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Turning CO2 into fuel and air into water

The revolutionary approaches are on the WEF’s annual list of top 10 emerging technologies

New sunlight-powered technologies could tackle critical global problems
New sunlight-powered technologies could tackle critical global problems



A diverse range of breakthrough technologies, including “artificial leaves” that turn CO2 into fuel, and a technique that harvests water from air, could soon be playing a role in tackling the world’s most pressing challenges.


They appear on the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual list of Top 10 Emerging Technologies. They are selected by the World Economic Forum’s Expert Network and Global Future Council’s in collaboration with Scientific American and its Board of Advisors.


Each technology was chosen for its potential to improve lives, transform industries and safeguard the planet. The experts were also looking for indications that the technologies have reached a level of maturity that would enable widespread take-up in the coming three to five years.


“New technologies are redefining industries, blurring traditional boundaries and creating new opportunities on a scale never seen before,” said Murat Sönmez, head of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and member of the managing board of the World Economic Forum.


“Public and private institutions must develop the correct policies, protocols and collaborations to allow such innovation to build a better future, while avoiding the risks that unchecked technological change could pose.”


1 Non-invasive biopsies for identifying cancer

Ultrasensitive blood tests known as liquid biopsies promise to improve diagnosis and care


2 Harvesting clean water from air

New sunlight-powered technologies do not need to be plugged into an electricity grid


3 Deep learning for visual tasks

Artificial intelligence now rivals or exceeds the ability of experts in medicine and other fields to interpret what they see


4 Liquid fuels from sunshine

Artificial-leaf technology converts carbon dioxide to fuels and more


5 The human cell atlas

An international project is set to detail how every cell type in the body functions


6 Precision farming

Combining sensors and imaging of every plant with real-time data analytics improves yields


7 Affordable catalysts for green vehicles

Reducing the platinum in fuel-cell catalysts could help bring hydrogen-powered vehicles to the mass market


8 Genomic vaccines

Vaccines composed of DNA or RNA, instead of protein, should enable rapid development of preventives for infectious diseases


9 Sustainable design of communities

Moving beyond a focus on solar roofs for single-family homes, ambitious projects are attempting to join blocks of buildings into single sustainable units


10 Quantum computing

It will soon open the door to solving new kinds of problems


The 10 technologies will be discussed at the Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2017, which is taking place in Dalian, People’s Republic of China, on 27-29 June. They will form the basis of discussions on how to leverage technology to promote inclusive and sustainable growth.


Under the theme Achieving Inclusive Growth in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Annual Meeting of the New Champions will convene over 2,000 business leaders, policy-makers and experts from more than 80 countries.


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