Recent blog posts

Five years ago, Marc Andreessen famously wrote that “software is eating the world” in an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal. It’s hard to argue with the observation as we’ve continued to see the proliferation of big software-driven disruptions in diverse industries ranging from transportation (e.g. Lyft, Uber, etc.) to media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to insurance (e.g. Epic Systems, Zenefits, etc.).

Autonomous driving is no exception. The two largest companies in the world today by market cap, Apple and Alphabet (Google), are both primarily software companies and both of them are working on ushering in a new era of self-driving mobility. Combined with Tesla, Uber, and many of the automotive OEMs, a whole lot of people are working hard to optimize the algorithms and control software to improve safety, widen the acceptable operating conditions, and make better/faster actionable observations from the plethora of data from autonomous vehicle’s suite of sensors. However, all of this relies on the information gathered from the sensors themselves. Therefore, there’s a fundamental limitation to what software innovation can do alone. Improvements to the hardware are crucial to the advancement of self-driving cars and advanced materials play a fundamental role in hardware innovation. It’s all built up from advanced materials (and, lest we forget, by advanced materials as Purnesh’s previous blog touches on).

What is Your Materials MVP?

Posted by on in Advanced Materials

A Minimal Viable Product (MVP), is a new product that can be rapidly developed in order to efficiently test the value proposition with real customers. The ultimate goal is to accelerate the innovation cycle towards creating the real home run. Eric Ries originally outlined this methodology in his book, “The Lean Startup”, and it has inspired the formation of countless software start-ups that can deliver that MVP with pizza-fueled coding marathons. But for companies looking to commercialize products based on advanced materials, there are typically a myriad of technical, commercial, and regulatory roadblocks that make executing on a MVP much more difficult and time consuming. But this concept is too valuable to be ignored by early stage advanced materials enabled companies.

"I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that." We have come a long way since these words of wisdom from Thomas Edison way back in 1931! Solar energy or photovoltaic (PV), a key component in the renewable energy mix, continues to grow, with a record 57 GWp installed in 2015. The compound annual growth rate of PV installations was 41 % in the 2000 to 2015 period (Fraunhofer ISE). Wafer-based crystalline silicon is still the dominant technology, accounting for more than 90% of global PV production. Still playing catch up are the many thin film technologies led by cadmium telluride (CdTe). The early predictions of thin film technologies surge did not materialize, resulting in the failure of many startups. But the technologies are alive and well, amidst continuing efforts to lower cost and improve conversion efficiency. Advanced materials still hold the keys to success in the race to boost PV efficiency levels.

Metamaterials Blog (with Meta Title)

Posted by on in Electronics

Below you will find the prognostications I was able to record from an advanced materials venture capitalist whom I know well. I’m afraid that some of the knowledge gained from our dialogues has been lost to antiquity and general forgetfulness, but I have placed what remains here on this digital repository for blogs written by advanced materials venture capitalists:

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 airplanes are two early examples. What sets these planes apart from older planes is that their body and wings are made of composite materials rather than aluminum. They are more fuel efficient and fly farther. This reduces the cost of travel and opens up new routes. Passengers also enjoy benefits like increased humidity and cabin pressure. Humidity is increased from 4% to 15% and cabin pressure is increased from the equivalent of 8,000 feet above sea level to 6,000 feet above sea level. The bottom line is that these planes cost less to operate and provide passengers with ground level comfort and less jet leg.

Advancing the Science of Automotive Glazing

Posted by on in Video

Doug Wiggin, CEO of Switch Materials, gives a talk on the commercialization of smart windows for the automotive sector, as part of Pangaea Ventures' Advanced Materials Commercialization Summit.

We generate a tremendous amount of data from an exponentially growing number of connected devices. The entire internet (and all the data we host on the cloud) is forecast to reach 16,000 exabytes by 2017 (an exabyte is 1 billion gigabytes). That’s a lot of warehouses & data storage centers [whether all of it should be stored is the topic of a very different post…and yes I DO need ALL of those puppy videos, thank you for asking!].

The Future in Storage is Long (Part 2)

Posted by on in Energy

Lithium Ion technology has a huge head start in the energy storage market. While many of the cost reductions are behind us, costs over time will continue to drop. (Part 1) Nevertheless, our entrepreneurial world is full of companies who have looked at that chemistry and said, “There has got to be a better way!”

The Future in Storage is Long

Posted by on in Energy

Can you imagine producing a product of value and being forced to pay someone to take it off your hands? Well, that is the situation that some renewable energy producers have faced over the last year. Now, this typically occurs during lower demand periods, perhaps when a particularly gusty weather front rolls through. But as renewable penetration increases, the phenomenon will proliferate unless an adequate storage buffer is put in place. Fortunately this is starting to occur. According to GTM and the Energy Storage Association, US energy storage installations increased in 2015 by 243% over the previous year with the installation of 221 MW of capacity, over half of that occurring in the last quarter.

Sustainable Innovation For Food Security

Posted by on in Health

By 2050, the global population is expected to reach 9.7 billion! As a result, world food production will need to rise by 70%, and food production in the developing world will need to double, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN! Barring large-scale migration to the other planets, we will simply need more food. Add the energy, water and climate change challenges and you know we are in trouble. Luckily, there are efforts underway to implement innovative, sustainable solutions addressing food security. Approaches include changes in distribution and intelligent packaging to minimize waste, use of smart agriculture techniques to impact crop durability and yield, adopting environmentally friendly pest control and disease treatment, diversifying food sources and strengthening aquaculture. These are expected to have broad impact across the food groups, namely, fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and proteins.