system transformation simply takes much longer than software development”
- Market expansion valley: In the deployment phase, technologies need to gain traction for market adoption. In most cases, the capital requirements are substantial. Climate technologies face a classic “chicken/egg problem” whereby large volume production is required to achieve unit price reduction. And even after technology is proven, there can be a significant cost associated with ensuring technologies work as expected, and that consumers, regulators, and other third parties are ‘ready’ for change.
If the aviation sector is going to work to accelerate aviation decarbonization, we need to ensure promising technologies receive the interventions required to avoid these ‘valleys of death’