Takeaways from the Arpa-e Innovation Summit

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Energy Capital Ventures

Some 3,000 people gathered at the Arpa-e Innovation Summit in Dallas, TX for 3-days of presentations, fast paced networking, startup pitches and (many) networking events. With 400 companies exhibiting, the mind is stretched as innovators in Green Molecules™, Green Electrons and Advanced Manufacturing push the boundaries of what is possible. New ways of making energy, of consuming energy, of saving energy, of producing everything from homes to industrial parts large and small were in prominent display.

Our portfolio company Osmoses stole the show, showcasing their first module designed to separate light gasses like Hydrogen and Helium from mixed gas mixtures in industrial and chemical applications. Osmoses showed off a live demonstration of how they concentrated Helium in a gas mixture of methane and Helium from 20% to 99% in one step, in less than ten minutes.  Today, the US uses 2 Billion cubic feet of Helium and there are an estimated 306 Billion cubic feet of untapped resources which are currently uneconomical to recover. Osmoses membranes can tap into Helium resources that are not recovered today and free up this precious resource. Helium recovery is an important focus of Arpa-e and a use case very similar to separating hydrogen, one of the key GreenMolecules of the energy transition.

Fun facts about Helium: it is the second most abundant gas on earth, and the second lightest too, after hydrogen.  Because of this, it tends to escape the earth’s atmosphere, and there are just 5ppm of Helium in the air (CO2 is over 400ppm now), with most of it under the Earth’s crust, diluted with other gasses such as natural gas. Thanks to Osmoses’ groundbreaking technology, we can recover that Helium and use for medicine, scientific research, arc welding, refrigeration, gas for aircraft, coolant for nuclear reactors, cryogenic research and detecting gas leaks.

Above: Francesco Benedetti, CEO and co-founder of Osmoses showcases the Helium concentration live demo
Above: kicking the (purple) tires of Osmoses first prototype module

What they said

Dr. KR Sridar, CEO, chairman and founder of Bloom Energy said that at Bloom they follow the ABCD rule: they do the A, the B, theC, and the D. F stands for Failure, and that is not an option Bloom!

Bloom Energy is one of the Green Molecules™ first movers, as it is a manufacturer of hydrogen solid oxide fuel cells and is now investing heavily in electrolyzes for the hydrogen economy.

When asked why he launched Bloom Energy, Dr. Sridar made an interesting observation: historically as income per capita increases, energy consumption per capita increases exponentially. So as the income doubles the energy consumption quadruples. Seeing this trend, Dr. Sridar decided to focus on clean energy and saw in hydrogen the perfect opportunity.

Jennifer Granholm, the US Secretary of Energy, likened the scale of the energy transition to the Apollo program which eventually put the man on the moon 50 years ago. This is like the moon race, but with a different goal.

"This is also a race, as you all know, to save our shared home, this planet. The people in this room are America's best hope, the technologies that you create will decide whether we win this race. But no pressure!” she said.

Who we saw pitching

It wouldn’t be Arpa-e without brilliant, pluri-decorated PhD founders pitching VCs on how their company will change the future. Here are a couple of Green Molecule startups that caught our attention:

  • Queens Carbon: Queens has developed the “crockpot”of the cement world, innovating a process in which, at a relatively low temperature of 500 degree Celsius, they can capture CO2 in a Supplementary Cementitious Material (SCM) that can be blended into Portland Cement when making concrete. Their innovative process marries very well with ECV portfolio company Furno that is taking the bull by the horn in making Portland Cement. Queens Carbon SCM can be blended with Furno’s Portland Cement to make low carbon, ordinary cement using natural gas.
  • Giner Labs: Giner is not your traditional startup since the parent company has been around for 50 years and has developed electrolyzers in use at NASA and in defense applications. Now, Giner is going after Direct Air Capture (DAC) by developing a pH-swing electrolyzer that promises to reach $100/ton of CO2 captured from the air with their electrolytic approach.
  • Blaze Energy Technologies: Blaze is offering zero-carbon combustion through ammonia. The company has developed an ammonia reformer that can power a generator using a blend of ammonia and hydrogen to replace diesel and natural gas in turbines, internal combustion engines and heaters. Developed at the Colorado School of Mines, they promise to leverage existing infrastructure by installing their ammonia reformers while powering traditional generators.

The Arpa-e Innovation Summit is one of the marquee shindigs of the GreenMolecules™ world, and we were privileged to attend one more year and delighted and honored to spend time with friends old and new.