Month: December 2021

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.

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