Google Cloud lands Lufthansa Group and Sabre as new customers

Google’s strategy for bringing new customers to its cloud is to focus on the enterprise and specific verticals like healthcare, energy, financial service and retail, among others. Its healthcare efforts recently experienced a bit of a setback, with Epic now telling its customers that it is not moving forward with its plans to support Google Cloud, but in return, Google now got to announce two new customers in the travel business: Lufthansa Group, the world’s largest airline group by revenue, and Sabre, a company that provides backend services to airlines, hotels and travel aggregators.

For Sabre, Google Cloud is now the preferred cloud provider. Like a lot of companies in the travel (and especially the airline) industry, Sabre runs plenty of legacy systems and is currently in the process of modernizing its infrastructure. To do so, it has now entered a 10-year strategic partnership with Google “to improve operational agility while developing new services and creating a new marketplace for its airline,  hospitality and travel agency customers.” The promise, here, too, is that these new technologies will allow the company to offer new travel tools for its customers.

When you hear about airline systems going down, it’s often Sabre’s fault, so just being able to avoid that would already bring a lot of value to its customers.

“At Google we build tools to help others, so a big part of our mission is helping other companies realize theirs. We’re so glad that Sabre has chosen to work with us to further their mission of building the future of travel,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai . “Travelers seek convenience, choice and value. Our capabilities in AI and cloud computing will help Sabre deliver more of what consumers want.”

The same holds true for Google’s deal with Lufthansa Group, which includes German flag carrier Lufthansa itself, but also subsidiaries like Austrian, Swiss, Eurowings and Brussels Airlines, as well as a number of technical and logistics companies that provide services to various airlines.

“By combining Google Cloud’s technology with Lufthansa Group’s operational expertise, we are driving the digitization of our operation even further,” said Dr. Detlef Kayser, member of the executive board of the Lufthansa Group. “This will enable us to identify possible flight irregularities even earlier and implement countermeasures at an early stage.”

Lufthansa Group has selected Google as a strategic partner to “optimized its operations performance.” A team from Google will work directly with Lufthansa to bring this project to life. The idea here is to use Google Cloud to build tools that help the company run its operations as smoothly as possible and to provide recommendations when things go awry due to bad weather, airspace congestion or a strike (which seems to happen rather regularly at Lufthansa these days).

Delta recently launched a similar platform to help its employees.

Google Cloud launches new solutions for retailers

It’s no secret that the Google Cloud management team has decided to focus its efforts on a select number of enterprise verticals like healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, energy and life sciences. Retail, too, has long been a growth market for the company, especially as Amazon’s competitors are looking to run their services on clouds that are not AWS. Current customers include the likes of Kohl’s, Lowe’s and France’s Carrefour. It’s maybe no surprise, then, that Google today used NRF 2020, one of the largest retail events, to launch a number of updates to its services for retailers.

Some of the announcements today focus on specific vertical editions of existing services, including Google Cloud API Management for Retail, powered by Apigee, or Google Cloud Anthos for Retail, which specifically targets retailers that want to modernize their store operations and infrastructure. There also is Google Cloud Search for Retail, powered by Google Search, which promises to bring better product search results to a retailer’s applications.

In addition, Google also is expanding to more customers programs like its Retail Acceleration Program and making its white-glove Customer Reliability Engineering service, which helps retailers better plan for and manage their peak shopping days, available to more customers.

What’s maybe more interesting, though, is new services like Google Cloud 1:1 Engagement for Retail, “a blueprint and best-practice guide on how to build these types of data-driven solutions effectively and with less up-front cost.” The idea here is to help retailers make use of Google’s big data platform to build personalization and recommendation models to better understand and engage their customers.

Also new is a buy optimization and demand forecasting service that aims to help retailers better plan their logistics operations.

We’ll likely see Google use a similar playbook for more verticals over time. We know that Google Cloud has ambitions to become the No. 2 cloud provider within a few years, and, to do so, it needs to get large enterprises — and especially those that are still trying to figure out their cloud strategies — to opt for its services.

At CES, Schneider Electric unveils its own upgrade to the traditional fusebox

As renewable energy and energy efficiency continue to make gains among cost-conscious consumers, more companies are looking at ways to give customers better ways to manage the electricity coming into their homes.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Schneider Electric unveiled its pitch to homeowners looking for a better power management system with the company’s Energy Center product.

Think of it as a competitor to products from startups like Span, which are attempting to offer homeowners better ways to integrate renewable energy power generation to their homes and provide better ways to route the electricity inside the home, according to Schneider Electric’s executive vice president for its Home and Distribution division, Manish Pant.

The new product is part of a broader range of Square D home energy management devices that Schneider is aiming at homeowners. The company provides a broad suite of energy management services and technologies to commercial, industrial and residential customers, but is making a more concerted effort into the U.S. residential market beginning in 2020, according to Pant.

Schneider will be looking to integrate batteries and inverters into its Energy Center equipment over the course of the year and is currently looking for partners.

In some ways, the home energy market is ripe for innovation. Fuse boxes haven’t changed in nearly 100 years and there are few startups looking to provide better ways to integrate and manage various sources for electricity generation and storage as they become more cost competitive.

Lumin, and Sense (which is backed by Schneider Energy) also have energy efficiency products they’re pitching to homeowners.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Oceans of opportunity: surveying 2020’s seafaring startup potential

Space attracts a lot of attention as an area of frontier tech investment and entrepreneurship, but there’s another vast expanse that could actually be more addressable by the innovation economy — Earth’s oceans.

Seafaring startups aren’t attracting quite as much attention as their spacefaring cousins, but 2019 still saw a flurry of activity in this sector and 2020 could be an even big year for everything aquatic.

Sounding the depths of data collection

One big similarity between space tech and seafaring opportunities is that data collection represents a significant percent of the potential market. Data collection in and around Earth’s oceans has increased dramatically in recent years thanks to the availability, efficacy and cost of sensor technologies — in 2017, it was estimated that as much ocean data had been gathered in the past two years as in all of human history. But relatively speaking, that barely scratches the surface.

Ocean observation has largely been driven by scientific and research goals, which means there’s bound to be a pretty hard cap on available funding. But ocean data has value in all kinds of private’s sector pursuits, including the potential for autonomous commercial cargo transportation (more on that later), as well as predicting weather and climate conditions that impact shipping routes, agriculture and more.

Various methods exist for collecting data about Earth’s oceans, including space-based satellite observation. Startups like Terradepth, Saildrone and Promare have all proposed various autonomous seafaring data collection vehicle designs that could leverage robotics to bring ocean observation at scale closer to home. These firms are using technology that’s been made affordable for startup budgets through miniaturization and efficiency gains evolved through the progress of the smartphone and other computing industries.

This past year, Xprize awarded millions in prize money to teams that competed in the Ocean Discovery competition for autonomous ocean floor mapping, which is resulting in spin-out ventures that have a head start on success.

As in space, data collection and observation can take many forms, so we can expect to see many industry-specific approaches emerge to capitalize on what are surprisingly large market opportunities, even for seemingly narrow types of data. Continued efforts to refine and improve robotics technologies like sensing and vision should drive even more growth in autonomous ocean observation in 2020.

Autonomous logistics

Oceanfaring drones aren’t just about data collection, however; a huge portion of the global logistics market still relies on giant cargo vessels. The drive to automate container ships is nothing new, but it’s reaching a point where we’re actually starting to see autonomous cargo vehicles embark, including this Chinese cargo ship that set out from Guangdong at the end of this year and a ship called the Yara Birkeland has begun trials out of Rotterdam and expects to be operating fully autonomously by 2022.

Nigeria’s Rensource raises $20M to power African markets by solar

Nigerian startup Rensource Energy has raised a $20 million Series A round co-led by CRE Venture Capital and the Omidyar network.

The renewable energy company builds and operates solar powered micro-utilities that provide electricity to commercial community structures, such as open-air trading bazaars.

Launched in 2016, the startup has shifted its operating strategy. “We’ve pivoted away from a residential focus…and we’re building much larger systems to become essentially the utility for these large urban markets we have a lot of in Nigeria,” Rensource co-founder Ademola Adesina told TechCrunch.

The company has a partnership with German manufacturer BOS AG, with whom its designs specialized panels for it use case. Rensource also has developer teams in Nigeria and Europe for its software related programs.

In addition to becoming a micro-energy provider to Nigeria’s robust SME classes, the startup aims to offer them B2B services. With the $20 million round Rensource is launching its Spaces Offline to Online platform for supply-chain services, including business-analytics and working capital options.

“It’s a mini-ERP tool. We’re trying bring a universe of people who are banked, but…still offline — their products are offline, they don’t track anything, and there’s no data behind their business — online,” said Adesina.

Rensource Africa Nigeria App

The benefit Rensource seeks to bring to Nigeria’s SMEs — at a profit for itself — is to lower overhead costs through better business practices and free them from the bane of generators.

Across marketplaces in West Africa, noisy, fuel-guzzling, and pollution producing generators are like an unwelcome, yet necessary business partner.

Lack of affordable and reliable electricity in Nigeria creates a massive real and opportunity cost to Africa’s largest economy.

For perspective, the West African country is roughly the size of Texas, with a 200 million population larger than Russia, and generates less gigawatt hours of electricity annually than the U.S. state of Connecticut.

Nigerian businesses (and citizens) adjust for these power deficiencies by spending on diesel fuel and generators.

The IMF’s 2019 Nigeria report quoted economic losses of $29 billion in Nigeria due to unreliable electricity supply. On global Doing Business rankings, Nigeria ranked 169 out of 190 countries in the category of “Getting Electricity”.

This difficulty and cost weighs particularly heavy on Nigeria (and the continent’s) SMEs, which often operate in Africa’s informal economy — projected to be one of the largest off-the grid commercial spaces in the world.

Rensource Solar Nigeria AfricaRensource’s micro-utility model deploys power clusters — made up of solar-panels, batteries, and a power management system — adjacent to markets and commercial hubs. The energy application isn’t totally clean, as the startup still uses its own diesel backup system.

Rensourse has used this model to become an off-grid energy provider in six states in Nigeria, and powers the Sabon Gari market — one of the the country’s largest, located in northern Kaduna state.

The company plans to expand to 100 markets within Nigeria and to additional African countries within 24 months, according to Adesina.

Rensource generates revenue from charging merchants daily, weekly, or monthly fees. “In 2017, we did a few hundred thousand dollars in revenue. Last year we did about $7 million in revenue, and this year we’ll do better than that,” CEO Ademola Adesina said.

The company doesn’t release official financials, but generated a small profit last year, according to Adesina. He named deploying more of its micro-utilities to new markets and diversifying services as the path to long-term profitability.

The company differentiates itself from many home-kit solar energy startups in Africa, such as M-Kopa, by becoming a renewable energy utility at scale.

ademola adesina rensourceRensource’s CEO sees the model as a classic leapfrog tech business, effectively bypassing Nigeria’s existing electricity grid and providing a less capital intensive alternative to large (and often complicated) energy infrastructure projects.

The company is also following a trend by some Nigeria based startups, such as trucking-logistics company Kobo360 and motorcycle ride-hail company Gokada, to shape a suite of additional services around the needs of core clients.

In Rensource’s case, those clients are SMEs and traders in the informal economy. “This informality of theirs is what we see as an opportunity in building this new business line and bringing these [merchants] into the online world,” said Adesina.

 

Carbon dioxide emissions are set to hit a record high this year (it’s not fine, but not hopeless)

Carbon dioxide emissions, one of the main contributors to the climate changes bringing extreme weather, rising oceans, and more frequent fires that have killed hundreds of Americans and cost the U.S. billions of dollars, are set to reach another record high in 2019.

That’s the word from the Global Carbon Project, an initiative of researchers around the world led by Stanford University scientist Rob Jackson.

The new projections from the Global Carbon Project are set out in a trio of papers published in “Earth System Science Data“, “Environmental Research Letters“, and “Nature Climate Change“.

That’s the bad news. The good news (if you want to take a glass half-full view) is that the rate of growth has slowed dramatically from the previous two years. However, researchers are warning that emissions could keep increasing for another decade unless nations around the globe take dramatic action to change their approach to energy, transportation and industry, according to a statement from Jackson.

“When the good news is that emissions growth is slower than last year, we need help,” said Jackson, a professor of Earth system science in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth), in a statement. “When will emissions start to drop?”

Globally, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel sources (which are over 90 percent of all emissions) are expected to grow 0.6 percent over the 2018 emissions. In 2018 that figure was 2.1 percent above the 2017 figure, which was, itself, a 1.5 percent increase over 2016 emissions figures.

Even as the use of coal is in drastic decline around the world, natural gas and oil use is climbing, according to researchers, and stubbornly high per capita emissions in affluent countries mean that reductions won’t be enough to offset the emissions from developing countries as they turn to natural gas and gasoline for their energy and transportation needs.

“Emissions cuts in wealthier nations must outpace increases in poorer countries where access to energy is still needed,” said Pierre Friedlingstein, a mathematics professor at the University of Exeter and lead author of the Global Carbon Budget paper in Earth System Science Data, in a statement.

Some countries are making progress. Both the UK and Denmark have managed to achieve economic growth while simultaneously reducing their carbon emissions. In the third quarter of the year, renewable power supplied more energy to homes and businesses in the United Kingdom than fossil fuels for the first time in the nation’s history, according to a report cited by “The Economist”.

Costs of wind and solar power are declining so dramatically that they are cost competitive with natural gas in many parts of the wealthy world and cheaper than coal, according to a study earlier in the year from the International Monetary Fund.

Still, the U.S., the European Union and China account for more than half of all carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. did decrease year-on-year — projected to decline by 1.7 percent — but it’s not enough to counteract the rising demand from countries like China, where carbon dioxide emissions are expected to rise by 2.6 percent.

And the U.S. has yet to find a way to wean itself off of its addiction to cheap gasoline and big cars. It hasn’t helped that the country is throwing out emissions requirements for passenger vehicles that would have helped to reduce its contribution to climate change even further. Even so, at current ownership rates, there’s a need to radically reinvent transportation given what U.S. car ownership rates mean for the world.

U.S. oil consumption per person is 16 times greater than in India and six times greater than in China, according to the reports. And the United States has roughly one car per-person while those numbers are roughly one for every 40 people in India and one for every 6 in China. If ownership rates in either country were to rise to similar levels as the U.S. that would put 1 billion cars on the road in either country.

About 40 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions were attributable to coal use, 34 percent from oil, 20 percent from natural gas, and the remaining 6 percent from cement production and other sources, according to a Stanford University statement on the Global Carbon Project report.

“Declining coal use in the U.S. and Europe is reducing emissions, creating jobs and saving lives through cleaner air,” said Jackson, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy, in a statement. “More consumers are demanding cheaper alternatives such as solar and wind power.”

There’s hope that a combination of policy, technology and changing social habits can still work to reverse course. The adoption of new low-emission vehicles, the development of new energy storage technologies, continued advancements in energy efficiency, and renewable power generation in a variety of new applications holds some promise. As does the social adoption of alternatives to emissions intensive animal farming and crop cultivation.

“We need every arrow in our climate quiver,” Jackson said, in a statement. “That means stricter fuel efficiency standards, stronger policy incentives for renewables, even dietary changes and carbon capture and storage technologies.”

 

China Roundup: Y Combinator’s short-lived China dream

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of recent events shaping the Chinese tech landscape and what they mean to people in the rest of the world. Last week, we looked at how Alibaba and Tencent fared in the last quarter; the talk in Silicon Valley and Beijing this week is on Y Combinator’s sudden retreat from China. We will also discuss the enduring food delivery war in the country later.

Brief adventure in the East

The storied Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator announced the closure of its China unit just a little over a year after it entered the country. In a vague statement posted on its official blog, the organization said the decision came amid a change in leadership. Sam Altman, its former president who hired legendary artificial intelligence scientist Lu Qi to initiate the China operation, recently left his high-profile role to join research outfit OpenAI. With that, YC has since refocused its energy to support “local and international startups from our headquarters in Silicon Valley.”

What was untold is the insurmountable challenge that multinationals face in their attempt to win in a wildly different market. Lu Qi, who wore management hats at Baidu and Microsoft before joining YC, was clearly aware of the obstacles when he said in an interview (in Chinese) in May that “multinational corporations in China have almost been wiped out. They almost never successfully land in China.” The prescription, he believes, is to build a local team that’s given full autonomy to make decisions around products, operations, and the business.

A former executive at an American company’s China branch, who asked to remain anonymous, argued that Lu Qi’s one-man effort can’t be enough to beat the curse of multinationals’ path in China. “All I can say is: Lu has taken a detour. Going independent is the best decision. When it comes to whether Chinese startups are suited for mentorship, or whether incubators bring value to China, these are separate questions.”

What’s curious is that YC China seemed to have been given a meaningful level of freedom before the split. “Thanks to Sam Altman and the U.S. team, who agreed with my view and supported with much preparation, YC China is not only able to enjoy key resources from YC U.S. but can also operate at a completely independent capacity,” Lu said in the May interview.

Moving on, the old YC China team will join Lu Qi to fund new companies under a newly minted program, MiraclePlus, announced YC China via a Wechat post (in Chinese). The initiative has set up its own fund, team, entity and operational team. The deep ties that Lu has fostered with YC will continue to benefit his new portfolio, which will receive “support” from the YC headquarters, though neither party elaborated on what that means.

Alibaba’s food delivery nemesis

The food delivery war in China is still dragging on two years after the major consolidation that left the market with two major players. Meituan, the local services company backed by Tencent, has managed to attain an expanding share against Alibaba-owned Ele.me. According to third-party data (in Chinese) provided by Trustdata, Meituan accounted for 65.1% of China’s overall food delivery orders during the second quarter, steadily rising from just under 60% a year ago. Ele.me, on the other hand, has lost nearly 10% of the market, slumping to 27.4% from 36% a year ago.

In terms of monetization, Meituan generated 15.6 billion yuan ($2.2 billion) in revenue from its food delivery segment in the quarter ended September 30. That dwarfs Ele.me, which racked up 6.8 billion yuan ($970 million) during the same period. Both are growing north of 30% year-over-year.

meituan dianping

Source: Meituan

This may not be all that surprising given Alibaba has arguably more imminent battles to fight. The e-commerce leader has been consumed by the rise of Pinduoduo, which has launched an assault on China’s low-tier cities with its ultra-cheap products and social-driven online shopping experience. Meituan, on the other hand, is fixated on beefing up its main turf of on-demand neighborhood services after divesting its costly bike-sharing endeavor. 

When both contestants have the capital to burn through — as they have demonstrated through heavily subsidizing customers and restaurants — the race comes down to which has greater control of user traffic. Meituan holds a competitive edge thanks to its merger with Dianping, a leading restaurant review app akin to Yelp, back in 2015. Dianping today operates as a standalone brand but its food app is deeply integrated with Meituan’s delivery services. For example, hundreds of millions of users are able to place Meituan-powered food delivery orders straight from Dianping.

Alibaba and Meituan used to be on more friendly terms just a few years ago. In 2011, the e-commerce giant participated in Meituan’s $50 million Series B financing. Before long, the two clashed over control of the company. Alibaba is known to impose a heavy hand on its portfolio companies by taking up majority stakes and reshuffling the company with new executives. That’s because Alibaba believes that “only when you operate can you generate synergies and really create exponential value,” said vice chairman Joe Tsai in an interview. Whereas if you just make a financial investment, you’re counting an internal rate of return. You’re not creating real value.”

Ele.me lived through that transformation. As of September, Alibaba has reportedly (in Chinese) completed replacing Ele.me’s management with its pool of appointed personnel. Ele.me’s founder Zhang Xuhao left the company with billions of yuan in cash and joined a venture capital firm (in Chinese).

Meituan’s founder Wang Xing had more unfettered pursuits. In a later financing round, he refused to accept Alibaba’s condition for portfolio companies to eschew Tencent investments, a strategy of the giant to hobble its archrival. That botched the partnership and Alibaba has since been gradually offloading its Meituan shares but still held onto small amounts, according to Wang in 2017, “to create trouble” for Meituan going forward.

VoltServer adds a data layer to electricity distribution in a move that could help smart grid rollout

Stephen Eaves, the chief executive of a new startup which promises to overlay data on electricity distribution has spent years developing data management technologies.

Eaves’ first company, the eponymous Eaves Devices focused on energy systems in aerospace and defense — they converted the military’s fleet of B2 bombers to use lithium ion batteries.

The second company he was involved in was developing modular array devices to install in central offices and cell towers and conducted early work on electric vehicle development.

His goal, Eaves says, was to “make electricity inherently safe”.

VoltServer is the latest company from Eaves to pursue that goal. Eaves makes transmission safer by breaking electrical distribution into packets and those packets are sent down transmission lines to ensure that are not faults. If there’s a break in the line, the equipment stops transmitting energy.

“We take either AC or DC electricity into a transmitter and the transmitter breaks the electricity into packets and the receiver takes the packets and puts them back together and distributes it as regular AC/DC current,” Eaves explains.

The architecture is akin to a router. There’s digital signal processing in the transmitter powered by a semiconductor that’s a gateway for the electricity. “It’s like the devices you find in solar power converters,” says Eaves.

Already roughly 700 stadiums, large offices, and indoor grow facilities have deployed the company’s technology. And the traction was enough to attract the attention of Alphabet subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, which led a recent $7.4 million financing into the company. To date, the company has raised $18 million from a clutch of investors including: Marker Hill Capital, Slater Technology Fund, Natural Resources Capital Management, Clean Energy Venture Group, Angel Street Capital and Coniston Capital.  

“We’re kind of a combined hardware and software company,” says Eaves. “[Customers] buy the boxes and the company has third parties that install it.. There are software applications to track energy usage to assign processes for what to do in an outage.”

Typical installations can be anywhere from $30,000 to $1 million and the company is targeting three core markets — intelligent building infrastructure, communications, and indoor agriculture, according to Eaves. In fact, the company’s largest installation is a lettuce farm in Florida. “You’re in a very constrained environment and you want a very safe transmission technology. And we’ve developed a lighting product. It removes a lot of the conversion electronics that would normally be in the growth space,” says Eaves.

The technology certainly slashes the cost for power transmission in a stadium. Traditional power transmission can cost roughly $36 per linear foot, while VoltServer can cut that cost to less than $10 per foot, according to the company.

VoltServer isn’t the only startup that’s looking to add data controls to electricity distribution. Companies like Blueprint PowerBlue Pillar, and monitoring companies like Enertiv and Aquicore are all looking at ways to monitor and manage distribution. At the grid scale, there’s Camus Energy which looks to provide energy “orchestration” services.

“Electricity powers our world, but the fundamental danger inherent in AC or DC electricity makes today’s electrical systems expensive to install or change,” said Sidewalk Labs chairman and chief executive, Dan Doctoroff in a statement. “[This technology] is a breakthrough, offering a less expensive, safer and more efficient way to distribute electricity that can make buildings more affordable and flexible.  Over time, that can make cities more affordable, sustainable, and adaptable as our needs change.”

For some investors in the energy sector, these kinds of distribution and transmission technologies are a critical component of the next generation of grid technologies needed to bring the world closer to 100% renewable transmission.

“What is relevant is internet-connected, controllable energy assets that you can control from some centralized dispatch,” says one investor active in energy investing. 

Battery tech startup Sila Nano lands $45 million and Tesla veteran Kurt Kelty

Sila Technologies, the battery materials company that has partnered with BMW and Daimler, landed $45 million in new funding and hired two high-profile executives, including Kurt Kelty, who led the battery cell team at Tesla for more than a decade.

Kelty, who was on Sila Nano’s advisory board, has been appointed vice president of automotive, according to Sina Nanotechnologies. The company also hired Bill Mulligan, the former executive vice president of global operations at SunPower, as its first COO.

Kelty was most recently senior vice president of operations at indoor vertical farming company Plenty . But he was best known for his time at Tesla, where he was a considered a critical link between the automaker and battery cell partner Panasonic.

“As part of Sila Nano’s advisory board, I’ve seen the results of the breakthrough battery chemistry firsthand and I could not pass up the opportunity to take it a step further and lead the company’s automotive partnership efforts,” Kelty said in a statement.

The company said Monday that additional $45 million in investment came from Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, bringing its total funding to $340 million. Earlier this year, Sila Nano secured $170 million in Series E funding led by Daimler AG.

This latest investment and expanded leadership team comes as the company, which is valued at more than $1 billion, aims to bring its first batteries to market.

Sila Nanotechnologies has developed a drop-in silicon-based anode that replaces graphite in lithium-ion batteries without requiring changes to the manufacturing process. The company claims that its materials can improve the energy density of batteries by 20% and has the potential to reach 40% improvement over traditional li-ion.

Here’s what that all means.

A battery contains two electrodes. There’s an anode (negative) on one side and a cathode (positive) on the other. An electrolyte sits in the middle and acts as the courier that moves ions between the electrodes when charging and discharging. Graphite is commonly used as the anode in commercial lithium-ion batteries. However, a silicon anode can store a lot more lithium ions.

The basic premise — and one that others are working on — is this: by replacing graphite in the cell with silicon, there would be more space to add more active material. This would theoretically allow you to increase the energy density—or the amount of energy that can be stored in a battery per its volume—of the cell.

Using silicon also helps reduce costs. In the end, the battery would be cheaper and have more energy packed in the same space.

The company says its innovative approach can be used in consumer electronics like wireless ear buds and smartwatches as well as electric vehicles and even energy storage for the grid.

The company started building the first production lines for its battery materials in 2018. That first line is capable of producing the material to supply the equivalent of 50 megawatts of lithium-ion batteries, Sila Nanotechnologies CEO Gene Berdichevsky, an early employee at Tesla who led the technical development of the automaker’s Roadster battery system, told TechCrunch back in April.

Sila Nanotechnologies said Monday that it will continue to ramp up production volume and plans to supply its first commercial customers in consumer electronics within the next year. The company said it also plans to go to market with battery partner Amperex Technology Limited and automotive partners BMW and Daimler.

Elon Musk predicts Tesla energy could be ‘bigger’ than its EV business

Tesla CEO Elon Musk forecast that the company’s energy business will eventually be the same size as— or even bigger than — its automotive sector, the latest sign that the company plans to put more time and resources to scaling up its solar and storage products.

It could be bigger, but it will certainly be of a similar magnitude,” Musk said during an earnings call Wednesday. The company surprised Wall Street by reporting a return to profitability in the third quarter.

The bulk of Tesla’s revenue is generated from sales of its Model S, Model X and Model 3 electric vehicles. In the third quarter, automotive revenues were $5.35 billion. The company doesn’t break out revenue generated from solar, energy storage or other products and services. However, the total revenue in the third quarter was $6.3 billion, which gives some indication of the size of automotive compared to its other businesses.

Tesla’s energy and solar businesses languished for nearly two years as attention and resources were directed to the Model 3. That diversion of resources included redirecting battery cell production lines meant for its home Powerwall and commercial Powerpack energy storage products to the car because the company didn’t have enough cells.

“We had to do it because if we didn’t solve the Model 3, Tesla wouldn’t survived,” he said.So, unfortunately that shorted other parts of the company.”

Now, the company is committed scaling up energy storage and solar. Kunal Girotra, who initially joined Tesla in 2015 as a senior product manager for Powerwall, was promoted to senior director of the company’s energy operations.

In the third quarter, Tesla installed 43 megawatts of solar, a 48% increase from the previous quarter. Solar installations are still 54% lower than the same period last year.

Energy storage deployments have continued to grow, reaching an all-time high of 477 MWh in the third quarter, according to earnings posted Wednesday.

Part of this new effort includes its solar roof tile product, which was originally unveiled in 2016. Musk said that a new, third iteration of its solar roof tile will debut Thursday afternoon.