Sometimes the smallest innovations can have the biggest impacts on global efforts to stop global climate change. Arguably one of the major contributors to the fight against climate change to date has been the switch to humble LED lighting, which has reduced hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions simply by reducing energy consumption in buildings.
And now, companies backed by Robert Downey Jr. and Bill Gates are joining investors like Amazon and iPod inventor Tony Fadell in donating money to a company called Turntide Technologies that thinks it has the next big innovation in global efforts to slow global climate change – a better electric motor.
It’s not as flashy as an arc reactor, but like light bulbs, motors are a ubiquitous and totally unglamorous technology that has worked essentially the same way since the 19th century. And, like the bulb, they need to be upgraded.
“Turntide’s technology and approach to restoring our planet will directly reduce energy use,” said Steve Levin, co-founder (with Downey Jr.) of FootPrint Coalition Ventures.
Building operations are responsible for 40% of the world’s CO2 emissions, Turntide noted in a statement. And, according to the US Department of Energy (DOE), a third of the energy used in commercial buildings is wasted. Smart building technology adds a smart layer to eliminate this waste and inefficiency by automatically controlling lighting, air conditioning, heating, ventilation and other essential systems and Turntide’s electric motors can add additional savings.
That’s why investors have invested over $ 100 million in Turntide in the past six months alone.
The company, led by CEO and Chairman Ryan Morris, markets technology that was originally developed at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Turntide’s core innovation is a software-controlled motor, or switch reluctance motor, which uses precise pulses of energy instead of a constant flow of electricity. “In a conventional motor, you are constantly giving current to the motor, no matter how fast you want it to run, ”Morris said. “We are emitting precise amounts of current just when you need the torque… It’s software-defined hardware.”
The technology spent eleven years in development, in part because the computing power didn’t exist to run the system, according to Morris.
Morris was initially part of an investment company called Meson Capital that acquired the technology in 2013, and it took another four years of development before the engines could actually work in pilots, he said. The company has spent the last three years developing the go-to-market strategy and proving the value of its initial market – the modernization of heating, ventilation and cooling systems in buildings which is the main driver of the 28% contribution. from the built environment to carbon dioxide emissions that lead to climate change.
“Our mission is to replace all engines in the world,” Morris said.
He estimates that the technology is applicable in 95% of places where electric motors are used today, but the focus will initially be on smart buildings, as this is the easiest starting point and can have an impact. immediate among the most important on energy consumption.
“The carbon impact of what we do is pretty huge, ”Morris told me last year. “The average energy reduction [in buildings] was a reduction of 64%. If we can replace all the engines in buildings in the United States, that’s the equivalent of adding more than 300 million tonnes of sequestered carbon per year. “
That’s why Downey Jr.’s Footprint Coalition, and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and real estate and construction venture capital firm Fifth Wall Ventures have joined the Amazon Climate Fund, Tony Fadell’s Future Shape, the BMW iVentures funds and a host of other investors. by supporting the company.
The company has raised around $ 180 million in funding, including today’s disclosure of an $ 80 million investment round, which ended in October.
Buildings are clearly the current focus of Turntide, which announced yesterday the acquisition of a small developer of building management software based in Santa Barbara, California called Riptide IO. But there is also an application in another massive industry: electric vehicles.
“Two years from now, we’ll definitely be in electric vehicles,” Morris said.
“Our technology has huge benefits for the electric vehicle industry. There are no rare earth minerals. Every electric vehicle uses rare earth minerals to improve the performance of their electric motors, ”he continued. “They are expensive, destructive to mines and China controls 95% of the global supply chain for them. We do not use exotic materials, rare earth minerals or magnets. We replace them with very advanced software and calculations. This is the first time that Moore’s Law has been applied to the engine. “