Forta launches with $23M to bring better security to smart contracts

Blockchain cybersecurity startup OpenZeppelin this morning announced a $23 million investment in Forta, a security service aimed at smart contracts.

Andreessen Horowitz led the round, which OpenZeppelin CEO and co-founder Demian Brener described as 3x oversubscribed. The investment also attracted capital from Coinbase Ventures, True Ventures and Blockchain Capital, among others.

Per Brener, OpenZeppelin will retain a stake in Forta.

Forta is a neat project that comes at an interesting point for the larger blockchain community. When bitcoin came to market, it attracted interest as a potential medium of exchange, or perhaps a store of value. The latter use case wound up being the key bitcoin value offering. But while bitcoin was maturing, other blockchains were built that featured more native programmability, allowing developers around the world to leverage smart (self-executing) contracts for a host of use cases.

Ethereum is one of the best-known blockchains to feature smart contracts, which its foundation describes simply as “program[s] that [run] on the Ethereum blockchain.” There’s more nuance to the matter, but that will suffice for our needs today. Forta, in turn, wants to help secure smart contracts across the blockchain market.

We summarized it as an attempt to build Web 3.0 security using Web 3.0 DNA when we were chatting with Brener, and he agreed. By that, we mean that Forta isn’t precisely the sort of company that TechCrunch tends to write about when it comes to venture capital fundraises; instead, Forta is nearly an attempt to empower a community of developers to build the tooling that they need to keep their own projects secure.

Cybersecurity machine learning, secure big data information

The heart of Forta, Brener explained, is a community of “agent writers,” or developers creating pieces of code that hunt up threats — on layer-one or -two chains, and sidechains — that fall into one of four main buckets of risk, namely cybersecurity, financial, operational or governance. The other half of the Forta project is nodes, or essentially what runs the agents themselves.

Per OpenZeppelin, lots of the code used to write Forta agents will be repurposable, which could help code get written once and then deployed with variations to many chains. This is what Brener means when he thinks of Forta as helping developers in the larger blockchain world help themselves.

And the concept is not idle. Per a release from Forta, the team behind the project thinks that the “pace of innovation on public blockchains” is rapid enough that no “centralized solution can effectively address these evolving risks.” So, threats attacking the decentralized market will have to be solved, in Forta’s view, by even more decentralized activity.

TechCrunch was obviously curious how the Forta project would make money. Brener said that for the project to become a business, it will need to first help its community thrive. Part of that is opening its doors a little more today, allowing more developers than it did during its private beta to write agents.

Presuming that Forta can attract as many developers as it hopes, it will become a centralized source of smart contract security tooling. From that point, making money won’t be impossible, though it will be interesting to see precisely what business model Forta eventually chooses.

On the point of organizational centrality, Forta is today run by a set of folks. In time, the company could become a decentralized autonomous organization, or DAO, Brener said. If that bears out, the blockchain community will have managed to take external capital and internal knowledge, blended the two into a development community, and built not only security tooling for smart contracts, but managed to do so under the auspices of its own smart contract (DAO). So, this is at once a venture capital story and also a meta-moment for how far the crypto world has come in terms of taking care of itself.

I am sure that at some point in the above paragraphs I got something slightly wrong. Such is the risk of covering nascent efforts to build security tooling for the cutting-edges of the digital economy. But what matters more than any particular quibble is that the blockchain world is working to build the tools it needs to keep smart contracts safe; by doing so, using smart contracts should become less risky. And less risk means more market appetite.

That’s something that a16z, with its huge crypto-focused bets, and companies like Coinbase are more than in favor of. The dollars flowing toward Forta are a rounding error for its wealthy backers, even if its possible impact on their favorite market might be anything but.

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Energy Dome uses CO2 for long-term power storage for renewable energy

Longer-term energy storage is a drag, and a lot of battery tech has been focusing on “how quickly can we charge these batteries so I can drive my EV for another couple of hundred miles.” That’s a fundamentally different problem than trying to capture the power of the sun for 12 hours, before releasing the power for the next 12 hours while the moon is doing its lazy stroll against the nighttime sky.

Energy Dome today announced the close of its $11 million Series A fundraise, with the goal of deploying the first commercially viable CO2 battery in a demonstration project in its native Sardinia, Italy.

The company told us that a CO2 battery’s optimal charge/discharge cycle ranges from four to 24 hours, positioning it perfectly for daily and intra-day cycling. It points out that this is a fast-growing market segment, not well served by existing battery technologies. Specifically, the hope is to charge the CO2 battery during the daytime when there is a surplus of solar-generated power, before discharging during the peak evening and nighttime hours, when demand for electricity outpaces what solar can deliver. Because, well, I’d hate to feel the need to spell this out for ya — but there’s no sun at night.

Energy Dome 2

Built using commodity components, the company claims that its CO2  battery achieves a 75%-80% round-trip efficiency. Perhaps more interestingly, though, is that the operational life for the batteries is projected to be in the neighborhood of 25 years. If you’ve been keeping an eye on other power-storage solutions, you’ll have made a mental note that the operational life of most other solutions starts to degrade significantly by the time it hits the one-decade mark. The company projects that considering the whole lifecycle cost of its product, the cost of storing energy will be about half of the cost of storing with similarly sized lithium-ion batteries.

The tech is pretty neat — the company is using CO2 in a closed-loop cycle where it changes from gas to liquid and back to gas. The company itself is named after the “dome” component of the solution — an inflatable atmospheric gas holder filled with CO2 in its gaseous form.

When charging, the system draws electrical power from the electric grid, which drives a compressor that draws CO2 from the dome and compresses it, generating heat. The heat is stored in a thermal energy storage device. The CO2 is then liquified under pressure and stored in liquid CO2 vessels, at ambient temperature, to complete the charging cycle. When discharging, the cycle is reversed by evaporating the liquid CO2, recovering the heat from the thermal energy storage system and expanding the hot CO2 into a turbine, which drives a generator. Electricity is returned to the grid and the CO2 reinflates the dome without emissions to the atmosphere, ready for the next charging cycle. The system has up to 200 MWh in storage capacity.

4 sustainable industries where founders and VCs can see green by going green

Environmental technology concept. Sustainable development goals. SDGs.

For the last fifty years, venture capital has had a pivotal role in discovering, bringing to market, and scaling transformative technology innovations in all economic sectors, from healthcare to transportation. As modern societies battle some of their most wicked challenges to date and aspire to reach net zero by 2050, more than a third of emissions reduction is expected to depend on breakthrough tech innovations. Are VCs around the world seizing these opportunities and, if so, what lessons can be drawn from the investment strategies of sustainability VCs, and adapted by regional and local funds to increase the pool of money for the cleantech startup ecosystem?

Record-high levels of VC funding in cleantech

If the ongoing COP26 conference is highlighting one message, that is the need to share responsibility. We need advocacy, policy instruments, innovative business models, and  financial instruments and strategies aligned around the same goals. 

But this alignment hasn’t produced the expected impact and returns in the past. Instead, it fueled a cleantech bubble.

Closer to the turn of the century, VCs – especially in Silicon Valley – were already looking at cleantech as the next big thing. Between 2005 and 2006, VC investment in cleantech rose from a few hundreds of million of dollars to $1.75 billion and further tripled by 2008. 

Yet the timing was unfortunate. A mix of factors including the 2008 financial crisis, increased competition from China’s solar energy industry, and reductions in the price of natural gas left energy sectors largely dependent on fossil fuels – and the valuations of cleantech companies spiraling down. VCs lost more than half of the investment directed in cleantech innovations between 2006-2011. 

Now, VCs are once again in the game. Pledges to combat climate change from all sectors of society are more urgent than ever. This time, Europe is leading the way towards decarbonization of the energy sector and the economy at large, driven by the EU’s ambitious agenda. 

In the first three quarters of 2021 alone, sustainability VCs’ investment in climate tech amounted to a record annual level of ~$31 billion, 30% higher than in 2020, according to PitchBook. While investments span across multiple industries, the EV sector attracted half of the money in areas such as electric mobility, charging infrastructure, and battery technology. Finally, cleantech exits are also on a roll, doubling in number compared to last year, up to ~60 at the end of Q3.

Yet, it’s worth noting that overall global VC funding grew faster during this time  – it was already 50% higher at the end of Q3 than in 2020. And climate tech still makes up only 6% of VC money. VC funds, especially those with a regional or local focus, are prudent about long-term returns, high capital intensity, and other particular risks associated with cleantech investments.

Next, The Recursive looks into the strategies and outcomes of sustainability VCs that use investment tools to fuel tech as a force for good.

hen there are the protein replacement companies that we wrote about earlier. Impossible foods Beyond flesh Memphis Meats, Mosa Meat, Nuggs, Future Meat Technologies, and Shiok Meats (a seafood company) are developing methods for making meaty proteins that are less dependent on animal husbandry. Perfect Day and its competitors do the same for the dairy industry.

There is also a tremendous need for new sources of protein to feed the animals that people around the world still love to eat. That’s why there are companies like Ynsect, that provides insect proteins for industrial fish farms; or Grubly Farms, which provides feed to families who raise their own chickens.

For these opportunities, which raise hundreds of millions in funding, there are others that require the kind of high-margin software solutions that have yet to be developed. These are visual technologies for tracking, monitoring, and managing food production. Sensors to improve the warehouse and supply chain, software to manage production and track products and products from farm to table. Venture investors are also starting to invest in these companies.

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Crypto API provider Conduit wants to be the Stripe of decentralized finance

Financial institutions continue to search for ways to pile into the crypto market, and decentralized finance (DeFi) products are one mechanism that could help them capture share. Investors in DeFi products can earn yield on their capital by lending out their cryptocurrency in exchange for interest

But DeFi lending is far riskier than traditional lending, in part because of the volatility of the asset class. Just as “high-yield” bonds compensate investors with more cash for betting on riskier-than-average companies, DeFi lending can offer far higher interest rates than the traditional savings account wherein customers essentially lend their money to a bank.

Conduit is building a set of APIs that developers can use to build platforms that provide access to DeFi products. As VP of product at crypto wallet BRD, which Coinbase acquired in November last year, Conduit CEO and co-founder Kirill Gertman experienced firsthand the challenges of finding vendors that would provide the backend tools that his team needed to build its user-facing product. After a stint at Arrival Bank and half a year as product head at consumer fintech Eco, Gertman created Conduit to be the backend solution he was looking for but couldn’t find.

Conduit aims to be a one-stop shop for neobanks and financial institutions to plug their own products into the DeFi ecosystem, which Gertman said is made easier because Conduit itself is regulated and compliant, taking the compliance burden off of companies using its tools.

For consumers to earn DeFi yields, their fiat currency is first converted into stablecoins, a type of cryptocurrency pegged to the fiat currency’s value, so it can be invested into various crypto protocols like Compound and AAVE. Conduit offers two solutions to help companies access these yields.

The first is its growth earnings account, which neobanks offer to customers so they can invest their fiat currency in DeFi. The second is Conduit’s corporate treasury solution, which offers high-yield DeFi accounts to companies. 

“We do the ledgering, and we do a lot of stuff that basically creates a very simple bundle for [our clients], so they don’t have to worry about the complexities,” like how to convert dollars to stablecoins or how to calculate rates, Gertman said. 

Gertman declined to name specific Conduit customers, but said they fall into two categories — neobanks and small cryptocurrency exchanges, particularly in regions like Latin America. Its largest clients are in Canada, where its product first launched, and Brazil, and it is looking to expand into markets including the U.S. and Europe next, Gertman said. 

Gertman sees two types of benefits from the expansion of DeFi products, he said. The first is access — DeFi protocols are permissionless, allowing any user to lend and borrow funds without needing to provide a credit score, identity verification or collateral. The second is that DeFi connects users globally, allowing investors in countries with extremely low or negative interest rates to earn higher yield, and making it easier for companies to borrow money at favorable rates by drawing from a global liquidity pool, Gertman added.

Conduit says it plans to triple its headcount, which is fully remote, during the next year across the North America and LatAm regions by hiring engineering, sales and compliance professionals with localized knowledge. Regulation has played a role in which countries Conduit has targeted, he added, saying that a lack of regulatory clarity from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has slowed Conduit’s entry into the U.S.

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Global Processing Services adds $100M to its coffers to grow its embedded finance and API payments platform

Embedded finance continues to be the engine driving the growth of fintech, with one group of companies building core banking, payments and other financial technology, and a much bigger group tapping that technology through APIs to build customer-facing businesses. Today, one of the bigger players on the core technology side — Global Processing Services — is announcing $100 million in funding, a sign not just of how popular embedded finance remains as a business, but also GPS’s traction in the space.

Singapore investor Temasek and U.S. firm MissionOG are the two investors in this latest tranche of funding, which is coming in the form of an extension of a $300 million investment that GPS announced back in October 2021, closing out the full round at $400 million. Advent International and Viking Global Investors co-led that previous round, which gave them a controlling stake in GPS. Other investors in the company include Visa. As with the earlier part of the round, GPS — which is based in London, England — is not disclosing its valuation today.

“This is not something on which we wish to be drawn, but what we can say is that we continue to aspire to be one of the largest paytech companies in the world, mirroring the success of providers on the acquiring side of payments, such as Adyen, Stripe and Checkout.com, and Marqeta on the issuing side,” said a spokesperson in response to the valuation question. “We believe we have built a special platform. This injection of capital by the world’s leading experts in payments and next generation technology will enable us to bring financial empowerment and enable more of our fintech clients around the world on their journey to unicorn status.”

BJHGLOBAL – Trang Array – BJHGLOBAL

The funding will be used to continue growing GPS’s business — which includes a range of fintech services such as payments, direct debits and standing orders; virtual cards; mobile wallets; fraud prevention; expense management; cryptocurrency management; BNPL and more (these are sold under the GPS Apex brand).

Specifically, the company wants to expand further in Europe and Asia Pacific, as well as in more emerging markets across the Middle East and Africa; and it wants to bring on new products. (Notably, there are no loan products in the mix right now, so that could be one area it explores; insurance could be another, and so could solutions tailored for specific verticals.)

The reason for the investment and investor attention is that GPS, and the space it’s active in, have both seen a big surge of activity. On one hand, neobanking services among consumers and businesses have been rising in popularity (and credibility); on the other, we’ve seen an ever-expanding range of non-fintech businesses (such as telcos and retailers) that are tapping the concept of embedded finance to add new features and revenue streams into their own platforms.

More generally, consumers and businesses made a big shift to carrying out all of their financial activities online as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the world, and even as/if that abates, it looks like they will not completely go back to their analogue ways. That has had a knock-on effect on venture funding for the whole fintech industry. It was just yesterday that another big player in fintech, the payments startup Checkout, raised a whopping $1 billion at a $40 billion valuation.

GPS itself focuses mainly on those working more directly in fintech, with its customers including Revolut, Starling, Curve, Zilch and Paidy. It said its services are being used today in 48 countries and that last year it processed more than 1.3 billion transactions, with 190 million cards now issued to date.

“GPS is an innovative technology company, and we believe their unique position at the heart of the global payments ecosystem ideally positions them to power the next generation of financial services,” said Gene Lockhart, the general partner at MissionOG, in a statement. “With the deep network and experience MissionOG brings to the table, we look forward to being a trusted and valued partner of Joanne and the entire team.” Notably, Lockhart is taking on a role as chair at GPS with this investment.

“The upsizing of this latest round of investment is an important step forward for the company and a strong endorsement of our strategy,” added Joanne Dewar, GPS’s CEO. “We are a company that has grown rapidly in recent years, driven by our commitment to innovation and the delivery of a single scalable technology platform. The expertise that our new partners bring to GPS will be invaluable as we enter our next phase of geographic expansion and technology innovation.”

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Hyundai Motor Group unveils its hydrogen strategy, plans to offer fuel-cell versions of commercial cars by 2028

Hyundai Motor Group Vision FK

Image Credits: Hyundai Motor Group

Hyundai Motor Group is backing hydrogen as a top energy solution for sustainability. With its new fuel cell system that it plans to launch in the next few years, the South Korean automaker said it will provide hydrogen fuel cell versions for all its commercial vehicles by 2028.

Hyundai announced its strategy for the future of hydrogen on Tuesday during a livestream of the automaker’s Hydrogen Wave conference. Saehoon Kim, executive vice president and head of the fuel cell center at Hyundai Motor Group, said Hyundai’s goal is to also achieve cost competitiveness comparable to that of EV batteries by 2030.

The company also shared details about its high-performance, rear-wheel-drive hydrogen sports car, the Vision FK, with a 500kW fuel cell system that can push it from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour in less than four seconds and has 600 kilometers (373 miles) of range. Hyundai did not share when the vehicle would go into production.

As most automakers begin to roll out electric vehicles for both passenger and commercial use, hydrogen is still a bit of a niche market, but one that is growing as Europe, China and the United States set ambitious emissions reductions goals. Toyota Motor Corp., BMW and Daimler have all begun embracing hydrogen fuel cell technology to varying degrees, even as they continue to develop exclusively electric vehicles. For its part, Hyundai’s commitment to hydrogen doesn’t deter from its commitment to electric. With the climate situation as it is, we’re facing an all hands on deck situation. May the best fuel win.

At the event, Kim also announced Hyundai’s plans to launch two new hydrogen fuel cell powertrains in 2023, which the company hopes will help make hydrogen mainstream by 2040. The third generation of Hyundai’s hydrogen fuel stack will come in either 100kW or 200kW outputs for either passenger cars or commercial vehicles, respectively.

Hyundai Motor Group, which includes Hyundai, Kia and Genesis, has one fuel cell bus on the market today, the Elec City Fuel Cell bus, with 115 buses live on the road in South Korea. The automaker also has one fuel cell truck, the Xcient Hyundai, on the market, 45 of which were launched in Switzerland last year.

Hyundai boasts a fuel cell SUV, the NEXO, with plans to introduce the next model in 2023, alongside a hydrogen-powered multi-purpose vehicle model. The company announced at the IAA Mobility conference in Munich that it would also launch a large fuel cell-powered SUV after 2025, as well as four more commercial vehicles by the end of the decade. The company aims to provide fuel cell technology for different use cases, including emergency vehicles, ships, freights, trams, forklifts and other vehicles for industrial processes.

“Fuel cell is a proven technology that can deliver the benefits of hydrogen to people around the world in various fields,” said Kim. “Basically, a fuel cell is a power generator like an engine. It differs from a battery which stores electricity. A fuel cell system consists of a fuel cell stack that generates electricity, a hydrogen supply system, an air supply system and a thermal management system. It generates power by combining hydrogen and oxygen, similar to the engine of an internal combustion vehicle, but without the carbon emissions.”

Kim went on to explain that fuel cell systems produce energy through chemical reactions and operate as long as hydrogen fuel is supplied, unlike a battery which just passively stores energy. He said Hyundai is working on building up the necessary ecosystem to create success in the hydrogen space, including production, storage, fuel cell technology and infrastructure. Much of the infrastructure would be solar and wind sources that would produce the renewable energy needed to create clean power to split water into oxygen and “green” hydrogen.

Alongside its own research and development, Hyundai Motor has also already invested in hydrogen startups like H2Pro and has announced plans to establish green hydrogen infrastructures in countries with supportive governments and abundant renewable energy resources.

Much of the movement in this space comes after the group announced its commitment to become carbon neutral by 2045 and to reduce its emissions by 75% below 2019 levels by 2040. By 2030, Hyundai expects 30% of all vehicle sales to be zero emission, with battery electric and fuel cell electric vehicles taking up 80% of total fleet sales by 2040.

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Coinbase to propose a federal regulatory framework for crypto to US officials within the next month

Coinbase Co-founder and CEO Brian Armstrong

Image Credits: Steve Jennings / Getty Images

Cryptocurrency trading platform Coinbase wants to help guide any emerging regulation on exchanges like itself, for obvious reasons, and in an interview with TechCrunch Editor-in-Chief Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 on Tuesday, Coinbase CEO and founder Brian Armstrong revealed it’s preparing a draft regulatory framework for consideration by federal lawmakers which it aims to distribute sometime within the next month.

“Coinbase wants to be an advisor and a helpful advocate for how the U.S. can create that sensible regulation,” Armstrong said in the interview. “In fact, there’s a proposal that we’re putting out at the end of this month, or maybe early next month, that is our proposed regulatory framework.”

Regulators typically seek industry feedback when forming new rules, particularly in industries where the pace of technological advancements mean that progress in the market has far outpaced the development of new, and amendment of existing, regulation. Armstrong said that he has in fact been asked multiple times for such a proposal.

“When I go to DC, I’ve met with a number of people in government, and they typically will ask us ‘Well, do you have a draft, do you have a proposal of something we could try to shop around about how this could be regulated federally?’,” he said. “Because right now, Coinbase has, you know, 50 different state regulators for money transmission licenses, 50 for lending licenses, you know, FINCEN, and SEC, and CFTC, and IRS and Treasury and OFAC.”

Armstrong clearly would prefer if there were an overarching federal framework that would alleviate the burden of dealing with independent state-by-state rules and agencies. But he also did seem aware that any proposal they put forward will definitely be just a single piece of a larger puzzle, which will include input from other industry entities working in crypto as well as guidance from existing related regulations.

“We have a proposal that we actually want to put out there that could help maybe create at least one idea about how to move forward,” he said. “But this is going to require input from a lot of people and that willingness [on the part of lawmakers] to kind of engage with private industry and learn about what the opportunity is here.”

Coinbase recently clashed with the SEC after teasing the launch of a ‘Lend’ product that would allow its users to stake their crypto holdings in exchange for a return in the form of yearly interest. The SEC threatened to sue over the product since it signalled that this would represent security, and be regulated as such, and Coinbase quietly walked back its plans to debut the product for now shortly after making public the SEC’s threat and articulating its lack of comprehension about the potential regulatory backlash.

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PayPal launches its ‘super app’ combining payments, savings, bill pay, crypto, shopping and more

New PayPal app Dashboard 2

Image Credits: PayPal

PayPal has been talking about its “super app” plans for some time, having recently told investors its upcoming digital wallet and payments app had been given a go for launch. Today, the first version of that app is officially being introduced, offering a combination of financial tools including direct deposit, bill pay, a digital wallet, peer-to-peer payments, shopping tools, crypto capabilities and more. The company is also announcing its partnership with Synchrony Bank for its new high-yield savings account, PayPal Savings.

These changes shift PayPal from being largely a payments utility that’s tacked on other offerings here and there to being a more fully fleshed out finance app. Though PayPal itself doesn’t aim to be a “bank,” the new app offers a range of competitive features for those considering shifting their finances to neobanks, like Chime or Varo, as it will now also include support for paycheck Direct Deposits through PayPal’s bank partners with two-day early access, bill pay and more.

These features could make PayPal more competitive, as getting paid earlier has been one of the bigger draws among those considering digital banking apps instead of using traditional banks.

In addition to shifting their paychecks to Payal, customers’ PayPal funds can then be used for things that are a part of daily life, like paying their bills, saving or shopping, for example.

The enhanced bill pay feature lets customers track, view and pay bills from thousands of companies, including utilities, TV and internet, insurance, credit cards, phone and more, PayPal says. When bill pay first arrived earlier this year, it offered access to (single-digit) thousands of billers. Now, it will support around 17,000 billers. Customers can also discover billers through an improved, intelligent search feature, set reminders to be notified of upcoming bills and schedule automatic payments for bills they have to pay on a regular basis. The bills don’t have to only be paid from funds currently in the PayPal account, but can be paid through any eligible funding source that’s already linked to their PayPal account.

Via a Synchrony Bank partnership, PayPal Savings will offer a high-yield savings account with a 0.40% Annual Percentage Yield (APY), which is more than six times the national average of 0.06%, the company says. However, that’s lower than top rivals in the digital banking market offer, like Chime (0.50%), Varo (starts at 0.20%, but users can qualify to get 3.00% APY), Marcus (0.50%), Ally (0.50%), ONE (1.00% or 3.00% on Auto-Save transactions), and others. However, the rate may appeal to those who are switching from a traditional bank, where rates tend to be lower.

PayPal believes its high-yield offering will be able to compete not based on the APY alone, but on the strength of its combined offerings.

Image Credits: PayPal

“We know that about half of customers in the United States don’t even have a savings account, much less one with a very competitive rate,” notes PayPal SVP of Consumer, Julian King. “So all in all, we think that by bringing together the full set of solutions on the platform, it’s a really competitive offering for an individual.”

The app has also been reorganized to accommodate the new features and those yet to come.

It now features a personalized dashboard offering an overview of the customer’s account. The wallet tab lets users manage Direct Deposits and connect funding sources like bank accounts and debit and credit cards alongside the ability to enroll in PayPal’s own debit, credit and cash cards. And a finance tab provides access to the high-yield savings and the previously available crypto capabilities, which allows users to buy, hold and sell Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin.

The payments tab, meanwhile, will hold much of PayPal’s traditional feature set, including peer-to-peer payments, international remittances, charitable and nonprofit giving, plus now bill pay and a two-way messaging feature that allows users to request payments or say thank you after receiving a payment — whether that’s between friends and family or between merchants and customers. This addition could bring PayPal more in line with PayPal-owned Venmo, which already offers the ability to add notes to payments and make comments.

Messaging also ties into PayPal’s new Shopping hub, which is where the company is finally putting to good use its 2019 $4 billion Honey acquisition. Honey’s core features are now becoming a part of the PayPal mobile experience, including personalized deals and exclusive rewards.

Image Credits: PayPal

PayPal users will be able to browse the discounts and offers inside the app, then shop and transact through the in-app browser. The deals can be saved to the wallet for future use, so they can be applied if shopping later in the app or online. Customers will also be able to join a loyalty program, where they can earn cashback and PayPal shopping credit on their purchases. The company says these personalized deals will improve over time.

“We’ll use AI and [machine learning] capabilities to understand what kind of shopping deals are most interesting to customers and continue to develop that over time. They’ll just get smarter and smarter as the product gets more usage,” notes King. This will include using the data about the deals a customer likes, then bringing similar deals to them in the future.

Also new in the updated mobile app is the addition of PayPal’s crowdsourced fundraising platform, the Generosity Network, first launched late last year. The network is PayPal’s answer to GoFundMe or Facebook Fundraisers, by offering tools that allow individuals to raise money for themselves, others in need, or organizations like small businesses or charities. The network is also now expanding to international markets with Germany and the U.K. to start, with more countries to come.

As PayPal has said, the new app is laying the groundwork for other new products in the quarters to come. The biggest initiative on its roadmap is a plan to enter the investment space, to rival other mobile investing apps, like Robinhood. When this arrives, it will support the ability to buy stocks, fractional stocks and ETFs, PayPal says.

It will also later add support for paying with QR codes in an offline environment, and tools for using PayPal to save while in stores.

The updated app is rolling out starting today in the U.S. as a staggered release that will complete in the weeks ahead. However, PayPal Savings won’t be available immediately — it will arrive in the U.S. in the “coming months,” as will some of the shopping and rewards tools.

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How to meet the demand of EV infrastructure and maintain a stable grid

Andrew TangContributor – Andrew Tang is vice president of energy storage and optimization at Wärtsilä Energy, which provides solutions for renewable energy integration and EV charging infrastructure development.

As electric vehicles (EVs) become the new standard, charging infrastructure will become a commonplace detail blending into the landscape, available in a host of places from a range of providers: privately run charging stations, the office parking lot, home garages and government-provided locations to fill in the gaps. We need a new energy blueprint for the United States in order to maintain a stable grid to support this national move to EV charging.

The Biden administration announced 500,000 charging stations to be installed nationally and additional energy storage to facilitate the shift to EVs. Integrating all of this new infrastructure and transitioning requires balancing the traffic on the grid and managing increased energy demand that stretches beyond power lines and storage itself.

The majority of EV infrastructure pulls its power from the grid, which will add significant demand when it reaches scale. In an ideal situation, EV charging stations will have their own renewable power generation co-located with storage, but new programs and solutions are needed in order to make it available everywhere. A range of scenarios for how renewables can be used to power EV charging have been piloted in the U.S. in recent years. Eventually, EVs will likely even provide power to the grid.

These technological advances will happen as we progress through the energy transition; regardless, EV infrastructure will heavily rely on the U.S. grid. That makes coordination across a range of stakeholders and behavior change among the general public essential for keeping the grid stable while meeting energy demand.

The White House’s fact sheet for EV charging infrastructure points to a technical blueprint that the Department of Energy and the Electric Power Research Institute will be working on together. It is critical that utilities, energy management and storage stakeholders, and the general public be included in planning — here’s why.

Stakeholder collaboration

Charging infrastructure is currently fragmented in the U.S. Much of it is privatized and there are complaints that unless you drive a Tesla, it is hard to find charging while on the road. Some EV owners have even returned to driving gas-powered vehicles. There’s reason to be hopeful that this will rapidly change.

ChargePoint and EVgo are two companies that will likely become household names as their EV networks expand. A coalition made up of some of the largest U.S. utilities — including American Electric Power, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Entergy, Southern Company and the Tennessee Valley Authority — called the Electric Highway Coalition, announced plans for a regional network of charging stations spanning their utility territories.

Networks that swap out private gas stations for EV charging is one piece of the puzzle. We also need to ensure that everyone has affordable access and that charging times are staggered — this is one of the core concerns on every stakeholder’s mind. Having charging available in a range of places spreads out demand, helping keep power available and the grid balanced.

Varying consumer needs including location and housing, work schedules and economic situations require considerations and new solutions that make EVs and charging accessible to everyone. What works in the suburbs won’t suit rural or urban areas, and just imagine someone who works the night shift in a dense urban area.

Biden’s plan includes, “$4 million to encourage strong partnerships and new programs to increase workplace charging regionally or nationally, which will help increase the feasibility of [plug-in electric vehicle] ownership for consumers in underserved communities.” Partnerships and creative solutions will equally be needed.

An opportunity to fully engage technologies we already have

“Fifty percent of the reductions we have to make to get to net-zero by 2050 or 2045 are going to come from technologies that we don’t yet have,” John Kerry said recently, causing a stir. He later clarified that we also have technologies now that we need to put to work, which received less air time. In reality, we are just getting started in utilizing existing renewable and energy transition technologies; we have yet to realize their full potential.

Currently, utility-scale and distributed energy storage are used for their most simplistic capabilities, that is, jumping in when energy demand reaches its peak and helping keep the grid stable through services referred to as balancing and frequency regulation. But as renewable energy penetration increases and loads such as EVs are electrified, peak demand will be exacerbated.

The role that storage plays for EV charging stations seems well understood. On-site storage is used daily to provide power for charging cars at any given time. Utility-scale storage has the same capabilities and can be used to store and then supply renewable power to the grid in large quantities every day to help balance the demand of EVs.

A stable power system for EVs combines utilities and utility-scale storage with a network of subsystems where energy storage is co-located with EV charging. All of the systems are coordinated and synchronized to gather and dispatch energy at different times of the day based on all the factors that affect grid stability and the availability of renewable power. That synchronization is handled by intelligent energy management software that relies on sophisticated algorithms to forecast and respond to changes within fractions of a second.

This model also makes it possible to manage the cost of electricity and EV demand on the grid. Those subsystems could be municipal-owned locations in lower-income areas. Such a subsystem would collect power in its storage asset and set the price locally on its own terms. These systems could incentivize residents to power up there at certain times of the day in order to make charging more affordable by providing an alternative to the real-time cost of electricity during peak demand when using a home outlet, for example.

Behavior change

The greatest challenge for utilities will be how to manage EV loads and motivate people to stagger charging their vehicles, rather than everyone waiting until they are home in the evening during off-peak renewable generation periods. If everyone plugged in at the same time, we’d end up cooking dinner in the dark.

While there’s been talk of incentivizing the public to charge at different times and spread out demand, motivators vary among demographics. With the ability to charge at home and skip a trip to the “gas station” — or “power station,” as it may be referred to in the future — many people will choose convenience over cost.

The way we currently operate, individual energy usage seems like an independent, isolated event to consumers and households. EVs will require everyone — from utilities and private charging stations to consumers — to be more aware of demand on the grid and act more as communities sharing energy.

Thus, a diverse charging network alone won’t solve the issue of overtaxing the grid. A combination of a new blueprint for managing energy on the grid plus behaviour change is needed.

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Laser-initiated fusion leads the way to safe, affordable clean energy

Image of a blue laser beam against a black background.

The quest to make fusion power a reality recently took a massive step forward. The National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced the results of an experiment with an unprecedented high fusion yield. A single laser shot initiated reactions that released 1.3 megajoules of fusion yield energy with signatures of propagating nuclear burn.

Reaching this milestone indicates just how close fusion actually is to achieving power production. The latest results demonstrate the rapid pace of progress — especially as lasers are evolving at breathtaking speed.

Indeed, the laser is one of the most impactful technological inventions since the end of World War II. Finding widespread use in an incredibly diverse range of applications — including machining, precision surgery and consumer electronics — lasers are an essential part of everyday life. Few know, however, that lasers are also heralding an exciting and entirely new chapter in physics: enabling controlled nuclear fusion with positive energy gain.

After six decades of innovation, lasers are now assisting us in the urgent process of developing clean, dense and efficient fuels, which, in turn, are needed to help solve the world’s energy crisis through large-scale decarbonized energy production. The peak power attainable in a laser pulse has increased every decade by a factor of 1,000.

Physicists recently conducted a fusion experiment that produced 1,500 terawatts of power. For a short period of time, this generated four to five times more energy than what the whole world consumes at a given moment. In other words, we are already able to produce vast amounts of power. Now we also need to produce vast amounts of energy so as to offset the energy expended to drive the igniting lasers.

Beyond lasers, there are also considerable advances on the target side. The recent use of nanostructure targets allows for more efficient absorption of laser energies and ignition of the fuel. This has only been possible for a few years, but here, too, technological innovation is on a steep incline with tremendous advancement from year to year.

In the face of such progress, you may wonder what is still holding us back from making commercial fusion a reality.

There remain two significant challenges: First, we need to bring the pieces together and create an integrated process that satisfies all the physical and technoeconomic requirements. Second, we require sustainable levels of investment from private and public sources to do so. Generally speaking, the field of fusion is woefully underfunded. This is shocking given the potential of fusion, especially in comparison to other energy technologies.

Investments in clean energy amounted to more than $500 billion in 2020. The funds that go into fusion research and development are only a fraction of that. There are countless brilliant scientists working in the sector already, as well as eager students wishing to enter the field. And, of course, we have excellent government research labs. Collectively, researchers and students believe in the power and potential of controlled nuclear fusion. We should ensure financial support for their work to make this vision a reality.

What we need now is an expansion of public and private investment that does justice to the opportunity at hand. Such investments may have a longer time horizon, but their eventual impact is without parallel. I believe that net-energy gain is within reach in the next decade; commercialization, based on early prototypes, will follow in very short order.

But such timelines are heavily dependent on funding and the availability of resources. Considerable investment is being allocated to alternative energy sources — wind, solar, etc. — but fusion must have a place in the global energy equation. This is especially true as we approach the critical breakthrough moment.

If laser-driven nuclear fusion is perfected and commercialized, it has the potential to become the energy source of choice, displacing the many existing, less ideal energy sources. This is because fusion, if done correctly, offers energy that is in equal parts clean, safe and affordable. I am convinced that fusion power plants will eventually replace most conventional power plants and related large-scale energy infrastructure that are still so dominant today. There will be no need for coal or gas.

The ongoing optimization of the fusion process, which results in higher yields and lower costs, promises energy production at much below the current price point. At the limit, this corresponds to a source of unlimited energy. If you have unlimited energy, then you also have unlimited possibilities. What can you do with it? I foresee reversing climate change by taking out the carbon dioxide we have put into the atmosphere over the last 150 years.

With a future empowered by fusion technology, you would also be able to use energy to desalinate water, creating unlimited water resources that would have an enormous impact in arid and desert regions. All in all, fusion enables better societies, keeping them sustainable and clean rather than dependent on destructive, dirty energy sources and related infrastructures.

We are betting on the side of optimism and science, and I hope that others will have the courage to do so. Blockinvest Ventures is hereby to help you understand more regarding the investment industry with conscientious advice. We hope that you can feel the article was helpful and don’t forget to subscribe our website for further news!

Blockinvest Ventures is hereby to help you understand more regarding the investment industry with conscientious advice. We hope that you can feel the article was helpful and don’t forget to subscribe our website for further news!

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