Why are nuclear plants so expensive? Safety’s only part of the story

Image of two power plant cooling towers.

Enlarge (credit: US DOE)

Should any discussion of nuclear power go on for long enough, it becomes inevitable that someone will rant that the only reason they’ve become unaffordable is a proliferation of safety regulations. The argument is rarely (if ever) fleshed out—no specific regulation is ever identified as problematic, and there seems to be no consideration given to the fact that we might have learned something at, say, Fukushima that might merit addressing through regulations.

But there’s now a paper out that provides some empirical evidence that safety changes have contributed to the cost of building new nuclear reactors. But the study also makes clear that they’re only one of a number of factors, accounting for only a third of the soaring costs. The study also finds that, contrary to what those in the industry seem to expect, focusing on standardized designs doesn’t really help matters, as costs continued to grow as more of a given reactor design was built.

More of the same

The analysis, done by a team of researchers at MIT, is remarkably comprehensive. For many nuclear plants, they have detailed construction records, broken out by which building different materials and labor went to, and how much each of them cost. There’s also a detailed record of safety regulations and when they were instituted relative to construction. Finally, they’ve also brought in the patent applications filed by the companies who designed the reactors. The documents describe the motivations for design changes and the problems those changes were intended to solve.

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#construction, #energy, #nuclear-power, #science

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A Biden presidency doesn’t need a Green New Deal to make progress on climate change

Even without a Green New Deal, the sweeping set of climate-related initiatives many Democrats are pushing for, President-elect Joe Biden will have plenty of opportunities to move ahead with much of the ambitious energy transformation plan as part of any infrastructure or stimulus package.

Should Republicans manage to maintain control of the Senate, there are still several opportunities to build climate-friendly policies into the infrastructure and stimulus bills Congress will be pushing through as its first orders of business, according to experts, investors and advisors to the President-elect.

That’s good news for established companies and the wave of startups focused on technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global climate change. And these changes could happen despite intransigence from even moderate Republicans like Mitt Romney on climate issues.

“I think people are saying that conservative principles still account for a majority of public opinion in our country,” Romney said on “Meet the Press” Sunday. “I don’t think they want to sign up for a Green New Deal. I don’t think they want to sign up for getting rid of coal or oil or gas. I don’t think they’re interested in Medicare for All or higher taxes that would slow down the economy.”

Already, current market conditions are forcing some of the largest oil, gas and energy companies to transition to renewables. As those companies begin closing refineries in the U.S., Congress is going to feel increasing pressure to find a way to replace those jobs.

For instance, Shell announced earlier this month in Louisiana that it was closing a factory and laying off roughly 650 workers. The closure is primarily due to declining demand for oil brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, but both Netherlands-headquartered Shell and its U.K.-based counterpart BP believe fossil fuel consumption may have reached its peak in 2019 and is headed for long-term decline.

U.S. oil and gas giants aren’t immune from the economic impacts of COVID-19 and a global shift away from fossil fuels either. Two of the largest companies, Chevron and ExxonMobil, have seen their share prices decline over the past year as the oil industry reckons with steep reductions in demand and other market pressures.

Meanwhile, some of the nation’s largest utilities are working to phase out fossil fuel-based power generation.

The markets are already supporting the transition to renewable energy, without much government guidance, at least here in the U.S. So against this backdrop, the question isn’t if the government should be supporting the transition to renewable energy, but how quickly stimulus can be mobilized to save American jobs.

“A lot of the really consequential climate-related stuff that’s going to come out in the [near term] … won’t actually be related to renewables,” an advisor to the President-elect said.

So the questions become: What will economic stimulus look like? How will it be distributed? and how will it be financed?

Economic stimulus, COVID-19 and climate

President-elect Biden has already spelled out the first priorities for his incoming administration. While trying to manage the COVID-19 pandemic that has already killed over 238,000 Americans comes first, dealing with the economic fallout caused by the response to the pandemic will quickly follow.

Climate-friendly initiatives will loom large in that effort, analysts and advisors indicate, and could be a boon to new technology companies — as well as longtime players in the fossil fuels business.

“If we are going to be spending that money, there is an enormous opportunity to make sure that these investments are moving us forward and not recreating problems,” said one advisor to the Biden campaign earlier this year.

To understand how the trillions of dollars that are up for grabs will be spent, it’s helpful to think in terms of short-, medium- and long-term goals.

In the short term, the focus will be on “shovel-ready” projects that can be spun up as quickly as possible. These would be initiatives like environmental retrofits and building upgrades; repairing and upgrading water systems and electricity grids; providing more manufacturing incentives for electric vehicles; and potentially boosting money for environmental remediation and reclamation projects.

In all, that spending could total $750 billion by some estimates and would be used to get Americans back to work with a focus on industrial and manufacturing jobs that could have long-term benefits for the national economy — especially if that spending targets the government-designated Opportunity Zones carved out around the country to help low-income rural and urban communities.

If these efforts incorporate Opportunity Zones, there’s a chance to deploy the cash even faster. And if there are ways to preferentially rank infrastructure projects that also include a tech component, then that’s even better for startups who have managed to overcome hurdles associated with technology risk.

“Any time you craft policy, especially federal policy, you have to be so careful that the incentives line up correctly with what you’re trying to achieve,” said a Biden advisor.

Medium- and longer-term goals will likely require more time to plan and develop, because they’re relying on newer technologies in some cases, or they will have to wind their way through the planning process at the local and state levels before they can receive federal funds to begin construction.

Expect another $60 billion to be spent on these projects to finance development, workforce training and reskilling to prepare a labor force for a different kind of labor market.

Incentives over mandates 

One of the biggest risks that Biden administration climate policies face is the potential for legal challenges heard before an increasingly sympathetic conservative judiciary appointed under the Trump administration.

These challenges could force the Biden team to emphasize the financial benefits of adopting business-friendly carrots over regulatory sticks.

“Whenever possible you do want to let the markets figure themselves out,” said the advisor to the President-elect. “You always want to default to incentives rather than mandates.”

Coming off of the news this week that Pfizer has received positive results for its vaccine, there are some models from the current administration’s progress on a COVID-19 vaccine that can be instructive.

While Pfizer wasn’t involved in the Operation Warp Speed program created by the Department of Health and Human Services, the company did cut a $2 billion deal with the government that guaranteed a market for its vaccines.

The type of public-private partnerships that Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy mentions could also be employed in the climate space — especially in areas that will be hardest hit by the transition away from coal.

Some of that spending guarantee could come in the form of environmental remediation for orphaned natural gas wells or coal mining operations — especially in regions of the country like the Dakotas, Montana, West Virginia and Wyoming, that would be hardest hit by a transition away from fossil fuels. Some could come from the development of new geothermal engineering projects that require the same kind of skills that engineering firms and oil companies have developed over the past decades.

And, there’s the looming promise of a hydrogen-based economy, which could take advantage of some of the existing oil-and-gas infrastructure and expertise that exists in the country to transition to a cleaner energy future (n.b., that’s not necessarily a clean energy future, but it’s a cleaner one).

Already, nations like Japan are building the groundwork for replacing oil with hydrogen fuels, and these kinds of incentive-based programs and public-private partnerships could be a big boost for startups in a number of industries as well.

Image Credits: Cameron Davidson/Getty Images

Sharing the wealth (rural edition)

Any policies that a Biden administration enacts would have to focus on economic opportunity broadly, and much of the proposed plan from the campaign fulfills that need. One of its key propositions was that it would be “creating good, union, middle-class jobs in communities left behind, righting wrongs in communities that bear the brunt of pollution, and lifting up the best ideas from across our great nation — rural, urban and tribal,” according to the transition website.

An early emphasis on grid and utility infrastructure could create significant opportunities for job creation across America — and be a boost for technology companies.

“Our electric power infrastructure is old, aging and not secure,” said Abe Yokell, co-founder of the energy and climate-focused venture capital firm Congruent Ventures. “From an infrastructure standpoint, transmission distribution really should be upgraded and has been underinvested over the years. And it is in direct alignment with providing renewable energy deployment across the U.S. and the electrification of everything.”

Combining electric infrastructure revitalization with new broadband capabilities and monitoring technologies for power and water would be a massive windfall for companies like Verizon (which owns TechCrunch), and other networking companies. It also provides utilities with a way to adjust their rates (which they appreciate).

Those infrastructure upgrades are also useful in helping utilities find a way to repurpose stranded coal assets that are both costly and — increasingly — useless.

“Coal … it doesn’t make sense to burn coal anymore,” Yokell said. “People are doing it even though it’s out of the money for liability reasons … everyone is looking to retire coal even in the assets.”

If those assets can be decommissioned and repurposed to act as nodes on a distributed energy grid using energy storage to smooth capacity in the same way that those coal plants used to, “it’s a massive win,” according to Yokell. Adoption of energy storage used to be a cost issue, Yokell said. “It’s now a siting issue.”

Repowering old hydroelectric assets with newer, more efficient technologies offer another way to move the needle with shovel-ready projects and is an area where startups could stand to benefit from the push. It’s also a way to bring jobs to rural communities.

The promise of infrastructure spending can be born out across urban and rural areas, but the stimulus benefits don’t end there.

For rural communities there are business opportunities in “climate-smart agriculture, resilience and conservation, including 250,000 jobs plugging abandoned oil and natural gas wells and reclaiming abandoned coal, hardrock and uranium mines,” as the Biden transition team notes. And there’s a huge opportunity for oil industry workers to find jobs in the new and growing tech-enabled geothermal energy industry.

The farm subsidies that have skyrocketed under the Trump administration could continue, just with a more climate-focused bent. Instead of literally giving away the farm to the tune of a projected $46 billion that the Trump administration will hand out to farmers over the course of 2020, payouts could be predicated on “carbon farming.” Wooing the farm vote with the promise of payouts for carbon sequestration could be a way to restart a conversation around a carbon price (a largely failed prospect in government circles). Beyond carbon sequestration, rapid innovations in synthetic biology for biomaterials, coatings and even food could take advantage of the big biofuel fermenters and feedstocks in the Midwest to enable a new biomanufacturing industry.

Furthermore, the expansion of rail lines thanks to the fracking and oil boom means opportunities and the potential to build out other types of manufacturing capacity that can be transported across the U.S.

vw-plant-tennessee

Volkswagen broke ground Wednesday, November 13, 2019 on an $800 million factory expansion in Tennessee that will be the North American hub of its electric vehicle plans. Image Credits: Volkswagen

Sharing the wealth (urban edition) 

The same spending that could juice rural economies can be equally applied in America’s largest cities. Any movement to boost the auto industry through incentives around electric vehicles or federal mandates to upgrade fleets would do wonders for automakers and the original equipment manufacturers that supply them.

Public-private partnerships for urban infrastructure could first receive support from funds devoted to planning and managing upgrades. That could boost the adoption of new tech from startup companies around the country, while creating new jobs for a significant number of workers through implementation.

One large area where urban economic revitalization and climate policies can intersect is in the relatively unsexy area of weatherization, energy efficient appliance installation and building retrofits.

“Local governments across the country are highly interested in the green economy and transitioning to the low-carbon economy,” said Lauren Zullo, the director of environmental impact at the real estate management firm, Jonathan Rose Companies. “Cities are really looking to partner with the private real estate sector because they know we’re going to have to get buildings involved in the green economy. And any work that you do retrofitting local buildings is literally local economy.”

By channeling dollars into green retrofits and the deployment of distributed renewable energy, local economies will get a huge boost — and one that disproportionately will go to helping the communities that have been on the front lines of climate change.

You saw … a lot of investment made just this way out of the Recovery Act,” Zullo said, referring to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the stimulus bill passed in the first term of the Obama administration. “A lot of [funds] focused on low-income weatherization that were earmarked for low income and affordable housing. [Those] funds have allowed us to reduce energy consumption anywhere from 30% to 50% … and being able to gain those utility cost savings have been transformational to those communities.”

Why are these programs so important? Zullo explained further, “Low-income folks are disproportionately burdened by utility and energy costs. Any sort of energy-saving opportunities that we can earmark or target in these low-income communities is truly impactful … not just on a carbon footprint, but on the lives and success of these low-income communities.”

Paying for it

For even this more-modest legislation to make it through Congress, a Biden administration will have to answer the questions of who would pay for the stimulus and how it would get distributed.

In a tweet, the political commentator Matthew Yglesias proffered that the country could afford “to throw an ice cream party.” That policy would enable Republicans to keep the tax cuts while allowing the government to continue to spend on stimulus measures.

“[Interest] rates are very low. The country can afford an ice cream option where we spend money on some good things and ‘offset’ with tax cuts,” Yglesias wrote.

To distribute the funds, Congress could set up a body similar to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), which was established by Herbert Hoover’s administration back at the start of the Great Depression. It was expanded under Franklin Delano Roosevelt to disburse funds to financial institutions, farms and corporations at risk of collapse.

While the success of the institution itself is somewhat murky, the RFC along with federal deposit insurance and the related Commodity Credit Corporation (which, unlike the RFC, still exists) laid the groundwork for the country to emerge from the Great Depression and gear up manufacturing to engage with a world at war in the 1940s.

The durability of the CCC could provide a model for any infrastructure credit corporation that the government may want to establish.

Some investors support the idea. “It’s more about channeling dollars to state, municipal or private businesses with the ability to underwrite heavily subsidized loans to any entity proposing a modern infrastructure project that could be paid through municipal bonds or tolling,” said one investor in the infrastructure space. “It would offer a credit backstop to anyone who wanted to invest in infrastructure and could have a technological requirement associated with it.”

Several investors suggested that capital from loans paid out through the infrastructure bank could finance the reshoring of industry, with potential tax revenues from the businesses offsetting some of the costs of the loans. Some of these measures could have additional economic benefits if the loans get funneled through local financial institutions as well.

“If you think about a vehicle to deliver these funds, you already have an existing architecture to deliver this … which is the municipal bond market,” said Mark Paris, a managing partner at Urban.us, a venture capital fund focused on urban infrastructure. 

The infrastructure answer

There’s no shortage of levers that the Biden administration can pull to reverse the course of the Trump administration’s policies on climate change, but many of these federal policy changes are likely to face challenges in courts.

Vox’s David Roberts has an excellent run down of some of the direct actions that Biden can take along the path toward decarbonization of the U.S. economy. They include restoring the over 125 climate and environmental regulations that the Trump presidency reversed or rolled back; working with the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a new, more sweeping version of the original Obama-era Clean Power Plan; push the Department of Transportation’s development of new fuel economy standards; and supporting California’s own, very aggressive vehicle standards.

Biden can also encourage financial markets to make more of an effort to price climate risk into their financial models for investment, which would further encourage investment in climate-friendly businesses and a divestment from fossil fuels, as Roberts notes.

Some of America’s largest financial services institutions are already doing just that, and oil-and-gas companies are wrestling with the need to transition to renewable or emission-free fuels as their share prices take a pummeling and demand plummets on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Mother Jones suggested last year, a Biden administration could declare climate change a national security emergency, in the same way that the Trump administration declared immigration to be a national security emergency. That would give Biden extensive powers to reshape the economy and directly influence industrial policy.

Declaring a national climate emergency would give Biden the powers he needs to enact much of the infrastructure initiatives that comprise the President-elect’s energy plan, but not a popular mandate to support it.

Before taking that step, Biden may choose to try and exhaust all legislative options first. In a divided Congress that means focusing on infrastructure, jobs and industry incentives.

“The impacts of climate change don’t pick and choose. That’s because it’s not a partisan phenomenon. It’s science. And our response should be the same. Grounded in science. Acting together. All of us,” Biden said in a September speech.

“These are concrete, actionable policies that create jobs, mitigate climate change and put our nation on the road to net-zero emissions by no later than 2050,” he said. “We can invest in our infrastructure to make it stronger and more resilient, while at the same time tackling the root causes of climate change.”

#covid-19, #energy, #energy-storage, #government, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greentech, #manufacturing, #oil-and-gas, #oil-and-gas-infrastructure, #renewable-energy, #tc, #transportation

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With GOP Support, Arizona Mandates Cleaner Energy

The falling costs of renewables has helped shift political winds around power generation

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#energy, #sustainability

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Astrobotic teams with Bosch and WiBotic to give its Moon rovers wireless charging and smarts to find power stations

Lunar exploration startup Astrobotic is working on developing ultra-fast wireless charging technology for its CubeRover shoebox-sized lunar robotic explorers. The project, which is funded by NASA’s Tipping Point program with a $5.8 million award, will tap Seattle-based wireless charging startup WiBotic for expertise in high-speed, short-range wireless power, and brings in Bosch to assist with developing the AI-based data analysis that will help the robots find their way to docking stations for a wireless power-up.

Existing lunar rovers are typically powered by sunlight, but they’re actually very large (roughly car-sized or larger) and they have a lot of surface area to soak up rays via solar panels. Astrobotic’s rovers, which will initially be under five pounds in weight, won’t have much area to collect the sun’s power, and will instead have to rely on secondary power sources to keep enough energy for their exploratory operations.

That’s where WiBotic comes in. Working together with the University of Washington, the startup will be developing a “lightweight, ultra-fast proximity charging solution, compromised of a base station and power receiver” specifically for use in space-based applications. But finding these stations will be its own special challenge – particularly in a lunar context, where things like GPS don’t come into play. Instead, Bosch will leverage data collected from sensors on board the robot to generate a sensor-fusion result that can provide it with autonomous navigation capabilities. That work could be instrumental in helping future rovers navigate not only to power stations, but also to various destinations on the lunar surface as robotic science and exploration missions ramp up.

The goal is to have a demonstration rover charging system ready to show off sometime in 2023, and the partners will be working together with NASA’s Glenn Research Center to test the technology in the facility’s thermal vacuum chamber test lab.

#aerospace, #artificial-intelligence, #astrobotic, #astrobotic-technology, #commercial-lunar-payload-services, #energy, #google-lunar-x-prize, #gps, #inductive-charging, #moon, #outer-space, #seattle, #space, #spaceflight, #tc, #university-of-washington

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Biden and Electric Utilities Are Split on Emissions Goals

Though many power companies have set ambitious long-term targets, more immediate action is needed

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#energy, #sustainability

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Green Hydrogen Could Fill Big Gaps in Renewable Energy

A zero-carbon supplement to wind and solar

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#climate, #energy, #environment, #sustainability, #tech

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Birdlike Flight Formations Could Cut Airline Emissions

A bioinspired arrangement could save energy by allowing one plane to provide extra lift to another—if both aircraft can remain stable

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#aerospace, #energy, #environment, #tech

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Renewable power represents almost 90% of total global power capacity added in 2020

Bucking the slowdown in most of the power sector caused by responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, renewable energy actually grew in 2020, and will represent about 90% of the total power capacity added for the year, according to the International Energy Agency.

A surge in new projects from China and the US led the charge for renewable power, which will account for almost 200 gigawatts of additional power generating capacity around the world, according to the  IEA’s Renewables 2020.

Big additions came from hydropower, solar and wind. Wind and solar power generating assets are expected to jump by 30% in both China and the US as developers take advantage of incentives that are set to expire.

The agency predicts that India and the European Union will also jump in and add an additional 10% of renewable capacity — marking the fastest period of growth for the industry since 2015.

These supply additions are in part due to the commissioning of projects delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted supply chains and put a stop to construction.

“Renewable power is defying the difficulties caused by the pandemic, showing robust growth while others fuels struggle,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director, in a statement. “The resilience and positive prospects of the sector are clearly reflected by continued strong appetite from investors – and the future looks even brighter with new capacity additions on course to set fresh records this year and next.”

Throughout the first ten months of the year, China, India, and the EU have boosted auctioned renewable power capacity by 15% over the year ago period. Meanwhile, shares of publicly traded renewable equipment manufacturers and project developers have been outperforming most stock indices and the overall energy sector, the agency noted.

Much of this success, the agency noted, will require continued political support to work. Expiring incentives could reduce demand, but if governments provide some certainty around the continuation of subsidy programs, solar and wind additions could jump by another 25% by 2022.  With the right policy, solar photovoltaic installations could reach a record 150 gigawatts by 2022, which would be a 40% increase in just about three years.

“Renewables are resilient to the Covid crisis but not to policy uncertainties,” said Dr Birol, in a statement. “Governments can tackle these issues to help bring about a sustainable recovery and accelerate clean energy transitions. In the United States, for instance, if the proposed clean electricity policies of the next US administration are implemented, they could lead to a much more rapid deployment of solar PV and wind, contributing to a faster [decarbonization] of the power sector.”

If the agency’s predictions hold, renewable energy could become the largest source of electricity worldwide by 2025, according to Dr. Birol.

“By that time, renewables are expected to supply one-third of the world’s electricity – and their total capacity will be twice the size of the entire power capacity of China today,” Birol said in a statement.

#articles, #china, #electricity, #energy, #european-union, #india, #renewable-energy, #solar-power, #tc, #united-states

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First major modular nuclear project having difficulty retaining backers

NuScale's reactor-in-a-can.

Enlarge / NuScale’s reactor-in-a-can. (credit: NuScale)

Earlier this year, the US took a major step that could potentially change the economics of nuclear power: it approved a design for a small, modular nuclear reactor from a company called NuScale. These small reactors are intended to overcome the economic problems that have ground the construction of large nuclear plants to a near halt. While each only produces a fraction of the power possible with a large plant, the modular design allows for mass production and a design that requires less external safety support.

But safety approval is just an early step in the process of building a plant. And the leading proposal for the first NuScale plant is running into the same problem as traditional designs: finances.

The proposal, called the Carbon Free Power Project, would be a cluster of a dozen NuScale reactors based at Idaho National Lab but run by Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems, or UAMPS. With all 12 operating, the plant would produce 720 MW of power. But UAMPS is selling it as a way to offer the flexibility needed to complement variable renewable power. Typically, a nuclear plant is either producing or not, but the modular design allows the Carbon Free Power Project to shut individual reactors off if demand is low.

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#energy, #nuclear-energy, #science, #small-modular-reactors

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As renewable power prices drop, researchers tally up their added costs

A wind turbine is silhouetted against the sunset.

Enlarge (credit: TLPOSCHARSKY / Flickr)

Renewable energy prices have plunged to the point where, for much of the planet, wind and solar power is now cheaper than fossil fuel-generated electricity. But the variability of these power sources can make managing them on an electric grid challenging—a challenge that can exact costs beyond their apparent price. The exact cost, however, has been heavily debated, with estimates ranging from “minimal” up to “build an entire natural gas plant to match every megawatt of wind power.”

Philip Heptonstall and Robert Gross of Imperial College London decided to try to figure out what the costs actually were. After wading through hundreds of studies, the answer they came up with is somewhere between “It’s complicated” and “It depends.” But the key conclusion is that, even at the high end of the estimates, the added costs of renewables still leave them fairly competitive with carbon-emitting sources.

Counting costs

Heptonstall and Gross start by breaking the potential for added costs down into three categories. The first is covering for the somewhat erratic nature of renewable power, which may incur expenses if their output doesn’t match their forecasted output. The second is the ability of renewables to meet the predictable daily peaks in demand—late afternoon in hotter climates, overnight in colder ones. Finally, there’s the costs of integrating renewables into an existing grid, as the best sites for generation may not match up with the existing transmission capacity.

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#batteries, #energy, #green, #power, #renewable-energy, #science, #solar, #wind

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Startup brands like the shoe company Thousand Fell are bringing circular economics to the fashion industry

Thousand Fell, the environmentally conscious, direct-to-consumer shoe retailer which launched last November, has revealed the details of the recycling program that’s a core component of its pitch to consumers.

The company, which has now sold enough shoes to start seeing its early buyers begin recycling them after ten months of ownership, expects to recycle roughly 3,000 pairs per quarter by 2021, with the capacity to scale up to 6,000 pairs of shoes.,

The recycling feature, through partnerships with United Parcel Service and TerraCycle, offers customers the option to avoid simply throwing out the shoes for $20 in cash that the company pays out upon receipt of the old shoes.

With the initiative, Thousand Fell joins a growing number of companies in consumer retail that are experimenting with various strategies to incorporate reuse into the life-cycle of their products. Nike operates a reuse a shoe program at some of its stores, which will collect used athletic shoes from any brand for recycling. And several companies are offering denim recycling drop-off locations to take old jeans and convert the material into other products.

What’s more, Thousand Fell’s recycling partner, TerraCycle, has developed a milkman model for reusing packaging to replace consumer packaged goods like dry goods, beverages, desserts and home and beauty products under its Loop brand (and in partnership with Kroger and Walgreens).

Across retail, zero waste packaging and delivery options (and companies emphasizing a more sustainable, circular approach to consumption) are attracting increased interest from investors across the board, with everyone from delivery companies to novel packaging materials attracting investor interest.

 

“Thousand Fell owns the material feeds and covers the cost of recycling, as well as the resale or reintegratoin of recycled material back into new shoes and the issuance of the $20 recycling cash that is sent back to the consumer once they recycle,” wrote Thousand Fell co-founder Stuart Ahlum, in an email.

Clothing and textiles account for 17% of all landfill waste and shoes are particularly wasteful. Shoes account for 10% of retail production capacity but about 25% of textile waste, according to Ahlum.

The company sells its environmentally friendly shoes for under $100, a price point that makes them more accessible to price-conscious consumers, according to Ahlum.

Through the program UPS will run shipping for the Thousand Fell sneaker recycling program and making its network of shipping locations — including within Staples stores — available for drop-off of Thousand Fell’s shoes.

With TerraCycle, Thousand Fell will ensure that the old sneakers will be sustainably recycled and diverted from landfills. UPS’ Ware2Go business is also providing fulfillment and warehousing services for Thousand Fell, the companies said in a statement earlier this week.

Meanwhile, TerraCycle and Thousand Fell are developing a closed loop process where old sneakers will be reintegrated into the supply chain to make new sneakers.

Through Thousand Fell, shoe buyers can track their purchase history and the carbon footprint of their sneakers at the company’s website — and register their sneakers once they’ve received them. The registration allows customers to initiate the recycling process at a drop off location or directly shipping their shoes back to TerraCycle.

“This enterprise partnership between UPS, TerraCycle, and Thousand Fell is the reverse logistics engine that powers the circular economy. It solves the critical problem of collecting worn products back from customers — at scale and at cost,” Ahlum wrote in an email.

#circular-economy, #co-founder, #energy, #industries, #nike, #supply-chain, #tc, #united-parcel-service, #walgreens

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Election Science Stakes: Energy

Scientific American senior editor Mark Fischetti and associate editor Andrea Thompson talk about this election and the future of U.S. energy research and policy.

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#conservation, #earth, #energy, #environment, #policyethics, #sustainability, #the-sciences

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Floating Offshore Wind Turbines Set to Make Inroads in U.S.

These turbines can be used in deeper waters than existing ones, which opens more areas of the coast to wind power

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#energy, #sustainability

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Jackery’s solar generator system helps you collect and store more than enough juice for off-grid essentials

Portable power is a very convenient thing to have on hand, as proven by the popularity of pocket power banks for providing backup energy for smartphones and tablets. Jackery’s lineup of battery backups offer an entirely different, much greater level of portable energy storage, and when combined with the company’s durable and portable solar panels, they add up to an impressive mobile solar power generation solution that can offer a little piece of mind at home for when the power goes out, or a lot of flexibility on the road for day trips, camping excursions and more.

The basics

Jackery sells the Explorer 1000 Portable Power Station and SolarSaga 100W Solar Panels I reviewed separately, but it also bundles them together in a pack ($1,599.97) with the power station and two of the panels in a ‘Solar Generator’ combo, which is what I tested. The Portable Power Station retails for $999.99, though it’s the top of the line offering and there are more affordable models with less capacity. The station itself offers a 1002Wh internal lithium battery, and 1000W rated power with 2000W surge power rating. IT has two USB-C outputs, one standard USB, one DC port like you’d find in your car dash, and three standard AC outlets. It has an integrated handle, a tough plastic exterior and a built-in LCD display for information including battery charge status and output info.

The Explorer 1000, on a full charge, can provide up to 100 chargers for your standard iPhone, or up to 8 charges of a MacBook Pro. It can power an electric grill for 50 minutes, or a mini fridge for up to 66 hours. It can be recharged via a wall outlet (fully charges in 7 hours) or a car outlet (14 hours), but it can also be paired up with the 2x SolarSaga panels for a full recharge in around 8 hours of direct sun exposure – almost as fast as you’d charge it plugging git into an outlet at home (it takes double the time, or around 17 hours, when using just one).

As for the solar panels, they each retail for $299.99, and fold in half for greater portability, and feature integrated pockets and stands for cable storage and easy setup anywhere. Each ways less than 10 lbs, and they offer both USB-C and USB-A direct output for charging up devices without any battery or power station required. It’s worth noting that they’re not waterproof, however, so you should exercise some caution when using them in inclement weather.

Image Credits: Jackery

Design and features

The Jackery Portable Power Station is a perfect blend of portability, practicality and durability. Its internal powerhouse will keep you going for days in terms of mobile device power, and it weighs only a relatively portable 22 lbs, despite packing in a massive battery. The range of output options built-in mean you can connect to just about any electronically-powered device you can think of, and three AC outlets mean you can power multiple appliances at once if you want to spend your juice on running a lightweight outdoor kitchen – albeit not for a super long time at that kind of power draw.

Jackery’s Explorer series features durable and attractive (insofar as any utility device is ever that attractive) exterior impact-resistant plastic housings, and they definitely feel like they don’t need to be treated with kid gloves. The display is legible and clear, and provides all the info you need at-glance in terms of reserve power, and power expenditure for connected devices, as well as charging info when plugged in.

The many charging options are also super convenient, and that’s where the SolarSaga 100W panes come in. These fold up to roughly the size of a folding camp side table, and have integrated handles for even easier carrying. They’re also protected outside by a tough polycarbonate shell, and the panels are resistant to high temperatures for max durability. They come with included output converter cables for connecting to USB A and USB C devices, and can be used with the adapter included with the Power Station to charge that either in tandem with one another, or on their own.

Around back you’ll find an adjustable kickstands, which allow you to angle the panels towards the sun across a range of positions for maximum energy absorption. Between these and the Explorer power stations, you have everything you need to set up your own fully mobile solar energy power generation station in just a few minutes and with minimal effort.

Image Credits: Jackery

Bottom line

In actual use, the Jackery Explorer 1000 Portable Power Station provides so much backup power that it was hard to expend it all through general testing. You really do have to plug alliances like my Blendtec blender in to make a dent, and even then I got roughly 12 hours of usage or more out of it. This is a great solution for taking some selective on-grid equipment off-grid while on camping trips, like a TV, small fridge or a projector, and it’s an amazing thing to have at home just in case of power outages, where having your own backup options can make the difference between getting through a productive workday or staying in touch with family.

The SolarSaga panels are an amazing complement to the Explorer, and truly turn this into your own mini green energy power generation station. Even if you’re not convinced on the expense and necessity of converting your home to solar power, using something like Tesla’s Powerwall, for instance, this is a nice way to power a cooler in the backyard effectively for ‘free’ when it comes to energy costs, or to extend the useful life of the Explorer on trips when you’re away from the grid over the course of multiple days.

#articles, #energy, #gadgets, #hardware, #iphone, #jackery, #rechargeable-battery, #review, #reviews, #smartphones, #solar-panel, #solar-power, #tc, #usb

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U.S. Wind and Solar Installation Are Smashing Records, But the Trend May Not Last

The renewable boom needs to continue in order to decarbonize the energy grid, but key tax incentives are ending

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#climate, #energy, #environment, #sustainability, #tech

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U.S. Wind and Solar Installations Are Smashing Records, but the Trend May Not Last

The renewable boom needs to continue in order to decarbonize the energy grid, but key tax incentives are ending

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#climate, #energy, #environment, #sustainability, #tech

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A clean energy company now has a market cap rivaling ExxonMobil

The news last week that NextEra Energy, a U.S. utility and renewable energy company, briefly overtook ExxonMobil and Saudi Aramco to become the world’s most valuable energy producer shows just how valuable sustainable businesses have become. It’s yet another proof point that there are billions of dollars available for companies focused on renewable energy alone — and a sign that, finally, the floodgates may be about to open for companies that build their businesses to service a sustainability revolution.

Large money managers are already returning to investing in earlier stage sustainability investments after an extended hiatus. These are institutional investors like the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board and Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, which could commit billions between them to technologies focused on mitigating the impacts of climate change or reducing greenhouse gas emissions across industries. The flood of dollars into renewable energy and sustainable technologies actually began in the first quarter of the year.

Some of the largest private equity funds in the U.S. like Blackstone (with $571 billion in assets under management), announced a flood of investments into renewable power generation and storage. Blackstone alone invested nearly $1 billion into Altus Power Generation, a renewable energy developer, and NRStor, an energy storage company; while Generate Capital raised $1 billion for renewable energy infrastructure projects; and Warburg Pincus (with over $50 billion in assets under management) backed Scale Microgrids, which developed clean energy and storage projects, with another $300 million. In March, the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board closed its investment in Pattern Energy Group, a $6.1 billion transaction that gave the massive money manager ownership of a renewable power project owner and developer with assets across North America and Japan.

Behind all of that massive investment will be a surge in demand for technologies that can orchestrate resources that will be more distributed and provide better energy storage and distribution technologies for a more complicated grid. Indeed, the beginning of the year saw venture firms like Lightspeed Venture Partners, Sequoia and Union Square Ventures begin to plant flags around sustainable investments in startup companies. Microsoft announced a $1 billion climate change-focused investment fund and in the second quarter, Amazon followed suit with the commitment of $2 billion to its Climate Pledge Fund that would invest across a range of renewable and sustainability-focused technology startups and climate-related projects.

“You’ve got all of this activity even without policy changes — and policy changes are even going in the wrong direction,” said Abe Yokell, a longtime investor in technologies addressing climate change and the managing partner of Congruent Ventures, in an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year. “Our general framework is that the venture model applies to some but not all of the solutions that will solve the problem of climate change.”

Environmental and social investing rises again

In 2007, John Doerr, then one of the world’s most successful venture investors and a leader at Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers (now just Kleiner Perkins), delivered an emotional speech to an early audience of TED talk attendees. In it, Doerr announced that KPCB would be investing $200 million into a range of “clean technology” companies and encouraged other investors to make similar commitments. Doerr spoke of a coming climate crisis that would reshape the globe and wreak vast economic damage on communities. He wasn’t wrong.

But the solutions that the first generation of clean tech investors backed were economically unfeasible and markets weren’t then ready to embrace massive investments required to avoid what were, at the time, future risk scenarios. Prices for solar and wind energy production technologies were too expensive and energy storage options too unreliable. Biofuels could not compete at costs that would make them competitive with existing petrochemicals, and bioplastics and chemicals suffered from the same problems (along with a consumer culture that had not awoken to the perils of plastic and chemical production).

While there were a few notable successes from that first generation of clean tech companies, including, most notably, Tesla, there were far more failures. Kleiner alone poured hundreds of millions into companies like Think and Fisker Automotive, two early electric vehicle companies. Another electric vehicle bet, Better Place, lost $1 billion for investors like VantagePoint Venture Partners. The losses weren’t confined to electric vehicles. Solar energy companies, biofuel companies, grid management companies and battery companies all racked up millions in losses for a generation of venture funds.

Yokell, who previously worked as an investor at Rockport Capital, saw the failures, but managed to persevere and raise new cash with his fund Congruent. “Things are different, but they are different for 10 different reasons — not one different reason,” Yokell said. “The preponderance of dollars went into the physical layer that would drive down the cost of accessing a product or technology. Solar is a great example; wind is a great example; batteries are a great example. [But] this time around, the venture dollars that are going into the ecosystem are being applied to products and services that are going to the end product.”

This means focusing not on the generation of electricity necessarily, but managing and monitoring how those atoms move. Or in the case of food tech, making the processes of creation and distribution more efficient in addition to making new sources of supply. “Venture is a rule of exceptions,” said Yokell. “If you use what works for the venture model and apply it to Tesla [most investors] were wrong. It only takes two massive successes to prove the rule wrong.”

More often though, the money for venture investors is in following some basic rules of investing — chiefly look for high-margin businesses with low upfront capital costs. If something is going to take $40 million or $50 million just to figure out that it might work and then you need to spend another $200 million to prove that it does work … that’s likely not going to be a good bet for a venture firm, Yokell said.

Public markets and large corporations now lead the way

Even as most venture capital dollars shied away from investments in technology that could move the needle on climate (one large exception being Vinod Khosla and Khosla Ventures … another story), the world’s largest investment firms, money managers, publicly traded energy and agriculture companies began stepping up their commitments.

In part, that’s because the economic viability started to become more apparent for decades-old technologies like wind and solar. The costs of these energy-generating technologies made sense to develop because they were, in many cases, cheaper than the alternative. A June report from the International Renewable Energy Agency showed that renewable power generation projects were cheaper than the cost to operate existing coal-fired plants. Next year, the energy agency said, the 1.2 gigawatts of existing coal capacity could cost more to operate than the cost of new utility-scale solar photovoltaics. According to the agency:

Replacing the costliest 500 GW of coal with solar PV and onshore wind next year would cut power system costs by up to USD 23 billion every year and reduce annual emissions by around 1.8 gigatons (Gt) of carbon dioxide (CO2), equivalent to 5% of total global CO2 emissions in 2019. It would also yield an investment stimulus of USD 940 billion, which is equal to around 1% of global GDP.

Beyond that, the real effects of climate change began to be felt in rising insurance payouts as a result of increasingly frequent natural disasters and money managers beginning to realize that you can’t have a functioning economy if you don’t have a functioning society thanks to social unrest brought about by rising populations consuming increasingly limited resources thanks to climatological collapse. 

In early January, BlackRock, one of the world’s largest investment firms, pledged to refocus all of its investment activities through a climate lens. The investment bank Jefferies has declared 2020 to be the shot from the starting gun for what will be a decade of investments focused on environmental, social and corporate governance. Big energy companies were already picking up the slack where venture investment left off, with firms like National Grid Partners, Energy Investment Partners and others committing capital to new energy technologies even as venture investors pulled back. In 2016, Bill Gates launched a $1 billion investment fund that would focus on climate-related investing, backed by several of his billionaire buddies (including Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr and former Kleiner Perkins managing director, Vinod Khosla) and take the big swings that many venture firms were unwilling to take at the time.

Opportunities beyond energy

Investments in clean tech and sustainability were never just about energy, although that captured a fair bit of the imagination and some of the earliest returns — in biofuels companies and electric vehicles. Now, the breadth of the thesis is being expressed in a deluge of exits and millions invested in areas like novel proteins for food production, new technologies for a more sustainable agriculture, new consumer food products, new technologies for managing power and distributing it, and fantastic new ways to generate that power.

Last week, AppHarvest, a company using greenhouse farming techniques to grow tomatoes more sustainably, agreed to go public through a special purpose acquisition vehicle, and just today, a bioplastics manufacturer is taking the same tack. With the world awash in capital and looking for high-growth companies to generate returns, sustainability looks like a good bet.

Those are the companies that have managed to access public markets in the last week. Beyond Meat captured the attention of institutional investors and the investing public with its better-tasting hamburger substitute, and Perfect Day snagged a massive investment from the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board to make an alternative to cow’s milk. In fact, Perfect Day was the inaugural investment in the national pension fund’s climate strategy. Other deals should follow.

Meanwhile, as carbon emissions monitoring, management and sequestration gain broader commercial and consumer traction, other investment opportunities will begin to open up for digital solutions.

#beyond-meat, #biofuels, #chemicals, #climate-pledge-fund, #congruent-ventures, #energy, #exxonmobil, #fisker-automotive, #food, #food-tech, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greentech, #microsoft, #nextera-energy, #renewable-energy, #sustainable-energy, #tc, #warburg-pincus

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Ro makes the weight loss product Plenity commercially available to everyone in the U.S.

In what could be the first step in the development of a significant new line of business for the telemedicine prescription provider Ro, the company is finally announcing the general commercial availability of weight loss product, Plenity.

Developed by Gelesis, a biotech company that makes treatments for gastro-intestinal disorders, Plentiy is a weight loss treatment that uses citric acid and cellulose to create a non-toxic paste that makes people feel more full after they ingest it. Taken before meals, the pill becomes a substance that expands to take up about 25% of the stomach, so people eat less.

The product has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is available for a much broader segment of the population than other weight loss products. While most prescription medicines are intended for people who are obese, the Gelesis product is made for people who are overweight, too.

“That’s adults who have a BMI from 25 up to 40. That’s 150 million Americans,” according to Gelesis chief commercial and operating officer, David Pass.

Plenity received FDA approval last April and Gelesis started working with Ro soon after, according to Pass. The idea was to craft a strategy that could get the treatment, which is classified as a medical device and not a drug, in the hands of as many patients as quickly as possible.

For Ro, the agreement with Gelesis is a sign of potential things to come. The company is the exclusive online provider of the Plenity treatment and Ro founder Zachariah Reitano said that there’s an incredible potential to engage in more of these types of deals.

“We would love to be able to partner with pharmaceutical companies to decrease the cost of distribution,” said Reitano. “We were excited to build an exciting treatment solution for weight management. Our high-level mission is to be the patient’s first call.”

With the Gelesis partnership Ro can add another highly desirable treatment to its roster of therapies — and one that can be a contributing factor to increasing the severity of other conditions that the company already provides treatment for, Reitano said. 

“There are a few conditions that we currently treat that are exacerbated by a patient being overweight or obese. People who struggle with weight management will also experience ED. Obesity can lead to heart failure stroke, coronary heart disease, hypetension, depression,” Reitano said. “The breadth of the label is interesting. Only FDA approved with a BMI from 25 to 40. FDA approved treatment have been between 30 and 40. [It] makes the treatment more accessible to a wider variety of people.”

As the only online provider of the treatment, Ro has developed an onboarding process to ensure that the Plenity therapy isn’t abused by people who suffer from eating disorders.

“During our onboarding we not only ask questions to patients about their weight management. There’s a consecutive set of images that need to be uploaded and taken with the provider. That’s something we’ve taken a lot of time and energy to make sure about,” said Reitano. 

Like the other treatments Ro offers, Plenity is a cash pay prescription, because the weight loss treatments aren’t typically covered by insurance, he said.

The benefit of working with an online pharmacy like Ro to provide distribution for a new therapy was obvious to both startups.

“We turned this market on its head by putting the consumer at the heart of everything we do,” said Pass. The treatment costs $98 per month, compared to other therapies or branded medications that could be as much $300 and $350 per month, according to Pass.

One reason that Gelesis is able to reduce the price of the drug is that it won’t have to hire a massive sales force to pitch it. The company has Ro for that.

“Normally you have a pharmaceutical company that would have to hire a sales force and go door to door and it increases the cost of a new drug. [Ro] can make a new, innovative treatment available, like Plenity, available nationwide,” Reitano said. 

#depression, #drugs, #energy, #food-and-drug-administration, #health, #obesity, #officer, #online-pharmacy, #pharmaceutical, #ro, #tc, #telemedicine

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Spotify CEO Daniel Ek pledges $1Bn of his wealth to back deeptech startups from Europe

At an online event today, Daniel Ek, the founder of Spotify, said he would invest 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) of his personal fortune in deeptech “moonshot projects”, spread across the next 10 years.

Ek indicated that he was referring to machine learning, biotechnology, materials sciences and energy as the sectors he’d like to invest in.

“I want to do my part; we all know that one of the greatest challenges is access to capital,” Ek said, adding he wanted to achieve a “new European dream”.

“I get really frustrated when I see European entrepreneurs giving up on their amazing visions selling early on to non-European companies, or when some of the most promising tech talent in Europe leaves because they don’t feel valued here,” Ek said. “We need more super companies that raise the bar and can act as an inspiration.”

According to Forbes, Ek is worth $3.6 billion, which would suggest he’s putting aside roughly a third of his own wealth for the investments.

And it would appear his personal cash will be deployed with the help of a close confidant of Ek’s. He retweeted a post by Shakhil Khan, one of the first investors in Spotify, who said “it’s time to come out of retirement then.”

During a fireside chat held by the Slush conference, he said: “We all know that one of the greatest challenges is access to capital. And that is why I’m sharing today that I will devote €1bn of my personal resources to enable the ecosystem of builders.” He said he would do this by “funding so-called moonshots focusing on the deep technology necessary to make a significant positive dent, and work with scientists, entrepreneurs, investors and governments to do so.”

He expressed his desire to level-up Europe against the US I terms of tech unicorns: “Europe needs more super companies, both for the ecosystem to develop and thrive. But I think more importantly if we’re going to have any chance to tackle the infinitely complex problems that our societies are dealing with at the moment, we need different stakeholders, including companies, governments, academic institutions, non-profits and investors of all kinds to work together.”

He also expressed his frustration at seeing “European entrepreneurs, giving up on their amazing visions by selling very early in the process… We need more super companies to raise the bar and can act as an inspiration… There’s lots and lots of really exciting areas where there are tons of scientists and entrepreneurs right now around Europe.”

Ek said he will work with scientists, investors, and governments to deploy his funds. A $1.2 billion fund would see him competing with other large European VCs such as Atomico, Balderton Capital, Accel, Index Ventures and Northzone.

Ek has been previously known for his interest in deeptech. He has invested in €16m in Swedish telemedicine startup Kry. He’s also put €3m into HJN Sverige, an artificial intelligence company in the health tech arena.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #balderton-capital, #biotechnology, #business, #daniel-ek, #economy, #energy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #forbes, #founder, #kry, #machine-learning, #northzone, #private-equity, #spotify, #startup-company, #tc, #telemedicine, #united-states

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Microsoft commits to putting more water than it consumes back into the ecosystems where it operates by 2030

One good trend in 2020 has been large technology companies almost falling over one another to make ever-bolder commitments regarding their ecological impact. A cynic might argue that just doing without most of the things they make could have a much greater impact, but Microsoft is the latest to make a commitment that not only focuses on minimizing its impact, but actually on reversing it. The Windows-maker has committed to achieving a net positive water footprint by 2030, by which it means it wants to be contributing more energy back into environment in the places it operates than it is drawing out, as measured across all “basins” that span its footprint.

Microsoft hopes to achieve this goal through two main types of initiatives: First, it’ll be reducing the “intensity” of its water use across its operations, as measured by the amount of water used per megawatt of energy consumed by the company. Second, it will also be looking to actually replenish water in the areas of the world where Microsoft operations are located in “water-stressed” regions, through efforts like investment in area wetland restoration, or the removal and replacement of certain surfaces, including asphalt, which are not water-permeable and therefore prevent water from natural sources like rainfall from being absorbed back into a region’s overall available basin.

The company says that how much water it will return will vary, and depend on how much Microsoft consumes in each region, as well as how much the local basin is under duress in terms of overall consumption. Microsoft isn’t going to rely solely on external sources for this info, however: It plans to put its artificial intelligence technology to work to provide better information around what areas are under stress in terms of water usage, and where optimization projects would have the greatest impact. It’s already working towards these goals with a number of industry groups, including The Freshwater Trust.

Microsoft has made a number of commitments towards improving its global ecological impact, including a commitment from earlier this year to become ‘carbon negative’ by 2030. Meanwhile, Apple said in July that its products, including the supply chains that produce them, will be net carbon neutral by 2030, while Google made a commitment just last week to use only energy from carbon-free sources by that same year.

#apple, #carbon-dioxide, #chemistry, #energy, #google, #greentech, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #renewable-energy, #tc, #water

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Here’s how DOE’s first crop of risky energy tech has done

Two seated men in suits have a discussion on a stage.

Enlarge / Former Energy Secretary Ernst Moniz speaks at an ARPA-E event in 2016. (credit: DOE / Flickr)

In 2009, the US Department of Energy started funding energy research through the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (or ARPA-E) program. The goal was take more risks than traditional federal efforts and help new renewable energy technologies get off the ground. Private investment had been flagging due to slow returns, but the huge societal benefits of clean energy was deemed to justify government support. The hope was that the funding could accelerate the timeline for new technology to mature to the point that private investors would find the technology more attractive.

At least, that was the idea. A team led by University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Anna Goldstein figured that ARPA-E’s first class is now old enough to check in on. She and her colleagues looked at a limited sample of 25 startups and found some interesting ways in which these companies seem to have beaten out the competition—and some in which they haven’t.

Best in class

The 25 startups selected in ARPA-E’s first round were compared to several other groups of companies that were born around the same time. The first group consists of the 39 companies that applied for ARPA-E funding and didn’t get it but still received an “encouraged” runner-up rating. In the next group are the 70 companies that received funding from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) with related government stimulus spending. And finally, there are almost 1,200 other clean energy startups that found their funding elsewhere.

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#arpa-e, #energy, #green, #green-energy, #renewable-energy, #science

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Researchers Urge Federal Moonshot for Clean Energy

The group has revealed a road map on accelerating government clean-tech investment for the next presidential administration

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#energy, #sustainability

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Microsoft’s Project Natick underwater datacenter experiment confirms viability of seafloor data storage

Microsoft has concluded a years-long experiment involving use of a shipping container-sized underwater data center, placed on the sea floor off the cost of Scotland’s Orkney Islands. The company pulled its ‘Project Natick’ underwater data warehouse up out of the water earlier this year at the beginning of the summer, and spent that last few months studying the datacenter, and the air it contained, to determine the model’s viability.

The results not only showed that using these offshore submerged data centers seems to work well in terms of performance, but also revealed that the servers contained within the data center proved to be up to eight times more reliable than their dry land counterparts. Researchers will be looking into exactly what was responsible for this greater reliability rate, in the hopes of also translating those advantages to land-based server farms for increase performance and efficiency across the board.

Other advantages included being able to operate with greater power efficiency, especially in regions where the grid on land is not considered reliable enough for sustained operation. That’s due in part to the decreased need for artificial cooling for the servers located within the data farm, because of the conditions at the sea floor. The Orkney Island area is covered by a 100% renewable grid supplied by both wind and solar, and while variances in the availability of both power sources would’ve proven a challenge for the infrastructure power requirements of a traditional, overland data center in the same region, the grid was more than sufficient for the same size operation underwater.

Microsoft’s Natick experiment was meant to show that portable, flexible data center deployments in coastal areas around the world could prove a modular way to scale up data center needs while keeping energy and operation costs low, all while providing smaller data centers closer to where customers need them, instead of routing everything to centralized hubs. So far, the project seems to have done specularly well at showing that. Next, the company will look into seeing how it can scale up the size and performance of these data centers by linking more than one together to combine their capabiilities.

#azure, #computing, #data-centers, #data-management, #data-warehouse, #distributed-computing, #electrical-grid, #energy, #gadgets, #greentech, #hardware, #microsoft, #scotland, #server, #tc

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Google claims net zero carbon footprint over its entire lifetime, aims to only use carbon-free energy by 2030

Google was at the leading edge of large technology companies seeking to go completely carbon neutral, having declared that status in 2007, and subsequently matching all of its global electricity consumption with renewable energy. Now, the company says that it is breaking new ground by becoming the first major company to effectively eliminate its entire carbon footprint – going back to its founding – something it has achieved through purchase of “high-quality carbon offsets” as of today. Further, it’s also setting a goal of employing entirely renewable energy sources by 2030.

The first achievement – eliminating its overall carbon footprint – is relatively easily achieved simply by spending a lot of cash. Google didn’t share exactly how much it had purchased in carbon offsets, but the idea behind those is that you could buy support of projects including renewable energy or energy efficiency initiatives or projects to offset your own impact. Google should be more or less aware of the impact of its operations from its founding until it became a carbon neutral operation in 2007, and hopefully its claim that it has purchased high-quality offsets means that a lot of meaningful projects got a sound investment to eliminate whatever that figure was.

Meanwhile, Google is taking on the much more challenging task of moving towards running its entire business on carbon-free energy sources everywhere it operates, 100 percent of the time. That means offices, campuses and data centres everywhere, for all of its products across Gmail, Search, YouTube and Maps. While Google already claims operations that match their total energy usage with 100 percent renewable use, that’s not actually through direct use of carbon-free sources. Instead, as is typical for companies seeking greener operations but with large and distributed physical footprints, Google purchases renewable energy elsewhere to offset the use of non-renewable power in places where there are no directly accessible sources available.

To commit to directly using only carbon-free energy all the time across its entire operations therefore means a huge undertaking, that will require the actual development of new clean energy sources. To that end, Google says it’ll be helping to bring 5 GW of new carbon-free energy sources online by 2030 across regions where it has physical resources that need access to clean power.

Funding the development of local clean energy sources to power its facilities isn’t new, and most major tech companies with a clean energy agenda pursue it. But Google’s specific target of making all of its power sources carbon-free by 2030 provides a fixed deadline for an unprecedented goal for a company of its size and influence.

#carbon-footprint, #energy, #google, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greentech, #renewable-energy, #sustainable-energy, #tc

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Bricks Can Be Turned Into Batteries

Pumping cheap iron-oxide-rich red bricks with specific vapors that form polymers enables the bricks to become electrical charge storage devices.

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#chemistry, #conservation, #energy, #physics, #sustainability, #tech, #the-sciences

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Climate change may wreck economy unless we act soon, federal report warns

A deep orange sky covers an automobile bridge across a lake.

Enlarge / A boat motors by as the Bidwell Bar Bridge is surrounded by fire in Lake Oroville during the Bear fire in Oroville, California, on September 9, 2020. (credit: Josh Edelson | AFP | Getty Images)

The ever-worsening climate crisis is already causing waves of human suffering—both internationally and here in the United States. And now, a new report from a US financial regulator finds that climate change is also poised to do major damage to some of the institutions with the most power to help mitigate it: Wall Street banks and investors.

Climate change “poses a major risk to the stability of the US financial system and to its ability to sustain the American economy,” the report (196-page PDF) from the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) begins. Regulators “must recognize that climate change poses serious emerging risks to the US financial system, and they should move urgently and decisively to measure, understand, and address these risks.”

The report, called “Managing Climate Risk in the US Financial System,” was written by a group of 35 advisors from major banks such as Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, environmental groups such as The Nature Conservancy and Ceres, energy firms such as BP and ConocoPhillips, several investment firms, and experts from several universities. It is the first analysis of climate change to come from a US financial regulator looking specifically at how change, already underway, will affect trading of agricultural commodities and futures, the real estate and insurance markets, and all the complex financial instruments that are built on multiple industries taken together.

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#climate-change, #climate-crisis, #energy, #finance, #policy, #social-costs, #sustainability, #wall-street

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First U.S. Small Nuclear Reactor Design Is Approved

Concerns about costs and safety remain, however

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#energy, #sustainability, #tech

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EPA issues new rules on coal plant pollution

Coal truck at a mine.

Enlarge / A truck loaded with coal is viewed at the Eagle Butte Coal Mine, which is operated by Alpha Coal, on Monday May 08, 2017, in Gillette, Wyoming. (credit: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

On Monday, the EPA issued updated rules on pollution limits that haven’t been updated in over 30 years. The rules cover water pollution that results from burning coal for power, pollution that can place a variety of toxic metals into the nation’s waterways. The 2020 regulations replace an Obama-era attempt to set more stringent rules to limit pollution, with the changes motivated in part by the EPA’s decision to avoid having the added costs of control measures push any coal plants out of business.

From fossil fuels to water

Coal is the dirtiest form of electricity generation, with a lot of its problems caused by the release into the air of particulates, toxic metals like mercury, and harmful environmental chemicals like sulfates. But, somewhat ironically, controlling these pollutants creates its own set of problems. Many of processes that remove these chemicals from coal plant exhaust end up with some of the exhaust components dissolved in water.

In addition, the byproduct of coal production, the coal ash, is often cooled and moved out of the plant using water, producing even more contaminated material. The list of toxic materials in this water is extensive—arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium, chromium, and cadmium. These materials have a variety of health effects, and many can persist in the environment for decades or longer. The EPA has estimated that this contaminated water accounts for about 30 percent of all of the toxic pollutants releases in the United States.

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#coal, #energy, #epa, #fossil-fuels, #policy, #pollution, #science, #trump

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Energy offset and renewable power developer Arcadia pitches clean power as an employee benefit

Arcadia, the company that gives homeowners and renters a way to offset their carbon footprints through renewable energy credits and clean power developments, is now pitching its services to businesses as an employee benefit.

Companies can offset their employees carbon footprints or subsidize their power bills using Arcadia’s services, the company said. It’s a response to the millions of Americans who are now working from home rather than going in to an office and an acknowledgement that office perks look different when the office is a living room couch, dining room table, or bed.

Since commuter benefits and office amenities like free coffee, snacks, sodas or whatever have become as nonexistent as a competent US government response to a global pandemic, companies are trying to come up with new ways to make employees happy (even though folks are lucky to be employed right now).

Energy usage that spikes in offices in the summer have now been distributed to homes around the country, according to data cited by Arcadia, which means that workers will be eating the cost of increased cooling bills that would have been borne by their corporate offices.

For workplaces that opt in to the new potential benefit for employees, Arcadia can either buy renewable energy credits to offset an employee’s emissions or it can take pay for that employee’s energy usage by acquiring blocks of renewable power from energy markets around the country.

The company has already signed up a few marquee customers, including McDonald’s, which is using the service to offset employee’s emissions (but not paying for their power).  

“We’re thrilled to partner with Arcadia on this new initiative,” said Emma Cox, Manager of North America Sustainability at McDonald’s, in a statement. “Getting the program up and running is incredibly easy and enables us to empower our employees that are no longer in the office, and is consistent with McDonald’s goals in reducing carbon emissions.”

 

#articles, #carbon-footprint, #energy, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #mcdonalds, #nature, #partner, #renewable-energy, #tc, #us-government

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Mounting Climate Impacts Threaten U.S. Nuclear Reactors

Higher temperatures, rising flood risks and increased water stress mean facilities need to take additional resiliency measures

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#climate, #energy, #sustainability

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Private space industrialization is here

The universal glee that surrounded the launch of the crewed Dragon spacecraft made it easy to overlook that the Falcon rocket’s red glare marked the advent of a new era — that of private space industrialization. For the first time in human history, we are not merely exploring a new landmass. We, as a biological species, are advancing to a new element — the cosmos.

The whole history of humanity is the story of our struggle with space and time. Mastering new horizons, moving ever farther; driven by the desire for a better life or for profit, out of fear or out of sheer curiosity, people found ever faster, easier, cheaper and safer ways to conquer the space between here and there. When, at the beginning of the 19th century, Thomas Jefferson bought Louisiana from Napoleon, actually having doubled the territory of the United States at that time, he believed it would take thousands of years for settlers to populate these spaces in the center of the continent.

But after just a few decades, the discovery of gold in California mobilized huge masses of industrious people, created incentives for capital and demanded new technologies. As countless wagons of newcomers moved through the land, threads of railways were stretched coast to coast, cities and settlements arose, and what Jefferson envisioned more than 200 years ago was actualized — and in the span of just one human life.

Growing up in a small Mongolian village near where Genghis Khan began the 13th-century journey that resulted in the largest contiguous land empire in history, I acquired an early interest in the history of explorers. Spending many long Siberian winter twilights reading books about great geographical discoveries, I bemoaned fate for placing me in a dull era in which all new lands had been discovered and all frontiers had been mapped.

Little did I know that only a few decades later, I would be living through the most exciting time for human exploration the world had ever seen.

The next space race

In recent years, the entire space industry has been waiting and looking for what will serve as the gold rush of space. One could talk endlessly about the importance of space for humanity and how technologies developed by and for space activity help to solve problems on Earth: satellite imagery, weather, television, communications. But without a real “space fever” — without the short-term insanity that will pour enormous financial resources, entrepreneurial energy and engineering talent into the space industry, it will not be possible to spark a new “space race.”

Presently, the entire space economy — including rockets, communications, imagery, satellites and crewed flights — does not exceed $100 billion, which is less than 0.1% of the global economy. For comparison: during the dot-com bubble in the late 1990s, the total capitalization of companies in this sector amounted to more than 5% of global GDP. The influence of the California Gold Rush in the 1850s was so significant that it changed the entire U.S. economy, essentially creating a new economic center on the West Coast.

The current size of the space economy is not enough to cause truly tectonic shifts in the global economy. What candidates do we have for this place in the 21st century? We are all witnesses to the deployment of space internet megaconstellations, such as Starlink from SpaceX, Kuiper from Amazon and a few other smaller players. But is this market enough to create a real gold rush? The size of the global telecommunications market is an impressive $1.5 trillion (or almost 1.5% of the global economy).

If a number of factors coincide — a sharp increase in the consumption of multimedia content by unmanned car passengers, rapid growth in the Internet of Things segment — satellite telecommunications services can grow in the medium term to 1 trillion or more. Then, there is reason to believe that this segment may be the driver of the growth when it comes to the space economy. This, of course, is not 5% (as was the case during the dot-com era), but it is already an impressive 1% of the world economy.

But despite all the importance of telecommunications, satellite imagery and navigation, these are the traditional space applications that have been used for many decades since the beginning of the space era. What they have in common is that these are high value-added applications, often with no substitutes on the ground. Earth surveillance and global communications are difficult to do from anywhere but space.

Therefore, the high cost of space assets, caused primarily by the high cost of launch and historically amounting to tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram, was the main obstacle to space applications of the past. For the true industrialization of space and for the emergence of new space services and products (many of which will replace ones that are currently produced on Earth), a revolution is needed in the cost of launching and transporting cargo in space.

Space transports

The mastering of new territories is impossible to imagine without transport. The invention and proliferation of new means of moving people and goods — such as railways, aviation, containers — has created the modern economy that we know. Space exploration is not an exception. But the physical nature of this territory creates enormous challenges. Here on Earth, we are at the bottom of a huge gravity well.

To deliver the cargo into orbit and defeat gravity, you need to accelerate things to the prodigious velocity of 8 km/s — 10-20 times faster than a bullet. Less than 5% of a rocket’s starting mass reaches orbit. The answer, then, lies in reusability and in mass production. The tyranny of rocket science’s Tsiolkovsky equation also contributes to the large rocket sizes that are necessary. It drives the strategies for companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, who are developing large, even gigantic, reusable rockets such as Starship or New Glenn. We’ll soon see that the cost of launching into space will be even less than a few hundred U.S. dollars per kg.

But rockets are effective only for launching huge masses into low-Earth orbits. If you need to distribute cargo into different orbits or deliver it to the very top of the gravity well — high orbits, such as GEO, HEO, Lagrange points or moon orbit — you need to add even more delta velocity. It is another 3-6 km/sec or more. If you use conventional rockets for this, the proportion of the mass removed is reduced from 5% to less than 1%. In many cases, if the delivered mass is much less than the capabilities of huge low-cost rockets, you need to use much more expensive (per kg of transported cargo) small and medium launchers.

This requires multimodal transportation, with huge cheap rockets delivering cargo to low-Earth orbits and then last-mile space tugs distributing cargo between target orbits, to higher orbits, to the moon and to other planets in our solar system. This is why Momentus, the company I founded in 2017 developing space tugs for “hub-and-spoke” multimodal transportation to space, is flying its first commercial mission in December 2020 on a Falcon 9 ride-share flight.

Initially, space tugs can use propellant delivered from Earth. But an increase in the scale of transportation in space, as well as demand to move cargo far from low-Earth orbit, creates the need to use a propellant that we can get not from the Earth’s surface but from the moon, from Mars or from asteroids — including near-Earth ones. Fortunately, we have a gift given to us by the solar system’s process of evolution — water. Among probable rocket fuel candidates, water is the most widely spread in the solar system.

Water has been found on the moon; in craters in the vicinity of the poles, there are huge reserves of ice. On Mars, under the ground, there is a huge ocean of frozen water. We have a vast asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. At the dawn of the formation of the solar system, the gravitational might of Jupiter prevented one planet from forming, scattering fragments in the form of billions of asteroids, most of which contain water. The same gravity power of Jupiter periodically “throws out” asteroids into the inner part of the solar system, forming a group of near-Earth asteroids. Tens of thousands of near-Earth asteroids are known, of which almost a thousand are more than 1 km in diameter.

From the point of view of celestial mechanics, it is much easier to deliver water from asteroids or from the moon than from Earth. Since Earth has a powerful gravitational field, the payload-to-initial-mass ratio delivered to the very top of the gravitational well (geostationary orbit, Lagrange points or the lunar orbit) is less than 1%; whereas from the surface of the moon you can deliver 70% of the original mass, and from an asteroid 99%.

This is one of the reasons why at Momentus we’re using water as a propellant for our space tugs. We developed a novel plasma microwave propulsion system that can use solar power as an energy source and water as a propellant (simply as a reaction mass) to propel our vehicle in space. The choice of water also makes our space vehicles extremely cost-effective and simple.

The proliferation of large, reusable, low-cost rockets and in-space last-mile delivery opens up opportunities that were not possible within the old transportation price range. We assume that the price to deliver cargo to almost any point in cislunar space, from low-Earth orbit to low-lunar orbit will be well below $1,000/kg within 5-10 years. What is most exciting is that it opens up an opportunity to introduce an entirely new class of space applications, beyond traditional communication, observation and navigation; applications that will start the true industrialization of space and catalyze the process of Earth industry migration into space.

Now, let’s become space futurists, and try to predict future candidates for a space gold rush in the next 5-10 years. What will be the next frontier’s applications, enabled by low-cost space transportation? There are several candidates for trillion-dollar businesses in space.

Energy generation

Energy generation is the first and largest candidate for the gold rush, as the energy share of the global economy is about 8.2%. Power generation in space has several fantastic advantages. First, it is a continuity of power generation. In space, our sun is a large thermonuclear reactor that runs 24/7. There’s no need to store electricity at night and in bad weather. As a result, the same surface collects 10 times more energy per 24 hours than on Earth.

This is not intuitively obvious, but the absence of twilights or nighttime, and the lack of clouds, atmosphere or accumulating dust create unique conditions for the production of electricity. Due to microgravity, space power plants with much lighter structures can eventually be much less costly than terrestrial plants. The energy can be beamed to the ground via microwaves or lasers. There are, however, at least two major challenges to building space power stations that still need to be resolved. The first is the cost of launching into space, and then the cost of transportation within space.

The combination of huge rockets and reusable space tugs will reduce the cost of transporting goods from Earth to optimal orbits up to several hundred dollars per kilogram, which will make the share of transportation less than one cent per kilowatt-hour. The second problem is the amount of propellant you’ll need to stabilize vast panels that will be pushed away by solar radiation pressure. For every 1 gigawatt of power generation capacity, you’ll need 500-1,000 tons of propellant per year. So to have the same generation capacity as the U.S. (1,200 GW), you’ll need up to 1 million tons of propellant per year (eight launches of Falcon 9 per hour or one launch of Starship per hour).

Power generation will be the largest consumer of the propellant in cislunar space, but the delivery of propellant from Earth will be too economically inefficient. The answer lies on the moon, where 40 permanently darkened craters near the north pole contain an estimated 600 million metric tonnes of ice. That alone will be enough for many hundreds of years of space power operations.

Data processing

Centers for data computation and processing are one of the largest and fastest-growing consumers of energy on Earth. Efficiency improvements implemented over the last decade have only increased the demand for large cloud-based server farms. The United States’ data centers alone consume about 70 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. Aside from the power required to operate the systems that process and store data, there is an enormous cost in energy and environmental impact to cool those systems, which translates directly to dollars spent both by governments and private industry.

Regardless of how efficiently they are operated, the expansion of data centers alongside demands for increased power consumption is not sustainable, economically or environmentally. Instead of beaming energy to the ground via microwaves or lasers, energy can be used for data processing in space. It is much easier to stream terabytes and petabytes from space than gigawatts. Power-hungry applications like AI can be easily moved to space because most of them are tolerant of latency.

Space mining

Eventually, asteroids and the moon will be the main mining provinces for humanity as a space species. Rare and precious metals, construction materials, and even regolith will be used in the building of the new space economy, space industrialization and space habitats. But the first resource that will be mined from the moon or asteroids will be water — it will be the “oil” of the future space economy.

In addition to the fact that water can be found on asteroids and other celestial bodies, it is quite easy to extract. You simply need heat to melt ice or extract water from hydrates. Water can be easily stored without cryogenic systems (like liquid oxygen or hydrogen), and it doesn’t need high-pressure tanks (like noble gases — propellant for ion engines).

At the same time, water is a unique propellant for different propulsion technologies. It can be used as water in electrothermal rocket engines (like Momentus’ microwave electrothermal engines) or can be separated into hydrogen and oxygen for chemical rocket engines.

Manufacturing

The disruption of in-space transportation costs can make space a new industrial belt for humanity. Microgravity can support creating new materials for terrestrial applications like optical fiber, without the tiny flaws that inevitably emerge during production in a strong gravity field. These flaws increase signal loss and cause large attenuation of the transmitted light. Also, microgravity can be used in the future space economy to build megastructures for power generation, space hotels for tourists and eventually human habitats. In space, you can easily have a vacuum that would be impossible to achieve on Earth. This vacuum will be extremely valuable for the production of ultrapure materials like crystals, wafers and entirely new materials. The reign of in-space manufacturing will have begun when the main source of raw materials is not Earth, but asteroids or the moon, and the main consumers are in-space industry.

The future market opportunities enabled by the disruption in space transportation are enormous. Even without space tourism, space habitats will be almost a two trillion dollar market in 10-15 years. Undoubtedly, it will lead to a space gold rush that will drive human civilization’s development for generations to come.

The final frontier

I studied in high school during the last years of the Soviet Union. The Soviet economy was collapsing, we had no sanitation in the house, and quite often we had no electricity. During those dark evenings, I studied physics and mathematics books by the light of a kerosene lamp. We had a good community library, and I could order books and magazines from larger libraries in the big cities, like Novosibirsk or Moscow. It was my window into the world. It was awesome.

I was reading about the flights of the Voyager spacecraft, and about the exploration of the solar system, and I was thinking about my future. That was the time when I realized that I both love and excel in science and math, and I decided then to become a space engineer. In an interview with a local newspaper back in 1993, I told the reporter, “I want to study advanced propulsion technologies. I dream about the future, where I can be part of space exploration and may even fly to Mars … .”

And now that future is coming.

#aerospace, #blue-origin, #column, #data-processing, #electricity, #elon-musk, #energy, #falcon, #flight, #international-space-station, #lasers, #microwave, #momentus, #opinion, #outer-space, #satellite, #satellite-imagery, #science, #space, #space-exploration, #spacecraft, #spacex, #startups, #tc, #telecommunications

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This Lab Aims to Prepare the U.S. Electricity Grid for a Climate Transformation

A new test bed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will explore ways to ease the shift to renewables and energy storage systems

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#climate, #energy, #environment, #sustainability, #tech

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Trump admin. finally kills off Obama-era rule limiting methane emissions

A natural gas flare from an offshore oil drilling rig in Cook Inlet, Alaska.

Enlarge / A natural gas flare from an offshore oil drilling rig in Cook Inlet, Alaska. (credit: Paul Souders | Getty Images)

The Environmental Protection Agency this week finalized a rule that kills off Obama-era limitations on how much methane, a potent greenhouse gas, oil and natural gas producers are allowed to emit into the atmosphere—even though industry leaders didn’t want the changes.

The changes to the rules, known as the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), remove some segments of the industry from being covered under the existing standards at all, and these changes also lift the methane caps on other segments, the EPA announced on Thursday.

The oil and gas industry basically splits into three big buckets of activity: upstream, meaning the actual drilling for oil or gas; midstream, which is the world of storage and pipelines; and downstream, that last mile where products are refined and sold. The current changes apply to the downstream and midstream segments, as the EPA broke down in a graphic (PDF).

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#climate-change, #climate-crisis, #emissions, #energy, #environmental-protection-agency, #epa, #methane, #methane-emissions, #policy, #science

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Power electronics and wireless charging startup Eggtronic raises $10M Series A

Eggtronic, the Italy-founded startup developing power electronics, wireless charging and data over power technology and products, has closed around $10 million in Series A funding.

Backing the company is Rinkelberg Capital — the investment fund from the founders of TomTom — and funds managed by an unnamed investment bank in Milan. It brings the total raised by Eggtronic since 2012 to $17 million.

Eggtronic says the capital will be used to develop a new integrated circuits division at the Eggtronic research laboratories as it continues along its roadmap of more efficient power transformers. Eventually, the company hopes its “capacitive” wireless charging technology will be adopted universally as a new industry standard.

Founded by CEO Igor Spinella out of Italy’s Modena — famous for its balsamic vinegar, opera heritage and Ferrari and Lamborghini sports cars — and now with offices and production facilities in the U.S., Italy, and China, Eggtronic is best-known for its sleek laptop charger and stone-shaped wireless chargers.

However, it also makes various power electronics for other brands, and it is B2B, including producing ICs that other manufacturers can use in their own devices, that is the company’s longer-term and “scalable” future.

Spinella tells me that Eggtronic’s consumer and white-labeled products serve as a direct way of signalling to the market what Eggtronic is capable of and brings in revenue that can be reinvested into R&D to get to a better wireless charging future.

“We were not in California, and working in a capital intensive field almost unknown by Italian investors, we created a pipeline able to validate us as a manufacturing and design company, invest in R&D — [including] being able to create some incredible demos of our most innovating technologies — and scale internationally,” explains Spinella.

Those demos included a capacitive wireless surface able to charge a smartphone in 2015, a TV in 2017, and two laptops connected and charging via data over power in 2020.

“These R&D demos were extremely important milestones to validate our own idea of wireless power and data,” says Spinella. [This includes] total position freedom: you can literally put every device on the desk randomly, charging and connecting them all”.

In addition, the company has been able to demonstrate high power use-cases, and data over power that it claims can hit the same speed of a USB 3 cable but wirelessly.

“This technology has already some industrial customers, the next steps are the creation of ICs and the first retails products based on these ICs, then we can work on the adoption by a leading company,” adds the Eggtronic founder.

In the interim, the company is applying some of the same capacitive technology to power conversion for existing applications, such as Eggtronic’s laptop chargers and power bricks.

“We filed several patents in this area, starting from our capacitive power converters able to remove the transformer, increasing efficiency and reducing size,” says Spinella. “Today we have several architectures that we invented, able to cover most of the typical applications, from some tens of Watts to kW, with our own resonant architectures (capacitive, inductive, and hybrid), with several proprietary control algorithms, our own ‘Power Factor Correction’ circuits, several proprietary ways to shrink the size of the components, to reduce the number of stages in series and so on”.

Meanwhile, Spinella is being advised by consumer electronics veteran Mark Gretton, who is the former CTO of TomTom and helped pioneer mobile computing at Psion. He was introduced to Eggtronic via Rinkelberg Capital, before deciding to invest and join as an advisor.

“I decided to get involved because firstly I liked and respected Igor, but also because unlike so many technology companies that come my way, the Eggtronic proposition was refreshingly simple,” Gretton tells me. “We are going to make something that is an integral part of everyone’s lives better through applying technology. There was no change of behaviour, complex business model, or solution to a problem nobody knew they had. Just designing better power electronics for everyone”.

#eggtronic, #energy, #inductive-charging, #integrated-circuits, #italy, #tc, #tomtom, #wireless-power

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Polestar 1 Review: A hybrid grand tourer worthy of its $155,000 price

The Polestar 1 is stunning inside and out. But it drives even better than it looks.

This is a driver’s car. The Polestar 1 is an electric hybrid sports car, and yet it doesn’t feel like a hybrid. The power plant in the Polestar 1 is fascinating and delivers power in a way that’s different from any other electric or hybrid sports car I’ve driven. It feels like a proper gas-powered grand tourer that can keep up with the best from BMW, Mercedes, and Audi .

You’ll swear there’s a V8 in the Polestar 1. And that’s a good thing. Put your foot down, and the car plows forward with the confidence of internal combustion. The power delivery is not digital with an on-or-off feeling familiar in electric vehicles, but rather, it’s organic and fluid. Hit 45, and the torque seemingly increases, mimicking the soul of a balanced gas engine. The Polestar 1 feels more like a Corvette than a Tesla Roadster. And to me, for the first time, I have hope that the future of motoring can be efficient and enjoyable.

The Polestar 1 is a fantastic vehicle full of dumb flaws, but it gets one thing right: The hybrid powertrain in the Polestar 1 is genius. It’s spectacular and foreshadows a future where cars can change their identities to match a driver’s tastes better.

Review

The Polestar 1 is surprising ways. During my time with the vehicle, I found myself lost in its balanced power. It’s smooth off the line and confident at speed. The 600 hp power plant is bottomless and yet restrained where needed. This car won’t beat a Tesla Model S to 60 mph, and to me, that’s ideal. As I learned from Polestar, the engineers used clever software to restrain the 737 ft-lb of torque and allow the powertrain to deliver the power pleasingly.

But first, some context: Polestar is an off-shoot of Volvo designed to explore the possibilities of electric vehicles. The company’s first car is the Polestar 1 featured here. The company’s second vehicle, Polestar 2, is a pure electric sedan that will compete with the Tesla Model 3. The Polestar 2 will be available in the coming months and has an electric range of 275 miles with a starting price of $59,900. The Polestar 1 is a hybrid vehicle and starts at $155,000.

Polestar is following a similar strategy used by Tesla. Like Polestar, Tesla’s first vehicle was a limited-run sports car, the Roadster. From the Roadster, Tesla expanded its line to more accessible vehicles like the Model S, Model X, and finally, the Model 3. Essentially, Tesla (and now Polestar) built the sexy sports car for attention, and an affordable car people need.

And much like the Tesla Roadster, the Polestar 1 has a bunch of quirky shortcomings. In the Polestar 1, the sun visor only tilts down — it cannot pull out and twist to the side. The Polestar 1’s door handles pop-out when the driver approaches the vehicle — sometimes, other times, they do not, and occasionally, they remained popped out from the car after I closed the door.

I experienced a random assortment of error messages from the Polestar 1. Sometimes, the car would beep to have the passenger buckle their seat belt, even though the passenger seat was empty. Other times, the check engine light flashed. And when one of the tires lost air, the vehicle flashed a warning, but I was unable to see the exact tire pressure to help gauge the urgency of the notice.

One more complaint: The trunk is tiny, and I don’t think it can hold more than one set of golf clubs.

And even with these shortcomings, the Polestar 1 is fantastic. It feels alive in a way that’s missing from most hybrid or electric cars. It’s balanced and controlled and has endless potential.

The Polestar 1 is a tourer. It’s designed to be comfortable and controlled on endless road trips. Tourers like the Polestar 1 are among my favorite types of cars. Most are broad and sweeping. In the best, the driver feels like a part of the massive machine, working in tandem with engines, motors, and gears, to achieve a common goal. This is often achieved through a competent chassis and potent powertrain, which is the same formula used in the Polestar 1.

The Polestar 1 powers off the start line with the torque pushing the riders into their seats. As speed increases, the torque increases, much like a small-block V8. At speed, the Polestar 1 settles into a grove, seemingly able to maintain any cruising speed. It carves through curves, with balanced steering and capable corning.

The hybrid powertrain comes alive on open stretches of roads. It’s not rowdy or boisterous, but understated and robust. It’s not jerky, but sublime. It’s intoxicating.

Representatives from Polestar explained to me that engineers used several techniques to deliver an enjoyable driving experience. For one, the software is used to restrain the instantaneous torque generally produced by electric motors. Second, the car’s gearbox utilizes gearing designed for long hauling, not drag racing. Because of this design, the Polestar 1 is slightly slower to 60 mph than some competitors, and yet, it’s fast enough with a 0-60 time of 4.2 seconds.

Like most cars, the Polestar 1 has several different driving modes. In pure electric, the vehicle has a range of 60 miles — the longest such range of any gas-electric hybrid on the market. In this mode, the Polestar 1 is silent and effortless. In hybrid mode, the power is plentiful but not overflowing. In Power mode, the Polestar 1 transforms into its true self as one of the best grand tourers available.

Car bros often lament about the coming age of the electric vehicle. I understand the pessimism. Electric cars often feel digital, and for most people, driving is an analog experience. Electric motors provide a thrilling experience but often lack a sporty enjoyment. The Polestar 1 achieves both.

Polestar knows the Polestar 1 will not sell in large numbers. With a starting price of $155,000, it’s selling against the best from Porsche, BMW, and Mercedes. For one, I wouldn’t get a Polestar 1 over a fully-equipped Porsche 911 or BMW 8 Series. That said, Polestar is only making 1,500 of this initial vehicle.

The Polestar 1 is beautiful and looks like nothing on the road. The hood is long and wide with the back-end stout and robust. The design is clean and straightforward. Hints of Volvo’s involvement are evident throughout the expansive front-end to the sweeping taillights to the infotainment system.

The future of motoring is electric, but that’s miles down the road. That’s okay with me. Cars like the Polestar 1 prove that gas engines still have a place in a world striving to be more energy efficient. Automotive development is evolutionary rather than revolutionary and in the case of the Polestar 1, it’s a big step in the right direction. The software used to tune the hybrid powertrain foretells a future that’s as pleasing as what’s currently available from Europe’s best.

The Polestar 1 sits in an odd spot. It’s not a mass market vehicle thanks to it very high price, and it’s hardly competitive against vehicles in its price range, too. That doesn’t stop it from standing tall as a fantastic vehicle regardless of its price. It’s exciting as a technical marvel more so than an obtainable commodity and in the world of motoring, it’s cars like this that stand the test of time. The Polestar 1 is a future classic.

#audi, #energy, #polestar, #tc, #tesla

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U.S. Offshore Wind Needs to Clear a Key Hurdle: Connecting to the Grid

A piecemeal approach risks overloading electrical systems and tangle of deep sea cables

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#energy, #sustainability, #tech

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Los Angeles Accelerates Efforts to Electrify Its Infamous Traffic

The city aims to add more electric chargers and to convert its bus fleet to meet its emissions-reduction goals

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#automotive, #energy, #environment, #sustainability

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Why NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover Uses Nuclear Energy

Radioactive plutonium is crucial for keeping this and other power-hungry deep-space missions warm and working for yeras on end

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#energy, #physics, #space, #the-sciences

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The Real Reason for Daylight Savings Time: Gas

Originally published in August 1908

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#artsculture, #behaviorsociety, #energy, #the-sciences

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The Real Reason for Daylight Saving Time: Gas

Originally published in August 1908

— Read more on ScientificAmerican.com

#artsculture, #behaviorsociety, #energy, #the-sciences

0