Toyota gets serious about lithium supply – expect others to follow suit
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Toyota Tsusho, a supplier to Toyota Motor (which also owns 21.8% of the company), has agreed to invest between $100 million and $120 million for a 25% stake in a lithium (Li) mining project operated in northern Argentina by the Australi...
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In our year-end review “Digital's 2021 Year in Review: Foundational Technologies," we discussed key technological trends seen in 2021. Quantum computing was one such technology we discussed that continues to garner interest, despite being at a very early stage of development. Quantum sensors utilize the same quantum properties used in quantum computing. However, unlike quantum computers and other related quantum technology, quantum sensors embrace issues of high sensitivity to external interference, rather than attempt to eliminate it.
Due to their sensitive nature as sensors, quantum sensors have been used in applications such as atomic clocks, geophysical surveying, oil and gas sensing, and even for brain imaging via magnetoencephalography (MEG). Interest in quantum sensors has seen growing interest, in parallel to quantum computing. Organizations looking into quantum sensors range from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), major companies like Google, and startups such as QLM. This increase is also reflected in investment trends over the last 4 years (2018–2021), as seen in Figures 1 and 2.
North American startups lead in total raised funding as shown in Figure 2. At the head of the list of startups is ColdQuanta, a quantum computing and sensors company. In the case of quantum sensors, the company primarily focuses on providing atomic clocks. ColdQuanta has raised a total of USD 70 million since 2018, with its highest funding year being 2020 with USD 32 million. ColdQuanta leads in funding by far when compared to other U.S.-based startups such as Rydberg Technologies and FieldLine. The startup that holds the second-highest funding is the Australia-based company Q-CTRL with USD 43.3 million in funding. In the case of Europe, Qnami, a Switzerland-based startup, has the third-highest funding at USD 7 million. While the U.S. leads in total funding over the last four years, it should be noted that Australia surpassed the amount of funding seen in the U.S. in two separate years.
It should be noted that as quantum computing is a potentially disruptive early stage technology, there could be startups working in stealth, where funding data for them may not be available. Our analysis covers data that are available through publicly searchable sources. An example is SB Quantum, which had an undisclosed amount from its series A funding in 2019. This shows that there is more funding in the space than known from available data. As knowledge of the technology grows, we will definitely see more startups entering this space, though like SB Quantum, these may choose to be stealth startups and fly under the radar.
Quantum sensors, like quantum computing, is at a very early stage in development, but investments continue to grow, suggesting that organizations are starting to see value in the technology. As shown in the above figures, there has been little to no notable activity in terms of funding prior to 2018 as quantum sensors are a relatively new technology. However, total funding between 2018 to 2021 amounted to USD 123 million, with USD 53.04 million from 2021, making up just under half, or 43% of total funding, across 2018–2021. The funding seen in 2021 was largely due to Q-CTRL and ColdQuanta, raising USD 28.37 million and USD 20 million, respectively. While we only have data across four years, this growth in investment trends is expected to continue as confidence and interest grow with each new success story or research study, highlighting the potential of quantum sensors. An example of such research is a study showing quantum sensors with high accuracy when used for MEG.
Government interest in quantum sensors remains low. At least USD 11 million out of the USD 123 million are from government grants. Two notable grants are a USD 3 million grant from the Australian government to Q-CTRL in 2021, and a USD 2.8 million grant from DARPA, NASA, and the U.S. military to ColdQuanta in 2019. That is not to say other countries are not looking into quantum sensors. However, any talks or investments in the area are usually overshadowed by those of quantum computing. Compared to quantum computing, quantum sensors have less hype and are less established, which likely reflect their low funding.
Quantum sensors are still in the innovation phase in terms of the technology adoption lifecycle. While companies see potential in the technology, investments only started picking up in 2018. In addition, quantum sensors have been overshowed by the hype around quantum computing. However, interest in quantum sensors is growing worldwide, with the U.S. taking the lead in terms of funding for startups with Australia catching up in recent years. We can expect to see more startups appearing, though some may choose to remain in stealth mode, and we should see investments in quantum sensors continnue to rise. Due to the technology’s potential, clients in materials, oil and gas, and industrial spaces will want to take note of this technology and start exploring possible use-cases for their industries.
Porsche AG was joined by other institutional investors contributing to this hefty Series C round to speed output of silicon-composite battery materials. Baked into the investment is a supply agreement with Porsche's subsidiary, Cellforce Group, which will produce batteries using Group14's silicon-carbon composite anode materials starting in 2024. Considering Group14's momentum over the past year, including a joint venture with SK Materials, the substantial funding round should come as no surprise. In March 2021, we predicted Porsche's parent company, Volkswagen, would acquire silicon anode tech, so clients should view Group14's production agreement with Cellforce Group as an indicator of increasing commercial readiness.
Beyond Meat's Q1 2022 metrics show the plant-based meat producer reporting a USD 100.5 million net loss. CEO Ethan Brown seemed to blame the expensive launch of its plant-based jerky line in conjunction with PepsiCo during its earnings call earlier this week. Although this may have been a factor, plant-based meat sales are slowing across the board. Competition from cheaper store-brand products like Target's, Kroger's, and Amazon's makes the very similar composition of Beyond Meat less desirable. To pull ahead, Beyond will need to rely on internal innovation to outpace its cheaper competitors' organoleptic properties and stay ahead of new mycoprotein players entering the space hungry for market share.