Peter Thiel, Bill Gates, Khosla Team Up to Invest in Startup Aiming to Provide Cheap, Sustainable Energy Storage

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    Nov 05, 2012 10:26 PM GMT
    This could pave the way for the continued development of other alternative energy without the need for continued subsidies.

    http://blogs.wsj.com/venturecapital/2012/11/05/peter-thiel-bill-gates-khosla-get-behind-energy-storage-start-up-lightsail-in-37m-deal/

    An investment group that includes Bill Gates and Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and the first outside investor in Facebook Inc. FB +0.33%, has poured $37.3 million into LightSail Energy, a three-year-old start-up dreamed up by a Princeton graduate school dropout. Thiel led the investment.

    Danielle Fong, now 25, said it took LightSail about a year to raise the Series D funding because investors are more wary of clean technology since solar power company Solyndra spectacularly failed in 2011. Solyndra burned through nearly $1 billion from private investors and more than $500 million in Department of Energy loans before declaring bankruptcy.

    LightSail has found investors “who can truly think for themselves,” she said.

    While wind produces energy when it’s blowing and the sun when it’s shining, storing renewable energy in large quantities, for ongoing use, is tricky. Common approaches have included electrochemical batteries, mechanical devices such as flywheels, and liquefied air.

    “The overall problem of how to store large amounts of energy is one we’ve been working on for a century without a lot of success,” said co-founder and Chief Executive Steve Crane. “We’re good at cell phone and laptop batteries and maybe scaling to run cars, but that’s as far as we’ve gone successfully up to now.”

    Fong, who at the time she co-founded the company had dropped out of a Ph.D. program at Princeton University that she began when she was 17, began thinking that water and compressed air could be combined to solve the energy storage problem. Water spray, because of its high surface area and heat capacity, would work extremely well as a heat exchanger, she reasoned. [...]

    The technology intrigued Gates, the Microsoft co-founder who is a limited partner in Khosla Ventures, a LightSail backer since 2009. Thiel, who created controversy last year when he declared at a TechCrunch conference in San Francisco that clean-tech was a “disaster,” was also convinced.

    In a statement, Thiel said that “it’s time to find honest companies that can develop technologies that stand on real innovation instead of the backs of taxpayers.”

    Two competitors, General Compression and SustainX, are also working on technology that uses compressed air to store energy. Both companies have received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. Crane said LightSail was rejected in its bid for Department of Energy funding, though he wouldn’t rule out pursuing government funding in the future.

    LightSail is now in talks with potential customers, which include solar and wind developers and large industrial companies that want more control over their power supplies, Crane said. Over time, he said, the technology should cease to be exotic and will become “mainstream, grid-scale energy technology.”

    First, though, the company has to ship products. LightSail’s website depicts them as air storage tanks with power units that can fit inside shipping containers. They are now likely due in 2014.
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    Nov 06, 2012 1:02 AM GMT
    A more comprehensive discussion on the technology and company here with Danielle Fong (a founder of LightSail):
    http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4744201
  • TheBizMan

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    Nov 06, 2012 4:03 AM GMT
    Nah let's just continue to burn through the world's supply of crude oil.
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    Nov 06, 2012 12:54 PM GMT
    TheBizMan saidNah let's just continue to burn through the world's supply of crude oil.


    Let's do what is economically efficient... ? Historically the fuels we've used have become increasingly more efficient - better for us and better for the environment. This spans from whale blubber, to coal to oil to natural gas... and I suspect longer term it'll be some form of solar/nuclear. Technologies like this are required to make solar viable.
  • mustangd

    Posts: 434

    Nov 06, 2012 4:36 PM GMT
    i forget his name, but, there is a professor at MIT, who has invented a liquid metal battery, that is purported to be cheap to manufacture, with much larger storage capacity and life. his concept is to marry it to a new way of storage/charging. a bringing together of wind, solar, fuel cell charging that then transfers the charge to the battery, which can then be unplugged and put into a car, or used to power other devices. this could be huge, in that it breaks the bubble that has isolated alternate sources of power.
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    Nov 06, 2012 4:42 PM GMT
    mustangd saidi forget his name, but, there is a professor at MIT, who has invented a liquid metal battery, that is purported to be cheap to manufacture, with much larger storage capacity and life. his concept is to marry it to a new way of storage/charging. a bringing together of wind, solar, fuel cell charging that then transfers the charge to the battery, which can then be unplugged and put into a car, or used to power other devices. this could be huge, in that it breaks the bubble that has isolated alternate sources of power.


    you may be thinking of two research breakthroughs that apply nanotech to batteries -
    http://web.mit.edu/press/2010/enhanced-battery.html
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090320173859.htm
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    Nov 06, 2012 4:52 PM GMT
    I'm a fan of using more natural solutions.

    One of the simple energy storage methods especially for solar power is to use elevated bodies of water. by day simple use pumps to fill an elevated water body or lake. By night let the water flow down stream and generate electricity.

    We could even try something cutting edge with this such building a parking garage like structure with stacks upon stacks of water pools.

    reservoir-for-energy-storage.png
  • maxferguson

    Posts: 321

    Nov 11, 2012 8:26 AM GMT
    Jeremy Grantham (of Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo & Co.) does phenomenal research into the flaws of economic models when they deal with resource availability, prices and allocation. I'd definitely recommend reading anything and everything you can by him:

    http://www.valuewalk.com/2011/07/resource-limitations-2-separating-dangerous-jeremy-grantham/

    There's a related letter before this one, but this one can be read on its own.
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    Nov 11, 2012 8:29 AM GMT
    Anything to get the U.S. away from middle eastern crude oil.
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    Nov 11, 2012 3:46 PM GMT
    maxferguson saidJeremy Grantham (of Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo & Co.) does phenomenal research into the flaws of economic models when they deal with resource availability, prices and allocation. I'd definitely recommend reading anything and everything you can by him:

    http://www.valuewalk.com/2011/07/resource-limitations-2-separating-dangerous-jeremy-grantham/

    There's a related letter before this one, but this one can be read on its own.


    Definitely disagree with Grantham on this... While he acknowledges we do have the ability to be sustainable, he argues that in the short term we are at risk. If we look at the constraints in recent times - there's a remarkable story to be told with respect to shale gas alone... (irrespective of what one believes on its harm to the local environment, the fact that this resource was "found" as a result of improving technology in under a decade is astounding).

    Add to this, we are still seeing significant advancements in things like nuclear - pebble bed technology, thorium reactors - which are longer term solutions (as are thin film solar, and other advancements). Grantham greatly discounts the advances we've made in the short term and the long term (particularly if he thinks metal prices will increase forever). The real constraints though are self imposed - like the requirement which is a massive subsidy for ethanol - and hence corn farmers. With the irony that the production of the ethanol requires far more oil to produce through its supply chain. It's stuff like this that are adding to problems in the food supply.
  • maxferguson

    Posts: 321

    Nov 11, 2012 6:45 PM GMT
    This is true - I haven't really had to chance to discuss/challenge Grantham's ideas with anyone.

    I think the two major boundaries on his field of analysis isn't just limited resources, but limited resources with population growth and theoretically stretching the timeline until it breaks.

    I tend to agree with you though, things like Marcellus shale, etc... give us enough time to adjust to the size of remaining reserves relative to the population and its future demands. Personally, I think nuclear, gas and the 8/20 rule energy sources in the next few decades are going to be critical and that Grantham has underestimated them. Where I do stand by his analysis though (and less to do with energy) is soil erosion, potassium, and potash.
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    Nov 12, 2012 12:19 AM GMT
    Around here, the Amish are already using compressed air energy storage. The Amish dairy farm I've been to has a stationary diesel engine that drives both a suction pump and a compressor. The suction is for the milking equipment, and the compressor fills old 500 gallon propane tanks. The compressed air is then used to power refrigeration, pump for the wood-fired boiler, etc.
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    Nov 12, 2012 10:20 PM GMT
    maxferguson saidThis is true - I haven't really had to chance to discuss/challenge Grantham's ideas with anyone.

    I think the two major boundaries on his field of analysis isn't just limited resources, but limited resources with population growth and theoretically stretching the timeline until it breaks.

    I tend to agree with you though, things like Marcellus shale, etc... give us enough time to adjust to the size of remaining reserves relative to the population and its future demands. Personally, I think nuclear, gas and the 8/20 rule energy sources in the next few decades are going to be critical and that Grantham has underestimated them. Where I do stand by his analysis though (and less to do with energy) is soil erosion, potassium, and potash.


    Personally I don't think soil erosion is going to be an issue - and have doubts about the other two.. again if there's anything history is replete of, it's massive human innovation in the face of challenges...

    The only thing that tends to get in the way of progress/innovation is regulation and government - and we see that in things like limiting gouging or price controls where governments attempt to limit the signals markets naturally create that encourage supply/alternatives.

    On the issue of soil erosion for instance, I remember someone doing a back of the envelope calculation that it will be theoretically possible to feed the world if you built a skyscraper of hydroponics and that it's still possible to hide the world population in the Grand Canyon. On that subject, global populations are expected to peak within the next 50 or so years so I wouldn't be terribly worried about that timeline - since population growth is already slowing (in much of the developed world, we're already under the replenishment rate - but we're also living a lot longer).

    Also fwiw - here's another article on grid scale battery technologies:

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&gl=uk&tbm=nws&q=Power+supply:+Batteries+required&oq=Power+supply:+Batteries+required

    This is something of an understatement about an industry that has been dogged by technical and financial problems.

    The battery has failed to make anything like the advances seen in other technologies, such as the telephone or personal computer.

    If it had, you could buy a cheap electric car that could run for thousands of miles on a single charge and a mobile phone that recharged in an instant and did not need to be plugged back in for a month.

    Instead we have relatively inefficient devices that are still prohibitively expensive compared with other forms of energy generation.

    The cost of building a gas-fired power plant, for example, is around €500 a kilowatt, less than a quarter of some battery storage systems, according to the Frontier Economics consultancy.