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Why a long-ignored battery chemistry is catching on.
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Morning Brew April 27, 2022

Emerging Tech Brew

American Express

Happy Wednesday. Yesterday, Ford announced it would start making F-150 Lightning deliveries next week. On Monday, GM confirmed an all-electric Corvette. Meanwhile, Dodge tweeted that it’s “time to steal some thunder.”

Might want to grab some popcorn—the electrification of the US auto industry is going to be fun to watch.

In today’s edition:
The hottest battery chemistry in town
🏗 Making AI concrete
Tech workers are getting paid

Grace Donnelly, Hayden Field, Dan McCarthy

BATTERIES

LFP and thee

gif of lfp battery catching up to nickel-based ones Francis Scialabba

Last week, during its Q1 earnings call, Tesla announced a stat most battery experts wouldn’t have predicted just a few years ago.

In the first three months of 2022, nearly half of all its vehicles produced globally were built with lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, an increasingly popular lithium-ion battery chemistry that tends to be safer and less expensive—though less energy-dense—than the common EV battery chemistries today.

  • “When [Elon] Musk—I think maybe two years ago—started talking about iron phosphate, we didn’t believe it. And now I do,” Jeff Chamberlain, CEO of investment firm Volta Energy Technologies, told Emerging Tech Brew. “It’s coming, and it’s coming strong.”

It’s not just Tesla: LFP became the dominant chemistry for batteries produced for Chinese EVs last year and automakers in the US and Europe are also signaling a shift. The batteries are also common in energy storage systems (ESS).

What is LFP?

Unlike today’s dominant nickel-rich EV battery chemistries, such as nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) and nickel cobalt aluminum (NCA), LFP batteries do not contain nickel or cobalt in the cathode, whose prices have been ballooning recently.

  • Instead, they are made out of iron and phosphorus, both of which are more abundant and less expensive.
  • LFP battery packs can cost less than $90 per kWh—well below the average cost of NMC and NCA batteries, which have hovered around $130 per kWh.

Beyond cost, LFP provides other important advantages, such as safety and longevity. But the trade-offs include lower energy density, meaning lower range, which had so far limited its use in EVs.

Here's why these long-ignored batteries are having a moment.GD

        

AI

Computational concrete

Computational concrete Stockseller_ukr/Getty Images

Concrete production and carbon emissions are—unfortunately for the environment—a match made in heaven.

Each year, more than 10 billion tons of concrete are produced worldwide, and the main environmental offender is concrete’s key ingredient: cement. A study from researchers at IBM, Meta, and Ozinga, as well as at USC, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and University of Chicago, recently suggested AI may be able to help reduce emissions—and it was then tested in real-world data-center construction.

  • The researchers found that the new concrete formulations could roughly cut the global warming potential in half, when compared to the average of other formulations with similar 28-day strength.

AI-assisted cement

Cement is a popular binding and fortifying agent with a high production cost (and we’re not talking about $$): For every ton of cement produced, at least one tonne of CO2 is released into the atmosphere—adding up to at least 8% of annual global emissions.

That’s where AI comes in. The researchers trained a generative AI model on environmental impact data and a small public dataset. Using semi-supervised learning, the model sought out concrete formulas that checked all of the researchers’ boxes: 1) lower carbon footprint 2) significant compressive strength and 3) similar durability and other qualities.

Once the AI model came up with lower-carbon recipes for concrete, the researchers tasked a concrete supplier with whipping up the new batches.

  • And since the new formulas had performed well in testing, Meta used them in construction on its data center in DeKalb, Illinois—specifically a guard tower and an office building for the construction crew.

The authors wrote, “Results from field experiments as part of this real-world deployment corroborate the efficacy of AI-generated, low-carbon concrete mixes.”

Read more on-site.HF

        

TOGETHER WITH AMERICAN EXPRESS

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TECH

Live look at tech salaries:

Balloons holding up money Francis Scialabba

With the Great Resignation and historically low unemployment claims in the US, hiring and retaining employees has become difficult for US employers of all stripes.

That said…Things have become particularly tricky for those looking to lure or hold onto tech workers, the Wall Street Journal reports. Cloud-computing architects, data scientists, and ML experts are all in higher demand than a PS5. Per Mondo data cited by the WSJ…

  • Cloud architects commanded up to a 25% pay increase between 2020 and 2022, and software engineers netted 11% increases during that time.
  • One software engineer told the WSJ that some hiring managers are offering recent grads six-figure compensation packages, up from $70k–$85k pre-pandemic.

Zoom out: This phenomenon could be more acute outside of Silicon Valley itself, due to the rise of remote and hybrid work. In March, HR Brew reported that tech recruiters outside of the Bay Area are facing strong competition and rising salary expectations as tech work spreads from its epicenter.

"The thing that’s made [recruiting] a bit more difficult is the level of salary inflation that’s crept into the non-Valley” markets, Paul Wallenberg, senior director of technology services at the recruiting and staffing firm LaSalle Network, told HR Brew. “What we’re seeing is basically a 40% premium when comparing current ranges against pre-Covid salaries [for tech workers].”

Read on-site.DM

        

TOGETHER WITH OUTER

Outer

Put the brakes on fast furniture. Poorly made sofas and chairs end up in the landfill after only a handful of uses. Outer is on a mission to fight fast furniture using sustainable materials to build products that stand the test of time—​​like their Wicker chair made with 99+ recycled plastic bottles. Use code BREW200 by May 15 for $200 off your purchase + free shipping.

BITS AND BYTES

Three smart speakers side by side Francis Scialabba

Stat: More than 895 million smart-home devices were shipped in 2021, per new IDC data, up 11.7% from 2020.

Quote: “There’s a lot of technologies that are scary to people, but they’re not scary to us.”—Jigar Shah, head of the Department of Energy’s Loan Program Office, to Emerging Tech Brew

Read: Brain implants are becoming more sophisticated.

The holy-grail mascara you keep seeing all over social. Probably because it mimics the look of lash extensions (without the salon prices) and lasts all day without clumping, flaking, or smudging. Brew readers get 15% off their lusciously long lashes here.*

*This is sponsored advertising content.

WHAT ELSE IS BREWING

Snap poll: Would you visit a Meta store to check out its VR headsets?

Yes
No

FROM THE CREW

Francis Scialabba

Food, energy, and health—three things critical to our survival as a species. How are we innovating in each realm as the world moves forward?

We’re homing in on this question at our first-ever Emerging Tech Brew Summit, where we’re bringing together key technologists, executives, and innovators. From autonomous agricultural machinery to cell-cultivated salmon, we’ve got a whole lot in store, and you won’t want to miss it.

Grab early-bird tickets while they last!

READER POLL RESULTS

A week ago, we asked whether you’d be cool with an organization using “emotion recognition” software on you. Nearly 2,200 of you replied.

The consensus? No, thanks! By the numbers…

  • Just under 8% of you responded with “yes” outright, while another ~19% of you said, “Yes, but only with explicit consent.”
  • The remaining ~74% of you said, “Nope.”

As a reminder, the question was prompted by reports suggesting Zoom is thinking about adding such features to its platform. The tech is controversial—some researchers argue it doesn’t actually work, while others say that even if does work, it’s invasive and fraught. But such concerns haven’t stopped startups in the space from netting hundreds of millions of dollars to work on it, nor have they prevented major companies like Zoom from exploring the tech.

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Written by Grace Donnelly, Hayden Field, and Dan McCarthy

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