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European Clean Energy Innovators to Get €100 Million

From left: Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the Commission for the Energy Union; billionaire co-founder of Microsoft and chair of Breakthrough Energy Ventures Bill Gates; European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, October 17, 2018 Brussels, Belgium (Photo courtesy European Commission) Posted for media use.

From left: Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the Commission for the Energy Union; billionaire co-founder of Microsoft and chair of Breakthrough Energy Ventures Bill Gates; European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, October 17, 2018 Brussels, Belgium (Photo courtesy European Commission) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 18, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates knows that €100 million can fund a lot of climate-friendly, clean energy research by European innovators, so as founding chairman of a new investment fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Gates is collaborating with the European Commission to provide that support.

Under Gates’ leadership, Breakthrough Energy and the European Commission Wednesday signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish Breakthrough Energy Europe (BEE), a joint investment fund to help innovative European companies develop and bring “radically new clean energy technologies” to market.

Breakthrough Energy Europe links public funding with long-term risk capital so that clean energy research and innovation can be brought to market more quickly and efficiently.

With a capitalization of €100 million (US$115.2 million), the fund will focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting energy efficiency in the areas of electricity, transport, agriculture, manufacturing, and buildings.

Gates said in Brussels, where he met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, “We need new technologies to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Europe has demonstrated valuable leadership by making impressive investments in R&D.”

“The scientists and entrepreneurs who are developing innovations to address climate change need capital to build companies that can deliver those innovations to the global market,” said Gates. “Breakthrough Energy Europe is designed to provide that capital.”

Breakthrough Energy Europe is expected to be operational in 2019. Half the equity will come from Breakthrough Energy and the other half from InnovFin, risk-sharing financial instruments funded through Horizon 2020, the EU’s current research and innovation program.

InnovFin, EU Finance for Innovators, is a joint financing initiative launched by the European Investment Bank Group with the European Commission under Horizon 2020.

The agreement signed Wednesday supports the Commission’s desire to lead the fight against climate change and to deliver on the Paris Agreement, giving a strong signal to capital markets and investors that the global transition to a modern, clean economy is here to stay.

President Juncker said, “Europe must continue to take the lead in tackling climate change head on, at home and across the world. We must push for the modernization of Europe’s economy and industry in order to meet the ambitious targets put in place to protect our planet.”

“Pooling public and private investment in new, innovative clean energy technology is key to enabling long-term solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Juncker. “If Europe is to have a future that can guarantee the well-being of all its citizens, it will need to be climate-friendly and sustainable.”

The EU views itself as playing a decisive role in building the coalition of ambition making the adoption of the Paris Agreement possible in December 2015. is a global leader on climate action.

The Commission has already brought forward all legislative proposals to deliver on the EU’s commitment to reduce emissions in the European Union by at least 40 percent by 2030.

Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the Commission for the Energy Union, said, “The scale and speed of what is needed to reach our climate goals require innovative thinking and bold action. Not only is this new public-private investment vehicle being set up in record time, it will also serve as an example of us joining forces to accelerate breakthrough innovation in Europe.”

Beyond updating and strengthening its energy and climate legislation, the EU is developing enabling measures that will stimulate investment, create jobs, empower and modernize industries.

The Commission is currently working on a long-term strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gases. The proposal will be published in November, ahead of the UN’s annual climate summit in Katowice, Poland.

Carlos Moedas, commissioner for research, science and innovation, observed, “We are delivering on our commitment to stimulate public-private cooperation in financing clean energy innovation. The €100 million fund will target EU innovators and companies with the potential to achieve significant and lasting reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

On the margins of the COP21 climate conference in Paris in 2015, Mission Innovation was launched as an international partnership to accelerate clean energy innovation and provide a long-term global response to climate challenge.

By joining Mission Innovation, 23 countries and the European Commission, on behalf of the EU, pledged to double their clean energy research and innovation funding to about $30 billion a year by 2021.

Also at the Paris summit, from which the Paris Agreement on climate emerged, a group of investors from 10 countries announced their intention to drive innovation from laboratories to the market by investing long-term capital at unprecedented levels in early-stage technology development in Mission Innovation participating countries. It was the genesis of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

Featured Image: Renault’s electric car, the Zoe, in Sicily. Renault is supplying 200 Renault ZOEs for the rental fleet of Sicily by Car, a leading Italian car-hire firm. 2017 (Photo courtesy Renault) Posted for media 


Innovative Nuclear Reactors Attract Investors

By Sunny Lewis

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, July 21, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Private investors such as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Chinese billionaire Jack Ma are among many from around the world who are backing new types of nuclear reactors that will be safer and more efficient than those operating today.

They have formed the Breakthough Energy Coalition, an influential group of investors, committed to investing in technologies that can help solve the urgent energy and climate challenges facing the planet.

The University of California (UC) is the sole institutional investor among the 28 coalition members from 10 countries.

UC’s Office of the Chief Investment Officer has committed $1 billion of its investment capital for early-stage and scale-up investments in clean energy innovation over the next five years, as well as an additional $250 million to fund innovative, early-stage ideas emerging from the university.

The University of California, with its 10 campuses and three national energy labs, is home to some of the best climate scientists in the world and as a public research institution we take the imperative to solve global climate change very seriously,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “With access to the private capital represented by investors in the Breakthrough Energy Coalition we can more effectively integrate our public research pipeline to deliver new technology and insights that will revolutionize the way the world thinks about and uses energy.”

We can’t ask for a better partner than the University of California Office of the President and the Office of the Chief Investment Officer to help accomplish the Breakthrough Energy Coalition’s ambitious goal,” Gates said. “The UC system – with its world leading campuses and labs – produces the kinds of groundbreaking technologies that will help define a global energy future that is cheaper, more reliable and does not contribute to climate change.”

High costs, together with fears about safety and waste disposal, have stalled construction of new nuclear plants, although construction continues in some countries. China is building 20 new reactors, South Korea is building four; even Japan is restarting some of the nuclear plants shut down after the 2011 Fukushima meltdown disaster and is building new reactors.

But the excitement in the nuclear industry is being generated by emerging new technologies, such as a traveling wave reactor, a new class of nuclear reactor that utilizes nuclear waste to generate electricity.

Gates is founder and chairman of TerraPower, a company based in Bellevue, Washington that designed the traveling wave reactor.

Conventional reactors capture only about one percent of the energy potential of their fuel. The traveling wave reactor is “a near-term deployable, truly sustainable, globally scalable energy solution,” TerraPower says on its website.

TravelingWaveReactor

TerraPower’s new traveling wave reactor is based on an original design by Saveli Feinberg in 1958. (Image by TerraPower. Posted for media use)

Unlike the existing fleet of nuclear reactors, the traveling wave reactor (TWR) burns fuel made from depleted uranium, currently a waste byproduct of the enrichment process. The TWR’s unique design gradually converts this material through a nuclear reaction without removing the fuel from the reactor’s core. The TWR can sustain this process indefinitely, generating heat and producing electricity.

The TWR offers a 50-fold gain in fuel efficiency, eliminates the need for reprocessing and reduces and potentially eliminates the long-term need for enrichment plants. This reduces nuclear proliferation concerns and lowers the cost of the nuclear energy process.

As the TWR operates, it converts depleted uranium to usable fuel. As a result, says TerraPower, “this inexpensive but energy-rich fuel source could provide a global electricity supply that is, for all practical purposes, inexhaustible.”

TerraPower aims to achieve startup of a 600 megawatt-electric prototype of the TWR in the mid-2020s, followed by global commercial deployment.

Transatomic Power, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinoff, is developing a molten-salt nuclear reactor that co-founders Mark Massie and Leslie Dewan, PhD candidates at MIT, estimate will cut the overall cost of a nuclear power plant in half.

Highly resistant to meltdowns, molten-salt reactors were demonstrated in the 1960s at Oak Ridge National Lab, where one test reactor ran for six years, but the technology has not been used commercially.

The new molten salt reactor design, which now exists only on paper, would produce 20 times as much power for its size as the Oak Ridge technology.

Transatomic has modified the original molten-salt design to allow it to run on nuclear waste.

And it’s safer than today’s water-cooled nuclear power plants. Even after a conventional reactor is shut down, it must be continuously cooled by pumping in water. The inability to do that is what caused the hydrogen explosions, radiation releases and meltdowns at Fukushima.

Using molten salt as the coolant solves some of these problems. The salt, which is mixed in with the fuel, has a boiling point much higher than the temperature of the fuel, giving the reactor a built-in thermostat. If it starts to heat up, the salt expands, spreading out the fuel, slowing the reactions and allowing the mixture to cool.

In the event of a power outage, a stopper at the bottom of the reactor melts and the fuel and salt flow into a holding tank, where the fuel spreads out enough for the reactions to stop. The salt then cools and solidifies, encapsulating the radioactive materials.

It’s walk-away safe,” says Dewan, the company’s chief science officer. “If you lose electricity, even if there are no operators on site to pull levers, it will coast to a stop.

Transatomic envisions small, powerful, reactors that are built in factories and shipped by rail instead of being built on site like costly conventional ones.

Both government and private sector organizations are working towards nuclear innovations.

John Kotek, acting assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, recalled that last November the White House held a summit announcing the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN), “an organizing principal meant to transform the way we execute public-private partnerships.

GAIN is a new framework for how the Office of Nuclear Energy, in partnership with the Idaho, Argonne, and Oak Ridge National Labs, to leverage people, facilities, and capabilities to better support advancing nuclear technologies.

Kotek said, “We are already seeing huge payoffs from this new approach, including the issuance of a Site Use Permit for identifying potential locations for the first small modular reactor.

The nonprofit Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA), launched last November in Cambridge, Massachusetts, aims to improve the overall policy, funding and market environment essential for rapid commercialization of safer, lower cost and more secure nuclear technologies.

Motivated by the urgency of reducing carbon dioxide emissions responsible for climate change, the NIA brings together nuclear energy stakeholders, technical experts, nuclear technology companies, investors, environmental organizations and academic institutions.

The consensus emerging from nearly every scientific study on combating climate change is clear,” said Armond Cohen, NIA co-chairman. “In addition to energy efficiency, renewables and carbon sequestration, the world will need a lot more nuclear energy to sufficiently decarbonize our society’s energy consumption.”

“Emerging innovative reactor designs promise to be safer, more economical and faster to build, with less waste and lower proliferation risk,” Cohen said.

Christofer Mowry, NIA’s other co-chairman, said, “Real change to energy regulation and policy is needed to make these advanced designs commercially available in time to help limit climate change to an acceptable level.

Investors and developers need to see a clearer and lower risk path to their deployment,” said Mowry, “including an innovation-enabling licensing framework and more substantive public-private partnerships for rapid deployment.

At the same time, some of the largest environmental groups are easing their negative positions on nuclear power.

The “Wall Street Journal” reported in June that the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) are concentrating more on preventing runaway climate change and less on the dangers of nuclear power than they have in the past.

Greenpeace and other environmental groups continue to urge the shutdown of existing nuclear plants, for fear that the environmental dangers outweigh the climate benefits.


 

Gates Funds Climate-Smart Rice Development

RicePlanterIndonesia

By Sunny Lewis

LOS BANOS, Philippines, January 6, 2015 (Maximpact.com News) – Climate change-ready rice seeds of several varieties have reached millions of farmers in Asia and Africa under a forward-looking program known as Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia, or STRASA.

Developed by the Los Baños-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the program distributes new rice varieties tolerant of stresses such as the droughts and floods, salinity, and toxicity, to millions of farmers coping with these stresses.

STRASA began at the end of 2007 with IRRI in collaboration with AfricaRice. Conceived as a 10-year project with a vision to deliver the improved varieties to at least 18 million farmers on the two continents, the first two phases of the project have been funded with about US$20 million each.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding the third phase of the IRRI-led project with US$32.77 million through 2017.

Rice is the most important human food crop in the world, directly feeding more people than any other crop. In 2012, nearly half of world’s population, more than three billion people, relied on rice every day.

Rice is produced in a wide range of locations and under a variety of climatic conditions, from the wettest areas in the world to the driest deserts. Thousands of rice varieties are cultivated on every continent except Antarctica.

But as the climate changes, more varieties are being developed to help farmers produce their crops regardless of droughts that shrivel the rice plants and floods that rot them.

About three years into the STRASA program, in May 2011, Bill Gates described how he sees the revolution in rice production.

“What’s going on right now in Africa and South Asia is not a collection of anecdotes about improvements to a few people’s lives,” Gates said. “This is the early stage of sweeping change for farming families in the poorest parts of the world. It’s an historic chance to help people and countries move from dependency to self-sufficiency – and fulfill the highest promise of foreign aid.”

STRASA in Africa

Gary Atlin, senior program officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told the 3rd Africa Rice Congress held in October 2013 in Yaoundé, Cameroon, “The best adaptation to climate change is a breeding and seed system that rapidly develops, deploys, and then replaces varieties so that farmers will always have access to varieties adapted to their current conditions.”

This strategy is at the heart of STRASA, which helps smallholder farmers who are vulnerable to flooding, drought, extreme temperatures, and soil problems, such as high salt and iron toxicity, that reduce yields.

Some of these stresses are forecast to become more frequent and intense with climate change.

Climate change is already having a negative impact on Africa through extreme temperatures, frequent flooding and droughts, and increased salinity according to Baboucarr Manneh, irrigated-rice breeder at Africa Rice Center and coordinator of the African component of the STRASA project.

More than 30 stress-tolerant rice varieties have already been released in nine African countries with support from the STRASA project, said Dr. Manneh.

“One of the key impact points for STRASA will be the quantity of seed produced and disseminated to farmers,” said Dr. Manneh. “As seed production continues to be a major bottleneck in Africa, the main thrust of our recent STRASA meeting was to help countries develop seed road maps.”

Sometimes, various stresses, such as salinity, cold, submergence, and iron toxicity, can occur at the same time.

“That’s why the third phase of the STRASA project will focus on breeding for multiple stress tolerance,” Dr. Manneh explained.

STRASA in India

“Use flood- and drought-tolerant rice to get maximum profit from your small landholdings in the stress-prone areas of Bihar,” said Radha Mohan Singh, Union minister for agriculture and farmers welfare, to a gathering of more than 1,000 farmers at the foundation ceremony of the National Integrated Agriculture Research Centre in Motihari, Bihar, India last August.

Minister Singh told the farmers of how scientists from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research took him to a pond planted with a new flood-tolerant rice variety that was fully submerged in water for 15 days. “I immediately asked them, ‘Why this much water? Wouldn’t the rice rot?’”

But the crop variety that survived 15 days of submergence had “very good yield,” the scientists said.

These flood-tolerant seeds now are available for farmers in Motihari. Trials of a drought-tolerant rice variety are also being conducted in several Motihari villages.

“Following the Minister’s speech, the IRRI booth received a rush of inquiries from farmers,” said Dr. Sudhanshu Singh, International Rice Research Institute scientist and rainfed-lowland agronomist for South Asia, who represented the Institute during the foundation ceremony and exhibit.

About 10 million of the poorest and most disadvantaged rice farmers have been given access to climate-smart rice varieties.

“Swarna-Sub1 changed my life,” said Trilochan Parida, a farmer at the Dekheta Village of Puri in Odisha, India.

Floods ravage Parida’s rice field every year. Flooding of four days or more usually means a loss of the crop as well as of any expected income. But in 2008, Parida saw his rice rise back to life after having been submerged for two weeks.

Swarna-Sub1 is a flood-tolerant rice variety developed by the Philippines-based IRRI. It was bred from a popular Indian variety, Swarna, which has been upgraded with SUB1, the gene for flood tolerance.

“Under the past phases of the project, 16 climate-smart rice varieties tolerant of flood, drought, and salinity were released in various countries in South Asia. About 14 such varieties were released in sub-Saharan Africa. Several more are in the process of being released,” said Abdelbagi Ismail, IRRI scientist and STRASA project leader.

In addition to improving varieties and distributing seeds, the STRASA project also trains farmers and scientists in producing good-quality seeds. Through the project’s capacity-building component, 74,000 farmers, including 19,400 women farmers, underwent training in seed production.

3,000 Rice Genomes Sequenced

Now a scientific advance has made even more progress possible.

A remarkable 3,000 rice genome sequences were made publicly available on World Hunger Day May 29, 2014.

This work is the completion of stage one of the 3000 Rice Genomes Project, a collaborative, international research program that has sequenced 3,024 rice varieties from 89 countries.

The collaboration is made up of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology.

IRRI Director General Dr. Robert Zeigler said, “Access to 3,000 genomes of rice sequence data will tremendously accelerate the ability of breeding programs to overcome key hurdles mankind faces in the near future.”

“This collaborative project,” said Zeigler, “will add an immense amount of knowledge to rice genetics, and enable detailed analysis by the global research community to ultimately benefit the poorest farmers who grow rice under the most difficult conditions.”

The 3000 Rice Genomes Project is part of an ongoing effort to provide resources for poverty-stricken farmers in Africa and Asia, aiming to reach at least 20 million rice farmers in 16 target countries – eight in Asia and eight in Africa.

Dr. Jun Wang, director of the Beijing Genomics Institute, said, “The population boom and worsening climate crisis have presented big challenges on global food shortage and safety. BGI is dedicated to applying genomics technologies to make a fast, controllable and highly efficient molecular breeding model possible.”

“This opens a new way to carry out agricultural breeding. With the joined forces with CAAS, IRRI and Gates Foundation, we have made a step forward in big-data-based crop research and digitalized breeding,” said Dr. Wang. “We believe every step will get us closer to the ultimate goal of improving the wellbeing of human race.”


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

 

Editors note: Dr. Jun Wang is no longer the director of the Beijing Genomics Institute, although he was at the comment quoted. Dr. Jun Wang is now a scientist and research group leader with BGI.

Head image: A farmer planting rice in Pangkep, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, 2014 (Photo by Tri Saputro / Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) under creative commons license.
Featured image: Sample seeds from among the 127,000 rice varieties and accessions stored in the International Rice Genebank at the International Rice Research Institute.​​ (Photo courtesy IRRI)