Get in the KNOW
on LA Startups & TechX
Photo by Dogora Sun/ Shutterstock
Wheels Pulls Out of Culver City and West Hollywood
06:00 AM | November 23, 2022
Last month, Helbiz announced that it had officially acquired Wheels, the West Hollywood-based startup founded by Joshua and Jonathan Viner, co-founders of Wag. But in Los Angeles, there were already signs that things were in flux.
In early August, Culver City announced that Wheels would no longer be operating within its boundaries. Then in September, Wheels also ceased operations in West Hollywood, pending adoption of sidewalk detection technology.
In the past, Wheels has prided itself on being the only shared e-scooter or e-bike operator to serve riders across the greater L.A. metro area — including the city of L.A., Santa Monica, Culver City and West Hollywood. There are 88 municipalities in L.A. County and each one controls its own shared micromobility program with different rules, regulations and fees. Beverly Hills does not allow scooters to operate or park within its boundaries, while the city of L.A. has six different operators competing for space in lucrative zones like Downtown and Venice (Lyft is out as of mid-November).
In a September city council meeting, West Hollywood announced a new sidewalk detection requirement for its three operators, Bird, Lime and Wheels. While all three have geofencing technology, sidewalk detection is more precise and meant to deter riders from riding on the sidewalk.
“[Wheels] didn't want to roll it out if it was going to be off by a couple of feet,” said Coby Wagman, parking operations supervisor for West Hollywood. “That could be the difference between someone on the street, a bike lane or a sidewalk.”
Once Wheels can demonstrate to the city that they have the technology, the company will be allowed to rejoin the Dockless Mobility Pilot Program.
But in Culver City, things are less certain.
According to Ryan Hund, a transportation planner for the Culver City Transportation Department, the city is currently evaluating their shared micromobility program to determine whether they will accept new applications.
“In order to operate in Culver City,” he said via email, “Wheels would have to go through the same RFQ [request for qualification] process as any other potential operators.”
Currently, Bird is the only operator in Culver City’s shared micromobility program.
In an emailed statement to dot.LA, Wheels CEO Marco McCottry said that Wheels is planning to return to both cities eventually.
"We’ve had to make tough decisions in our business and operating in Culver City doesn’t make sense for us at this time. We hope to work with [the] city to relaunch in the future. We look forward to returning to West Hollywood as they recently added a sidewalk detection requirement for operators which we will be demoing soon."
These strategic moves come at a rocky moment for shared micromobility. Bird just announced that it overstated revenue for the last two years, causing its stock to plummet. The company says it might not have enough cash to continue operations. Earlier this month, Lyft laid off 13% of its employees and last week it pulled all e-bikes and e-scooters from Santa Monica and L.A.
In an email, Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, said that Santa Monica’s future shared micromobility program is the one to watch as companies start to drop out of the market.
“Investors subsidized scooter operations for years,” he said. “Though some of this investment went into technology, most went into unprofitable competition because the company wanted to [be] the last standing.”
Santa Monica will begin recruiting two operators for a three-to-five year term in January 2023.
From Your Site Articles
- Los Angeles Micromobility News - dot.LA ›
- Lime Is Bringing Its New, More Eco-Friendly Scooters to LA ›
- Meet the Bird ‘Fleet Managers’ Who Hunt and Release E-Scooters in Downtown Los Angeles ›
- These E-Scooter Companies Are Changing Their Low-Income Programs in LA ›
Related Articles Around the Web
Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.
05:00 AM | November 01, 2022
Located roughly a hundred miles east of San Diego, the Salton Sea is California’s largest landlocked body of water, for now.
Measuring 5 miles across and 35 miles long in its current form, the lake was created by diverting water from the Colorado River into the region for agricultural purposes. Once a vacation destination renowned for its wildlife and wetlands, a series of environmental mishaps and mismanagement have left the lake toxically salty, shrinking and often malodorous. Conditions have gotten so bad that Palm Springs Life Magazine called the region’s transformation “the biggest environmental disaster in California history” in March of 2020.
But against this unlikely backdrop, new life—or at least new industry—is scrambling to set up shop in the region. The Salton Sea, it turns out, is rich with lithium, an element that has taken center stage in the world’s transition to clean energy and its ever-growing demand for batteries. From smartphones to electric vehicles, there’s a pretty good chance that the last battery you used had lithium ions inside. Prices for the metal reached an all time high in September, and futures are up more than 400% since the start of 2021. With Biden’s new economic policy outlined in the Inflation Reduction Act, there are strong financial incentives to move battery production back to North America.
If that’s going to happen the Salton Sea could very well become the lithium capital of North America, or to paraphrase Governor Gavin Newsom, the region could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” and the players are already starting to assemble.
Currently, there are three companies attempting to set up plants in the Salton Sea for direct lithium extraction: EnergySource Minerals, Controlled Thermal Resources and BHE Renewables, a branch of Berkshire Hathaway. All three companies have similar business strategies from a high level, all of which involve geothermal power plants. These plants, which are common in many parts of the world, draw hot, salty water from deep in the ground to create steam which drives a turbine to produce electricity. What makes the Salton Sea so special is that its geothermal brines just happen to contain lithium.
In a 2017 study, researchers from the U.S. DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy analyzed more than 2,000 samples of geothermal fluid from U.S. sources and found that only 1% had significant lithium concentration. This rare confluence of geothermal activity and lithium presence provides an opportunity for companies to generate electricity and mine lithium simultaneously.
Beyond their marriage of geothermal energy and lithium extraction, the three companies begin to diverge.
According to former dot.LA engagement editor Luis Gomez — whose newsletter Lithium Valle, is essential reading on this topic — EnergySource seems to be out in front early.
“They claim to have the technology that’s patented, they claim to have done the research, they claim to have the funding, and they claim they're ready to go and start production,” says Gomez. “They are kind of considered the canary in the coal mine.”
According to a report from the United States Department of Energy, EnergySource plans to eventually scale production up to over 20,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year using its proprietary Integrated Lithium Adsorption Desorption technology.
Construction on the plant was slated to start earlier this year, but has been delayed. EnergySource has said publicly that lithium production might begin in the second quarter of 2024, but it’s unclear whether this date will also be pushed back. The company has a long history of operating in the region, having run the John L. Featherstone geothermal plant since 2012. The new venture into lithium would leverage that same plant, but without more details about how their proprietary technology works, there’s not much to do but wait and see.
One potential problem facing all three lithium extraction companies is that the Salton Sea geothermal brines are not the same as the brines in evaporation ponds similar to those in Argentina, Chile and Bolivia, where more than half of the world’s lithium is produced. Specifically, the deep geothermal brines in the Salton Sea contain more silica and transition elements, which may complicate the chemistry of purifying the lithium. Still, many researchers are extremely bullish on the prospect of tapping into these reserves. Alex Grant, The Principal at Jade Cove, a research organization focusing on direct lithium extraction technologies, says that much of the skepticism surrounding the technology can be attributed to competing financial interests that are trying to squash the nascent tech’s potential in favor of an established method.
Lithium Mines in the Atacama Salt Flats, Chile from an altitude of 15km via Google Earth. The facility is about 10km wide.
For its part, BHE Renewables, operating as CalEnergy, runs a fleet of 10 geothermal plants in the Imperial Valley. The company had previously announced its intent to set up a direct lithium extraction demonstration plant sometime before the end of 2022 to assess the viability of lithium extraction. If that pilot program goes well, the company could build a commercial-scale facility as early as 2026 with a projected annual capacity of 90,000 metric tons of lithium.
Obviously, having the backing of Berkshire Hathaway comes with advantages and capital. Add into the equation another $15 million in DoE grant money obtained last winter, and BHE appears to be well positioned as a major player in the long term.
Finally, there’s Controlled Thermal Resources. As the only company not already operating a geothermal business in the region, CTR is something of an outsider and dark horse. By 2024, the company hopes to build both a geothermal energy plant and a direct lithium extraction plant to operate in parallel, projecting a capacity to extract 300,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent annually by 2030. As dot.LA previously reported, Controlled Thermal Resources has partnered with Statevolt, a company that intends to build a $4 billion gigafactory nearby that will run on power from CTR’s geothermal plant and make batteries from the lithium it extracts. It’s a beautiful closed-loop business model. But again, all of this relies on the direct lithium extraction technology, and details are scant.
According to Gomez, despite the typically cut-throat nature of the energy industry, the relationship between the three upstarts in the Salton Sea is often surprisingly cooperative at the moment.
“They want the others to succeed because it kind of gives them the confidence that their technology is also eventually going to succeed,” he says. “It gives confidence to investors.”
Which is all to say, there may well be space for all three companies if the technology is as solid as they claim. If that’s the case, the Salton Sea and its surrounding region may have yet another miraculous transformation up its sleeve.
From Your Site Articles
- EV Battery Maker Statevolt Is Embracing a 'Buy Local' Ethos - dot.LA ›
- EV Battery Maker's Plans Gigafactory in Imperial Valley - dot.LA ›
Related Articles Around the Web
Read moreShow less
lithiumenergysourcecontrolled thermal resourcesbhe renewablessalton seaelectric vehiclessouthern califironia
David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.
08:00 AM | October 21, 2022
Anasofia Gomez spends her early mornings filming herself journaling, picking up coffee and getting ready for the day. By 9 a.m., she’s ready to start her full-time job as a social media marketer.
The Los Angeles-based creator is just one of the 53% of non-professional creators in the United States who maintain a full-time job while also creating monetized content. Colloquially speaking, Gomez is considered a micro-influencer—creators with followers that range from 1,000 to 100,000.
Gomez treats her content creation as a second job: she starts her day at 6 a.m. just to film her content, which often features her outfits and local recommendations, and ends her days at 11 p.m. by posting her daily video. This level of dedication has earned Gomez almost 38,000 TikTok followers and partnerships with brands like perfume company Dossier and FitOn—a fitness app.
Jon Davids, the CEO of influencer marketing company Influicity, says brands often partner with micro-influencers to create a larger volume of content. Similar to their partnerships with normal influencers, companies will send micro-influencers free products in exchange for a promotional video. Depending on the influencer, some companies will pay over $200 per video.
The difference, of course, is that since companies can pay micro-influencers less, they’ll get more content for their money. For example, he says a mega-influencer may charge $5,000 for one video, while companies can take that same budget and work with roughly 30 micro-influencers.
“You can get lots and lots and lots of content without paying massive amounts of money for it,” Davids says. “And, frankly, the supply is just there.”
But Gomez says the money is often inconsistent. A month-long deal can briefly boost her income, but that doesn’t guarantee a partnership for the upcoming months. The inconsistency isn’t without its benefits, however. Gomez says that since she doesn’t rely on these partnerships for income, she can be more particular about what companies she works with.
Gomez has even turned her micro-influencing, work-life balance into content. Her series documenting her attempts to make the most of her time outside of work has taken off. Gomez’s first video about her “promise to get off the couch and seize life” has over 10 thousand likes. As such, she’s since maintained a series of videos focused on how she uses her time outside of work.
In fact, the “5 to 9” trend, which features people showing off their detailed routines before and after work, often with homemade meals and elaborate skincare routines, can get creators thousands of views. Other micro-influencers highlight content specifically about their careers: lawyers translate legal jargon, nurses discuss their work hours and teachers share their classroom management strategies. Which is to say, for many non-professional creators, quitting their full-time job would likely alter their content and potentially alienate their audience.
To that end, Davids says, these niche communities, such as influencers who make content about engineering or waste management, are often where micro-influencers thrive.
“The micro-influencers that we have today really didn't exist five or six years ago,” Davids says. “People who had very, very small audiences on social weren’t doing it to have any kind of professional presence—they were just kind of creating content for their friends and family.”
Which is why, Davids adds, amateur content creators can actively engage their followers on a more personable level than many mega-influencers.
Nonetheless, Gomez has thought about pursuing content creation full-time. But, she finds that she enjoys the security her traditional job provides compared to the lack of financial consistency from her influencing endeavors.
“You just never know what the future is with social,” Gomez says. “I think you really do have to be in a really good place [financially] to be able to say, ‘I'm going to quit my job and just do content creation.’” Amen.
From Your Site Articles
- TikTok Stars Are Earning More Than Many S&P 500 CEOs - dot.LA ›
- Influencers and Influencer Trends to Watch in 2022 - dot.LA ›
- SAG AFTRA Approves Influencers for Union Protection - dot.LA ›
- Mantis VC Jeffrey Evans On Influencer Marketing - dot.LA ›
- Should I Sell or Keep My Yeezy Shoes? - dot.LA ›
- What Kanye's Dropped Brand Deals Mean for Influencers - dot.LA ›
- How A Recession Might Impact Influencers - dot.LA ›
- Rosie Nguyen Wants Fanhouse To Help Content Creators - dot.LA ›
Related Articles Around the Web
Read moreShow less
Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.
LA TECH JOBS