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LINK The 7 Wild Energy Technologies That Just Got a Billion-Dollar Boost

Hope

It’s touch and go whether current efforts to curb carbon emissions will avert catastrophic climate change. That’s why a group of billionaires have pledged $1 billion to fund radical new energy technologies, and they’ve just announced their first seven investments.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) is an investment fund that aims to shake up the energy industry. The endeavor is the brainchild of Bill Gates, but he’s managed to rope in a host of high-profile investors, including Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Jack Ma, and Michael Bloomberg.

The first two companies to be funded were revealed by Quartz back in June, and now they’ve released the names of seven more. There are others in their portfolio that don’t want to be named, so this isn’t BEV’s full roster, but here’s a rundown of the technologies that some of the world’s leading business titans think could help us avert environmental disaster.

Commonwealth Fusion Systems
Fusion power is the great white whale of energy research; it promises a limitless source of pollution-free electricity, but it’s always 20 years away. But MIT spinoff Commonwealth Fusion Systems says it’s for real this time. They’ve promised to have a fusion plant up and running in 15 years.

The company plans to exploit new high-temperature superconductors to create more powerful magnets that will contain the plasma at the heart of their reactor. That should make their technology smaller and cheaper than previous designs, which should allow for commercial viable fusion power.

Fervo Energy
When you think about preventing climate change, fracking probably isn’t one of the first things that comes to mind. But California startup Fervo Energy is repurposing the industry’s techniques to create new sources of geothermal energy.

Current geothermal plants require a perfect combination of naturally-occurring heat, water, and permeable rock. The latter is normally the limiting factor, so people have long proposed pumping high-pressure water into wells to widen existing fractures and improve permeability. So far no one has managed to make the idea commercially viable, but Fervo thinks drilling technology advances from the fracking industry have put that goal in sight.

QuantumScape
Electric vehicles could make it possible to completely decarbonize the transport sector, but with current battery technology they simply can’t compete with gasoline in terms of range. QuantumScape thinks solid-state batteries are the answer, and the company could be producing them commercially by 2025.

The technology replaces the liquid electrolyte found in standard batteries with a solid one, which could greatly increase the energy density and therefore storage capacity of the devices. Automaker Volkswagen clearly thinks they’re on the right track after investing $100 million in the company.

CarbonCure
An often-overlooked source of CO2 is the concrete industry, but Canadian startup CarbonCure has come up with a way to make it a sink for carbon emissions. Their technology injects CO2 collected from other industrial emitters into the concrete production process, which makes the concrete stronger and also permanently stores the greenhouse gas as a mineral.

Pivot Bio
While CO2 is by far the biggest contributor to climate change, the nitrous dioxide emitted thanks to our abundant use of nitrogen-based fertilizers is 300 times more potent as a greenhouse gas.

Some soil-dwelling bacteria have the ability to turn nitrogen from the air into molecules that can be used as fertilizers by plants, and certain species of legumes have developed symbiotic relationships with them. Pivot Bio is using synthetic biology to engineer so-called nitrogen-fixing microbes so that they can be sprayed into the soil during planting and then colonize the roots of valuable crop species like corn and wheat to reduce their fertilizer requirements.

Zero Mass Water
Treating and transporting water to areas where it is scarce has a huge carbon footprint. So startup Zero Mass Water has designed a system that creates specialized solar panels that can suck water from the air even in dry areas.

A photovoltaic panel powers a fan that blows air over a specially-designed absorbent material called a desiccant that extracts water vapor. Solar thermal panels then collect heat to evaporate the water back out of the desiccant so it can be collected.

DMC Biotechnologies
When produced sustainably, biofuels can provide a renewable alternative to fossil fuels. A promising avenue for creating them is to engineer microbes that convert a feedstock, normally from plants, into useful chemicals.

That engineering process is time-consuming and expensive, though. DMC Biotechnologies says it has created a standardized approach for creating new microbes tailored to produce particular molecules, which should cut costs and development timelines.

Form Energy
One of the two companies revealed back in June, Form Energy is also working on two new battery technologies. While it’s keeping technical details under wraps, the company has confirmed that one of the two is a “sulfur-flow battery.”

Using cheap and abundant sulfur could make these batteries dramatically cheaper than current lithium-ion technology. In a flow battery the liquid electrolyte is pumped around the electrodes, which means pumps and other bulky components that would rule out use in things like smartphones. But the technology is a promising option for grid-scale energy storage.

Quidnet Energy
The other previously-disclosed investment was in Quidnet Energy, which is pushing a more unusual form of energy storage. The idea is to use electricity to pump water into abandoned oil and gas wells when there’s a surplus of energy on the grid, before releasing it at times of high demand to drive a turbine generator above ground.

Lofty Promises
While some of these technologies may not seem that closely linked to climate change, a condition for BEV funding is the potential to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by at least 500 million metric tons a year in one of five sectors: electricity, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, and buildings.

With current political trends suggesting that more conventional approaches to reducing emissions may fail to live up to what’s required, we should all be hoping these technologies live up to their promises.

Lukian 8 Nov 5

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Lots of interesting ideas here, the engineer in me is somewhat cheered up.

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Great

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Many years ago one of my friends would send for patents. The patent office would send out patents with redacted information and let you read the basics of how an invention worked. One of such patents was called a Nucell Battery it would run on nuclear waste the battery lifecycle was estimated to be 500 years.

actually it's 1000 years but it's also kinda difficult to acheive i.e. diamond covered and makes little energy.
[forbes.com]

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Can someone explain how pumping water into an abandoned well could store any energy. Maybe what they meant was to pump water OUT of the well when there is a surplus of electricity and let it flow back while turning a turbine when there is a shortage. How much volume is there in an abandoned well? Not much I would think. I’m missing something here.

No matter how efficient your batteries are, if those batteries are being charged off a grid powered by fossil fuel you are accomplishing nothing.

well the technology here (I think) is to pump water at high pressure in mines using wind and/or solar when in abundance then releasing the pressurized water to turn turbines when needed. It could serve as a grid battery without using fossil fuels. other ideas are filling reservoirs uphill.

@Lukian Okay, thanks for your reply. I’m still puzzled though. Water is not compressible.

@WilliamFleming air pockets get compressed with the water. I also heard of literally pumping compressed air in mines as well.

@TheAstroChuck Fascinating! Thanks for sharing that. I had heard of those sites but didn’t know they were so prevalent. I assume that the bulk of the power comes from conventional power plants and that the hydro part is for energy storage only.

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Maybe I missed it, but why not the most obvious source of energy in the sun? All these energy companies are still going to be slaves to using oil for production and equipment. Even using the sun will require oil for that in building solar panels and parts etc. Unless some new revolutionary alternative appears, we're still pretty screwed. These will at least hopefully slow it down while we try to find a sustainable revolutionary source for production and machinery use. Almost EVERYTHING we use involves oil in it's production from start to finish. Almost every product we have in our houses are made from oil, including rubber and plastic. From what I've read, some alternative energies require even more energy to produce our food and energy use than oil does. In that respect it's pretty futile and counterproductive.

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As promising as these sound, I'm afraid we may already be beyond the point of no return.

we need to remain hopeful.

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