Nuclear waste recycling is a critical avenue of energy innovation

No single question bedevils American energy and environmental policy more than nuclear waste. No, not even a changing climate, which may be a wicked problem but nonetheless receives a great deal of counter-bedeviling attention.

It’s difficult to paint the picture with a straight face. Let’s start with three main elements of the story.

First, nuclear power plants in the United States generate about 2,000 metric tons of nuclear waste (or “spent fuel”) per year. Due to its inherent radioactivity, it is carefully stored at various sites around the country.

Second, the federal government is in charge of figuring out what to do with it. In fact, power plant operators have paid over $40 billion into the Nuclear Waste Fund so that the government can handle it. The idea was to bury it in the “deep geological repository” embodied by Yucca Mountain, Nevada, but this has proved politically impossible. Nevertheless, $15 billion was spent on the scoping.

Third, due to the Energy Department’s inability to manage this waste, it simply accumulates. According to that agency’s most recent data release, some 80,000 metric tons of spent fuel—hundreds of thousands of fuel assemblies containing millions of fuel rods—is waiting for a final destination.

And here’s the twist ending: those nuclear plant operators sued the government for breach of contract and, in 2013, they won. Several hundred million dollars is now paid out to them each year by the U.S. Treasury, as part of a series of settlements and judgments. The running total is over $8 billion.

I realize this story sounds a little crazy. Am I really saying that the U.S. government collected billions of dollars to manage nuclear waste, then spent billions of dollars on a feasibility study only to stick it on the shelf, and now is paying even more billions of dollars for this failure? Yes, I am.

Fortunately, all of the aggregated waste occupies a relatively small area and temporary storage exists. Without an urgent reason to act, policymakers generally will not.

While attempts to find long-term storage will continue, policymakers should look towards recycling some of this “waste” into usable fuel. This is actually an old idea. Only a small fraction of nuclear fuel is consumed to generate electricity.

Proponents of recycling envision reactors that use “reprocessed” spent fuel, extracting energy from the 90% of it leftover after burn-up. Even its critics admit that the underlying chemistry, physics, and engineering of recycling are technically feasible, and instead assail the disputable economics and perceived security risks.

So-called Generation IV reactors come in all shapes and sizes. The designs have been around for years—in some respects, all the way back to the dawn of nuclear energy—but light-water reactors have dominated the field for a variety of political, economic, and strategic reasons. For example, Southern Company’s twin conventional pressurized water reactors under construction in Georgia each boast a capacity of just over 1,000-megawatt (or 1 gigawatt), standard for Westinghouse’s AP 1000 design.

In contrast, next-generation plant designs are a fraction of the size and capacity, and also may use different cooling systems: Oregon-based NuScale Power’s 77-megawatt small modular reactor, San Diego-based General Atomics’ 50-megawatt helium-cooled fast modular reactor, Alameda-based Kairos Power’s 140-megawatt molten fluoride salt reactor, and so on all have different configurations that can fit different business and policy objectives.

Many Gen-IV designs can either explicitly recycle used fuel or be configured to do so. On June 3, TerraPower (backed by Bill Gates), GE Hitachi, and the State of Wyoming announced an agreement to build a demonstration of the 345-megawatt Natrium design, a sodium-cooled fast reactor.

Natrium is technically capable of recycling fuel for generation. California-based Oklo has already reached an agreement with Idaho National Laboratory to operate its 1.5-megawatt “microreactor” off of used-fuel supplies. In fact, the self-professed “preferred fuel” for New York-based Elysium Industries’ molten salt reactor design is spent nuclear fuel and Alabama-based Flibe Energy advertises the waste-burning capability of its thorium reactor design.

Whether advanced reactors rise or fall does not depend on resolving the nuclear waste deadlock. Though such reactors may be able to consume spent fuel, they don’t necessarily have to. Nonetheless, incentivizing waste recycling would improve their economics.

“Incentivize” here is code for “pay.” Policymakers should consider ways that Washington can make it more profitable for a power plant to recycle fuel than to import it—from Canada, Kazakhstan, Australia, Russia, and other countries.

Political support for advanced nuclear technology, including recycling, is deeper than might be expected. In 2019, the Senate confirmed Dr. Rita Baranwal as the Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at the Department of Energy (DOE). A materials scientist by training, she emerged as a champion of recycling.

The new Biden administration has continued broadly bipartisan support for advanced nuclear reactors in proposing in its Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request to increase funding for the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy by nearly $350 million. The proposal includes specific funding increases for researching and developing reactor concepts (plus $32 million), fuel cycle R&D (plus $59 million), and advanced reactor demonstration (plus $120 million), and tripling funding for the Versatile Test Reactor (from $45 million to $145 million, year over year).

In May, the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced a new $40 million program to support research in “optimizing” waste and disposal from advanced reactors, including through waste recycling. Importantly, the announcement explicitly states that the lack of a solution to nuclear waste today “poses a challenge” to the future of Gen-IV reactors.

The debate is a reminder that recycling in general is a very messy process. It is chemical-, machine-, and energy-intensive. Recycling of all kinds, from critical minerals to plastic bottles, produces new waste, too. Today, federal and state governments are quite active in recycling these other waste streams, and they should be equally involved in nuclear waste.

#column, #energy, #greentech, #opinion, #terrapower

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What SOSV’s Climate Tech 100 tells founders about investors in the space

On Earth Day, April 22, SOSV published the SOSV Climate Tech 100, a list of the best startups that we’ve supported from their earliest stages to address climate change. There are always valuable insights embedded in a list like the 100. A TechCrunch story captured the investment perspective, and an SOSV post went deeper into the companies’ category breakdown and founder profiles.

But what can founders learn from the list about climate tech investors? In other words, who invested in the Climate Tech 100? We dug into the “who’s who” of the list, which had more than 500 investors, and here’s what we found.

An active but fragmented landscape

If you think 500 investors in 100 companies is a lot of investors, you’re right. There are clearly a lot of investors interested in climate tech, and most are generalists just testing the waters. For the Climate Tech 100, about 10% of investors put their money in more than one startup and only seven (less than 2%) wrote a check to four or more. These included Blue Horizon, CPT Capital, EF, Fifty Years, Hemisphere Ventures and Horizons Ventures.

That pattern tracks well with data from PwC, which found that 2,700 unique investors had backed 1,200 startups in its State of Climate Tech 2020 report covering the 2013-2019 period. The report found that only 10 firms out of 2,700 made four or more climate tech deals per year, on average, over the 2013-2019 period. The most active firms are listed in the table below.

Most active investors in SOSV Climate Tech 100

Image Credits: PwC, 2020; additional research by SOSV

Capital deployed in climate tech grew at five times the venture capital overall growth rate over the 2013-2019 period.

There is reason to believe that the fragmentation will diminish with the launch of more funds focused on climate tech. Four funds worth more than a billion dollars each have launched since 2020 that fit the description (see chart below).

It’s also encouraging to see that capital deployed in climate tech grew at five times the venture capital overall growth rate over the 2013-2019 period.

Even so, climate tech still only represented 6% of total venture capital deployed in 2019, so there is plenty of room to grow.

#column, #ec-column, #ec-food-climate-and-sustainability, #energy, #funding, #greentech, #sosv, #sosv-climate-tech-100, #startups, #venture-capital

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Terraformation gets $30M to fight climate change with rapid reforesting

Every startup is trying to fix something but Terraformation is tackling the only problem that must matter to all of us: Climate change.

This is why it’s in such a big huge hurry. Its mission — as a ‘forest tech’ startup — is to accelerate tree planting by applying a startup-y operational philosophy of scalability to the pressing task of rapidly, sustainably reforesting denuded landscapes — bringing back native trees species to revive former wastelands and shrinking our carbon emissions in the process.

Forests are natural carbon sinks. The problem is we just don’t have enough trees with roots in the ground to offset our emissions. So that at least means the mission is simple: Plant more trees, and plant more trees fast.

Terraformation’s goal is to restore three billion acres of global native forest ecosystems by scaling tree replanting projects in parallel, scaling the use of existing techniques, and working with all the partners it can. (For a little context, the U.S. contains some 2.27BN acres of total land area, per Wikipedia).

So far it says it’s planted “thousands” of trees — with live projects in North America, South America, Africa and Europe which it hopes will yield up to 20,000 replanted acres. It’s also in talks with partners about more projects that could clad hundreds of thousands of acres with carbon-consuming (and biodiversity-prompting) trees, if they come to full fruition.

That’s still a long way off the 3BN-acre-wooded moonshot, of course. But Terraformation claims it’s been able to achieve a forestry restoration work-rate that’s 5x the average already. And that’s definitely the kind of ‘gas stepping’ that climate change needs.

Its elevator pitch is also punchy: “Our mission is explicitly to solve climate change through mass reforestation,” says founder Yishan Wong — whose name may be familiar as the ex-Reddit CEO (and also a former early-stage engineer at PayPal/Facebook). So it’s getting trees in the ground and getting faster at getting trees in the ground.”

It’s not going it alone, either. It’s just announced a first closing of a $30 million Series A funding round, led by Sam & Max Altman at Apollo Projects, the brothers’ ‘moonshot’ fund; plus several high-profile institutional investors (whose names aren’t being disclosed); along with nearly 100 angel investors, including Sundeep Ahuja, Lachy Groom, Sahil Lavingia, Joe Lonsdale, Susan Wu, and OVN Cap.

“The [Series A] was a bit larger than we anticipated and the idea is to get us to the next stage of planting orders of magnitude more trees every year,” says Wong. “So it’ll be used both for supporting forestry projects directly, as well as for the development and deployment of forestry acceleration products and technology.”

“The very, very nice thing about mass reforestation or mass restoration as a solution to climate change is that it’s extremely parallelizable,” he adds. “You can plant any tree at the same time as your planting some other tree. This is the primary reason why this solution can potentially be implemented within the timetable that we have left. But in order to do so we have to start and drive an enormous, decentralized reforestation campaign across multiple continents and countries.”

The funding follows a $5M seed last year, as the young startup worked to hone its approach.

Terraformation is targeting the main barriers to successful reforesting: Through early research and pilots it says it’s identified three key bottlenecks to large-scale forest restoration — namely, land availability, freshwater, and seed. It then seeks to address each of these pinch-points to viable reforesting — identifying and fashioning modular, sharable solutions (tools, techniques, training etc) that can help shave off friction and build leafy, branching success.

These products include a seed bank unit it’s devised, housed in a standard shipping container and kitted out with all the equipment (plus solar off-grip capability, if required) to take care of on-site storage for the thousands of native seeds each projects needs to replant a whole forest.

It also offers a nursery kit which also ships in a shipping container — a flat-packed greenhouse that it says a couple of people can put together, and where thousands of seedlings can then be tended and irrigated in pots until they’re ready to plant out.

A third support it offers to the replanting projects it wants to work with is expertise in building solar-powered desalination rigs so young trees can be supplied with adequate water to survive in locations where poor land management may have made conditions for growth difficult and harsh.

It goes without saying that planted trees which fail because of poor processes won’t help cut carbon emissions. Badly managed replanting is at best wasteful — and may be closer to cynical greenwashing in some cases. (Poor quality projects can be a known problem where claims of corporate carbon offsetting are being made, for example.)

Terraformation is thus zeroing in on repeatable ways to scale and accelerate the successful planting and nurturing of trees, from seed to sapling and beyond, to accelerate sustainable reforesting.

Ultimately, it’s the only kind of tree planting that will really count in the fight against climate change.

Its first pilot restoration projects begun in Hawai’i in 2019 — where it’s been able to plant thousands of trees at a site called Pacific Flight, reviving a native tropical sandalwood forest that had been logged unsustainably. To enable the young trees to grow in land which had also become arid as a result of cattle grazing, the team built the world’s largest fully off-grid, solar-powered desalination system to supply sustainable freshwater to the baby forest.

“The arid environment, high winds, and degraded soils meant that if a team could restore a forest there, they could do it anywhere,” is the pitch on its website.

The Series A will go toward spinning up lots more such native species forest restoration projects — working via partnerships, with organizations such as Environmental Defenders in Uganda, and other groups in Ecuador, Haiti and Tanzania — as well as on more R&D (additional products are in the pipeline, we’re told); and on expanding headcount so its team has the legs to run faster.

Interestingly, for a startup with Silicon Valley engineering pedigree at its core, the team’s approach is intentionally light on technology — leaning only on vital tech (like solar and desalination), rather than experimental bells and whistles (drones, robotics etc) to ensure the processes it’s packaging up for massive replanting parallelism remain as simple, accessible and reliable as possible. So they are able to scale all over the globe.

It’s clear that sci-fi robotic gadgetry isn’t the answer here. It’s sweating toil plus tried and tested horticulture processes, done systematically and repeatedly, in mass parallelism all over the world that’s required, argues Wong, whose years in tech have given him a healthy scepticism on the issue of over-engineering. (“The biggest lesson I learned was, you want to solve a big problem? You want to use as little technology as possible… Technology’s always breaking, it’s always got flaws. The biggest problem with technology is technology.”)

“I would say that the key contribution that ‘tech’ — if you think of a monolith or a culture or whatever — will make to climate change, is not in fact some new invention or some gadget or some sort of special magical technology… I think it really is the practice of scalability,” he goes on. “Which is an organizational end. A management way of thinking. Because that is actually something that has been carefully and painfully developed… over the past 20 years in Silicon Valley. How to take small working solutions, how to solve very big problems, how to scale them. And it isn’t a very glamorous thing — which is why I think it’s one of the more pure disciplines.

“It just has been less corrupt… Scalability is just people thinking hard and grinding it out to address really hard big problems. And I think that practice and all the little tips and rules that we have to doing that is the real contribution that tech is going to make — with one of those principles being use as little tech as you can.”

Terraformation is building software tools too — such as a mobile app to help with cataloguing and monitoring seeds. But the really critical technologies involved, solar and desalination, are very much at the ‘tried and tested’ end of the tech scale (“very, very reliable and refined”.).

Wong points out that a key development for solar and desalination is related to the unit economics — with falling costs allowing for scalability and thus speed.

Asked whether Terraformation is a business in the typical startup sense, Wong says it’s been set up in a familiar way — as a Delaware C Corp — but purely because he says that’s just the quickest way to be able to operate. Doing stuff as a non-profit would be way too slow, he says, describing it thusly as a “non non-profit” (rather than a business with a for-profit mission).

Aka: “It’s a corporate with investors but primarily the aim is to solve climate change.”

Startup investors are of course often betting their money on the chance of a quick and meaty return. But not here, confirms Wong. “When we raised funding all of our investors invested primarily because they wanted to see climate change solved,” he tells TechCrunch. “To many of them this was the first time that a plausible, full-scale solution to solving climate change had been presented.

“It’s still very, very hard. It’s very, very large. It’s really daunting. But it’s the first time someone has mapped out a path that could actually get us there. And so all of our investors invested because they want to see that happen.”

So how will a ‘non non-profit’ startup (even with $30M just banked) get its hands on enough land to plant enough trees? A variety of ways, per Wong. (Perhaps even, in some instances, landowners could end up paying it to turn their dirt into beautiful woodland.)

“The short answer is anywhere we can!” he adds. “The solution is structured to give us maximum flexibility, given that we can use a large variety of land. We don’t want to count on any particular land owning entity — and I use that very broad term to mean like people, communities, governments, municipalities — we don’t want to rely on any one particular land-owning entity wanting to work with us or allowing us to reforest the land, because you can’t guarantee that.”

He also notes that Terraformation’s plan to fix climate change is based on “worse case scenarios” — where “no one who owns any land that gets enough natural rainfall for forest restoration will allow it to reforest it”. “We use the least valuable land — basically desertified, degraded land,” he adds. “Is there enough of that? And it turns out there is.”

Even though personal financial upside clearly isn’t front of mind for Terraformation’s investors, Wong still believes there’s plenty of ‘value’ to be unlocked as a byproduct of spreading leafy-green goodness all over the planet vs funding more extractive exploitation.

“It turns out that solving climate change is actually a huge value creating act,” he argues. “My experience in Silicon Valley is if you have people who believe in you and believe in the thing that you’re creating is ultimately value-creating then it’s actually also wealth creating. If you do something that is fundamentally very, very valuable and you’re right next to it, you will be able to monetize it in some way. You will capture some of that value for your shareholders. So it’s a bet that if you really can solve climate change, that’s super valuable, both for the world and to the entity that’s [investing].”

Of course climate change is more than just a problem; it’s an existential threat to all life on Earth — one which affect humans and every other living creature and thing on the planet.

Given such terminal stakes, reversing climate change should be the highest global priority. Instead, humans have procrastinated — putting dealing with rises in atmospheric CO2 on the back-burner and worse (cutting down existing forests like the Amazon Rainforest, for one).

Set against that backdrop, Terraformation’s answer to humanity’s greatest crisis looks compellingly simple. Its bet is that climate change can be fixed by scaling the most proven technology possible (trees) to capture carbon emissions. Who can argue with that? 

But it does also seem clear that reforesting will need to go hand in hand with a mainstreaming of conservation, as a prevailing societal attitude, if the mission is to be pulled off — otherwise all these beautiful baby trees could just meet the same sad fate as all the Earth’s already lost forests.

Nonetheless, conservation is something Wong’s team is deliberately not focusing on.

Not because they don’t care. Rather their hope is that by building the baby forests, the protective partners will come — to watch over and get value from the trees as they grow. 

“I don’t want to make it seem like we don’t care about [forestry conservation] but one of the things that I try to do is figure out where people are already doing work and things are already moving in the right direction — and then go work on the thing that other people are not working on,” he says when we ask about this. “When I talk to people in the forestry world many, many people are working on avoiding deforestation, helping solve the broader socioeconomic issues that result in deforestation. And so I feel like there is momentum moving in that direction — so we have to work on this other issue that other people aren’t working on.”

Wong also argues that forests are naturally more valuable than the denuded waste/scrub ground they’re replanting — implying that pure economic interest should help these baby forests survive and thrive far into the future.

However the history of humanity shows that unequal wealth distribution can wreak all sorts of havoc on a resource-rich natural environment. And people who live in poverty may well be disproportionately more likely to like in a rural location, on or near land that Terraformation hopes to target for replanting. So if these forests can’t provide — in crude terms — ‘value’ for their local communities the risk is the same cycle of short-term economic harm will rip all this hard work (and hope) out of the ground once again.

Wealth inequality lies at the core of much of humanity’s counterproductive destruction of the environment. So, seen from that angle, reforesting the planet may require just as much effort toward tackling — root and branch — the wider socioeconomic fault-lines of our world, as it will washing, sorting and storing seed, watering seedlings and nurturing and planting saplings.

And that further dials up an already massive climate challenge. But, again, Wong is quietly hopeful.

“People aren’t cutting down trees because they’re evil, they’re cutting down trees because they need to make a living. So we have to provide them with ways to make a living that is more valuable than cutting down the trees. I think that recognition is moving in the correct direction — so I’m hopeful there,” he says.

Asked what keeps him up at night, he also has a straightforward answer to hand — one we’ve heard many times already from a new generation of climate campaigners, like Greta Thunberg, whose futures will be irrevocably stamped by the effects of climate change: Humanity simply isn’t moving fast enough.

“In order to do this we have to make order of magnitude improvements in both speed and scale — which is technically a thing that we know how to do but is among the most daunting things that you ever try to undertake. So… are we moving fast enough? Are we doing enough? Because time is running out,” warns Wong.

“The timeframe that we have left is very small when compared to the planetary scale of the problem. And so I think the only way that we’re going to get there is with proven solutions, moving, growing at exponential speed.”

“I am [hopeful],” he adds. “I’m a big fan of humans working together. People can really do it. I’m very I guess what you’d call pro-human. We have a lot of flaws, we fight amongst ourselves a lot, but I really think that when people work together they can really do amazing, amazing things… Trees gave us life and so now it’s our time to repay that debt.”

 

#carbon-offset, #climate-change, #forestry, #greentech, #joe-lonsdale, #lachy-groom, #paypal, #recent-funding, #reforesting, #sahil-lavingia, #scalability, #startups, #tanzania, #tc, #terraformation, #uganda, #yishan-wong

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Founders must show investors that sustainability is more than lip service

Ending years of debates over environmental sustainability, the United States officially declared a climate crisis earlier this year, deeming climate considerations an “essential element” of foreign policy and national security. After recommitting the U.S. to the Paris Agreement, President Joseph R. Biden announced an aggressive new goal for reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and pushed world leaders to collectively “step up” their fight against climate change.

At the same time, consumers are increasingly looking to do business with brands that align with their growing environmental values, rather than ignoring the climate consequences of their consumption. Even without regulation as a stick, consumer demand is now serving as a carrot to increase sustainability’s impact on public companies’ agendas.

Startups have already followed suit. Investors today view sustainability as an important pillar of any business model and are looking for entrepreneurs who “get it” from the beginning to build and scale next-generation companies. Startups interested in thriving cannot treat sustainability as an afterthought and should be prepared to enter the public eye with a plan for sustainable growth.

Today, companies of all sizes are being held to a higher standard by consumers, employees, potential partners and the media.

So what exactly do founders need to put in place to demonstrate that they’re on the right track when it comes to sustainability? Here are five attributes that investors are looking for.

1. A truly customer-centric feedback loop

It’s fairly easy for any company to claim that it understands customers’ wants and needs, but it’s challenging to have the tech stack in place to prove a company actually listens to customer feedback and meets those expectations.

Investors now expect startups to have both platforms and solutions — social listening channels, relationship management tools, surveying programs and review forums — that allow them to hear and act on the needs of their customers. Without the proper communications tools and actual people using them, your eco-friendly efforts will likely appear to be merely lip service.

Take the example of TemperPack, which manufactures recyclable insulated packaging solutions for shipments of cold, perishable foods and pharmaceuticals. The direct relationship between a packager like TemperPack and the end consumer is often invisible. But as we were looking into investing in the company, some of its life sciences customers told us about comments they had received from end users — people who were receiving medicine twice per day. Another supplier’s packaging required them to visit a recycler for disposal, a real-world pain point that was causing them to consider switching to a different medication.

Revolution Growth decided to add TemperPack as a portfolio company after directly seeing its customer feedback loop in action: End-user requests informed product development, proving both a market need and customer demand on the sustainability front. This firsthand example demonstrates how an investor, a packaging maker, a life sciences company and an end user are now interconnected in one relationship while underscoring how end-user feedback can connect the dots for sustainable product development.

2. Public commitment to sustainability goals

Over the past several years, we have seen millennials and Gen Z consumers demand transparency in sustainability efforts. As these generations grow in purchasing power, investors will look for startups that make their commitments to eco-friendly goals as transparent as possible to satisfy shrewd consumer needs.

For many VCs, making public commitments to sustainability goals is a sign that your startup is working toward becoming a next-generation company. Investors will look for goals that are thoughtful, with a clear understanding of where your company will have agency and influence, and that are S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely). They will also expect regular reports on progress.

Although a company’s management establishes these goals, its board should play a behind-the-scenes role in driving the goals forward, keeping leadership on track and setting the playing field so executives understand that they’re being evaluated on criteria transcending positive EBIDTA.

Taking these steps will ensure goals are responsible and ambitious while also holding the company accountable to consumers and stakeholders to see the initiatives through to completion.

3. Purpose-driven culture

Even the best-laid sustainability goals will go unmet without a strong culture designed to guarantee leadership and employee alignment. Sustainability must be ingrained in a startup’s culture — from the top down and bottom up — and there’s a lot at stake if it’s not.

Another Revolution Growth portfolio company, the global fintech-revolutionizing startup Tala, demonstrates how young companies can imbue their cultures with purpose-driven values. While Tala’s mission is to provide credit to the unbanked, the company believes that the consumer’s best interests should always come first. During 2019’s holiday season, Tala contrasted with businesses fueling consumption by instead urging customers in Kenya to not take out loans, protecting them from predatory unregulated lenders amid a lack of functioning credit bureaus and loan-stacking databases. This forward-looking approach ultimately safeguarded Tala’s customers and its vibrant digital lending industry.

Beyond determining what they stand for, many of our portfolio companies face challenges securing talent. People have choices about where they want to work, and those with intrinsic motivations — such as concerns about the environment — will feel uncomfortable if their employers do not share their values. Regulatory risks and customer attrition pale in comparison to the human cost of losing star performers who seek other work cultures that better align with their values.

A clear values system should embed sustainability into the decision-making process, make obvious imperatives and empower employees to follow through.

4. Accountability

Companies aren’t only judged by their own initiatives — they’re also judged by their partners. As startups build new relationships or expand to work with new suppliers, investors will be keen to know that these outside parties align with their stated sustainability philosophies.

Before becoming publicly involved with another company, a startup should gauge each new supplier’s reputation, including insights into their employment practices. Take leading Mediterranean fast-casual restaurant Cava or healthy-inspired salad-centric chain Sweetgreen, both Revolution Growth portfolio companies; neither will source proteins from farms with inhumane policies. If companies are not aware of these factors, their customers will eventually let them know, and likely hold them accountable for the oversight.

Think of it this way: If a diagram of your partnerships and supplier relationships was printed on the front page of The New York Times, would you be comfortable with what it shows the world? Today, companies of all sizes are being held to a higher standard by consumers, employees, potential partners and the media. It’s no longer possible to fly under the radar with relationships that are antithetical to a company’s sustainability goals. So take a hard look at your supplier and partner ecosystem, and make clear that you are bringing your green vision to life through every extension of your business.

5. Financial realism

Financial realism acknowledges that a company can want to do good, but unless they have the economics, they won’t survive to make an impact. For most startups, beginning with financial realism as a mindset and incrementalism as an approach will be key to success, enabling all businesses to contribute to a more resilient planet. For startups that prioritize environmentally friendly business practices alongside a product or service, this strategy can prevent goodness from becoming the enemy of greatness. Founders in this position can commit to a stage-by-stage sustainability plan, rather than expecting an overnight transformation. Investors understand the delicate balance between striving to meet green goals and keeping the lights on.

Entrepreneurs looking to build a business that not only adopts eco-friendly practices but also has sustainability at its heart may have to consider starting in a niche industry or market that is less price-sensitive and ready for a solution today. Once that solution is firmly established, the business can build upon what they’ve created, rather than going big with something that doesn’t scale — and failing fast. Without an initial set of customers that value and love what you’re doing, you won’t get to the bigger play.

As the public and private sectors continue to address the climate crisis, sustainability will increasingly become a mandate rather than an option, and funding will increasingly flow to startups that have addressed potential environmental concerns. Unfortunately, pressure for companies to meet sustainability demands has led to “greenwashing” — the deceptive use of green marketing to persuade consumers that a company’s products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly.

Greenwashing has forced investors to look beyond mere words for action. As we move toward a more sustainable future, startups pursuing VC funding will need to prove to investors that sustainability is a priority across their entire organizations, aligning their outreach, public commitments and cultures with accountability and concrete examples of sustainable activities. Even if those examples are just steps toward larger goals, they will show investors and customers that startups are ready today to contribute to a greener and better tomorrow.

#business-ethics, #column, #entrepreneurship, #greentech, #startups, #sustainability, #united-states, #venture-capital

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A new climate calculator for livestock aims to help ranchers reduce emissions

When it comes to sustainable livestock production and agriculture, measurement is the first — and sometimes most elusive — step in the process of turning our food system from a carbon emitter into a carbon sink.

So DSM, a science-based company that focuses on agriculture and other parts of our food systems, and Blonk, a data analytics for sustainability consultancy, developed Sustell, a combination software and practical service for ranchers to understand and improve the sustainability of their operations.

While sustainable and regenerative agriculture doesn’t have a universally agreed-upon definition, it usually involves changing land management practices to sequester more carbon in the soil, using more environmentally friendly animal feeds and reducing fossil fuel usage of tractors and other farm equipment among many other changes. The goal is to reduce the 7.1 gigatonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere, about 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions, created by the livestock industry.  

“There’s this tremendous need for accurate footprinting of animal production down to the individual farm level,” said David Nickell, vice president of sustainability and business solutions at DSM. “And each farm, of course, is very different. And you have to have a system which is able to use actual farm data, and to get an accurate picture of that particular farm.” 

The system analyzes the environmental impact of a farm’s activity on 19 different categories, including climate change, resource use, water scarcity, runoff and ozone depletion. Farmers provide data on their daily operations, including feed composition and use, manure management practices, animal mortality, the electricity system and the other infrastructure, transportation logistics and mitigation technologies employed, like scrubbers or excess heat circulation systems, and sometimes packaging to the software.

Blonk’s environmental footprint technology then produces a life cycle assessment of the farm, an analysis of the environmental impact of rearing an animal from inception to when it exits the farm gate. DSM and Blonk have created Sustell modules for most land farm animals, including chickens, pigs and dairy and egg production, and plans to extend it to cover beef and aquaculture. 

“What is really key is that we were able to build on this momentum of methodologies and standards that have been developed,” said Hans Blonk, CEO of Blonk Consultants and Blonk Sustainability Tools. 

Blonk was able to combine agriculture environmental standards from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, European Commission and many others in one place to create the vast library of background data needed for the software to produce useful and actionable insights.   

“Customers at the moment really want to understand what they’re doing,” Nickell said. “They want to understand their baseline [footprint] and rank them. Understand what’s good, and what’s not so good. Customers want to understand how they rate compared to peer benchmarking, whether it’s a country or an industry benchmark.”

Once the Sustell software gives farmers clarity on the emissions on their farms, they can then identify where improvements need to be made and DSM helps implement ways of reducing those emissions, creating an end-to-end service for customers and hopefully a positive impact on the planet. 

“Practical interventions make change happen,” Nickell said. “We’ve invested in technologies which reduce the footprint of animal products production. The service is measurement and marry that up with bringing solutions, which make a difference. That’s the complete solution to making this much-needed change happen.”

But in order for Sustell to create that change, it needs to be adopted widely and the learnings need to be shared between competitors. Right now, DSM and, in some ways, the capitalist system, isn’t set up for that. 

According to Nickell, DSM is first focusing Sustell on big integrated livestock companies. This is a common challenge with new innovative environmental technologies that can be adopted by big farming conglomerates or co-ops with money and resources to spend, while smaller family farms get left behind. But Nickell hopes that Sustell can scale to work with smaller farms, as well. 

The second issue is around data sharing. While Nickell was very clear that Sustell will be following all applicable data privacy and ownership rules — and that’s usually a good thing — in order to really create meaningful environmental change, transparency is actually key. Competitors need to share the best ways for reducing emissions so everyone can adopt them and save the planet, but many companies are very data protective. 

“I think maybe that [data sharing] develops in time,” Nickell said. “I don’t think we’re there yet. Maybe it will get to that level as more and more customers are transparent on their footprint and their reporting.”

#climate-science, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greentech, #tc

0

One Concern raises $45M from SOMPO to scale its disaster resilience platform across Japan

Climate change is intensifying across the globe, and one of the most challenging cases is Japan. In addition to lying on a major fault, the archipelago is increasingly inundated from rising sea levels that make the country more prone to disasters. A decade ago, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami dealt billions of dollars in damage, and the recovery from that tragedy remains a major international relations flashpoint.

Technology to address disasters and resilience is a key area of venture capital investment these days, and now another startup in the space is proving that there is widespread interest in this growing market.

One Concern, which builds a platform to model and simulate community resilience and response to earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters, announced this morning that it has raised $45 million from SOMPO Holdings, the venture wing of Japan’s SOMPO, one of the country’s largest insurers. The investment is part of a total $100 million, multi-year deal that will plug One Concern’s platform into the Japanese market.

Japan has been something of a gem in One Concern’s market development the past few years. The startup hired Hitoshi Akimoto as country manager for Japan in late 2019 before formally announcing that it was expanding to Japan in February 2020. In August last year, it announced a strategic partnership with SOMPO, and the insurer’s venture wing invested $15 million. Today’s deal expands that partnership further.

According to its press release, One Concern will sell its platform to six or more Japanese cities as part of the tie-up.

Previously, One Concern had raised three rounds of capital according to Crunchbase and SEC filings: a seed round in October 2015, a $33 million Series A round led by NEA in 2017, and a $37 million round also co-led by NEA. The company was founded in 2015.

#disaster-recovery, #funding, #fundings-exits, #government, #greentech, #startups

0

OroraTech’s space-based early wildfire warnings spark $7M investment

With wildfires becoming an ever more devastating annual phenomenon, it is in the whole planet’s interest to spot them and respond as early as possible — and the best vantage point for that is space. OroraTech is a German startup building a constellation of small satellites to power a global wildfire warning system, and will be using a freshly raised €5.8M (~$7M) A round to kick things off.

Wildfires destroy tens of millions of acres of forest every year, causing immense harm to people and the planet in countless ways. Once they’ve grown to a certain size, they’re near impossible to stop, so the earlier they can be located and worked against, the better.

But these fires can start just about anywhere in a dried out forest hundreds of miles wide, and literally every minute and hour counts — watch towers, helicopter flights, and other frequently used methods may not be fast or exact enough to effectively counteract this increasingly serious threat. Not to mention they’re expensive and often dangerous jobs for those who perform them.

OroraTech’s plan is to use a constellation of about 100 satellites equipped with custom infrared cameras to watch the entire globe (or at least the parts most likely to burst into flame) at once, reporting any fire bigger than ten meters across within half an hour.

Screenshot of OroraTech wildfire monitoring software showing heat detection in a forest.

Image Credits: OroraTech

To start out with, the Bavarian company has used data from over a dozen satellites already in space, in order to prove out the service on the ground. But with this funding round they are set to put their own bird in the air, a shoebox-sized satellite with a custom infrared sensor that will be launched by Spire later this year. Onboard machine learning processing of this imagery simplifies the downstream process.

14 more satellites are planned for launch by 2023, presumably once they’ve kicked the proverbial tires on the first one and come up with the inevitable improvements.

“In order to cover even more regions in the future and to be able to give warning earlier, we aim to launch our own specialized satellite constellation into orbit,” said CEO and co-founder Thomas Grübler in a press release. “We are therefore delighted to have renowned investors on board to support us with capital and technological know-how in implementing our plans.”

Mockup of an OroraTech Earth imaging satellite in space.

Those renowned investors consist of Findus Venture and Ananda Impact Ventures, which led the round, followed by APEX Ventures, BayernKapital, Clemens Kaiser, SpaceTec Capital and Ingo Baumann. The company was spun out of research done by the founders at TUM, which maintains an interest.

“It is absolutely remarkable what they have built up and achieved so far despite limited financial resources and we feel very proud that we are allowed to be part of this inspiring and ambitious NewSpace project,” APEX’s Wolfgang Neubert said, and indeed it’s impressive to have a leading space-based data service with little cash (it raised an undisclosed seed about a year ago) and no satellites.

It’s not the only company doing infrared imagery of the Earth’s surface; SatelliteVu recently raised money to launch its own, much smaller constellation, though it’s focused on monitoring cities and other high-interest areas, not the vast expanse of forests. And ConstellR is aimed (literally) at the farming world, monitoring fields for precision crop management.

With money in its pocket Orora can expand and start providing its improved detection services, though sadly, it likely won’t be upgrading before wildfire season hits the northern hemisphere this year.

#aerospace, #ananda-impact-ventures, #artificial-intelligence, #earth-imaging, #findus-venture, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greentech, #ororatech, #recent-funding, #satellite-imagery, #satellites, #science, #space, #startups, #wildfire-detection, #wildfires

0

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

0

Tesla has installed 200,000 Powerwalls around the world so far

Tesla has installed its 200,000th Powerwall, the company’s home battery storage product, the company said in a tweet on Wednesday. Tesla’s CFO Zachary Kirkhorn told investors during a first-quarter earnings call in April that Tesla is continuing to work through a “multi-quarter backlog on Powerwall,” suggesting that the volume of installations will continue to soar in coming months.

During that earnings call, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company will no longer sell its Solar Roof panel product without a Powerwall. He said widespread installation of solar panels plus home battery packs (Tesla built, of course) would turn every home into a distributed power plant.

“…Every solar Powerwall installation that the house or apartment or whatever the case may be, will be its own utility,” he said. “And so even if all the lights go out in the neighborhood, you will still have power. So that gives people energy security. And we can also, in working with the utilities, use the Powerwalls to stabilize the overall grid.”

He noted the unprecedented winter storm in Texas in February, which, combined with record-breaking demand for electricity, left millions without power in freezing temperatures. He suggested that under that scenario, utilities could work with customers who have Powerwalls to release stored electricity back on the grid to meet that demand.

“So if the grid needs more power, we can actually then with the consent, obviously, of the homeowner and the partnership with the utility, we can then actually release power on to the grid to take care of peak power demand,” he said.

Tesla hit the 100,000 milestone for Powerwall installations in April 2020, five years after it debuted the first-generation Powerwall. That means that sales numbers that took the company five years to achieve were doubled in a single year.

#energy-storage, #greentech, #powerwall, #tc, #tesla

0

Aurora Solar aims to power the growing solar industry with a $250M round C

Aurora Solar had one of those pitches that seemed obvious in retrospect. Instead of going to a house and measuring its roof manually for a solar panel installation, why not use aerial scans and imagery of the whole region? That smart play earned them a $20M A round, a $50M B round, and now only six months later a massive $250M C as they aim to become the software platform on which the coming solar power expansion will be run.

The idea is simple enough to explain, but difficult to pull off. There’s lots of data out there about the topography, physical and infrastructural, of most cities. Satellite imagery, aerial lidar scans, light and power lines and usage data, and of course where and how the sun hits a given location — this information is readily available. Aurora’s innovation wasn’t just using it, but assembling it into a cohesive system that’s simple and effective enough to be used widely by solar installers.

“Aurora’s core value proposition is the fact that you can do things remotely much faster and more accurately than could if you traveled to the site,” explained co-founder and CRO Sam Adeyemo.

Having developed algorithms that ingest the aforementioned data, the service they offer is a very quick turnaround on the tricky question of whether a solar installation makes sense for a potential customer, and if so what it might cost and look like, down to the size and angle of the panels.

An interface showing a solar roof design and power savings.

Image Credits: Aurora Solar

“It’s not uncommon for the acquisition cost for a customer to be thousands of dollars,” said Adeyemo’s co-founder, CEO Chris Hopper. That’s partly because every installation is custom. He estimated that half the price tag of any setup is “soft cost” — that is, over and above the actual price of the hardware.

“If the quote is for $30K, what actually goes on your roof might be $15K, the rest is overhead, design, acquisition cost, yada yada yada,” he explained. “That’s the next frontier to make solar cost-competitive, and that’s where Aurora comes in. Every time we shave a few dollars off the price of an installation, it opens it up for new consumers.”

The company doesn’t do its own lidar flights or solar installations, so the $250M in funding may strike some as rather high for a company making software. Though I did my best to tease out any secret skunkworks projects under way at Aurora, Adeyemo and Hopper patiently explained that enterprise-scale software isn’t cheap, and the funding is proportional to their ambitions.

“The amount we raised speaks to the opportunity ahead of us,” said Hopper. “There’s a lot more solar to put on roofs.”

Aurora has been used for evaluating about 5 million solar projects so far, about a fifth of which end up being built, Adeyemo estimated. And that’s just a fraction of a fraction. Solar makes up about two percent of the U.S.’s power infrastructure, right now, but that’s on track to increase by an order of magnitude in the next 20 years.

The new administration has thrown fuel on the fire of the industry’s optimism, and whether or not something like the Green New Deal comes to fruition, the fundamentally different approach to environmental and energy policy mean there are more eyeballs directed at clean energy and consequently a lot of checks being written.

Aurora Solar co-founders Samuel Adeyemo (left) and Chris Hopper (right).

Image Credits: Aurora Solar

“It counts for a lot. With heightened awareness about climate change there will be more interest in ways to mitigate it,” said Adeyemo. He gave the example of Texas, which after the recent storms and blackouts had more inquiries per capita than anywhere else in the country. Renewables may be a charged issue in some ways, but solar power is bipartisan and broadly popular across the political spectrum.

The $250M round, led by Coatue and with participation from previous investors ICONIQ, Energize Ventures, and Fifth Wall, allows the company to go both broad and deep with their product.

“Historically we’ve been more of a design solution; the next phase is to broaden that into a platform that covers more of the process of going solar,” said Hopper. “We don’t believe this is going to be a niche market — going from 2 to 20 percent and beyond, that’s a huge endeavor.”

The co-founders would not be more specific than that scaling a SaaS company requires significant cash up front, and during the push to come they can’t be worried about whether or when they’ll need to get more capital.

“The first five years of the company were quasi-bootstrapped… we’d raised like a million bucks. So we know what it’s like to grow a company from that perspective, and now we know what it’s like to really need the capital to scale the business,” said Adeyemo. “If you want to be the platform for a significant percentage of the energy capacity of the country… you gotta tool up.”

What exactly tooling up comprises we will soon find out — the company is planning to announce more news at its upcoming summit in June.

#aurora-solar, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greentech, #recent-funding, #renewable-energy, #solar, #solar-power, #startups, #tc

0

Dabbel gets $4.4M to cut CO2 by automating HVAC for commercial buildings

Düsseldorf-based proptech startup Dabbel is using AI to drive energy efficiency savings in commercial buildings.

It’s developed cloud-based self-learning building management software that plugs into the existing building management systems (BMS) — taking over control of heating and cooling systems in a way that’s more dynamic than legacy systems based on fixed set-point resets.

Dabbel says its AI considers factors such as building orientation and thermal insulation, and reviews calibration decisions every five minutes — meaning it can respond dynamically to changes in outdoor and indoor conditions.

The 2018-founded startup claims this approach of layering AI-powered predictive modelling atop legacy BMS to power next-gen building automation is able to generate substantial energy savings — touting reductions in energy consumption of up to 40%.

“Every five minutes Dabbel reviews its decisions based on all available data,” explains CEO and co-founder, Abel Samaniego. “With each iteration, Dabbel improves or adapts and changes its decisions based on the current circumstances inside and outside the building. It does this by using cognitive artificial intelligence to drive a Model-Based Predictive Control (MPC) System… which can dynamically adjust all HVAC setpoints based on current/future conditions.”

In essence, the self-learning system predicts ahead of time the tweaks that are needed to adapt for future conditions — saving energy vs a pre-set BMS that would keep firing the boilers for longer.

The added carrot for commercial building owners (or tenants) is that Dabbel squeezes these energy savings without the need to rip and replace legacy systems — nor, indeed, to install lots of IoT devices or sensor hardware to create a ‘smart’ interior environment; the AI integrates with (and automatically calibrates) the existing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

All that’s needed is Dabbel’s SaaS — and less than a week for the system to be implemented (it also says installation can be done remotely).

“There are no limitations in terms of Heating and Cooling systems,” confirms Samaniego, who has a background in industrial engineering and several years’ experience automating high tech plants in Germany. “We need a building with a Building Management System in place and ideally a BACnet communication protocol.”

Average reductions achieved so far across the circa 250,000m² of space where its AI is in charge of building management systems are a little more modest but a still impressive 27%. (He says the maximum savings seen at some “peak times” is 42%.)

The touted savings aren’t limited to a single location or type of building/client, according to Dabbel, which says they’ve been “validated across different use cases and geographies spanning Europe, the U.S., China, and Australia”.

Early clients are facility managers of large commercial buildings — Commerzbank clearly sees potential, having incubated the startup via its early-stage investment arm — and several schools.

A further 1,000,000m² is in the contract or offer phase — slated to be installed “in the next six months”.

Dabbel envisages its tech being useful to other types of education institutions and even other use-cases. (It’s also toying with adding a predictive maintenance functionality to expand its software’s utility by offering the ability to alert building owners to potential malfunctions ahead of time.)

And as policymakers around the global turn their attention to how to achieve the very major reductions in carbon emissions that are needed to meet ambitious climate goals the energy efficiency of buildings certainly can’t be overlooked.

“The time for passive responses to addressing the critical issue of carbon emission reduction is over,” said Samaniego in a statement. “That is why we decided to take matters into our own hands and develop a solution that actively replaces a flawed human-based decision-making process with an autonomous one that acts with surgical precision and thanks to artificial intelligence, will only improve with each iteration.”

If the idea of hooking your building’s heating/cooling up to a cloud-based AI sounds a tad risky for Internet security reasons, Dabbel points out it’s connecting to the BMS network — not the (separate) IT network of the company/building.

It also notes that it uses one-way communication via a VPN tunnel — “creating an end-to-end encrypted connection under high market standards”, as Samaniego puts it.

The startup has just closed a €3.6 million (~$4.4M) pre-Series A funding round led by Target Global, alongside main incubator (Commerzbank’s early-stage investment arm), SeedX, plus some strategic angel investors.

Commenting in a statement, Dr. Ricardo Schaefer, partner at Target Global, added: “We are enthusiastic to work with the team at Dabbel as they offer their clients a tangible and frictionless way to significantly reduce their carbon footprint, helping to close the gap between passive measurement and active remediation.”

 

#ai, #artificial-intelligence, #building-automation, #commerzbank, #dusseldorf, #energy, #energy-conservation, #energy-consumption, #energy-efficiency, #europe, #fundings-exits, #germany, #greentech, #proptech, #saas, #target-global

0

Crypto and blockchain must accept they have a problem, then lead in sustainability

As the price of bitcoin hits record highs and cryptocurrencies become increasingly mainstream, the industry’s expanding carbon footprint becomes harder to ignore.

Just last week, Elon Musk announced that Tesla is suspending vehicle purchases using bitcoin due to the environmental impact of fossil fuels used in bitcoin mining. We applaud this decision, and it brings to light the severity of the situation — the industry needs to address crypto sustainability now or risk hindering crypto innovation and progress.

The market cap of bitcoin today is a whopping $1 trillion. As companies like PayPal, Visa and Square collectively invest billions in crypto, market participants need to lead in dramatically reducing the industry’s collective environmental impact.

As the price of bitcoin hits record highs and cryptocurrencies become increasingly mainstream, the industry’s expanding carbon footprint becomes harder to ignore.

The increasing demand for crypto means intensifying competition and higher energy use among mining operators. For example, during the second half of February, we saw the electricity consumption of BTC increase by more than 163% — from 265 TWh to 433 TWh — as the price skyrocketed.

Sustainability has become a topic of concern on the agendas of global and local leaders. The Biden administration rejoining the Paris climate accord was the first indication of this, and recently we’ve seen several federal and state agencies make statements that show how much of a priority it will be to address the global climate crisis.

A proposed New York bill aims to prohibit crypto mining centers from operating until the state can assess their full environmental impact. Earlier this year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission put out a call for public comment on climate disclosures as shareholders increasingly want information on what companies are doing in this regard, while Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that the amount of energy consumed in processing bitcoin is “staggering.” The United Kingdom announced plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% by 2030, and the prime minister launched an ambitious plan last year for a green industrial revolution.

Crypto is here to stay — this point is no longer up for debate. It is creating real-world benefits for businesses and consumers alike — benefits like faster, more reliable and cheaper transactions with greater transparency than ever before. But as the industry matures, sustainability must be at the center. It’s easier to build a more sustainable ecosystem now than to “reverse engineer” it at a later growth stage. Those in the cryptocurrency markets should consider the auto industry a canary: Carmakers are now retrofitting lower-carbon and carbon-neutral solutions at great cost and inconvenience.

Market participants need to actively work together to realize a low-emissions future powered by clean, renewable energy. Last month, the Crypto Climate Accord (CCA) launched with over 40 supporters — including Ripple, World Economic Forum, Energy Web Foundation, Rocky Mountain Institute and ConsenSys — and the goal to enable all of the world’s blockchains to be powered by 100% renewables by 2025.

Some industry participants are exploring renewable energy solutions, but the larger industry still has a long way to go. While 76% of hashers claim they are using renewable energy to power their activities, only 39% of hashing’s total energy consumption comes from renewables.

To make a meaningful impact, the industry needs to come up with a standard that’s open and transparent to measure the use of renewables and make renewable energy accessible and cheap for miners. The CCA is already working on such a standard. In addition, companies can pay for high-quality carbon offsets for remaining emissions — and perhaps even historical ones.

While the industry works to become more sustainable long term, there are green choices that can be made now, and some industry players are jumping on board. Fintechs like Stripe have created carbon renewal programs to encourage its customers and partners to be more sustainable.

Companies can partner with organizations, like Energy Web Foundation and the Renewable Energy Business Alliance, to decarbonize any blockchain. There are resources for those who want to access renewable energy sources and high-quality carbon offsets. Other options include using inherently low-carbon technologies, like the XRP Ledger, that don’t rely on proof-of-work (which involves mining) to help significantly reduce emissions for blockchains and cryptofinance.

The XRP Ledger is carbon-neutral and uses a validation and security algorithm called Federated Consensus that is approximately 120,000 times more energy-efficient than proof-of-work. Ethereum, the second-largest blockchain, is transitioning off proof-of-work to a much less energy-intensive validation mechanism called proof-of-stake. Proof-of-work systems are inefficient by design and, as such, will always require more energy to maintain forward progress.

The devastating impact of climate change is moving at an alarming speed. Making aspirational commitments to sustainability — or worse, denying the problem — isn’t enough. As with the Paris agreement, the industry needs real targets, collective action, innovation and shared accountability.

The good news? Solutions can be practical, market-driven and create value and growth for all. Together with climate advocates, clean tech industry leaders and global finance decision-makers, crypto can unite to position blockchain as the most sustainable path forward in creating a green, digital financial future.

#bitcoin, #blockchain, #column, #cryptocurrency, #elon-musk, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greentech, #opinion, #renewable-energy, #tc, #tesla

0

Sylvera grabs seed backing from Index to help close the accountability gap around carbon offsetting

UK-based startup Sylvera is using satellite, radar and lidar data-fuelled machine learning to bolster transparency around carbon offsetting projects in a bid to boost accountability and credibility — applying independent ratings to carbon offsetting projects.

The ratings are based on proprietary data sets it’s developed in conjunction with scientists from research organisations including UCLA, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and University College London.

It’s just grabbed $5.8M in seed funding led by VC firm Index Ventures. All its existing institutional investors also participated — namely: Seedcamp, Speedinvest and Revent. It also has backing from leading angels, including the existing and former CEOs of NYSE, Thomson Reuters, Citibank and IHS Markit. (It confirms it has committed not to receive any investment from traditional carbon-intensive companies when as ask.) And it’s just snagged a $2M research contract from Innovate UK.

The problem it’s targeting is that the carbon offsetting market suffers from a lack of transparency.

This fuels concerns that many offsetting projects aren’t living up to their claims of a net reduction in carbon emissions — and that ‘creative’ carbon accountancy is rather being used to generate a lot of hot air: In the form of positive sounding PR which sums to meaningless greenwashing and more pollution as polluters get to keep on pumping out climate changing emissions.

Nonetheless the carbon offset markets are poised for huge growth — of at least 15x by 2030 — as large corporates accelerate their net zero commitments. And Sylvera’s bet is that that will drive demand for reliable, independent data — to stand up the claimed impact.

How exactly is Sylvera benchmarking carbon offsets? Co-founder Sam Gill says its technology platform draws on multiple layers of satellite data to capture project performance data at scale and at a high frequency.

It applies machine learning to analyze and visualize the data, while also conducting what it bills as “deep analytical work to assess the underlying project quality”. Via that process it creates a standardised rating for a project, so that market participants are able to transact according to their preferences.

It makes its ratings and analysis data available to its customers via a web application and an API (for which it charges a subscription).

“We assess two critical areas of a project — its carbon performance, and its ‘quality’,” Gill tells TechCrunch. “We score a project against these criteria, and give them ratings — much like a Moody’s rating on a bond.”

Carbon performance is assessed by gathering “multi-layered data” from multiple sources to understand what is going on on the ground of these projects — such as via multiple satellite sources such as multispectral image, Radar, and Lidar data.

“We collate this data over time, ingest it into our proprietary machine learning algorithms, and analyse how the project has performed against its stated aims,” Gill explains.

Quality is assessed by considering the technical aspects of the project. This includes what Gill calls “additionality”; aka “does the project have a strong claim to delivering a better outcome than would have occurred but for the existence of the offset revenue?”.

There is a known problem with some carbon offsets claimed against forests where the landowner had no intention of logging, for example. So if there wasn’t going to be any deforestation the carbon credit is essentially bogus.

He also says it looks at factors like permanence (“how long will the project’s impacts last?”); co-benefits (“how well has the project incorporated the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals?); and risks (“how well is the project mitigating risks, in particular those from humans and those from natural causes?”).

Clearly it’s not an exact science — and Gill acknowledges risks, for example, are often interlinked.

“It is critical to assess these performance and quality in tandem,” he tells TechCrunch. “It’s not enough to simply say a project is achieving the carbon goals set out in its plan.

“If the additionality of a project is low (e.g. it was actually unlikely the project would have been deforested without the project) then the achievement of the carbon goals set out in the project does not generate the anticipated carbon goals, and the underlying offsets are therefore weaker than appreciated.”

Commenting on the seed funding in a statement, Carlos Gonzalez-Cadenas, partner at Index Ventures, said: “This is a phenomenally strong team with the vision to build the first carbon offset rating benchmark, providing comprehensive insights around the quality of offsets, enabling purchase decisions as well as post-purchase monitoring and reporting. Sylvera is  putting in place the building blocks that will be required to address climate change.”

#carbon-offset, #carlos-gonzalez-cadenas, #citibank, #europe, #fundings-exits, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greentech, #index-ventures, #machine-learning, #renewable-energy, #sylvera, #ucla

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Framework’s repairable laptop is up for preorder, starting at $999

Repairability has been a big sticking point for consumer electronics over the past several years. As devices have gotten thinner — and companies have pushed to maintain control over proprietary systems — many devices have become near impossible for an every-day person to repair.

It’s an issue for a number of reasons — not the least of which is an inability to upgrade a system instead of scrapping it altogether. In a world where human impact on the environment is increasingly top of mind, forced obsolescence is an understandably important issue for many.

Framework is one of an increasing number of companies working to address these issues. It’s a list that also includes products like Fairphone on the mobile side. It’s a niche versus the overall market, to be sure, but it’s one that could well be growing. Announced in January, the Framework Laptop is up for preorder today. The 13.5-inch notebook starts at $999 and will start shipping at the end of July.

The SF-based company had initially targeted spring shipping, but ongoing chip supply problems have delayed the product. The system actually doesn’t look half-bad for a product and company that are clearly repair/upgrade-first.

There are three basic configurations — Base, Performance and Professional, ranging from $999 to $1,999, upgrading from an Intel Core i5, 8GB of Ram and 256GB of storage to a Core i7 and 32GB/1TB. Windows also gets upgraded from Home to Pro at the top level. At $749, the company offers a barebones shell, where users can plug in their own internals.

Image Credits: Framework

Other upgrades include:

On top of that, the Framework Laptop is deeply customizable in unique ways. Our Expansion Card system lets you choose the ports you want and which side you want them on, selecting from four at a time of USB-C, USB-A, HDMI, DisplayPort, MicroSD, ultra-fast 250GB and 1TB storage, and more. Magnetic-attach bezels are color-customizable to match your style, and the keyboard language can be swapped too.

 

#framework, #greentech, #hardware, #laptop

0

Subaru’s first electric vehicle is called the Solterra and it’s due out in 2022

For Subaru diehards holding out for an electric vehicle, the wait is almost over. The Japanese automaker just announced new details about its first ever EV, which is set to hit the streets in 2022.

Subaru will call its first EV the Solterra, a fitting name for a brand synonymous with outdoor adventures and you know, the sun and the Earth. Also fittingly, Subaru’s first full-fledged EV will be an SUV thats ships with the manufacturer’s well-regarded all-wheel drive capabilities.

The Solterra is built on a new platform the company is developing in partnership with Toyota, which the latter company will use for its impossibly named BZ4X crossover (BZ stands for “beyond zero,” apparently).

Subaru has only released two teaser images so far, but given that the new SUV will share DNA with the Toyota BZ4X, Subaru’s offering will likely look like a toned-down, less aggressively styled version of Toyota’s forthcoming futuristic electric crossover.

Other than that, we don’t know a whole lot. If the Solterra winds up looking a lot like the BZ4X, you can expect a sort of squashed RAV4, maybe somewhere between a Crosstrek and a Forester in size.

Subaru’s first proper EV will join the plug-in hybrid Crosstrek, which the company began selling in 2014 — currently its only option for climate-conscious drivers. The Solterra will go on sale next year in the U.S., Canada, China, Europe, and Japan.

#cars, #crossover, #electric-vehicles, #evs, #greentech, #subaru, #tc, #toyota

0

The energy ecosystem should move to make the ‘energy internet’ a reality

As vice president of Innovation at National Grid Partners, I’m responsible for developing initiatives that not only benefit National Grid’s current business but also have the potential to become stand-alone businesses. So I obviously have strong views about the future of the energy industry.

But I don’t have a crystal ball; no one does. To be a good steward of our innovation portfolio, my job isn’t to guess what the right “basket” is for our “eggs.” It’s to optimally allocate our finite eggs across multiple baskets with the greatest collective upside.

Put another way, global and regional trends make it clear that the Next Big Thing isn’t any single thing at all. Instead, the future is about open innovation and integration of elements across the entire energy supply chain. Only with such an open energy ecosystem can we adapt to the highly volatile — some might even say unpredictable — market conditions we face in the energy industry.

Just as the digital internet rewards innovation wherever it serves the market — whether you build a better app or design a cooler smartphone — so too will the energy internet offer greater opportunities across the energy supply chain.

I like to think of this open, innovation-enabling approach as the “energy internet,” and I believe it represents the most important opportunity in the energy sector today.

The internet analogy

Here’s why I find the concept of the energy internet helpful. Before the digital internet (a term I’m using here to encompass all the hardware, software and standards that comprise it), we had multiple silos of technology such as mainframes, PCs, databases, desktop applications and private networks.

As the digital internet evolved, however, the walls between these silos disappeared. You can now utilize any platform on the back end of your digital services, including mainframes, commodity server hardware and virtual machines in the cloud.

You can transport digital payloads across networks that connect to any customer, supplier or partner on the planet with whatever combination of speed, security, capacity and cost you deem most appropriate. That payload can be data, sound or video, and your endpoint can be a desktop browser, smartphone, IoT sensor, security camera or retail kiosk.

This mix-and-match internet created an open digital supply chain that has driven an epochal boom in online innovation. Entrepreneurs and inventors can focus on specific value propositions anywhere across that supply chain rather than having to continually reinvent the supply chain itself.

The energy sector must move in the same direction. We need to be able to treat our various generation modalities like server platforms. We need our transmission grids to be as accessible as our data networks, and we need to be able to deliver energy to any consumption endpoint just as flexibly. We need to encourage innovation at those endpoints, too — just as the tech sector did.

Just as the digital internet rewards innovation wherever it serves the market — whether you build a better app or design a cooler smartphone — so too will the energy internet offer greater opportunities across the energy supply chain.

The 5D future

So what is the energy internet? As a foundation, let’s start with a model that takes the existing industry talk of digitalization, decentralization and decarbonization a few steps further:

Digitalization: Innovation depends on information about demand, supply, efficiency, trends and events. That data must be accurate, complete, timely and sharable. Digitalization efforts such as IoE, open energy, and what many refer to as the “smart grid” are instrumental because they ensure innovators have the insights they need to continuously improve the physics, logistics and economics of energy delivery.

Decentralization: The internet changed the world in part because it took the power of computing out of a few centralized data centers and distributed it wherever it made sense. The energy internet will do likewise. Digitalization supports decentralization by letting assets be integrated into an open energy supply chain. But decentralization is much more than just the integration of existing assets — it’s the proliferation of new assets wherever they’re needed.

Decarbonization: Decarbonization is, of course, the whole point of the exercise. We must move to greener supply chains built on decentralized infrastructure that leverage energy supply everywhere to meet energy demand anywhere. The market is demanding it and regulators are requiring it. The energy internet is therefore more than just an investment opportunity — it’s an existential imperative.

Democratization: Much of the innovation associated with the internet arose from the fact that, in addition to decentralizing technology physically, it also democratized technology demographically. Democratization is about putting power (literally, in this case) into the hands of the people. Vastly increasing the number of minds and hands tackling the energy industry’s challenges will also accelerate innovation and enhance our ability to respond to market dynamics.

Diversity: As I asserted above, no one has a crystal ball. So anyone investing in innovation at scale should diversify — not just to mitigate risk and optimize returns, but as an enablement strategy. After all, if we truly believe the energy internet (or Grid 2.0, if you prefer that term) will require that all the elements of the energy supply chain work together, we must diversify our innovation initiatives across those elements to promote interoperability and integration.

That’s how the digital internet was built. Standards bodies played an important role, but those standards and their implementations were driven by industry players like Microsoft and Cisco — as well as top VCs — who ensured the ecosystem’s success by driving integration across the supply chain.

We must take the same approach with the energy internet. Those with the power and influence to do so must help ensure we aggressively advance integration across the energy supply chain as a whole, even as we improve the individual elements. To this end, National Grid last year kicked off a new industry group called the NextGrid Alliance, which includes senior executives from more than 60 utilities across the world.

Finally, we believe it’s essential to diversify thinking within the energy ecosystem as well. National Grid has sounded alarms about the serious underrepresentation of women in the energy industry and of female undergraduates in STEM programs. On the flip side, research by Deloitte has found diverse teams are 20% more innovative. More than 60% of my own team at NGP are women, and that breadth of perspective has helped National Grid capture powerful insights into companywide innovation efforts.

More winning, less predicting

The concept of the energy internet isn’t some abstract future ideal. We’re already seeing specific examples of how it will transform the market:

Green transnationalism: The energy internet is on its way to becoming as global as the digital internet. The U.K., for instance, is now receiving wind-generated power from Norway and Denmark. This ability to leverage decentralized energy supply across borders will have significant benefits for national economies and create new opportunities for energy arbitrage.

EV charging models: Pumping electricity isn’t like pumping gas, nor should it be. With the right combination of innovation in smart metering and fast-charging end-point design, the energy internet will create new opportunities at office buildings, residential complexes and other places where cars plus convenience can equal cash.

Disaster mitigation: Recent events in Texas have highlighted the negative consequences of not having an energy internet. Responsible utilities and government agencies must embrace digitization and interoperability to more effectively troubleshoot infrastructure and better safeguard communities.

These are just a few of the myriad ways in which an open, any-to-any energy internet will promote innovation, stimulate competition and generate big wins. No one can predict exactly what those big wins will be, but there will surely be many, and they will accrue to the benefit of all.

That’s why even without a crystal ball, we should all commit ourselves to digitalization, decentralization, decarbonization, democratization and diversity. In so doing, we’ll build the energy internet together, and enable a fair, affordable and clean energy future.

#column, #electricity, #emerging-technologies, #energy, #energy-industry, #greentech, #internet-of-things, #national-grid-partners, #opinion, #smart-grid, #tc

0

Exeger takes $38M to ramp up production of its flexible solar cells for self-powered gadgets

Sweden’s Exeger, which for over a decade has been developing flexible solar cell technology (called Powerfoyle) that it touts as efficient enough to power gadgets solely with light, has taken in another tranche of funding to expand its manufacturing capabilities by opening a second factory in the country.

The $38 million raise is comprised of $20M in debt financing from Swedbank and Swedish Export Credit Corporation (SEK), with a loan amounting to $12M from Swedbank (partly underwritten by the Swedish Export Credit Agency (EKN) under the guarantee of investment credits for companies with innovations) and SEK issuing a loan amounting to $8M (partly underwritten by the pan-EU European Investment Fund (EIF)); along with $18M through a directed share issue to Ilija Batljan Invest AB.

The share issue of 937,500 shares has a transaction share price of $19.2 — which corresponds to a pre-money valuation of $860M for the solar cell maker.

Back in 2019 SoftBank also put $20M into Exeger, in two investments of $10M — entering a strategic partnership to accelerate the global rollout of its tech and further extending its various investments in solar energy.

The Swedish company has also previously received a loan from the Swedish Energy Agency, in 2014, to develop its solar cell tech. But this latest debt financing round is its first on commercial terms (albeit partly underwritten by EKN and EIF).

Exeger says its solar cell tech is the only one that can be printed in free-form and different colors, meaning it can “seamlessly enhance any product with endless power”, as its PR puts it.

So far two devices have integrated the Powerfoyle tech: A bike helmet with an integrated safety taillight (by POC), and a pair of wireless headphones (by Urbanista). Although neither has yet been commercially launched — but both are slated to go on sale next month.

Exeger says its planned second factory in Stockholm will allow it to increase its manufacturing capacity tenfold by 2023, helping it target a broader array of markets sooner and accelerating its goal of mass adoption of its tech.

Its main target markets for the novel solar cell technology currently include consumer electronics, smart home, smart workplace, and IoT.

More device partnerships are slated as coming this year.

Exeger’s Powerfoyle solar cell tell integrated into a pair of Urbanista headphones (Image credits: Exeger/Urbanista)

“We don’t label our rounds but take a more pragmatic view on fundraising,” said Giovanni Fili, founder and CEO. “Developing a new technology, a new energy source, as well as laying the foundation for a new industry takes time. Thus, a company like ours requires long-term strategic investors that all buy into the vision as well as the overall strategy. We have spent a lot of time and energy on this, and it has paid off. It has given the company the resources required, both time and money, to bring an invention to a commercial launch, which is where we are today.”

Fili added that it’s chosen to raise debt financing now “because we can”.

“The same answer as when asked why we build a new factory in Stockholm, Sweden, rather than abroad. We have always said that once commercial, we will start leveraging the balance sheet when securing funds for the next factory. Thanks to our long-standing relationship with Swedbank and SEK, as well as the great support of the Swedish government through EKN underwriting part of the loans, we were able to move this forward,” he said.

Discussing the forthcoming two debut gizmos, the POC Omne Eternal helmet and the Urbanista Los Angeles headphones — which will both go sale in June — Fili says interest in the self-powered products has “surpassed all our expectations”.

“Any product which integrates Powerfoyle is able to charge under all forms of light, whether from indoor lamps or natural outdoor light. The stronger the light, the faster it charges. The POC helmet, for example, doesn’t have a USB port to power the safety light because the ambient light will keep it charging, cycling or not,” he tells TechCrunch.

“The Urbanista Los Angeles wireless headphones have already garnered tremendous interest online. Users can spend one hour outdoors with the headphones and gain three hours of battery time. This means most users will never need to worry about charging. As long as you have our product in light, any light, it will constantly charge. That’s one of the key aspects of our technology, we have designed and engineered the solar cell to work wherever people need it to work.”

“This is the year of our commercial breakthrough,” he added in a statement. “The phenomenal response from the product releases with POC and Urbanista are clear indicators this is the perfect time to introduce self-powered products to
the world. We need mass scale production to realize our vision which is to touch the lives of a billion people by 2030, and that’s why the factory is being built now.”

 

#consumer-electronics, #energy, #europe, #european-investment-fund, #european-union, #exeger, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #greentech, #poc, #powerfoyle, #softbank, #solar-cell, #solar-energy, #stockholm, #sweden, #urbanista, #wireless-headphones

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Fund managers can leverage ESG-related data to generate insights

Almost two centuries ago, gold prospectors in California set off one of the greatest rushes for wealth in history. Proponents of socially conscious investing claim fund managers will start a similar stampede when they discover that environmental, social and governance (ESG) insights can yield treasure in the form of alternative data that promise big payoffs — if only they knew how to mine it.

First, let’s be clear: ESG is not on the fringe.

There may be some truth to that line of thinking if you take some of the rhetoric and advertising out of the equation.

First, let’s be clear: ESG is not on the fringe. The European Union has implemented new financial regulations via the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR). These improve ESG disclosures and considerations and help to direct capital toward products and companies that benefit people and the planet. As we write, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is also considering drafting and implementation of ESG-related regulations.

Whether enacted or currently under consideration, these rules encourage fund managers to integrate sustainability risks into their business processes, report on them publicly, stamp out greenwashing, and promote transparency and knowledge among investors. Accordingly, it will become easier to compare firms’ sustainability efforts, too, allowing stakeholders from all corners to make more informed decisions.

Incorporating ESG factors into investment strategies is not new, of course. The world’s largest asset managers have been practicing it for years. According to the Governance & Accountability Institute, 90% of companies listed on the S&P 500 now produce sustainability reports, an increase of 70 percentage points from more than a decade ago.

Yet some are still groaning about adopting an ESG investing mindset; they see ESG as a nuisance that detracts from their mission of earning high returns. But could this mindset mean they are missing important opportunities?

Don’t wait

Waiting for new mandatory ESG reporting and compliance framework standards in the U.S. puts Americas-focused managers at a significant disadvantage. Fund managers can start gaining insights today from alternative data originating in ESG-related data stemming from climate change, natural disasters, harassment and discrimination lawsuits, and other events and information that can be mined.

#column, #ec-column, #ec-food-climate-and-sustainability, #environmentalism, #esg, #europe, #european-union, #finance, #governance, #greentech, #investment, #startups, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #venture-capital

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Ford to open new lab to develop next-gen lithium-ion and solid-state batteries

Ford Motor Company will open a $185 million R&D battery lab to develop and manufacture battery cells and batteries, a first step toward the automaker possibly making battery cells in-house. The facility comes as yet another signal to consumers and other automakers that the auto giant is no longer hedging its bets on the transition to battery electric vehicles.

Company executives declined to provide a timeline on when Ford might scale its battery manufacturing, but it is clear that the company intends this facility to lay the groundwork for such a future.

The Ford Ion Park will be based in southeast Michigan and will be home to more than 150 employees across battery technology development, research and manufacturing. The facility will likely be around 200,000 square feet and will open at the end of 2022. The facility will be supported by Ford’s batteries benchmarking test laboratories in nearby Allen Park, Michigan, which is already testing battery cell construction and chemistries. Also nearby are Ford’s product development center in Dearborn and Ford’s battery cell assembly and e-motor plant in Rossville.

The new facility will be led by Anand Sankaran, who is currently Ford’s director of electrified systems engineering. He described it as a “learning lab” to create both “lab-scale and pilot-scale assembly of cells,” including next-gen lithium-ion and solid-state batteries.

Ford is thinking about the transition to BEVs in phases, Hau Thai Tang, Ford’s chief product platform and operations officer, explained. In this first phase, when BEVs are being largely purchased by early adopters, Ford’s working with external supplier partners. The company is now preparing for phase two, when Ford will bring more products to market and BEVs will take more of the market share. “So in preparation for that next transition into the second phase, we want to give Ford the flexibility and the optionality to eventually vertically integrate,” Tang said.

“Our plan to lead the electric revolution will certainly be dependent on the progress that we make on battery energy density, as well as cost,” Tang told reporters Tuesday.

“The formation of the Ford Ion Park team is a key enabler for Ford to vertically integrate and manufacture batteries in the future,” Tang said. “This will help us better control our supply and deliver high-volume battery cells with greater range, lower cost and higher quality.”

This would be a huge boost for domestic manufacturing of battery cells, which is dominated by companies based in Asia, such as Panasonic (Tesla’s main supplier), South Korea-based LG Chem and SK Innovation, Ford’s current battery cell supplier. Executives said the global pandemic and the semiconductor shortage have highlighted the importance of having a localized and domestically controlled supply chain.

“We know in terms of batteries, it’s a very capital-intensive business to be in,” Tang said. “The best tier one suppliers in the world spend a large amount of their revenue on R&D spending, and then the capital expenditure required to build and stand up battery plants is quite high. So as we think about this, the scale and volume that we would need to have dedicated sites for Ford is a big consideration, and we’ve talked about how bullish we see this transition happening. We’re at a point where now, there’s sufficient scale for us to entertain having greater levels of vertical integration at some point.”

#automotive, #batteries, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #ford-motor-company, #greentech, #tc

0

Tesla wants to make every home a distributed power plant

Tesla CEO Elon Musk wants to turn every home into a distributed power plant that would generate, store and even deliver energy back into the electricity grid, all using the company’s products.

While the company has been selling solar and energy storage products for years, a new company policy to only sell solar coupled with the energy storage products, along with Musk’s comments Monday, reveal a strategy that aims to scale these businesses by appealing to utilities.

“This is a prosperous future both for Tesla and for the utilities,” he said. “If this is not done, the utilities will fail to serve their customers. They won’t be able to do it,” Musk said during an investor call, noting the rolling blackouts in California last summer and the more recent grid failure in Texas as evidence that grid reliability has become a bigger concern.

Last week, the company changed its website to prevent customers from only buying solar or its Powerwall energy storage product and instead required purchasing a system. Musk later announced the move in a tweet, stating “solar power will feed exclusively to Powerwall” and that “Powerwall will interface only between utility meter and house main breaker panel, enabling super simple install and seamless whole house backup during utility dropouts.”

Musk’s pitch is that the grid would need more power lines, more power plants and larger substations to fully decarbonize using renewables plus storage. Distributed residential systems — of course using Tesla products — would provide a better path, in Musk’s view. His claim has been backed up in part by recent studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which found that the U.S. can reach a zero-carbon grid by more than doubling its transmission capacity, and another from Princeton University showing that the country may need to triple its transmission systems by 2050 to reach net-zero emissions.

Musk is imagining a radically different electricity grid system than the one we have today, which is centrally controlled and run by grid operators, independent organizations such as the California Independent System Operator or the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. It’s a vision that is riddled with bureaucratic and logistical challenges. Utilities and regulatory policy would need to solve how to handle a large influx of so-called “distributed energy resources,” such as solar panels on residential roofs, which may run contrary to utilities’ long-established business models.

It’s important to note that whether renewables-plus-storage will be alone sufficient to decarbonize the energy grid is a contentious question. Many experts believing that the land use demands, storage requirements and intermittency issues of renewables may make their role as the country’s primary electricity generator a pipe dream. But Musk has long been bullish on the renewables-plus-storage model, tweeting last July that “physics favors electric transport, batteries for stationary storage & solar/wind for energy generation.”

#automotive, #elon-musk, #greentech, #powerwall, #tc, #tesla

0

Outdoor startups see supercharged growth during COVID-19 era

After years of sustained growth, the pandemic supercharged the outdoor recreation industry. Startups that provide services like camper vans, private campsites and trail-finding apps became relevant to millions of new users when COVID-19 shut down indoor recreation, building on an existing boom in outdoor recreation.

Startups like Outdoorsy, AllTrails, Cabana, Hipcamp, Kibbo and Lowergear Outdoors have seen significant growth, but to keep it going, consumers who discovered a fondness for the great outdoors during the pandemic must turn it into a lifelong interest.

Outdoorsy, AllTrails, Cabana, Hipcamp, Kibbo and Lowergear Outdoors have seen significant growth, but to keep it going, consumers who discovered a fondness for the great outdoors during the pandemic must turn it into a lifelong interest.

Social media, increased environmentalism and high urbanization were already fueling a boom in popularity. There was a 72% increase in people who camp more than three times a year between 2014 and 2019, mostly spurred by young millennials, young families with kids and nonwhite participants.

But 2020 was a different animal: After months of shelter-in-place orders, widespread shutdowns and physical distancing, outdoors became the only location for safe socializing. In South Dakota, the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area saw a 59% increase in visitors from 2019 to 2020. In the pandemic year, consumers spent $887 billion on outdoor recreation according to the Outdoor Industry Association, more than pharmaceuticals and fuel combined.

And it’s going to continue to grow. Hiking equipment alone is supposed to reach a $7.4 billion market size by 2027, a 6.3% compound annual growth rate. Camping and caravanning is having an even more drastic moment. Without international travel, vacations shifted from flights to exotic resorts to domestic road trips, self-contained rentals and camping. In 2020, the market for camping and caravanning was almost $40 billion and is predicted to rise 13% to just over $45 billion this year.

After the initial and extreme drop-off in engagement early as national parks closed, private camping sites shut down and domestic travel ceased, many outdoor startups have had a breakout year. Outdoorsy, the peer-to-peer camper van rental marketplace, said it saw 44% of all bookings in the company’s history in 2020.

Campsite booking platform Hipcamp said it sent three times as much money to landowners in 2020 as compared to 2019. And it’s not just experienced outdoor veterans taking advantage of the work-from-home lifestyle: in 2020, Cabana, a camper van rental startup, said 70% of its customers had never rented a camper van or an RV before and another 26% had only done it once.

But a report commissioned by the Outdoor Industry Association showed that the most popular outdoor activities were ones that people could do close to home, not the traveling kind Hipcamp, Cabana and Outdoorsy traffic in. The three most popular outdoor activities for newbies: walking, running and bicycling.

But the pandemic did create a small boost for camping, climbing, backpacking and kayaking; fueled by an increase in women, younger, more ethnically diverse, urban and slightly less wealthy people pushing into the outdoors. This class of outdoor startups will need to engage the new demographic shift to capitalize on the pandemic’s outdoor boom because, according to the report, a quarter of those who started new outdoor activities during the pandemic don’t plan on continuing once it’s over.

Startups are increasing accessibility to the outdoors

But getting into the outdoors can be overwhelming: there’s gear to buy, skills to learn, exploring unfamiliar areas and the added stressor of safety. Outdoor startups are working to lower the barrier to entry to help grow their businesses.

“I think anytime you have like 2,000 articles with two dozen tips on how to use a product, that tells me that it is really, really too hard to use,” said Cabana founder Scott Kubly. “To me, that says there’s nothing but friction in this process. If you want to build something that’s mainstream, you need to make it super consistent and really easy to use.”

Kubly said only half a percent of the U.S. population takes a rental van or RV trip each year. Planning an outdoor adventure can be time-consuming — choosing a location, finding an open campsite, planning meals and water, and figuring out dump stations for trash or septic. That planning is multiplied tenfold if you are going for a road trip or backpacking and need to find new places every other night.

#airbnb, #camping, #ec-consumer-applications, #ec-market-map, #greentech, #onx, #outdoorsy, #startups, #tc, #travel-activities

0

Tesla owners can now see how much solar or coal is powering their EVs

Tesla owners can now see exactly what kind of energy is powering their electric vehicles. TezLab, a free app that’s like a Fitbit for a Tesla vehicle, pushed out a new feature this week that shows the energy mix — breaking down the exact types and percentages of fossil fuels and renewable energy — coming from charging locations, including Superchargers and third-party networks throughout the United States.

“We’re tracking the origin of data as it relates to energy, so we know if you’re in Tucson or Brooklyn (or any location) where the energy is coming from and what the mix of that energy looks like,” Ben Schippers, the CEO and co-founder of TezLab explained in a recent interview. “As a result, we can see how much carbon is being pushed out into the atmosphere based on your charge, whether you’re charging at home, or whether you’re charging at a Supercharger.”

ElectricityMap, a project from Tomorrow, provided the energy data, which TezLab then folded into its consumer-facing app. Once downloaded, the app knows when and where a Tesla owner is plugging in. The energy mix feature builds off of an existing program on the app that gave owners more general information on how dirty or clean their charge is.

Image Credits: TezLab

Take Tesla’s Linq High Roller Supercharger in Las Vegas, a V3 Supercharger that is supposed to support a peak rate of up to 250 kilowatts and has been heralded for its use of Tesla solar panels and its Powerpack batteries to generate and store the power needed to operate the chargers.

According to TezLab’s data, 1.7% of the energy is from solar. The primary source of renewable energy is actually hydro at 65.6% — courtesy of the Hoover Dam. The remaining energy mix from the Supercharger is about 33% natural gas.

Tesla’s Supercharger in Hawthorne, California, which was one of the first to have solar panels, has an energy mix of 0.2% solar, 5.5% nuclear,13.3% natural gas, 27% coal and 49.9% wind.

The top 10 “cleanest” Superchargers — a list that includes Centralia, Leavenworth, Moses Lake and Seattle, Washington — achieved that goal thanks to hydroelectric power. Superchargers with the most solar energy are all located in the same power grid in California. Superchargers in Barstow, Oxnard, Cabazon, San Diego, Mojave, Inyokern, San Mateo, Seaside and Santa Ana, California all have 22.7% solar and 15% wind energy. The remaining mix at these locations is 0.2% battery storage, 2.9% biomass, 5.6% geothermal, 6.3% hydro, 6.6% nuclear and 40% natural gas.

TezLab was born out of HappyFunCorp, a software engineering shop that builds apps for mobile, web, wearables and Internet of Things devices for clients that include Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, as well as an array of startups. HFC’s engineers, including co-founders Schippers (who is now chairman of the company’s board) and William Schenk, were attracted to Tesla largely because of its software-driven approach. The group was particularly intrigued at the opportunity created by the openness of the Tesla API. The Tesla API is technically private. But the endpoints are accessible to outsiders. When reverse-engineered, it’s possible for a third-party app to communicate directly with the API.

TezLab launched in 2018 with some initial features that let owners track their efficiency, total trip miles and use it to control certain functions of the vehicle, such as locking and unlocking the doors and heating and air conditioning. More features have been added, mostly focused on building community, including one that allows Tesla owners to rate Supercharger stations.

All of that data is aggregated and anonymous. TezLab has said it won’t sell that data. It does post on its website insights gleaned from that data, such as a breakdown of model ownership, the average trip length and average time between plugging in.

As other electric vehicles come to market, TezLab is adding those to the app, including the Ford Mustang Mach-E.

#automotive, #electric-vehicles, #greentech, #model-3, #model-s, #tc, #tesla, #tezlab, #transportation

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ZeroAvia’s hydrogen fuel cell plane ambitions clouded by technical challenges

When ZeroAvia’s six-seater aircraft completed an eight-minute flight from Cranfield Airfield in the U.K. last September, the company claimed a “major breakthrough” with the first-ever hydrogen fuel cell flight of a commercial-size aircraft.

The modified Piper Malibu propeller plane was now the largest hydrogen-powered aircraft in the world, wrote the company. “While some experimental aircraft have flown using hydrogen fuel cells, the size of this aircraft shows that paying passengers could be boarding a truly zero-emission flight very soon,” added Val Miftakhov, ZeroAvia’s CEO.

But just how hydrogen-powered was it, and how close is ZeroAvia to flying passengers?

“[In] this particular setup, not all the energy is coming from hydrogen,” said Miftakhov at a press conference directly afterwards. “There is a combination of the battery and hydrogen. But the way the battery and hydrogen fuel cells combine is such that we are able to fly purely on hydrogen.”

Miftakhov’s comments don’t quite tell the whole story. TechCrunch has learned that batteries provided the majority of the power required for the landmark flight, and will continue to feature heavily in ZeroAvia’s longer flights and new aircraft. And while the Malibu is technically still a passenger aircraft, ZeroAvia has had to replace four of the Malibu’s five passenger seats to accommodate bulky hydrogen tanks and other equipment.

In less than four years, ZeroAvia has gone from testing aircraft parts in pickup trucks to gaining the support of the U.K. government, and attracting investment from the likes of Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and — just last week — British Airways. Now the question is whether it can continue on its claimed trajectory and truly transform aviation.

Take off

Aviation currently accounts for 2.5% of humanity’s carbon emissions, and could grow to a quarter of the planet’s carbon budget by 2050. Biofuels can displace trees or food crops, while batteries are too heavy for anything more than short hops. Hydrogen, by contrast, can be generated using solar or wind power, and packs quite an energetic punch.

Fuel cells combine hydrogen with oxygen from the air in an efficient reaction that produces only electricity, heat and water. But that doesn’t mean you can simply drop a fuel cell into an existing aircraft. Fuel cells are heavy and complex, hydrogen requires bulky storage and there are many technical problems for startups to solve.

Russian-born Miftakhov arrived in America in 1997 to study for a physics doctorate. In 2012, after starting several companies and a stint at Google, he founded eMotorWerks (aka EMW) to produce electric conversion kits for the BMW 3-series.

But in 2013, BMW accused EMW of infringing its trademarks. Miftakhov agreed to change its logo and marketing materials, and to refrain from suggesting it was affiliated with the carmaker. He also found demand from BMW owners to be sluggish.

EMW then pivoted to providing chargers and a smart energy management platform. The new direction succeeded, and in 2017 Italian energy company Enel acquired EMW for a reported $150 million. But Miftakhov faced legal difficulties here, too.

George Betak, an EMW vice president, filed two civil lawsuits against Miftakhov alleging, among other things, that Miftakhov had left his name off patents, withheld money and even faked a document to make it seem as though Betak had assigned his intellectual property rights to EMW. Betak later withdrew some claims. The cases were quietly settled in the summer of 2020.

Weeks after selling EMW in 2017, Miftakhov incorporated ZeroAvia in San Carlos, California with the stated aim of “zero emissions aviation.” He was counting on the aviation industry being more interested in electrifying existing aircraft than BMW drivers had been.

First step: batteries

The first public outing for ZeroAvia was in October 2018 at Hollister Airport, 50 miles southwest of San Jose. Miftakhov mounted a propeller, an electric motor and batteries in the bed of a 1969 El Camino and took it up to 75 knots (85mph) on electric power.

In December, ZeroAvia bought a Piper PA-46 Matrix, a six-seater propeller plane very similar to the one it would later use in the U.K. Miftakhov’s team installed the motor and about 75kWh of lithium ion batteries — about the same as in an entry-level Tesla Model Y.

In February 2019, two days after the FAA granted it an experimental airworthiness certificate, the all-electric Piper took to the air. By mid-April, the Matrix was flying at its top speed and maximum power. It was ready to upgrade to hydrogen.

Import records show that ZeroAvia took delivery of a carbon fiber hydrogen tank from Germany in March. One company photo exists of the Matrix with a tank on its left wing, but ZeroAvia never released a video of it flying. Something had gone wrong.

In July, ZeroAvia’s R&D director posted a message on a forum for Piper owners: “We have damaged a wing of our Matrix, which we loved and pampered so much. The damage is so bad that it has to be replaced. Is anyone aware of [a suitable aircraft] that is going to be sold for parts any time soon?”

Miftakhov confirmed that the damage, not previously reported, occurred while ZeroAvia was reconfiguring the aircraft. That aircraft has not flown since, and ZeroAvia’s time as a Silicon Valley startup was coming to an end.

Moving to the UK

With ZeroAvia’s U.S. flight tests on hold, Miftakhov turned his attention to Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson is banking on ”a new green industrial revolution.”

In September 2019, Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), a U.K. government-supported company, funded a ZeroAvia-led project called HyFlyer, with £2.68 million ($3.3 million). Miftakhov committed to deliver a hydrogen fuel cell Piper that could fly more than 280 miles, within a year. Sharing the money would be Intelligent Energy, a fuel cell maker, and the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), which would provide hydrogen fueling tech.

“ZeroAvia had proved the concept of retrofitting an electric power train into an aircraft and instead of powering it by batteries, they wanted to power it with hydrogen,” said Richard Ainsworth, EMEC’s hydrogen manager at the time. “That was the whole purpose of the HyFlyer project.”

Gary Elliott, CEO of ATI, told TechCrunch that it was “really important” to ATI that ZeroAvia was using fuel cells rather than a battery system: “You need to spread your investment profile, so that you’ve got as much likelihood of success as you can.”

ZeroAvia set up in Cranfield and in February 2020, bought a six-seater Piper Malibu, similar to the damaged Matrix. Although the company fitted and flew it with batteries by June, the government still needed reassuring. “I’d be happy to catch up and think about what we can do to address the concerns that are nagging away at the ATI,” wrote an official, according to an email obtained by TechCrunch under a freedom of information request.

Intelligent Energy CTO Chris Dudfield told TechCrunch that the HyFlyer program went smoothly, but that his company is still years away from flying a larger fuel cell and that he never even saw ZeroAvia’s plane.

ZeroAvia’s partnership with Intelligent Energy might have helped it secure U.K. government funding but it wasn’t going to help power the Malibu. ZeroAvia needed to find a fuel cell supplier — fast.

Second step: Fuel cell power

In August, ZeroAvia wrote to government officials that “we are now gearing up for our first hydrogen-powered flight,” and invited the Secretary of State to attend.

Miftakhov said that ZeroAvia’s demonstration flight used a 250 kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell powertrain — the largest ever in an aircraft. This is comparable in power to the internal combustion engine that Pipers typically use, giving a healthy margin of safety for the most demanding phase of flight: take off.

ZeroAvia never identified its fuel cell supplier, nor detailed how much of the 250kW came from the fuel cell.

However, the day after the demonstration flight, a Swedish company called PowerCell issued a press release stating that one PowerCell MS-100 fuel cell was “an integral part of the powertrain.”

The MS-100 generates a maximum power of just 100kW, leaving 150kW unaccounted for. This means the majority of the power needed for take-off could only have come from the Piper’s batteries.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Miftakhov acknowledged that the Piper could not have taken off on fuel cell power alone in the September flight. He said the plane’s batteries were probably operational for the entire demonstration flight, and provided “some additional safety margin for the aircraft.”

Many fuel cell vehicles use batteries, either to smooth out fluctuations or to boost power briefly, although some manufacturers have been more transparent about their sources of power. One problem with relying on batteries for take off is that the plane then has to carry them for the whole flight.

“The fundamental challenge for hydrogen fuel cell aircraft is weight,” said Paul Eremenko, CEO of Universal Hydrogen, which is collaborating on a 2000kW fuel cell powertrain for another aircraft. “One of the ways we save weight is having a much smaller battery that is only used when a pilot guns the throttle.”

In February, ZeroAvia’s vice president, Sergey Kiselev, said that the company’s goal was to do without batteries altogether. “Batteries may be used to provide an extra oomph during take off,” he told the Royal Aeronautical Society. “But if you use different types of propulsion or energy storage on the aircraft, the certification effort will be significantly harder.”

Relying heavily on batteries allowed ZeroAvia to pull off its high-profile demonstration flight for investors and the U.K. government, but could ultimately delay its first flights with paying passengers.

The problem of heat

Without an exhaust to expel waste heat, fuel cells usually need a complex air or liquid cooling system to avoid overheating

“This is really the key intellectual property, and why it isn’t just a matter of buying a fuel cell, buying a motor and plugging them together,” says Eremenko.

The German Aerospace Center in Cologne has been flying hydrogen fuel cell aircraft since 2012. Its current aircraft, the custom-designed HY4, can carry four passengers up to 450 miles. Its 65kW fuel cell has a liquid cooling system that uses a large, aerodynamically optimized channel for the cooling air flow (see picture).

A similar 100kW system would generally need a cooling intake longer and a third bigger than the HY4’s. ZeroAvia’s Piper Malibu has no additional cooling intakes at all.

“The openings look way too small for the air speed at take off, and even for cruise speed,” said an aviation fuel cell engineer who asked not to be named because they deal with some of the same companies as ZeroAvia.

“We had to experiment with the location and configuration of the heat exchangers… but we did not have to redesign the shape of the aircraft to handle the heat,” countered Miftakhov. He claims the fuel cell was operating at between 85 and 100kW during the flight.

Following TechCrunch’s interview with ZeroAvia, the company released a video that appears to show the Piper’s fuel cell operating at up to 70kW during a ground test, which could equate to a higher power level when airborne.

Although this still needs to be demonstrated with long-distance flights, ZeroAvia may have solved the heat problem that has dogged other engineers for years.

The next plane: bigger and better?

In September, aviation minister Robert Courts was at Cranfield to watch the demonstration flight. “It’s one of the most historic moments in aviation for decades, and it is a huge triumph for ZeroAvia,” he said after the flight. Time magazine named ZeroAvia’s technology as one of the best inventions of 2020.

Even with the HyFlyer extended flight still to come, in December the U.K. government announced HyFlyer 2 — a £12.3 million ($16.3 million) project for ZeroAvia to deliver a 600kW hydrogen-electric powertrain for a larger aircraft. ZeroAvia agreed to have a 19-seat plane ready for commercialization in 2023. (It now says 2024.)

On the same day, ZeroAvia announced its $21.3 million Series A investor lineup, including Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Ventures Fund, Jeff Bezos’ Amazon Climate Pledge Fund, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, Horizon Ventures, Shell Ventures and Summa Equity. It announced another $23.4 million raise from these investors, without Amazon but with British Airways, in late March.

Miftakhov said the Malibu has now completed about a dozen test flights, with the long-distance U.K. flight pushed to later this year, due to COVID delays. And as for HyFlyer 2, Miftakhov now says that this will initially use half batteries and half fuel cells, although “the final certifiable flight configuration will get its full 600kW from the fuel cells.”

There is no doubt that ZeroAvia is facing a steep climb to deliver its promised aircraft, starting with the 19-seater, then a 50-seater plane in 2026, and a 100-seater by 2030.

Hydrogen fuel cells still have a whiff of snake oil about them, thanks to Nikola, a startup that exaggerated a public demonstration of a hydrogen fuel cell truck, triggering a collapse in its share price and investigation by the SEC. The best option for ambitious start-ups like ZeroAvia is to be more transparent about their current technology and the challenges that lie ahead, even if that means tempering the expectations of investors and a public excited by the prospect of sustainable air travel.

“I desperately want ZeroAvia to be successful,” says Paul Eremenko. “I think we have very complementary business models and together we help complete the value chain to make hydrogen aviation happen.”

#aerospace, #aviation, #greentech, #hydrogen-fuel-cell, #tc, #transportation, #zeroavia

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Ocean Solutions Accelerator doubles down on blue economy with new track for later-stage companies

The planet-loving folks at the Sustainable Ocean Alliance started an accelerator a couple years back focusing on very early stage companies, but this year they’re expanding the program to accept those who have already closed their first round. The mix of experimental and (comparatively) proven approaches may help diversify the accelerator’s growing network.

“Last year, amidst the onset of a global pandemic and mounting urgency related to solving the ocean’s greatest challenges, we received unprecedented demand for the Ocean Solutions Accelerator,” said the accelerator’s co-founder, Craig Dudenhoeffer. “It became clear to us that now more than ever, ocean tech startups need powerful community support, mentorship, and access to those unique opportunities that truly propel their businesses. We decided to double our efforts and run two accelerator cohorts in 2021 in order to support 21 incredible innovators.”

Last year’s cohort included companies creating robotic fish, kelp-based foods, artificial reefs, aquaculture animal feed, and other interesting and potentially breakthrough products. But one thing they all have in common with each other and those from previous years is they are nearly all very early stage.

Having a prototype and taking on a big problem or market is a great start but it’s also where a lot of startups wash out. Companies like Coral Vita have powered through repeated disasters (in their case hurricanes and of course the pandemic) to raise money and move towards scaling up.

But others in the sadly undervalued conservation space still have a long road ahead before VCs think it’s worth taking a risk on them. Few check writers will see the problems and potential solutions up close and personal and make a personal connection with the driven and occasionally idealistic young founders, but those that I saw do that in Alaska were convinced.

This year the accelerator will have two sequential cohorts, an early stage one in June for pre-seed companies and another in September for those that have raised a seed or A round and have “a strong MVP.” Applications for both are open until April 12th, with 21 spots available. That’s Monday, so better get to it.

“In expanding to two accelerator programs this year, we’re now able to provide highly curated content and tailored support to serve our entrepreneurs and meet them exactly where they’re at in their unique journeys to addressing our most critical ocean challenges,” said Dudenhoeffer.

While the organization is still small and the accelerator a relatively straightforward affair, the space that they are in is expanding and gaining credit among investors. Renewed attention and funding on climate change, ecological stewardship, and alternative energy sources from the new Biden administration change the equations for startups and services in related industries; all of a sudden an idea that seemed wild a couple years ago makes perfect sense. With luck that means a bit of wind in the sails of entrepreneurs trying to save the world.

#accelerator, #accelerators, #conservation, #greentech, #ocean-solutions-accelerator, #startups, #sustainability, #sustainable-ocean-alliance, #tc

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Chinese startups rush to bring alternative protein to people’s plates

On a recent morning in downtown Shenzhen, Lingyu queued up to order her go-to McMuffin. As she waited in line with other commuters, the 50-year-old accountant noticed the new vegetarian options on the menu and decided to try the imitation spam and scrambled egg burger.

“I’ve never had fake meat,” she said of the burger — one of five new breakfast items that McDonald’s introduced last week in three major Chinese cities featuring luncheon meat substitutes produced by Green Monday.

Lingyu, who works in her family business in Shenzhen, is exactly the type of Chinese customer that imitation meat companies want to attract beyond the young, trendy, eco-conscious urbanites. Her yuan means potentially more to meat replacement companies because it advances their business and climate agendas both. Eating less meat is one of the simplest ways to reduce an individual’s carbon footprint and help fight climate change.

McDonald’s hopes that its pea- and soy-based, zero-cholesterol, luncheon meat substitutes will carve out a piece of China’s massive dining market. Long-time rival KFC, and local competitor Dicos introduced their own plant-based products last year. Partnering with fast food chains is a smart move for companies that want to promote alternative protein to the masses, because these products are often pricey and are usually aimed at wealthy urbanites.

2020 could well have been the dawn of alternative protein in China. More than 10 startups raised capital to make plant-based protein for a country with increasing meat demand. Of these, Starfield, Hey Maet, Vesta and Haofood have been around for about a year; ZhenMeat was founded three years ago; and the aforementioned Green Monday is a nine-year-old Hong Kong firm pushing into mainland China. The competition intensified further last year when American incumbents Beyond Meat and Eat Just entered China.

Although some investors worry the sudden boom of meat substitute startups could turn into a bubble, others believe the market is far from saturated.

“Think about how much meat China consumes a year,” said an investor in a Chinese soy protein startup who requested anonymity. “Even if alternative protein replaces 0.01% of the consumption, it could be a market worth tens of billions of dollars.”

In many ways, China is the ideal testbed for alternative protein. The country has a long history of imitation meat rooted in Buddhist vegetarianism and an expanding middle class that is increasingly health-conscious and willing to experiment. The country also has a grip on the global supply chain for plant-based protein, which could give domestic startups an edge over foreign rivals.

“I believe, in five years, China will see a raft of domestic plant-based protein companies that could be on par with industry leaders from Europe and North America,” said Xie Zihan, who founded Vesta to develop soy-based meat suitable for Chinese cuisine.

Meat varieties

Hey Maet’s imitation meat dumplings / Photo: Hey Maet 

Lily Chen, a manager at the Chinese arm of alternative protein investor Lever VC, outlines three categories of meat analog companies in China: Western giants such as Beyond Meat and Eat Just; local players; and conglomerates such as Unilever and Nestlé that are developing vegan meat product lines as a defense strategy. Lever VC invested in Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Memphis Meats.

“They all have their product differentiation, but the industry is still very early stage,” said Chen.

#alternative-protein, #asia, #beyond-meat, #china, #ec-food-climate-and-sustainability, #food, #food-tech-investor, #greentech, #impossible-foods, #meat-substitutes, #memphis-meats, #shenzhen, #tc

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