Bill Joy on Three Inventions That May Change the World

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Bill Joy
Screen capture.

Bill Joy at TED 2006

The tech pioneer turned investor talks meat, batteries, and cement.

It's hard to write a happy story these days. So it was exhilarating to read Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and now an investor, describing three of the green investments he has made that he thinks will change the world. "They’re not the only breakthroughs that will help us transition to a more sustainable economy and society, but innovations in these three fields have the potential to radically transform the way we live."

Batteries from Iconic Materials

Ionic Materials on Vimeo.

Polymer batteries have "a novel solid polymer electrolyte material that conducts ions at room temperature. We are on the verge of revolutionizing battery technology. A truly solid state battery is now possible. Significant improvements in battery safety, performance and cost are achievable with ionic conductivities that exceed those of traditional liquid systems over a wide range of temperatures."

You can fire bullets through them and they don't catch fire. They are not just lithium-ion batteries either, that are in such high demand; they can be cheap old alkaline batteries too. Joy writes:

Electric vehicles won’t be truly emissions-free unless we decarbonize the grid. Rechargeable alkaline batteries can be made so cheaply that we can imagine a grid where we can store a kilowatt-hour of electricity for less than a cent, saving wind and solar energy so it is available when we need it.

That's how you truly kill the duck curve and turn it into a camel curve with a hump instead of a dip.

Concrete that stores CO2


© Solidia

We go on about the carbon footprint of cement, contributing to about 5 percent of the world's CO2 production. Joy describes Solidia cement and concrete products, which cure concrete with CO2 instead of water:

The new Solidia cement saves energy by using a lower kiln temperature for its manufacture and, when used to make concrete, consumes a substantial amount of carbon dioxide rather than water. The result is an up to 70 percent reduction in overall footprint even while substantially reducing costs without subsidies; such higher profits are of great interest to the low-margin cement and concrete industries.

There is not news in the sense that concrete has always cured with CO2; it reacts with calcium to make calcite. It's part of the chemistry, but a very slow process. Solidia claims: "For over 50 years, scientists have been trying to cure concrete with CO2 knowing the resulting product would be stronger and more stable. Solidia Technologies is the first to make this commercially viable." It also cures to 28-day strength in 24 hours, which will be really important in the construction industry.

Joy also says it can be aerated, making "lightweight, strong, insulating and fireproof, aerated concrete [that] can displace the materials usually used for construction like wood, gypsum, brick and cinder blocks."

It's mainly because of the meat

beyond meat

© beyond meat

Finally, he has invested in Beyond Meat, covered in TreeHugger, that makes meat substitutes from plant sources. "Widespread substitution would bring huge positive impacts in land use and for forests and human health." Joy concludes:

We sought “grand challenge” breakthroughs because they can lead to a cascade of positive effects and transformations far beyond their initial applications. The grand challenge approach works — dramatic improvements reducing energy, materials and food impact are possible. If we widely deploy such breakthrough innovations, we will take big steps toward a sustainable future.

Bill Joy is a billionaire, but not a Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos billionaire; he is in the low single digits. But he is putting his money into things that matter; concrete, batteries and meat are not nearly as sexy as rockets, but there might well be a big return on investment for everyone here. A good news story for a change!