« Stanford team develops thermoresponsive film allowing fast and reversible shutdown of Li-ion batteries to prevent thermal runaway | Main | PwC: electrified vehicle sales on the rise in Europe, continued growth expected » Engineers at Northwestern University have created a new way to print three-dimensional metallic objects using powder-based liquid inks. While current methods rely on vast metal powder beds and expensive lasers or electron beams, Northwestern’s new technique uses liquid inks and common furnaces, resulting in a cheaper, faster, and more uniform process. The Northwestern team also demonstrated that the new method works for an extensive variety of metals, metal mixtures, alloys, and metal oxides and compounds. Conventional methods for 3-D printing metallic structures are both time- and cost-intensive. The process takes a very intense energy source, such as a focused laser or electron beam, that moves across a bed of metal powder, defining an object’s architecture in a single layer by fusing powder particles together. New powder is placed on top on the previous layer, and these steps are repeated to create a 3-D object. Any unfused powder is subsequently removed, which prevents certain architectures, such as those that are hollow and enclosed, from being created. This method is also significantly limited by the types of compatible metals and alloys that can be used. Northwestern Engineering’s new method completely bypassed the powder bed and energy beam approach as well as uncouples the two-step process of printing the structure and fusing its layers. By creating a liquid ink made of metal or mixed metal powders, solvents, and an elastomer binder, Shah was able to rapidly print densely packed powder structures using a simple syringe-extrusion process, in which ink dispenses through a nozzle, at room temperature. Despite starting with a liquid ink, the extruded material instantaneously solidifies and fuses with previously extruded material, enabling very large objects to be quickly created and immediately handled. The powders are then fused by heating the structures in a simple furnace in a process called sintering, in which the powders merge together without melting. The research is described in a paper published last month in the journal Advanced Functional Materials. The team imagines that many disciplines could benefit from customized, quickly printed metals. The new method could be used for printing batteries, solid-oxide fuel cells, medical implants, and mechanical parts for larger structures, such as rockets and airplanes. It could also be used for on-site manufacturing that bypasses the sometimes slow-moving supply chain. The researchers’ unique 3-D inks and process open doors for more sophisticated and uniform architectures that are faster to create and easier to scale up. After the object is printed but before it is densified by heating, the structure, called a “green body,” is flexible due to the elastic polymer binder containing unbonded metallic powders. Heating the completed green bodies in a furnace where all parts of the structure densify simultaneously also leads to more uniform structures. In traditional methods that scan powder beds with a laser, the heat is localized. As powder is added on layer by layer, more heat is applied, which can create localized heating and cooling stresses, leading to undesirable microstructures and, ultimately, suboptimal properties. Using a furnace, however, ensures uniform temperature, resulting in structures that sinter uniformly without warping or cracking. Instead of one laser slowly working its way across a large powder bed, the method can use many extrusion nozzles at one time. Their method potentially can quickly 3-D print full sheets that are meters wide and can be folded into large structures. The only limitation is the size of the furnace. Another innovative component of the process is that it can be used to print metal oxides, such as iron oxide (rust), which can then be reduced into metal. Rust powder is lighter, more stable, cheaper, and safer to handle than pure iron powders. The team discovered that they could first 3-D print structures with rust and other metallic oxides and then use hydrogen to turn the green bodies into the respective metal before sintering in the furnace.
Venture capitalists invested $58.8 billion into U.S.-based startups in 2015, according to Thomson Reuters, PwC and the National Venture Capital Association -- the second-highest figure recorded. But VCs continue to turn a blind eye to the cleantech sector -- with less than $700 million invested in the last quarter of 2015, according to Clean Energy Pipeline, and just a fraction of that total going to early-stage deals. Nevertheless, we've managed to find eight earlyish-stage cleantech deals to start off 2016. Powerhive, a microgrid developer and financier for emerging markets, closed a $20 million series A financing round led by Prelude Ventures along with Caterpillar Ventures, Total Energy Ventures, Tao Capital Partners and Pi Investments. The funding will be used to grow Powerhive’s footprint into new markets in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, as well as to support continued expansion in Kenya. Recently, Powerhive received a $12 million equity investment in its flagship project, which is seeking to develop microgrids that will serve 90,000 people in western Kenya. The Berkeley, Calif.-based company has offices in Nairobi and Manila, and received early backing from First Solar. Off-grid renewable energy companies raised close to $200 million in 2015 versus the roughly $64 million invested in off-grid solar solutions in 2014. MPrest just raised $20 million in equity funding led by GE Ventures and OurCrowd in its series A. The startup provides software to “connect the dots” across "multiple complex systems of any scale for real-time situation awareness [and] predictive analytics" and is bringing its technology to the internet-of-things/utility market. The firm is already working with New York Power Authority and Israel Electric Corp. The company has also contributed to Israel's "Iron Dome" defense system. London-based Telensa, a 10-year-old developer of networked LED street lighting equipment for "smart city" applications, raised $18 million in equity and debt from Environmental Technologies Fund and Silicon Valley Bank. Telensa already has hundreds of thousands of endpoints networked using its low-power wide-area wireless technology. The company is a founding member of the Wireless Internet of Things Forum. Mercatus, a cloud-based provider of "Energy Investment Management" (EIM) solutions to energy producers, developers and financiers, raised $11.7 million in series B funding led by Traverse Venture Partners and TPG’s Alternative and Renewable Technology fund, along with existing series A investors Vision Ridge Partners, Trepp and Augment Ventures. Josh Green of Traverse said, "In the current era of rapid energy industry transformation, we see Mercatus’ EIM solution as a critical enabling technology that accelerates the mass deployment of distributed energy." Mercatus is seeking to speed up "the investment of massive amounts of capital required by the energy industry,” according to Haresh Patel, the company's CEO. Pellion Technologies, a Cambridge, Mass.-based developer of a magnesium battery technology with a potentially high energy density, raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Motorola Solutions. Motorola joins previous investor Khosla Ventures, along with the DOE. David Eaglesham, former CTO at First Solar, is the CEO of Pellion. Small modular reactor startup Terrestrial Energy closed $8 million in funding from undisclosed sources for its Integral Molten Salt Reactor design, according to SEC documents. Terrestrial's chairman Hugh MacDiarmid is on the board of two companies financially involved with the $106 billion Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, suggesting their undisclosed involvement here. The small nuclear reactors are intended for industrial process heat markets, with market deployment targeted "in the 2020s." According to SEC documents, Geli, the distributed energy storage software developer, has raised $3 million of a $9 million funding round from undisclosed investors. Strategic funders will fill out the rest of the round, according to sources. Voltaiq closed on $1.6 million of a $3 million funding round, according to SEC documents. The startup is developing software to track and analyze the performance of batteries with analytics and big data. Michael Berolzheimer, an investor at Bee Partners, is listed on the SEC document. CEO Tal Sholklapper co-founded Point Source Power, a fuel-cell technology firm funded by Vinod Khosla.
News Article | April 20, 2016
What drives the youngest members of the corporate workforce? It's not such a mystery when it comes to sustainability after all, as PwC research shows.
News Article | March 31, 2016
Two-thirds of Americans believe that, in 50 years, robots and computers will do much of the work humans now do. The World Economic Forum’s 2016 report, The Future of Jobs, estimates that 5 million jobs will be lost to automation by 2020 and that the number will keep growing. Jobs that once seemed like "safe bets"—office workers and administrative personnel, manufacturing, and even law—will be hit hardest, the report estimates. "There are some overarching shifts poised to change the nature of work itself over the next decade," says Devin Fidler, research director at Institute for the Future, a nonprofit research center focused on long-term forecasting. That includes a demand for new skills and strategies that could help people to thrive in future work environments, So what do you need to work on to be marketable in 2025? Here are six skill areas that the experts recommend, as well some of the strongest job-growth categories, as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and other sources—that relate to them. It’s no surprise that tech skills will be in demand. However, Fidler says that "computational thinking"—the ability to manage the massive amounts of data we process individually each day, spot patterns, and make sense out of all of it—will be valued. "As the total amount of information coming at you increases and increases, the ability to manage that in a way that you're not overwhelmed, is pretty key," he says. Related jobs: Software developer jobs will grow 18.8% between now and 2024, according to the BLS, while computer systems analyst jobs will increase 20.9% by 2024. Market research analyst and marketing specialist jobs, which also require those analytical skills, will increase 18.6%. As more people live longer, every aspect of the health care sector is poised for growth. And while telemedicine, robotic surgical equipment, and other forms of automation are changing how some health care is delivered, demand for caregivers is going to increase as we commit to providing health care for more of the population—a population that is growing and living longer, says John Challenger, CEO of outplacement and career coaching firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, Inc. Related jobs: Challenger’s firm analyzed the hottest job sectors from 2018 through 2025 and half of the sectors were caregiving and health-related. Hot fields included medical technicians, physical therapists, and workplace ergonomics experts. Veterinarians will also be in demand, the report found. BLS also found that support jobs related to caregiving, such as medical secretaries and medical assistants will also be in high demand. Home health aide jobs are expected to grow a whopping 38.1%. It’s going to take a long time for robots to be good at soft skills, like social and emotional intelligence and cross-cultural competency, "which are hugely valuable in a world where you or I could go and be working with somebody in the Philippines within an hour. Virtual collaboration itself is really useful in that environment as well," Fidler says. In addition, new media literacy—understanding various media platforms and how to best communicate effectively in them—are valuable skills that robots won’t be likely to match any time soon. Related jobs: Sales and related jobs are one of the top five growth areas worldwide, according to the WEF report. In the U.S., BLS projects that jobs for retail and other sales representatives, marketing specialists, and customer service representatives are each projected to grow between 6.4% and 18.6%, depending on the category by 2024. With the world moving as fast as it is, we need to become a society of people who are always learning new things, says Julie Friedman Steele, board chair of the World Future Society, a membership organization for futurists. But we’re also going to need to shift how we learn, she says. As so many things advance quickly, it will be difficult for teachers and trainers to keep up with the latest thinking. Instead, we’ll use technology to find the best sources of information to keep our knowledge and skills current. Antonia Cusumano, people & organization leader at consulting giant PwC says that we’ll also need to turn to more dynamic resources. "You're going to have 10 minutes on your bus ride home when you're commuting. You're going to pull up an app from one of the many businesses out there that are doing these mini-clips of video learning. I'd like to learn 10 minutes on C++ so that I can brush up on my coding. You're going to see learning shift to these little mini bite-sized chunks of information that you can get on the go and when you need it and at any given time," she says. Related jobs: Teachers and trainers made Challenger’s firm’s list of eight hot fields through 2025. Education and training is number six on the WEF report’s list of growth sectors. With opportunities in innovation and entrepreneurship and the rise of the "gig economy," Cusumano says understanding how businesses work is essential. Even if you’re working for a company, you have to have a better understanding than ever of how the business operates. "It's how the millennial generation has been raised. They are more in tune to collaborate. They know how to do project-based work and move quickly, which I think is inherent in today's economy," she says. Related jobs: BLS estimates that management analysts, accountants and auditors will experience double-digit growth through 2024. One Intuit report projects that more than 40% of U.S. workers will be independent contractors by 2020.
Venture capitalists will tell you that a lackluster IPO market and struggling tech stocks mean that they are being more cautious, but the data suggests otherwise. Apart from last year, which saw $13.7 billion invested in the first quarter, National Venture Capital Association data shows that the $12.1 billion invested at the beginning of 2016 was the best start to a year since the dot-com boom in 2001. Investment dollars were flat compared to the $12 billion invested in the fourth quarter of last year. It was also the ninth consecutive quarter that saw deal volume reach $10 billion. “It was a choppy market but deals were getting done,” said Neeraj Agrawal, general partner at Battery Ventures. “I don’t think there is a bubble.” Tom Ciccolella, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said that “there was a lot of gloom and doom prior to the numbers coming out.” It turns out that it was a “robust quarter.” PwC worked on the Moneytree report alongside the NVCA and Thomson Reuters. And this investment trend is likely to continue, with venture firms garnering the most money in a decade. $12 billion was committed to new venture funds in the first quarter, and it will need to eventually get deployed. The largest deal of the quarter went to Lyft, which completed a $1 billion financing round. Florida-based augmented reality startup Magic Leap, raised a whopping $794 million. Sunnova Energy, Uber and Flatiron Health rounded out the top five. A winner takes all market, the top ten deals accounted for 25% of the dollars invested in the first quarter. 969 total companies raised funding. Software was the leader in investment dollars, attracting $5.1 billion in 376 deals. Biotechnology, which has seen an IPO boom, raised $1.8 billion in capital. Media and entertainment was the third most popular startup category with $930 million deployed across 109 startups. Yet the money was flowing to more experienced startups, with early stage investment declining 18% in volume compared to the previous quarter. Seed stage deals also fell 10%, but expansion stage investment saw a 25% rise. Late stage deals were up 10%. Some investors are surprised by the data and think that many investors need a reality check. “There’s still a tremendous oversupply of venture dollars in Silicon Valley,” warned Asheem Chandna, partner at Greylock. “While VCs are more cautious overall, the dollars are still flowing way too fast. The reality is the very best companies don’t need a lot of venture capital money.”