By Mike Munsell
Canary Media’s Climate Meets Culture column explores the intersection of energy, climate and the culture at large.
Video game fans, movie buffs and Taron Egerton lovers, have I got a story for you. It’s also a story for energy storage wonks.
Tetris, one of the bestselling video games of all time, was created in 1984 by Alexey Pajitnov in then-Soviet Russia. It skyrocketed to mainstream success in the U.S. after being bundled with Nintendo’s original Game Boy in 1989. The game ultimately sold over 40 million copies in that format and a staggering 520 million copies across all platforms.
The story of how Tetris got into tens of millions of hands involves tense meetings in Cold War–era Russia — some say the decision to allow the game to be sold to the West may have even reached as high as Mikhail Gorbachev. And at the center of it all was Dutch-born video game designer and publisher Henk Rogers.
The film industry took note of the dramatic backstory, and Apple produced a movie starring Taron Egerton as Henk Rogers that will be released in March on Apple TV+.
So where does energy storage fit in?
In addition to founding The Tetris Company, Henk Rogers has started a number of climate-aligned companies and organizations, including The Blue Planet Foundation and its for-profit offshoot, Hawaii-based energy storage firm Blue Planet Energy.
I reached out to Rogers to discuss the movie, video games and his work as a climatetech entrepreneur.
What follows is the condensed and edited version of our conversation, which spans perestroika, Super Mario, aliens and the quest for a safer lithium-ion battery chemistry. A word of caution: There may be one or two minor movie spoilers.
From consumer tech to climatetech
Munsell: How did you go from video games to where you are today with Blue Planet Energy and Blue Planet Foundation?
Rogers: In 2002, I started a mobile-phone game company called Blue Lava Wireless. Of course, we had Tetris. I sold that company to Jamdat, which later got swallowed up by Electronic Arts. I made a bunch of money. A month after I sold the company, I found myself in the back of an ambulance with a widow-maker heart attack.
In the ambulance, the first thing I thought was, “You’ve got to be kidding me. I haven’t spent any of the money yet!” But the second thing I thought was, “No, I’m not going. I still have stuff to do.” In the recovery room, I started thinking: What did I mean by “stuff”? The first mission came to me on the back of a newspaper. It said we’re going to kill all the coral in the world by the end of the century. I moved to Hawaii for the first time when I was 18. Surfing, diving — I fell in love with the ocean and lived on the beach for a year, for Christ’s sake. So I said, what’s causing this? It’s ocean acidification, it’s carbon dioxide — we’re causing it! So Mission No. 1 was very obvious: end the use of carbon-based fuel. That’s the basis for all the other things that I’ve been doing since then.
Well, not all the other things, as I have four missions.
Munsell: Four missions? Can you run through those quickly?
Rogers: End the use of carbon-based fuel, end war, take humans to other planets, and find out how the universe ends and do something about it.
From clean energy to energy storage
Munsell: I know you’re in the business of energy storage. Can you tell me a little bit more about your company Blue Planet Energy?
Rogers: When we passed laws to help the solar industry, there was a boom in solar in Hawaii. And all of a sudden the electric companies said, “Wait, wait, wait. We cannot handle that much intermittent solar on the grid.” So I started thinking. How do we solve that? We solve it by adding storage to the equation.
We searched for the most environmentally friendly battery. I don’t want switching to renewables to become another disaster, environmentally or any other way. So we landed on lithium ferrous phosphate (LFP), which is noncombustible. It lasts twice as long as the nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) [battery chemistry]. It doesn’t have any of those nasty rare-earth elements in it. It’s not flammable; it doesn’t catch on fire.
Munsell: Are there many other residential and commercial storage companies using the same battery chemistry as Blue Planet?
Rogers: Other companies are starting to get in on it. But we’ve got a huge head start on everybody. We’ve been doing this for years. And I’m sure everybody, including Tesla, is going to switch over to the new chemistry.
Munsell: How do costs compare with the more commonly used NMC lithium-ion batteries?
Rogers: It’s slightly more expensive. Although it shouldn’t be because we’re not buying anything from the Congo or scraping something from the bottom of the ocean. I think it’s just a question of volume. Now the volume of lithium ferrous phosphate is going up, so the price is going to come down. We’ve been the most expensive battery in the business, but you get what you pay for. You get the safety; you get the longevity. If you look at the total life of ownership, we’re the cheapest because we last the longest.