Tag: Europe

Major car companies partner for Europe-wide EV charging network

A group of the biggest names in the car industry have announced a joint partnership to develop a Europe-wide high-power charging (HPC) network for electric vehicles. The venture, named IONITY, draws on expertise from BMW, Daimler, Ford, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche, and aims to launch 400 HPC stations by 2020.

The first 20 stations will open this year, located in Germany, Norway and Austria at intervals of 120 kilometers, with around 100 more expected further afield in 2018. Each HPC point will support a variety of electric cars, and let multiple customers charge up at the same time. And at 350kW capacity per point, charging times will be significantly reduced, juicing up a Porsche Mission E (on the market in 2019) to 80 percent in just 15 minutes -- that's a range of 400 kilometers in the same time it takes to grab a coffee.

One of the biggest challenges faced by electric vehicle manufacturers is consumer concerns about range and the availability of charging facilities, so IONITY represents a big step in making electric vehicle ownership more appealing. As IONITY's chief executive officer Michael Hajesch says, the network "will deliver our common goal of providing customers with fast charging and digital payment capability, to facilitate long-distance travel. IONITY plays an essential role in establishing a market for electric vehicles."

Source: Porsche

Microsoft HoloLens is now certified protective eyewear

Microsoft first launched HoloLens in 2015 as a gaming-centric consumer product, but so far, very few folks have so much as picked up a Minecraft block with the $3,000 device. Microsoft isn't complaining, though. HoloLens has been a big success with businesses, allowing designers to visualize digital changes on real-life objects and helping employees do complex tasks or high-tech sales demos. In fact, it's been so popular with companies that Microsoft is now expanding sales to 29 new European markets, taking the total up to 39 nations.

Microsoft says that companies like Ford and Thyssenkrupp have been asking for HoloLens availability in Spain, Sweden and Turkey, where it's currently unavailable. The device has been particularly popular for so-called firstline workers that repair elevators or build cars, for instance. HoloLens provides such folks with valuable information like repair instructions overlaid directly onto real objects. At the same time, it's hands-free and doesn't disrupt normal vision.

On top of the new availability, the HoloLens is now certified for use as basic protective eyewear, with an IP50 rating for dust protection in construction zones, for instance. On top of that, "we're happy to announce a HoloLens hard hat accessory is in production and will be available for purchase next year," Microsoft HoloLens GM Lorraine Bardeen added in the blog post. Intel, for one, demoed a mixed reality headset with a built-in hard hat at CES 2016.

For the consumer market, Microsoft and its partners have launched several Windows Mixed Reality Headsets that are strictly for VR right now, with plans for mixed reality models to come later. However, it's not planning to introduce a new HoloLens model until 2019. When it does arrive, it'll reportedly be equipped with an artificial intelligence (AI) chip that should greatly expand its capabilities.

Source: Microsoft

LG will build Europe’s biggest EV battery factory next year

As the auto industry fatefully moves into electric vehicles, Europe's major car-makers need high capacity batteries. Until now, companies like VW, Volvo and BMW have had to import batteries from Asia. LG's forthcoming car battery factory in Poland, the first in Europe, hopes to fulfil that growing demand. "The company has chosen Poland as the most competitive location for production to satisfy the needs of European and global car producers," said Chang-Beom Kang, vice president at LG Chem. The facility will cost $1.63 million, based in the city of Wroclaw which is close to the country's border with Germany. (In case you didn't know, Germany is a major car manufacturing country.)

The company's chemical arm is planning to manufacture up to 100,000 EV batteries starting next year, recruiting 2,500 people in the process. According to Reuters, the factory will also include an R&D center.

While the factory may sound big enough, LG Chem's production estimates place it at around 10 percent of the capacity of Tesla's Gigafactory estimates for 2018. Demand is ramping up in Europe, and this is likely just the start. Paris stated today that it aimed to ban the sales of new fossil fuel car by the year 2030, while both France as a country, and the UK, aim to ban the sale of combustion engine vehicles by 2040.

Source: Reuters

EU raids banks over attempts to block financial tech rivals

You'd think that governments were waging a war against financial technology given reports of crackdowns and tighter regulation, but the opposite is true in Europe. EU officials have confirmed that they recently raided the offices of bank authorities in multiple countries, including the Netherlands and Poland, to investigate antitrust "concerns" that banks are stifling tech-driven newcomers. The banking establishment is allegedly preventing fintech companies from accessing account info despite customers granting permission, pushing people back to conventional services.

The EU stresses that the raids amount to a "preliminary step," and that they're not evidence of guilt. With that in mind, there's at least reason to be wary. Germany ruled in 2016 that bank restrictions on customer data access were violating its competition laws, and it stands to reason that it's not the only European country with that issue.

Wherever the investigation leads, it's not coming out of the blue. EU rules coming into effect January 2018 will require that banks give third parties access to account data with your consent. Think of this as laying groundwork -- it's a not-so-friendly reminder that banks will soon have no choice but to let you use the fintech services you want.

Via: Financial Times

Source: European Commission

Europe takes Ireland to court over Apple’s $14.5 billion tax bill

The European Commission has announced that it will refer Ireland to the European Court of Justice for not collecting back taxes that it is owed by Apple. More than a year after a sweetheart deal between Ireland and the iPhone maker was ruled illegal, the country has dragged its feet in asking Tim Cook for the cash. Tired of waiting around, Commissioner Margrethe Vestager (pictured) has referred the nation to the continent's highest court, which can then impose fines for non-compliance.

The backstory here is that the European Union wants to create a functional free and open market that allows competition to flourish. But some nations, looking to host big name companies, could be tempted to either give them a whopping tax break or actively fund their development costs. These deals, known as "state aid," are known to distort the market and make the playing field far more uneven than it should be.

Back in 1991, Apple signed a deal with the Irish government that let it use a special tax loophole called the "double Irish." It's believed that Apple has used the loophole to store two thirds of its non-US profits inside this tax haven. The result is that Ireland essentially turned a blind eye to the better part of $14.5 billion that it would have been owed had the loophole not existed. The EU opened an investigation into the deal in 2013, and in 2016 demanded that Ireland collect the cash.

Ireland doesn't feel that it's doing anything wrong, and has appealed the decision of the court declaring the tax break as illegal. In addition, the country has said that it will collect the tax, but says that it won't be in a position to know how much it will ask for until March 2018. That's not good enough for Vestager or the law, which says that EU states have just four months from the decision to get moving -- meaning that Ireland should have sent a strongly-worded letter to Apple by January of this year.

The issue of Apple's taxation is a contentious one, but the company has drawn ire even in the United States. In 2013, Senator Carl Levin penned a report examining that Apple managed to negotiate its global tax rate down to just two percent. In the US, it would have to pay at least 15 percent. Tim Cook, however, believes that Apple should only be taxed where its value is created -- i.e. only at the company's R&D sites in California.

Source: Europa, Europa

EU: Amazon must pay back €250 million in unfair tax benefits

The European Commission says that Amazon received tax benefits from member country Luxembourg that totalled around €250 million. Under EU State aid rules, this is illegal and the country has been told it must recover this sum. Amazon was able to pay substantially less tax -- the commission says the company was paying four times less than other local companies.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said: "Following an in-depth investigation launched in October 2014, the Commission has concluded that a tax ruling issued by Luxembourg in 2003, and prolonged in 2011, lowered the tax paid by Amazon in Luxembourg without any valid justification."

Amazon moved its profits from a group that is subject to tax in Luxembourg to one that wasn't, resulting in a substantially lower tax bill. The shell company had no offices or staff, but was used solely for evading tax. The antitrust regulator says this let Amazon avoid taxation on three quarters of the profits it made from all Amazon sales in the EU.

There are no EU fines here. The rules outline that the country needs to recover the sum of benefits to "remove the distortion of competition created by the aid". The Commission has worked out the difference between what the company paid in taxes and what it should have without Luxembourg's tax ruling -- around €250 million, plus interest. The onus is now on the tax authorities of Luxembourg to determine the precise amount of unpaid tax. Vestager suggests that Amazon will have to repay these benefits to Luxembourg.

The European Commission's findings follow its recent investigation into Google's shopping listings -- and the resulting record fine. There were also more developments today in its tax dealings with Apple and Ireland.

‘Timberscrapers’ could soon dominate urban skylines

They just don't make 'em like the Sakyamuni Pagoda anymore. Built from wood in 1056 in the Shanxi province of China, the building has remained standing to this day despite seven earthquakes rattling the region within its first 50 years of existence. Since then, it's held up against a slew of seismic events, even when more modern structures have failed. Now thanks to recent advancements in timber technology, modern architects are rediscovering the benefits of working with wood.

Wood was the go-to construction material from the dawn of time up until the late 19th century. However, it is far from ideal. For one thing, its cells can swell and shrink by up to 10 percent of their original size depending on the humidity. Plus, if it stays wet for too long, the material rots. Imperfections in the grain weaken its structural integrity and can cause it to fail under loads that it should otherwise support. In its natural state, wood breaks more easily than steel and bends more readily than concrete. Wood's biggest drawback is, of course, the fact that it burns so readily. That's not what you want in a densely packed urban center, as the fires of San Francisco in 1851 and 1906, Chicago in 1871 and Boston in 1872, all illustrate.

Still, while the 20th-century skylines were dominated by steel and concrete, the first two decades of the 21st have seen a rapid influx of wooden architectural designs. However, many are still little more than artist renderings. In 2012, the 10-story Forte residential block in Melbourne Australia became the world's tallest timber building. It was quickly overtaken two years (and four stories) later when The Treet in Central Bergen, Norway was completed.

The Brock Commons, in Canada currently serves as 18 levels of student housing for the University of British Columbia. And, beginning next month, architects in Portland, Oregon, will break ground on a 12-story mixed-use structure dubbed, the Framework, which will be the tallest wooden building in the US once it's complete. That structure may not hold the title for long, however, as the Cambridge University Department of Architecture is looking how it might construct twin 80-story residential towers -- one on the Chicago River, the other in London.

This rapid proliferation of designs is all thanks to a kind of building material called cross-laminated timber (CLT), which was invented in Europe in the 1990s. It's not that different from plywood, actually, just produced on a much larger scale. Long planks of two-by-fours are glued together side by side into sheets. Those sheets are then stacked three or four layers high, separated by fire-resistant glue and pressed together. By rotating the grain of each subsequent layer by 90 degrees, the composite material shows a structural strength that rivals steel and negates the imperfections that any one layer might have.

Wood structures offer a number of benefits over steel and concrete, especially in an increasingly carbon-conscious world. For example, it's roughly a quarter the weight of an equally sized concrete structure, which means that the foundations don't have to be as large. That not only means you don't need to use as much building materials, but you don't have to expend as much fuel getting it to the construction site, which further reduces carbon emissions. That's a big deal here in the States: According to the Department of Energy, a full 40 percent of the country's total carbon emissions come from building construction and use.

"Carbon dioxide is the building block of wood," Professor Ari Sinha of Oregon State University told Engadget. "As the tree grows, more carbon dioxide is stored." What's more, Sinha continued lighter wooden buildings -- whether they're made from mass timber materials or traditional wood -- tend to withstand earthquakes better and dissipate the energy of the shaking more readily than steel structures.

According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, we'd be able to reduce global C02 emissions by 15 to 20 percent if we used CLT instead of steel. Additionally, CLT can be fabricated in a factory and flat-packed Ikea-style to the job site and then simply assembled, rather than "constructed" in the traditional sense. "This has huge time and financial savings implications," Kevin Flanagan, a partner at PLP architects, told CNN.

But perhaps wood's most valuable advantage is its ability to sequester carbon. A 2009 study by the University of Canterbury in New Zealand found that over a 60-year life cycle, "Increasing the amount of timber in the buildings decreased the initial embodied energy and Global Warming Potential (GWP) of materials and also decreased the total energy consumption and GWP." Overall, wooden buildings can have a total carbon footprint a third smaller of similarly sized steel and concrete buildings.

"When you compare a wood building with a concrete building, wood wins every time," Jim Bowyer, an emeritus engineer at the University of Minnesota in St Paul, told Nature in May.

But for as promising all this carbon offsetting appears, whether that carbon remains locked depends largely on how the material is recycled. Unlike the Sakyamuni Pagoda, most modern buildings aren't really meant to be everlasting. Instead they're routinely demolished and rebuilt every half-century or so as the needs of the city around them change.

So what do you do with the pile of lumber after you've knocked down the structure? You can't really just dump it in a landfill and let it rot as that slowly releases the trapped carbon back into the atmosphere, Sinha explained. Burning the wood for energy does the same thing, only faster. Responsibly recycling that wood for use in other construction projects or other products entirely is the only way to ensure that the sequestered carbon stays that way.

Another major challenge is wood's sustainability. According to the World Wildlife Foundation, 58,000 square miles of forest are destroyed annually. That's roughly the land mass of Georgia. However, with responsible land management, a number of experts believe that we can make it work.

"Wood is a renewable and sustainable resource so long as the forest is managed using good practices," Sinha said. "If that is happening, then wood is an obvious choice for building 'green'."

Bowyer, who is leading an expert assessment on behalf of the American Wood Council, figures that the US timber industry is currently logging about a third of the country's annual forest growth but has the capacity to double the amount of carbon sequestered in buildings annually. What's more, his team found that wood construction could expand beyond residential (some 80 percent of American homes are made from wood), into commercial and industrial spaces, without reducing the amount of carbon locked away in America's forests.

Researchers are already looking to "mix the the [wood] species and glue type and play around with the orientation of the laminate to optimize the engineering properties for the specific application," Sinha said. Oregon State University is also partnering with a local timber company to develop CTL's successor, dubbed Mass Plywood Panels. With maximum finished dimensions of 12 feet wide by 48 feet long and 24 inches thick, MPP can support the same amount of weight as CTL but while using up to a third less wood. As Sinha concludes, "I think cross laminated timber is just the start."

Images: University of British Columbia (Brock Commons); Gisling / Wikipedia (Sakyamuni Pagoda)

Google will reportedly spin off shopping service after antitrust fine

Google is reportedly splitting off its price-comparison shopping service after getting fined for a record-setting $2.8 billion by the EU after a legal battle over antitrust practices. The internet titan appealed the decision, but will comply with the EU court's order to allow competing shopping services access to the page-topping ad slots at the top of search results, sources told Bloomberg.

The EU's seven-year investigation found that users searching for products on Google Shopping were shown the company's own links over competitors' in the coveted ad slots at the top of the page, despite Google's being less relevant. The internet titan has until tomorrow, September 28th, to comply with the court's order to allow other companies to bid on those ad slots on an even playing field, without Google subsidizing its own bids with its ad money. Splitting off Google Shopping into a standalone unit will illustrate that.

Google is expected to announce its full plans for its Shopping entity tomorrow to make the deadline; If it fails to comply, the EU court could fine Google up to five percent of its daily revenue. But the company will continue appealing the court's decision.

Via: The Verge

Source: Bloomberg

Honda’s Urban EV Concept is a throwback to the old Civic

Some cars are timeless. The first generation Honda CVCC is one of those vehicles. With it's tiny frame it bucked against the large American cars of the 1970s and become an instant classic. So it's no surprise that the automaker looked back at its heritage as it brings a new small electric vehicle to market.

The Urban EV Concept (yeah, that's its name) is Honda's answer to the entire industry going electric. At the Frankfurt auto show, Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo introduced the tiny car and announced that it would hit the road in Europe in 2019. Sad times for America -- at least for now.

The car will be part of a dedicated EV platform and a Power Manager Concept that not only keeps the car charged, but will also charge your home when needed and sell electricity back to grid at peak times. The Power Manager is set to be tested in parts of France starting in 2020.

There's no word on range, but that shouldn't stop US residents from hassling Honda to get the Urban EV Concept to our shores. Hopefully with a better name.

Source: Honda

EU countries aim to raise tech firms’ taxes by targeting revenue

It's no secret that European countries want major tech firms to pay more taxes, but how will they go about that beyond collecting back taxes? By taxing the companies where they'll feel it the most, that's how. The finance ministers of France, Germany, Italy and Spain have written a joint letter to the European Union's presidency and Commission calling for taxes on tech giants' revenues, not just their profits. The four nations want the Commission to produce an "equalization tax" that would make companies pay the equivalent of the corporate tax in the countries where they earn revenue.

The ministers want to put the issue on the table for an EU meeting in Estonia (where the current presidency is located) on September 15th. It's not certain how other EU members will react, but the presidency has already scheduled a talk about making it possible to tax companies wherever they produce value. Google recently dodged a tax bullet in France because its operations are based in Ireland, and it's clear that the countries want to eliminate that technicality going forward.

It's safe to say that Google, Amazon, Apple and other similarly large companies will fight tooth and nail if the letter turns into definitive action. These frequently base their operations in countries with strong tax incentives, like Ireland, to dramatically reduce the taxes they pay in Europe and beyond. If they had to pay more typical taxes in all EU member states, they might pay billions more every year.

Source: Reuters