• Meta’s AI breakthrough has nothing to do with social media…
  • Futuristic urban planning and transportation…
  • GameStop’s “bridge” to Web 3.0…

Dear Reader,

What is it about coal?

For millennia, wood and charcoal were the world’s primary sources of heat and energy. It wasn’t until the early 1700s when the transition to coal began to take place.

It’s wide availability, low cost, and energy density (which is three times that of dry wood) powered the beginnings of the iron industry and ultimately the industrial age. For that same reason, coal became the primary fuel for ships and trains as a means for transportation and cargo.

It wasn’t until 1964 that oil overtook coal as the world’s most widely used source of energy. Unsurprisingly, it’s still widely used today – perhaps to a much greater degree than most of us realize.

This is a timely topic because aside from it being mid-term election week in the U.S., it’s also the week of COP27. Every year, the United Nations hold this climate change conference. And it’s proven to be one of the most ineffective and hypocritical events of the year.

I remember last year’s event quite well. The outcome of which was the major announcement to transition completely away from coal, signed by 40 nations.

I used the word “hypocritical” before because the exact nations that one would think should be leading by example – the U.S. included – are doing exactly the opposite.

Each of the points below stand in stark contrast to the goals of COP26:

  • In the last two years, the U.S. has increased its coal usage for electricity production to 25%. This is the result of economic policy that reduced natural gas production for the purpose of electricity production.

  • To power its electricity needs, Germany is now tearing down a wind farm so that it can make space for an open-pit mine to dig up coal. (Smart clean energy plan: Remove wind power and increase coal mining and the burning of coal for electricity…)

    This is the direct result of German energy policy designed to shut down all nuclear fission power plants and ultimately rely on all “renewable” energy. In the end, Germany became almost entirely dependent on Russia’s natural gas… and we all know how well that went.

  • Japan radically ramped up its use of coal after the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns. I was living in Tokyo at the time and lived through the energy crisis.

    Japan shut down all of its nuclear power plants and initially turned to natural gas, but then quickly started building coal power plants. Coal is far less expensive than natural gas, which was causing problems for Japan’s trade surplus. Japan continues to use coal to power 32% of its energy needs.

  • But what’s happening in much of the rest of Europe is arguably worse. In an effort to “virtue signal” and appear to be “sustainable” and “clean” by not using coal, European countries have turned to wood pellets to generate electricity.

    Now, it’s true that wood pellets aren’t coal, but I would argue they’re much worse. Old, protected forests in Eastern Europe and even the U.K. are being decimated in order to harvest the raw materials necessary to create these wood pellets.

    To highlight the insanity even further, fossil fuels power the equipment and manufacturing plants that produce these wood pellets, which are then used to generate electricity across Europe. 

    The E.U. uses wood pellets more than any other region in the world. And the worst part? Wood pellets burn even dirtier than coal! Yet wood is considered “sustainable” and “renewable” because trees will grow back. But if we cut them all down and burn them… where will that leave us?

I wish I was making this up. But I’m not. And this is just a short list of the absurd policies that are taking place in developed countries.

And then there’s China, which operates on a completely different level. It’s the largest user of coal for electricity in the world and emits almost a third of all carbon emissions on the planet. That’s more than the U.S. and the E.U. combined.

What’s more, China is planning to increase its emissions until at least 2030 and double its coal-fired power generation plants this decade.

How can that be good? It’s not. It’s a disaster.

Coal and natural gas are backstops until the world gets its act together and builds the only clean source of energy production capable of generating utility-scale, base-load power 24/7/365: nuclear power. 

I have a strong preference for nuclear fusion – the power of the sun – but until that incredible technology has been commercialized, nuclear fission is the way to go.

Sadly, my expectations for a shift in U.S. energy policies are extremely low. Apparently, at the moment, burning coal is more desirable than clean nuclear power.

But again, the story is different in China:

World Nuclear Fission Power Reactors

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency

There are currently 55 new nuclear fission reactors under construction around the world. And almost all of them are in Asia – specifically in India and China. But China is planning to add an additional 150 new nuclear fission reactors over the course of the next 15 years.

As we can see in the chart above, China’s nuclear energy policy has transformed over the last three decades, making it the second-largest nuclear fission footprint in the world.

And yet the U.S. is at a standstill. The average age of a U.S. nuclear fission reactor is an incredible 40 years – the oldest of which went into service in 1969.

The most recent reactor – Tennessee’s Watts Bar Unit 2 – was commissioned in the summer of 2016. And that wasn’t even a new power plant location; it was the expansion of power generation alongside the Watts Bar Unit 1 reactor.

I want nothing more than limitless, emission-free, clean energy for the entire planet. But one thing is clear…

These silly COP conferences that are used to posture and virtue signal aren’t going to get the world anywhere. The set targets are never met, and the amount of wasted taxpayer dollars/Euro/Yen/Pounds is hard to fathom.

Actions speak louder than words. Technology is the solution. It’s time we put it to work for clean energy.

Meta “copies” DeepMind’s idea, with a great result…

Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has never really been known for innovation. However, the company has always been good at building upon other people’s ideas. And I have to say, it’s just done something unrelated to social media that’s pretty fantastic…

Regular readers know the name DeepMind well. It’s Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) division that’s delivered AI-powered breakthroughs in a remarkable number of industries.

Back in August, DeepMind completed what I refer to as its capstone project. That’s when it published the protein structures of over 200 million proteins. These include human proteins, as well as those of animals, plants, and bacteria.

Well, it didn’t take long for Meta to leverage the work that DeepMind did. Meta put its own AI to work on the task just a few weeks ago… and it developed an even larger database of proteins. Three times larger, in fact.

They call it the Metagenomic Atlas. It’s a catalogue of 617 million proteins and their structures.

As a reminder, proteins are the building blocks of life. That’s why understanding their structures is so valuable. It gives us great insight into how our bodies function. And it helps inform therapeutic developments to cure disease.

So this is an incredible breakthrough from Meta. And like DeepMind, it made its Metagenomic Atlas open-source for anyone to access. Here it is:

The Metagenomic Atlas

Source: Meta

This sphere is a visual compilation of all 617 million proteins in Meta’s database.

Users can either search for a particular protein or click on one in the atlas for more information. Here’s an example:

An In-Depth Look at a Protein

Source: Meta

This is the predicted 3D structure of a particular protein. The image we see here is interactive. We can rotate it to view the structure from different angles. 

Even for those who might not understand the details of protein structures, this is still fun to explore. I recommend checking this out and clicking on a few proteins to experiment with this amazing resource.

So this is a fantastic follow-on development. Meta just multiplied what geneticists and the life sciences industry have to work with in their protein research.

And get this: Meta’s AI was able to produce this database in just two weeks. Had this protein analysis been done the old manual way without artificial intelligence, it would have taken centuries of effort.

This gives us perspective on just how fast technological developments are happening right now. And they’re only going to speed up from here. Every new breakthrough seeds the next.

I’m on record saying that we’re entering a golden age for biotechnology. This is just another great reason why.

We’re on the cusp of curing every genetic disease known to the human race. And remarkable developments like this only speed that process along.

Futuristic urban planning meets urban transportation…

Volocopter is making moves.

Regular readers may remember that Volocopter successfully completed its first test flight over the summer. And the company already has the regulatory certifications it needs to launch commercial services.

For the sake of newer readers, Volocopter is one of the major players in the electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) space. Here’s a look at one of its aircraft in flight:

Volocopter’s eVTOL

Source: Volocopter

As we can see, Volocopter’s eVTOL employs a unique hub-and-spoke design. It chose a larger number of smaller propellers for its core design, which makes it easy to identify.

And the big news is that the company just raised the capital it needs to put these aircraft into production. Volocopter brought in $182 million in its Series E funding round. The company’s post-money valuation hasn’t been disclosed, but it’s almost certainly north of $2 billion now.

This puts Volocopter on track to meet its 2024 launch goal for commercial service. The company plans to provide air taxi services for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. I can’t wait to see which other cities Volocopter deploys air taxi services in first.

I also noticed something interesting while reviewing Volocopter’s Series E round. One of the major backers is a project called NEOM.

NEOM is building a futuristic city in the desert of Saudi Arabia. It’s called “The Line.”

The Line is a glass structure that will house about nine million people. It’s only 200 meters wide. But it’s 175 kilometers long. Here’s a visual:

“The Line” Prototype

Source: NEOM

NEOM envisions this as the next generation of urban planning. It will have a high-speed railway running through The Line. And with its investment in Volocopter, clearly NEOM would like to deploy air taxi services as well.

That said, this kind of thing makes me very suspicious.

Many science fiction books have been written about futuristic cities that cram people together in a controlled environment and isolate them from nature. That’s what this looks like to me.

Regardless, this is an interesting experiment in urban planning. And it makes the connection to Volocopter and the future of urban transportation an interesting experiment as well.

GameStop’s NFTs are a bridge to the world of Web 3.0…

When we last checked in on GameStop, it was testing out its new non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace. As a reminder, this is the result of a partnership with blockchain pioneer Immutable X.

Well, it’s official. As planned, GameStop’s NFT marketplace is now live ahead of the holidays.

Here’s a look:

GameStop’s NFT Offerings

Source: GameStop

Here we can see just a handful of the gaming NFT collections available on the marketplace. In total, GameStop has over 53,000 NFTs across 200 different collections.

And these NFTs correspond with items of value within games themselves. They build real-world economics into the games.

For example, a player in an adventure game may discover a strong weapon in their travels. That weapon in the game corresponds to an NFT that’s now in the player’s wallet.

The player can choose to put the weapon up for sale on GameStop’s marketplace if they want. If it sells, the player will earn Ethereum (ETH). And they can always convert that ETH into U.S. dollars, or another national currency, if they wish.

So this dynamic enables players to earn real money as they play. The idea is that this will make the games “sticky” so that they attract a lot of passionate players.

I believe this is the next generation of gaming.

The last major innovation was the employment of social networks into gaming through cloud-based multi-player games. Adding digital assets as a key incentive – and making those assets something that can be transferred and monetized in the real world – is the next natural transition for the gaming industry.

GameStop partnered with Immutable X on this idea back in February. It had the marketplace up and running in beta tests by the summer. And GameStop launched in full on Halloween.

That’s an enormous amount of progress in just eight months. I find it quite impressive.

And the key here is that GameStop’s marketplace is live in time for the holiday season. That’s the company’s busiest time of year in terms of traditional gaming sales.

I’m very curious to see if GameStop can generate significant NFT revenue this holiday season. That will give us an early lens on adoption. 

This is also a great partnership that will demonstrate whether or not the gaming industry can build a bridge between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 technology.


Jeff Brown
Editor, The Bleeding Edge