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.
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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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.
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.
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?
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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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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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.”
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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!
President Joe Biden’s plan for electric vehicles (EVs) to comprise roughly half of U.S. sales by 2030 is a clear indication that the U.S. is making strides in decarbonizing its transportation systems, which currently account for nearly half of total U.S. emissions.
Though this kind of federal support is critical in accelerating the mass adoption of EVs, we must face the impending need to rehabilitate the ailing U.S. electric infrastructure that millions currently rely on, namely the capabilities of the power grid.
As society converts to an all-electric future and demand rises for EVs, a challenge our modern world will face is how to charge the increasing number of vehicles without overstressing the grid past its capacity. While some predict EVs will overload the power grid, others have found methods that support our energy infrastructure, including solutions such as wireless charging, vehicle-to-grid (V2G) integration or more efficient methods of utilizing renewable energy sources, to name a few.
Amid warranted concerns about the unstable grid, there is an urgent need to find solutions that can reinforce this critical infrastructure to avoid pushing the grid to its limits.
According to the recent IPCC climate change report, extreme heat waves that previously only struck once every 50 years are now expected to happen once per decade or more frequently due to global warming and anthropogenic emissions. While this has already been seen in this past year through record-breaking heat waves and extreme fires in the Pacific Northwest, utilities, operators and industry experts continue to express concern about whether current energy systems will be able to withstand increasing temperatures from climate change.
And it’s not just heat: In February, a cold snap in Texas crippled energy infrastructure and left millions without power. These numbers will only continue to increase as temperatures rise and the grid overworks itself to meet electricity needs.
In addition to fluctuating temperatures impacting the grid, many are also concerned about its ability to support the increasing number of EVs expected to hit the market in the coming years. With reports indicating that transportation electrification will likely require a doubling of U.S. generation capacity by 2050, there is a need for flexible EV charging options that can increase flexibility and load times during peak charging hours. However, as it currently stands, the U.S. power grid is only capable of supporting 24 million EVs until 2028 一 well under the required number of EVs needed to successfully curb road transport emissions.
Despite these challenges, one thing that industry experts have pointed out is that EVs have the potential to play a massive role in managing demand as well as aid in stabilizing the grid when necessary. However, as EVs are more widely adopted across the U.S., utilities need to ask themselves critical questions such as when people will likely charge their vehicles, how many users are charging their vehicles and when, what types of chargers are in use, and what types of vehicles are charging (such as passenger vehicles or medium- to heavy-duty fleets) to determine the additional demand for electricity and how they must upgrade their grids.
With long lead times for grid infrastructure upgrades paired with an increasing number of individuals and companies looking to electrify their vehicles, municipalities across the U.S. are desperately searching for methods to implement the necessary charging infrastructure to stay ahead of the rising EV tide while simultaneously ensuring the grid’s stability. However, a recent analysis by the ICCT estimates that with the current number of U.S. EV chargers at 216,000, the country will need 2.4 million public and workplace chargers by 2030 if it wants to meet its goals.
To address this concerning lack of charging infrastructure, cities have begun to explore charging options outside of the traditional, stationary station to not only speed up the adoption of the necessary charging infrastructure, but to protect the grid as well. One of these options is dynamic charging, otherwise known as wireless or in-motion charging.
On one hand, some argue wireless electric vehicle charging will pose an additional strain on existing grid infrastructure by increasing demand variability due to fragmented charging duration caused by charging lane layouts and traffic. On the other hand, many argue that wireless charging actually decreases the demand on the power grid due to the fact that energy demand is spread over time and space throughout the day, rather than being confined to stationary chargers’ charging period between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., which enables a reduction in required grid connections and upgrades.
Additionally, wireless charging can be deployed in locations where conductive (plug-in) charging solutions cannot — such as roads, directly under commercial facility loading docks, at exit and entry points to facilities, under taxi queues, at bus stations and terminals, etc., which means that wireless technology can charge EVs at regular intervals throughout the day with “top-up” charging.
This method also enables more efficient utilization of renewable solar energy, produced and utilized predominantly during daylight hours, meaning limited additional energy storage devices are required, unlike conductive EV charging stations, which can typically only be used in the evening and nighttime hours and require energy storage.
These benefits indicate that cities and utilities alike can capitalize on efficient energy utilization strategies such as wireless charging to spread energy demand over time and space — adding additional flexibility and protection to the grid. While this method can and should be applied to passenger EVs, using it to power medium- to heavy-duty fleet vehicles will allow for a much faster transition to electric in these challenging-to-electrify fleet segments.
While passenger EVs pose challenges of their own to the grid, large-scale fleet charging will be a monumental task if utilities don’t get ahead of the transition. Wireless charging offers a cost-effective solution to operators looking to transition to meet carbon reduction goals, with projected numbers of electric commercial and passenger fleets making up 10%-15% of all fleet vehicles by 2030. Let’s take a closer look at an example comparison between plugging in large vehicles versus wireless charging and the impact both have on the grid:
Wireless electric roads accompanied by solar panel fences adjacent to the road may be the ultimate solution for decentralizing power generation and eliminating stress on the grid. According to industry calculations, approximately 0.6 miles of this electric fence solution could provide between 1.3-3.3 MW of power. This combination of solar generation coupled with wireless charging infrastructure embedded into the road can support anywhere between 1,300 to 3,300 buses per day independent of power grid supply (assuming an average speed of 50 mph and accounting for seasonal variations in solar radiation).
Furthermore, because wireless electric roads are a shared platform for all EVs, this same road would also charge trucks, vans and passenger vehicles without placing additional pressures on the grid.
Although wireless charging is still relatively new to the market, the benefits are beginning to become glaringly self-evident. Amid increasing concerns about outdated grid infrastructure in the face of widespread transport electrification efforts, rising temperatures and extreme weather conditions, innovative charging methods can provide an optimal solution.
From distributing EV charging throughout the day to avoid overloads to being able to support the energy capacity needs of both passenger vehicles and large fleets simultaneously, technologies such as wireless charging will become critical resources in adapting to an all-electric decarbonized future.
Image Credits: Heimdal
One of the consequences of rising CO2 levels in our atmosphere is that levels also rise proportionately in the ocean, harming wildlife and changing ecosystems. Heimdal is a startup working to pull that CO2 back out at scale using renewable energy and producing carbon-negative industrial materials, including limestone for making concrete, in the process, and it has attracted significant funding even at its very early stage.
If the concrete aspect seems like a bit of a non sequitur, consider two facts: concrete manufacturing is estimated to produce as much as 8% OF all greenhouse gas emissions, and seawater is full of minerals used to make it. You probably wouldn’t make this connection unless you were in some related industry or discipline, but Heimdal founders Erik Millar and Marcus Lima did while they were working in their respective masters programs at Oxford. “We came out and did this straight away,” he said.
They both firmly believe that climate change is an existential threat to humanity, but were disappointed at the lack of permanent solutions to its many and various consequences across the globe. Carbon capture, Millar noted, is frequently a circular process, meaning it is captured only to be used and emitted again. Better than producing new carbons, sure, but why aren’t there more ways to permanently take them out of the ecosystem?
The two founders envisioned a new linear process that takes nothing but electricity and CO2-heavy seawater and produces useful materials that permanently sequester the gas. Of course, if it was as easy that, everyone would already be doing it.
“The carbon markets to make this economically viable have only just been formed,” said Millar. And the cost of energy has dropped through the floor as huge solar and wind installations have overturned decades-old power economies. With carbon credits (the market for which I will not be exploring, but suffice it to say it is an enabler) and cheap power come new business models, and Heimdal’s is one of them.
The Heimdal process, which has been demonstrated at lab scale (think terrariums instead of thousand-gallon tanks), is roughly as follows. First the seawater is alkalinized, shifting its pH up and allowing the isolation of some gaseous hydrogen, chlorine and a hydroxide sorbent. This is mixed with a separate stream of seawater, causing the precipitation of calcium, magnesium and sodium minerals and reducing the saturation of CO2 in the water — allowing it to absorb more from the atmosphere when it is returned to the sea. (I was shown an image of the small-scale prototype facility but, citing pending patents, Heimdal declined to provide the photo for publication.)
So from seawater and electricity, they produce hydrogen and chlorine gas, calcium carbonate, sodium carbonate and magnesium carbonate, and in the process sequester a great deal of dissolved CO2.
For every kiloton of seawater, one ton of CO2 is isolated, and two tons of the carbonates, each of which has an industrial use. MgCO3 and Na2CO3 are used in, among other things, glass manufacturing, but it’s CaCO3, or limestone, that has the biggest potential impact.
As a major component of the cement-making process, limestone is always in great demand. But current methods for supplying it are huge sources of atmospheric carbon. All over the world industries are investing in carbon reduction strategies, and while purely financial offsets are common, moving forward the preferred alternative will likely be actually carbon-negative processes.
To further stack the deck in its favor, Heimdal is looking to work with desalination plants, which are common around the world where fresh water is scarce but seawater and energy are abundant, for example the coasts of California and Texas in the U.S., and many other areas globally, but especially where deserts meet the sea, like in the MENA region.
Desalination produces fresh water and proportionately saltier brine, which generally has to be treated, as to simply pour it back into the ocean can throw the local ecosystem out of balance. But what if there were, say, a mineral-collecting process between the plant and the sea? Heimdal gets the benefit of more minerals per ton of water, and the desalination plant has an effective way of handling its salty byproduct.
“Heimdal’s ability to use brine effluent to produce carbon-neutral cement solves two problems at once,” said Yishan Wong, former Reddit CEO, now CEO of Terraformation and individually an investor in Heimdal. “It creates a scalable source of carbon-neutral cement, and converts the brine effluent of desalination into a useful economic product. Being able to scale this together is game-changing on multiple levels.”
Terraformation is a big proponent of solar desalination, and Heimdal fits right into that equation; the two are working on an official partnership that should be announced shortly. Meanwhile a carbon-negative source for limestone is something cement makers will buy every gram of in their efforts to decarbonize.
Wong points out that the primary cost of Heimdal’s business, beyond the initial ones of buying tanks, pumps and so on, is that of solar energy. That’s been trending downwards for years and with huge sums being invested regularly there’s no reason to think that the cost won’t continue to drop. And profit per ton of CO2 captured — already around 75% of over $500-$600 in revenue — could also grow with scale and efficiency.
Millar said that the price of their limestone is, when government incentives and subsidies are included, already at price parity with industry norms. But as energy costs drop and scales rise, the ratio will grow more attractive. It’s also nice that their product is indistinguishable from “natural” limestone. “We don’t require any retrofitting for the concrete providers — they just buy our synthetic calcium carbonate rather than buy it from mining companies,” he explained.
All in all it seems to make for a promising investment, and though Heimdal has not yet made its public debut (that would be forthcoming at Y Combinator’s Summer 2021 Demo Day) it has attracted a $6.4 million seed round. The participating investors are Liquid2 Ventures, Apollo Projects, Soma Capital, Marc Benioff, Broom Ventures, Metaplanet, Cathexis Ventures and, as mentioned above, Yishan Wong.
Heimdal has already signed LOIs with several large cement and glass manufacturers, and is planning its first pilot facility at a U.S. desalination plant. After providing test products to its partners on the scale of tens of tons, they plan to enter commercial production in 2023.
In India, a country that is more densely populated and has lower rates of car ownership, auto-rickshaws and other two- or three-wheeled vehicles play a central role. While many auto-rickshaws on Indian roads are already electric, they tend to rely on lead-acid batteries that need to be replaced every six to 11 months.
Power Global, a two-year-old startup, wants to disrupt the auto-rickshaw market by offering a retrofit kit for diesel-powered vehicles and a swappable battery pack to transition the more common lead-acid batteries to lithium-ion.
Power Global was founded by Porter Harris, who had previously engineered the batteries for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft. He also worked as the chief battery engineer at EV startup Faraday Future. Thus far, he estimates Power Global has been around 95% self-funded — thanks in part to the sale of his SpaceX stock.
“I’ve been looking at the Indian market now for about five years,” he told TechCrunch in a recent interview. The opportunity is certainly ripe, with some market research firms estimating that the electric rickshaw market in India will grow to $1.3 billion by 2025. It’s also dire: Last year, 15 out of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world were in India, according to air quality technology company IQAir, and much of those emissions are due to transportation.
By offering two separate products for diesel-powered or electric rickshaws — the retrofit kit, which Harris said will fit more than 90% of current models, and the “eZee” swappable battery — Power Global is aiming to capture almost the entire auto-rickshaw market.
Harris says the company already has around 48 dealers ready to sell their products, thanks largely to Power Global co-founder Pankaj Dubey’s extensive history working with Indian dealerships over his career with Hero Motors, Yamaha and Polaris. And that’s a real benefit, because much of Power Global’s plan is dependent upon an extensive dealer network that can get people signed up to the swappable battery subscription model and help drivers buy and install the retrofit kits.
The main source of revenue will come from getting drivers on the energy-as-a-service monthly subscription model via Power Global’s “eZee” swappable batteries.
“It’s a totally different business model,” Harris said. “We can’t translate petrol or gas solutions and try and make that work for electric, it’s really a whole new thing. Our viewpoint is: a lot of kiosks, a small amount of [battery] modules per location.”
The company wants to launch on the outskirts of New Delhi, National Capital Region to start, with the eventual goal of planning a kiosk every three kilometers or so. Drivers will also have the option to take the battery home and charge it using a Power Global home charger.
On the user side, the company’s also developing an app that will allow drivers to see stats, like how many kilometers they’ve traveled that day, their remaining battery life and where they can find the nearest battery swapping kiosk.
Power Global expects its batteries to last four and a half to five years. The company plans to use the batteries for stationary energy storage application once they’re taken out of the eZee ecosystem. Harris said there are plans to eventually tie those batteries in with small solar panels to provide energy to rural areas. Once the battery has been completely depleted of all its useful life, Harris said it’ll be sent to a recycler.
The company aims to release its eZee swappable battery product in the first quarter of next year, followed by the retrofit kits. It has opened a battery production plant in Greater Noida, India, which it anticipates will produce about a gigawatt-hour — which is about 10,000 Model S packs — this time next year. That’ll make it one of the largest domestic manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries in the country. By the end of 2022, Power Global aims to have at least 10,000 vehicles on the eZee swappable system.
While Power Global is in discussion with some U.S.-based companies interested in the eZee product, Harris said the focus is ultimately further east. “Do we really need another solution for the top 10% of the world? No, we don’t. Let’s focus on the other 90% of the world and actually make a difference.”