In conversations over the last weeks, I've managed to come up with an early, MVP-like goal for this newsletter — to increase the informational complexity in this part of the world. That means adding a few layers, dugouts and streets to the map of the local innovation scene. I like it. What do you think?
The steel question
Sweden's industrial policy, which increasingly looks like a startup one, is once again the opener. Stockholm-based H2 Green Steel secured €6.5 billion for the world’s first large-scale green steel plant in Northern Sweden.
Now, the concept is amazing — let's produce so much hydrogen from the abundance of green energy that we could replace coke in steel/iron production. But in entrenched industries, the fiscal cost is mind-blowing. This short paper estimates that to produce the necessary hydrogen for the complete overhaul of the EU's current steel production, around 381.90 TWh/y would be needed, costing between €28–63B (in 2020 prices!).
That's around 50% more than the entire green energy complex of Germany produced in 2023. Then, you need to upgrade the factories AND compete with China/Russia/Japan. In fact, taking into account the intermittent issue of solar and wind, one might even need to go nuclear.
As an alternative scenario to the requested huge green hydrogen production, would it not be more relevant to envisage producing large amounts of green hydrogen – without the intermittency issue – through a nuclear-based approach.
Well, maybe we need to do some things not because they are easy but because they are hard. In this regard, I adore Sweden — in a month, over €10B was locked in the manufacturing of batteries and hydrogen-powered heavy industry. Still, this is not about global competition: EU produces over 150M tonnes of steel annually, while H2's plant will do 2.5M. Of course, these are already presold — much as Northvolt is banking on $55B in pre-ordered batteries.
- Fascinated by green steel? I suggest The Green Steel Challenge podcast.
But the big question remains. EU could very easily replace functioning (yet maybe not so green industries) with mere patches of very green replacements. Go from being the leading combustion engine car producer to the major EV consumer. From the world's second steel producer to, again, the minor doer of very green irons. Or am I paranoid?
Look at the lithium market, where we dipped just an issue ago.
Albemarle, the world’s largest lithium producer, has laid off more than 300 employees (40% of its workforce) due to the 80% drop in prices, reports The Information. And that despite the access to some of the world's finest and cheapest reserves. Yet China is ready to dig and refine subpar ore, do it at a scale, pump gov money and outbid everyone.
- Plural Platform raised another €400M, just two years after the first close. This Tallinn-London firm is aiming for GDP-level impact, and I dig it. It already has fusion power, AI-legal assistance, carbon removal and clinical trial innovations in the portfolio — maybe the bets will become even more ambitious.
- Tallinn-based 2C Ventures launched a €50M fund to invest in early-stage cleantech companies in Estonia and the New Nordics. More early-stage GreenTechs to be born soon.
- EU Startups starts "top-10 to watch in 2024" lists (read Denmark and Estonia).
- Eric Schmidt's mysterious drone startup registers a company in Estonia. Meanwhile, Milrem signs the massive (world's largest, according to a company) order: 20 tracked robotic combat vehicles (RCVs) and 40 THeMIS unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) will go to the UAE. My two cents: Estonia is serious about defending itself from Russia and has first-rate access to the data from Ukraine. That's a very potent combo.
- sTARTUp day 2024 happened, and pitch winners got funded:
- Up to €200k went to Esgrid, a provider of ESG data infrastructure for sustainable procurement and finance;
- Up to €125k investment to Wayren, which develops a next-generation communication platform for rapidly deploying mission-critical networks;
- €100k syndicate investment to eID Easy, an identity-based electronic signature and digital identity marketplace to combat fraud and increase security.
- Iceland has become the world's leading EV place: 85.5% of cars sold last December were battery-powered.
What I read
I've finished "The Dream Machine" by Mitchell Waldrop. An incredibly dense and fascinating bio of J. C. R. Licklider, who was the invisible conductor behind many pieces of the information revolution. It introduces dozens of names that pioneered programming, computer design, networking, and other fundamental things.
You could really understand how PCs come together, tracking it all from Vannevar Bush, von Neumann and Turing. If you were fed a consumer-first, Silicon Volley story of their emergence, it would smash you hard: Jobs / Gates are diminished to mere traders who are standing on the shoulders of giants. And Licklider? He was the dream machine, funding fundamental research to make human-computer symbiosis possible. That starts as far as interactive computing in principle and goes up to a mouse, graphic interface and object-oriented programming.
Just read his take on the Internet, written in 1979.
The Multinet would permeate society, Lick wrote, thus achieving the old MIT dream of an information utility, as updated for the decentralized network age: “Many people work at home, interacting with coworkers and clients through the Multinet, and many business offices (and some classrooms) are little more than organized interconnections of such home workers and their computers. People shop through the Multinet, using its cable television and electronic funds transfer functions, and a few receive delivery of small items through adjacent pneumatic tube networks. ... Routine shopping and appointment scheduling are generally handled by private-secretary-like programs called OLIVERs which know their masters’ needs. Indeed, the Multinet handles scheduling of almost everything schedulable. For example, it eliminates waiting to be seated at restaurants.”
- The Information put together a book list for 2024. My pick is “Co-Intelligence: Living and Working With AI” by Ethan Mollick, arriving on April 2.
- A provocative post by Kyle Harrison speculates on the Books 2.0 concept, which more or less refers to the personal graph of ideas and mental models. I think it's a terminally investor-like way of looking at things, but hey, reinventing basics is good for GDP. For those who want to try it — just install Obsidian.
Thanks for reading! Reach me at email@example.com for feedback and suggestions, and forward this email to a few friends.