In a special address delivered at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Europe’s ambition is to become the world’s leader in green tech. “The story of the clean-tech economy will be written in Europe,” she promised.
That plan may already be dead in the water. This week’s headlines included a story about Marvel Fusion, one of the few European start-ups trying to deliver zero-carbon fusion power, being pushed by investors to move to the U.S. as American officials attempt to lure clean-energy businesses across the Atlantic. “The pressure is increasing day by day, also by our existing investors, to potentially move to the U.S.,” Moritz von der Linden, founder and chief executive of the four-year-old German company, told the Financial Times.
The investor pressure is partly due to the $1.4 billion that the U.S. government has earmarked for its domestic fusion industry but also because U.S. officials from several states are attempting to attract foreign groups to America by touting deep tax breaks and subsidies available to them from the U.S’s Inflation Reduction Act. The act, passed into law in August, will provide about $370 billion of subsidies, some of which has been set aside for clean energy, such as the fusion industry, marking America’s most ambitious effort yet to tackle climate change.
“The recent technology advancements on both sides of the ocean are amazing,” Heike Freund, Marvel Fusion’s Chief Operating Officer, told The Innovator. (Freund is pictured here with the company’s co-founders Georg Korn and von der Linden.) “We see the U.S. being very bold and courageous supporting private innovation like fusion. Europe now has to step-up and match the pace.”
There are currently 35 fusion startups worldwide. Only two are in Europe.
Fusion energy has great potential as a safe, abundant, zero-carbon source of reliable electricity and is recognized as a potential game-changer in addressing climate change and rising global energy demand.
Researchers have been working on it for decades and are now confident that they can prove that fusion, the energy process that powers stars with a low radiation and tremendous energy output, could be a viable alternative energy source.
Instead of heating the fuel plasma to very high temperatures like most fusion companies, Marvel Fusion precisely controls the conversion of input laser energy to accelerated fuel particles through the design of its nanostructured targets. The company says this approach allows for higher efficiency in triggering fusion reactions and creates greater energy yields. The Centre for Advanced Laser Applications at LMU’s Garching campus near Munich already has one of the world’s most powerful high-intensity lasers. The collaboration is expected to enable Marvel Fusion to validate important parameters of its laser-based fusion technology.
With the help of collaborations with Siemens Energy, TRUMPF and Thales, the German fusion startup wants to build power plants capable of providing access to abundant zero-carbon emission energy for a large range of global energy consumers by the 2030s. To achieve that goal, it needs to start building now and will need to raise billions of euros. Marvel Fusion has so far raised a total €60 million, including a €35 million Series A from Berlin-based EarlyBird Venture Capital.
Contrast that with Commonwealth Fusion System, a spin-off of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) aiming to build a compact fusion power plant based on the ARC tokamak power plant concept. Its series B round, announced in 2021, was for $1.8 billion.
Now government funding promises to magnify the gap. U.S. President Joe Biden’s multibillion-dollar Inflation Reduction Act has delivered a big green bonus for climate experts and U.S. business while infuriating America’s trading partners, reports the Financial Times.
The bill, passed last summer by the U.S. Congress, provoking a litany of complaints from EU governments that claim it violates trade rules and distorts competition. But business leaders and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry argue that instead of expecting major concessions from the U.S., the EU and other partners need to take urgent steps to make their own green investment conditions more attractive, reports the FT. The alternative could be lost business and slowed efforts to address climate change. European companies that are already drawing up plans to boost U.S. spending include BMW, Italian energy group Enel and Norwegian battery group Freyr.
“The basic issue is that the U.S. has created a business case for investment in green technologies,” Luisa Santos of BusinessEurope, a Brussels-based lobby group, told the FT. The EU faces more complex regulation and higher energy costs, which “is a very substantial incentive to go to the U.S.,” he says.
“Europe has found its new scarecrow: Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the great plan to support the energy transition,” Andre Loesekreug-Pietri, Chairman of the Joint European Disruptive Initiative (JEDI), an organization that aims to accelerate Europe’s technological leadership, said in a blog posting. “Like a deceived spouse who didn’t see it coming, the EU is crying foul to mask its frustration,” he says. “The EU is frustrated that at the complexity of its own Green Deal, the tangible results of which are hard to see compared to the simplicity of the U.S. plan,” he says, and because “after having demanded much more effort from the U.S. on climate, the latter is doing so while not forgetting its own interests.”
Europe will “never succeed by being on the defensive, by over-regulating, or by activating an industrial policy inherited from the 20th century,” writes Loeskreug-Pietri. “The world has changed, and we need an all-out technological and scientific offensive that will allow Europeans to take the lead again, not a policy of following or building walls.”
IN OTHER NEWS THIS WEEK
Microsoft And Arcelor Mittal Back Spin-out Trying to Green The $1.6 Trillion Steel Industry
Boston Metal announced it has raised $120 million Series C round, led by multinational steel giant ArcelorMittal, with funding from Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund. With the funding, Boston Metal will ramp up production of green steel at its pilot facility on Woburn, Massachusetts, and support the construction of its Brazilian subsidiary, Boston Metal do Brasil, where the company will manufacture various metals. It plans to begin construction of a demonstration steel plant in 2024 and a commercial sized plant in 2026, Carneiro told CNBC.
Alphabet Announces New Sustainable Agricultural Company
Google parent company Alphabet has added a new company to its portfolio this week: Mineral, a farm tech startup that spent the last five years incubating within Google’s X. The news of Mineral’s graduation to full-fledged Alphabet company came in the form a blog post by Mineral CEO Elliott Grant (previously of Shopwell, a shopping startup sold to Innit). According to Grant, the mission behind Mineral is to “help scale sustainable agriculture”, which they are doing by “developing a platform and tools that help gather, organize, and understand never-before known or understood information about the plant world – and make it useful and actionable.”
According to Mineral, the company has analyzed over 10% of the total farmland on Earth, modeled more than 200 plant traits, phenotyped 17 crop varieties, and developed more than 80 high-performance machine learning (ML) models. Mineral’s “ag-optimized” analysis tools will be used to process large unstructured sets of the world’s agricultural data, sourced from satellite images, farm equipment, public databases, and Mineral’s own proprietary data streams. The company will make this data available to partners to combine this data with their private data to derive insights into yield, genomic understanding, and agronomic discovery.One such partner is Driscoll’s. The large berry company has been working with Mineral to explore ways to improve data collection in its breeding operations and work on better yield forecasting. The two also worked together to enhance berry inspection using Mineral’s perception tools and, according to Driscoll’s, was able to build a system that many believe performed similarly to human experts.
U.S. lawsuit Against Google Could Benefit Apple And Others
A landmark lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department against Alphabet’s Google over its dominance of advertising technology could help rivals and websites that sell ad space, but leaves an uncertain future for the advertisers themselves, experts told Reuters.The Justice Department’s complaint against Google on January 24 called for the company to divest Google Ad Manager, a suite of tools including one that lets websites put ad space up for a sale and another that served as an ad marketplace that automatically matched advertisers with those publishers. If Google is forced to divest the tools that serve publishers, it would benefit competitors like Xandr, which is owned by Microsoft that will still work with both sides of the ad-buying ecosystem, according to a Reuters story. With more options besides Google, publishers will have more transparency over how much they can sell ad space for, and could end up paying less in fees.
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