TSE Patent Assessments: a summary?

The purpose of this data-file is to aggregate all of our patent assessments in a single reference file, so different companies’ scores can be compared and contrasted.

In each case, we have tabulated the scores we ascribed each company on our five different screening criteria, mectrics on the companies’ size and technical readiness and a short descripton of our conclusion.

Albemarle: lithium, bromine, catalyst improvements?

Albemarle is a specialty chemicals company, headquartered in North Carolina, with 6,000 global employees and over $3bn pa of revenues. It derives 40% of its business from producing lithium, 35% from bromine-based flame retardants, and c25% from catalysts, especially for FCC and cleaner-burning fuels.

Overall, our patent screen de-risks the idea that Albemarle is continuing to improve its product offering, by developing an array of novel fire-proofing bromine compositions, further and better lithium pathways, and longer-lasting catalysts. But the patents are more for incremental improvements than world-changing new technologies.

We think 70% of the patents are for technologies that will advance the energy transition in some way, as discussed in the data-file.

General Fusion: magnetized target fusion breakthrough?

General Fusion is developing a magnetized target fusion reactor, to fuse heavy isotopes of hydrogen (deuterium and tritium). It confines 100MºC plasma within a vortex of liquid lithium/lead, then compresses the plasma via hundreds of high-pressure pistons (effectively a modern-day update of the Linus concept).

It is currently working towards building a 70%-scale demonstration plant by 2025 in Oxfordshire; and ultimately hopes to build a $4bn order book by 2027-30, commercializing a 100-200MWe fusion reactor with 5-6.5c/kWh levelized costs of electricity.

Our patent review allows us to de-risk the idea that General Fusion has made genuine, specific and practical innovations towards development of a magnetized target fusion reactor.

The downside of such a candid patent library is that it also highlights the complexity of its ambitions. There are four focus areas which we would highlight.

 

Tricoya: engineered wood breakthrough?

Tricoya is an engineered wood product like MDF, but it has been “acetylated”, in order to confer >50-year longevity, even when exposed to the elements. This could make it one of the most ‘sustainable’ construction materials and wood uses, on a full life cycle CO2 basis, per our recent research here.

Accsys Technologies is the parent company commercializing acetylated wood products such as Accoya and Tricoya. It was founded in 2005, is headquartered in the UK, and is listed on AIM and Euronext Amsterdam. The company generated €100M revenues in FY 2021 and 50,000 tons of CO2 were sequestered in the products that it sold.

This data-file reviews its technology and patent library on our usual framework. It is one of the “highest scoring” that we have reviewed to date.  Key details on the production process, technology “moat” and challenges are outlined in the work.

CATL: sodium ion battery breakthrough?

Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL) is a Chinese battery manufacturer, HQ’ed in Fusian, founded in 2011, with >30,000 employees. It may produce as many as one-third of all the lithium ion batteries in the world.

Lithium shortages. Our review finds that CATL has been vocally warning of lithium shortages since 2016.

However sodium comprises 2.7% of the Earth’s crust, versus Lithium’s 0.006%. In principle, sodium ion batteries can achieve comparable energy densities than lithium ion batteries, c80-90% round-trip efficiencies, similar temperature ranges and better safety. Hence in 2021, CATL announced it would be bringing a sodium-ion battery to market by 2023.

Technical challenges for sodium ion batteries are nicely illustrated in this data-file, which has simply reviewed a subset of CATL’s sodium ion battery patents.

There are undoubtedly some exciting innovations in this patent library, especially around cathode materials. However, if this was a standalone patent library, we might not be able to de-risk CATL’s 2023 target to produce sodium ion batteries at commercial scale.

First Solar: thin film solar breakthrough?

First Solar is a solar panel manufacturer, listed in the US, founded in 1999, employing 6,400 people. It has capacity to manufacture 8GW of solar panels per year, using CdTe thin film technology.

Things to like about its technology are that they use about 60% less energy and emit about 60% less CO2 than photovoltaic silicon. First Solar also has manufacturing facilities in Ohio, satisfying the growing desire to re-shore the supply chain.

Efficiency is usually lower for CdTe solar, stated “up to 18.6%” for First Solar’s Series 6 cells, whereas we generally assume 20-25% for PV silicon. However, 70% of the patents in our review were focused on improving efficiency, and thus we might speculate whether improvements lie ahead.

There are also drawbacks to the technology and issues highlighted in the patent screen.

 

Stora Enso: next-generation packaging breakthrough?

Stora Enso is a pulp, paper and forestry products business, headquartered in Finland, with €10bn per year of revenues. Its shares are listed in Helsinki and Stockholm, and traded as ADRs in the US.

The company aspires to be a leading provider of renewable products: packaging materials (43% of 2021 revenues), wooden construction materials (17%), paper (16%), biomaterials (15%) and it is also one of the largest private forest owners in the World (8%). It argues “everything made from fossil-based materials today can be made from a tree tomorrow”.

This data-file assesses whether the claim above is realistic. We can de-risk the idea that Stora Enso is developing more sustainable packaging solutions for the energy transition. Particular progress is seen around Microfibrillated Cellulose (MFC) which accounted for c30% of patents in 2020-22.

Svante: CCS breakthrough?

Svante is suggesting its technology can absorb 90% of CO2 in a 60-second cycle, that lasts 450,000 cycles, is not contaminated by water-vapor, and costs 50% less than conventional CCS. This would be a CCS game-changer.

Hence it has attracted an amazing list of investors and partners, since building a 30Tpd pilot plant in 2019, and announcing further pilots with TOTAL/Lafarge and Chevron.

Agonizingly we could not de-risk the technology based on our usual patent review. Reasons are elaborated in the data-file. So we will await further progress before de-risking a CCS game-changer.

Commonwealth Fusion: nuclear fusion breakthrough?

Commonwealth Fusion Systems spun out of MIT in 2018. The company is based in Massachusetts, has 165 employees and made headlines in November-2021 as it raised $1.8bn in Series B funding, which we think is the largest capital raise of any private fusion company to-date.

CFS aims to be the “fastest and lowest cost path to commercial fusion energy” by creating a commercial nuclear fusion reactor, the SPARC tokamak, which could be around 98% smaller than ITER. A single test magnet using 267km of its HTS tape sustained 20 Tesla magnetic fields in 2021.

Our patent review found CFS to have a high-quality patent library, of specific, intelligible, practical and commercially-minded innovations to densify the magnets that would confine plasma in a Tokamak. Specific details, and minor hesitations are in the data-file.

ESS: redox flow battery breakthrough?

ESS was established in 2011, incorporated in Oregon, and has c150 employees. The company went public in October-2021, via SPAC, raising $500M in new funds, valued at $1.1bn, and listing on NYSE.

It aims to be the leader in medium-duration energy storage (4-12 hours), with an iron flow battery costing 2-5c/kWh (assuming >daily cycling) and practically unlimited cycle life without degrading (>20,000 cycles). The first units have shipped and the company is now in the scale-up phase.

This is one of the highest-quality patent libraries that has crossed our screens, with excellent, specific and clear details; which have clearly locked up ESS’s implementation of an iron-based redox flow battery.

Five key challenges are identified in the file, along with helpful technical details of ESS’s innovations, all gleaned from reviewing its patents. In our view, the main bottleneck is round-trip efficiency, which may be dented by the electro-chemistry ESS uses to avoid side-reactions.

Copyright: Thunder Said Energy, 2022.