SINAI Technologies is quickly becoming one of the most prominent names in the decarbonization intelligence area. The company just closed a $22 million investment round and is set to grow its team and client base in the hard-to-abate industries.
We sat down with co-founder and CEO Maria Fujihara to talk about her path to creating the company and to delve deeper into SINAI’s platform which shows a way for industrial clients to reduce their significant carbon footprints through data.
What made you go into industrial decarbonization and co-found SINAI Technologies back in 2017?
I’ve been working in sustainability my whole life because both of my parents are also in this space. After I graduated architecture school, I started working at the Brazil Green Building Council.
Its main goal was to promote a certification for green buildings called LEED but it was very siloed, with no communication with other industries and without calculating any emissions.
After I left that organization I moved to the U.S. and I was accepted into a program organized by the Singularity University. It was called the Global Solutions Program and our cohort was sponsored by Google and it was all about climate change and technology and the plan was to come up with ideas that would become companies.
I started SINAI because I really believed in putting numbers behind emissions, I’ve always understood that was going to be the future of everything.
Was the investing environment different back then?
Yes, I bootstrapped the company initially after moving to San Francisco. I was pitching to investors, and nobody would care. They were asking “What is carbon? What are you talking about?”. At that point I decided to reach out to my contacts in Brazil and I sold this idea of a carbon pricing software to ArcelorMittal, the biggest steel producer in the world.
And today the amount of people that reach out interested in investing – it’s something that I never would have imagined.
You just closed your largest investment round to date for $22mln, how do you plan to deploy those funds?
Yes, we just closed our Series A and the main focus of this newest round is to continue building the product and expanding its capabilities, of course, and to really consolidate solutions for carbon intensive industries. We will be hiring more, but we are very focused on those industries that are carbon intensive ones and on how to continue to improve the solution.
Let’s go in more detail about SINAI’s approach. First there would be data gathering, which in this context would be called carbon accounting. Does it have a place in your process?
It’s an important first phase, not only for compliance reasons. For us carbon accounting is just the first step, because there’s so many things after that. But we are looking at systemic changes, it goes much beyond doing this because you have to. Our goal is to decarbonize, to help companies really see that line dropping.
Are your clients focused on decarbonization or covering the growing list of regulations for reducing emissions?
We have both types. We have both inbound and outbound efforts to attract clients and we can work both with companies that have already begun their journey to decarbonization and those that are just getting started. Our target company would have over $100 million in revenue and has physical assets. We are not focused on technology companies.
These would be in the hard-to-abate sectors like steel, chemicals and transportation?
Yes, we are focused on companies that have physical assets and we are talking about abatement, not about compensation. Compensation and neutralization [of emissions] have an important role, but we follow the science-based targets for abatement, because we don’t think companies can only use compensation and neutralization as their main strategy.
Otherwise, you’re going to continue to increase [emissions] and then say that you are carbon neutral.
Is there a threshold or percentage that needs to be abated to satisfy these guidelines?
There are guidelines for each sector. We have automated them, and they take companies towards a 1.5 degree [global warming] pathway, based on the Paris Agreement. We calculate the carbon budget which is the baseline for the company, and they get a specific target [for emissions reduction].
How long does it usually take for client companies to be onboarded?
It depends on where we are onboarding the client because we have five different modules. Some things we do in parallel. It also depends on how big the project is because we implement at the facility level, and then we can get into very granular levels. And that’s one of the biggest differentiators, it’s important to get to equipment and process level data. But roughly it takes from one to three months to get them onboarded.
Is there pure software integration between your software and client systems?
We have the capability to connect through our API’s. Many of our customers are big corporations and have at least 10 different software programs and data lives in different places. Roughly, we can automate 70% of their data. There’s always a manual component and it depends on their internal processes and if they have developed their own systems.
What teams does SINAI work with most often in client companies?
It depends on the modules that clients have acquired, and whether we need to bring in our own team to help collect the information.
If we are working on our Low-Carbon Scenario module, that looks for ways to replace sources of emissions, we could work with sustainability teams but also transportation, engineering and R&D teams.
Can you tell us more about carbon reduction projects when it comes to SINAI’s work with clients?
Yes, we have five modules and the first one is Inventories, which is basically calculating the company’s carbon footprint. The carbon footprint is the first step to get things started. But there’s a big difference between building carbon inventories for reporting reasons only and using them for determining a decarbonization direction. With carbon inventories for reporting, all you need to do is report at the facility level.
For example, you could get the total diesel consumption of all your facilities, multiply that by an emissions factor, and then report the total emissions associated with all those facilities. But for decarbonization you need to know where that diesel is coming from. It can be from a car, a truck, or burned in a blast furnace. The costs of the solutions for them are going to be completely different. You need to take that further step towards granularity at the equipment and process level.
Otherwise the cost calculations would be incorrect and it would be impossible to implement any sort of initiative to reduce the footprint?
Yes, that’s why we recommend building the carbon inventories this way. They are basically a snapshot of the past, data that already happened. But our other modules are future looking. We are now trying to understand what are the pathways that the company can take, how much each of these pathways is going to cost, and how much [emissions] they can reduce.
The first pathway that we help them build, the basis for defining any reduction analysis, is the Baseline. That’s the pathway in which the company doesn’t change anything. We do these projections based on external policies, on a company’s growth and expected growth and various other metrics.
Can you give us some examples of data and projections that are included in your calculations?
Yes, the data that we have is sector or location based. For example, the country in which the company is operating might have a 100% renewable energy target until 2030 – that assumption needs to be included in the projection, because it’s going to impact their energy consumption.
In our third module – Low-Carbon Scenarios – we help clients find the mitigation options they should use to replace sources of emissions we identified in the inventories. We have a database of mitigation options per industry.
For companies to allocate capital, they need to get to a much lower margin of error, because sector-based data has a 50% margin. We allow them to move from a sector-based data mitigation option to basically their own [custom] mitigation option and we achieve a less than 5% margin of error.
One of the interesting terms used by SINAI is “carbon price”. How do you define it in terms of your work with industrial companies?
An internal carbon price is the most effective tool for driving change because it speaks in financial terms. It brings the financial teams to the decision-making process. The way to achieve decarbonization is through financial investments.
We use four different types of internal carbon prices:
- implicit carbon price
- shadow carbon price
- internal carbon fee
- an internal carbon trade
The first two are for companies who are getting started and want to understand how much a reduction in emissions will cost them and show a scenario with a carbon price embedded in the decision-making.
The internal carbon fee and the internal carbon trade are for companies that are already making decisions with carbon pricing embedded and that can even exchange money between different facilities, creating an internal market which promotes decarbonization.
At the end, the biggest question that companies are trying to answer is, how much is it going to cost us to achieve a specific emissions reductions target. And cost is associated with price.