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Lux Take on News: Weekly Round-Up October 18, 2019

Lux Research
October 18, 2019

Each week Lux Analysts curate trends and news, giving their expert analysis and opinions on major developments. Our analysts evaluate news based on potential importance ranking developments from Truly Disruptive to Ignore. Check out our experts' thoughts on the top emerging technology and innovation headlines from this past week below.

Each Friday we will highlight our Lux Take on the news for the week

Provivi raises large $85 million Series C funding round to support pheromone biosynthesis

12744-thumb-squareJoshua Haslun, Ph.D., Senior Analyst | @JHaslun Ico twitter
Lux Take: Truly Disruptive

The round, co-led by Pontifax Agtech and an undisclosed investment fund, was joined by existing investors and newcomer Tybourne Capital Management. Lux's previous coverage of Provivi highlighted its cost-effective microbial pheromone production method. Achieving biosynthetic production of insect pheromones is a significant step forward due to the complex metabolic engineering required. This funding round will undoubtedly enable Provivi to reach commercial scale. The remaining questions include whether the novel approach improves return on investment and what variety of pheromones the process can produce (see Pheronym's challenge in developing nematode pheromones). Provivi will enjoy early entrant advantage; look for licensing opportunities."

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory develops ionic liquid separation process for forward osmosis and brine concentration

9107-thumb-squareAbhirabh Basu, Analyst
Lux Take: Truly Disruptive

LBNL researchers have developed FO-based draw solution from thermally responsive chemicals that oil out of salt-water mixtures at low critical solution temperatures (~50 °C). The ionic liquid pulls water out of feed (or brine) stream, while a secondary step raises the temperature to regenerate the solvent and recover water. This would eliminate the need for phase change, dramatically reducing FO's energy requirements. Designing a novel draw solution is challenging, but research in the space has intensified to reduce desalination's energy requirements and improve brine management. Companies should monitor chemical innovations that move the needle on FO and brine concentration, such as commercialization efforts from startup Aquafortus."

Uber to begin offering e-mopeds in Paris as a result of new partnership

Chad Goldberg  Lux ResearchChad Goldberg, Research Associate
Lux Take: Very Important

"The partnership with European startup Cityscoot will allow users to locate, reserve, and pay for an e-moped directly from the Uber app. The integration of mopeds into Uber's service offerings is a first for the company, yet it is an important milestone in the company's push to become the world's leading shared mobility platform. Mopeds are important pieces of Uber's multimodal puzzle, as they offer distance and speed capabilities that fall somewhere between scooters and cars. Additionally, Paris serves as a strategic launching and testing ground for this new capability, as Uber currently offers scooter, bike, and public transit integration into its app there as well. Expect Uber to continue to expand its service offerings across markets."

Severstal invests $6 million into steel startup Arcanum Alloys

11996-thumb-squareCecelia Gee, Analyst
Lux Take: Very Important

"Severstal is one of the first venture groups active in metallurgy, a traditionally mature industry; Arcanum Alloys is on the cusp of success but needs to secure recurring buyers and scale to thrive. While other startups in the space have reached similar points of near-success only to stall, arguably with more backers, Lux expects this partnership to move forward due to a claimed ease of integrating and scaling the technology alongside a clear market fit, despite the conservatism of the industry. The deal is high-risk but high-reward and creates a new push for innovation within steel. It is Severstal's first direct investment after having made two LP investments since it began in May 2018. Khosla Ventures continues to back Arcanum Alloys."

OpenAI solves Rubik's cube with single robotic hand using reinforcement learning

13558-thumb-square Josh Kern, Analyst | @josh_kern_ Ico twitter
Lux Take: Very Important

"In just one year, the AI research startup went from only getting the robot to manipulate the entire cube in-hand to manipulating the position of the colors and solving the Rubik's Cube 60% of the time. Using simulation, the researchers tasked the robot with solving the cube in progressively harder conditions, such as increasing the size of the cube. The team successfully tested the physical hand with multiple perturbations, including tying fingers together and placing a rubber glove over the hand – all scenarios that the neural network model was never trained on in simulation. While most applications of reinforcement learning have only applied to structured environments like games, this robotic application could be applied in industry."

$8 million Series A round for BrainCheck brings dementia diagnostics into the 21st century

13261-thumb-squareDanielle Bradnan, Research Associate | @DBradnan Ico twitter
Lux Take: Very Important

"The current landscape of companies looking to streamline the cumbersome cognitive health diagnostics process is sparse. The current standard in diagnostics for dementia consists of paper tests, combined with notes and observations from the patient or the patient's loved ones. By digitizing and streamlining the process, BrainCheck is able to provide a scalable solution that also adds a gamified sense of fun to the process. Emerging solutions, such as the use of digital assistants to monitor speech quality for signs of dementia and algorithms to monitor eye tracking, are still in developmental stages, and this product is positioned to bridge the analog world of quizzes and paper assessments and more advanced digital technologies."

Borealis to produce polypropylene by the end of 2019 using renewable propane from Neste

Hewage, GihanGihan Hewage, Analyst
Lux Take: Very Important

"Although it is not Neste's first partnership for renewable polypropylene, this partnership is notable because Borealis will be able to produce polypropylene with 100% renewable content. Borealis has not announced its capacity, describing it as "industrial-scale" with a maximum of 40,000 tpa of propane feedstock. By the end of the year, Neste will have two partners with small industrial capacities of partially renewable polypropylene, just a year and half after announcing polypropylene as a target. While still far from petrochemical volumes of polypropylene, Neste is quickly emerging as a leader in the bio-based drop-in polymer space."

Fishing for more funding: Wild Type catches $12.5 million Series A

13463-thumb-squareLaura Krishfield, Research Associate | @LKrishfield Ico twitter
Lux Take: Average Importance

"The funding round was led by CRV and included participation from Maven Ventures as well as previous investors Spark Capital and Root Ventures, from Wild Type's $3.5 seed round in 2018. Wild Type will use the funding to develop its cell-based fish fillet, expand its "chef collaborator community," and scale up to reduce costs. As this announcement follows Wild Type's product debut in June, the company clearly has significant momentum. However, it is far from commercialization, and how it stacks up to direct competitors' timelines (e.g., BlueNalu) remains unclear. While players work to overcome technical, regulatory, and scaling hurdles, clients should first identify players achieving taste and structure wins before addressing scale-up."

Shell doubles down on digital twins via partnership with Kongsberg Digital

holly havelHolly Havel, Research Associate
Lux Take: Average Importance

"Shell, which has been an early adopter of digital twins since its 2017 initiative with Akselos, continues to grow its confidence in the technology via its new partnership with Kongsberg Digital to build a dynamic virtual representation of the Nyhamna Gas Plant in Norway. The gas plant, which has experienced several unplanned outages in recent years due to grid losses, provides an ideal use case for asset optimization to help manage power consumption, minimize downtime, and improve production. Companies should take note of Shell's partnership with Kongsberg Digital over Akselos here, which reiterates that identifying an appropriate digital twin model and solution provider for different assets are critical factors for success."

Aalto University falls short with its water-repellent textile coating made from palm oil derivatives

14215-thumb-square Tiffany Hua, Research Associate | @Tiff_Hua Ico twitter
Lux Take: Ignore

"Innovative players in the coating industry are pushing for bio-based solutions for durable water-repellent (DWR) coatings in an effort to eliminate hazardous ingredients. However, it has been notoriously difficult for these "natural" solutions to match the performance and durability of incumbents. Aalto University's carnauba wax coating fails in this category, as the coating only lasts several washes. Furthermore, there is a risk of backlash, as consumers are becoming more concerned over the environmental costs of palm oil derivatives."

Solar-hydrogen scheme "Project Silver Frog" likely dead in the water

Benjamin Torda Benjamin Torda, Research Associate
Lux Take: Ignore

A consortium of European renewable energy players submitted a proposal to the European Commission to create a massive 2 GW solar module factory to produce panels for solar-powered hydrogen production. The project doesn't meet the 5 GW figure a recent report said was required to rebuild European PV manufacturing, and it mixes that goal with decarbonizing heavy industry sectors using hydrogen. Even if hydrogen is the best route to address difficult-to-decarbonize industrial sectors, cheap Chinese panels would be a faster way to increase solar power production. The path to a decarbonized industrial sector doesn't run through rebuilding an uncompetitive solar industry, but rather through focusing on solving the many challenges of hydrogen."



- Blog: Lux Take on News: Weekly Round-Up October 11, 2019

- Analyst Insight: Shell enters a two-year digital twin initiative as interest in offshore asset management grows (Members Only)

- Blog: Digital Opportunities Boom as Healthcare Spends Additional $750 Billion

- Company Profile: Provivi (Members Only)

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