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The Sleeper Must Awaken

“A person needs new experiences. It jars something deep inside, allowing them to grow. Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”

-Duke Leto Atreides, Dune
Star Wars: Binary Sunset

I know I’m mixing references here but the key message is that, with incredibly mixed emotions, I must share that I am leaving Third Derivative to pursue my next climatetech [ad]venture.

You may recall my Third Derivative origin story and first progress report. I was brought in to found, launch, and lead a game-changing climatetech startup – the most ambitious (in terms of both speed and scale) accelerator ever attempted. Our founding hypothesis was that our deeply integrated ecosystem approach would bridge key valleys of death in the process of commercializing, deploying, and scaling hard climatetech, attracting the USD $Trillions that need to be invested in the sector.

And . . . we’ve done it. I am incredibly proud of what we’ve built during two [very challenging!] years:

  • a diverse, world class team that performs at the highest level despite the challenges of being forged in the crucible of multiple global crises
  • an unprecedented ecosystem of corporate partners (worth USD $4T+ in market cap), investors (with $7B+ in assets under management), and startups (the largest cohort of climatetech startups in history)
  • $300M+ invested into our 60+ game-changing climatetech startups in the year since we launched our first cohort
  • a financially thriving venture with $Millions ARR (annually recurring revenue) and multiple years of runway
  • the people, systems, processes, and tools in place for scaleup

Although winning at all is crucial in addressing the climate crisis, I also believe that how we win really matters. Through this lens, I am most proud of several key aspects of “the Third Derivative way:”

  • Urgency and Purpose – we launched in the midst of a global pandemic but we didn’t let that deter us. We lived a mantra of “the climate isn’t waiting so neither can we.”
  • Positivity and Hope – we worked to be a shining beacon of optimistic light in a field that can be consumed by darkness and pessimism with each new climate report.
  • Humility and Learning – in a field (venture capital) known for everyone purporting to be the smartest people in the room, we tried to be upfront about all the things we don’t know and we open-sourced / shared our learnings along the way.
  • Gratitude – we began each week sharing all the things for which we were grateful; these meetings mostly turned into lovefests for our teammates and was an incredibly energizing way to kick off each purpose-driven week of ambitious mission fulfillment.
  • JEDI as a feature, not a tradeoff – we put JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) front and center, driving not just our hiring but also our strategy. Much more than just “checking boxes,” this approach was key to our success. This is a presentation I gave last year about our JEDI failures, learnings, and aspirations:

Some good summaries of our model and accomplishments: this recent episode of the Freeing Energy Podcast and this wrap-up / goodbye video log.

All of these not-so-humble-brags belong not to me but to the entire Third Derivative team and it has been one of the great privileges of my career to have been entrusted with its leadership. Of all the mixed emotions I referenced above, the most significant is gratitude to have worked with such wonderful people. The outpouring of love and support I received from my colleagues after announcing this transition has been moving beyond words. I treasure our time together and earnestly hope we will work together again:

Third Derivative’s Leadership Team
Third Derivative’s Diverse, Talented, Motivated, Global Climate Warriors

My gratitude, though, extends far beyond the boundaries of the Third Derivative team. Our “parents,” RMI and New Energy Nexus, were critical to our success through their expertise, networks, and support. As an entrepreneur I always look for an “unfair advantage” in launching a new venture and these awesome NGOs have definitely been that unfair advantage for Third Derivative.

Don’t misunderstand me that Third Derivative has achieved all of our aspirations. There is still a lot to learn and do . . . but it isn’t really a startup anymore. A startup is a temporary organization searching for a scalable, repeatable business model (and impact model, in this case). To paraphrase Yoda, “Searching? Found something, you have!”

Third Derivative has everything it needs to take the next step and my skills as an entrepreneurial builder are less additive at this point. My leadership style is to build an incredible leadership team, trust and empower them, and keep myself out of the critical path. Accordingly, my transition out of the CEO role is going very smoothly.

We have already begun the search for my successor so please send us great candidates! This should be the easiest job in the world, stepping in to lead such a capable, bonded, high-performing team!

Now that Third Derivative is in such a great place, I feel the call to start building the next game-changing climatetech venture. I’m not sure what that will be specifically yet but I have been inundated with opportunities (See previous post about this amazing time for climatetech.) and I haven’t been able to free up any capacity to evaluate them while heads-down building and growing Third Derivative.

As I step back from Third Derivative, I am intending to take some time off to reflect (Stay tuned for blog posts about lessons learned while building Third Derivative.), recharge (Building Third Derivative has been a sprint!), and reconnect with family, friends, and colleagues before bringing my focus to my next venture. This will hopefully be a good time for me to catch up on reading, fitness, and reclaiming some of my e-sports world records too. We’ll see, though; I have a notoriously poor track record when it comes to taking time off! Please help keep me accountable if you notice me diving headlong into a new venture too quickly!

As for Third Derivative, although I will no longer be the CEO, I will always be a founder. I believe deeply in Third Derivative’s mission and especially its team. I will always be cheering for it and even working actively to continue increasing its success, but now in the background – like a Force ghost!

It has been an incredible journey, Third Derivative, and climatetech is a small world so . . . I’ll see you out there!

The Third Derivative Team’s Only Ever In Person Get-Together In 2021

2022 Movie and TV Reviews

2022 has come and gone and awards season is now upon us. I saw a lot of movies and shows last year so below are my thoughts on all of it! WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS BELOW!

The Good

  • Everything Everywhere All At Once: This was amazing and so unrelentingly mind-expanding. The concept was interesting, the acting was great, the meta-commentary was smart, and it was so heart-warming to see Data back in action (literally). The third act was a bit too long, but this was easily one of the best movies of the year and I will still probably need to see it many more times to grok it all.
  • Prey: This was such a fresh take on a franchise that has been so bad for decades. Despite a few instances of poor editing (like the mountain lion fight), this film was non-stop tension from the go. They went all-in on the Comanche setting and it really paid off. Amber Midthunder was a badass protagonist (Stabbing the Predator with its own fang was such a boss move!), but she ultimately won by out-learning her opponent. It was so cool to see the Predator on its own learning journey, working its way up the food chain (Seeing the Predator’s outline in bear blood was epic!) and the sound editing was next level. Showing up covered in green blood at the end was the perfect bookend callback to the beginning. This is easily the second-best Predator film.
  • Ghostbusters: Afterlife: I had very low expecations about this one due to previous sequels but this was so good that we watched it again the next night. It blended creepy and funny like the first movie and kept me guessing up until the end. What really made this film work was McKenna Grace, whose deadpan comedic timing was perfect. She was almost too good; part of the charm of the original was the parity between each of the three original protagonists (Egon – the brains, Ray – the hands, Peter – the mouth), but, in this version, there was McKenna’s character and then everyone else. Still, it was really enjoyable and I hope they build on this strong foundation.
  • Nope: This was a creepy and tense creature feature that kept me guessing most of the way through and then, even when I knew where it was headed, blew me away with the payoff at the end. We were still discussing it days later, especially the relevance of the chimpanzee. I will definitely rewatch this one!
  • Glass Onion: It seems that Rian Johnson can do no wrong. This didn’t quite capture the magic of Knives Out for me, but it was still very entertaining and it kept me guessing to the end. I enjoyed its structure but found its characters to be less compelling than those of its predecessor. I probably won’t rewatch this one but I’m very glad to have seen it!
  • Apollo 10 1/2: This was a fun, understated snapshot at life in Houston in the 1960s with special attention to the Moon race. Much of it resonated with me, even though I wasn’t alive during that time period. I probably won’t rewatch it, but it was enjoyable and I’m glad to have seen it.
  • Ted Lasso: I was late to the Ted Lasso phenomenon, but it was worth the wait. Coaching through kindness and believing in others was refreshing and many of the characters were endearing. Season 1 was 10/10, Season 2 lost its way a bit (I found some of the character choices/motivations a bit unbelievable.) but was still enjoyable, and I can’t wait for Season 3!
  • Only Murders In The Building: This series is delightful so far! Excellent writing and acting, some fun high-concept moments, and a mystery that keeps me wondering whodunit until the end. Season 2 was almost as good as Season 1 – as above, I can’t wait for Season 3!

The Bad

  • Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore: It is no secret (See what I did there?) that I am no fan of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, so I came into this with low expectations, and yet it still underwhelmed. There were so many plot holes, so many “but why?” character decisions, and so many “but who cares?” scenes – and so much expository dialog of characters just talking to each other. I hope this is finally the nail in the coffin for this misguided series.
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi: Oof, speaking of beloved IPs really screwing up prequel attempts. This was well acted and featured great music, but that couldn’t compensate for a nonensical plot, utterly predictable/bad writing (We were calling out what each character would say before they said it.), and even bad special effects (some terrible green screen). There were so many inconsistencies with the original trilogy and then the climax was just a rehash of the fight at the end of Revenge Of The Sith or the second season of Rebels (This fight even borrowed verbatim dialog and choreography from that fight.). This really felt like they had an idea to have a fight between Obi-Wan and Vader and just focused on the spectacle of that without regard to plot and character. If there is a Season 2, I won’t be watching.
  • Rings Of Power: I was so excited for this. It seemed to have the blessing of the Tolkien estate and Amazon seemed to be investing a lot in it – but it was bad. Production values were high – great music and sets – and it was cool that orcs were true menaces, not fodder. However, the show seemed so intent on creating shocking reveals that it forgot to make them earned, interesting, or even sensical.

    It came across more like a Tolkien-themed soap opera than anything serious. I’m so bored of “will they or won’t they” inter-species romance subplots; it’s been done thrice now and each time it becomes less interesting. They were going for Game Of Thrones, but they wound up with GOT Season 8! And, like GOT Season 8, they had too much going on simultaneously so that they had to transport people instantaneously all over the place, which I found to to diminish the scale of Middle Earth.

    They also mischaracterized well established characters from Tolkien’s Legendarium. I don’t believe that source material is sacred in adaptations, but, if you’re going to mess with the writings of one of the most beloved writers of the 20th century, it should be purposeful. Instead, this was just . . . fan fiction. Very disappointing; I won’t be watching Season 2.
  • Foundation: Similar to the above, this was pretty and well acted, but that’s about it. They were trying so hard to make GOT in space that they forgot what made GOT so interesting: it was sociological, not psychological, storytelling. The written Foundation Series is one of the greatest sociological stories of all time, but the show runners tried to shoe horn the material into psychological stories of individualist heroes. It was literally the opposite of the source material and it just doesn’t work. I won’t be watching Season 2.

The Meh

  • Top Gun: Maverick: This was . . . fine. It didn’t really capture the magic of the original film for me. The original movie was a sports film set in jets. This movie was more of a Mission: Impossible movie set in jets, but without any big reveals, which are what make Mission: Impossible movies interesting. The action was great and there was a wonderful scene with Tom and Val, but otherwise the characters were pretty forgettable. The original movie was a cultural phenomenon, but people have already forgotten this film. Disclaimer: I didn’t see this in the theater, which probably would have helped.
  • The Northman: My hopes were high for this film since I have found the previous work of Robert Eggers to be rivetting. I found this instead to be meh, not nearly as interesting as its predecessors. It was a pretty straight forward bloody revenge tale and there isn’t much more to say.
  • His Dark Materials: I’m a huge fan of the source material and I even liked the film adaptation but found this adaptation to be pretty meh. It felt very BBC: the actors were very capable but they just seemed to be expositing to each other on soundstages. To make it more GOT-like, they parralelized some characters that were serialized in the novels, with the result being that those characters didn’t have much to do for much of the series.
  • Wheel Of Time: I’m not a huge fan of the source material but decided to give this adaptation a try. It suffers from some of the same plot/character parallelization issues as the above, but the production values seem a bit higher. I don’t love it, but will give Season 2 a chance.

What do you think? Do you agree/disagree with my reviews? Have I missed any key content from 2022? Let me know!

Rice Outanding Engineering Alum Remarks

As I posted previously, I was incredibly honored to be selected as a Rice Outstanding Engineering Alum. In October, I attended a wonderful dinner and ceremony in Houston to recognize the honorees. The event was a love fest for Rice Engineering and it was incredible to share the stage with so many of my heroes!

Each award recipient had a few minutes to share remarks and below are a rough approximation (what I can remember through the fog of two months) of mine:

Thank you, Rice, for this incredible award!

As a child of the space industry, I have always been inspired by moonshots, so it is not a coincidence that I chose to study engineering at the one school that would also let me play football in the very stadium where Kennedy gave his famous moon speech.

But I have always found that, in order for me to have the courage and conviction to take my own bold, ambitious moonshots, I need people to believe in me. My relationship with Rice has been a story of people believing in me – and several of them are here tonight.

Joe Warren, who invited me into his office to tell me about the CS curriculum and encourage me to apply when I was a high school senior visiting campus – neither of us knowing at the time how important design and engineering would become in my career.

Dan Wallach, who gave me one of my first opportunities to mentor and develop younger talent as a TA for his keystone CS course – neither of us knowing at the time how much mentorship would become a keystone of my leadership style.

Moshe Vardi, who supported me in launching the Rice CS Club – my first startup! – neither of us knowing at the time how starting new organizations would become my professional focus.

Bart Sinclair, who, many years after being my professor, created a new role for me as the School of Engineering’s first Entrepreneur In Residence – neither of us knowing at the time that that would become a platform for me to pay it forward by believing in and supporting the next generation of Rice Engineering innovators and change makers.

Past REA President, Dick Wilson, who mentored me into leadership of the REA and inspired me with Rick Smalley‘s vision of a transition to a sustainable energy future – neither of us knowing at the time that that would rapidly become the North Star to which I would orient the blood, sweat, and tears of my career.

Dozens of Rice-related investors, who have believed in me through both successes and failures.

And, of course, my partner, whom I met at Rice, and who – for some reason – believed in me enough to sign up for a lifetime together.

Like every good Rice story, though, this one keeps on going. I’m proud to share that my next bold, ambitious moonshot comes from Rice too, commercializing an incredible technology out of Matteo Pasquali‘s lab: advanced carbon nanomaterials that blow current materials out of the water. This is industrial revolution-scale innovation; we’re building a trillion dollar company that will have gigatons of positive climate impact – the most ambitious climatetech venture ever before attempted!

And it’s all due to Rice. So thank you, Rice, for believing in me then. Thank you for believing in me now. And, in the immortal words of Journey, don’t stop believin’, because the best is yet to come! Go Rice!

Receiving my Rice Outstanding Engineering Alum award with REA President, Marylauren Ilagan, and Dean of Engineering, Luay Nakhleh
Receiving my Rice Outstanding Engineering Alum award with REA President, Marylauren Ilagan, and Dean of Engineering, Luay Nakhleh

Favorite and Least Favorite Tolkien Movie Scenes

The Broken Sword, a Tolkien-focused YouTube channel I enjoy, recently posed these questions as research for an upcoming video:

What is your favourite scene in The Lord of the Rings? And why?
What is your least favourite scene from The Hobbit Trilogy? And why?

Having just rewatched the entire Lord of the Rings extended edition trilogy (to wash the taste of Rings of Power out of my mouth), here are my thoughts:

Lord of the Rings favorite scenes:

  • the Bridge of Khazad-dûm for the epic threat of the balrog and the epic badassery of Gandalf fending him off
  • Gandalf fighting the balrog all the way to the depths of Moria with gorgeous cinematography showing off the scale and profundity of the battle
  • Gandalf riding out to fend off the Nazgûl and protect the returning Gondorians with magical light, again demonstrating Gandalf’s power of light against the darkness
  • the lighting of the beacons showing off the distances across beautiful mountains – and Theoden’s “and Rohan will answer” response

Hobbit least favorite scenes:

Oof there’s too much bad here and accordingly I haven’t watched it recently. I would say anything with gratuitous, silly, physics-defying action and anything with Tauriel and Kili’s contrived love story. Those both pulled me out of the movie and felt counter to all of Tolkien’s writings, intentions, and tone. They felt more like pandering to what generic audiences might want vs faithful to the characters and story.

What do you think? What are your favorite and least favorite scenes from movie adaptations of Tolkien’s Legendarium?

TJHSST 25-Year Reunion

Last month I traveled back to Northern Virginia (“NoVA”) for the 25-year reunion of my Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology (TJHSST) class of 1997. It was an incredible trip down memory lane and a wonderful chance to reconnect with lifelong friends for the first time since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.

I arrived Thursday, a day early, so that I could take care of a few things before the reunion activities became all-consuming. This was my first time back in NoVA in three years, so I had a lot of catching up to do! After checking into the reunion hotel block in Arlington, I had a quick business meeting and then met some Lake Braddock friends for dinner, which was a wonderful experience.

Friday morning I woke up early to go for a run along the Potomac. I needed to compete in a virtual 10k race and I thought running it at sea level after training at elevation would be fun! This was the longest “race” since my surgery so I took it easy and focused more on consistency / completion than on performance. As I ran along the GW Parkway, I had to keep stopping to take pictures, so, even if I had been in better race shape, I wouldn’t have run a great time. I also discovered and explored Roosevelt Island while I was running – was this always here??

After nearly an hour of running in the cool, gray weather (which felt very appropriate for how I remember DC-area autumn), I showered up and took a Lyft to my old neighborhood in Springfield. There I spent an hour and a half doing a literal walk down memory lane. I walked to my old house, the houses of my family and friends, the trails through the woods that we used to take as shortcuts to visit each other, my old bus stops, and everything in between. It was very nostalgic and I was encouraged to see that there was an entirely new generation of families with young kids growing up there – I hope the neighborhood is as good to them as it was to me!

My friend, Nick, who incidentally helps me edit this blog (You can thank him for improved comma placement and removal of broken links!), picked me up and chauffeured me on a driving nostalgia tour. We drove around South Run, Burke, Lake Braddock (where we both attended intermediate school), Keene Mill (where I attended elementary school), and the Springfield Youth Club sports fields. Fortunately no one called the police on a couple of creepy old dudes driving around school parking lots!

Our driving tour culminated with lunch at Springfield Mall, where I spent just about every weekend of my youth. It has been renovated and redeveloped a bit, but its “bones” are still the same and it was easy to remember which favorite stores used to be where. The food court was in a different place and offered different fare, but the experience of eating there with a friend for the first time in 20ish years was sublime.

Nick dropped me off back in Arlington, where I met up with some of the other TJ football captains. We found a park in which to throw the football around and spent an hour just tossing the pigskin, catching up, and telling stories about our glory days. It was a lot of fun and, crucially, no one got injured!

I returned to the hotel where others were starting to arrive. My dear friends, Danielle and Ashley, came by to say hi, which was euphoric. I missed them so much during the five years since the previous reunion and hadn’t had a chance to see them in person due to limiting travel during COVID. These mini-reunions got me very energized for the rest of the weekend!

The first official reunion event was the TJ home football game. I threw on my jersey from senior year and my letter jacket then hopped into a car with Dan (who used to give me rides to school!) and we made our way to the school. Due to Hurricane Ian, the weather wasn’t great (cold and rainy) so only a few of us alumni showed up. Embarrassingly, though, there were more of us than “regular” fans as the stands were empty! No students or band were there (apparently because the SATs were the following morning) and all the parents of players seemed to be in their cars on their phones. Very sad! At least the cheerleaders were out in full force!

After the game, we joined the rest of the class at Bronson Bierhall. We had a private [covered!] outdoor area and a few of my classmates joined in the nostalgia cheese by sporting their TJ apparel of yore. It was a fun, late night reconnecting with dear friends from more than half our lives ago.

Saturday morning was open so Ashley and I drove to nearby Arlington National Cemetary to pay our respects to departed loved ones. The gray drizzle was the perfect backdrop for a somber, reflective visit.

Many of us gathered at the school in the afternoon for a tour. TJ has been extensively remodeled since we were there, so it was great to see the lush new facilities that support new generations of students. The tech labs – ranging from nanomaterials to DNA biotech to satellite launch – really blew me away! Amazingly, I even bumped into some of my former teachers who are still at it!

Saturday evening was the main event, held at Arlington Rooftop Bar & Grill. We had about 150 (including a few +1s) out of our class of 400 show up and it was just so rad! Everyone was looking great and we picked up exactly where we left off five years ago without missing a beat.

At one point, I was asked to say a few words so I grabbed a mic, hopped up on a table, and made a few toasts, something to the effect of:

What’s up, TJ Class of 1997! We don’t have any formal program tonight but, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll make three quick toasts.

First, we have many classmates who couldn’t make it to this reunion. Whether because of COVID, family or work conflicts, or other reasons, they are still a part of this special class, and we miss them – here’s to them!

Second, we have some classmates who can’t be with us because they’ve moved on from this mortal world. Before our 5th reunion we lost Bonnie, before our 10th we lost Dick, and most recently we lost Richard. They were part of the special experience we all had 25 years ago and they will always be with us – here’s to them!

Finally, indeed it was a special experience we all went through together, as demonstrated by so many of us coming from all corners of the world to be here together tonight. When we graduated 25 years ago, we were all full of dreams. Some of us may have achieved those dreams already. Some of us may not yet have achieved those dreams. And some of us may have found ourselves adapting our dreams to the lives we find ourselves living. And that’s all OK. I hope tonight we can leave all that behind, drop the personas, and just be present in the moment. The last few years have been difficult, so tonight let’s get back to rebuilding these lifelong relationships that will carry us through the next 25 years – and beyond. And so, TJ Class of 1997, here’s . . . to us.

I guess I really leaned into the imposter syndrome that tends to hold people back from our reunions but it seemed to be well received. There was an incredible energy all night and people seemed to enjoy the event thoroughly. We repaired to the hotel after the bar closed down and kept the party going until the wee hours of the morning.

Later in the morning we reconvened in the breakfast room and compared notes about hangovers, lost voices, and great memories. Slowly, one-by-one, people began departing for the airport. Ashley, Jeff (one of my best football buddies), and I grabbed brunch nearby and then I too had to head to the airport.

After three full days of nostalgia and personal connection, being alone at the airport felt like a liminal space, as if I were re-emerging from the land of faerie. That time period – and those people – were so crucial to my development into the person I am today. It was wonderful to spend such a dense period in places and with people who mean so much to me – I can’t wait for the next one!

Rice Outstanding Engineering Alum

Today Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering announced that I would be recognized with its Outstanding Engineering Alum award!

Rice Engineering’s 2022 Awardees

What an incredible honor! I am moved beyond measure to be recognized by an organization I love so much and to join such an incredible group of honorees – not to mention heroes of mine who are previous honorees!

This recognition is particularly meaningful because I spent much of my time studying engineering at Rice feeling like I wasn’t good enough. My classmates seemed so smart and so motivated that it was hard ever to feel very successful. However, my Rice engineering education has been crucial to my development as a climatetech leader and entrepreneur – engineering business solutions to address the greatest challenge of our time. It feels wonderful for that to be appreciated.

To pick up where I left off in my previous post about Kennedy’s inspirational Moon Speech, I’ll conclude with a paraphrasing:

“We choose to study engineering at Rice and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

If you are in Houston Oct. 19, come celebrate with me at the awards dinner!

We Choose To Go To The Moon

Today is the 60th anniversary of President JFK’s famous Moon Speech. 60 years ago he stood in Rice Stadium and inspired a nation to take up the seemingly impossible challenge of putting a person on the Moon by the end of the decade.

This remains my favorite speech of all time and I still get chills – and sometimes tears – when I hear it. JFK blended calls to action (“We choose to go to the moon!”) with basic human motivation (“not because they are easy, but because they are hard”) and even humor (“Why does Rice play Texas?”). As was later said about it, “From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it’s not a miracle, we just decided to go.”

We just decided to go. Well, it was much more than that, but that sentiment really does distill down the agency we had and the infinite possibility of our commitment. The speech truly was virtuosic oration and it has played a large role in my life – including my decision to play football in the very stadium where it was given!

I had the privilege today to return to Rice Stadium to celebrate the speech’s anniversary. Speeches were made by leaders of Rice, NASA, the US federal government, and the Houston local government. 6,000+ students from local schools came to join the festivities too!

I’m not ready to announce my next great climatetech adventure yet, but as a tease, my new startup was also participating in the program, exhibiting and demonstrating how we will create a Moonshot-scale climate impact of 2+ gigatons in this decade – not because it is easy, but because it is hard. Big announcement coming soon – stay tuned!

The Death of Queen Elizabeth II

This week saw the passing of HRH Queen Elizabeth II, the UK’s longest-reigning monarch. While her legacy is complicated, I would like to share one wholly positive memory of her.

“Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania.”

In 1991 I had the great honor of performing for her as Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She was in Washington, DC and decided to attend the Folger Library‘s Children’s Shakespeare Festival – where my 6th grade class happened to be performing!

Let me be clear that this had nothing to do with my skills as a Thespian; I was, as is often the case, simply in the right place at the right time. Still, performing the Bard‘s work for the queen of England is an experience that most professional actors would kill for, so I am incredibly grateful for that unique moment.

It’s amazing too that I can still remember my lines from that play 30+ years later. In honor of HRH Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, though, let me share some lines from a different character in the same play:

“Thus I die. Thus, thus, thus.
Now I am dead,
Now I am fled,
My soul is in the sky.
Tongue, lose thy light.
Moon take thy flight.
Now die, die, die, die.”
-Pyramus (Nick Bottom, the weaver)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my favorite of Shakespeare’s works and I have loved it since before I had this serendipitous honor. Let me conclude with my favorite line from the play, a line that is as true today as it was in the 17th century, when it was written.

“Lord what fools these mortals be!”
-Puck

This mug predates my acting career!

Big Challenges In Climate Tech

Someone recently asked me what were the big challenges in climate tech and what were the areas where I personally hoped to help. Following is a high-level overview that won’t be earth-shattering to anyone already in the field but should be a decent synopsis for outsiders and neophytes. If you’re someone looking for the right on-ramp into climate tech, I hope you will see below that there are lots of possibilities – pick a lane and let’s go!

Challenges

There are many challenges in the way of building the sustainable, prosperous, equitable future and we need to be working on all of them simultaneously. Actually we need to go back in time and start working on all of them decades ago! Physicists haven’t yet solved time travel yet, though, so we’ll have to settle for making very rapid progress in the present. As they say, the best time to start working on these problems is decades ago, the second best time is today, and the worst time is in the future.

Back to the Future

To borrow a bit from fellow Rice alum, John Doerr, in his book Speed & Scale, our efforts need to fall into several categories:

  1. Electrify everything that can be easily electrified: vehicles, of course, but also buildings – especially heating and cooling – and production of some materials. As a bonus, electrification of vehicles and homes dramatically improves the quality of the air that we breathe.
  2. Completely decarbonize electricity so that all of these electrified goods and services are running on green energy. This will take more than just deploying more renewables; it will also take innovations in electricity storage, smart grid optimization, and distributed energy resources. As a bonus, this improves reliability and resilience of our power infrastructure.
  3. Fix food & agriculture, which right now are incredibly inefficient, carbon-intensive global supply chains. We need to transition to more sustainable agricultural practices (eliminate food waste, increase land use efficiency, deploy regenerative techniques, farm vertically in urban areas) while also developing new scalable technologies. I am particularly excited by advances in synthetic biology, such as lab-grown meat.
  4. Protect nature – forests, peat bogs, coastlines, etc. We need to protect and restore these existing carbon sinks and find nonintrusive ways to introduce new ones. This is an extra challenge because climate change tipping points are already working against us – e.g. increased wildfires are depleting our stock of forested trees. Although these are referred to as “natured-based” solutions, technology can be a huge help, for example by using drones to plant seeds and satellite data to monitor and optimize the growth of new forests.
  5. Decarbonize air travel and shipping – these modes of moving people and goods are hard to electrify due to the high density and weight of batteries. Of course battery technology is improving daily and new paradigms for electrified logistics are being developed but, in the meantime, carbon-neutral and carbon-negative fuels such as green hydrogen and ammonia are being explored.
  6. Decarbonize industry – another hard-to-electrify category is heavy industry: the manufacturing of steel, concrete, and many chemicals. The raw materials for these products often have a high carbon footprint and then the manufacturing processes require very high temperatures that are historically hard to achieve with electricity. There are interesting innovations under development that use carbon-negative materials for cement and concrete, green hydrogen for smelting steel, and point source carbon capture to reduce chemical manufacturing emissions.
  7. Scale up carbon removal. Because it will be hard to power some sectors with carbon-free electricity, we will likely find ourselves still contributing a surplus of greenhouse gases (GHGs) for a long time – possibly indefinitely. And even if we achieved zero GHG emissions tomorrow, there is so much accumulated GHG already in our atmosphere that 9 out of 16 predicted climate change tipping points are already active. The clear conclusion is that it won’t be enough for us to slow down or even stop our GHG emissions; we will need to get really good at pulling GHGs out of the atmosphere and possibly the ocean as well if we want to keep anthropogenic global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. These technologies are in their infancy right now so we need a moonshot-caliber approach to improve their efficacy, efficiency, scalability, and costs as quickly as possible.

Note that nowhere did I suggest austerity measures or people needing to forego things that improve their quality of life. My vision of the sustainable, prosperous, equitable future is one of abundance. Technological innovation is not a panacea but, not only can it help ward off climate change, it can improve the lives of many at the same time. Insomuch as these are challenges, they are also incredible opportunities.

I will add one more challenge/opportunity than must not be ignored: equity. It will take investment of more than USD $100T to address everything I have listed above and the returns will be exponential – the greatest wealth creation opportunity in the history of human civilization. If we do it right, many people and communities – including and especially those most affected by climate change – will participate in that upside. If we do it the way it’s traditionally been done, though, it will concentrate wealth even further in the hands of mostly White, mostly male people who are already rich. Sociofinancial innovation is needed to share climate wealth more equitably.

My Role

As for the big challenges I think I can personally help with, much of my career and expertise (including my patents) have been in smart grid and smart building innovation. There is still a lot of work to do there, but I think we have pretty clear pathways to success in those areas now.

In optimizing my time – the one resource of which I can never raise more – for impact and additionality, I think I add the most value now by focusing on the much harder and ambiguous challenges of decarbonizing industry and carbon removal. These are crucial challenges with incredible opportunities for innovation and we are already behind in addressing them.

To paraphrase JFK at Rice Stadium as he exhorted a nation to achieve the similarly hard and ambiguous challenge of putting a person on the Moon:

We choose to decarbonize industry and scale up carbon removal in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.

Challenge accepted – now LFG!

Saturn V launching to the moon

2022 Winter Olympics Wrap-Up

I could get used to the Olympic Games on an every six months cadence! Another Olympics has come and gone so it is once again time to take a look at who “won” the Games by several different metrics. Per my previous posts, I continue to use a weighted scoring system to tally up Olympic medals by country. This year I once again tracked not just the medal counts but also economic and demographic metrics for each country – you can see my full spreadsheet here.

20 more medals (327 in total) were given at these Olympics games than were given four years ago (307). That continues a strong trend (291 in 2014 and 217 in 2010) of more than 50% growth over a little more than a decade – talk about inflation!

Norway has benefited from the added events and repeated this year as the clear victor in weighted medal score, total medals, and gold medals. They weren’t quite as dominant as they were in 2018, when they also won the most silvers and bronzes, but they were still way ahead of second place. The top performers by weighted medal score were:
117 – Norway
95 – Germany
80  – ROC*
77  – USA
60   – Sweden
60 – Austria
Russia is still banned from Olympic competition and for good reason as they have at least one doping controversy already. If they lose a medal due to that instance, their athletes will slip from third to fourth but they really shouldn’t be counted anyway; Allowing Russia to compete as “Russian Olympic Committee” is a farce of a penalty for their systematic cheating.

Because Norway is so small, it crushed the competition even (especially!) when normalized by population. The top performers by weighted medal score per million citizens were:
21.59 – Norway
10.10 – Slovenia
6.67    – Austria
5.94    – Sweden
5.32    – Switzerland

These countries are mostly pretty affluent, though, so how do things change if we normalize instead by GDP? Not much! The top performers by weighted medal score per $B GDP (PPP) were:
0.31 – Norway
0.24 – Slovenia
0.12 – Austria
0.10 – Sweden
0.07 – Finland

We can mix up the leaderboard a little bit if we normalize by GDP per capita. The top performers by weighted medal score per $1,000 GDP per capita were:
3.19 – China
2.70 – ROC*
1.70 – Norway
1.68 – Germany
1.12 – USA
1.10 – Canada

Many congratulations to Norway, a small country that absolutely crushed much larger and richer countries than itself at this year’s Olympics – well done! Keep up the good (and, as far as we know, clean) work and we’ll hope to give you more competition in four years!