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This Week in Startups

Steve Jurvetson and The Metals Company on Ocean mining, EV market growth, and AI's tech impact | E1959

Fri May 31 2024
Electric VehiclesMineral MarketPolymetallic NodulesEnvironmental ImpactNuclear PowerMining ProjectsApple's InnovationConstruction Industry

Description

This episode discusses the global transition to electric vehicles (EVs) and the impact on the mineral market. It explores a startup called The Metals Company that collects polymetallic nodules from the ocean floor for sourcing minerals in an environmentally friendly way. The episode also covers the importance of considering the best way to do something rather than rejecting one option, as well as efforts to measure and minimize the environmental impact of metal extraction. Additionally, it touches on Apple's lack of innovation compared to Steve Jobs' era and potential new business ventures for the company beyond smartphones.

Insights

Efficient Collection of Polymetallic Nodules from the Ocean Floor

The startup called The Metals Company collects polymetallic nodules from the ocean floor to source minerals for EV batteries in an environmentally friendly way.

Importance of Considering Alternatives and Independent Scientific Research

It is essential to consider the best way to do something rather than just rejecting one option, as it may lead to worse alternatives. Independent scientific research plays a crucial role in dispelling misconceptions and finding common ground on environmental issues.

Potential Benefits of Processing Nodules and Challenges

Processing polymetallic nodules can replace the need to extract rainforest nickel, benefiting indigenous people and biodiversity. Establishing a new industry around nodules faces challenges from existing mining companies but offers advantages like faster supply tap turn-on.

Chapters

  1. Transition to Electric Vehicles and Mineral Market Impact
  2. Polymetallic Nodules and Environmental Considerations
  3. Efficient Nodule Collection and Environmental Impact Studies
  4. Opposition to Environmentally Beneficial Practices and Independent Scientific Research
  5. Comparison between Nuclear Power and Alternative Energy Sources
  6. Regulations, Deadlines, and Global Perspectives on Mining Projects
  7. Processing Nodules and Potential Benefits
  8. Steve Jobs' Design Philosophy and Apple's Innovation
  9. Productivity in Construction and Softening Investments
Summary
Transcript

Transition to Electric Vehicles and Mineral Market Impact

00:00 - 07:23

  • The global transition to electric vehicles (EVs) is discussed.
  • The impact of this transition on the mineral market is explored.
  • A startup called The Metals Company is collecting polymetallic nodules from the ocean floor for sourcing minerals for EV batteries in an environmentally friendly way.
  • The founder of Future Ventures is excited about investing in The Metals Company due to its potential in sustainable transportation.
  • Polymetallic nodules containing nickel, cobalt, and manganese are a rich source of essential metals for battery production.

Polymetallic Nodules and Environmental Considerations

06:56 - 14:36

  • The Clarion-Clipperton Zone is the world's largest deposit of nickel, cobalt, and manganese.
  • Extractive industries prefer areas with less biodiversity like the abyssal plane for collecting polymetallic nodules.
  • Regulatory hurdles involving UNCLOS and the International Seabed Authority have delayed commercial exploitation of polymetallic nodules.
  • Polymetallic nodules precipitate metals from seawater over millennia and are crucial for producing essential metals for electric vehicle batteries.
  • Robotic vessels are used to efficiently collect polymetallic nodules to meet the increasing demand for essential metals.

Efficient Nodule Collection and Environmental Impact Studies

14:16 - 21:28

  • A project involving collecting nodules from the ocean floor efficiently and with minimal impact is discussed.
  • The company behind the project prioritizes environmental impact studies and aims to provide a better alternative to traditional metal extraction methods.
  • There is a spectrum of environmentalists' views, ranging from those seeking the most environmentally beneficial solutions to those opposing any disruption.

Opposition to Environmentally Beneficial Practices and Independent Scientific Research

21:05 - 28:07

  • Some individuals oppose certain environmentally beneficial practices without considering the alternatives, driven by donations and fear-mongering.
  • The resistance to using nuclear energy and GMOs has contributed to environmental crises.
  • It is essential to consider the best way to do something rather than just rejecting one option, as it may lead to worse alternatives.
  • Anxiety and fear-mongering can hinder progress and serve as a source of fundraising rather than truth.
  • Independent scientific research plays a crucial role in dispelling misconceptions and finding common ground on environmental issues.
  • Efforts are being made to measure and minimize the environmental impact of metal extraction, highlighting the benefits of deep-sea mining over land-based alternatives.

Comparison between Nuclear Power and Alternative Energy Sources

27:45 - 34:51

  • A comparison between nuclear power and alternative energy sources like coal and oil is discussed.
  • Importance of financial management for startups is highlighted.
  • Societal attitudes towards degrowth and its potential impacts are explored.
  • Consideration of venture investment in deep science and tech projects is discussed.
  • The potential of extracting minerals from the ocean floor is explored.
  • Control over license areas for mineral extraction in international waters is discussed.

Regulations, Deadlines, and Global Perspectives on Mining Projects

34:28 - 41:45

  • In China, individuals tend to buy up all available resources like domain names, leading to squatting situations.
  • Companies can gain an advantage in obtaining exploitation licenses for mining activities by following specific regulations and processes.
  • The company has assembled a diverse and experienced team from various industries to efficiently develop mining projects.
  • Regulatory bodies have deadlines for finalizing laws and regulations, allowing operations to commence if deadlines are not met.
  • Developing countries are eager for mining projects while some Western European countries are more cautious due to past industrialization issues.
  • The US government is showing interest in processing nodules as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Processing Nodules and Potential Benefits

41:16 - 48:07

  • The National Defense Authorization Act called for a study on processing nodules to benefit the USA's mineral independence.
  • Processing polymetallic nodules can replace the need to extract rainforest nickel, benefiting indigenous people and biodiversity.
  • Globalization can allow for partnerships in processing plants, potentially creating job opportunities and sustainable practices.
  • Establishing a new industry around nodules faces challenges from existing mining companies but offers advantages like faster supply tap turn-on.

Steve Jobs' Design Philosophy and Apple's Innovation

47:40 - 54:35

  • Steve Jobs had strong opinions about product design, such as the elimination of function keys on keyboards and attention to visual imperfections.
  • The podcast host expresses disappointment in Apple's recent lack of innovation and compares it unfavorably to Steve Jobs' era.
  • There is a discussion about potential new business ventures for Apple beyond smartphones, focusing on AI, user interfaces, and possibly revolutionizing the construction industry.

Productivity in Construction and Softening Investments

54:11 - 57:14

  • Productivity in building construction is becoming less efficient with much potential for improvement.
  • New methods like 3D printing in construction have both advantages and disadvantages.
  • Overfunded companies can distort industries by affecting pricing and competition.
  • Softening investments can negatively impact companies and entire industries due to excessive capital.
  • Growth in business requires thinking big, being innovative, and listening to customers.
  • The company discussed has vacancies for environmental scientists and relies on partners for expertise.
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