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Building a long-life grid battery

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Good morning! The grid needs multiple types of storage to be truly decarbonized and resilient, and a battery based around rust might be just the thing to complement lithium-ion.

Building a long-life grid battery

We’ll need to increase renewable energy use by 430% this decade to get on track to net zero. But the sun sets and the wind stops blowing, so we’ll also need battery storage to keep up with demand — and in fact, we need new kinds of batteries, Protocol’s Lisa Martine Jenkins writes.

What’s wrong with lithium-ion grid storage? Utility-scale versions of those ubiquitous batteries can only discharge energy for up to four hours at a time, meaning that systems can falter when the grid needs to provide widespread power for a long period of time.

  • To free the grid from fossil fuels that currently provide a baseload of energy, we need long-duration batteries that provide power for at least several days at a time.
  • In reality, of course, we’ll need both: fast-reacting batteries such as lithium-ion, as well as something that can discharge over a longer period.

A potential solution uses alternative chemistry. A company called Form Energy is developing batteries that use an iron-air technology, its CEO, Mateo Jaramillo, told Lisa.

  • These batteries work by harnessing the power of rust: They submerge a piece of porous iron in an electrolyte solution, using the metal’s rusting process to charge and discharge energy over the course of several days.
  • This technology has been around for decades and was the subject of a 1970s Department of Energy study. But in Jaramillo’s view, it is only now ready for commercialization because the technology is particularly well-suited to the demands of today’s — and tomorrow’s — grid.

The new batteries are now being tested: Form Energy signed a partnership with Georgia Power, its first with an investor-owned utility, earlier this year. The duo will work to deploy up to 15 megawatts of storage capacity. (In 2020, it announced a much smaller 1 megawatt pilot project with the Minnesota cooperative Great River Energy.)

  • The company recently closed a $450 million Series E funding round, bringing its total pot of funding to $800 million. It counts high-profile VCs like Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Energy Impact Partners among its investors.

But even if they work, the batteries face obstacles to deployment. Markets need to be redesigned to reflect “where we really are today and where we want to go,” Jaramillo said. “Grid operators and markets were designed with an entirely different and largely combustion-driven grid in mind.”

Read More:Long-duration batteries could free the grid from fossil fuels

The FOMO around generative AI

Generative AI can create more than just text and images: It’s clearly generated a hype cycle around AI companies and rabid investor interest in the space, Protocol’s Biz Carson writes.

Last week was generative AI’s breakout moment, at least if you’re judging by the parties, blog posts, and funding deals that all debuted in the last seven days.

  • It kicked off last Monday, when Stability AI — the makers of Stable Diffusion, one of the most popular image-generation models — announced it had raised $101 million and become a unicorn. The next day, AI copywriter Jasper announced its own $125 million round and new billion-dollar valuation.
  • Sequoia partner Sonya Huang also released a market map of companies in the space. The fact that two newly minted unicorns were on it (plus investor herd mentality) made it go viral.
  • By Friday, the thought leadership around generative AI was in full force with people like Elad Gil, NFX’s James Currier, and several partners at Coatue all publishing their views on the space.

The hype may be high, but it’s “absolutely justified,” said Sequoia’s Huang. While models like GPT-3 and DALL-E have been on the market for a short time, Huang’s map was one of the first to really lay out what the applications of the technology could be and where people are already building on it.

  • Image generation, text, and code are the three main areas where there’s a lot of concentrated activity, as the funding rounds of Jasper and Stability AI prove.
  • But there were empty boxes in areas like biology that were still “to come” on Huang’s market map, meaning green fields abound for entrepreneurs. “If I was a founder in [Y Combinator] right now, I would 100% be pointing my guns at one of these models and seeing what I can do,” she said.

The end goal isn’t more whimsical images, but giving humans “superpowers” by having a machine work alongside them.

  • Huang told Biz that when writing Sequoia’s original blog post on generative AI, she started by using GPT-3 to help describe the differences between classical AI and generative AI, and from there, asked GPT-3 to fill in the blank on potential applications, generating even more ideas. “That human-machine iteration loop I hadn't experienced before,” she told me.
  • Learning how to work with these models is going to be a new skill set, one that could make people more creative or more productive. “We have to train how we work with the machines, but I think the result really is we are superpower humans as a result of being able to work with these machines,” Huang told me.

Read more:Sequoia’s Sonya Huang says the generative AI hype is “absolutely justified”

The tech war's next front?

U.S. efforts to freeze China’s technological progress in key areas may turn out to be about more than just advanced chips, Protocol’s Enterprise team writes.

  • Bloomberg reported that technologies that could be used in quantum computing, along with “artificial intelligence software,” might be the Biden administration’s next targets for export controls.
  • The Bloomberg report indicates, however, that the Biden administration’s planning is at an early stage.

Quantum computing is being taken very seriously. The U.S. government has clearly been considering the threat of quantum-based attacks, while China has openly placed a high priority on acquiring quantum computers. That’s all despite the fact that quantum computing and the associated threat to encryption are years, possibly even decades, away from commercialization.

  • The recent U.S. blockade on exports of advanced chip technology to China essentially already prevents the country from getting the chip technologies it needs for quantum computing from U.S. suppliers, according to Aidan Madigan-Curtis, a supply chain expert who formerly worked for Apple.
  • Any restrictions on quantum-related technologies, then, might focus on the software and material sciences that would be needed as other underpinnings for the technologies.
  • The Bloomberg report had a notable lack of specifics regarding "AI software," an extremely broad category that can mean different things depending on the context.

A broader tech freeze on China could be crippling for the nation in the long term. It could not only stifle China economically, but also prevent the Chinese government, down the road, from potentially leveraging quantum computers for encryption-breaking cyberattacks.

  • The White House published a list of critical and emerging technologies in February that could be used to inform national security-related activities such as new export controls or investment screening. The list included network sensing, quantum information technologies, and AI.

Read more: A version of this article first appeared in our Enterprise newsletter. Subscribe here.


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People are talking

Elon Musk said the global economic decline could last until the spring of 2024:

  • “It sure would be nice to have one year without a horrible global event.”

Emmett Shear, CEO of Twitch, said there needs to be a “third way” in employment law to classify content creators:

  • “It’s not quite a W-2 job and it’s not quite a contracting job. I think we could really use legislation that created a third option that was appropriate for the gig economy and the creator economy.”

Coming this week

TikTok, Boom premieres Monday on ITVS. The film is about the complexity of tech and social media.

Apple is releasing macOS Ventura and iPadOS 16 on Monday.

The SMPTE Media Technology Summit starts Monday and runs until Thursday in Hollywood.

Meta’s Quest Pro headset goes on sale on Tuesday, starting at $1,500.

Several companies report earnings this week. Alphabet, Microsoft and Spotify report on Tuesday; ServiceNow reports on Wednesday; and Apple, Shopify and Pinterest report on Thursday.

The one-year anniversary of Meta’s rebrandfrom Facebook is Friday. Going well so far, eh?

The deadline for the Elon Musk vs. Twitter trial is Friday.

In other news

The SEC finally agreed to release documents that Ripple says could shed light on the agency’s thinking on crypto as it pursues a lawsuit against the crypto company.

The White House is in talks with Elon Musk about setting up Starlink in Iran to provide internet service to the country.

Evans Hankey, Apple’s VP of industrial design, is leaving three years after taking over from Jony Ive.

Phillips is to cut 4,000 jobs, or about 5% of its workforce, in order to reduce operating expenses.

Facebook is prepared to block sharing of new articles in Canada, over legislation that would force tech companies to compensate domestic media outlets in the country.

There may be a big problem for carbon removal: Capturing 1 billion tons of carbon could essentially require all of the carbon-free energy that’s available today, including nuclear.

Amazon hired Hawaiian Airlines to fly the first Airbus cargo planes in its air network, which will replace its older fleet.

Neuralink delayed its latest demo by a month, surprising essentially nobody.

Taylor Swift’s metaverse?

Lots of companies think they have a clear picture of what the metaverse will look like, but the unifying theme is creating a place for people to gather — and, more to the point, a place where people actually want to gather. Strangely enough, Taylor Swift has cultivated the underpinnings of killer metaverse over the past 15 years, dropping hints and messages throughout album liner notes, music videos, and social-media posts for her network of fans to listen to and discuss all across the internet. And they do it in droves. OK, so Taylor’s metaverse may be missing the digital infrastructure and VR headset. But she’s nailed the part that the likes of Meta are still struggling with.


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