Fero Labs Redefines Trust in AI for Industrial Live Predictions

Fero Labs has developed software to help certain types of process manufacturing plants improve quality output economically when given a random mix of feedstock. I wrote about the company last August—A Better Way to Control Process Quality.

They sent a new press release, and I must admit that I understood almost nothing in it:

Fero Labs, the only Profitable Sustainability Platform for industrial optimization, announced the release of their ground-breaking feature ‘ExplainIt for Live Predictions’ which expands a factory’s production knowledge in real-time. This advanced feature for cross-functional teams increases trust in AI predictions by disclosing real-time text explanations about abnormal factors influencing their live production.

There were way too many marketing-type phrases in there. Worst of all was the concept of “trust in AI predictions.” So, I asked the very patient publicist. She suggested that I talk with Berk Birand, Fero Labs Co-founder and CEO. And, I did. He was most helpful.

We caught up from my last article about their ability to use the huge data sets manufacturers have accumulated over the past decade using advanced statistical methods and “white box machine learning (ML)” to help engineers optimize their plants. Make them more profitable and reduce waste (sustainability). Therefore the “Profitable Sustainability” company.

Birand took me through an example that I could understand, since I had a customer in the 90s who did this sort of process.

Imagine a plant with piles of scrap steel in a yard. They have an electric arc furnace that melts all that disparate steel that will be poured out eventually to make their final product. Given that the feedstock has high variability as to the composition of the steel, the typical plant overdesigns the process to allow for variations. This, of course, is wasteful on the surface. But if the final chemical analysis shows that the output will not make the desired tensile strength or other spec, then the waste is even higher.

What if you accumulated the data (feedstock, process, finished steel) over time built a modern AI model? Its predictions could be used to drive profits, reduce waste, save time. But, would anyone trust yet another advanced process control system? We all know that models eventually goes out of whack sometimes and sometimes gets the wrong answer.

Here comes the “trust” part of the trust in AI model. They built an explainable model from the beginning. It can predict characteristics, say tensile strength of the mix because of chromium or carbon levels and so forth. Since we know that every model is wrong sometimes,  they built in confidence levels in the prediction engine. Their AI looks at the material composition and suggests adding chemicals to the mix, but it gives an explanation and a confidence level. The engineer looks at the confidence report (I am confident in this prediction or I’m not confident in this prediction) and can decide whether to go with the AI or to go with gut feel based on years of experience.

He convinced me. Fero Labs has developed an AI engine that gives the engineer a level of trust in the prediction.

More explanation from the press release:

Expanding on Fero Labs’ white-box ML, which provides full transparency of Fero’s powerful machine learning models, the new ExplainIt feature provides a contextual explanation of anomalous factors involved in each live production optimization.

This type of analysis is typically addressed through linear Root Cause Analysis (RCA) tools. Unlike traditional methods, Fero Labs’ solution is non-linear, much like process operations, and delivers results in seconds rather than the hours or days typically needed. Traditional methods generally require the engineer to preselect a small sample of factors to investigate, which can introduce potentially misleading biases. Fero Labs’ software has the power to evaluate all relevant factors which improves insight and prediction accuracy.

First All-natural Beverage Industry Plastic Bottle Cap

Completely biodegradable solution to replace conventional petroleum-based plastic bottle cap.

Material science plus manufacturability are providing some really cool sustainability products. One reason dire projections seldom come true—humans are problem solvers. It just takes longer than today’s news cycle to solve some of the problems. We will get there eventually. We always do.

This news comes from a company I’ve just heard about—Beyond Plastic, along with CJ Biomaterials and Techlong International. 

Note: Previously I’ve written about PlantSwitch, a company producing plastic tableware from agricultural byproducts. Who’s next?

Beyond Plastic has introduced the first-ever completely biodegradable plastic bottle cap to hit the market. The closure is made from polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), a biopolymer created using bacteria fermentation. The new, eco-friendly cap looks, feels, and performs just like traditional petroleum-based plastic caps but brings transformative advantages — it’s recyclable, compostable, and biodegradable even in the most sensitive conditions. The Beyond Plastic bottle cap contains zero microplastics and causes no harm to the environment, unlike traditional plastics. 

To make this vision a reality, Beyond Plastic has strategically partnered with two leading value chain giants to make this sustainable solution a success — CJ Biomaterials and Techlong International. “We are proud to be working with Beyond Plastic in the development of this game-changing bottle cap,” said Max Senechal, Chief Commercial Officer at CJ Biomaterials. “As a global leader in the manufacture of PHA, we are committed to introducing revolutionary, eco-friendly solutions to replace traditional plastics. This collaboration with Beyond Plastic is helping to transform the plastics industry with sensible, sustainable technology, and we’re excited about the progressive impact this will have on a commercial scale.”

PHA holds great promise as a solution to the plastic crisis, and greater adoption will necessitate extensive testing and experimentation. To date, integrating PHA into existing systems has not been a straightforward process. Adapting conventional equipment that is typically used for petroleum-based plastics to effectively accommodate PHA adds a layer of complexity.

“Providing a PHA resin is not enough, you have to be able to provide a full turnkey solution that includes the adapted machinery to work with the material as seamlessly as it would running traditional polymers. We approach this as a packaged and complete solution. We are thrilled to help Beyond Plastic on their mission, and we’re excited to see that with our equipment they’re able to make the right modifications that turn PHA into a real-world, viable solution for the marketplace, ” said Keith Boss, CEO at Techlong International, Inc.

“The success of commercializing PHA depends on many factors, one of which is having great partnerships with leaders that both support and promote your vision. That’s exactly what we’ve found with both CJ Biomaterials and Techlong. With their help, leadership, and knack for innovation, we’re poised to revolutionize the plastics industry, help businesses have a positive impact, and significantly reduce plastic pollution, creating a cleaner planet for generations to come — it’s a win-win-win scenario,” said Lance Collins, CEO of Beyond Plastic.

The Beyond Plastic bottle cap is made from polyhydroxyalkanoate, a biopolymer created using bacteria fermentation. The cap contains zero microplastics and causes no harm to the environment.

About Beyond Plastic 

Beyond Plastic is creating a more sustainable and eco-friendly future using Mother Nature’s plastic. Our goal is to provide sustainable replacement plastic packaging options by pioneering the first 100% bio-based and 100% RCB — Recyclable, Compostable and Biodegradable — scalable solutions on the market. Beyond Plastic was established by Lance Collins, as a continuation project to Lance’s Carbon Negative ZENWTR beverage brand. The first water brand created using Certified 100% Ocean Bound plastic.

About CJ Biomaterials, Inc.

Headquartered in Woburn, MA, USA, CJ Biomaterials develops meaningful solutions that positively affect our planet, human health and well-being by addressing the challenges posed by plastic waste. The company invents and manufactures biopolymers and bio-based chemicals as part of a long-term vision to create a more sustainable future, by enabling true circular solutions that replace many non-recyclable, non-reusable and fossil fuel-based plastics and chemicals. CJ Biomaterials is a global leader in the manufacture of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs)–both polymers and associated basic chemicals. CJ Biomaterials, a business unit of CJ BIO, is part of CJ CheilJedang, a global lifestyle company with a vision to inspire a new life filled with health, happiness, and convenience.

About Techlong International Inc

Techlong International Inc is a worldwide leading supplier of equipment to the beverage industry. Customized to the needs of the customer our equipment offers the most adapted solutions, first-class product and sustainable packaging answers. Our Jeepine Compression Cap Manufacturing machines complement the other machines in our portfolio aimed at providing our customers with a turnkey bottling factory one-stop solution.

IDTechEx Finds CO2-Derived Concrete Can Build a Net-Negative Future

Many companies have found solid reasons for attempting to achieve a net-negative CO2 future. The business value continues to grow. I told my typically conservative boss early on at Automation World that the next issue’s topic was Green (as it was known then). He gave me “that” look. I told him think green as in the color of American dollar bills. What’s good for the environment is also good for business. After all, eliminating waste is a central tenet of Lean.

This news of a report from UK analyst firm IDTechEx written by Analyst Eva Pope recently came my way. It is worth checking out the report for ideas that go far beyond concrete production.

She leads with this thought. In a world with a growing population and a rapidly expanding construction sector to match, how do we prevent building homes from damaging our climate? Concrete is the second most consumed material on Earth, but its key ingredient, cement, is responsible for 7% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The answer could come from thin air – CO2-derived building materials.

The new IDTechEx report “Carbon Dioxide Utilization 2024-2044: Technologies, Market Forecasts, and Players” explores many ways to valorize captured carbon dioxide to create useful products. Among these, CO2-derived building materials showed particular promise due to performance improvements and cost-competitiveness, as well as sustainability benefits. IDTechEx forecasts over 170 million tonnes of captured CO2 will be utilized in building materials by 2044.

Carbon dioxide can be utilized in concrete production in three different ways: injection of CO2 during curing of precast concrete, injection of CO2 during mixing of ready-mixed concrete, and formation of carbonate aggregates/additives.

Unlike some other carbon dioxide utilization pathways, such as the conversion to e-fuels, which requires large amounts of energy and green hydrogen (often prohibitively expensive), the basic mineralization chemistry underpinning the uptake of CO2 during concrete manufacturing is thermodynamically favored and less energy-intensive because stable metal carbonates are formed. These carbonates represent effectively permanent sequestration of CO2, so CO2-derived building materials double up as simultaneous carbon dioxide utilization and carbon dioxide storage. The process is compatible with many different sources of CO2.

Concrete production is typically low-margin, and willingness to pay a green premium is low. Therefore, widespread deployment of CO2-derived concrete will rely on CO2 utilization technology players, creating easy-to-adopt solutions that are minimally disruptive to existing manufacturing processes. In CO2-aided curing, some players have targeted retrofittable curing chambers. Elsewhere, plug-and-play and mobile unit solutions are also being commercialized.

Although the production of CO2-derived concrete is more expensive than conventional concrete, revenue can be generated through waste disposal fees and carbon credit sales, with some players already reporting to achieve price parity. In the future, stronger regulatory support (for example, increased carbon pricing) will accelerate uptake further, with IDTechEx forecasting over 170 million tonnes of captured CO2 will be utilized in building materials by 2044. With carbon capture solutions for cement kilns continuing to develop, CO2 could be sourced from cement production, creating a circular solution.

PlantSwitch Closes $8 Million to Commercialize Bioplastic Technology

Here is one of my favorite companies—using “waste” bioplastic to mold those plastic eating utensils ubiquitous in fast food restaurants and picnics. They have a small operating plant and just closed an $8 million round to increase production. How many more energy and resource saving ideas are lurking out there in the minds of my readers?

PlantSwitch has developed revolutionary bioplastic technology that converts cellulosic agricultural waste streams into a low-cost, compostable plastic resin alternative. As bans on single-use plastic are increasing globally and major corporations are searching for ways to reduce their plastic footprint, PlantSwitch is uniquely positioned to provide a compostable, cost-effective alternative to conventional plastic that is both sustainable and scalable.

“Alternatives to plastic have traditionally failed to deliver on cost, quality, and availability,” shares CEO and Founder Dillon Baxter. “PlantSwitch was founded with the mission to deliver a bioplastic alternative that can replace all traditional single-use plastics. To do that, the technology must be low-cost, high performance, and rapidly scalable; and those 3 tenets have guided every decision our development team has made since inception.”

Proceeds from this raise will be used to launch PlantSwitch’s first commercial manufacturing facility in North Carolina and expand its team. At scale, the 52,000 sq ft facility is expected to produce over 50M lbs of bioplastic resin annually. PlantSwitch’s customers include some of the leading brands and manufacturers in foodservice, CPG, cosmetics, and agricultural products, and the company expects this facility to reach its capacity in 2025. PlantSwitch currently has 12 employees, primarily chemical engineers and polymer scientists that have made significant contributions to the field of sustainable materials.

Aligned with PlantSwitch’s vision, NexPoint Capital is a large institutional investor with a climate tech platform, where they allocate early-stage capital to climate-smart technologies that will require significant infrastructure to scale. NexPoint currently holds over $16 billion in assets under management.

“At NexPoint, we are always looking to support companies that do important work, and offer attractive opportunities for growth,” said Scott Johnson, Managing Director & Portfolio Manager at NexPoint Capital.  “PlantSwitch certainly fits that bill and represents an investment that aligns with our values and expertise in Climate Tech businesses.”

PlantSwitch is now gearing up for its 2024 Series A fundraise, which will be used to expand capacity with additional manufacturing facilities.

“Major corporations have made commitments to lower their plastic consumption and the toxic waste it produces, but the proper infrastructure to deliver a viable alternative hasn’t existed,” says PlantSwitch CEO Dillon Baxter. “This $8 million raise, in partnership with NexPoint, is being invested in building out this infrastructure, which will drive the alternative plastics market forward.” In conclusion, Baxter adds, “We believe the infrastructure for compostable bioplastics is critical to the future of our economy, our health, and our planet. That’s why we are on a mission to build it in a way that is scalable and cost competitive.”

Fast-Charging EV Battery Technology Getting Near

Batteries have become the crucial constraint for many electrification advances. Especially for electric vehicles. I have an EV (Ioniq 6, which I recommend) with the main constraint centering on battery size and charging time. I’ve heard from a  Israeli company called StoreDot who is moving towards commercialization of an “extreme fast charging” battery technology. Following are highlights of its 2023.

  • This year saw it sign landmark agreements with strategic partners Volvo Cars, Polestar, VinFast and Flex|N|Gate
  • 2023 also saw 15 leading global OEMs test its cells for six to nine months verifying outstanding performance and proceeding to B-sample projects with several OEMs
  • StoreDot’s recent joint development project with Polestar yielded an announcement about the world’s first 10-minute EV charging demo for early 2024
  • StoreDot proved it offers the first and only solution to enable EV fast charging with high cycle life during consecutive fast charging, showing no degradation of performance due to fast charging
  • StoreDot expanded globally this year opening an innovation hub in California and appointed renowned automotive industry leader Carl-Peter Forster as its Chairman
  • StoreDot remains firmly on track for the mass production readiness of extreme fast charging ‘100in5’ battery cells in 2024

Doron Myersdorf, StoreDot CEO said:

“In 2023, StoreDot has not only achieved all of its planned milestones, but we have also made significant strides towards commercialization and mass production of our extreme fast charging battery cells. We proudly declare ourselves as the world’s leading company in XFC battery technologies, a title we’ve earned through our dedication to innovation and unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. We are the first and only company to enable extreme fast charging with high cycle life of consecutive fast charging. Our focus for 2024 is scale up and commercialization, and we remain on course to achieve mass production readiness of our ‘100in5’ cells next year. No other company is making as much progress in this sector as we are, and the EV world is about to witness the revolution we’re bringing to drivers’ charging experience.”

Through its ‘100inX’ product roadmap, StoreDot’s battery technology is delivering ‘Range on DemandTM’: 100 miles charged in 5 minutes in 2024, 100 miles charged in 4 minutes in 2026 and 100 miles charged in 3 minutes by 2028. StoreDot’s strategic investors and partners include BP, Daimler, VinFast, Volvo Cars, Polestar, Ola Electric, Samsung, TDK and its manufacturing partner EVE Energy. StoreDot is on target for mass production readiness of 100in5 technology by 2024.

100% Hydrogen-Capable Gas Meter

Technology is finally catching up to the dream of using hydrogen to fuel our vehicles in place of fossil fuel. You will see commercial vehicle fleets switching over in only a few years. Honeywell leads in many of the technologies needed to bring hydrogen into the mainstream.

This news concerns the launch (Honeywell claims world’s first) of its 100% hydrogen-capable diaphragm gas meter. The Honeywell EI5 smart gas meter, which has been successfully piloted in the Netherlands, is part of a broader initiative to align with the region’s goals outlined in the European Green Deal.

The new gas meter is capable of measuring both hydrogen and natural gas, providing adaptability across the European continent. Once installed, these meters eliminate the need for future replacements, even as networks transition to hydrogen, thereby reducing long-term costs and enhancing operational sustainability. The EI5’s design and functionality have been tested and certified by Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB), ensuring their safety, accuracy, and preparedness for the evolving energy landscape.

“Honeywell’s hydrogen-capable meters are key to facilitating a seamless transition to hydrogen energy across European utility networks,” said Kinnera Angadi, Chief Technology Officer of Smart Energy and Thermal Solutions at Honeywell. “We’re enhancing operational efficiency with meters that are ready for the future, helping our customers stay ahead in a market that’s swiftly transitioning toward greener energy solutions.”

In the Netherlands, the gas meters will be delivered to Enexis Group, one of the country’s largest gas distributors, following a pilot project in Wagenborgen.  This pilot project is transforming residential homes from the 1970s, integrating them into a hydrogen network that includes not only the EI5 gas meters but also a hydrogen central boiler for heating and hot water. Looking ahead, the project aims to pioneer the use of green hydrogen through electrolysis, marking a significant step in sustainable energy usage.

The 2020 Hydrogen Council report indicates that hydrogen costs are expected to decrease by 2030, making it competitive with other low-carbon alternatives. This leads large utility distributors like Enexis Group to commit converting their main gas lines to hydrogen within the next three years.

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