“Climate change is outpacing us, there is no time for excuses”

Our Climate Champions 2020: Cristina Aleixendri Muñoz.

Five years on from the signing of the Paris Agreement at COP21, and at the end of one of the most difficult years for climate action in recent history, in this series we celebrate five individuals that remind us of the power of the people in the climate movement.

When the Paris Agreement was signed five years ago, Cristina Aleixendri Muñoz and her team had just launched their company. “We were working from a little warehouse, trying to raise the first round of funding for bound4blue. I remember it because we quickly realised the maritime industry was left out of the 2015 negotiations,” she recalls.

That was before the young Spanish engineer made it to Forbes 30 under 30 2019 list and became one of the most influential young women in the manufacturing and industry world. “When I was younger, I thought the only way to have a positive impact in the world was by saving lives, so I wanted to become a doctor.” But as she grew up, Cristina realised that she loved solving problems, and one of her professors encouraged her to study engineering. “I didn’t realise until the end of my study the extent of what I could do. I thought I’d be launching space shuttles.”

As her awareness of climate change and the impacts of the maritime industry on the environment grew, Cristina understood she could apply the space technology she was getting acquainted with to the maritime and shipbuilding industry.

By co-funding bound4blue, the young woman embarked on a career one of the most male-dominated sectors. “I didn’t realise at the time, but only two percent of the world’s seafarers are women. Had I known, I would have jumped anyway. But the industry is changing fast nowadays.”

In Barcelona, Cristina and the bound4blue team have developed a system that uses the wind to power ships, thereby saving fuel and emissions. Their solution is contributing to decarbonising the shipping industry and making it more sustainable, a critical goal when emissions from international shipping are expected to rise 50 to 250 per cent by 2050 if no action is taken, according to the International Maritime Organization.

In 2019, the company took part in the EIT Climate-KIC Accelerator programme in Spain. “It really helped us with financing, mentoring, and training,” says Cristina. “It also gave us access to a global network of investors, and helped us increase our media outreach,” opening the doors to bring more capital into the company, so that the team could continue to develop the next phase of the project.

2020: A year full of challenges and successes

2020 brought its share of hardships to the team. “The COVID-19 crisis caused delays in our manufacturing process, as our main suppliers were based in places that were severely impacted by the spread of the virus. It seemed like the entire industry was paralysed for months,” explains the engineer. The drop of the oil prices in March also gave an advantage to fossil fuels and came at a critical time, as the team was then trying to raise a new round of funding for their products. “Investors were more reluctant as our technology, which is profitable, doesn’t make as much sense in a world where fuel is free.”

However, in August, bound4blue was selected to receive European recovery funding as part of the EIT Crisis Response Initiative. This sent a positive message to the market and contributed to restoring confidence in the project, allowing the team to close 3.5 million euros of the 5 million euros funding round that they had opened. “It gave us fuel to keep going during these months,” says Cristina.

In the end, 2020 was a year of great accomplishments for bound4blue. The team successfully finished the development of their technology and started to deliver the first units to their customers. “The COVID-19 crisis has shown that we have to rebuild the economy in a more secure way. To me, it even gives us an opportunity to solve climate change,” says Cristina, who was also distinguished by the FEDEPE (Spanish Federation of Women Managers, Executives, Professionals and Entrepreneurs) and won EIT Awards 2020, a prize that recognises the most promising entrepreneurs and innovators in Europe.

Since the Paris Agreement was signed five years ago, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has agreed it needs to act to make the sector comply with the landmark climate deal. “Climate change is outpacing us, there is no time for excuses. The technology, including renewable energy, is ready, efficient and cost-effective, we must now deploy it on a much larger scale,” concludes Cristina.

 
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