EU and Bill Gates make joint push for $1BN to accelerate clean tech

The European Commission has announced a partnership with Bill Gates’ sustainable energy funding vehicle with the goal of unlocking new investments for clean tech and sustainable energy projects totalling up to $1BN (€820M) over five years (2022-2026).

EU-based projects the partnership will focus on initially fall into four sectors which are being prioritized for their potential to deliver substantial reductions in regional emissions — namely:

  • Green hydrogen;
  • Sustainable aviation fuels;
  • Direct air capture;
  • Long-duration energy storage.

The goal is to scale technologies which are currently too expensive to compete with fossil fuel-based incumbent technologies.

The pair said they will continue to work on setting up the program over the coming months, with an eye on having something further to announce at the COP-26 conference in November.

It’s not the first time the Commission and Gates’ Breakthrough Energy organization have worked together on funding sustainable investment. But the scale of this latest partnership dwarfs the €100M fund the EU established back in 2019 with its venture investment funding arm.

Now the Commission has partnered with Breakthrough Energy Catalyst — a financing program within Gates’ organization that aims to accelerate the development and adoption of technologies needed to underpin a low-carbon economy — to mobilize up to 10x more than the earlier fund to build large-scale, commercial demonstration projects for clean technologies.

The overarching goal is of course to lower the costs and accelerate deployment of clean tech in order to deliver significant reductions in CO2 emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

The bloc is a major emitter of CO2 but has committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, under the European Green Deal.

Gates’ philosophy with his 2015-founded Breakthrough Energy vehicle, meanwhile, is that renewables alone won’t be enough to avert catastrophic climate change — and investments in a range of high risk but potentially high reward technologies is also needed.

But given the lengthy time-scales needed for a return on these types of investments public-private partnerships look like a key piece of the financing puzzle.

Commenting on the partnership announcement in a statement, EU president Ursula von der Leyen, said: “With our European Green Deal, Europe wants to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. And Europe has also the great opportunity to become the continent of climate innovation. For this, the European Commission will mobilise massive investments in new and transforming industries over the next decade. This is why I’m glad to join forces with Breakthrough Energy. Our partnership will support EU businesses and innovators to reap the benefits of emission-reducing technologies and create the jobs of tomorrow.”

In another supporting statement, Gates, founder of Breakthrough Energy, added: “Decarbonising the global economy is the greatest opportunity for innovation the world has ever seen. Europe will play a critical role, having demonstrated an early and consistent commitment to climate and longstanding leadership in science, engineering, and technology. Through this partnership, Europe will lay solid ground for a net-zero future in which clean technologies are reliable, available, and affordable for all.”

On the EU side, funding for the partnership is expected to come from the bloc’s flagship R&D fund, Horizon Europe, and also via the low-carbon-focused Innovation Fund within the framework of the InvestEU program.

Breakthrough Energy Catalyst will mobilise equivalent private capital and philanthropic funds to finance selected projects.

The partnership will also be open to national investments by EU Member States through InvestEU or at project level, the Commission noted. It added that a call for expressions of interest for potential InvestEU implementing partners is currently open until June 30 2021.

Renewable energy and clean(er) transport were also key focus areas for the massive €750BN ‘Next Generation EU’ coronavirus recovery fund put together by the Commission last year — which said it would borrow money on the financial markets through the issuance of bonds for post-pandemic recovery — with that money pegged to be channelled through EU programs between 2021 and 2024.

The bloc’s lawmakers have also suggested that digitization and AI technologies — which are other areas it’s pegged for major investment — will play a key supporting role in Europe’s green transition.

 

#bill-gates, #carbon-capture, #clean-tech, #energy-storage, #europe, #european-commission, #european-union, #green-hydrogen, #greentech, #low-carbon, #sustainable-aviation-fuel, #sustainable-energy, #ursula-von-der-leyen

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As concerns rise over forest carbon offsets, Pachama’s verified offset marketplace gets $15 million

Restoring and preserving the world’s forests has long been considered one of the easiest, lowest cost, and simplest ways to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

It’s by far the most popular method for corporations looking to take an easy first step on the long road to decarbonizing or offsetting their industrial operations. But in recent months the efficacy, validity, and reliability of a number of forest offsets have been called into question thanks to some blockbuster reporting from Bloomberg.

It’s against this uncertain backdrop that investors are coming in to shore up financing for Pachama, a company building a marketplace for forest carbon credits that it says is more transparent and verifiable thanks to its use of satellite imagery and machine learning technologies.

That pitch has brought in $15 million in new financing for the company, which co-founder and chief executive Diego Saez Gil said would be used for product development and the continued expansion of the company’s marketplace.

Launched only one year ago, Pachama has managed to land some impressive customers and backers. No less an authority on things environmental than Jeff Bezos (given how much of a negative impact Amazon operations have on the planet), gave the company a shoutout in his last letter to shareholders as Amazon’s outgoing chief executive. And the largest ecommerce company in Latin America, Mercado Libre, tapped the company to manage an $8 million offset project that’s part of a broader commitment to sustainability by the retailing giant.

Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund is an investor in the latest round, which was led by Bill Gates’ investment firm Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Other investors included Lowercarbon Capital (the climate-focused fund from über-successful angel investor, Chris Sacca), former Über executive Ryan Graves’ Saltwater, the MCJ Collective, and new backers like Tim O’Reilly’s OATV, Ram Fhiram, Joe gebbia, Marcos Galperin, NBA All-star Manu Ginobilli, James Beshara, Fabrice Grinda, Sahil Lavignia, and Tomi Pierucci.

That’s not even the full list of the company’s backers. What’s made Pachama so successful, and given the company the ability to attract top talent from companies like Google, Facebook, SapceX, Tesla, OpenAI, Microsoft, Impossible Foods and Orbital Insights, is the combination of its climate mission applied to the well-understood forest offset market, said Saez Gil.

“Restoring nature is one of the most important solutions to climate change. Forests, oceans and other ecosystems not only sequester enormous amounts of CO2from the atmosphere, but they also provide critical habitat for biodiversity and are sources of livelihood for communities worldwide. We are building the technology stack required to be able to drive funding to the restoration and conservation of these ecosystems with integrity, transparency and efficiency” said Diego Saez Gil, Co-founder and CEO at Pachama. “We feel honored and excited to have the support of such an incredible group of investors who believe in our mission and are demonstrating their willingness to support our growth for the long term”. 

Customers outside of Latin America are also clamoring for access to Pachama’s offset marketplace. Microsoft, Shopify, and Softbank are also among the company’s paying buyers.

It’s another reason that investors like Y Combinator, Social Capital, Tobi Lutke, Serena Williams, Aglaé Ventures (LVMH’s tech investment arm), Paul Graham, AirAngels, Global Founders, ThirdKind Ventures, Sweet Capital, Xplorer Capital, Scott Belsky, Tim Schumacher, Gustaf Alstromer, Facundo Garreton, and Terrence Rohan, were able to commit to backing the company’s nearly $24 million haul since its 2020 launch. 

“Pachama is working on unlocking the full potential of nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere,” said Carmichael Roberts from BEV, in a statement. “Their technology-based approach will have an enormous multiplier effect by using machine learning models for forest analysis to validate, monitor and measure impactful carbon neutrality initiatives. We are impressed by the progress that the team has made in a short period of time and look forward to working with them to scale their unique solution globally.” 

 

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What’s fueling hydrogen tech?

Hydrogen — the magical gas that Jules Verne predicted in 1874 would one day be used as fuel — has long struggled to get the attention it deserves. Discovered 400 years ago, its trajectory has seen it mostly mired in obscurity, punctuated by a few explosive moments, but never really fulfilling its potential.

Now in 2021, the world may be ready for hydrogen.

This gas is capturing the attention of governments and private sector players, fueled by new tech, global green energy legislation, post-pandemic “green recovery” schemes and the growing consensus that action must be taken to combat climate change.

Joan Ogden, professor emeritus at UC Davis, started researching hydrogen in 1985 — at the time considered “pretty fringy, crazy stuff”. She’s seen industries and governments inquisitively poke at hydrogen over the years, then move on. This new, more intense focus feels different, she said.

The funding activity in France is one illustration of what is happening throughout Europe and beyond. “Back in 2018, the hydrogen strategy in France was €100 million — a joke,” Sabrine Skiker, the EU policy manager for land transport at Hydrogen Europe, said in an interview with TechCrunch. “I mean, a joke compared to what we have now. Now we have a strategy that foresees €7.2 billion.”

The European Clean Hydrogen Alliance forecasts public and private sectors will invest €430 billion in hydrogen in the continent by 2030 in a massive push to meet emissions targets. Globally, the hydrogen generation industry is expected to grow to $201 billion by 2025 from $130 billion in 2020 at a CAGR of 9.2%, according to research from Markets and Markets published this year. This growth is expected to lead to advancements across multiple sectors including transportation, petroleum refining, steel manufacturing and fertilizer production. There are 228 large-scale hydrogen projects in various stages of development today — mostly in Europe, Asia and Australia.

Hydrogen breakdown

When the word “hydrogen” is uttered today, the average non-insider’s mind likely gravitates toward transportation — cars, buses, maybe trains or 18-wheelers, all powered by the gas.

But hydrogen is and does a lot of things, and a better understanding of its other roles — and challenges within those roles — is necessary to its success in transportation.

Hydrogen is already being heavily used in petroleum refineries and by manufacturers of steel, chemicals, ammonia fertilizers and biofuels. It’s also blended into natural gas for delivery through pipelines.

Hydrogen is not an energy source, but an energy carrier — one with exceptional long-duration energy storage capabilities, which makes it a complement to weather-dependent energies like solar and wind. Storage is critical to the growth of renewable energy, and greater use of hydrogen in renewable energy storage can drive the cost of both down.

However, 95% of hydrogen produced is derived from fossil fuels — mostly through a process called steam methane reforming (SMR). Little of it is produced via electrolysis, which uses electricity to split hydrogen and oxygen. Even less is created from renewable energy. Thus, not all hydrogen is created equal. Grey hydrogen is made from fossil fuels with emissions, and blue hydrogen is made from non-renewable sources whose carbon emissions are captured and sequestered or transformed. Green hydrogen is made from renewable energy. 

Where the action is

The global fuel cell vehicle market is hit or miss. There are about 10,000 FCVs in the U.S., with most of them in California — and sales are stalling. Only 937 FCVs were sold in the entire country in 2020, less than half the number sold in 2019. California has 44 hydrogen refueling stations and about as many in the works, but a lack of refueling infrastructure outside of the state isn’t helping American adoption.

#automotive, #bill-gates, #ec-food-climate-and-sustainability, #ec-mobility-hardware, #hydrogen, #hydrogen-fuel-cell, #sergey-brin, #tc, #transportation

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Temasek and BlackRock form Decarbonization Partners with $600 million to create a zero-emission economy

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.”

#articles, #bill-gates, #blackrock, #chief-executive-officer, #energy, #forbes, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #impossible-foods, #india, #morgan-stanley, #singapore, #tc, #temasek, #temasek-holdings

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How startups can go passwordless, thanks to zero trust

“There is no doubt that over time, people are going to rely less and less on passwords… they just don’t meet the challenge for anything you really want to secure,” said Bill Gates.

That was seventeen years ago. Although passwords have lost some of their charm, they have so far survived many attempts to kill them for good.

The perception of high cost and tricky implementations has stalled some smaller businesses from ditching passwords. But alternatives to passwords are affordable, easy to implement, and safer, show industry insights gathered by Extra Crunch. The move to zero trust systems is acting as a catalyst.

First, a primer. Zero trust focuses on who you are, not where you are. Zero trust models require companies to never trust any attempt to access its network, and must verify every single time — even from logins from inside the network. Passwordless tech is a key part of zero trust models.

There are several alternatives for passwords, including:

  • Biometric authentication: widely used as fingerprint readers in smartphones and physical verification points at buildings;
  • Social media authentication: where you use your Google or Facebook IDs to authenticate you with a third-party service;
  • Multi-factor authentication: where more layers of authentication are added using devices or services, such as token authentication using a trusted device.
  • Grid authentication cards: which provides access while using a combination PIN number.
  • Push notifications: which are usually sent to the user’s smartphones or encrypted devices.
  • Digital certificates: cryptographic files stored locally on the machine or device.

Wolt, a Finnish food-delivery site is just one example of going passwordless.

“The user registers by entering their email address or a phone number. Login to the app takes place by clicking the temporary link in the user’s inbox. The app on the user’s mobile phone places an authentication cookie, which enables the user to continue from that device without having to go through any further authentication,” said Erka Koivunen, CISO at F-Secure.

In this case, the service provider is in full control of the authentication, allowing it to set expiration time, revoke service, and detect fraud. The service provider does not need to count on the user’s commitment to keep track of their passwords.

Passwordless tech is not inherently costly but may take some adjustment, explained Ryan Weeks, CISO at managed service provider Datto.

“It is not necessarily costly in terms of monetary investment, because there are a lot of easily accessible open-source alternatives for multi factor authentication that don’t require any sort of investment,” said Weeks. But some companies believe passwordless tech may cause friction to their employees’ productivity.

Koivunen also dismissed that zero trust models are unaffordable for startups.

“Zero trust recognises the futility of forcing users to authenticate themselves by presenting something they should keep as secret. Instead, it prefers to establish the user’s identity using some context-aware method,” he said.

Zero trust goes further than authenticating users; it also includes the device and the user.

“From a zero trust perspective, there is an idea that there is a continuous authentication or revalidation of trust occurring. Therefore, passwordless in a zero trust model is potentially easier for the user and more secure as the combination of the ‘something you have’ and ‘something you are’ factors are more difficult to attack,” said Datto’s Weeks.

Larger companies, like Microsoft and Google, already offer zero trust technologies. But investors are also eyeing smaller companies that offer zero trust for growing companies.

Axis Security, a zero trust provider that allows remote employees to access their company’s network, raised $32 million last year. Beyond Identity raised $75 million in funding in December. And, Israel identity validation startup Identiq raised $47 million in Series A funding in March.

#access-control, #authentication, #bill-gates, #computer-security, #cryptography, #f-secure, #facebook, #google, #identiq, #israel, #microsoft, #multi-factor-authentication, #password, #security, #smartphones, #startups

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Bill Gates wants Western countries to eat “synthetic meat”; Meatable has raised $47 million to make it

In a recent interview discussing Bill Gates’ recent book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster“, the Microsoft and Breakthrough Energy founder (and the world’s third wealthiest man) advocated for citizens of the richest countries in the world to switch to diets consisting entirely of what he called synthetic meat in an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Gates’ call is being met by startups and public companies hailing from everywhere from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv, London to Los Angeles, and Berkeley to… um… Chicago.

Indeed, two of the best funded companies in the lab-grown meat market hail from The Netherlands, where Mosa Meat is being challenged by a newer upstart, Meatable, which just announced $47 million in new financing.

The company aims to have its first product approved by European regulators by 2023 and notching commercial sales by 2025.

Meatable has a long road ahead of it, because, as Gates acknowledged in his interview with MIT Technology Review (ed. note: I’m available for a call, too, Bill), “the people like Memphis Meats who do it at a cellular level—I don’t know that that will ever be economical.”

Beyond the economics, there’s also the open question of whether consumers will be willing to make the switch to lab grown meat. Some companies, like the San Francisco-based Just Foods and Tel Aviv’s Supermeat are already selling chicken patties and nuggets made from cultured cells at select restaurants.

These products don’t get at the full potential for cellular technology according to Daan Luining, Meatable’s chief technology officer. “We have seen the nugget and the chicken burger, but we’re working on whole muscle tissue,” Luining said.

The sheer number of entrants in the category — and the capital they’ve raised — points to the opportunity for several winners if companies can walk the tightrope balancing cost at scale and quality replacements for free range food.

“The mission of the company is to be a global leader in providing proteins for the planet. Pork and beef and regularly eaten cuts have on environmental and land management,” Luining said. “The technology that we are using allows us to go into different species. First we’re focused on the animals that have the biggest impact on climate change and planetary health.”

For Meatable right now, price remains an issue. The company is currently producing meat at roughly $10,000 per pound, but, unlike its competitors, the company said it is producing whole meat. That’s including the fat and connective tissue that makes meat… well… meat.

Now with 35 employees and new financing, the company is trying to shift from research and development into a food production company. Strategic investors like DSM, one of the largest food biotech companies in Europe should help. So should angel investors like Dr. Jeffrey Leiden, the executive chairman of Vertex Pharmaceuticals; and Dr. Rick Klausner, the former executive director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a founder of Juno Therapeutics, GRAIL, and Mindstrong Health, after leaving Illumina where he served as chief medical officer.

Institutional investors in the company’s latest round include Google Ventures founder Bill Maris’ new fund, Section 32,  and existing investors like: BlueYard Capital, Agronomics, Humboldt, and Taavet Hinrikus. 

The company’s first commercial offering will likely be a lab-grown pork product, but with expanded facilities in Delft, the location of one of the top universities in The Netherlands, a beef product may not be far behind.

“[Meatable has] a great team and game-changing technology that can address the challenges around the global food insecurity issues our planet is facing,” said Klausner. “They have all the right ingredients to become the leading choice for sustainably and efficiently produced meat.”


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Mainspring Energy launches its flexible fuel generator with a $150 million NextEra Energy contract

Mainspring Energy, the developer of a new generator technology that use fuels like biogas and hydrogen, has unveiled its Mainspring Linear Generator, with a $150 million contract with NextEra Energy Resources.

The company’s technology represents a significant step in the transition to a zero-carbon power grid given its ability to shift between traditional natural gas sources and alternative fuel sources like biogas and hydrogen.

So far, the company’s generators are under contract with a national supermarket chain that’s using the company’s tech at 30 of its grocery stores. The company began shipping pilot units in June and will begin commerical statements in mid-2021 according to a statement.

The company’s tech was initially developed at a thermodynamics lab in Stanford University where co-founders Shannon Miller, Matt Svrcek and Adam Simpson were working. Its design enables the rollout of generators that can replace traditional diesel and be used to improve the resilience of industrial sites against natural disasters.

Their linear generator, which the company said differs from engines, microturbines, and fuel cells, is a device that converts motion along a straight line into electricity using heat or chemical energy. In Mainspring’s case, a low temperature reaction of air and fuel drives magnets through copper coils to produce electricity.

It’s the combination of the design and control software developed by the company that allows its equipment to produce high-efficiency, dispatchable power, without the nitrogen oxide emissions associated with other generators, the company said.

The technology caught the eye of investors like Bill Gates and Vinod Khosla’s eponymous investment firm Khosla Ventures, along with some oil and gas companies like Equinor and utilities like American Electric Power. To date, Mainspring, which used to go by the name Etagen, has raised well over $80 million in financing.

In its approach to energy generation without the need for more complex mechanical systems or catalysts, Mainspring is akin to other startups like the Robert Downey Jr. and Bill Gates-backed Turntide Technologies that are trying to provide more elegant, software enabled solutions to motors and generator technologies.

Mainspring’s generators achieve their low capital and maintenance costs through use of standard materials, only two moving parts, and an innovative air bearing system that eliminates the need for oil, the company said. It operates without the use of complex mechanical systems or expensive catalysts.

The company also touted its ability to spin up and spin down in response to conditions on the energy grid, which means that it can pair well with solar power or battery storage.

“One of our customers’ key drivers, in addition to carbon savings, is to save cost from their current grid prices,” said Miller, in a statement. “Our products can provide substantial savings to commercial customers on their electricity costs with a typical Energy Services Agreement. In this energy-as-a-service scenario, customers pay nothing up front and realize annual savings starting in the first year.”

Mainspring’s first commercial product is designed for a rated output of 250 kW and packaged in a standard 8′ x 20′ container, according to a statement. Those packages integrate two of the company’s125 kW linear generator cores, working in tandem, and combines UL-listed grid-tie inverters and auxiliaries into a turn-key package, the company said. Future configurations will provide higher power output to serve industrial businesses, data centers, hospitals, smart cities, and utility grid-level applications.

“Many commercial and industrial customers as well as utilities want clean, reliable power generation, with the capability to switch to 100% renewable fuels like biogas and hydrogen as they become available,” said NextEra Energy Resources President and CEO John Ketchum, in a statement. “Mainspring is able to integrate clean onsite generation with both renewables and the grid and we’re pleased to support bringing this innovative product to market.” 

#alternative-energy, #american-electric-power, #articles, #bill-gates, #biogas, #electrical-grid, #electricity, #energy, #energy-storage, #fuel-cells, #khosla-ventures, #oil, #oil-and-gas, #renewable-energy, #solar-power, #stanford-university, #tc, #turntide-technologies, #vinod-khosla

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Looking to decarbonize the metal industry, Bill Gates-backed Boston Metal raises $50 million

Steel production accounts for roughly 8 percent of the emissions that contribute to global climate change. It is one of the industries that sits at the foundation of the modern economy and is one of the most resistant to decarbonization.

As nations around the world race to reduce their environmental footprint and embrace more sustainable methods of production, finding a way to remove carbon from the metals business will be one of the most important contributions to that effort.

One startup that’s developing a new technology to address the issue is Boston Metal. Previously backed by the Bill Gates financed Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, the new company has just raised roughly $50 million of an approximately $60 million financing round to expand its operations, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The global steel industry may find approximately 14 percent of its potential value at risk if the business can’t reduce its environmental impact, according to studies cited by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

Boston Metal, which previously raised $20 million back in 2019, uses a process called molten oxide electrolysis (“MOE”) to make steel alloys — and eventually emissions-free steel. The first close of the funding actually came in December 2018 — two years before the most recent financing round, according to chief executive Tadeu Carneiro, the company’s chief executive.

Over the years since the company raised its last round, Boston Metal has grown from 8 employees to a staff that now numbers close to 50. The Woburn, Mass.-based company has also been able to continuously operate its three pilot lines producing metal alloys for over a month at a time.

And while the steel program remains the ultimate goal, the company is quickly approaching commercialization with its alloy program, because it isn’t as reliant on traditional infrastructure and sunk costs according to Carneiro.

Boston Metal’s technology radically reimagines an industry whose technology hasn’t changed all that much since the dawn of the Iron Age in 1200 BCE, Carneiro said.

Ultimately the goal is to serve as a technology developer licensing its technology and selling components to steel manufacturers or engineering companies who will ultimate make the steel.

For Boston Metal, the next steps on the product roadmap are clear. The company wil look to have a semi-industrial cell line operating in Woburn, Mass. by the end of 2022, and by 2024 or 2025 hopes to have its first demonstration plant up and running. “At that point we will be able to commercialize the technology,” Carneiro said.

The company’s previous investors include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Prelude Ventures, and the MIT-backed “hard-tech” investment firm, The Engine. All of them came back to invest in the latest infusion of cash into the company along with Devonshire Investors, the private investment firm affiliated with FMR, the parent company of financial services giant, Fidelity, which co-led the deal alongside Piva Capital and another, undisclosed investor.

As a result of its investment, Shyam Kamadolli will take a seat on the company’s board, according to the filing with the SEC.

MOE takes metals in their raw oxide form and transforms them into molten metal products. Invented at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and based on research from MIT Professor Donald Sadoway, Boston Metal makes molten oxides that are tailored for a specific feedstock and product. Electrons are used to melt the soup and selectively reduce the target oxide. The purified metal pools at the bottom of a cell and is tapped by drilling into the cell using a process adapted from a blast furnace. The tap hole is plugged and the process then continues.

One of the benefits of the technology, according to the company, is its scalability. As producers need to make more alloys, they can increase production capacity.

“Molten oxide electrolysis is a platform technology that can produce a wide array of metals and alloys, but our first industrial deployments will target the ferroalloys on the path to our ultimate goal of steel,” said Carneiro, the company’s chief executive, in a statement announcing the company’s $20 million financing back in 2019. “Steel is and will remain one of the staples of modern society, but the production of steel today produces over two gigatons of CO2. The same fundamental method for producing steel has been used for millennia, but Boston Metal is breaking that paradigm by replacing coal with electrons.”

No less a tech luminary than Bill Gates himself underlined the importance of the decarbonization of the metal business.

Boston Metal is working on a way to make steel using electricity instead of coal, and to make it just as strong and cheap,” Gates wrote in his blog, GatesNotes. Although Gates did have a caveat. “Of course, electrification only helps reduce emissions if it uses clean power, which is another reason why it’s so important to get zero-carbon electricity,” he wrote.

#bill-gates, #boston-metal, #breakthrough-energy-ventures, #electricity, #massachusetts-institute-of-technology, #mckinsey-co, #metal, #recent-funding, #securities-and-exchange-commission, #startups, #steel, #tc

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Bill Gates just released a plan for US leadership on climate change, including $35B in funding

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and one of the world’s richest men and most prolific philanthropists, has just released a broad new plan on how the U.S. could take the lead in the fight against climate change.

“[We] need to revolutionize the world’s physical economy—and that will take, among other things, a dramatic infusion of ingenuity, funding, and focus from the federal government. No one else has the resources to drive the research we need,” Gates writes. 

With a new Biden administration set to take over the reins of government, the timing for Gates’ suggestions couldn’t be better. The outgoing Trump Administration was singularly opposed to combating climate change, rolling back regulations, withdrawing from international agreements on climate change mitigation and sweeping aside science in favor of specious arguments from the industries that had the most to lose from a recognition of the threats of anthropogenic climate change.

Gates calls for a dramatic $25 billion boost in spending that would bring clean energy research spending to $35 billion a year (in line with medical spending from the government). Gates notes that this could lead to the creation of more than 370,000 jobs while boosting a clean-energy agenda.

Gates noted that Americans spend more on gasoline in a single month than the government spends on climate-related research.

Beyond simply spending more money on research, the Microsoft-made billionaire called for the creation of a network of “National Institutes of Energy Innovation.”

“This is the most important thing the U.S. can do to lead the world in innovations that will solve climate change,” Gates wrote.

Modeled on the National Institutes of Health, the largest financier for biomedical research in the world, Gates called for the Energy Innovation Institutes to comprise separate institutions focusing on specific areas. One would be an Institute of Transportation Decarbonization while others could focus on energy storage, renewables or carbon capture and management, Gates wrote.

Gates also suggested that each organization should be tasked with the commercialization for innovations that come out of the lab. “It’s not enough to develop a new way to store electricity that works in the lab — to have any imapact, it has to be practical and affordable in real-world settings. The best way to ensure that is to encourage scientists to start their research with an end-use in mind.”

Finally, Gates called for the institutes to be located around the country — just like the Department of Energy or the NASA have laboratories and research facilities spread around the country.

In addition to the research facilities and spending boosts, Gates called for a program of tax incentives and energy standards that could make markets for more clean-energy tools.

There are already pieces of legislation making their way through Congress like the the Clean Energy Innovation and Jobs Act and the American Energy Innovation Act that could help the federal government move toward a more nimble and focused setup, Gates acknowledged. But both of these laws have stalled. 

Gates’ climate plan comes as more than 40 major U.S. companies penned an open letter to the incoming Biden Administration to do more to address climate change.

“Our communities and our economy are enduring not only a devastating pandemic but also the rising costs of climate change,” the companies wrote. “Record wildfires, flooding, hurricanes and other extreme weather are upending lives and livelihoods. And science makes clear that future generations will face far greater environmental, economic and health impacts unless we act now.”

And yesterday, the medical journal Lancet released a sweeping survey documenting the health impacts associated with environmental catastrophes, pollution and climate change.

Heat waves, air pollution and extreme weather increasingly damage human health, the report said. As National Public Radio reported, the report makes an explicit connection between death, disease and burning fossil fuels.

“Many carbon-intensive practices and policies lead to poor air quality, poor food quality, and poor housing quality, which disproportionately harm the health of disadvantaged populations,” the authors of The Lancet analysis wrote.

Even in a divided government, there’s much the Biden administration can do to make a significant dent in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

As TechCrunch reported, a large portion of any infrastructure-related stimulus could contain significant spending on climate change mitigation-related technologies.

“A lot of the really consequential climate-related stuff that’s going to come out in the [near term] … won’t actually be related to renewables,” an advisor to the President-elect said.

However, if the Democrats manage to wrest control of the Senate from Republican leadership in the aftermath of the January 2021 runoff elections in Georgia, then the possibility of a more muscular climate agenda — one that could incorporate Gates’ suggestions — could be on the table.

 

 

#bill-gates, #climate-change, #climate-tech, #tc

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Motif Foodworks preps commercial production for its first ingredient, improving the flavor of beef substitutes

Motif Foodworks, the Ginkgo Bioworks spinout focused on developing new plant-based flavorings and food ingredients, is readying commercial scale production of its first product an ingredient to improve the flavor of beef substitutes.

The expansion of Motif’s manufacturing capacity presages the commercial availability of its new flavoring, which should be on folded into consumer products by the fourth quarter of 2021, according to Motif chief executive Jonathan McIntyre.

“We’re making the product at pilot scale and we’re happy with the pilotization and now we’re scaling up to do large scales in formula development and characterization and talking to contract manufacturers about getting the product put in,” McIntyre said.

There’s a second product under development that’s focused on nutritional attributes for applications in sports nutrition and nutritional supplements, McIntyre said.

In all, Motif has nine ingredients under development with academic partners that will soon be coming to market.

“The first wave of those [ingredients] is targeted at plant-based meats,” McIntyre said. “Ground beef is the first one and the thing that you usually validate in.”

As the industry matures, there’s a growing sense among the lab grown meat and plant-based meat substitute manufacturers that the process isn’t as simple as just coming up with novel proteins to replicate the bloody taste of meats (like plant-based heme). Instead there’re going to be an array of ingredients and proteins that need to be identified and developed to replicate the fibrous textures and fats that make meat taste like meat.

It’s not just the muscle meat, what is critical is getting the flavor attributes and the other tissue attributes. When you get a steak and you see the marbleizing. That marbleizing creates a relationship between the protein fibers and the fat… has a lot to do with taste… that does not occur in a plant based product. Even when you cook a plant based burger next to a beef burger you see the fat behavior differently.”

So Motif is working on new ways to make that connective tissue using plant-based substitutes. It’s part of the company’s mission to be the plant-based ingredient company that can replace the chemicals and animal byproducts currently used to add texture and flavor to a whole range of food products.

“The technology is a plant-based set of ingredients that have been transformed to have properties that have connective tissue,” McIntyre said. “We don’t lock in to just one technology. We lock into what is the issue that is going to taste better. We have been building as strong as a food science, food application, culinology approach as we have protein science. Those ingredients are in the late analysis stage.. Where we’ll be making tens of kilos of material and getting those in front of consumers quickly.”

Looking ahead McIntyre said that Motif Foodworks is looking to create what he called new “food forms”. The idea, McIntyre said is to start making foods that have their own unique flavor profiles and ingredients that won’t necessarily need to be compared to an animal substitute.

“If you’re figuring out a way to make the plant-based option taste better, can you do other food forms that may not suffer by comparison to a burger?” McIntry said. “We want to show the plant-based food world it’s not about replacements.”

This is the next step in the evolution of a company that’s not yet two years old.

Motif spun out of Ginkgo Bioworks in February 2019 with a $90 million investment from Fonterra, the New Zealand-based multinational dairy company; the global food processing and trading firm Louis Dreyfus Co.; and Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the climate focused investment fund financed by a global gaggle of billionaires including Marc Benioff, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Reid Hoffman, John Doerr, Vinod Khosla, Jack Ma, Neil Shen, Masayoshi Son, and Meg Whitman.

Motif isn’t just focused on making new ingredients and alternatives to traditional meat-based products. The company is also looking at ways to make existing food healthier with novel ingredients.

 

“That fortification game has been played a lot. We need to figure out how to get more servings of fruits and vegetables to consumers,” said McIntyre. “It could be that our list of ingredients could be more expansive to include not just plant protein.. It might be having two servings of vegetables combined with all of that in a great new food.”

#bill-gates, #breakthrough-energy-ventures, #chemicals, #consumer-products, #food, #food-science, #jack-ma, #jeff-bezos, #john-doerr, #marc-benioff, #masayoshi-son, #meg-whitman, #michael-bloomberg, #motif, #new-zealand, #reid-hoffman, #richard-branson, #tc, #vinod-khosla

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As the Western US burns, a forest carbon capture monitoring service nabs cash from Amazon & Bill Gates backed fund

Pachama, the forest carbon sequestration monitoring service that tracks how much carbon dioxide is actually captured in forestry offset projects, has raised $5 million in fresh funding from a clutch of high profile investors including Amazon, Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

The investment is one of several deals that Amazon has announced today through its Climate Pledge Fund. Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the firm backed by Bill Gates and other billionaires, led the round, which brings Pachama’s total haul to $9 million so it can scale its forest restoration and conservation emissions reduction monitoring service, the company said.

With the Western United States continuing to burn from several fires that cover acres of drought-impacted forests and deforestation continuing to be a problem around the world, Pachama’s solution couldn’t be more timely. The company’s remote verification and monitoring service using satellite imagery and artificial intelligence measures carbon captured by forests.

It also couldn’t be more personal. Pachama’s founder, Diego Saez-Gil, lost his own home in the wildfires that tore through California earlier this year.

“We will need to restore hundreds of thousands of acres of forests and carbon credits can be the funding mechanism,” Saez-Gil wrote in a direct message.

Pachama joins two other companies that are jointly financed by Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund.

Other big corporate investors also backed Pachama. Groupe Arnault’s investment arm, Aglaé Ventures, and Airbnb’s alumni fund, AirAngels invested as did a number of prominent family offices and early stage funds. Sweet Capital, the fund investing the personal wealth of gaming company King.com’s management team; Serena Ventures (the investment vehicle for tennis superstar Serena Williams) and Chris Sacca’s Lowercarbon Capital fund also invested in the round along with Third Kind Ventures and Xplorer Ventures.

“There is growing demand from businesses with ESG commitments looking for ways to become carbon neutral, and afforestation is one of the most attractive carbon removal options ready today at scale,” said Carmichael Roberts, of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, in a statement. “By leveraging technology to create new levels of measurement, monitoring, and verification of carbon removal—while also onboarding new carbon removal projects seamlessly—Pachama makes it easier for any company to become carbon neutral. With its advanced enterprise tools and resources, the company has enormous potential to accelerate carbon neutrality initiatives for businesses through afforestation.”

#airbnb, #amazon, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #bill-gates, #breakthrough-energy-ventures, #climate-pledge-fund, #deforestation, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #king-com, #nature, #renewable-energy, #satellite-imagery, #serena-ventures, #tc, #united-states

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Alternative protein companies have raised a whopping $1.5 billion through July of this year

Companies like Perfect Day, Impossible Foods, and a host of other startups that are developing replacements for animal farmed goods used in food, clothes, cosmetics, and chemicals have raised a whopping $1.5 billion through the first half of the year.

That’s according to a new report from The Good Food Institute which is tracking the growth of investments into sustainable foods. The report identified fermentation technologies as a rising third pillar of foundational technologies on which new and established food brands are making products that swap out animal products for other protein sources.

Fermentation technologies, which use microbes like microalgae and mycoprotein, can produce biomass, improve plant proteins and create new functional ingredients, and companies developing and deploying these technologies have raised $435 million in funding through the end of July 2020. It’s an indication of how competitive the market is for food technologies, representing an increase of nearly 60 percent over the $274 million invested in all of 2019, according to GFI.

“Fermentation is powering a new wave of alternative protein products with huge potential for improving flavor, sustainability, and production efficiency. Investors and innovators are recognizing this market potential, leading to a surge of activity in fermentation as an enabling platform for the alternative protein industry as a whole,” said GFI Associate Director of Science and Technology Liz Specht, in a statement. “And this is just the beginning: The opportunity landscape for technology development is completely untapped in this area. Many alternative protein products of the future will harness the plethora of protein production methods now available, with the option of leveraging combinations of proteins derived from plants, animal cell culture, and microbial fermentation.”

Portait of the head of an adult black and white cow, gentle look, pink nose, in front of a blue sky. Image Credit: Getty Images

As the $1.5. billion figure indicates, big-time investors are taking notice. Funds like the Bill Gates -backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Temasek, Horizons Ventures, CPP Investment Board, Louis Dreyfus Co., Bunge Ventures, Kellogg, ADM Capital, Danone, Kraft Heinz, Mars, and Tyson Foods’ investment arm have all backed companies in the industry.

In all, fermentation-focused startup companies raised 3.5 times more capital than cultivated meat companies worldwide and almost 60 percent as much as U.S. plant-based meat, egg, and dairy companies, according to the GFI. 

As the industry has grown up, since Quorn became the first company to use fermentation-derived proteins back in 1985, big industrial companies have started to take notice.

While there are at least 44 startups focused on alternative proteins worldwide, according to the GFI report, large publicly traded companies like Novozymes, DuPont, and DSM are also developing product lines for the alternative protein business.

“Given the breadth of applications, we believe that fermentation could solve many current challenges faced by alternative proteins. On the one hand, biomass fermentation can create nutritious, clean protein in a highly efficient and low-cost way. On the other hand, the potential for precision fermentation to produce value-added, highly functional, and nutritious ingredients is very exciting and could revolutionize the plant-based category,” said Rosie Wardle, an investor with the CPT Capital, which specializes in backing startups developing novel protein production technologies. “From an investment perspective, we are very excited about the white space opportunities in this category, and we are actively looking to increase our investments in the space. This new report from GFI is the first comprehensive overview of fermentation for alternative protein applications and should be required reading for everyone who wants to create a more efficient and less harmful global food system.”

#articles, #bill-gates, #biotechnology, #breakthrough-energy-ventures, #cellular-agriculture, #chemicals, #cultured-meat, #danone, #dupont, #food, #food-and-drink, #head, #horizons-ventures, #impossible-foods, #mars, #meat, #meat-substitutes, #tc, #technology-development, #temasek, #tyson-foods, #united-states

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Revisiting the spectacular failure that was the Bill Gates deposition

Revisiting the spectacular failure that was the Bill Gates deposition

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

When Microsoft backed a key motion filed two weeks ago in Epic Games’ antitrust lawsuit against Apple, it raised a few eyebrows.

Two decades ago, the US Justice Department, 18 states, and the District of Columbia sued Microsoft on allegations the Windows operating system represented a monopoly that the company was wielding to prop up its then fledgling Internet Explorer browser, in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. The suit expressly claimed that Microsoft was using Windows to freeze out the Netscape browser and, more tacitly, Sun Microsystems’ cross-platform Java platform as well.

The software maker vehemently bristled at the allegations and claimed that the action represented a government intrusion brought at the behest of companies that couldn’t compete on the merits. Microsoft warned that the action would set a dangerous precedent that could stifle innovation for years to come.

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#antitrust, #apple, #bill-gates, #biz-it, #deposition, #epic-games, #features, #policy

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Kymeta raises $85.2 million led by Bill Gates to speed growth of its satellite-cellular antenna tech

Global communications startup Kymeta has raised a new $85.2 million funding round, led by Bill Gates . The Redmond-based company has developed a new type of smart, powered flat panel antenna that can be used to to vastly improve satellite and cellular connection signal strength.

Kymeta’s new funding is intended to help it continue with new product development efforts, and also to speed the commercialization of its technology. Since its debut in 2015, Kymeta has productized its technology and added a significant number of customers, particularly in industries like defense, mobility and public safety.

The company’s tech is electronically steered and requires no moving parts to operate, which is a huge advantage over traditional satellite reception dishes – particularly in applications like on aircraft, on ships and in other transportation methods where having a satellite dish attached to the outside of your vehicle doesn’t make any sense or is impossible.

Kymeta’s tech also has significant potential advantages when it comes to working with the new generation of low Earth orbit communications satellite constellations the are coming online today and in the near future. Because of the dynamic nature of its flat panel antennas, it can track and adjust position when maintaining connection with these satellites as they move across the sky – a task that requires more flexibility when compared to maintaining connections with the large, fixed-position geostationary communications satellites that form the backbone of legacy satellites internet networks.

#aerospace, #bill-gates, #broadband, #defense, #kymeta, #mobility, #public-safety, #recent-funding, #redmond, #satellite-constellation, #satellite-dish, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #startups, #tc, #telecommunications

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Bill Gates on Covid-19: Most tests are

Despite trillions of dollars of economic damage, Bill Gates is optimistic that a strong pipeline of therapies and vaccines will carry the US through the pandemic.

Enlarge / Despite trillions of dollars of economic damage, Bill Gates is optimistic that a strong pipeline of therapies and vaccines will carry the US through the pandemic. (credit: Jeff Pachoud | Getty Images)

For 20 years Bill Gates has been easing out of the roles that made him rich and famous—CEO, chief software architect, and chair of Microsoft—and devoting his brain power and passion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, abandoning earnings calls and antitrust hearings for the metrics of disease eradication and carbon reduction. This year, after he left the Microsoft board, one would have thought he would have relished shedding the spotlight directed at the four CEOs of big tech companies called before Congress.

But as with many of us, 2020 had different plans for Gates. An early Cassandra who warnedof our lack of preparedness for a global pandemic, he became one of the most credible figures as his foundation made huge investments in vaccines, treatments, and testing. He also became a target of the plague of misinformation afoot in the land, as logorrheic critics accused him of planning to inject microchips in vaccine recipients. (Fact check: false. In case you were wondering.)

My first interview with Gates was in 1983, and I’ve long lost count of how many times I’ve spoken to him since. He’s yelled at me (more in the earlier years) and made me laugh (more in the latter years). But I’ve never looked forward to speaking to him more than in our year of Covid. We connected on Wednesday, remotely of course. In discussing our country’s failed responses, his issues with his friend Mark Zuckerberg’s social networks, and the innovations that might help us out of this mess, Gates did not disappoint. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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#bill-gates, #covid-19, #gates-foundation, #microsoft, #policy, #science

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Twitter warns investors of possible fine from FTC consent order probe

Twitter has disclosed it’s facing a potential fine of more than a hundred million dollars as a result of a probe by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which believes the company violated a 2011 consent order by using data provided by users for a security purpose to target them with ads.

In an SEC filing, reported on earlier by the New York Times, Twitter revealed it received the draft complaint from the FTC late last month. The activity the regulator is complaining about is alleged to have taken place between 2013 and 2019.

Last October the social media firm publicly disclosed it had used phone numbers and email addresses provided by users to set up two-factor authentication to bolster the security of their accounts in order to serve targeted ads — blaming the SNAFU on a tailored audiences program, which allows companies to target ads against their own marketing lists.

Twitter found that when advertisers uploaded their own marketing lists (of emails and/or phone numbers) it matched users to data they had submitted purely to set up two-factor authentication on their Twitter account.

“The allegations relate to the Company’s use of phone number and/or email address data provided for safety and security purposes for targeted advertising during periods between 2013 and 2019,” Twitter writes in the SEC filing. “The Company estimates that the range of probable loss in this matter is $150.0 million to $250.0 million and has recorded an accrual of $150.0 million.”

“The matter remains unresolved, and there can be no assurance as to the timing or the terms of any final outcome,” it adds.

We’ve reached out to Twitter with questions. Update: A company spokeswoman said it had nothing to add outside this statement:

Following the announcement of our Q2 financial results, we received a draft complaint from the FTC alleging violations of our 2011 consent order. Following standard accounting rules we included an estimated range for settlement in our 10Q filed on August 3.

The company has had a torrid few weeks on the security front, suffering a major security incident last month after hackers gained access to its internal account management tools, enabling them to access accounts of scores of verified Twitter users, including Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Joe Biden, and use them to send cryptocurrency scam tweets. Police have since charged three people with the hack, including a 17-year-old Florida teen.

In June Twitter also disclosed a security lapse may have exposed some business customers’ information. While it was forced to report another crop of security incidents last year — including after a researcher identifying a bug that allowed him to discover phone numbers associated with millions of Twitter accounts.

Twitter also admitted it gave account location data to one of its partners, even if the user had opted-out of having their data shared; and inadvertently gave its ad partners more data than it should have.

Additionally, the company is now at the front of a long queue of tech giants pending enforcement in Europe, related to major GDPR complaints — where regional fines for data violations can scale to 4% of a company’s global annual turnover. Twitter’s lead data protection regulator, Ireland’s DPC, submitted a draft decision related to a probe of one of its security breaches to the bloc’s other data agencies in May — with a final decision slated as likely this summer.

The decision relates to an investigation the regulator instigated following yet another major security fail by Twitter in 2018 — when it revealed a bug had resulted in some passwords being stored in plain text.

As we reported at the time it’s pretty unusual for a company of such size to make such a basic security mistake. But Twitter has a very long history of failing to protect users’ data — with additional hacking incidents all the way back in 2009 leading to the 2011 FTC consent order.

Under the terms of that settlement Twitter was barred for 20 years from misleading consumers about the safety of their data in order to resolve FTC charges that it had “deceived consumers and put their privacy at risk by failing to safeguard their personal information”.

It also agreed to establish and maintain “a comprehensive information security program”, with independent auditor assessments taking place every other year for 10 years.

Given the terms of that order a fine does indeed look inevitable. However the wider failing here is that of US regulators — which, for over a decade, have failed to grapple with the exploitative, surveillance-based business models that have led to breaches and security lapses by a number of data-mining adtech giants, not just Twitter.

#advertising-tech, #bill-gates, #computer-security, #data-breach, #elon-musk, #europe, #federal-trade-commission, #florida, #ireland, #joe-biden, #privacy, #security, #social, #social-media, #twitter, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states

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Technology and ethics in the coronavirus economy

The last two decades have ushered in significant change and transformation. I believe the 2020s will be dispositive in redefining the pillars of our economy, and COVID-19 magnifies this greatly. As of this writing there are 3,611,394 confirmed cases, and the U.S. accounts for 33% of those. We are now dealing with a 4.8% Q1 GDP contraction and expectations for Q2’s shrinking runs into the 25% range, more than 30 million unemployed and a $7 trillion federal intervention — in a span of six weeks.

Eric Schmidt recently predicted that the coronavirus pandemic is strengthening big tech. It is hard to disagree with him; it almost feels obvious. Big tech and other digital companies are net beneficiaries of new habits and behaviors. Some of this shift will be permanent, and well-capitalized tech companies are likely to expand their power by grabbing talent and buying companies for their IP — then dissolving them.

With power comes political backlash and public wariness. One flavor of that counter pressure is already in full effect. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have proposed new legislation that seeks to curtail acquisition activity via the Pandemic Anti-Monopoly Act. I’ll reserve judgment on their effort, but the theme is familiar: the strong get stronger and the weak get weaker, which further widens gaps and calcifies disparity.

The COVID-19 shock is highlighting a chasm that has evolved over decades. The digital divide, lack of capital access, sporadic paths to education and microscopic levels of wealth accumulation in communities of color and the implicit/explicit bias against non-coastal “elites” are some contributing factors.

During the 2008 crisis, the combined value of the five biggest companies — ExxonMobil, General Electric, Microsoft, AT&T and Procter & Gamble — was $1.6 trillion. Microsoft is worth almost that today — all by itself. No need to talk about FAANG, because since the pandemic’s economic halt, Peloton downloads went up five-fold in a month, Zoom grew to 200 million users from 10 million in December and Instacart users grew six times in that period.

Roelof Botha of Sequoia Capital was recently quoted as saying, “Like the killing off of the dinosaurs, this reorders who gets to survive in the new era. It is the shock that accelerates the future that Silicon Valley has been building.” It is hard to argue with his views.

To be clear, I am a beneficiary of and a big believer in technology. Throughout my career I have managed it, invested in it and made policy on it. For example, one of the multi-billion-dollar programs I oversaw, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, has invested more than $50 billion in tens of thousands of startups, which have collectively issued 70,000 patents and raised hundreds of billions of capital — and 700 of them have gone public, including tech titans such as Qualcomm, Biogen and Symantec.

My point: I think about technology a lot, and, lately, about its repercussions. There is a massive shift afoot where more power and influence will be consolidated by these remarkable companies and their technology. Besides the economic consequences of the strong crushing the weak, there are serious ethical issues to consider as a society. Chamath Palihapitiya has been pretty vocal about the moral hazard of what is essentially a massive transfer of wealth and income. On one side you have mismanaged and/or myopic corporations and on the other, the counterparty is the American people and the money we need to print to bankroll the lifeline. I am not talking about Main Street here, by the way.

It is not hard to imagine a world in which tech alone reigns supreme. The ethical dilemmas of this are vast. A recent documentary, “Do You Trust this Computer,” put a spotlight on a frantic Elon Musk ringing the alarm bell on machines’ potential to destroy humanity. Stephen Hawking argued that while artificial intelligence could provide society with outsized benefits, it also has the potential to spiral out of control and end the human race. Bill Gates has been less fatalistic, but is also in the camp of those concerned with synthetic intelligence. In an interesting parallel, Bill has for years been very vocal on the risks pandemics pose and our lack of preparedness for them — indeed.

These three men have had a big impact on the world with and because of technology. Their deep concern is rooted in the fact that once the genie is out of the bottle, it will make and grant wishes to itself without regard to humanity. But, is this doomsday thinking? I don’t know. What I do know is that I am not alone thinking about this. With COVID-19 as a backdrop, many people are.

Algorithmic sophistication and computer horsepower continue to evolve by leaps and bounds, and serious capital continues to be invested on these fronts. The number of transistors per chip has increased from thousands in the 1950s to over four billion today. A one-atom transistor is the physical boundary of Moore’s Law. Increasing the amount of information conveyed per unit, say with quantum computing, is the most realistic possibility of extending Moore’s Law, and with it the march toward intelligent machines and a tech first world. The march has been accelerated, even if peripherally, by the pandemic.

While the promise of technology-driven progress is massive, there are some serious societal costs to exponential discovery and unleashed capability acceleration. Dartmouth’s Dr. James Moor, a notable thinker at the intersection of ethics and technology, believes that the use and development of technologies are most important when technologies have transformative effects on societies. He stipulates that as the impact of technology grows, the volume and complexity of ethical issues surrounding it increases. This is not only because more people are touched by these innovations, they are. It is because transformative technology increases pathways of action that outstrip governance systems and ethical constructs to tame it.

So what? The twists and turns of technology application lead to consequences, sometimes unknowable — and for that reason we should be increasingly vigilant. Did Zuckerberg ever imagine that his invention would have been so central to the outcome of the 2016 election? Unknowable consequences, exhibit one. Interconnected systems touch every aspect of society, from digital terrorism to bioengineering to brain hacking and neural cryonics to swarm warfare, digital assets, intelligent weapons, trillions of IoT connected devices — the list goes on.

As a society, we should be open to innovation and the benefits it ushers in. At the same time, we must also remain committed to sustainable tech development and a deployment mechanism that does not fail to shine a light on human dignity, economic inequality and broad inclusiveness. These seem like esoteric issues, but they are not, and they are being put to the test by COVID-19.

A fresh example of this thematic happened recently: Tim Bray, a VP and engineer at Amazon’s AWS, resigned because of the company’s treatment of employees, and was quoted as saying, in part, “…Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential. Only that’s not just Amazon, it’s how 21st-century capitalism is done… If we don’t like certain things Amazon is doing, we need to put legal guardrails in place to stop those things.”

Eliminating human agency has been at the core of innovation during the last four decades. Less human intervention in a call center, a hedge fund trading desk, a factory, a checkout line or a motor vehicle seems fine — but in cases of greater importance, humans should remain more active or we will, at best, make ourselves irrelevant. In the past, labor displacement has been temporary, but it seems to me that the next wave is likely to be different in terms of the permanence of labor allocation, and big tech getting bigger will likely hasten this.

Innovative capability has been at the center of progress and living standard improvements since we harnessed fire. The world’s technology portfolio is an exciting one, but potentially terrifying to those who could be more hampered by it, such as the front-line workers on Main Street shouldering the health and economic brunt of the coronavirus.

Years ago, Peter Drucker pointed out that technology has transformed from servant to master throughout our history. Regarding the assembly line, he noted that “it does not use the strengths of the human being but, instead, subordinated human strengths to the requirements of the machine.”

In my opinion, Drucker’s quote is at the very core of our point in time, happening on a scale and speed that is hard to fathom and changing the digital divide amongst us into a digital canyon between us and technology.

#artificial-intelligence, #bill-gates, #column, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #eric-schmidt, #ethics, #exxonmobil, #instacart, #opinion, #roelof-botha, #sequoia-capital, #stephen-hawking, #sustainability, #tc, #tim-bray

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With fresh support from its billionaire backers Pivot Bio is ushering in a farming revolution

In the first decade of the twentieth century two German chemists, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, invented fertilizer — the nitrogen compound which ushered in modern agriculture and saved the world from potential starvation.

Now, over a century later, a new group of scientists backed by government-owned international investment funds and some of the world’s wealthiest men and women is trying to save the world from their invention.

In the hundred years since companies began manufacturing fertilizer at an industrial scale, the chemical has become one of the main sources of the pollution that’s choking the planet and putting millions of the lives its use has helped to feed at risk from severe droughts, fires, floods, and storms caused by climate change.

That’s why investors including Breakthrough Energy Ventures (the investment fund backed by Mukesh Ambani, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Masayoshi Son) and the Singapore-owned investment fund Temasek along with DCVC; Prelude Ventures; Spruce Capital Partners; Codon Capital; Bunge Ventures; Continental Grain Company; Tekfen Ventures; Pavilion Capital; and individual investors Alan Cohen and Roger Underwood have backed Pivot Bio with a new $100 million investment.

Pivot uses genetically edited microbes to replicate the work that naturally occurring bacteria had done for millions of years to fix nitrogen in the soil, where it could be absorbed through plants’ root structures.

Crops like peas, beans, and soybeans have developed a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in the soil that take nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that the plants can use. But grains like corn and wheat don’t have a link with any nitrogen-fixing bacteria, so they’re not able to grow as robustly. Some farmers rotate crops between plants that have nitrogen fixing bacteria and those that don’t so the soil can remain nutrient rich.

Using the company’s products, Pivot Bio estimates that farmers can improve yields and remove one gigaton of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions from the atmosphere. The company also said that it can reduce approximately $4.1. billion in spending on water purification across the U.S. Spending which can be traced back to the water pollution associated with industrial farming and its use of synthetic fertilizers.

Over time, the run off of excess fertilizer from farms can lead to environmental degradation and the poisoning of local and regional water supplies.

Farmers are already using Pivot Bio’s microbes to improve crop yields and reduce fertilizer use for corn crops — with typically gains of 5.8 bushels per acre on fields that used the company’s treatments compared to fields using only synthetic nitrogen, the company said.

“Growers and our planet deserve a better fertilizer – one that balances on-farm economics with the farmer’s commitment to leave the land better for the next generation, and Pivot Bio’s technology helps them do just that,” said Karsten Temme, CEO and co-founder of Pivot Bio.

Pivot will use the money from the new round to expand internationally into Latin America and Canada and begin marketing a new product that it’s introducing into the U.S. market for wheat crops, the company said.

“Pivot Bio’s microbial nitrogen fertilizers are revolutionizing how farmers apply nitrogen to their crops, and we’re excited to continue our investment to support this important mission,” said Carmichael Roberts of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, in a statement. “The company is leading the charge on truly sustainable farming techniques, and we’re confident that they’ll continue to innovate their product offerings to solve this critical climate and societal challenge.”

As Temme notes, the thesis around using microbes in agriculture dates back at least fifty years. However DNA sequencing, machine learning, and gene editing made possible by advances like CRISPR all equate to new abilities for researchers to develop products that can fulfill the promise that microbial soil enrichment promised.

For Pivot Bio, the proof is in the sales. Even as the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 epidemic continues to wreak its havoc on a range of industries, Temme said that Pivot’s sales remain consistent.

Typically when farmers face tough times, they go back to basics and don’t experiment with new, relatively unproven products, Temme said. However, Pivot’s product is already sold out for the season.

“Pivot Bio is addressing one of the most difficult challenges facing agriculture in the 21st century – reducing dependence on damaging synthetic fertilizer while increasing crop yields and creating better outcomes for farmers,” said Matt Ocko, Managing Partner, DCVC, in a statement.

Pivot may be the company that’s managed to get to market first, but they’re far from the only company looking at replacing fertilizer with microbes. In Boston, a joint venture between Gingko Bioworks and Bayer, called Joyn Bio, is developing a microbial-based nitrogen fixing technology of its own.

However, its product has yet to come to market and the company’s planned trials have been delayed by the COVID-19 outbreak, the company said.

“We are following the strict guidelines of our facilities in Boston and Woodland that dramatically reduces the number of employees in our labs and greenhouses, while the remainder of our staff are continuing our efforts from home,” the company wrote in a statement on its website. “We are currently focused on preparing for our 2020 field and greenhouse trials as best we can under these new conditions.”

Meanwhile, Pivot Bio continues to sell.

“Farmer acceptance of our technology and support of our vision is far beyond our expectations,” said Temme, in a statement. “They understand the economics and efficiencies our product offers – more consistent yields, 100 percent nitrogen efficiency with the crop, and a lighter environmental footprint. It’s a triple bottom line for them and our planet.”

#agriculture, #bayer, #bill-gates, #boston, #breakthrough-energy-ventures, #canada, #crispr, #crops, #dcvc, #dna-sequencing, #jeff-bezos, #latin-america, #machine-learning, #managing-partner, #masayoshi-son, #matt-ocko, #mukesh-ambani, #pavilion-capital, #prelude-ventures, #tc, #temasek, #united-states

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Bill Gates details how his foundation shifted focus “almost entirely” to addressing COVID-19

Microsoft founder Bill Gates spoke to the Financial Times (via Fast Company) about how the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has shifted “almost entirely” to working on addressing COVID-19, in the interest of making the post impact possible in the ongoing effort to contain and combat the global coronavirus pandemic. Gates told the FT that the spread of COVID-19 could have dire economic consequences which will result in more suffering globally than anyone could’ve anticipated, hence the need to address it with the full weight of the resources of one of the world’s most well-capitalized charitable organizations.

The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation has been funding vaccine trials, clinical studies and basic research related to drug and therapy development for COVID-19 since basically the disease debuted on the world scene. It means that the exiting mandate of the foundation, which includes seeking to eradicate polio and AIDS worldwide, will be temporarily slowed or paused while the organization focuses its resources on the pandemic, but Gates’ decision to focus the group’s significant resources here should only emphasize the seriousness of the situation.

The foundation’s temporary shift is actually, long-term, the best way it can serve its core goals, since the global impact of the coronavirus crisis is likely to have repercussions for every aspect of human life, including access to medical care, testing and therapies, not to mention food and basic necessities. Curbing the disease’s spread early could have the most significant impact in economies ill-prepared to deal with the fallout, and any impact there will eventually result in better ability to work on eradicating those other diseases in a reasonable timeline, instead of undermining local infrastructure and allowing them a longer foothold.

In a 2015 TED talk, Gates predicted the coming of a global outbreak and urged global health organizations and governments to come together to prepare for what to do in case of a large, widespread contagion. Gates was working mostly from the perspective of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which exposed many of the existing gaps and flaws in the system, but his advice seems prescient in retrospect.

Unfortunately, Gates has been subject to a lot of spreading misinformation and bogus conspiracy theory nonsense owing to heightened paranoia and activity among groups that normally peddle in this kind of falsehood. Based on this interview, Gates seems to essentially expect that as something of a matter of course for high-profile individuals, however, and it doesn’t appear to be impacting the foundation’s ability to focus on potential fixes.

#aids, #articles, #bill-melinda-gates-foundation, #bill-gates, #biotech, #contents, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #disease, #ebola, #food, #gates, #health, #melinda-gates, #microsoft, #pandemic, #tc, #the-financial-times, #world-health-organization

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Bill Gates leaves Microsoft’s board

Bill Gates has stepped down from the board of Microsoft to spend more time on his philanthropic endeavors, the company announced Friday afternoon. Though he will remain technology advisor to CEO Satya Nadella, this move reduces his involvement with the company to the lowest level it has ever been.

Gates led Microsoft from the ’80s all the way through 2008, when he left to dedicate himself more fully to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, through which he has channeled a great deal of his immense wealth toward global health concerns.

He remained on the board, however, and in fact chaired it until 2014. But starting today he will only be there as, presumably, something like a lucky charm and occasional auxiliary brain to Nadella and his crew.

“It’s been a tremendous honor and privilege to have worked with and learned from Bill over the years,” said Nadella in a Microsoft press release. “I am grateful for Bill’s friendship and look forward to continuing to work alongside him to realize our mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

While I shall not attempt a complete Gates/Microsoft retrospective at this time, it’s been an interesting journey to witness, to say the least. Microsoft has embodied the best and the worst of technology, sometimes simultaneously (it contains multitudes), and much of that was due to Gates’s indelible influence.

The Gates Foundation has been extremely influential as well, though in a quieter and more humane fashion. It may be that Gates’s second legacy will ultimately outshine his first.

The updated lineup on Microsoft’s board is as follows:

John W. Thompson, Microsoft independent chair; Reid Hoffman, partner at Greylock Partners; Hugh Johnston, vice chairman and chief financial officer of PepsiCo; Teri L. List-Stoll, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Gap, Inc.; Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft; Sandra E. Peterson, operating partner, Clayton, Dubilier & Rice; Penny Pritzker, founder and chairman, PSP Partners; Charles W. Scharf, chief executive officer and president of Wells Fargo & Co.; Arne Sorenson, president and CEO, Marriott International Inc.; John W. Stanton, chairman of Trilogy Equity Partners; Emma Walmsley, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK); and Padmasree Warrior, founder, CEO and president, Fable Group Inc.

#bill-gates, #microsoft, #personnel

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