BlocPower hits its stride, landing $25M Series B to expand its residential energy retrofit platform

For all the focus on carbon pollution produced by shipping and aviation, some of the most challenging to abate will probably be residential buildings. In the U.S., housing units stand an average of 130 years before they’re torn down, according to a recent study.

Homes and apartment buildings built 100 years ago, or even 30 years ago, are woefully underprepared for the energy transition. More often than not, their major mechanical systems rely on fossil fuels, their electrical systems are undersized, and their walls and windows are leaky and poorly insulated.

All that can make for housing that’s less comfortable and less efficient than it needs to be.

Nearly a decade ago, Donnel Baird realized that in many cases, paying for retrofits like this can be cost-prohibitive, requiring a lump sum payment upfront. Even though the benefits might accrue over the years, it was a hurdle many owners couldn’t or didn’t want to cross.

So he founded BlocPower, which has been chipping away at the problem for nearly a decade, developing a roster of projects to prove its retrofit-as-a-service business model that’s focused on low-income communities. This week, it announced that it had raised nearly $25 million in equity and $130 million in debt financing.

The Series B round was led by VoLo Earth Ventures and joined by Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund, Credit Suisse, Builders Vision, New York State Ventures, Unreasonable Collective, Kimbal and Christiana Musk, Gaingels, Van Jones, Kapor Capital, My Climate Journey, Tale Venture Partners and NBA star Russell Westbrook. Debt financing was led by Goldman Sachs.

BlocPower hits its stride, landing $25M Series B to expand its residential energy retrofit platform by Tim De Chant originally published on TechCrunch

Chrome gets memory and energy saver modes

Google today announced two new performance settings in its Chrome browser: Memory Saver and Energy Saver.

Modern browsers eat up a lot of memory and while that’s not a problem if you have 32GB of RAM, Chrome using multiple gigabytes of your memory can quickly slow your machine down if you’re on a machine with lower specs. The Memory Saver mode promises to reduce Chrome’s memory usage by up to 30% by putting inactive tabs to sleep. The tabs will simply reload when you need them again. The Energy Saver mode, meanwhile, limits background activity and visual effects for sites with animations and videos when your laptop’s battery level drops below 20%.

Image Credits: Google

The features are now rolling out with the release of Chrome 108 and will be available globally for Windows, macOS and ChromeOS in the coming weeks. You can exempt individual sites from going to sleep or, of course, turn these features off completely.

Google’s announcement comes a day after Microsoft announced that its Edge Browser put 1.38 billion tabs to sleep in September alone. According to Microsoft, sleeping a tab in Edge typically saves 83% of the memory it would normally occupy. The company rolled out its version of these features, which can automatically put tabs to sleep after five minutes of inactivity (can can bring this down all the way to 30 seconds of inactivity), a couple of years ago and then once again improved it with the release of Edge 100 earlier this year. Edge also features a gaming mode, which can automatically reduce CPU usage when it detects that you are playing a game on your PC.

Chrome gets memory and energy saver modes by Frederic Lardinois originally published on TechCrunch

Chrome gets memory and energy saver modes

Google today announced two new performance settings in its Chrome browser: Memory Saver and Energy Saver.

Modern browsers eat up a lot of memory and while that’s not a problem if you have 32GB of RAM, Chrome using multiple gigabytes of your memory can quickly slow your machine down if you’re on a machine with lower specs. The Memory Saver mode promises to reduce Chrome’s memory usage by up to 30% by putting inactive tabs to sleep. The tabs will simply reload when you need them again. The Energy Saver mode, meanwhile, limits background activity and visual effects for sites with animations and videos when your laptop’s battery level drops below 20%.

Image Credits: Google

The features are now rolling out with the release of Chrome 108 and will be available globally for Windows, macOS and ChromeOS in the coming weeks. You can exempt individual sites from going to sleep or, of course, turn these features off completely.

Google’s announcement comes a day after Microsoft announced that its Edge Browser put 1.38 billion tabs to sleep in September alone. According to Microsoft, sleeping a tab in Edge typically saves 83% of the memory it would normally occupy. The company rolled out its version of these features, which can automatically put tabs to sleep after five minutes of inactivity (can can bring this down all the way to 30 seconds of inactivity), a couple of years ago and then once again improved it with the release of Edge 100 earlier this year. Edge also features a gaming mode, which can automatically reduce CPU usage when it detects that you are playing a game on your PC.

Chrome gets memory and energy saver modes by Frederic Lardinois originally published on TechCrunch

Meet the Extreme Tech Challenge 2022 Global Finals category finalists and special award winners

Extreme Tech Challenge (XTC), the world’s largest startup competition focused on purpose-driven innovation, and sponsor of TechCrunch Sessions: Climate, has chosen 10 category finalists and three Special Award winners to compete at the XTC 2022 Global Finals at the climate conference on June 14, 2022 at UC Berkeley.

Due to the exceptional applicant pool this year, we will also showcase 10 category runners-up on the Global Finals stage. 

Meet the XTC category winners and runners-up:

Advanced Materials

  • Winner: Mi Terro creates ocean degradable and home compostable packaging materials made from agricultural waste to replace single-use plastic and paper.
  • Runner-up: MicroTau prints microscopic patterns inspired by nature to reduce drag and produce properties including anti-fouling, anti-bacterial and hydrophobic effects. 

Agtech and Food

  • Winner: Amai Proteins produces healthy, tasty and affordable proteins for the mass food market. Its first product is a hyper-sweet protein as a zero-calorie, healthy and food-compliant sugar substitute.
  • Runner-up: Nofence, the world’s first commercial virtual fencing solution for livestock, where animals are controlled by GPS-collars and an app. 

Biotech and Medical Devices

  • Winner: UniFAHS provides customized phage-based products to eliminate serious bacteria causing food borne illnesses, especially those that are present in livestock and aquaculture.
  • Runner-up: MicroFuse Technologies is a software company that provides expertise in software development, custom programming, artificial intelligence, brand identity and network security solutions. Their focus clientele are: health sector, education, sustainable development.

Cleantech, Energy and Environment

  • Winner: reActo offers a sustainable solution for the toughest-to-treat industrial wastewater with Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) that is currently incinerated.
  • Runner-up: BeFC offers a sustainable and eco-friendly energy solution for low-power electronics. It produces paper-based biofuel cells to replace conventional miniature batteries found in portable or wearable electronic devices. 

Digital Health

  • Winner: Virtuleap combines neuroscience and virtual reality to help increase attention levels, and address cognitive illnesses, disorders and learning challenges.
  • Runner-up: Virusight Diagnostic, effectively detects pathogens and resolves the current pandemic by enabling access to accurate and ultra rapid testing for COVID-19 anywhere, anytime.


  • Winner: Abwaab, an online learning platform that allows secondary-school students to learn at their own pace, test themselves and get ahead with expert tutors anytime and anywhere.
  • Runner-up: Kide Science offers an engaging model to break the mold and give teachers the confidence to teach inquiry-based lessons with play and stories to children aged 3-8.

Enabling Tech

  • Winner: Incooling builds custom-made HPC servers dedicated to achieving the fastest and greenest computers in the world. 
  • Runner-up: swIDch brings easy, fast, accurate and secure authentication to every digital identity in daily life, business and even in the off-the-network environment. 


  • Winner: RealKey, an innovative provider of digital mortgage technologies that let bank and non-bank mortgage loan originators (MLOs) streamline the mortgage processing experience for borrowers.
  • Runner-up: MyTM provides mass transit e-ticketing, branchless banking, microfinance services (loan lead generation through agent network) and financial services.


  • Winner: AELER Technologies is transforming logistics by bringing advanced technologies to the container and the ecosystem that surrounds it. The UNIT ONE container is stronger, insulated, super smart, green and increases payload.
  • Runner-up: New Frontier Aerospace, its rocket-powered hypersonic aircraft get passengers and urgent cargo anywhere on Earth in two hours or less — cleaner than jets.

Sustainable Smart Cities

  • Winner: generates value out of plastic waste, enabling collectors, recyclers, brands and consumers to make a real impact on the environment.
  • Runner-up: BioElements aims to transform polluting products into environmentally friendly solutions with an ecological alternative to conventional plastic. 
  • Runner-up: Quiron Digital develops algorithms for remote monitoring of forest threats such as pests, diseases and wildfires through data from satellites.

Meet the XTC Special Award category winners:

  • Female Founder:
    Incooling builds custom made HPC servers with its own proprietary two-phase cooling system that allows for extreme computing increase as well as increased energy efficiency on the cooling and power draw.
  • People’s Choice:
    Savvie, an all-in-one app that helps cafe managers boost profitability, optimize operations and reduce waste via data-driven insights.
  • UNICEF Edtech:
    , a gamified math learning platform that reaches one million teachers and students in more than 50 countries. It brings scientifically quantifiable improvement to learning results.

    CogniAble received a special mention. This machine-learning solution, available on the mobile applications of both experts and non-experts alike, helps provide early detection of (from videos) and therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Meet the entire XTC 2022 Global Finalist Cohort 

Competition evaluators worked through a pool of nearly 2,000 startup applicants from almost 100 countries across the world that are working to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through tech and innovation.

XTC Category and Special Award Winners will pitch on the main stage at TechCrunch Sessions: Climate presented by Extreme Tech Challenge 2022 Global Finals on June 14 to be held in person at UC Berkeley. Join us at the event to see which company will be crowned the Grand Winner of XTC 2022. 

About Extreme Tech Challenge

Extreme Tech Challenge is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public benefit corporation whose mission is to empower startups creating new tech innovations to address global challenges. It is the world’s largest ecosystem and competition for purpose-driven technology inspired by the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Extreme Tech Challenge™ competition is supported by leading corporations, venture capital investors, foundations, policymakers, universities and tech conferences to give exceptional startups the potential for global visibility, the opportunity to raise capital, the ability to network with global leaders and access to world-class mentorship to help them pioneer technological breakthroughs that address our most extreme global challenges. A complete list of XTC partners and how to join can be found at

The SEC gets seed funding

Hey everyone, and welcome back to Chain Reaction

In our Chain Reaction podcast this week, Anita and I chatted with Slow Ventures’ Jill Gunter on why there are so many dang blockchains out there and if we’re headed to a future where everything is built on a single ‘chain. More details below.

Last week, we chatted a bit about the political isolation of Bitcoin that’s happening as a result of its energy footprint. In the podcast this week, we talked about how the Wikimedia Foundation outlawed crypto donations after accepting them for 8 years just because of the the energy footprint of Bitcoin and Ethereum. More than a decade in, this saga is only getting started. This week, we talked about how the crypto cops are trying to keep up with the web3 explosion.

You can subscribe on TechCrunch’s newsletter page and get this in your inbox Thursday afternoon. Follow me on Twitter while you’re at it so you can get important info like some crucial NFT etiquette.

the hottest take

This week, the government’s top crypto cops got some new funding to build out their team and they issued a nice little press release to tell the crypto industry that they’re coming for them. The SEC is expanding the team from 30 to 50 and renaming the previously titled “Cyber Unit” to the “Crypto Assets and Cyber Unit.” Hiring up to 20 additional enforcement officers is a big deal for the SEC, though in cryptoland that kind of headcount is what comes to most startups after a seed fundraise.

It’s always been an uphill battle for the SEC, but 10 years ago the threat of someone spinning up securities willy nilly from their basement wasn’t quite what it is today. The crypto faucet has released thousands upon thousands of suspect projects that I’m sure the regulatory body would like to touch, but for the time being they’re left with the nearly impossible task of moderating an industry that’s exploding and expanding its ambitions with at-most modest regard for the spirit of securities law.

As we touched on a bit in the podcast this week, the news of the SEC crypto unit’s expansion wasn’t welcomed warmly by folks in the industry, who say what they want is more guidance before there’s more enforcement. This isn’t entirely surprising, of course. It’s always been a nice little talking point for crypto companies on the topic of regulation — they can say that they actually want more regulation, because they know how far out most of that regulation is. Then, when action is eventually taken against them by the government they can complain that the under-resourced agency has it out for them because they’re singling them out over others who are doing the same thing. This has been the case for a while now.

This isn’t to say the SEC has done nothing, I’m sure they’re much more focused on big ticket cases at this point. The agency says they’ve brought more than 80 “enforcement actions” against fraudulent and unregistered offerings “resulting in monetary relief totaling more than $2 billion.” That’s a nice chunk of change but still a drop in the bucket.

Now, for the SEC’s part, they say that they are focused on using their beefed up team to crack down on fraudulent or illicit activity in the following areas: Crypto asset offerings, Crypto asset exchanges, Crypto asset lending and staking products, Decentralized finance (“DeFi”) platforms, Non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”), and Stablecoins. That’s… pretty much everything there is, though they didn’t specifically say anything about the metaverse I suppose… For folks warning of an imminent regulatory crackdown on crypto, I think it’s important to set expectations and take stock of who exactly is on the other side of the equation.

pod #3

Hello Chain Reaction friends! It’s Anita here again with an update on our latest podcast episode.

Yuga Labs’ chaotic NFT land sale stole the show in the crypto world this week, temporarily clogging the entire Ethereum network and leaving some users to pay thousands of dollars in gas fees for NFTs they never actually got. Yuga has pledged to refund gas fees on the failed transactions, but the crypto community has been abuzz with all sorts of hot takes and even conspiracy theories about why and how we got here, which Lucas and I unpacked on the show.

Our guest this week was Jill Gunter, venture partner at Slow Ventures and co-founder of a new, privacy-focused layer-one blockchain, Espresso Systems. I already got in the weeds with Jill in my article about Espresso after its Series A round last month, so for this week’s pod, Lucas and I asked her some bigger questions we’ve been mulling over, like why there are so many different blockchains in the first place and what it will take for tradfi to get comfortable with crypto.

Subscribe to Chain Reaction on Apple, Spotify, or your alternative podcast platform of choice to keep up with us every week.

follow the money

Where startup money is moving in the crypto world:

  1. Crypto publication Decrypt raises $10 million Hack VC, Canvas Ventures, others
  2. ‘Physical’ NFT marketplace Americana gets $6.9 million from Seven Seven Six
  3. DAO tooling startup Syndicate raises $6 million from a16z, Carta, others
  4. NFT sports betting app Stakes nabs $5.3 million from DCG
  5. DeFi startup MYSO raises $2.4 million from Huobi
  6. Metaverse eSports group Team DAO gets $5 million from Klaytn and Animoca
  7. Web3 sports platform OneFootball scores $300 million from Liberty City Ventures
  8. Crypto wallet app Argent grabs $40 million from Index
  9. Layer 2 blockchain Minka raises $24 million from Tiger
  10. NFT/crypto wallet Venly gets $23 million from Courtside Ventures

added analysis

Some more crypto analysis from our TechCrunch+ subscription service curated by Jacquelyn Melinek

Why Axie Infinity’s co-founder thinks play-to-earn games will drive NFT adoption
The popular play-to-earn crypto game Axie Infinity hit huge strides in 2021 from a massive spike in users to its total revenue rising over 50,000% from the same time last year. But as we’re almost halfway through 2022, a question stands: Is Axie holding up to its hype? Data is saying not quite, but Axie’s Co-founder Jeff “Jiho” Zirlin is unfazed. “You can’t have exponential growth all the time; there is a refractory period,” he said, but the game has more plans in the pipeline for the next growth cycle.

Crypto Bahamas signals stronger ties between old and new worlds of finance
I may be recovering from a sunburn, but don’t feel bad for me. I was down in the Caribbean at Crypto Bahamas, a conference co-hosted by crypto exchange FTX and investor forum SALT, where over 2,000 invite-only attendees discussed the nature of crypto as it grows in the traditional finance market and what’s needed for the future of this nascent digital asset industry to succeed. The event also was significant because this was both FTX and SALT’s first crypto-focused conference and seems to be the beginning of a bridge being built between the two worlds of traditional finance and decentralized finance.

Bitcoin miners say energy efficiency and regulatory certainty are crucial for the industry’s success
Speaking of Crypto Bahamas…some of the biggest names in bitcoin mining at the event took the stage and talked about what they think is needed first and foremost for this industry to succeed: efficiency and regulatory clarity. Once there is regulation in pace, the pace of innovation could pick up for miners across the US, the panelists said. But what does this mean for the energy industry as a whole?

Have a great weekend! And remember, you can subscribe on TechCrunch’s newsletter page and get this in your inbox Thursday afternoon.

Lucas Matney

The answers to real estate’s climate tech questions may be all around us

If you haven’t seen Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” starring Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, you should. The film speaks to an existential, albeit preventative, threat to our world, and well, no one seems to care.

While an allegory, this political piece reflects the climate reality for many. For those who do care, there is no shortage of confusion on how to best tackle this looming threat.

But what if an answer was lying right in front of us? Take that an astounding 40% of global greenhouse gases come from the “Built World.” Forty percent is quite the figure in the context of what’s at stake. In this case, do look up — and to the right, and to the left, because the answer might be all around.

Front and center come the estimated 97 billion square feet of commercial real estate. Despite this sizable footprint and impact on climate, lack of awareness and the real estate industry’s sluggish pace of tech adoption have hampered action until recently.

Adding to this have been misperceptions of returns on investments in climate investments, and frankly, information overload as the industry gets smart about carbon neutrality. Fortunately, evidence is emerging on the ROI of climate tech for both buyers and investors — evidence that could be crucial to usher the “Built World” into an era of carbon neutrality.

Green translates to green

As the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money. And when it comes to reducing real estate’s climate footprint, according to Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), the path starts with adopting technologies that enable green certifications such as LEED and BREEAM.

Among a host of conclusions, JLL’s report cites that green certifications result in a rent premium of 6% for commercial real estate and a sales premium of 8%. But acknowledgment of climate change and awareness of climate technologies’ efficacy is just the beginning. Knowing where to start brings its own challenges.

To unlock this ROI, property owners have implemented a range of cost saving technologies such as efficient lighting, reimagined cooling and heating systems, and systems to reduce their electricity footprint. After all, to get a LEED certification, buildings must hit a performance score combining metrics across several categories including energy, water, waste, transportation and quality.

To accommodate, technology has popped up transversely across the value chain of designing, constructing and retrofitting parts of the building life cycle to improve metrics across LEED’s target categories. To unpack the opportunity come specific considerations with investments at each point.

Climate technology solutions across the real estate value chain.

Climate technology solutions across the real estate value chain. 1Estimated per Cove.Tool; 2New York Times “New York’s Real Climate Challenge: Fixing its Aging Buildings”; 3Department of Energy’s “Proving the Busines case for Building Analytics”. Image Credits: SVB Capital.

Design and construction

An ideal, carbon-neutral world might be built from the ground up. Proven technologies such as Cove.Tool and Juno Residential are popping up to enable this brave new world of energy efficiency, starting with just how buildings are designed and what materials they are built from.

Europe lays out expanded ecodesign rules with plan for digital product passports

The European Union has announced a new bundle of sustainability-focused policy proposals that will expand existing ecodesign rules on energy efficiency by encouraging longer product lifespans, supporting the growth of circular economy business models and helping consumers combat greenwashing and make more environmentally friendly purchasing choices, as regional lawmakers work to make good on a Circular Economy Action Plan announced two years ago.

The bloc’s overarching European Green Deal plan has the stated goal of making the region “climate neutral” by 2050.

That mission translates to no net emissions of greenhouse gases within a timeframe of (now) just under three decades while decoupling the EU’s economic growth from resource use — aka a shift to a circular economy where products are designed to last longer and also to be easy to disassemble for reuse or recycling at end of life. So there is, very clearly, lots of work for policymakers to do.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has only added to the urgency of the EU’s climate mission — underscoring the case for the bloc to rapidly move away from using fossil fuels for energy and wider economic fuel as many Member States remain heavily reliant on oil and gas from Russia, leaving their economies exposed to the ongoing regional instability.

In a press release announcing its latest sustainability policy package, the Commission suggests that, by 2030, the revised ecodesign framework could lead to 132 mtoe [million tonnes of oil equivalent] of primary energy savings — which it emphasizes is “almost equivalent to EU’s import of Russian gas” (which corresponds to “roughly to 150 bcm [billion cubic meters] of natural gas”).

It is also keen to flag the value of existing EU ecodesign requirements (which are focused on energy efficiency) — saying they saved consumers €120BN and led to a 10% lower annual energy consumption by the products in scope.

The latest proposals to slot under the EU’s ‘green deal’ umbrella include an interesting idea for Digital Product Passports (see below) — which is part of a wider push to increase product sustainability via a Regulation on Ecodesign for Sustainable Products (aka ESPR). The latter sets new requirements to “make products more durable, reliable, reusable, upgradable, reparable, easier to maintain, refurbish and recycleand energy and resource efficient”; and looks set to apply across the board from products such as metals and textiles all the way up to mobile phones and tablets.

“The objective of the Commission’s Ecodesign proposal is to make sustainable products the norm on the EU market and reduce their overall environmental and climate impacts,” the EU’s executive writes, adding: “The ‘take-make-use-dispose’ model can be avoided, and much of a product’s environmental impacts is determined at the design stage.”

The ecodesign proposal extends existing EU rules in this area to both broaden the scope of products covered by ecodesign regulations (the Commission says it wants almost all products to fall in scope in the future) and to broaden requirements on those products to encompass circularity and an overall reduction of products’ environmental and climate footprint, in addition to energy efficiency criteria.

So it’s fair to say that the bloc’s concept of ‘ecodesign’ is being radically redesigned — and, well, upgraded.

The Commission argues that this broader ecodesign strategy will lead to more energy and resource independence and less pollution, and also anticipates it creating “economic opportunities for innovation and job creation”, especially in areas such as remanufacturing, maintenance, recycling and repair. So hot European startups of the future could be in areas like smarter waste management and upcycling.

Specific per product requirements aren’t clear, as yet, as the EU’s approach starts with a big picture proposal for a framework and a process — via which the Commission (“working in close cooperation with all those concerned”) will gradually set out requirements for each product or group of products, yielding specific stipulations down the line.

Its approach also suggests there could end up being a degree of variability in requirements across different types of products, as various trade offs (perhaps product longevity vs energy efficiency of manufacture, say) are weighed up and variously assessed in each specific product context. (Variation may also creep in as a result of sector-specific lobbying ofc.)

“These ecodesign requirements will be tailored to the particular characteristics of the product groups concerned,” the Commission writes in a communication on the proposal. “Their identification and development will factor-in the potential for improvement and relative effectiveness in delivering increased resource and energy efficiency, enabling longer product life and maximising the value embedded in materials, reducing pollution and the overall impact of products on climate and the environment.”

In a list of sample ecodesign requirements which may apply to different types of products, the communication offers examples that include mandates to minimize waste (such as packaging waste); set a minimum level of recycled content that a product must contain; and require ease of disassembly, remanufacturing and recycling of products and materials, among others. 

“Only a few sectors, such as food, feed, and medicinal products, are exempted,” the EU further specifies in a Q&A on the sustainable products initiative which also states that incoming ecodesign and labelling rules will cover product groups which are not regulated now, such as smartphones, tablets and photovoltaic solar systems.

So gadgets look set to fall squarely in scope, along with almost every other type of non-edible thing and/or material used to make things which may be picked up off a shelf by or dropshipped to an EU consumer in the future (not to mention the packaging itself).

Commenting in a statement, VirginijusSinkevičius, the EU commissioner for the environment, oceans and fisheries, said:

“Our circular economy proposals kick off an era where products will be designed in a way that brings benefits to all, respects the boundaries of our planet and protects the environment. Giving a longer lifespan to the phones we use, to the clothes we wear and to many other products will save money for European consumers. And at the end of their life products will not be a source of pollution but of new materials for the economy, decreasing the dependency of European businesses on imports.” 

The Commission will launch a public consultation on the categories of products to be selected under the first ESPR working plan by the end of this year — but it suggests the first focus will be on product categories such as textiles, furniture, mattresses, tyres, detergents, paints, lubricants, and on intermediate products like iron, steel and aluminium, as it says these have “high environmental impact and potential for improvement”.

As the bloc expands ecodesign rules, repairability in general looks set to get a massive boost — again also for electronics, an area where the Commission already said (March 2020) it would be expanding requirements.

Work has advanced significantly with assessing the feasibility of ecodesign requirements and an energy labelling scheme for mobile phones and tablets,” it notes in a communication on its Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Working Plan, adopted today as a transitory measure “to cover new energy-related products, update and increase the ambition for products that are already regulated” until the expanded ecodesign regulation enters into force.

“The requirements would be affecting energy efficiency as well as material efficiency (durability, reparability, upgradability and recycling) aspects. The regulations are expected to be adopted before the end of 2022,” it goes on, adding: “Likewise, work is well advanced to assess the feasibility of ecodesign requirements and energy labelling for solar photovoltaic modules, inverters and systems, including possible requirements on carbon footprint.”

Expanded EU ecodesign rules will apply equally to all products placed on the market, regardless of country of manufacture or importation, meaning gizmos made in Asia or the US that are intended for sale within the bloc won’t be able to escape compliance with the sustainability requirements.

A Digital Product Passport for every thing

Another part of the EU’s plan for revised ecodesign rules includes a proposal to introduce Digital Product Passports to store key data to improve traceability around products and support repair/recycling etc by standardizing the information which product manufacturers must provide.

The Commission also intends these passports to arm consumers with information on environmental impacts to inform purchasing decisions.

This could include energy consumption info but also — via new EU Energy Labels for relevant products — a repairability score.

“[P]roduct-specific information requirements will ensure consumers know the environmental impacts of their purchases,” the Commission suggests of the Digital Product Passport plan. “All regulated products will have Digital Product Passports. This will make it easier to repair or recycle products and facilitate tracking substances of concern along the supply chain. Labelling can be introduced as well.”

Digital product passports will be “the norm” for all products regulated under the ESPR, per the Commission — with the goal to ensure that products are “tagged, identified and linked to data relevant to their circularity and sustainability”.

“This proposal will… enable information requirements to be set for products to know more about the impacts of the products on our shelves and make more sustainable choices along the whole value chain,” it adds.

How exactly this will work isn’t clear but presumably something like a QR code could be fixed to each product for scanning to view the associated sustainability data.

“Digital Product Passports will be rolled out for all regulated products,” the Commission writes. “The product information can also take the form of ‘classes of performance’ — for instance ranging from ‘A to G’ — to facilitate comparison between products, possibly displayed in the form of a label. This would work in a manner similar to how the widely recognized EU Energy Label currently works, and be for instance used for a repairability score.”

The EU is also eyeing the potential for this standardized ‘metadata’ system to create other data-sharing opportunities — which could even lead to other types of business opportunity, or support additional pieces of sustainability legislation across the bloc.

“Pioneering this approach for environmental sustainability data can also pave the way for wider voluntary data sharing, going beyond the products and requirements regulated under the ESPR,” the Commission suggests. “Moreover, product passports may be used for information on other sustainability aspects applicable to the relevant product group pursuant to other Union legislation.”

“Structuring information on the environmental sustainability of products and transmitting it by means of digital product passports will help businesses along the value chain, from manufacturers, importers and distributors to dealers, repairers, remanufacturers and recyclers, to access information that is valuable in their work to improve environmental performance, prolong product lifetime, boost efficiency and the use of secondary raw materials, thus lowering the need for primary natural resources, saving costs and reducing strategic dependencies,” it also argues.

“This will also help track the presence of substances of concern throughout the life cycle of materials and products, following through on commitments made in the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability and contributing to the EU’s aim to achieve zero pollution. Digital product passports can also enable consumers to make more informed choices, improve transparency for public interest organisations and help national authorities in their enforcement and surveillance work.”

Other measures in the EU’s ecodesign expansion proposal seek to end the destruction of unsold consumer goods — a practice that can be disturbingly widespread in ecommerce (hi Amazon!) and fashion, for example — through “far-reaching transparency requirements for those choosing to discard unsold goods, and the possibility to ban their destruction for relevant product groups”.

“[L]arge businesses that discard unsold products will have to disclose their number per year, the reasons for the discarding and information on the amount of discarded products that they have delivered for preparing for re-use, remanufacturing, recycling, energy recovery and disposal operations in line with the waste hierarchy. They will have to ensure this information is made available, either on a freely accessible website, or via other means,” the Commission writes.

“This measure will apply to all concerned economic operators as soon as the regulation enters into force. The proposal explicitly prohibits circumvention techniques, such as a big company selling to small companies (which are normally exempted) to make them destroy products.”

Green public procurement will also be supported through mandatory criteria in the regulation.

In addition, the Commission has presented two targeted sectoral initiatives today — one focused on sustainability and circularity of textiles, with the strategy there intended to make textilesmore durable, repairable, reusable and recyclable, to tackle fast fashion, textile waste and the destruction of unsold textiles, and ensure their production takes place in full respect of social rights” by 2030; and another that aims to boost the internal market for construction products while also ensuring that the regulatory framework is geared towards sustainability and climate objectives.

Both sectors have high carbon footprints.

Why are we still using super-greenhouse gases in our home air conditioners?

Air conditioners are a major source of greenhouse gases. On Project Drawdown’s 2017 list of over 100 opportunities to reduce human-caused global warming, cleaner tech for refrigeration and air-conditioning is at the very top.

So, back at my house, what’s so dirty about our air conditioner? Since I am using solar power, the energy to operate the air conditioner isn’t the issue. But, to take the heat out of the house and move it to the heat exchanger in the backyard, the air conditioner uses refrigerant.

Demystifying refrigerants

From the 1930s to the 1980s, refrigerants posed two major environmental problems: They were extremely potent greenhouse gases and they damaged the ozone layer.

Thanks to some fast-moving legislation in the 1980s, we no longer use refrigerants that damage the ozone layer. In the Regreen Scale, which is inspired by the air quality levels that are used to track wildfires, we describe these ozone-depleting refrigerants as “Step 0” refrigerants.

Image Credits: Forrest Iandola

Despite the progress of the 1980s, we still do use super-greenhouse gases as refrigerants. Every home air conditioner comes with a sticker on the side with detailed information about its refrigerant. The air conditioner in my backyard has 10 pounds of a refrigerant called R-410a (Step 1 on the Regreen scale). If all that refrigerant leaked out, it would cause as much global warming as burning 1,100 gallons of gasoline – in other words, 110 tanks of gasoline on a 10-gallon gas tank.

And, in all probability, at least some of the refrigerant will leak. Legally speaking, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires homeowners to fix leaking air conditioners. But when I asked an air-conditioning technician about this, he told me that he responds to many calls per week to fix refrigerant leaks in air conditioners. In many cases, the air conditioner has already leaked so much refrigerant that it no longer cools the house. That refrigerant has leaked in the atmosphere, and it’s heating up our planet.

Could we use AI to invent a new refrigerant that can ‘vaccinate’ today’s home air conditioners from potent greenhouse gas emissions?

Not every type of refrigeration is as dirty as household air-conditioning. The European Union has banned super-greenhouse gases in new car air conditioners since 2017, and more than half of new cars in the U.S. now also use clean refrigerants.

In supermarket refrigeration, the EPA has banned super-greenhouse gases from new equipment starting in 2024, and many supermarket chains are quickly transitioning to clean refrigerants. The EPA expects to phase out super-greenhouse gas refrigerants from new household refrigerators by 2025, and refrigerators with clean refrigerants are already available to consumers. In 2021, the U.S. passed laws to reduce sales of super-greenhouse gas refrigerants in the U.S. by 85% by 2036.

But home air conditioners remain a gap in this legislation. As a homeowner who cares about the environment, I would love to install a central air conditioner that doesn’t use super-greenhouse gases. I would even be willing to be an early adopter and pay substantially more than the price of an ordinary air conditioner. But, to my knowledge, no such air conditioner is available to U.S. consumers.

Potential solutions

Off-the-shelf clean refrigerant and a new air conditioner

Other industries like supermarket refrigeration and automotive air-conditioning have already made a lot of progress toward switching to clean refrigerants. In car air conditioners, the most popular refrigerant in the U.S. and EU is a refrigerant called R-1234yf (Step 4 on the Regreen scale), which from a global-warming perspective is thousands of times cleaner than the R-410a refrigerant that we use in home air conditioners today.

Further, in supermarket refrigeration, CO2 is an increasingly popular Step 4 refrigerant. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but it is thousands of times cleaner than R-410a.

So, could the next generation of home air conditioners adopt one of these refrigerants that has worked so well at cleaning up other industries? To investigate this, I talked to University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign mechanical engineering professor Pega Hrnjak, who has spent the last 30 years studying technologies for refrigeration and air-conditioning.

First, could we use R-1234yf from the automotive industry in home air conditioners? According to Hrnjak, this would technically work, but there is a challenge. R-1234yf can’t be compressed as much as R-410a, so the tubing and other components of the R-1234yf air conditioner would need to be somewhat larger and more expensive.

Alternatively, a growing number of supermarket refrigeration systems use carbon dioxide as refrigerant, so how about using carbon dioxide in home air conditioners? Hrnjak said that “CO2 likes to be compressed more than R-410a, and this allows the tubing and other components to be smaller — and potentially cheaper — than an R-410 based air conditioner.”

CO2 is also a good choice in other ways: It is inexpensive. It is not flammable. So, I am optimistic that CO2-based home air conditioners may be a great solution that combines cost-effectiveness, energy-efficiency, and — critically — it doesn’t have the extreme effect on global warming that today’s R-410a-based home air conditioners have.

The approach of developing new air conditioners that use cleaner refrigerants is promising. It would require a gradual transition where – perhaps by 2025 – new air home conditioners would use clean refrigerant. But older air conditioners would continue to spring leaks and emit a lot of the R-410a super-greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

New refrigerant and same air conditioner

What if there were a way to retrofit today’s air conditioners with a cleaner refrigerant? A few years ago, a group from the National Institute of Standards and Technology did a computer analysis of over 1 million potential refrigerants. Unfortunately, NIST didn’t find a perfect replacement for R-410a.

However, there are other angles to tackle this problem. First, there is the possibility of blending multiple refrigerants to create a replacement for R-410a. Second, in the years since the NIST study, AI systems have become more adept at discovering new molecules and materials. For instance, AI played a pivotal role in the rapid development of the Moderna COVID vaccine.

Could we use AI to invent a new refrigerant that can “vaccinate” today’s home air conditioners from potent greenhouse gas emissions?

To explore this, I talked to King Abdullah University of Science and Technology chemical engineering professor S. Mani Sarathy. Sarathy’s team has been using AI to predict the properties of hundreds of types of hydrocarbon molecules, which are used both as fuel and as refrigerant in small devices like refrigerators.

When I asked Sarathy whether his approach could help to develop cleaner refrigerants, he said, “We have already applied this approach to develop renewable fuels that burn cleaner than their fossil counterparts. I am optimistic that the same approach would work for considering millions of potential refrigerant molecules and accurately predicting their thermal properties. We could also optimize for low toxicity and low flammability.”

In summary, there are at least two compelling engineering solutions to this problem: We could develop new home air conditioners that use the cleaner Step 4 refrigerants that we have today, or we could invent a Step 4 clean refrigerant to use in the air conditioners we already have. All in all, I am incredibly optimistic that the technology to clean up home air conditioners will succeed.

Europe’s Chips Act to bake in up to €2BN in funding support for startups and scale-ups

European Union lawmakers have today presented a Chips Act: Their plan, trailed last fall, to bolster regional sovereignty in semiconductor production and supply chain resilience through a package of targeted support for chip production inside the bloc, including in areas like R&D and via funding for startups and scale-ups working on cutting edge tech in the sector.

The proposal also includes a loosening of strict EU state aid rules that will allow Member States to provide financial support to novel “first of a kind” chip fabs.

The overarching goal for the regulation is to ensure continued access for the EU to the high tech chips now needed to power all sorts of machines and devices.

“Chips are at the centre of the global technological race. They are, of course, also the bedrock of our modern economies,” said EU president, Ursula von der Leyen, in a statement on the proposal which links the slow pace of the EU’s post-pandemic economic recovery to the global shortage of chips, itself triggered by rising demand outstripping supply.

The Commission wants to more than double the bloc’s share of global chip production to 20% by 2030 — up from the 9% currently.

It said it hopes the Chips Act will lay the foundations for a thriving semiconductor sector — “from research to production” — while recognizing that Europe can’t go it alone, so the regulation will also work to foster greater resilience in access to global supply chains by strengthening partnerships with other chip producing regions, such as the US and Japan. Hence von der Leyen’s talk of “balanced interdependencies” (albeit state aid for local chip production may risk some trade tensions).

In terms of financing, the EU is already mobilizing more than €43BN in public and private funding to support broader policy goals (around digitalization, the green transition and European R&D) but the Commission said €11BN in EU public funds will be “directly provided” for semiconductor capacity support — under a “Chips for Europe Initiative” in the Act — which it said would be used to finance “technology leadership in research, design and manufacturing capacities up to 2030”.

There will also be funding specifically ringfenced for startup innovation around semiconductors — in the form of a dedicated “Chips Fund” to help European startups access finance to fund R&D and attract investors.

A dedicated semiconductor equity investment facility (under InvestEU program) will also support scale-ups and SMEs with market expansion, per the Commission.

It said expects Chips Act “support equity” for startups and scale-ups in the sector to reach €2BN.

A planned framework to ensure security of semiconductor supply in Europe by attracting investments and enhanced production capacities will also seek to drive innovation and investment in areas such as advanced nodes and energy efficient chips —  areas where the Commission may also hope to encourage startup innovation.

Other measures in the Chips Act proposal include a co-ordination mechanism between the Commission and Member States for monitoring the supply of semiconductors, estimating demand and anticipating the shortages. And the EU’s executive is encouraging Member States to make an immediate start on co-ordination efforts, rather than waiting for the Act to be passed.

There is no timeframe being provided publicly for when the regulation might be adopted as yet, given the European Parliament and the Council, the EU’s co-legislators, will need to weigh in and agree on the detail before it can be adopted as pan-EU law.

Commenting in a statement, Margrethe Vestager, the Commission EVP who heads up the digital strategy, said: Chips are necessary for the green and digital transition — and for the competitiveness of European industry. We should not rely on one country or one company to ensure safety of supply. We must do more together — in research, innovation, design, production facilities — to ensure that Europe will be stronger as a key actor in the global value chain. It will also benefit our international partners. We will work with them to avoid future supply issues.”

In another supporting statement, Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, added: “Our objectives are high: Doubling our global market share by 2030 to 20%, and producing the most sophisticated and energy-efficient semiconductors in Europe. With the EU Chips Act we will strengthen our research excellence and help it move from lab to fab — from the laboratory to manufacturing.

“We are mobilising considerable public funding which is already attracting substantial private investment. And we are putting everything in place to secure the entire supply chain and avoid future shocks to our economy like we are seeing with the current supply shortage in chips. By investing in lead markets of the future and rebalancing global supply chains, we will allow European industry to remain competitive, generate quality jobs, and cater for growing global demand.

More details on the EU proposal — including which types of chip fabs are intended to qualify for state aid rules breaks — can be found in this Commission Q&A.

Green new era dawns for crypto with global mining shift

Climate change is the issue of our time. From policymakers to the individual, every one of us has a responsibility to do our part to ensure that sustainability and green practices are implemented throughout society.

Indeed, governments across the world, from the U.S. to China, are increasingly taking a proactive stance on climate change, with COP26, the recent 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, serving as a driving impetus toward the goals of the Paris Agreement in inspiring climate action.

Corporations are also stepping forward to take greater responsibility, with many investors no longer considering financial performance alone a sufficient measure of success — ESG measures, i.e., negative externalities, are increasingly taken into account to determine the true value of business activity for society.

In this context, the process of revitalizing our financial infrastructure is increasingly under the spotlight. How well do Bitcoin and other digital assets meet ESG criteria? This question has become ever more important as crypto adoption reaches wider audiences. Multiple Bitcoin futures ETFs have now been approved and are trading in the U.S., while institutional adoption is also reaching new highs, with many of the world’s largest financial institutions, including Standard Chartered, State Street and Citibank quietly building capabilities in the space.

Growing regulatory clarity is also enabling a broader range of participants globally to accelerate their strategies for digital assets. The EU’s comprehensive Market in Crypto-assets (MiCA) framework continues to move through the legislative process in the European Parliament. While in the U.S., Gary Gensler’s Securities and Exchange Commission has also signaled its intent to clarify a framework for stablecoins and decentralized finance (DeFi).

For digital assets to truly cement their place in the mainstream and the portfolios of investors across the globe, they must be subject to the same rigorous ESG standards that every government and corporation should now address. Significantly, the industry has gradually come to terms with this need and has ramped up a process of environmental self-regulation in response to rising adoption.

Organizations such as the Bitcoin Mining Council are working to increase transparency in the industry through higher reporting standards. Many crypto-native organizations are also joining the Crypto Climate Accord, committing to achieve net-zero emissions from electricity consumption associated with crypto-related operations by 2030.

Yet, for all this activity, perhaps the single greatest contribution to the energy efficiency of digital assets has been a decision entirely out of the control of the industry. In May, China’s State Council banned cryptocurrency mining and trading. Previously the global stronghold for crypto mining activity, with 44% of the global share of Bitcoin mining hashrate, the decision prompted an exodus of miners to other jurisdictions.

The move has been a significant one for the energy efficiency of the Bitcoin mining industry, moving away from the coal-heavy energy production of the Chinese economy to more renewable forms of energy in other jurisdictions.

North America has been the big beneficiary of this move, with the U.S. share of mining hashrate increasing from 17% in April to 35% in August. With the addition of a 9.5% mining hashrate in Canada, North America now dominates the global mining hashrate with close to 50% of the global supply.

While energy production in the U.S. is diverse across states, the shift has been a significant boon to the sustainability of Bitcoin mining. The U.S. is replete with renewable energy sources; add to the mix the fact that large mining companies are essentially competing in a low-margin industry, where the primary variable cost is energy, and the incentive is to migrate to the cheapest sources of power — which are largely renewable.

For example, New York — one of the states with the largest share of Bitcoin hashrate, according to data from Foundry USA — draws a third of its in-state energy generation from renewable sources. Texas, another significant state for Bitcoin mining hashrate, is rapidly growing its share of renewable energy production, with 20% of its power coming from wind in 2019.

In addition, the Bitcoin mining industry has a unique feature set that actually incentivizes the use of trapped sources of renewable energy that are not yet connected to the national grid. By acting as a means of monetizing the production of renewable energy, mining can thus further accelerate the building out of renewable energy capabilities.

This shift toward renewable energy sources has already begun to demonstrate to critics that Bitcoin and the wider digital asset industry can succeed with an ethos of sustainability. Such a transition will not be an instantaneous one, and it will take time for large mining operations to reestablish themselves in new jurisdictions. However, this transition is firmly underway.

Ultimately, it is up to digital asset service providers to demonstrate the value that crypto provides is worth its consumption of energy. Significant progress has been made this year alone in reducing the carbon footprint of digital assets, and as crypto continues its sustainability journey, corporate and institutional adoption will follow suit.