Ocean-powered batteries
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Seatrec harvests the ocean’s energy to power sea tech.
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Morning Brew March 14, 2022

Emerging Tech Brew

Voice

Happy Monday. Shenzhen, a major tech and business hub in China, will be locked down for at least a week due to a surge in Covid-19 cases. The move is likely to hamper production for Apple, some automakers, and, of course, semiconductor makers.

Over two years later, and the supply chain isn’t normalizing any time soon.

In today’s edition:
Ocean-powered batteries
VC funding slows down in February
Coworking

Jordan McDonald, Dan McCarthy

BATTERIES

Pelagic power

image of a large ocean wave Yaorusheng/Getty Images

The vast majority of the ocean’s seabed floor has never been reliably mapped by humans.

Several initiatives exist to change this, including the Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project, a global partnership that aims to map the entirety of the sea floor by 2030. To achieve this feat, the initiative has signed up companies making cutting-edge tech that ranges from autonomous underwater vehicles to satellite-based ocean mappers.

And last week, the initiative signed a new partner: Seatrec. The company will send Seabed 2030 the ocean-floor data it collects via echo sounder-equipped floats that run on its battery technology—a system that generates renewable energy from differences in the ocean’s temperature.

Self-replenishing batteries

The company primarily sells its battery tech to other ocean equipment-makers, though it builds its own robots as well. Seatrec claims it can lower the cost of ocean research, because devices equipped with its batteries don’t need to be manually recharged or replaced.

  • Seatrec’s SL1 battery platform costs $25,000 to operate and deploy, and depending on the scale of data collection a client needs, a second module can be attached.

Seatrec has also received over $2 million in federal contracts since the company spun off from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech in 2016, its founder and CEO, Yi Chao, told us. It has also received $3.5 million in venture funding, with a $2 million round as recent as 2020.

Right now, the operational range for Seatrec’s batteries is limited to the two-thirds of the ocean that experience a temperature difference of 5–10 degrees Celsius between its surface and its depths.

  • That excludes most of the Arctic and Antarctic, as the water is always cold from top to bottom.

How it works: Seatrec’s batteries function on what Chao calls “energy harvesting,” which takes elementary science—how liquids change into solids, gases, and back again—and applies it to battery technology.

“We basically pack our materials into a backpack. They are solid when they are cold, because, like a candle, they are a solid material,” Chao told us. “When it comes to the surface, those materials [melt] into a liquid. So the backpack kind of expands in volume, and that expansion will create this kinetic energy and then turn it into electricity.”

Looking ahead…Chao hopes to apply Seatrec’s tech to additional ocean-tech projects, like providing portable power for machines doing seaweed farming, which has the potential to help with carbon sequestration or to serve as biofuel. Seatrec also plans to add hydrophones to its equipment in the next year, which could help detect sounds like animal migrations, marine mammal singing, and underwater volcanoes.

Click here to read the full story.JM

        

VENTURE CAPITAL

Funding roundup: Not record-high edition

one hand exchanging an idea with another hand holding money Claudenakagawa/Getty Images

For the first time in many months, this monthly funding roundup is not a broken record.

In February, global venture funding saw a slowdown after a blistering back half of 2021: Startups raised, uh, *just* $52 billion, per Crunchbase. That’s down $10 billion (17%) from January, and the lowest total since August 2021.

  • Even so, VCs aren’t turning the spigot off completely—last month’s total was up $10 billion (24%) from a year prior, and it’s significantly more than what was raised in any single month of 2020.

Here are three of the most notable emerging tech rounds from the last month:

KoBold Metals, which uses AI to try and locate mineable EV battery materials, raised $192.5 million in a Series B last month. KoBold was founded in 2018 and is backed by Bill Gates’s climate fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. The startup says its metal-seeking algorithms analyze a combination of publicly available data and information shared by partner companies.

Synthego, a startup that attempts to make it easier and cheaper to use CRISPR for drug-development research, raised a $200 million Series E in the middle of last month. The company applies machine learning and automation to certain aspects of the gene-editing process to accelerate drugdevelopment, and says it will use the new $$$ to expand these capabilities on its existing research platforms.

Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, an offshoot of Sidewalk Labs—the beleaguered smart-city group owned by Alphabet—raised $400 million in early February, bringing it to a $1.25 billion valuation. SIP is working on a wide range of smart-city projects, including a highway between Detroit and Ann Arbor that is purpose-built for connected and autonomous vehicles, which will reportedly open in part this year.

Click here to read on-site.—DM

        

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READER SPOTLIGHT

Coworking

Headshot of Linh Do, incubation manager at Walmart Store No. 8 Francis Scialabba

Coworking is a weekly segment where we spotlight Emerging Tech Brew readers who work with emerging technologies. Click here if you’d like a chance to be featured.

How would you describe your job to someone who doesn’t work in tech?

My team at Store No. 8 identifies big, emerging waves in retail, commerce, and health and wellness, and builds startups within Walmart to catch them.

What’s your favorite emerging tech project you’ve worked on?

Back in my innovation consulting days, I looked at the potential role that industrial enzymes could play in catalyzing cleantech and sustainability. They have a surprisingly long list of versatile use cases, from supporting production of biofertilizers and cultured meat, to serving as water-cleaning agents for inland fish farms.

What emerging tech are you most optimistic about? Least? And why?

I still see a lot of potential for analytics and AI/predictive intelligence to improve processes and decision-making—it’s needed everywhere across all types of organizations and industries. On the other hand, 3D printing has been around for a while, but the use cases and economic model remain unclear—its potential to drive “mass customization” still yet to be realized.

What’s the best piece of tech-related media you’ve read/watched/listened to?

Erik Hoel’s predictions for 2050 and the collection of articles he inspired (full list here) were particularly enjoyable and thought-provoking.

One thing we can’t guess from your LinkedIn profile?

I was a bouncer in grad school (for the school’s graduate bar).

        

TOGETHER WITH AUGUSTINUS BADER

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BITS AND BYTES

Image of Microsoft's logo Jean-Luc Ichard/Getty Images

Stat: Microsoft aims to be “carbon negative” by 2030, but its greenhouse-gas emissions rose 21.5% in the 12 months through June of last year, after declining slightly in the two years prior.

Quote: “Looking to the deep sea and saying we’re going to use those metals to build a billion electric cars is assuming that that’s what we should be doing…It’s a very simplistic argument to say the only route to reduce carbon emissions is by mining the deep ocean.”—Helen Scales, a marine biologist who teaches at the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Continuing Education, to Grist

Read: How activists pushed the IRS to abandon facial-recognition software.

The CFO job description is a lonnng one: The role has changed, and so have the habits that make a CFO successful. Learn the top 7 habits of highly effective CFOs—such as adopting a forward-looking view, building solid relationships, and being transparent—in Oracle NetSuite’s guide.*

*This is sponsored advertising content.

WHAT ELSE IS BREWING

  • Niantic acquired 8th Wall, which offers dev tools for web-based augmented reality apps. It called the purchase its “largest acquisition to date.”
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued final rules eliminating the need for automakers to build manual controls, like steering wheels and brake pedals, into autonomous vehicles.
  • Ukraine’s two top producers of neon, a key element in the chipmaking process, have halted operations. Together, the companies account for ~half of the world’s neon supply.
  • Clearview AI’s CEO claims that Ukraine’s defense ministry is using its controversial facial-recognition tech.

TECH THINGAMABOBS

For easy listening: Our very own Grace Donnelly and Hayden Field were both on recent episodes of Morning Brew’s Business Casual podcast, talkin’ cars. Listen to Grace chat about EVs and batteries here, and Hayden talk about autonomous vehicles here.

For sensors and shipwrecks: High-def footage of Endurance, a 107-year-old shipwreck, which was discovered with the help of sonar-equipped, battery-powered submersibles.

For SNL on emerging tech: A sketch about Amazon’s cashierless Just Walk Out tech.

FROM THE ARXIVES

Last week, DeepMind published a new paper in Nature detailing its “Ithaca” machine-learning model that can help archaeologists piece together and (approximately) date fragments of ancient texts, i.e., “predicting the past”; it was the result of a collaboration with several universities across Europe.

Time machine: The model was trained on “the largest available dataset of Greek epigraphic texts,” and is 62% accurate in restoring damaged texts when used on its own.

  • When used by a human historian, however, the model-scholar combo is 72% accurate, compared to just 25% accuracy achieved by historians alone.
  • And this is how DeepMind has positioned the tool—as an aid for researchers, not a substitute.

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Written by Dan McCarthy and Jordan McDonald

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