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Royal couple visits Somerville climate innovation hub, talks Boston sea level rise

Britain's Prince William and Catherine, Princess of Wales spoke with startup companies that worked at Greentown Labs as they tour the location for a view of green technologies developed in Somerville on Thursday.CJ Gunther/Pool/Associated Press

There aren’t many boring days at Greentown Labs. But Thursday morning brought a new level of excitement to the renowned Somerville “climatech” incubator, thanks to a visit from the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Greentown Labs is known as the largest clean tech incubator in North America, home to more than 200 companies developing strategies to tackle some of the biggest climate challenges.

It was an appropriate stop for the royal couple, who are in Massachusetts for Friday’s star-studded Earthshot Prize ceremony, where William’s independent charity will award $1.2 million each to five entrepreneurs working on breakthrough climate solutions.

During their visit, William and Catherine met Greentown Labs’ CEO Emily Reichert, as well as a handful of current and former members of the innovation hub.


The pair met the brains behind c16 Biosciences, a start-up developing an sustainable alternatives to palm oil, which is made from fungi. Current palm oil production methods often cause the destruction of carbon-rich tropical forests and peatlands and are therefore major contributors to climate change.

Then, they met with QuantAQ, a firm producing portable, affordable internet-connected air pollution sensors that regulators and communities can use to monitor air quality.

The royal couple also spoke with the founder of Open Ocean Robotics, whose solar powered autonomous boats can provide real time information about the oceans, which could help protect at-risk species, find more fuel-efficient ship routes, monitor illegal fishing, and enable a better understanding of climate impacts on oceans.

They met with Nth Cycle, a company working to decarbonize the supply chain for minerals used in batteries and other clean-tech solutions. And they visited Sublime Systems, which is aiming to lower carbon emissions from cement production, which is notoriously difficult to decarbonize.

During their drop-in to Greentown Labs, the royal couple were also joined by Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne, as well as Joe Curtatone, former Somerville mayor and current president of the renewable energy business association Northeast Clean Energy Council.


Toward the end of their visit, they also spoke with Earthshot CEO Hannah Jones, and the founders of four past Earthshot winners or finalists: A company that is working to turn renewable electricity into green hydrogen, another that is creating more resilient seawalls, a third working to enable solar energy distribution in the climate-vulnerable nation of Bangladesh, and a fourth working to restore coral reefs.

The next stop on the royal couple’s busy tour of the Boston area was Roca Inc, a Chelsea-based non-profit organization focused on helping young people grapple with unemployment, violence, and trauma. Chelsea is on the frontlines of the climate crisis: It’s a heat island — an area that gets hotter than in neighboring areas, thanks to buildings and pavement that absorb heat and a lack of greenery to help cool it down.

Roca’s executive vice president of operations, Dwight Robson, provided pitchers of water for the visit instead of disposable bottles. “For sustainability,” he said.

Later in the afternoon, the couple headed to East Boston’s Piers Park for a harborside walk. Joined by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and her climate chief, Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, the pair discussed how the city is contending with rising sea levels.

By 2100, under a worst-case scenario where emissions keep increasing, researchers warn that sea levels around Boston could rise by more than six feet, swallowing swaths of the city. Even with major climate policies in place, the region could see sea levels pushed up by more than 2 feet by the century’s end, which could still overwhelm some areas, exacerbate high-tide flooding, and otherwise threaten the safety of communities and infrastructure.


At Piers Park, the couple was also joined by Lisa Wieland, the chief executive officer of Massachusetts Port Authority, and Elizabeth Solomon, an Elder of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag who is also an Earthshot host committee member. And they met with representatives from local environmental organizations, including waterfront-focused nonprofits the Harborkeepers and Boston Harbor Now.

The visit coincided with an announcement from Stone Living Lab, which focuses on nature-based approaches to climate adaptation and resilience, and Living Seawalls, which designs artificial habitats designed to match their surrounding environments was a 2021 Earthshot Prize finalist. The two groups will work together to install two panels along the Boston Harbor which mimic the habitat features of the natural shoreline ecosystem, aiming to protect local marine life and weaken waves that threaten the shore.

Ivy Scott of Globe staff also contributed to this report.

Dharna Noor can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @dharnanoor. Sabrina Shankman can be reached at Follow her @shankman.