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Launch of Blockchain Pacific

Sydney, 23 DEC 2017.

Blockchain Pacific was launched at the Sydney Blockchain Community end of year event in Sydney.

Was great to see a massive (400+) crowd at the Metropolitan Hotel in Sydney for the combined Sydney Blockchain meet ups holiday party.  We were proud to be a co-sponsor. Special thanks to the organisers  from @SydEthereum, BitcoinSYD, Blockchain Professionals Sydney, Australian Healthcare and Blockchain and OzBerry.  They keep the community going all year.


More than Fintech leadership at stake, Australia must create blockchain friendly environment

Good news today that Australia has bipartisan support for cryptocurrency (e.g. bitcoin) as an offical form of currency.  You can read the article here: Bipartisan push for the Reserve Bank to back Australian bitcoin (Eryk Bagshaw, SMH, 8 Aug 2017).  More commentary and history at Bitsonline (Jon Southurst, 7 Aug 2017).

Liberal Senator Jane Hume and Labor Senator Sam Dastyari have formed the Parliamentary Friends of Blockchain which launches today at Parliament House.

The government can do a lot to foster an environment where Australia can lead the world in the adoption of new technologies. They can use incentives and subsidies to level the playing field in the short to medium term.  They can also use regulation to create certainty and protect the vulnerable.

However, even well meaning government activity can create unintended consequences. What principles should we use to guide thought?  Here are my initial suggestions:

  • Self regulation can be faster, cheaper and more flexible. Shout out to the the Australian Digital Currency Commerce Association ( for their efforts.
  • Recognise blockchain is more than fintech. So this will cross multipl industries.
  • Move quickly since progressive countries around the world are ahead of Australia.
  • Regulate specifically to avoid trying to shoehorn blockchain technologies into existing regulations. 
  • Regulate lightly to avoid killing innovation.

Blockchain is more than fintech.  Hu Liang produced a nice quadrant analysis (CoinDesk, 6 Aug 2017) and chart (below).  Clearly the revolution has started in the lower right (Quadrant 1) with bitcoin, other digital currencies and payment solutions; clearly “fintech”.  Applications start to stray further from fintech in Quadrant 4 (i.e. new asset classes, don’t just think of financial capital) and further still in Quadrant 3 (a new technology stack).  

However, the biggest disruption will come in the bottom right (Quadrant 2 - Decentralised Infrastructure) where the blockchain creates new means of social and commercial organisation.

In all these quadrants, blockchain will touch multiple industry segments that matter to Australia, including agriculture, energy, government, health, logistics, media, and resources, as well as finance. 

We need to move quickly, as many nations are already actively supporting blockchain and building a critical mass of talent, expertise and capital. These countries include Estonia, Singapore, Switzerland and China.  This is an area where australia's sophisticated economy, relatively small population (but not too small) and geography can play to our advantage.

By regulating specifically, I mean that we should try to avoid shoehorning blockchain into existing regulations for currency, securities, banking or tax.  Blockchain is based on fundamentally different concepts and relies heavily on network effects (somewhat like money, our predominate social organising tool).  However, a particular digital token may have the characteristics of a currency, security, document, contract and digital app - which regualtion should apply?

Regulating lightly is crucial to avoid crimping innovation. A great example is the internet itself. While individual fortunes were won and lost, the decision to regulate lightly has led to benefits to society.

Moreover, prescriptive regulation always creates loopholes. Perhaps rather than anticipate every possible scam, we could use big data to detect market failures.  World leading researchers at Australia’s Capital Markets Cooperative Research Centre have already commercialised technology that can detect dozens of types of market failure.

Australia is managing the secretariat of the international technical committee for the development of blockchain standards after the ISO approved Standards Australia’s proposal for new international standards on blockchain.  This is a great opportunity, but there are risks.  Like money, blockchain is a tool for social organisation, so we need to consider the social implications of technical standards.  As an engineer, I know we're not always the best people to make implicit policy decisions, and I have seen it happen in the energy industry.  Moreover, premature levels of standardisation could stifle  innovation or enable large corporations (that can afford to send staff to the standards setting process) to entrench incumbency. 

Other nations are moving to create safe sand boxes and unleash innovation, and build critical mass.  Lets not be left behind.  Lets take a few small but calculated risks as a nation.


Welcome back!

It has been a long time between posts, although off to the side you will see I've been tweeting occaisionally. For the last three years I have been helping AGL Energy Limited build their New Energy business.

A 30 min chat turned into 12 month contract turned into a two and a half year adventure. We achieved some amazing firsts in Australian electricity industry and built a foundation for even bigger things. Now its time for a change. Currently enjoying a break and looking for next big thing.

After a short period of radio sillence, I am now back at the disruption coal face, with a big focus on blockchain and IOT. Stay tuned for more.







Why we need a replacement for glass

Last week I took part in the Australian Technology Competition, an excellent program. After the investor “speed dating” session, John O’Brien asked us to nominate a technology in which we would love to invest.

My response: a replacement for glass.

Glass is a wonder material: transparent, structurally strong, water proof and resistant to weathering. People started making glass in Mesopotamia (now Iraq and northern Syria) over 4,000 years ago.  Today the industry is certainly mature and dominated by a small number of large players. China is a major player, shipping heavy, but extremely cheap

So why do we need a replacement?  Glass is now a significant part of the cost of solar panels.

For crystalline silicon panels, the top costs after the silicon cells include glass, EVA, and aluminium frames. The silver paste for cell interconnects is a big target for cost reduction, but after that it becomes increasingly hard to drive down module costs. At the same time it is getting hard to drive efficiencies further without increasing the cost per Watt.

For thin film PV, the active materials are only a few microns thick and cost in the order of cents per Watt. First Solar has shown there is a lot of efficiency upside (18 or 19%) so we can easily see the cost of the modules tending towards the cost of glass.

So why not use polymers to encapsulate the solar panels?  The main purpose of the glass is to keep out water which can corrode metal and degrade semiconductors.  You can make polymer films that have a Water Vapour Transport Ratio (WVTR) similar to glass by depositing laters of metal oxide over a polymer film that looks like Glad Wrap.  But it ends up being just as expensive as glass due to the cost of materials and use of vacuum deposition tools (even assuming massive scale).

Some may argue that the added flexibility of polymer is a benefit over glass, but most solar panels are mounted on an incline to the sun and the structural rigidity of glass is therefore a benefit.  In addition you still have to worry about UV weathering, scratching and soiling.

The folks who make highly efficient solid state lighting (LED and OLED) and flat scree TV would also love to see an encapsulant as good as glass, but much much cheaper.

So, it’s time to disrupt a 4,000 year old industry!


CalCEF backed Boulder Ionics Corporation brings energy storage opportunity to Australia with support of ARENA, SXVP and SB China Venture Capital.

Early in 2012 the CalCEF Angel Fund invested in the initial VC round in Boulder Ionics Corporation.  Today we are proud to announce that we have helped Boulder Ionics bring their game changing energy storage technology to Australia, and bring Australia’s leading ionic liquid research to the world.

This caps off a recent string of good news from the company including a licensing agreement with HydroQuebec and the appointment of ex Novolytes CEO Ed Frindt as an independent board member.

Just today the company announced a partnership with the CSIRO and funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency through the Southern Cross Renewable Energy Fund. The fund is managed by SXVP and backed by ARENA and SB China Venture Capital. This deal gives the company a great base for Australia and China.

So why all the fuss about ionic liquids and what have they got to do with clean energy?

Batteries are already an essential part of our lives. Just count the number of batteries in your home, workplace or pocket.  In the future batteries will become even more essential as part of the clean energy economy.

  • Large format batteries will store energy from intermittent renewables, perhaps even allow you to disconnect from the grid.
  • Should you choose to stay on the grid, batteries will help stabilise power quality and defer costly upgrades to meet peak loads.
  • Finally, cheap large battery packs will allow you to finally park that exhaust spewing, gas-guzzling dinosaur and zip away in a high performance electric sports car (or SUV).

The problem is that batteries are still very expensive, representing perhaps 40% of the the cost of a Nissan Leaf or Tesla.  A decent battery for your home PV system will cost you tens of thousands.

Scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs are busy tweaking the lithium ion battery and developing all kinds new batteries like lithium sulphur, molten sodium and metal air batteries. Woo hoo, we can't wait . . . .  but there is a weak link . . . . electrolytes.

Electrolytes are the juice in batteries and capacitors. Ions move through the electrolyte to transport electricity from one electrode to the other. Just like the electrolytes in your body, they don’t provide you with fuel (unless you count the masses of sugar in your Gatorade), but you need them to go fast and far.

All these amazing technologies use the same old organic (carbonate) electrolytes.  It's like lifting the bonnet (hood) of your new Ferrari and finding a clapped out old Beetle engine inside.

And that is a problem because these organic electrolytes are sensitive to high voltages and extremes of temperature. They can decompose, boil, evaporate or even catch fire.

Now a fire is merely inconvenient in your Tesla, since you probably already hit a tree or large metal object, and the chances are much higher that your gas-guzzler catches fire anyway.  The real problem is that engineers have to tweak and hack around the limitations of the electrolytes. For example they can oversize the battery pack, limit the charge and discharge, or simply use a lower performing, but safer chemistry. All of which adds cost and limits performance.

What we really need is a new kind of electrolyte, one that is non-volatile, non-flammable, and stable to high temperatures and voltages.  Plus it would be great if we could boost the voltage of the battery, because that would give us more performance for the same volume, weight and overall cost.  Oh, and one more thing . . . it needs to be cheap, very very cheap.

Scientists have been playing with ionic liquids for a long time. Ionic liquids check all the above boxes for safety and performance, but to buy them at the required high purity meant paying $1,500-2,000 per kilogram. Even then you could only buy them by the thimble full. Ionic liquids were neither cost effective nor scalable.

That is where Boulder Ionics changes the game. They have developed a number of novel ionic liquid electrolytes for batteries and super capacitors giving around 2X performance in early tests.  Perhaps more importantly, they have developed a method to make the ionic liquids cheap, eventually less than a tenth of the current cost.

So is this another capital intensive cleantech deal?  Will they be asking for a $500 million loan guarantee to build a massive manufacturing plant? No, because Boulder Ionics uses microfluidic reactors. The complete production unit is the size of a telephone box.  Each reactor is inexpensive relative to its annual production.  Scaling production for a new order is simply a matter of building another telephone box and plumbing it into the raw materials feed. This is advanced manufacturing of the kind we should be doing in Australia and the US.

Boulder Ionics are already delivering kilogram quantities to customers around the world. Initially you will see ionic liquids deployed in tiny batteries and capacitors in specialist applications. But in a few years you could be driving them away or charging them in your basement.

There are lots of other exciting things you can do with ionic liquids, like refine metalsdissolve pollutionprocess biofuels or even build a transistor that mimics learning in a human synapse.

Australia is already a world leader in ionic liquids research.  This deal creates an opportunity to cement that position and become a centre of excellence for commercial applications.