“Our mission is to change existing thinking and inspire others to use STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and maths) so they can solve the world’s most pressing problems.”
2023 WE Empower Awardee, Asia Pacific
Andy Blair’s goal is to champion people to achieve things that they never believed possible. She is driven to use her privilege and influence to create a fairer and more equitable world for future generations. She does this via her company Upflow, a geothermal science and innovation company that creates solutions for some of the world’s most severe problems, including climate change. Their mantra is to ‘Do cool things, with great people, for the good of the world.’
Action for People and the Planet
Upflow is focused on bridging the gap between science and commercial reality. They focus on projects that utilize all the offerings of geothermal environments such as heat, fluid, gas, minerals, and microbes to create applicable real-world solutions. Upflow projects provide more than economic outcomes, they offer environmental, social, and cultural benefits too. “Upflow is focused on driving increased uptake and diversified use of geothermal environments and offerings to replace existing fossil fuels and emissions heavy manufacturing of goods and services,” Blair shares. “We also want local communities to prosper.” In this way they promote SDG 13 (Climate Action) through popularizing alternative energy that reduces fossil fuel emissions and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) by providing localized economic development opportunities through the creation of new businesses enabled by geothermal energy.
Upflow creates “Geosystems” for clients. A Geosystem is the concept of understanding the unique benefits that arise from a particular geothermal environment, and how the individual resources (heat, minerals, microbes, etc.) can be combined with technologies to generate an optimal mix of outputs. It seeks to best configure and cascade individual activities for a significantly greater holistic outcome. This forms the basis to which a commercial lens can be applied and is used as a planning and decision-making tool to inform when and how to best invest capital. Geosystems can also help to develop a better understanding of how geothermal advantages relate to specific markets and industries, creating smart tactical plans for external market changes. This work aligns with SGD 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) and SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure).
One of Upflow’s Geosystem projects is focused on helping to reduce food insecurity (SDG 2 (Zero Hunger)). The Extremophiles Biofeedstocks project is focused on producing protein biomass using indigenous microorganisms. Geothermal extremophiles are microorganisms that thrive in extreme environments, such as hot springs, geysers, and deep-sea hydrothermal vents. These organisms have evolved unique adaptations to withstand high temperatures, extreme pH levels, high pressure, and other harsh conditions. Two extremophiles sourced from Māori-owned geothermal land are fed gas emissions (methane and carbon dioxide) from geothermal power stations to create single-celled protein. This protein is then used in animal feedstocks, creating a locally-produced protein ideal for supplementing animal feed. Having successfully demonstrated the viability of the scientific process, Upflow is now focused on addressing critical questions related to scalability and techno-economic feasibility. “This breakthrough innovation addresses the challenge of waste gas emissions while offering a solution to enhance the nutritional value of animal feed and hopefully one day for humans,” states Blair.
Initiatives with Extensive Impact
The company also strives to address SDG 5 (Gender Equality) through both its operations and initiatives. In 2013 Blair co-founded the Women in Geothermal (WING) movement, which now exists in over 86 countries and has over 3,400 members globally (www.womeningeothermal.org). Blair continues to serve WING as a Global Board member. Additionally, the Upflow Team has developed and delivered an initiative called the WINGman Special Task Force, which aims to eliminate gender stereotypes and encourage men to be role models and advocates of gender equality. “The WINGman Special Task Force engages men in the conversation around gender equality and gives them the tools to act to make meaningful change,” says Blair. In 2019, sponsored by the World Bank, they hosted the first “Train the Trainers” event in El Salvador, where people from Central and South America were trained to deliver the WINGman Special Task Force workshops to others in their home countries, catalyzing a movement of men advocating for women. Upflow continues to deliver this training around the world.
By Samantha Chapman, WE Empower Intern