The World Technology Awards are known as the Oscar’s of the tech world. This prestigious moniker is due in part to the peer-review selection process–no mysterious academy of industry types here. The international competition is meant to honor companies and individuals in 20 different categories for their unique vision and impactful contributions to science and technology.
In the past “green” or “clean” tech has always been set slightly apart from the rest of the technology world. There are some gadgets that help us reduce waste or consumption, while others just exist to keep us constantly connected to Facebook. As the industry continues to advance, however, we’re seeing that the smartest technology often just so happens to be the greenest. Sadly, that’s not the case with this year’s WTA choice for Innovation of “the Greatest Likely Long-term Significance”.
An Oregon-based company called Agilyx was chosen as the winner from a pool of over 30 impressive competitors that included the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and Pinterest. Agilyx, which calls itself an alternative energy company, uses a patentded gasification system to convert difficult-to-recycle waste plastics into crude oil.
Now, don’t get me wrong: what Agilyx does is amazing and in a society that’s drowning in waste plastic and desperate for oil, it certainly seems like their technology could make a huge impact on the world. Plus, it’s got the word “recycle” in there, so it must be green, right? Wrong.
Despite the fact that the company’s modules feature state-of-the-art “Environmental Control Devices” that scrub all of the noncondensable gases, ensuring that the system meets the most stringent air quality requirements, this technology isn’t green. It’s still producing crude oil, one of the toxic and most filthy substances on the planet. It’s still headed for refineries that pollute our air and water. It’s still destined to be poured into the combustion engines of vehicles and machinery, where it will enter the atmosphere via tailpipes that have no miracle-working “scrubbers.’
So, while we agree that technology has the ability to create a smarter, cleaner, more efficient world, clearly the judges at the 2012 World Technology Awards are severely near-sighted. The true innovator of long-term significance isn’t one that buys us 50 more years of a dirty fuel. It’s the one that moves us off that dirty fuel 50 years sooner.