Fabio Lancellotti (Aster) speaking at VivaTech event

🌍 Europe’s key role: unleashing sustainable innovation

Europe possesses a wealth of skills and technologies that can drive sustainable innovation forward. However, the pace of change in Europe must be accelerated. Breakthrough Energy stressed the need for a Complexity Reduction Act, similar to the IRA in the US, to overcome the slow progress. Speed is relative, and Europe must rise to the challenge.

💪 Shifting ambitions: Breaking free from old dependencies

Transition away from Russian gas and the consequent emergence of new dependencies, such as China for solar panels and wind turbines, highlights the need for careful navigation as Europe charts its course. There needs to be an ambition to reduce vulnerability by avoiding over-reliance on few sources or countries.

💰 Unlocking technology advancement: Focusing joint efforts

While scaling existing technologies is crucial, it is equally vital to invest in the development of missing, breakthrough components. The main challenges lie in scaling renewable energy infrastructure, addressing long-term energy storage and the need for more substantial funding backing bold initiatives.

🃏 Looking into the next decades: Reshuffling the cards

The era of fossil fuels has defined a particular power paradigm, but the transition to alternative energy sources can reshape the dynamics in play. The global South possesses abundant solar and wind resources, as well as minerals, that should be strategically harnessed. However, as Europe strives for energy security, it must prioritize the creation of a robust and diversified infrastructure.

By embracing independence, building resilience, and unlocking technological advancement, Europe is poised to overcome the challenges of its energy transition and seize the opportunities that lie ahead.

Once again, thank you to Ann Mettler, Tim Gould and Nicolas Lefevre-Marton for sharing the floor with our very own Fabio Lancellotti.

About Aster

Aster is a venture capital firm based in Paris. Since 2000, we have managed several generations of funds raised from major industrial and institutional groups. We have built our expertise in Climate Tech with investments in the mobility, energy and industry sectors in particular. We finance start-ups at all stages of development, preferably from seed phase, and choose entrepreneurs who make the fight against climate change a priority mission of their projects. EkWateur (energy supplier that aims to accelerate the energy transition, sold in 2022) or  Betterway (pioneer in the employee mobility solutions, sold to Edenred) are among our most recent success stories.

More broadly, Aster acts as a catalyst for its ecosystem, with Aster Class, a training organization that provides a framework for the dissemination of Aster’s expertise, and Aster Fab, a new kind of consulting firm unlocking the net zero transformation of hard-to-abate sectors by tapping into the startup gold mine.

Panel Discussion Recording

In January 2023, Hélène Maxwell and Nicolas Nouvel moderated a panel featuring Tim Cowan (VP Corporate Development at Carbon Clean), Silvia Gentilucci (Technology Onshore Planning at SAIPEM) and Michael Evans (CEO of Cambridge Carbon Capture) to discuss the strengths and prospects of the CCaaS business model.

Below are the main takeaways from the discussion, also published on Aster Fab website.

Among the numerous decarbonization solutions under development, three major carbon capture applications stand out today: industrial point source carbon capture, direct air capture (DAC) and bioenergy with carbon capture. Although industrial point source carbon capture appears to be the main focus for most decarbonization roadmaps thanks to increasingly mature and cost-effective technologies driving greater deployment across industrial sites, several challenges must be addressed before it can reach sufficient scale, including policy and regulatory support, access to funding, public acceptance and further cost improvement.

Carbon Capture-as-a-Service (CCaaS) is a business model that is gaining ground in part to circumvent the huge CAPEX hurdles encountered in these type of infrastructure projects. By opting for a one-stop shop solution that handles the entire value chain, hard-to-abate industries can pay to capture their CO2 emissions on a per-ton basis, while other specialized actors take on the risk (and potential financial reward) of managing the full value chain from capture to utilization or storage.

CCUS adoption must increase 120-fold by 2050 for countries to meet their net-zero commitments

According to the latest Global Carbon Budget published in November 2022, if emissions are not reduced through decarbonization technologies such as Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS), the world will have exhausted its 1.5°C carbon budget – the cumulative amount of CO2 emissions permitted over a period of time to keep within the 1.5°C threshold – in nine years. Indeed, the equation highlighted is quite simple: there are about 380Gt of CO₂-equivalent emissions left in the 1.5°C budget, and right now we use just over 40Gt of it each year.

As such, CCUS is recognized as a necessary piece of the decarbonization jigsaw, but the adoption isn’t moving fast enough. According to a McKinsey analysis, CCUS adoption must increase 120-fold by 2050 for countries to achieve their net-zero reduction goals, reaching at least 4.2 gigatons per annum (GTPA) of CO₂ captured.

The scale of the challenge to achieve net zero is so huge that we need all the best ideas. For hard-to-abate industry executives in the audience, you’re probably looking at energy efficiency as well as alternative fuels. But you’ll still have CO₂ in your process. That’s why we believe carbon capture is a necessary piece of the decarbonization puzzle and CycloneCC, our fully modulat technology, will make carbon capture simple, afforable, and scalable.

Tim Cowan
VP Corporate Development at Carbon Clean

Carbon Capture-as-a-Service (CCaaS): shifting capital cost to service providers, thereby allowing emitters to focus on their primary activities

In 2021, Decarb Connect conducted a benchmarking survey of industry attitudes towards CCUS that revealed that 65% of executives working in hard-to-abate industries see CCUS as ‘critical’ or ‘important’ for reaching their 2030/2050 goals. It also reveals that 41% are favorable to as CCaaS model, while 59% prefer a mix of funded and owned CCUS. In other words, no executive opted for the traditional model of owning and operating the infrastructure themselves.

Thus, the CCaaS business model appears to be a promising way to accelerate the adoption of carbon capture technology for industrial players:

  • No required upfront capital expenditure
  • Duty to contract with each player of the value chain is delegated

“At Carbon Clean, we use our leading technology to capture CO₂. and will work with partners to provide the other crucial elements of the value chain: compression, transportation, sequestration or utilization. Our mission is to work with industrial partners to offer an end-to-end handling of our customers’ CO₂.” Tim Cowan, VP Corporate Development at Carbon Clean.


Scaling the CCUS industry will require action by governments and investors

Tax credits, direct subsidies and price support mechanisms are beginning to encourage investment in CCUS. The US, for example, has a 45Q-tax credit that provides a fixed payment per ton of carbon dioxide sequestered or used. The IRA (Inflation Reduction Act) has increased the amount of the credit from $50 to $85 a ton for sequestered industrial or power emission, and from $50 to $180 a ton for emissions captured from the atmosphere and sequestered.  In other words, they provide a direct revenue stream immediately improving the investment case for low-carbon technologies, such as CCUS. What the IRA calls tax credits, the EU calls State Aid. Yet, the panelists affirm that while the EU led the whole decarbonization movement for 30 years, the EU is now behind in terms of policy.

It is going to be very challenging for CCUS as it currently stands to make the whole thing stack up. I don’t think the carbon tax will be the viable way forward in the long-term. We need other incentives, as the US are currently doing with the IRA. Many innovative policies are starting to come out of the US and this will encourage innovative companies to set up operations there, giving the US a competitive advantage over the UK and EU in what will become a significant new industry.

Michaels Evans
CEO of Cambridge Carbon Capture

There is a need to scale the whole carbon capture value chain

Another element is the uneven distribution of storage sites across Europe. Often illustrated as the ‘chicken and egg’ paradox, there is a need to scale the value chain as a whole, including storage infrastructure. Indeed, a carbon capture plant will not start operating until the captured CO₂ can be transported and then either permanently stored or used.  Similarly, no large-scale carbon storage project will be financed without clear commitments regarding the origin and volume of CO2 to be stored, as it determines the financial viability of the overall project.

In Italy, there are plans to build infrastructure using depleted reservoirs in the Adriatic Sea for local storage of CO₂. Without adequate transportation and storage infrastructure, industry will not be able to adopt carbon capture technologies.

Silvia Gentilucci
Technology Onshore Planning at SAIPEM

Norway’s Longship project, which is sponsored by the Norwegian government, aims to solve this problem by supporting the whole value chain from carbon capture to transportation and storage. Captured emissions will be transported by tankship and stored deep underground using Northern Light’s open-access CO₂ transport and storage infrastructure.

Garnering public support

Finally, speakers also emphasized that addressing public concerns around the safety of these technologies will be paramount. Communicating that carbon capture is safe, effective and a needed method of climate change mitigation, can help bring people on-board and ensure that projects overcome development hurdles. “I think honesty in the media about the situation would be a true incentive. If the public understood how urgent the situation is, and understood more about the technology, there would be a lot more action”. Michaels Evans, CEO of Cambridge Carbon Capture

Source: Aster Fab

For companies

Hey you! If the vision shared in this article resonates with you or you are out there building the future of CCaaS 🦄, ping me on LinkedIn 📩.

Warehousing is king 👑

Warehouses and fulfillment centers have been the nervous system of the global economy since the Covid-19 pandemic stroke in early 2020. As consumption moved massively online, brands and retailers understood that the new battleground for winning customers satisfaction and retention was the delivery experience. We cannot blame only Covid-19 for this. Since its inception, Amazon has been raising the bar in term of customer expectations, with at least next-day delivery for Prime-labelled products being today the norm in most urban agglomerates. Storing and fulfillment represents a key link of the delivery value chain and good a potential candidate for becoming its bottleneck. Thus, we decided to investigate whether venture capitalists should seize the momentum and fuel the next generation of warehousing and fulfillment technologies and business models.

Automate, automate, automate! 🦾


Automation of warehousing and fulfillment operations has just started. It is estimated that by 2025, more than 4 million commercial robots will be installed in over 50,000 warehouses, up from just under 4,000 robotic warehouses in 2018.

Labor costs could account up to 35% of warehousing and fulfillment costs in Europe, with picking being by far the costliest operation. Renting the facility does not exceed, usually, 30% of the total costs.

The recent spike in quick-commerce startup allowed for a new type of warehouse to emerge: the city hub – a small warehouse located in urban areas that allows faster delivery times. These city hubs are usually costlier to maintain, thanks to the higher rent and wages that need to be paid in city centers.

Aster’s view

The coming years will know a great wave of warehouse automation. As logistics and fulfillment market expand thanks to e-commerce growth, the need for a more efficient and productive delivery infrastructure will intensify. We believe that automation needs will be even stronger in urban warehouses, where operating costs are higher – and thus saving potentials are greater.

Let’s re-engage warehouse workers 👷‍


Following the recent spike in demand of warehouse associates, attracting new workers and retaining existing ones is becoming more and more difficult, especially in the North American and European markets, where many organizations’ annual turnover rate exceeds 100%. It is no secret that the job is highly repetitive and physically demanding.

Amazon is trying to make the job less tedious through gamification: workers can compete in various games by completing warehouse tasks and can win digital rewards, such as virtual pets 🐶 and real-world items.

It is estimated that in less than 4 years, 75% of the workforce will be represented by Millennials, the first generation that grew up with digital technology at their fingertips. However, the penetration of digital tools among warehouse workers is low, and processes are either paper-based or reliant on legacy software with awful UX.

Aster’s view

In the fight for talent, employers will understand the need to make the warehouse routine more engaging and the work environment safer.

Frontline workers will benefit from a wave of digitalization thanks to modern productivity software and it is likely that if the Amazon gaming experiment succeeds, other employers will follow the delivery giant example.

To make the warehouse associates work less dangerous and tiring, exoskeletons and other wearables, if they will gain acceptability among the workforce, by essentially being more comfortable to wear, could represent a solution.

Warehousing-as-a-Service is booming 💻


Companies are more and more selling services, rather than just products. Consumers today can subscribe to pretty much everything you can think of: music, video streaming, cars or even just… pickles! 🥒 This paradigm shift has approached the logistics world as well, with a growing number of companies offering flexible warehousing space in different locations to brands and retailers in return of a monthly subscription fee that depends on the capacity used and on the number of orders fulfilled.

Aster’s view

Source: Aster

Warehousing and fulfillment-as-a-Service is a winning formula, which brings all the benefits of decentralized warehousing, without its major drawbacks (higher operating and inventory cost). In fact, thanks to a network of geographically distributed warehouses, shippers can:

  • lower shipping costs and delivery time by storing their products closer to their customers;
  • expand storage capacity without the need to build or lease new infrastructure, but simply by upgrading their subscription;
  • mitigate the risk of labor shortage, by having inventory distributed in different locations.

At Aster, we strongly believe in the widespread adoption of this model in Europe in the coming years (as it already happened in the US).

Want to know more about which companies are shaping the warehouse of the future?    ⤵

Source: Aster

For founders

Hey you! If the vision shared in this article resonates with you or you are out there building the future of warehouses 🦄, ping me on LinkedIn 📩.

From 2014 to 2019, VC investment in European industrial tech startups increased from €100m to €1.1b. However, despite this impressive growth, industrial tech accounted for only 3% of all European VC funding in 2019. Interestingly, there is a sharp contrast between VC funding in industrial tech, and the actual contribution of the industrial sector to the economy. Indeed, in 2020, the manufacturing sector accounted for about 22% of the EU’s GDP. In addition, the European manufacturing sector, which is amongst the least digitized, has been suffering from a decline in productivity growth over the past 15 years and is facing increased competition from foreign players. As such, we firmly believe that the European manufacturing sector will need startup-driven innovation to boost its productivity and thereby increase its competitiveness.

This begs the following question: how can manufacturing companies become more productive?

There are many ways to answer this question, but today we will focus on how the industrial tech stack can lead to productivity improvements in manufacturing. First, we need to understand what the industrial tech stack actually is. The industrial tech stack is a complex structure composed of 4 layers, each containing software and hardware components:

Source: Aster

Unfortunately, in most factories, the tech stack is full of inefficiencies:

  • Old unconnected machines: it is not uncommon to find aging, sensorless equipment on the factory floor, as replacement cycles for heavy assets often last decades.
  • Unconnected stack layers: PLCs are not necessarily connected to SCADA systems, the SCADA system of different processes are not necessarily connected to each other, and the MES is not always fully connected to all processes in the factory.
  • Lack of data harmonization and interoperability: factory data can come from many different sources (sensors, SCADA, MES, Excel sheets, PLCs, …) and in many different forms (structured, semi-structured or unstructured). In addition, machines and software used in factories can be quite old, often come from different suppliers, and often have different communication protocols.
  • Lack of IT/OT collaboration: the firm (IT) and factory (OT) levels are often not fully integrated, resulting in a poor understanding of factory processes at the firm level. The factory is basically seen as a black box by the firm level, and this is called the “IT/OT convergence” problem.

Clearly, we can see that the main problem with traditional tech stacks is that industrial data is hard to collect and difficult to integrate. Without access to industrial data, implementing use cases that lead to productivity improvements – such as process optimization, predictive maintenance or automated quality control – is quite challenging.

We believe that startups can help manufacturing companies improve their industrial tech stack in 3 different ways:

  • Data collection: provide hardware/software to connect old legacy machines to IT/OT networks and provide middleware or connectivity to facilitate data collection from sensors and machines.
  • Data harmonization: provide software to integrate, harmonize and generate insights from industrial data across the factory floor or even across different factories.
  • Decentralization: bridge the gap between the firm- and machine-level through edge-computing, allowing machines to interact with each other and take more autonomous decisions. The idea is to connect machines to each other, to operators and to the firm-level in order to have flexible production lines that take into account not only factory (OT) data to take decisions, but also firm (IT) data. For example, this structure could enable machines to change their parameters automatically to produce different products based on demand forecasts made at the firm-level.

Our view is that the future industrial tech stack will be decentralized, and we look forward to seeing more companies contributing to this trend. However, in the short- to medium-term, we believe that there is value in helping manufacturing companies through data harmonization. As such, we believe that startups that will stand out in the space will be those that:

  • Harmonize and contextualize structured/semi-structured/unstructured data from a large number of sources (MES, SCADA, PLC, sensors, Excel sheets, …) and are able to easily integrate into the existing stack of customers.
  • Provide a clear and measurable ROI to customers.
  • Enable the interconnection of devices in manufacturing operations with a low-code/no-code approach.
  • Focus on making production lines flexible, more autonomous and directly connected to the IT level.
  • Provide edge computing with a low latency, low costs, AI and ML capabilities, real-time analytics and focus on working towards IT/OT convergence.

Source: Aster

In recent months, many carbon footprint management solutions have emerged and/or raised significant funding. This trend caught our attention: we have always been convinced that it is important to reduce your carbon footprint as an individual (starting with switching to 👋 ekWateur for instance), but is this topic about to reach maturity in B2B sectors?

Carbon dioxide (CO2) increasing concentration in the earth’s atmosphere is the first human-caused source of global warming. CO2 emissions tracking consists of all initiatives to report, monitor, measure but also to reduce, offset and remove the CO2 from the air.

In recent years, three sectors have stood out as the fastest-growing sources of CO2 emissions: industrial processes have increased by 174%, transportation by 71% and manufacturing and construction by 55%.

In light of this, and driven by EU regulations (the Emissions Trading Scheme, the European Green Deal, etc.) and consumer awareness, the carbon footprint management market is expected to reach a size of $12.2bn by 2025. Long held back by the high cost of carbon footprint reduction and insufficient public incentives, many solutions are emerging to help industrial players monitor their emissions. The value propositions are primarily focused on improving brand image, engaging employees, complying with regulations and reducing emission-related costs.

The field has been quite active with VC deals all along the emissions tracking value chain.

Source: Aster

Many players are emerging, but differentiation remains fairly low. Therefore, we believe that the startups that will stand out will be those that:

  • Fully automate data collection and use AI algorithms to recommend the best emission reduction plans,
  • Create strong product stickiness by delivering an above-average UX,
  • Focus on a specific, highly regulated industry to ensure broad adoption and strong ROI,
  • Develop comprehensive tools with bundled offers from data collection and monitoring to reducing/offsetting options,
  • Leverage a strong network of assessment or offsetting partners to increase value and create strong network effects.

Source: Aster

Public transportation was already facing many challenges before the pandemic broke out, such as budget constraints (high operating and maintenance costs with low investments), declining ridership (resulting from the emergence of new ride-hailing and micromobility offers) and a mismatch between the objectives and expectations of the authorities, public transport operators (PTO) and commuters.

The pandemic has accentuated the pressure on the sector, bringing passenger flows to a historically low level. Although commuters are gradually returning to using public transportation (see exhibit 1), the number of commuters remains lower than in other years, as does income. Despite the $25 billion provided to US transit agencies to respond to Covid-19, they are expected to face a shortfall of $23.8 billion by the end of 2021.

Impact of COVID-19 on public transit usage around the world (January 15th,2020)

Source: Moovit

PTOs play a key role in containing the spread of Covid-19 by limiting coach capacity, monitoring social distancing in stations and ensuring that routes are optimized (i.e., shortest possible). In addition, in order to recover usage levels, PTOs are required to guarantee safe travel and restore passenger trust. Two categories of tools can help them do this: 1) flow regulation tools and 2) passenger monitoring tools. In fact, airports had already adopted some of these tools before the pandemic.

By taking a closer look at the flow regulation & passenger monitoring landscape, we have identified 6 areas where startups are flourishing:

  • Demand Forecasting: startups that provide tools for route optimization, scheduling systems, also based on passenger demand and patterns. These tools enable faster changes to routes and schedules.
  • Station Passenger Management: startups that develop tools for passenger regulation in stations, mainly to signal situations where passengers do not respect social distancing measures
  • In Coach Passenger Management: startups that create solutions to manage and limit the number of passengers in coaches, to enable PTOs to enforce coach capacity thresholds
  • Symptom & Mask Detection: startups that can help PTOs detect if passengers have symptoms and/or are not wearing masks. Solutions in this area are mainly camera-based systems, to automatically signal passengers who are ill or not wearing masks, to protect other commuters
  • Horizontal AI & ML tool: technology providers that power the above tools

Even if we hope that Covid-19 will just be a memory, habits still need to be changed as long as the pandemic is around. For this, PTOs are obliged to invest into solutions to make public transportation safe enough for commuters to use their services.

If there is one silver lining from the pandemic, it is that it helped to reveal the vulnerabilities in global supply chains on a scale never before experienced. As China produces 20% of global goods, the impact on global trade has been devastating and was compounded by the European lockdown: 14.8% decline in transaction volume in Q2 compared to Q1 2020. Players have been forced to reinvent their supply chains, which has boosted the adoption of supply chain risk management and procurement solutions.

Supply chains were already undergoing huge transformations before the pandemic. In the context of globalization, large companies had redesigned their processes to increase flexibility and reduce costs. But the pandemic revealed the weaknesses of such a system:

  • Fragmentation of supply chains, leading to more complex patterns, communication issues and greater exposure to risk
  • High vulnerability to supply and demand shocks due to the lean manufacturing strategies that involve minimizing the amount of inventory
  • New customer expectations demanding higher environmental, social and transparency standards

Despite this huge disruption, Covid-19 has also accelerated some trends and created new business opportunities.  According to Gartner, at least 50% of the world’s leading companies will be using AI, advanced analytics and IoT in their supply chain operations by 2023.

At Aster, we have taken a closer look at the field of supplier risk management in large-scale industry and manufacturing and identified 3 areas where startups are flourishing:

  • Procurement diversification and risk prediction. As supply chains are increasingly global and complex, companies are using advanced analytics and risk prediction platforms to mitigate the risk of supplier failure and ensure business continuity in the event of a shock. B2B marketplaces are also expanding to diversify sourcing.
  • Supply chain management optimization. AI, advanced analytics, IoT and blockchain technologies are massively disrupting supply chain operations, from planning and inventory to customer service or back-office tasks. Automation and digitization are gradually enabling companies to improve supply chain efficiency, increase service quality, decrease operational costs, and need for safety stocks.
  • Transparency and eco-responsibility management. With stricter environmental, social and sanitary regulations and higher customer expectations, a CSR framework needs to be integrated into supply chains. This is boosting the demand for tools that enable stakeholder authentication, regulation compliance, environmental impact measurement and supply chain end-to end transparency.

The summer holiday season is coming to an end and, for many of us, it’s time to go back to work. But this year, will we return to the office (if at all) as if nothing happened?

During the lockdown period, the way in which companies conveyed their culture and ensured knowledge transfer was fully transformed digitally. However, the paradigm shift towards digitization was already underway prior to the pandemic with:

  • The accelerating pace of skill obsolescence, creating a generation gap in organizations and increasing employee integration and training costs.
  • Higher employee expectations, forcing employers to build competitive employee benefits packages to attract, engage and retain.
  • Increasing UX standards, set by the tools we all use in our personal lives, leading to faster employee disengagement if the corporate tools were not relevant enough.

Covid-19 has only accelerated some trends and created new business opportunities. Since remote working became a norm during lockdown, the number of employees working remotely has increased. According to Gartner, the number of employees working remotely at least part of the timed jumped from 30% to 48% after the pandemic. Other trends are also reshaping HR management: the new focus on employee safety and well-being, the increase in contingent work, the expanded data collection on employee productivity, etc.

Looking at this topic more closely, we identified 3 fields where startups are flourishing:

  • Digital employee onboarding, cross-boarding and offboarding. Even if we hope to not have to onboard employees entirely remotely in the near future, digital onboarding tools are a great solution to save time on employee onboarding paperwork, ensure employee integration through personalized onboarding journeys and accelerate employees’ learning curves.
  • Digital employee training. With horizontal learning systems and content platforms, soft skill peer-to-peer coaching for white-collar workers or AR/VR training for blue-collar workers, companies can now efficiently measure the evolution of their workforce’s skills.
  • Real-time employee engagement monitoring. With continuous sentiment analysis and peer-to-peer recognition tools, companies can reduce employee turnover, chronic stress, burnouts and increase productivity.
At Aster, we are particularly interested in tools that allow the transfer of hard skills and the monitoring of blue-collar worker engagement.

* LMS: Learning Management Systems