Building the next generation of lithium-ion batteries

Recently the Anthropocene Institute asked Cypress River Advisors to discuss the future of battery technology and venture capital investment.  In 2016, lithium-ion received the bulk of the industry’s applied research dollars – focused on driving incremental improvements. Venture capital, on the other hand, invested over a half billion dollars into exploring solutions which addressed lithium-ion’s challenges through new chemistries or new technology paths to solve our global energy storage problem.  Through these conversations with various investors, we noted an inconsistent understanding of battery technologies and the challenges that the industry faces.  

To help get the public and investors on the same page, Cypress River Advisors sat down with William Chueh, a leading material science and engineering researcher at Stanford University and his team of Ph.D.  He and his team are at the forefront of materials research into battery technology, tackling the question: “How to build a better battery?”  

While there are many different kinds of energy storage systems, the rise of mobile devices has made lithium-ion the incumbent technology for consumer electronics, electric vehicles and even the grid.  It serves as one of the major benchmarks for which all other battery technologies are compared to today. We hope that this article and its related videos will give industry observers an overall sense of the challenges for the market ahead.  – Jason Wang, Partner, Cypress River Advisors.

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Guardian: New satellite to spot planet-warming industrial methane leaks

Multimillion dollar project will scan and make public methane leaks from oil and gas plants that are a major contributor to global warming

Methane leaking from oil and gas facilities around the world – a major contributor to global warming – is set to be spotted from space.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has announced it aims to launch a satellite called MethaneSAT by 2021 to scan the globe and make major leaks public. That information will then enable governments to force action, EDF hopes. Building and launching the satellite will cost tens of millions of dollars, but EDF says it has already raised most of the money.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the short term, and is responsible for about a fifth of human-caused climate change. The oil and gas industry is to blame for about a third of anthropogenic methane emissions, from fracking and other exploration sites, and from leaky pipelines. Read more

HBS Op-Ed: Why Private Investors Must Fund ‘New Nuclear’ Power Right Now

by Joseph Lassiter

In June 2016, I gave a TED Talk called We Need Nuclear Power to Solve Climate Change. The talk discussed the world’s realistic options for reducing fossil CO2 emissions soon enough to contain climate change’s more severe effects. To my surprise, that talk has now been viewed more than 1.1 million times.

I have learned a lot from the many, many conversations that have emerged around the talk. Some of these conversations have made me hopeful, but most have made me realize how far we must go to meet society’s urgent need for both more energy and a cleaner environment. Solving either of these problems without solving the other may be a costly outcome, but it is not an informed choice. The world must have much better, low-cost, zero-carbon emission alternatives to meet the world’s urgent need for on-demand, around-the-clock power. And those alternatives need to be available now. Read more

Nikkei: Bill Gates and China spur development of next-generation reactors

BEIJING — The Chinese city of Cangzhou is known for its long tradition of martial arts mastery. If Bill Gates has his way, it will also be known as the birthplace of the nuclear power plant of the future.

TerraPower, a U.S. nuclear-reactor design company chaired by the Microsoft co-founder, is looking to build a new model called a traveling-wave reactor, or TWR, with state-owned China National Nuclear Corp.

The two entities set up a joint venture in November, answering Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s call for “breakthroughs through collective wisdom and international cooperation.”

Li said he hoped that a combination of advanced technology from the U.S. and “China’s rich talent resources” could make it happen.

Gates said the new nuclear technology is of great importance for the future development of energy and technology, ensuring a clean, safe and reliable energy supply.

“We are willing to turn common visions into reality with an open attitude,” he said at his November meeting with Li.

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The Verge: Katsuko Saruhashi turned radioactive fallout into a scientific legacy

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates Japanese geochemist Katsuko Saruhashi, whose research helped reveal the insidious spread of radioactive fallout from the US nuclear testing ground in the Pacific. If she were still alive, today would have been her 98th birthday.

In 1957, Saruhashi became the first woman to receive a PhD in chemistry in Japan. Her work focused on measuring the molecules in seawater, like carbon dioxide, oxygen, and also radioactive molecules like cesium-137. Just 12 years before she received her PhD, the United States dropped atomic bombs that devastated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the US continued to unleash a torrent of radioactive fallout in the Pacific as it tested bigger and bigger bombs. By 1958, the US had exploded 67 nuclear devices around the Marshall Islands — leaving a long legacy of contamination behind.

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BRC Deal Tracker: Corporate Renewable Deals 2013-2018

The Business Renewables Center actively tracks new corporate renewable energy contracts as they are are announced. The chart below shows our analysis of all the public transactions during the past 6 years.


Nikkei: Japan is 2 years away from a solar power revolution

Cheap filmlike panels will be able to attach themselves to cars and walls

TAKURO KUSASHIO, Nikkei staff writer

With an ability to fit the contours of the surfaces they are applied to, perovskite solar cells will bring new opportunities to harvest power from the sun. (Photo courtesy of University of Tokyo)

TOKYO — A new type of solar cell that is thin like plastic film and cheap to produce is expected to hit the market within the next two years. The perovskite solar cell is expected to become a standard along with the silicon solar cells that are commonly used today.

Panasonic and Sekisui Chemical have developed technology to produce bigger and more durable solar cells than conventional ones. The result is a solar cell that can be attached to walls and curved surfaces. Conventional solar cells lack this usability.

The coming cells are already raising hopes that society can make greater use of the sun for its energy needs.

The cells’ development was announced in 2009 by professor Tsutomu Miyasaka at Toin University of Yokohama. The invention has since brought speculation that Miyasaka could be in the running for a Nobel Prize.

Silicon solar cells are thick and heavy. Their production process is complex and costly. Perovskite solar cells are coated with inklike material containing lead and can be combined with objects such as soft sheet metal. Production costs are expected to be half those of silicon cells.

Because they are thin, light and bendable, perovskite solar cells can be used in places conventional solar cells cannot, including in roofing materials, or on columns and car exteriors.

Panasonic has developed a 20cm by 20cm perovskite solar cell. Panels made of these cells can be joined together to create sheets large enough for commercial uses. The company hopes to increase the cells’ power generation efficiency to 20%; they are now slightly more than halfway there.

Silicon solar cells, meanwhile, convert about 25% of the sun’s energy that hits them.

Sekisui Chemical has coated the power generation part of its perovskite cell with film so as to prevent it from deteriorating. The cell will be made to last for about 10 years and weigh about 20% of conventional silicon cells, which can be used for 20 years.

Since the new type of cell is still not as durable as conventional cells, it cannot be adopted by large-scale solar farms. But it is expected to find its way into niche markets that conventional solar cells do not fit into. The new technology will help large buildings and commercial facilities cheaply supply their own electricity.

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MIT News: MIT’s big push on fusion

Researchers will work with industrial collaborators to pursue fusion as a source of carbon-free power.

Today, MIT announced plans to work with a newly formed company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), to realize the promise of fusion as a source of unlimited, safe, carbon-free energy. Zach Hartwig, an assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering, is one of the Institute’s leads on the effort, along with others in MIT’s Plasma Fusion and Science Center (PSFC). He spoke with MIT News about the group’s vision for a fusion-powered future.

Q: Why is this new collaboration needed to support fusion energy?

A: Mitigating global climate change requires new sources of zero-carbon energy as soon as we can deliver them, and we are going to need a completely new approach to ensure that fusion energy can be a significant part of the solution.

The hard reality of climate change is that every single nation that has ever industrialized and made a better life for its citizens did so at the expense of the climate. There is, at present, simply no other way to do this than to dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels for energy.

As a global society, we have to do better. Fusion energy represents one tremendously attractive pathway, if we can demonstrate its potential and accelerate its commercial deployment. This is going to require new models of innovation that couple research institutions, such as MIT, with private companies, such as CFS, that are capable of commercializing fusion — and then providing that relationship with sustainable, patient capital that can fund the development of breakthrough energy solutions at scale.

Fusion is the fundamental energy source of the universe, powering our sun and the distant stars. The promise of harnessing fusion to produce energy on Earth is simple: limitless, safe, zero-carbon energy.

Like the governments of many nations, the U.S. has funded basic research on fusion science and technology since the 1950s, making tremendous progress toward the goal of fusion energy. MIT has long been a leading institution in fusion research, receiving research support primarily from the Department of Energy, including the funding of three major fusion energy experiments at MIT culminating in the Alcator C-Mod tokamak, which ended 25 years of operation in 2016. The DOE continues its support of fusion energy research at other facilities around the U.S. and the world, including the ITER experiment now under construction in France.

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Nature: MIT launches multimillion-dollar collaboration to develop fusion energy

With corporate participation, researchers seek to build a pilot fusion-energy plant within 15 years.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge will work with a private firm to develop technology for producing energy from nuclear fusion within the next 15 years. If successful, the multimillion-dollar effort could help to unlock a virtually limitless source of pollution-free energy.

The approach — which has attracted US$50 million thus far — is based on high-temperature superconductors that have become commercially available in the past few years, the team announced on 8 March. The new generation of superconductors will allow the researchers from MIT and Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) in Cambridge to strengthen the magnetic field that contains the hot-plasma fuel used in conventional tokamak reactors. That could pave the way for reactors that are smaller, cheaper and easier to build than those based on previous designs, including the troubled international ITER project under development in southern France. Read more

Nature: There’s a cheaper way to break open physics

How tabletop experiments could find evidence of new particles, offering a glimpse beyond the standard model.

It’s possible that no one knows the electron as well as physicist Gerald Gabrielse. He once held one in a trap for ten months to measure the size of its internal magnet. When it disappeared, he searched for two days before accepting that it was gone. “You get kind of fond of your particles after a while,” he says.

And Gabrielse has had ample time to become fond of the electron. For more than 30 years, he has been putting sophisticated electromagnetic traps and lasers to work to reveal the particle’s secrets, hoping to find the first hints of what’s beyond the standard model of particle physics — the field’s long-standing, but incomplete, foundational theory. Yet for many of those years, it seemed as if he was working in the shadow of high-energy facilities such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the 27-kilometre-circumference, US$5-billion particle accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland. “There was a time in my career when there weren’t very many people doing this kind of thing, and I wondered if it was the right choice,” he says. Read more

Science: Air pollution’s hidden impacts

Nearly every country in the world regulates air pollution. But how much pollution control is enough? Answering that question requires considerable information about the costs as well as the benefits of regulation. Historically, efforts to measure benefits have focused on averting major health insults, such as respiratory or cardiovascular events that result in hospitalizations or death, which typically only afflict the most vulnerable segments of the population. These health episodes are clearly consequential—e.g., the U.S. Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 avert an estimated 160,000 deaths and 86,000 hospitalizations annually—but may only represent the tip of the proverbial iceberg, compared to the number of cases of respiratory impairment and other health insults that affect many healthy people every day but do not require hospitalizations or even formal health care encounters. The ubiquity of these less lethal impacts, revealed by emerging economic research on labor productivity and human capital accumulation, suggests that even modest impacts at the individual level can add up to considerable, society-wide impacts across the globe.

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