Earlier this week, ExxonMobil, a company among the largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions and a longtime leader in the corporate fight against climate change regulations, called for a massive $100 billion project (backed in part by the government) to sequester hundreds of millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide in geologic formations off the Gulf of Mexico.
The gall of Exxon’s flag-planting request is matched only by the grit from startup companies that are already working on carbon capture and storage or carbon utilization projects and announced significant milestones along their own path to commercialization even as Exxon was asking for handouts.
These are companies like Charm Industrial, which just completed the first pilot test of its technology through a contract with Stripe. That pilot project saw the company remove 416 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere. That’s a small fraction of the hundred million tons Exxon thinks could be captured in its hypothetical sequestration project located off the Gulf Coast, but the difference between Exxon’s proposal and Charm’s sequestration project is that Charm has actually managed to already sequester the carbon.
The company’s technology, verified by outside observers like Shopify, Microsoft, CarbonPlan, CarbonDirect and others, converts biomass into an oil-like substance and then injects that goop underground — permanently sequestering the carbon dioxide, the company said.
Eventually, Charm would use its bio-based oil equivalent to produce “green hydrogen” and replace pumped or fracked hydrocarbons in industries that may still require combustible fuel for their operations.
1/ Today we're announcing we've delivered @stripe's 416 ton CO₂e carbon removal purchase ahead of schedule, just 12 months after inventing our new carbon removal pathway. The carbon is now in permanent geological storage. https://t.co/ZIy2plK6n9
— Charm Industrial (@CharmIndustrial) April 20, 2021
While Charm is converting biomass into an oil-equivalent and pumping it back underground, other companies like CarbonCure, Blue Planet, Solidia, Forterra, CarbiCrete and Brimstone Energy are capturing carbon dioxide and fixing it in building materials.
“The easy way to think about CarbonCure we have a mission to reduce 500 million tons per year by 2030. On the innovation side of things we really pioneered this area of science using CO2 in a value-added, hyper low-cost way in the value chain,” said CarbonCure founder and chief executive Rob Niven. “We look at CO2 as a value added input into making concrete production. It has to raise profits.”
Niven stresses that CarbonCure, which recently won one half of the $20 million carbon capture XPrize alongside CarbonBuilt, is not a hypothetical solution for carbon dioxide removal. The company already has 330 plants operating around the world capturing carbon dioxide emissions and sequestering them in building materials.
Applications for carbon utilization are important to reduce the emissions footprints of industry, but for nations to achieve their climate objectives, the world needs to move to dramatically reduce its reliance on emissions spewing energy sources and simultaneously permanently draw down massive amounts of greenhouse gases that are already in the atmosphere.
It’s why the ExxonMobil call for a massive project to explore the permanent sequestration of carbon dioxide isn’t wrong, necessarily, just questionable coming from the source.
The U.S. Department of Energy does think that the Gulf Coast has geological formations that can store 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (which the company says is more than 130 years of the country’s total industrial and power generation emissions). But in ExxonMobil’s calculation that’s a reason to continue with business-as-usual (actually with more government subsidies for its business).
Here’s how the company’s top executives explained it in the pages of The Wall Street Journal:
The Houston CCS Innovation Zone concept would require the “whole of government” approach to the climate challenge that President Biden has championed. Based on our experience with projects of this scale, we estimate the approach could generate tens of thousands of new jobs needed to make and install the equipment to capture the CO2 and transport it via a pipeline for storage. Such a project would also protect thousands of existing jobs in industries seeking to reduce emissions. In short, large-scale CCS would reduce emissions while protecting the economy.
These oil industry executives are playing into a false narrative that the switch to renewable energy and a greener economy will cost the U.S. jobs. It’s a fact that oil industry jobs will be erased, but those jobs will be replaced by other opportunities, according to research published in Scientific American.
“With the more aggressive $60 carbon tax, U.S. employment would still exceed the reference-case forecast, but the increase would be less than that of the $25 tax,” write authors Marilyn Brown and Majid Ahmadi. “The higher tax causes much larger supply-side job losses, but they are still smaller than the gains in energy-efficiency jobs motivated by higher energy prices. Overall, 35 million job years would be created between 2020 and 2050, with net job increases in almost all regions.”
ExxonMobil and the other oil majors definitely have a role to play in the new energy economy that’s being built worldwide, but the leading American oil companies are not going to be able to rest on their laurels or continue operating with a business-as-usual mindset. These companies run the risk of going the way of big coal — slowly sliding into obsolescence and potentially taking thousands of jobs and local economies down with them.
To avoid that, carbon sequestration is a part of the solution, but it’s one of many arrows in the quiver that oil companies need to deploy if they’re going to continue operating and adding value to shareholders. In other words, it’s not the last 130 years of emissions that ExxonMobil should be focused on, it’s the next 130 years that aim to be increasingly zero-emission.
The race among mobility startups to become profitable by controlling market share has produced a string of bad results for cities and the people living in the them.
City officials and agencies learned from those early deployments of ride-hailing and shared scooter services and have since pushed back with new rules and tighter control over which companies can operate. This correction has prompted established companies to change how they do business and fueled a new crop of startups, all promising a different approach.
But can mobility be accessible, equitable and profitable? And how?
TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a virtual event scheduled for June 9, aims to dig into those questions. Luckily, we have three guests who are at the center of cities, equity and shared mobility: community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.
Butler, a lawyer and founder and principal of her own consulting company, is well known for work in diversity and inclusion, equity, the built environment, community organizing and leading nonprofits. She was most recently the director of planning in California and the director of equity and inclusion at Toole Design. She previously served as the executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and was the executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Butler also sits on the board of Lacuna Technologies.
Chu is the CEO and co-founder of Remix, a startup that developed mapping software used by cities for transportation planning and street design. Remix was recently acquired by Via for $100 million and will continue to operate as a subsidiary of the company. Remix, which was backed by Sequoia Capital, Energy Impact Partners, Y Combinator, and Elemental Excelerator has been recognized as both a 2020 World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer and BloombergNEF Pioneer for its work in empowering cities to make transportation decisions with sustainability and equity at the forefront. Chu currently serves as Commissioner of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and sits on the city’s Congestion Pricing Policy Advisory Committee. Previously, Tiffany was a Fellow at Code for America, the first UX hire at Zipcar and is an alum of Y Combinator. Tiffany has a background in architecture and urban planning from MIT.
Reig is the co-founder and CEO of Revel, a transportation company that got its start launching a shared electric moped service in Brooklyn. The company, which launched in 2018, has since expanded its moped service to Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Washington, D.C., Miami, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. The company has since expanded its focus beyond moped and has started to build fast-charging EV Superhubs across New York City and launched an eBike subscription service in four NYC boroughs. Prior to Revel, Reig held senior roles in the energy and corporate sustainability sectors.
The trio will join other speakers TechCrunch has announced, a list that so far includes Joby Aviation founder and CEO JonBen Bevirt, investor and Linked founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, as well as investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital and Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event.
Standard Energy, a vanadium ion battery developer, announced today it has raised a $8.9 million Series C from SoftBank Ventures Asia. The South Korea-based company says its batteries’ advantages over lithium ion include less risk of ignition and the ease of sourcing vanadium. The latter is an important selling point, as electric vehicle makers face a potential shortage of lithium ion batteries.
Instead of serving as a replacement for lithium ion batteries, however, Standard Energy chief executive officer Bu Gi Kim said they complement each other. Vanadium ion batteries have high energy, performance and safety, but they are not as compact as lithium ion batteries.
Lithium ion batteries will continue to be used in hardware that needs to be mobile, such as electric vehicles or consumer devices like smartphones, but vanadium ion batteries are suited to “stationary” customers, like wind and solar power plants or ultra-fast charging stations for electric vehicles (Kim said Standard Energy is scheduled to ship its batteries to an ultra-fast charging station in Seoul soon).
Founded in 2013 by researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Standard Energy expects one of its main customers to be the energy storage systems (ESS) sector, which the company says is expected to grow from $8 billion to $35 billion in the next five years.
“A large number of renewable energy projects have slowed or even stopped in many places due to the unstable battery performance of lithium ion. VIB cannot be as compact as lithium ion. However, ESS projects or solutions including renewable energy plants provide enough space for our products to be integrated into their systems,” said Kim.
Standard Energy has already performed a total of over one million battery testing hours, including in a lab, at a certified battery performance test site and in actual operations. Kim said the company is confident its performance data will convince customers to adopt vanadium ion batteries.
In a press statement, SoftBank Ventures Asia senior partner Daniel Kang said, “The existing ESS market was in a state of imbalance due to the rapidly growing demand, and safety and efficiency issues of products. Standard Energy is expected to create new standards for the global ESS market through its innovative material and design technology with massive manufacturing capabilities.”
The $9 trillion financial management firm Blackrock is collaborating with the $313 billion Singapore investment firm Temasek to back companies developing technologies and services to help create a zero emission economy by 2050.
The two mega-investment firms will invest an initial $600 million to launch Decarbonization Partners, and look to raise money from investors committing to achieving a net zero world and long-term sustainable finacnial returns. The two partners have set themselves a goal to raise $1 billion for their first fund, including capital from Temasek and BlackRock.
The partnership, coming during Earth month, is one of several big multi-billion dollar initiatives that are underway to prevent global climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
Indeed, BlackRock is somewhat tardy to the party. Temasek, for its part, has already made a number of high-profile bets in the alternative meat market — namely in companies like Impossible Foods — and in alternative energy technology developers including Eavor, a geothermal company, and a $500 million bet on a renewable power developer in India.
Meanwhile, a coalition of billionaires led by Bill Gates are already on their second billion dollar investment vehicle through Breakthrough Energy, a multi-stage, multi-strategy initiative that includes a venture capital arm as well as other types of financing on the way.
“The world cannot meet its net zero ambitions without transformational innovation,” said Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, in a statement. “For decarbonization solutions and technologies to transform our economy, they need to be scaled. To do that, they need patient, well-managed capital to support their vital goals. This partnership will help define climate solutions as a standalone asset class that is both essential to our collective mission and a historic investment opportunity created by the net zero transition.”
To get a sense of what Decarbonization Partners might back, companies should probably look to the Breakthrough Energy portfolio — the firms share similar interests in new sources of energy, technologies to distribute that energy, building and manufacturing technologies, and material science and process innovations.
It’s a big swing that the firms are taking, but the flood of capital coming into the sustainability sector is commensurate with both the size of the problem, and the potential opportunity in returns generated by solving it.
A report from Morgan Stanley estimated that solving climate change would be a $50 trillion problem, according to a 2019 report from Forbes.
“Bold, aggressive actions are needed to make the global net zero ambition a reality. Decarbonization Partners represents one of several steps we are taking to follow through on our commitment to halve the emissions from our portfolio by 2030, and ultimately move to net zero emissions by 2050,” said Dilhan Pillay, Chief Executive Officer of Temasek International. “Through collective efforts with like-minded partners, we will be able to create sustainable value for all of our stakeholders over the long term, and investors will have the opportunity to help deliver innovative solutions at scale to address climate challenges.”
ConsenSys, a key player in crypto and a major proponent of the Ethereum blockchain, has raised a $65 million funding round from J.P. Morgan, Mastercard, and UBS AG, as well as major blockchain companies Protocol Labs, the Maker Foundation, Fenbushi, The LAO and Alameda Research. Additional investors include CMT Digital and the Greater Bay Area Homeland Development Fund. As well as fiat, several funds invested with Ethereum-based stablecoins, DAI and USDC, as consideration.
Sources told TechCrunch that this is an unpriced round because of the valuation risk, and the funding instrument is “full”, so the round is being closed now.
The fundraise looks like a highly strategic one, based around the idea that traditional institutions will need visibility into the increasingly influential world of ‘decentralized finance’ (DeFi) and the Web3 applications being developed on the Ethereum blockchain.
In a statement on the fundraise, ConsenSys said it has been through a “period of strategic evolution and growth”, but most outside observers would agree that this is that’s something of an understatement.
After a period of quite a lot of ‘creative disruption’ to put it mildly (at one point a couple of years ago, ConsenSys seemed to have everything from a VC fund, to an accelerator, to multiple startups under its wing), the company has restructured to form two main arms: ConsenSys, the core software business; and ConsenSys Mesh, the investment arm, incubator, and portfolio. It also acquired the Quorum product from J.P. Morgan which has given it a deeper bench into the enterprise blockchain ecosystem. This means it now has a very key product suite for the Etherum platform, including products such as Codefi, Diligence, Infura, MetaMask, Truffle, and Quorum.
This suite allows it to serve both public and private permissioned blockchain networks. It can also support Layer 2 Ethereum networks, as well as facilitate access to adjacent protocols like IPFS, Filecoin, and others. ConsenSys is also a major contributor to the Ethereum 2.0 project, for obvious reasons.
Commenting on the fundraise, Joseph Lubin, founder of ConsenSys and co-founder, Ethreum said in a statement: “When we set out to raise a round, it was important to us to patiently construct a diverse cap table, consistent with our belief that similar to how the web developed, the whole economy would join the revolutionaries on a next-generation protocol. ConsenSys’ software stack represents access to a new automated objective trust foundation enabled by decentralized protocols like Ethereum. We are proud to partner with preeminent financial firms alongside leading crypto companies to further converge the centralized and decentralized financial domains at this particularly exciting time of growth for ConsenSys and the entire industry.”
With financial institutions able to see, ‘in public’ DeFi happening on Ethereuem, because of the public chain, they can see how much of the financial system is gradually starting to merge with the blockchain world. So it’s becoming clearer what attracts these major institutions.
Mike Dargan, Head of Group Technology at UBS said: “Our investment in ConsenSys adds proven expertise in distributed ledger technology to our UBS Next portfolio.”
For MasterCard this appears to be not just a pure investment – Consensys has been working with it on a private permissioned network.
Raj Dhamodharan, executive vice president of digital asset and blockchain products and partnerships at Mastercard said: “Enterprise Ethereum is a key infrastructure on which we and our partners are building payment and non-payment applications to power the future of commerce… Our investment and partnership with ConsenSys helps us bring secure and performant Enterprise Ethereum capabilities to our customers.”
Colleen Sullivan, Co-Founder and CEO of CMT Digital said: “ConsenSys is the pioneer in bridging the gaps across traditional finance, centralized crypto, and DeFi, and more broadly, between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0. We are proud to participate in this funding round as the ConsenSys team continues to pave the way for global users — retail and institutional — to easily access the crypto ecosystem.”
TechCrunch understands that the fundraise was started around the time of the Quorum acquisition, last June. The $65 million round is in majority fiat currency as opposed to cryptocurrency and is an adjunct to the round done with JP Morgan last summer.
The presence of significant crypto players such as Maker Protocol Labs shows the significance of the fund-raise, beyond the simple transaction. The announcement also comes just ahead of the Coinbase IPO, which makes for interesting timing.
ConsenSys’ products have become highly significant in the world where developers, enterprises, and consumers meet blockchain and crypto. In its statement, the company claims MetaMask now has over three million monthly active users across mobile and desktop, a 3x increase in the last five or six months, it says. This is roughly the same amount of monthly active customers as Coinbase.
The ConsenSys announcement comes just ahead of the Coinbase IPO. While Coinbase is acting as an exchange to turn fiat into crypto and vice versa, it has also been getting into DeFi of late. Where there are also resemblances with ConsenSys, is that Coinbase, with 3 million users, is used as a wallet, and MetMask, which also has 3 million users, can also be used as a wallet. The comparison ends there, but it’s certainly interesting, given Coinbase’s $100 billion valuation.
As Jeremy Millar, Chief Development Officer, told me: “Coinbase has pioneered an exchange, in one of the world’s was regulated financial markets, the US. And it has helped drive significant interest in the space. We enjoy a very positive relationship with Coinbase, trying to further enable the ecosystem and adoption of the technology.”
The background to this raise is that a lot of early-stage blockchain and crypto companies have been raising a lot of money recently, but much of this has been through crypto investment firms. Only a handful of Silicon Valley VCs are backing blockchain, such as Andreessen Horowitz.
What’s interesting about this announcement is that these incumbent financial giants are not only taking an interest, but working alongside ConsenSys to both invest and build products on Ethereum.
It’s ConsenSys’ view that every payment service provider, banks will need this financial infrastructure in the future, especially for DeFI.
Given there is roughly $43 billion collateralized in DeFi, it’s increasingly the case that major investors are involved, and there are increasingly higher returns than traditional yield and bond or bond yields.
The moves by Central Banks into digital currencies is also forcing companies and governments to realize digital currency, and the ‘blockchain rails’ on which it runs, is here to stay. This is what is suggested by the Greater Bay Area Homeland Development Fund’s (a Shenzhen / Hong Kong joint partnership) decision to get involved.
Another aspect of this story is that ConsenSys is sitting on some extremely powerful products. Consensys has six products that serve three different types of people.
Service developers who are building on Ethereum are using Truffle to develop smart contracts. Users joining the NFT hype are using MetaMask underneath it all.
The MetaMask wallet allows users to swap one token for another. This has proved quite lucrative for ConsenSys, which says it has resulted in $1.8 billion in volume in decentralized exchange use. ConsenSys takes a 0.875 percent cut on every swap that it serves.
And institutions are using Consensys’ products. The company says more than 150,000 developers use Infura’s APIs, and 4.5 million developers create and deploy smart contracts using Truffle, while its Protocols group — developer of Hyperledger Besu and ConsenSys Quorum — are building Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) for six central banks, says Consensys.
Consensys is also making hay with the NFT boom. Developers are using Consensys products for the nodes and infrastructure on Ethereum which stores the NFT files.
Consensys is also riding two waves. One is the developer eave and the other is the financial system wave.
As a spokesperson said: “Where the interest in money and invention started happening was on public networks like Ethereum. So we really believe that these are converging and they will continue to, and every one of our products offers public main net compatibility because we think this is the future.”
Millar added: “If we want to help the world adopt the technology we need to meet it at its adoption point, which for many large enterprises means inside the firewall first. But similarly, we think, just like the public Internet, the real value – the disruptive value – changes the ability to do this on a broader permissionless basis, especially when you have sufficient privacy and authentication available.”
LiquidStack does it. So does Submer. They’re both dropping servers carrying sensitive data into goop in an effort to save the planet. Now they’re joined by one of the biggest tech companies in the world in their efforts to improve the energy efficiency of data centers, because Microsoft is getting into the liquid-immersion cooling market.
Microsoft is using a liquid it developed in-house that’s engineered to boil at 122 degrees Fahrenheit (lower than the boiling point of water) to act as a heat sink, reducing the temperature inside the servers so they can operate at full power without any risks from overheating.
The vapor from the boiling fluid is converted back into a liquid through contact with a cooled condenser in the lid of the tank that stores the servers.
“We are the first cloud provider that is running two-phase immersion cooling in a production environment,” said Husam Alissa, a principal hardware engineer on Microsoft’s team for datacenter advanced development in Redmond, Washington, in a statement on the company’s internal blog.
While that claim may be true, liquid cooling is a well-known approach to dealing with moving heat around to keep systems working. Cars use liquid cooling to keep their motors humming as they head out on the highway.
As technology companies confront the physical limits of Moore’s Law, the demand for faster, higher performance processors mean designing new architectures that can handle more power, the company wrote in a blog post. Power flowing through central processing units has increased from 150 watts to more than 300 watts per chip and the GPUs responsible for much of Bitcoin mining, artificial intelligence applications and high end graphics each consume more than 700 watts per chip.
It’s worth noting that Microsoft isn’t the first tech company to apply liquid cooling to data centers and the distinction that the company uses of being the first “cloud provider” is doing a lot of work. That’s because bitcoin mining operations have been using the tech for years. Indeed, LiquidStack was spun out from a bitcoin miner to commercialize its liquid immersion cooling tech and bring it to the masses.
“Air cooling is not enough”
More power flowing through the processors means hotter chips, which means the need for better cooling or the chips will malfunction.
“Air cooling is not enough,” said Christian Belady, vice president of Microsoft’s datacenter advanced development group in Redmond, in an interview for the company’s internal blog. “That’s what’s driving us to immersion cooling, where we can directly boil off the surfaces of the chip.”
For Belady, the use of liquid cooling technology brings the density and compression of Moore’s Law up to the datacenter level
The results, from an energy consumption perspective, are impressive. The company found that using two-phase immersion cooling reduced power consumption for a server by anywhere from 5 percent to 15 percent (every little bit helps).
Microsoft investigated liquid immersion as a cooling solution for high performance computing applications such as AI. Among other things, the investigation revealed that two-phase immersion cooling reduced power consumption for any given server by 5% to 15%.
Meanwhile, companies like Submer claim they reduce energy consumption by 50%, water use by 99%, and take up 85% less space.
For cloud computing companies, the ability to keep these servers up and running even during spikes in demand, when they’d consume even more power, adds flexibility and ensures uptime even when servers are overtaxed, according to Microsoft.
“[We] know that with Teams when you get to 1 o’clock or 2 o’clock, there is a huge spike because people are joining meetings at the same time,” Marcus Fontoura, a vice president on Microsoft’s Azure team, said on the company’s internal blog. “Immersion cooling gives us more flexibility to deal with these burst-y workloads.”
At this point, data centers are a critical component of the internet infrastructure that much of the world relies on for… well… pretty much every tech-enabled service. That reliance however has come at a significant environmental cost.
“Data centers power human advancement. Their role as a core infrastructure has become more apparent than ever and emerging technologies such as AI and IoT will continue to drive computing needs. However, the environmental footprint of the industry is growing at an alarming rate,” Alexander Danielsson, an investment manager at Norrsken VC noted last year when discussing that firm’s investment in Submer.
If submerging servers in experimental liquids offers one potential solution to the problem — then sinking them in the ocean is another way that companies are trying to cool data centers without expending too much power.
Microsoft has already been operating an undersea data center for the past two years. The company actually trotted out the tech as part of a push from the tech company to aid in the search for a COVID-19 vaccine last year.
These pre-packed, shipping container-sized data centers can be spun up on demand and run deep under the ocean’s surface for sustainable, high-efficiency and powerful compute operations, the company said.
The liquid cooling project shares most similarity with Microsoft’s Project Natick, which is exploring the potential of underwater datacenters that are quick to deploy and can operate for years on the seabed sealed inside submarine-like tubes without any onsite maintenance by people.
In those data centers nitrogen air replaces an engineered fluid and the servers are cooled with fans and a heat exchanger that pumps seawater through a sealed tube.
Startups are also staking claims to cool data centers out on the ocean (the seaweed is always greener in somebody else’s lake).
Nautilus Data Technologies, for instance, has raised over $100 million (according to Crunchbase) to develop data centers dotting the surface of Davey Jones’ Locker. The company is currently developing a data center project co-located with a sustainable energy project off the coast of Stockton, Calif.
With the double-immersion cooling tech Microsoft is hoping to bring the benefits of ocean-cooling tech onto the shore. “We brought the sea to the servers rather than put the datacenter under the sea,” Microsoft’s Alissa said in a company statement.
Ioannis Manousakis, a principal software engineer with Azure (left), and Husam Alissa, a principal hardware engineer on Microsoft’s team for datacenter advanced development (right), walk past a container at a Microsoft datacenter where computer servers in a two-phase immersion cooling tank are processing workloads. Photo by Gene Twedt for Microsoft.
In a small industrial park located nearly halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, one company is claiming to have hit a milestone in the development of a new technology for generating power from nuclear fusion.
The 20-year-old fusion energy technology developer TAE Technologies said its reactors could be operating at commercial scale by the end of the decade, thanks to its newfound ability to produce stable plasma at temperatures over 50 million degrees (nearly twice as hot as the sun).
The promise of fusion energy, a near limitless energy source with few emissions and no carbon footprint, has been 10 years out for the nearly 70 years since humanity first harnessed the power of nuclear energy. But a slew of companies — including TAE, General Fusion, Commonwealth Fusion Systems and a host of others across North America and around the world — are making rapid advancements that look to bring the technology from the realm of science fiction into the real world.
For TAE Technologies, the achievement serves as a validation of the life’s work of Norman Rostoker, one of the company’s co-founders who had devoted his life to fusion energy research and died before he could see the company he helped create reach its latest milestone.
“This is an incredibly rewarding milestone and an apt tribute to the vision of my late mentor, Norman Rostoker,” said TAE’s current chief executive officer, Michl Binderbauer, in a statement announcing the company’s achievement. “Norman and I wrote a paper in the 1990s theorizing that a certain plasma dominated by highly energetic particles should become increasingly better confined and stable as temperatures increase. We have now been able to demonstrate this plasma behavior with overwhelming evidence. It is a powerful validation of our work over the last three decades, and a very critical milestone for TAE that proves the laws of physics are on our side.”
Rostoker’s legacy lives on inside TAE through the company’s technology platform, called, appropriately, “Norman.” In the last 18 months that technology has demonstrated consistent performance, reaching over 50 million degrees in several hundred test cycles.
Six years ago, the company had proved that its reactor design could sustain plasma indefinitely — meaning that once the switch is flipped on a reaction, that fusion reaction can continue indefinitely. Now, the company said, it has achieved the necessary temperatures to make its reactors commercially viable.
It’s with these milestones behind it that TAE was able to raise an additional $280 million in financing, bringing its total up to $880 million and making it one of the best financed private nuclear fusion endeavors in the world.
“The Norman milestone gives us a high degree of confidence that our unique approach brings fusion within grasp technologically and, more important, economically,” Binderbauer said. “As we shift out of the scientific validation phase into engineering commercial-scale solutions for both our fusion and power management technologies, TAE will become a significant contributor in modernizing the entire energy grid.”
The company isn’t generating energy yet, and won’t for the foreseeable future. The next goal for the company, according to Binderbauer, is to develop the technology to the point where it can create the conditions necessary for making energy from a fusion reaction.
“The energy is super tiny. It’s immaterial. It’s a needle in the haystack,” Binderbauer said. “In terms of its energy discernability, we can use it for diagnostics.”
TAE Technologies Michl Binderbauer standing next to the company’s novel fusion reactor. Image Credits: TAE Technologies
It took $150 million and five iterations for TAE Technologies to get to Norman, its national laboratory scale fusion device. The company said it conducted over 25,000 fully integrated fusion reactor core experiments, optimized using machine learning programs developed in collaboration with Google and processing power from the Department of Energy’s INCITE program, which leverages exascale-level computing, TAE Technologies said.
The new machine was first fired up in the summer of 2017. Before it could even be constructed TAE Technologies went through a decade of experimentation to even begin approaching the construction of a physical prototype. By 2008, the first construction began on integrated experiments to make a plasma core and infuse it with some energetic particles. The feeder technology and beams alone cost $100 million, Binderbauer said. Then the company needed to develop other technologies like vacuum conditioning. Power control mechanisms also needed to be put in place to ensure that the company’s 3 megawatt power supply could be stored in enough containment systems to power a 750 megawatt energy reaction.
Finally, machine learning capabilities needed to be tapped from companies like Google and compute power from the Department of Energy had to be harnessed to manage computations that could take what had been the theorems that defined Rostoker’s life’s work, and prove that they could be made real.
“By the time Norman became an operating machine we had four generations of devices preceding it. Out of those there were two fully integrated ones and two generations of incremental machines that could do some of it but not all of it.”
While fusion has a lot of promise as a zero-carbon source of energy, it’s not without some serious limitations, as Daniel Jassby, the former principal physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab noted in a 2017 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article.
Earth-bound fusion reactors that burn neutron-rich isotopes have byproducts that are anything but harmless: Energetic neutron streams comprise 80 percent of the fusion energy output of deuterium-tritium reactions and 35 percent of deuterium-deuterium reactions.
Now, an energy source consisting of 80 percent energetic neutron streams may be the perfect neutron source, but it’s truly bizarre that it would ever be hailed as the ideal electrical energy source. In fact, these neutron streams lead directly to four regrettable problems with nuclear energy: radiation damage to structures; radioactive waste; the need for biological shielding; and the potential for the production of weapons-grade plutonium 239—thus adding to the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation, not lessening it, as fusion proponents would have it.
In addition, if fusion reactors are indeed feasible—as assumed here—they would share some of the other serious problems that plague fission reactors, including tritium release, daunting coolant demands, and high operating costs. There will also be additional drawbacks that are unique to fusion devices: the use of a fuel (tritium) that is not found in nature and must be replenished by the reactor itself; and unavoidable on-site power drains that drastically reduce the electric power available for sale.
TAE Technologies is aware of the problems, according to a spokesperson for the firm, and the company has noted the issues Jassby raised in its product development, the spokesperson said.
“All the callouts to tritium is exactly why TAE has been focused on pB-11 as its feedstock from the very beginning (early 90’s). TAE will reach D-T conditions as a natural stepping stone to pB-11, cause it cooks at ‘only’ 100M c, whereas pB-11 is upwards of 1M c,” the spokesperson wrote in a response. “It would seem like a much harder accomplishment to then scale to 1M, but what this milestone proves is the ‘Scaling law’ for the kind of fusion TAE is generating — in an FRC (the linear design of “Norman”, unlike the donut Tokamaks) the hotter the plasma, the more stable it becomes. It’s the opposite of a [Tokamak]. The milestone gives them scientific confidence they can increase temps beyond DT to pB11 and realize fusion with boron — cheap, aneutronic, abundant — the ideal terrestrial feedstock (let’s not get into mining the moon for helium-3!).”
As for power concerns, the TAE fusion reactor can convert a 2MW grid feed into 750MW shots on the machine without taking down Orange County’s grid (and needing to prove it to SCE), and scale power demand in microseconds to mold and course-correct plasmas in real-time, the spokesperson wrote.
In fact, TAE is going to spin off its power management technology into a separate business focused on peak shaving, energy storage and battery management on the grid and in electric vehicles.
The Hydrogen-Boron, or p-B11, fuel cycle is, according to the company, the most abundant fuel source on earth, and will be the ultimate feedstock for TAE Technologies’ reactor, according to the company. But initially, TAE, like most of the other companies currently developing fusion technologies, will be working with Deuterium-Tritium as its fuel source.
The demonstration facility “Copernicus,” which will be built using some of the new capital the company has announced raising, will start off on the DT fuel cycle and eventually make the switch. Over time, TAE hopes to license the DT technology while building up to its ultimate goal.
Funding the company’s “money by milestone” approach are some of the world’s wealthiest families, firms and companies. Vulcan, Venrock, NEA, Wellcome Trust, Google and the Kuwait Investment Authority are all backers. So too, are the family offices of Addison Fischer, Art Samberg and Charles Schwab.
“TAE is providing the miracles the 21st century needs,” said Addison Fischer, TAE board director and longtime investor who has been involved with conservation and environmental issues for decades. Fischer also founded VeriSign and is a pioneer in defining and implementing security technology underlying modern electronic commerce. “TAE’s most recent funding positions the company to undertake their penultimate step in implementing sustainable aneutronic nuclear fusion and power management solutions that will benefit the planet.”
The energy giant Shell has joined a slew of strategic investors — including All Nippon Airways, Suncor Energy, Mitsui and British Airways — in funding LanzaJet, the company commercializing a process to convert alcohol into jet fuel.
A spin-off from LanzaTech, one of the last surviving climate tech startups from the first cleantech boom that’s still privately held, LanzaJet is taking a phased investment approach with its corporate backers, enabling them to invest additional capital as the company scales to larger production facilities.
Terms of the initial investment, or LanzaJet’s valuation after the commitment, were not disclosed.
LanzaJet claims that it can help the aviation industry reach net-zero emissions, something that would go a long way toward helping the world meet the emissions reductions targets set in the Paris Agreement.
“LanzaJet’s technology opens up a new and exciting pathway to produce SAF using an AtJ process and will help address the aviation sector’s urgent need for SAF. It demonstrates that the industry can move faster and deliver more when we all work together,” said Anna Mascolo, president, Shell Aviation, in a statement. “Provided industry, government and society collaborate on appropriate policy mechanisms and regulations to drive both supply and demand, aviation can achieve net-zero carbon emissions. The strategic fit with LanzaJet is exciting.”
LanzaJet is currently building an alcohol-to-jet fuel facility in Soperton, Georgia. Upon completion it would be the first commercial-scale plant for sustainable synthetic jet fuel with a capacity of 10 million gallons per year.
The fuel is made by using ethanol inputs — something that Shell is very familiar with. It’s also something that the oil giant has in ready supply. Through the Raízen joint venture in Brazil, Shell has been producing bio-ethanol for more than 10 years.
The company expects that its sustainable fuel will be mixed with conventional fossil jet fuel to power airplanes in a lower carbon intensity way. Roughly 90% of the company’s production output will be aviation fuel, while the remaining 10% will be renewable diesel, the company said.
LanzaJet’s SAF is approved to be blended up to 50% with fossil jet fuel, the maximum allowed by ASTM, and is a drop-in fuel that requires no modifications to engines, aircraft and infrastructure. Additionally, LanzaJet’s SAF delivers more than a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis, compared to conventional fossil jet fuel. The versatility in ethanol, and a focus on low carbon, waste-based and nonfood/nonfeed sources, along with ethanol’s global availability, make LanzaJet’s technology a relevant and enduring solution for SAF.
The NFT craze has been an intriguing moment for digital artists who have seen great leaps in how tech has allowed them to create their work, but not as much progress in shifting how they profit off of it.
Though crypto’s early adopter artists have seemed to gain the most attention thus far, more institutionally present artists are dipping their feet into the token world. One of the bigger barriers has been the environmental concerns tied to the Ethereum blockchain, which required intense energy usage to mint new artwork, tied to incredibly high transaction fees, something that has invited controversy for early artists because of climate change concerns.
There have been a number of blockchain products to emerge in recent months that promise the benefits of Ethereum with greater speed, lower costs and lower energy usage, most notably Dapper Labs’ Flow blockchain, which powers their NBA Top Shot product. Today, we saw the debut of a new “layer-two” entrant from ConsenSys, called Palm, which operates as a sidechain on Ethereum’s main network but will be supported via the popular crypto wallet MetaMask.
As part of Palm’s launch, the artist Damien Hirst announced he will be launching an NFT project, his first, called “The Currency Project,” on the platform’s Palm NFT Studio.
Ethereum has already committed to transitioning to a more energy-efficient proof-of-stake consensus structure, but it’s unclear how quickly that’s going to happen. The network currently relies on a proof-of-work system (as does bitcoin), which use an energy-intensive manner of prioritizing where the next block in a chain is mined that gets more intensive as a network sees more traffic. It’s a reason why crypto mining operations have had to consistently invest in the latest hardware to maintain an edge and use more power. Proof-of-work does away with most of that, instead choosing nodes on the network to mine the next block based on reputation or their existing stake. There are some real security tradeoffs that have required workarounds though plenty in the crypto community aren’t quite satisfied with the compromises, though proponents argue that environmental concerns should take precedent.
In a press release, the team behind Palm says the ecosystem is “99% more energy-efficient than proof-of-work systems.”
Unlike Dapper Labs’ Flow, Palm benefits from its interconnectedness with the community of Ethereum developers, something that was present in today’s announcement that showcased several industry partnerships including Nifty. The news arrived alongside details this morning of Dapper Labs’ monster $305 million fundraise that will give the company backing to build on the momentum of Top Shot, which has given the broader NFT space the wave of enthusiasm it’s currently experiencing.
Men’s health and wellbeing startup Manual has raised a $30m Series A round from US-based Sonoma Brands and Waldencast, and Manual’s existing European investors Felix Capital and Cherry Ventures. FJ Labs and the GISEV Family Office also participated in the round. The cash will be used for product development and international expansion. Manual provides diagnostics, treatments and ongoing care and plans to expand across Europe, Asia and Latin America. The company has already expanded to Brazil.
Manual is competing with Numan (raised $13M), also from the UK (Manual launched a month earlier than them). In the US it is competing with Ro (raised $876.1M) and Hims (listed). All these brands tend to focus on issues like vitamins and erectile dysfunction, with the, often common refrain of, ‘normalizing’ the idea that men should look after themselves better, across a number of fronts and removing stigma’s around sexual health. It performs blood tests and other tests to analyze heart health, gut health, testosterone, sleep, energy, and immunity. They are pushing at a large market, as men historically avoid doctors.
George Pallis, CEO and Founder, previously led marketing at Wise and Deliveroo. In a statement he said: “We’ve been encouraged to see men of all ages increasingly turning to Manual to solve multiple health problems, with almost half of our customers seeking help for more than one issue. It’s clear that a health concern may have more than one cause, and we can provide customers with the ability to treat their health in a more holistic way. Using different treatments to understand and improve their wellbeing.”
Speaking to during an interview Pallis added: “We built our own teleconsultation product and have different applications for the blood test offering. When you get your results we will offer a clinician, we’ll walk you through all the data and the learnings. We offer tools where people can monitor their progress and have regular check-ins with our medical team.”
Antoine Nussenbaum, co-Founder and partner of Felix Capital, commented: “There is still much work to be done to remove the taboo when it comes to men looking after their wellbeing and talking openly about health concerns. But we’re starting to see a shift happen amongst consumers.”
Kevin Murphy, Managing Director of Sonoma Brands, commented: “Manual exists to empower men to take better care of themselves and to live fuller lives by doing so. George and his team have the clarity of vision and the skill to make Manual a leader in this exciting and important area.”
The coming wave of electric vehicles will require more than thousands of charging stations. In addition to being installed, they also need to work — and today, that isn’t happening.
If a station doesn’t send out an error or a driver doesn’t report it, network providers might never know there’s even a problem. Kameale C. Terry, who co-founded ChargerHelp!, an on-demand repair app for electric vehicle charging stations, has seen these issues firsthand.
One customer assumed that poor usage rates at a particular station was due to a lack of EVs in the area, Terry recalled in a recent interview. That wasn’t the problem.
“There was an abandoned vehicle parked there and the station was surrounded by mud,” said Terry who is CEO and co-founded the company with Evette Ellis.
Demand for ChargerHelp’s service has attracted customers and investors. The company said it has raised $2.75 million from investors Trucks VC, Kapor Capital, JFF, Energy Impact Partners and The Fund. This round values the startup, which was founded in January 2020, at $11 million post-money.
The funds will be used to build out its platform, hire beyond its 27-person workforce and expand its service area. ChargerHelp works directly with the charging manufacturers and network providers.
“Today when a station goes down there’s really no troubleshooting guidance,” said Terry, noting that it takes getting someone out into the field to run diagnostics on the station to understand the specific problem. After an onsite visit, a technician then typically shares data with the customer, and then steps are taken to order the correct and specific part — a practice that often doesn’t happen today.
While ChargerHelp is couched as an on-demand repair app, it is also acts as a preventative maintenance service for its customers.
The idea for ChargerHelp came from Terry’s experience working at EV Connect, where she held a number of roles, including head of customer experience and director of programs. During her time there, she worked with 12 manufacturers, which gave her knowledge into inner workings and common problems with the chargers.
It was here that she spotted a gap in the EV charging market.
“When the stations went down we really couldn’t get anyone on site because most of the issues were communication issues, vandalism, firmware updates or swapping out a part — all things that were not electrical,” Terry said.
And yet, the general practice was to use electrical contractors to fix issues at the charging stations. Terry said it could take as long as 30 days to get an electrical contractor on site to repair these non-electrical problems.
Terry often took matters in her own hands if issues arose with stations located in Los Angeles, where she is based.
“If there was a part that needed to be swapped out, I would just go do it myself,” Terry said, adding she didn’t have a background in software or repairs. “I thought, if I can figure this stuff out, then anyone can.”
In January 2020, Terry quit her job and started ChargerHelp. The newly minted founder joined the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, where she developed a curriculum to teach people how to repair EV chargers. It was here that she met Ellis, a career coach at LACI who also worked at the Long Beach Job Corp Center. Ellis is now the chief workforce officer at ChargerHelp.
Since then, Terry and Ellis were accepted into Elemental Excelerator’s startup incubator, raised about $400,000 in grant money, launched a pilot program with Tellus Power focused on preventative maintenance and landed contracts with EV charging networks and manufacturers such as EV Connect, ABB and SparkCharge. Terry said they have also hired their core team of seven employees and trained their first tranche of technicians.
ChargerHelp takes a workforce-development approach to finding employees. The company only hires in cohorts, or groups, of employees.
The company received more than 1,600 applications in its first recruitment round for electric vehicle service technicians, according to Terry. Of those, 20 were picked to go through training and 18 were ultimately hired to service contracts across six states, including California, Oregon, Washington, New York and Texas. Everyone picked to go through training is paid a stipend and earn two safety licenses.
The startup will begin its second recruitment round in April. All workers are full-time with a guaranteed wage of $30 an hour and are being given shares in the startup, Terry said. The company is working directly with workforce development centers in the areas where ChargerHelp needs technicians.
Data centers and bitcoin mining operations are becoming huge energy hogs, and the explosive growth of both risks undoing a lot of the progress that’s been made to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. It’s one of the major criticisms of cryptocurrency operations and something that many in the industry are trying to address.
The company, which was formerly known as Allied Control Limited, restructured as a commercial operating company headquartered in the Netherlands with commercial operations in the U.S. and research and development in Hong Kong, according to a statement.
It was first acquired by Bitfury in 2015 after building a two-phase immersion cooling 500kW data center in Hong Kong, that purportedly cut energy consumption by 95% versus traditional air cooling technologies. Later, the companies jointly deployed 160 megawatts of two-phase immersion-cooled data centers.
“Bitfury has been innovating across multiple industries and sees major growth opportunities with LiquidStack’s game-changing cooling solutions for compute-intensive applications and infrastructure,” said Valery Vavilov, CEO of Bitfury. “I believe LiquidStack’s leadership team, together with our customers and strategic support from Wiwynn, will rapidly accelerate the global adoption and deployment of two-phase immersion cooling.”
The $10 million in funding came from the Taiwanese conglomerate Wiwynn, a data center and infrastructure developer with revenues of $6.3 billion last year.
“Wiwynn continues to invest in advanced cooling solutions to address the challenges of fast-growing power consumption and density for cloud computing, AI, and HPC,” said Emily Hong, chief executive of Wiwynn, in a statement.
In a statement, LiquidStack said its technology could enable at least 21 times more heat rejection per IT rack compared to air cooling — all without the need for water. The company said its cooling method results in a 41% reduction in energy used for cooling and a 60% reduction in data center space.
“Bitfury has always been focused on leading by example and is a technology driven company from the top of the organization, to its grass roots,” said Joe Capes, co-founder and chief executive of LiquidStack, in a statement. “Launching LiquidStack with new funding enables us to focus on our strengths and capabilities, accelerating the development of liquid cooling technology, products and services to help solve real thermal and sustainability challenges driven by the adoption of cloud services, AI, edge and high-performance computing.”
The Brazilian-based pan-Latin American food delivery startup iFood has announced a series of initiatives designed to reduce the company’s environmental impact as consumers push companies to focus more on sustainability.
The program has two main components — one focused on plastic pollution and waste and another aiming to become carbon neutral in its operations by 2025.
Perhaps the most ambitious, and surely the most capital intensive of the company’s waste reduction initiatives is the development of a semi-automated recycling facility in Sao Paulo.
“We want to transform the entire supply chain for plastic-free packaging in Brazil. By controlling the national supply chain, from production to marketing and logistics, we can offer more competitive pricing for packaging to industries that already exist but do not have a scale of production and demand today,” said Gustavo Vitti, the chief people and sustainability officer at iFood.
The company has also created an in-app option that allows customers to decline plastic cutlery when they’re getting their food delivered.
“These initiatives will contribute to reducing the consumption of plastic items, which are often sent without being requested and end up going unused into the garbage bin,” said Vitti. “In the first tests that we did, 90 percent of consumers used the resource, which resulted in the reduction of tens of thousands of plastic cutlery and shows our consumers’ desire to receive less waste in their homes.”
On the emissions front, the company will work with Moss.Earth, a technology company in the carbon market, which developed the GHG inventory to offset its emissions by buying credits tied to environmental preservation and reforestation projects.
But the company is also working Tembici, a provider of electric bikes in Brazil to move its delivery fleet off of internal combustion powered mopeds or scooters.
“We know that compensation alone is not enough. It is necessary to think of innovative ways to reduce CO2 emissions. In October last year, we launched the iFood Pedal program, in partnership with Tembici, a project developed exclusively for couriers that offers affordable plans for renting electric bikes,” said Vitti. “Currently, more than 2,000 couriers are registered and are sharing 1,000 electric bikes in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in addition to the educational aspect of program that we have contemplated. With good adherence indicators, our plan is to gradually expand the project, taking it to other cities and, thus, increase our percentage of clean deliveries.”
The Brazilian electric motorcycle company, Voltz Motors is also working with iFood, which ordered 30 electric motorcycles for use by some of its delivery partners. The company hopes to roll out more than 10,000 motorcycles over the next 12 months.
Coupled with internal facing initiatives to improve water reuse, deploy renewable energy and develop a green roof at its Osasco headquarters, iFood is hoping to hit sustainability goals that can improve the environment across Brazil and beyond.
“We know that we have a long way to go, but we trust that together with important partners and this set of initiatives, in addition to others that are under development, it will be possible to reduce plastic generation and CO2 emissions impact on the environment. Our relevance and presence in the lives of Brazilian families further reinforces the importance of these environmental commitments for the planet,” said Vitti.
The Los Angeles-based company, which has raised roughly $250 million from investors including the celebrities Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Downey Jr.’s Footprint Coalition, and Orlando Bloom and more traditional institutional investors like AlphaEdison, Capricorn Investment Group, the Omidyar Network, and Allen & Co., wouldn’t say how much about the terms of the card or the credit limits available.
What Aspiration co-founder Andrei Cherny did discuss was the company’s sense of the significance of its new offering.
“There are plenty of credit cards out there that let you rack up miles, this is the only card that rewards you for taking miles off of the planet,” Aspiration co-founder and CEO Andrei Cherny said in a statement. “For the first time, you can have a climate change-fighting tool right in your wallet.”
The key to Aspiration’s offset services is nothing more or less than tree planting. It’s the easiest way for consumers to eventually cancel out the greenhouse gas emissions associated with daily living in the U.S.
Every time someone uses the card, Aspiration will have one of its global reforestation partners plant a tree. If a customer uses Aspiration’s credit card 60 times, the resulting trees that are planted are enough to offset the carbon emissions from an average American home
“What we’re doing is basing it on the average American’s carbon footprint,” Cherny affirmed. “Every time you make a purchase Aspiration plants your tree. The way the math works out. The average carbon impact of the average tree when you have 60 of them you eliminate the emissions from an average American home.”
Using Aspiration’s app, which includes other tools for consumers to gauge the social impact of their purchases, credit card customers can track their progress towards offsetting their emissions. For every month in which a user gets to carbon zero, Aspiration will reward them with 1% cashback on their credit card purchases.
Cherny said the company works with accredited partners and uses satellite imaging and on-the-ground monitoring to ensure that the forestation projects are proceeding according to plan and that the trees aren’t being harvested.
The company isn’t just doing this out of a sense of corporate responsibility there’s actually an arbitrage case where the planting of seeds becomes a profit center (however nominal) for the company.
“As we get to scale that will be the case,” Cherny said. “We are not a nonprofit, we’re a for-profit company dedicated to saving the planet. Until people can make a profit off of saving the planet in the same way people have been profiting on destroying the planet, there are going to continue to be problems… If only oil companies and incumbent banks can make money by destroying the planet, then we’re in trouble.”
On the third greatest television show of all time (sorry Rolling Stone), one of Texas’ most famous fictional football players once said, “When all the scared rats are leaving a sinking market, that’s when a real entrepreneur steps in — a true visionary.”
If that’s the case, then the startup renewable energy retail reseller Arcadia may be a true visionary. Even as energy startups servicing customers throughout the great state of Texas are forced to throw in the towel, the Washington-based, consumer-focused renewable energy power provider (based on renewable energy certificates purchased on the open market), is making an acquisition to enter the Texas market.
The company is buying Real Simple Energy, which not only marks the company’s availability in all 50 states, but gives Real Simple Energy customers access to both wind and solar power generating projects. The company said it will leverage Real Simple Energy’s platform and expertise to secure the best rates for members, monitor for better savings, and provide a smarter yet simpler energy experience.
“Recent events in the Texas market prove that customers shouldn’t be exposed to wholesale or variable rates, and want an energy advocate to protect them,” said Kiran Bhatraju, CEO and Founder of Arcadia. “Both Arcadia and Real Simple Energy recognize the challenges Texas homeowners and renters have historically faced in the energy buying process, and we remain committed to removing these confusing barriers.”
Texans have consistently paid more for power than consumers that buy their energy from regulated market participants thanks to the state’s disastrously deregulated power markets. The combined companies are pitching fixed rate contracts to Texas consumers that won’t be vulnerable to bill spikes, but will offer average savings above the flat rates regulated utilities offer.
“The deregulated energy industry, especially in Texas, has underserved customers and as a result, most customers overpay for electricity and receive poor customer service. Using technology, we are helping customers realize the promise of deregulation and always get the best fixed rates available,” said Trent Crow, CEO of Real Simple Energy, in a statement. “As industry veterans, joining forces with Arcadia will allow us to get better deals for customers and enhance our customer experience. We manage 100% of the energy experience and become a customer’s independent agent and advocate so they never have to worry about their electricity bill again.”
The deal is Arcadia’s first acquisition and follows the company’s launch of a community solar program all the way across the country in the great state of Maine.
About four years ago, social impact organization Norrsken Foundation launched a small program investing around €30 million in capital it had received from its wealthy patron, Klarna co-founder Niklas Adalberth.
Now, that initiative has become its own impact investment firm, Norrsken VC and, according to people familiar with the firm, is about to close on its first independent investment vehicle — a €125 million ($149) fund focused on investing in startups that are, as its website suggests, “solving the world’s biggest problems.”
Norrsken VC did not respond for a request for comment about the firm’s fundraising plans.
Already, the young firm has invested in companies that would be standouts among any venture capital portfolio. Norrsken VC is one of the early backers behind Northvolt, which just received a $14 billion order for its batteries for electric vehicles from Volkswagen.
Electrification is actually a big theme for the early-stage firm, which counts the electric plane technology developer, Heart Aerospace, and autonomous electric vehicle developer Einride, and the battery monitoring and data management startup, Nortical, among its other portfolio companies.
Einride scored another huge coup recently. TechCrunch reported that the company was close to closing on $75 million in new funding even as it explored a potential SPAC for its business.
Indeed, Norrsken Foundation’s work in investing presaged a surge in climate and sustainability-focused activity from both venture investors, public markets and entrepreneurs looking at how to aid in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable resources and other zero carbon sources of energy.
That thesis on energy consumption extends to other areas of the firm’s portfolio, including companies like the energy efficient data center designer and technology developer, Submer.
If electrification and efficiency are one area of focus in the climate fight, Norrsken has also made moves to combat waste and improve efficiency in the food chain, as well. It’s probably the largest area of focus for the firm’s current portfolio outside of electrification, and there appear to be some early winners emerging in that category.
Those range from startups focused on agriculture like WeFarm and Ignitia, to consumer waste in the food industry through investments in Olio, Matsmart and Whywaste.
Taken together the climate and sustainability thesis has been the largest and most opportune investment target, but healthcare and wellness are also within the firm’s investment mandate. Startups like Winningtemp are an interesting indication of the firm’s thesis. That startup provides ways to monitor and support employees’ mental health.
Individual solutions to the collective crisis of climate change abound: backup diesel generators, Tesla powerwalls, “prepper” shelters. However, the infrastructure that our modern civilization relies on is interconnected and interdependent — energy, transportation, food, water and waste systems are all vulnerable in climate-driven emergencies. No one solution alone and in isolation will be the salvation to our energy infrastructure crisis.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the California wildfires last year, and the recent deep freeze in Texas, the majority of the American public has not only realized how vulnerable infrastructure is, but also how critical it is to properly regulate it and invest in its resilience.
What is needed now is a mindset shift in how we think about infrastructure. Specifically, how we price risk, how we value maintenance, and how we make policy that is aligned with our climate reality. The extreme cold weather in Texas wreaked havoc on electric and gas infrastructure that was not prepared for unusually cold weather events. If we continue to operate without an urgent (bipartisan?) investment in infrastructure, especially as extreme weather becomes the norm, this tragic trend will only continue (with frontline communities bearing a disproportionately high burden).
A month after Texas’ record-breaking storm, attention is rightly focused on helping the millions of residents putting their lives back together. But as we look toward the near-term future and get a better picture of the electric mobility tipping point on the horizon, past-due action to reform our nation’s energy infrastructure and utilities must take precedence.
Seventy-five percent of Texas’ electricity is generated from fossil fuels and uranium, and about 80% of the power outages in Texas were caused by these systems. The state and the U.S. are overly dependent on outdated energy generation, transmission and distribution technologies. As the price of energy storage is expected to drop to $75/kWh by 2030, more emphasis needs to be placed on “demand-side management” and distributed energy resources that support the grid, rather than trying to supplant it. By pooling and aggregating small-scale clean energy generation sources and customer-sited storage, 2021 can be the year that “virtual power plants” realize their full potential.
Policymakers would do well to mandate new incentives and rebates to support new and emerging distributed energy resources installed on the customers’ side of the utility meter, such as California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program.
For the energy transition to succeed, workforce development will need to be a central component. As we shift from coal, oil and gas to clean energy sources, businesses and governments — from the federal to the city level — should invest in retraining workers into well-paying jobs across emerging verticals, like solar, electric vehicles and battery storage. In energy efficiency (the lowest-hanging fruit of the energy transition), cities should seize the opportunity to tie equity-based workforce development programs to real estate energy benchmarking requirements.
These policies will not only boost the efficiency of our energy systems and the viability of our aging building stock, creating a more productive economy but will also lead to job growth and expertise in a growth industry of the 21st century. According to analysis from Rewiring America, an aggressive national commitment to decarbonization could yield 25 million good-paying jobs over the next 15 years.
Microgrids can connect and disconnect from the grid. By operating on normal “blue-sky” operating days as well as during emergencies, microgrids provide uninterrupted power when the grid goes down — and reduce grid constraints and energy costs when grid-connected. Previously the sole domain of military bases and universities, microgrids are growing 15% annually, reaching an $18 billion market in the U.S. by 2022.
For grid resiliency and reliable power supply, there is no better solution than community-scale microgrids that connect critical infrastructure facilities with nearby residential and commercial loads. Funding feasibility studies and audit-grade designs — so that communities have zero-cost but high-quality pathways to constructable projects, as New York State did with the NY Prize initiative — is a proven way to involve communities in their energy planning and engage the private sector in building low-carbon resilient energy systems.
Unpredictability and complexity are quickening, and technology has its place, but not simply as an individual safeguard or false security blanket. Instead, technology should be used to better calculate risk, increase system resilience, improve infrastructure durability, and strengthen the bonds between people in a community both during and in between emergencies.
From distributed homes in Cambridge, Mass. and Cambridge, England, inBalance Research is joining Y Combinator as it looks to accelerate its business as the oracle for independent energy providers, utilities, and market makers.
Selling a service it calls Delphi, the very early stage startup is hoping to provide analysis for power producers and utilities on the demand forecasts of energy markets.
The orchestration of energy load across the grid has become a more pressing issue for utilities around the country after witnessing the disastrous collapse of Texas’ power grid in response to its second “once-in-a-century” storm in the last decade.
“If we want to address the solution longterm, it’s a two part solution,” said inBalance co-founder and chief executive, Thomas Marge. “It’s a combination of hardware and software. You need the right assets online and you need the right software that can ensure that markets operate when there are extreme market shocks.”
Prices for electricity change every 15 minutes, and sometimes those pries can fluctuate wildly. In some places, even without the weather conditions that demolished the Texas grid and drove some companies out of business, prices can double in a matter of hours, according to inBalance.
That’s what makes forecasting tools important, the company said. As prices spike, asset managers of finite responsive resources such as hydro and storage need to decide if they will offer more value to the market now or later. Coming online too early or too late will decrease the revenue for their clean generation and increase peak prices for consumers.
The situation is even worse, according to the company, if storage and intermittent renewables come online at the same time. That can create downward price pressure for both the storage and renewable assets, which, in turn, can lead to increased fossil fuel generation later the same day, once cleaner sources are depleted.
The software to predict those pressures is what inBalance claims to provide. Marge and his fellow co-founders, Rajan Troll and Edwin Fennell have always been interested in the problems associated with big data and energy.
For Marge, that began when he worked on a project to optimize operations for wind farms during a stint in Lexington, Mass.
“Fundamentally we’re a data science solution,” said Marge. “It’s a combination of knowing what factors influence every single asset on every single market in North America. We have a glimpse into how those assets are going to be working one day before to one hour before in order to do price forecasting.”
So far, one utility using the company’s software in the Northeast has managed to curb its emissions by 0.2%. With a focus on renewables, inBalance is hoping to roll out larger reductions to the 3,000 market participants that are also using its forecasting tools for other services. Another application is in the work inBalance is conducting with a gas peaker plant to help offset the intermittency of renewable generation sources.
The reduction in emissions in New England is particularly impressive given that the company only began working with the utility there in December. Given its forecasting tools, the company is able to provide a window into which assets might be most valuable at what time — including, potentially, natural gas peaking plants, hydropower, pumped hydropower (basically an energy storage technology), battery or flywheel energy storage projects and demand response technologies that encourage businesses and consumers to reduce consumption in response to price signals, Marge said.
Already, six companies have taken a trip to see the Delphi software and come away as early users. They include a global renewable asset manager and one of the top ten largest utilities in the U.S., according to Marge.
“We use machine learning to accurately forecast electricity prices from terabytes of public and proprietary data. The solution required for daily power system stability is both hardware—like storage and electric vehicle charging—and the software required to optimally use it. inBalance exists to be that software solution,” the company said in a statement.
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I changed things up this week to make room for an interview we had with Mike Lelli, senior manager of advanced battery cell technology over at GM. That means I don’t have the typical roundup at the bottom of EVERYTHING, or most things, that happened this week. But don’t worry, I’ll bring that back next issue.
You might recall, or maybe not, that GM president Mark Reuss announced last week a partnership with SolidEnergy Systems, an MIT spinoff. GM and SES plan to work together to improve the energy density of lithium-ion batteries. The companies are going to build a prototyping facility in Woburn, Massachusetts and aim to have a high-capacity, pre-production battery by 2023.
As one reader pointed out to me, the partnership is an interesting next step in GM’s interest in SES. Five years ago, GM Ventures, the VC arm of the automaker, invested in SES. Rohit Makharia, a longtime engineer turned investment manager at GM Ventures, is now the COO at SES. In other words, this isn’t some casual relationship.
Scroll below for a Q&A with Lelli.
After the partnership between GM and SolidEnergy Systems was announced, we (meaning me and TC reporter Rebecca Bellan) jumped on the phone with Mike Lelli, senior manager of advanced battery cell technology at GM, to try and learn about about the automaker’s battery plans.
Specifically, we wanted to find out if SES was going to be providing the tech for the next generation of Ultium batteries. I’m not talking about the first generation of Ultium batteries that are going in the upcoming GMC Hummer. We’re talking next generation. We also wanted to learn more about GM’s approach to battery development.
The interview with Lelli was edited for clarity and brevity.
TECHCRUNCH: You’ve said that GM is trying to increase energy twofold and reduce the cost of batteries by 60%. So are you aiming to work directly with SolidEnergy Systems on building the next generation of Ultium batteries?
LELLI: The SolidEnergy Systems arrangement includes building a prototype line in Massachusetts. So, this new technology will be built on that line.
TECHCRUNCH: Are you looking at any other battery tech startups to help speed R&D along?
LELLI: I would just say, stay tuned on that; we have a lot more to announce in the future. In the meantime, work is continuing on lithium-metal batteries and other related technologies at our R&D lab. We’re working on many different technologies at this point, including high voltage cathode, electrolytes, dry processing, battery raw materials etc.
TECHCRUNCH: GM already has a lot of critical IP in the space of lithium metal batteries. How is SES filling in the gaps?
LELLI: Well they have strengths and we have strengths and that’s the beauty of this arrangement. SolidEnergy Systems is a very innovative technology company and they offer many novel ideas around lithium metal anode technology, and manufacturing and, of course, we do as well. That’s where their strength is.
They also have a strength in electrolytes, but we have a strength in electrolytes as well and we have IP around electrolytes that we think could be an enabler to this technology. We have 49 patents and over 45 pending in this lithium metal space, so we’ve been working on it for a while. This isn’t something that we’ve thought about, you know, a year ago and saying, ‘hey what are we going to do next?’ This is stuff we’ve been working on for quite some time.
TECHCRUNCH: How is GM thinking about pushing for reductions in nickel and cobalt? Is that a priority?
LELLI: When we came out with the event last year on the Ultium battery, we were very focused on the precious metals. And you may remember that we commented that our cathode would be NCMA — nickel, cobalt, manganese, aluminum. We said that technology we were taking on because it was able to reduce cobalt by over 70%, and we’re able to do that by building a cathode with aluminum.
We’re always focused on these raw materials and reducing high-cost materials and materials that are hard to get. That’s part of my group’s job; my group is responsible for the technology roadmap relative to all these different spaces within the cell: the cathode active material, separator, electrolyte, anode material, the different ways to process the cathode in manufacturing — right now we have a wet process and if we can get dry to work, it’ll be less expensive. We work in all of these spaces simultaneously to reduce costs.
The beauty with the SolidEnergy arrangement is that we can put any of those cathodes that we develop and we can tie that to the lithium metal anode. The key work we’re doing with SolidEnergy is getting the lithium anode technology to work, and then we can, at some point in time, continue to change the cathode part of that cell for further cost reduction and less reliance on some of these critical battery materials out there.
TECHCRUNCH: The work around the anode is really the key to unlocking that energy density, is my understanding. Are there any other benefits?
LELLI: Equally important is the electrolyte. Because the electrolyte is not just a commodity where you can buy it and put it in. It has the electrochemistry and the kinetic of electrochemistry in the cell are very dependent on the electrolyte.
And so the life of a cell will be very dependent on what electrolyte — and the electrochemistry behind that electrolyte — and how it reacts with the materials you’re using, like lithium.
Lithium gives us energy density, but then you also have to design a cell that lasts many cycles, and so to do that you have to understand all the other parts and pieces of the cell that enable that. An electrolyte is an extremely critical part of that.
TECHCRUNCH: Is SES only working with GM or is it working with other automakers or clients?
LELLI: SolidEnergy Systems can work with other OEMs and, of course, we can work with other technologies. We’re not restricting SolidEnergy Systems in any way.
TECHCRUNCH: What are you expecting the range to be for the next generation of Ultium batteries?
LELLI: It’s conceivable that the range of our production in lithium metal batteries could be as high as 500 to 600 miles, but that really depends on the car you’re putting it into. If you put the same battery in a truck, it’s not going to have the range that if we took that same battery and put it in a small car. It really depends on the product you’re putting the battery in to answer that question, but to give you a frame of reference, 500 to 600 miles is conceivable.
TECHCRUNCH: Has GM identified which vehicles will receive the first generation Ultium battery, besides the GMC Hummer?
The Cadillac Lyriq and the Cruise Origin will be among the first.
Earlier this year, I predicted that Via was going to have a big year; I was right. The on-demand shuttle startup turned mobility-as-a-service provider has been expanding, snapping up contracts with cities globally. And now it’s expanding through acquisitions.
Via bought Remix, the startup that developed mapping software used by cities for transportation planning and street design, for $100 million in cash and equity. Remix will become a subsidiary of Via, an arrangement that will let the startup maintain its independent brand. Remix’s 65 employees and two of its co-founders — CEO Tiffany Chu and CTO Dan Getelman — will stay on.
Remix’s strength is in planning, while Via brings expertise in software and operations. The acquisition should nicely rounded out Via’s current business and help it capture more customers, which currently number more than 350 local governments in 22 countries.
I’m not so sure that Via is done. I expect more deal making — maybe even a bid to go public — by this company that last year hit a $2.25 billion valuation after raising $400 million in a Series E round.
Other deals that got my attention …
Damon Motors, the electric motorcycle company, raised more than $30M in funding, completing a bridge round led by Benevolent Capital, SOL Global Investments, Zirmania, and others.
FlexClub, the South African-based car subscription startup founded in 2019, raised $5 million in equity and debt. This is a seed extension round, bringing the total investment raised by FlexClub to over $6 million. The company recently expanded to Mexico.
Optibus, the transit-focused software-as-service company based in Israel, raised a $107 million in a Series C round co-led by Bessemer Venture Partners and Insight Partners.
Populus AI, a San Francisco-based startup founded in 2017, has raised $5 million from new investors Storm Ventures and contract manufacturing and supplier company Magna along with existing backers Precursor, Relay Ventures and Ulu Ventures. The company has raised nearly $9 million to date.
Zego, the insurtech that got its start by offering flexible motorbike insurance for gig economy workers, has raised $150 million. DST Global led the London-based company’s C round, which gave it a $1.1 billion valuation and a unicorn status. Other new backers include General Catalyst, whose founder and MD, Joel Cutler, joins Zego’s board. Zego has since expanded its business to offer a range of tech-enabled commercial motor insurance products.
I recently brought on Abigail Bassett, a World Car Juror and longtime journalist who writes about cars and tech (among other topics) to review some of the most important vehicles of 2021. Last month, Tamara Warren (another longtime reporter in autos and tech) reviewed the Aston Martin DBX, a vehicle that is critical to the automaker’s survival.
This month, Bassett takes a deep dive into the Volkswagen ID. 4, a five-passenger, fully electric crossover with a starting price of $33,995 (before federal or state incentives).
The ID. 4 matters. A lot. Volkswagen, once a dabbler in electric vehicles, is now betting its future on the technology.
Did the ID.4 make the grade? Bassett tested it on three different occasions. I suggest you read the whole article, but for those busy folks here is the tl;dr: The VW ID.4 offers a balanced blend of technology, comfort and design for a more affordable price. It offers solid technology without being so out of this world that your average crossover buyer will balk … with one exception. The lack of seamless charging makes finding and then connecting to a third-party charging station a clunky, even complex experience.
Read more by clicking below.
Northvolt, the Swedish battery manufacturer which raised $1 billion in financing from investors led by Goldman Sachs and Volkswagen back in 2019, has signed a massive $14 billion battery order with VW for the next 10 years.
The big buy clears up some questions about where Volkswagen will be getting the batteries for its huge push into electric vehicles, which will see the automaker reach production capacity of 1.5 million electric vehicles by 2025.
The deal will not only see Northvolt become the strategic lead supplier for battery cells for Volkswagen Group in Europe, but will also involve the German automaker increasing its equity ownership of Northvolt.
As part of the partnership agreement, Northvolt’s gigafactory in Sweden will be expanded and Northvolt agreed to sell its joint venture share in Salzgitter, Germany to Volkswagen as the car maker looks to build up its battery manufacturing efforts across Europe, the companies said.
The agreement between Northvolt and VW brings the Swedish battery maker’s total contracts to $27 billion in the two years since it raised its big $1 billion cash haul.
“Volkswagen is a key investor, customer and partner on the journey ahead and we will continue to work hard with the goal of providing them with the greenest battery on the planet as they rapidly expand their fleet of electric vehicles,” said Peter Carlsson, the co-founder and chief executive of Northvolt, in a statement.
Northvolt’s other partners and customers include ABB, BMW Group, Scania, Siemens, Vattenfall, and Vestas. Together these firms comprise some of the largest manufacturers in Europe.
Back in 2019, the company said that its cell manufacturing capacity could hit 16 Gigawatt hours and that it had sold its capacity to the tune of $13 billion through 2030. That means that the Volkswagen deal will eat up a significant portion of expanded product lines.
Founded Carlsson, a former executive at Tesla, Northvolt’s battery business was intended to leapfrog the European Union into direct competition with Asia’s largest battery manufacturers — Samsung, LG Chem, and CATL.
Back when the company first announced its $1 billion investment round, Carlsson had said that Northvolt would need to build up to150 gigawatt hours of capacity to hit targets for. 2030 electric vehicle sales.
The plant in Sweden is expected to hit at least 32 gigawatt hours of production thanks, in part to backing by the Swedish pension fund firms AMF and Folksam and IKEA-linked IMAS Foundation, in addition to the big financial partners Volkswagen and Goldman Sachs.
Northvolt has had a busy few months. Earlier in March the company announced the acquisition of the Silicon Valley-based startup company Cuberg.
That acquisition gave Northvolt a foothold in the U.S. and established the company’s advanced technology center.
The acquisition also gives Northvolt a window into the newest battery chemistry that’s being touted as a savior for the industry — lithium metal batteries.
Cuberg spun out of Stanford University back in 2015 to commercialize what the company called its next-generation battery combining a liquid electrolyte with a lithium metal anode. The company’s customers include Boeing, BETA Technologies, Ampaire, and VoltAero and it was backed by Boeing HorizonX Ventures, Activate.org, the California Energy Commission, the Department of Energy and the TomKat Center at Stanford.
Cuberg’s cells deliver 70 percent increased range and capacity versus comparable lithium ion cells designed for electric aviation applications. The two companies hope that they can apply the technology to Northvolt’s automotive and industrial product portfolio with the ambition to industrialize cells in 2025 that exceed 1,000 Wh/L, while meeting the full spectrum of automotive customer requirements, according to a statement.
“The Cuberg team has shown exceptional ability to develop world-class technology, proven results and an outstanding customer base in a lean and efficient organization,” said Peter Carlsson, CEO and Co-Founder, Northvolt in a statement. “Combining these strengths with the capabilities and technology of Northvolt allows us to make significant improvements in both performance and safety while driving down cost even further for next-generation battery cells. This is critical for accelerating the shift to fully electric vehicles and responding to the needs of the leading automotive companies within a relevant time frame.”