Tag: green

Volkswagen is building an electric supercar to tackle Pike’s Peak

Last month, Volkswagen laid out a roadmap for its EV rollout, promising 300 zero-emissions vehicles by 2030. While it's certainly good PR to move the company beyond its lingering diesel scandal, it also follows other automakers that recently committed to electric vehicle fleets. But to really seal the deal, VW has a new stunt in the works: It's creating an all-electric sportscar for next June's Pikes Peak high-altitude race in Colorado.

Volkswagen is partnering with Technical Development in Wolfsburg to build the all-wheel-drive prototype. The automaker hopes it will break the record for electric racers on the course, which was set at eight minutes 57.118 seconds in 2016. Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is 12.4 miles long, with a nearly 5,000-foot climb to top out at a maximum elevation of over 14,000 feet above sea level.

"The Pikes Peak hill climb is one of the world's most renowned car races. It poses an enormous challenge and is therefore excellently suited to proving the capabilities of upcoming technologies," Volkswagen board member Dr Frank Welsch said in a press release. "Our electric race car will be equipped with innovative battery and drive technology. The extreme stress test on Pikes Peak will give us important findings that will benefit future development, and it will showcase our products and their technologies."

Source: Volkswagen

Amazon’s largest wind farm yet is up and running in Texas

Greenpeace slammed Amazon earlier this week for its environmental practices -- namely, the fact that it doesn't disclose much about its energy use or materials. But today, the company announced that its largest wind farm yet is up and running. The Amazon Wind Farm Texas, located in Scurry County, Texas, includes over 100 turbines and will generate enough clean energy to power more than 330,000 homes.

This isn't Amazon's first foray into clean energy. The Amazon Wind Farm Texas is among 18 others across the US, and the online retailer has another 35 in planning stages. Not only are they offsetting their carbon footprint, at least somewhat, but they're providing more jobs and contributing to local economies. Kara Hurst, Amazon's Worldwide Director of Sustainability, cites a company-wide goal of eventually powering their infrastructure using solely renewable energy.

It's not clear whether this specific press release is a response to Greenpeace's actions, but Amazon is clearly interested in garnering as much good will as possible, and they're going about it in a great way. People can feel however they want about the company, but it's hard to argue with a project like this. The wind farms also make clear that the retail giant is interested in many more endeavors than solely selling you more stuff than you need and delivering it within two days.

Source: BusinessWire

Scoot is adding battery-swapping cars to its San Francisco lineup

If you spend any time in San Francisco you'll see them. The red electric scooters with a white lighting bolt and the word "Scoot" plastered on the side of the cargo box. Scoot, the company behind these ubiquitous two-wheeled vehicles has been able to litter the city with over 700 of these bikes that can be picked up and dropped off via an app almost anywhere within the city. Now, the short-term rental company is eyeing cars.

According to Scoot founder and CEO Michael Keating, the electric scooter rental service has been used by almost 50,000 users since it launched in 2012. An impressive number, but as pointed out by Keating, not everyone is comfortable braving the perilous streets of San Francisco on two wheels. With that in mind, he announced a partnership with Chinese automotive startup CHJ to bring the automaker's yet-to-be-released small electric car with swappable batteries to San Francisco.

The goal of the two companies is to recreate the scooter model with a small EV. Riders would find and reserve one of these SEV (small electric vehicles) via the Scoot app, get inside and drive it to their destination, then just leave the car on the street for the next Scoot customer. That sounds great, but it's not allowed in San Francisco which is why the two companies invited the city council and policy makers to an event in the city's Dogpatch district.

At the center of the shindig was the CHJ electric vehicle (which will be sold under the company name AmpGo) . A car roughly the length of a Mercedes Smart Fortwo but less than half the width. Small electric cars are nothing new, but the yet-to-be-named SEV has swappable batteries in the trunk that can be replaced in about a minute. That's what makes it suitable for a floating rental service. If the car never has to be plugged into a wall, maintenance crews can just drive around and swap out batteries, and the vehicle is good to go. "We want to bring affordable electric transportation to every San Francisco neighborhood without needing more charging stations," Keating said.

The biggest obstacle isn't technology (the SEV is built to be part of a service like Scoot from its small size to it's Linux/Android-powered infotainment system that talks to the cloud), it's San Francisco regulations and lack of parking. In 2012, BMW launched DriveNow a service similar to Car2Go. The cars could be booked for one-way trips but the vehicles had to be parked in dedicated parking lots and the city just couldn't deliver those spaces. So in 2015, BMW left and later rebranded the service ReachNow and relaunched in Seattle.

Scoot and CHJ are hoping that the small footprint of the SEV (four to five can be parked sideways in a typical parking space), its battery-swapping technology and Scoot's history of delivering a one-way rental service in San Francisco will sway city officials. But that may prove difficult as the area has experienced an increase in traffic with, according to research by the Northeastern University and San Francisco's Transit Authority, services like Uber and Lyft account for up to 20 percent of the vehicles on city roads. Adding another car service to the already congested roads could be difficult.

Keating notes this and hopes that adding Scoot's car-rental service to complement the transportation options already available in the city could convince some residents to give up their gas-powered cars for something that's more convenient and ultimately cleaner. The California DMV reports that there are over 413,000 privately owned cars in San Francisco according to 2016 registrations. Of those only 5,000 are electric.

The CEO also noted that ride-hailing systems like Uber and Lyft need a complimentary low-cost alternative for when someone needs to get to a destination quicker than public transportation can take them. He said that the SEV would cost slightly more than the $3 per half-hour the company charges for the scooters on the network. Anyone that's used a ride-hailing services (which have rates that fluctuate wildly based on demand) knows that's a deal.

So it's an uphill battle, but Keating seems determined that it'll happen. At the end of his presentation, he announced that Scoot and CHJ had come to an agreement to import as many of the small SEVs to San Francisco as the city would allow. That puts San Francisco on the spot to make a decision about how it works with companies like Scoot. It also puts a lot of pressure on a single tiny car.

Unfortunately, Scoot and CHJ would not allow any photos of the vehicle. Yet, even though we only have a few out of focus glimpses of the vehicle in the photos provided by the companies, I was able to take it for a spin. Well, a circle, I was able to drive it around some cocktail tables in a room.

It was far from a true test of the car's capabilities, but I was impressed that all the top-line features (touch-screen dash, transmission, rear-view camera, brakes, doors) seemed ready to hit the road. One feature that really impressed me was that the company had installed two buttons on one of the small rear flares that allowed the driver to get out of the car and back it up or move it forward with these controls. This is how the car can be arranged four (or five) across in a typical parking spot.

At the end of the evening I was shown the power packs. Two 3.2kWh batteries that work in tandem to keep the car on the road up to 30 miles. It reminded me of Gogoro's electric scooter. A new way to charge without loitering around a station. Scoot and CHJ are hoping that these two boxes and the car they go in won't have them waiting around for the city as it tries to figure out if this unlikely partnership will help it reduce congestion while cutting emissions.

UK government could force petrol stations to install EV chargers

The UK's network of motorway services and petrol stations will be required to install chargers for electric cars, under plans announced by Transport Minister John Hayes. The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, which was first announced during the Queen's Speech in June but yesterday had its first reading in Parliament, outlines new powers that will help boost the uptake of electric vehicles across the UK.

According to the government, the new network of charging stations will need to be "smart," which means they can interact with the grid in order to manage demand across the UK. Operators will also be required to provide clear information on the location and operating hours of their points, as well as the available charging options, how much they cost and whether they are working order or already in use.

Ministers are clear that "all UK motorway services and large petrol retailers" will need to be on board and that the government will be given powers to "make it compulsory for chargepoints to be installed across the country." The Bill itself lists both of these pledges but clearly state that the "regulations may impose requirements" on both large fuel retailers and service area operators. This may allow the government to step in if new installations are behind targets, but some petrol station operators are already taking positive steps. Shell, for example, has already begun installing chargepoints on forecourts, which might mean ministers won't need to use these new powers.

The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill also makes provisions for the UK's self-driving future. It reiterates a lot of what was shared during the Queen's Speech, in that the all drivers of automated cars will need to be separately covered when the driver is in manual control and when the car is driving itself. Victims of accidents involving an automated vehicle will must also "have quick and easy access to compensation." Car owners will be made liable for accidents if they've modified the software on their vehicle or have failed to install important updates.

The government says it plans to invest £1.2 billion in the electric and driverless car industry, ensuring that local authorities get the money they need to install charging stations in residential streets, where electric cars are often parked on the street.

"We want the UK to be the best place in the world to do business and a leading hub for modern transport technology, which is why we are introducing the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill in Parliament and investing more than £1.2 billion in the industry," Transport Minister John Hayes said. "This bill will aid the construction of greater infrastructure to support the growing demand for automated and electric vehicles as we embrace this technology and move into the future."

Via: Gov.uk

Source: Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill (PDF)

World’s first floating wind farm powers up in Scotland

The blades of five huge turbines have begun spinning on the world's first offshore wind farm, located over 15 miles off the coast of Peterhead, Aberdeenshire in Scotland. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is cutting the ribbon on the renewable energy site today -- presumably in an on-land ceremony -- which is capable of pumping 30 megawatts of clean electricity into the grid. In more human terms, that's enough to power approximately 20,000 homes. The turbines of Hywind Scotland stand 253 meters tall in total (around 830 feet), with 78 meters (256 feet) of that bobbing beneath the surface, tethered to the seabed by chains weighing 1,200 tonnes.

It's quite the feat of engineering, with the obvious benefit of floating wind farms being the inhospitable environments in which they can be erected. Energy firms Statoil and Masdar partnered on the Hywind Scotland project, and the plan within the next year or so is to install a huge 1MWh "Batwind" storage battery to better manage the site's output.

The UK, and Scotland in particular, is no stranger to trend-setting clean energy projects that are contributing towards encouraging renewable milestones. The UK is home to the biggest wind turbines in existence, and after Hywind Scotland, the Irish Sea is expected to host an even bigger offshore wind farm in the future. Then there's the world's first lagoon power plants, still in development, and while England doesn't really have the right weather, windy Scotland has also been earmarked for the world's first commercial kite-driven power plants.

Via: BBC

Source: Statoil

Greenpeace blasts Amazon over poor environmental practices

Greenpeace has made a tradition out of raking companies over the coals when their environmental practices fall short of its standards, and that's truer than ever in the activist group's latest electronics report card. The organization didn't list any major company whose environmental stances (including renewable energy, sustainable products and toxin-free materials) were good enough to merit an "A" grade, and four companies earned an unflattering "F" -- including internet giant Amazon. According to Greenpeace, Jeff Bezos' brainchild falls well short on most marks.

Most notably, Greenpeace accuses Amazon of being opaque when it comes to discussing its environmental practices. The company publishes virtually no data on its energy use, its materials or whether or not it limits the use of hazardous chemicals. It tends to offer only the info required by law. Outside of its adoption of solar powered data centers and support for eco-friendly government policies, it hasn't made public commitments to lessen the environmental impact of its products. This isn't to say that Amazon hasn't taken steps to help the planet -- it's just impossible to know without more transparency. We've asked Amazon for comment.

As it stands, Amazon isn't alone. Some Chinese phone makers are also less-than-kind to the Earth, including stablemates Oppo and Vivo as well as Xiaomi. Not surprisingly, it's again chalked up to a lack of transparency and public commitments. If they're doing anything to improve the environment, they're not talking about it.

Only two companies fare well in the guide. Apple gets a "B-" through its strong transparency and very open commitments to eco-friendly technology, and it's mainly hurt by its reliance on hard-to-fix devices as well as its opposition to Right to Repair laws. The top performer is Fairphone, whose emphasis on easily-repaired, sustainable tech got it a "B" marred only by some unclear commitments. Whatever you think of Greenpeace or its verdicts, the guide at least serves as a useful goalpost. If companies want to prove that they're taking care of Mother Nature, they have to demonstrate in everything they do.

Source: Greenpeace

Volvo’s performance brand launches a 600HP plug-in hybrid

When Volvo declared that its Polestar performance brand would revolve around electric powertrains, it wasn't kidding. Polestar has unveiled its first car, appropriately named the Polestar 1, and it's a plug-in hybrid coupe that musters 600HP while managing a surprisingly large 93 miles of electric-only driving. This is an EV that just happens to have a gas engine under the hood, according to Volvo, and the odds are that you might never use fossil fuels during your daily commute. It also promises to be nimble thanks to a continuously adjusted electronic suspension and an electric rear axle to maximize grip. The 1 sounds like it could be a relatively guilt-free way to drive, then. However, it's almost more important for what it isn't.

When the 1 rolls off the line in mid-2019 (pre-orders are open now), it'll be the only gas-powered car Polestar will ever release -- all models after that will revolve around pure electric power. The first EV in the mix will be the Polestar 2, a mid-sized model meant to tackle the Tesla Model 3 in late 2019, while the Polestar 3 will be an "SUV-style" electric ride. In that light, the 1 is really just a test run that helps Polestar find its footing before it becomes an electric-only badge.

As it stands, Polestar hopes to break ground beyond the car technology itself. Like its sibling brand Lynk & Co., it's veering away from conventional ownership. You'll order your car online, and drive on a 2- to 3-year "all-inclusive" subscription that covers service and renting alternate vehicles. Think of it as a truly comprehensive lease. Moreover, you can use your phone both as a car key and as a gateway to concierge services. There will be physical showrooms (Polestar Spaces), but Volvo is taking a cue from Tesla and won't actually have lots full of cars for you to buy.

It's not shocking that Polestar would go this route. Like many automakers, it's preparing for the possibility that ridesharing and self-driving cars will reduce the need for ownership. And of course, subscriptions give Polestar a constant source of revenue where it might lose out if you rely on third-party garages or make your last car payment. It's betting that generations familiar Netflix and Spotify will prefer the hassle-free nature of an all-you-can-eat service, even if it costs more than you'd otherwise pay.

Via: Business Insider

Source: Volvo

Coal power plant closures ramp up in spite of White House plans

The Trump administration may hope that it can reverse coal power's decline by ending the Clean Power Plan and other eco-friendly efforts, but the industry's moves suggest otherwise. Luminant has announced plans to close three major coal plants in Texas (in Freestone, Milam and Titus counties) between January and February of 2018. The shutdowns will take a combined 4,200MW of power off the grid -- enough to run over 4 million homes, as Reuters notes. The news boosts the expected capacity of 2018 power plant closures to over 13,600MW, or a whopping 79 percent more than the known closures for this year. It's not a record high (nearly 18,000MW went offline in 2015), but it's clear that the trend is toward more closures, not fewer.

Luminant isn't shy about the reasons for the decisions, which will unfortunately lead to roughly 950 people losing their jobs. It blames an "oversupplied" renewable energy market, but it also points to low prices for both natural gas and wholesale electricity. These coal plants haven't been money-makers for a while, and there was nothing to suggest the market was about to turn around.

These latest closures illustrate the problems the White House faces with its plans to challenge the "war on coal" (as EPA head Scott Pruitt called it) by removing Obama-era regulations and policies. The decision to scrap the Clean Power Plan may have reduced pressure to lower carbon emissions, but that doesn't matter if it's no longer financially viable to run a given coal plant regardless of its emission levels. Simply put, the recent trend suggests that coal may be on an irreversible slide, and that clean energy tech like solar is still the future.

Via: Reuters

Source: Luminant (1), (2)

First-ever ‘negative emissions’ power plant goes online

Unfortunately, it's no longer enough to cut CO2 emissions to avoid further global temperature increases. We need to remove some of the CO2 that's already there. Thankfully, that reversal is one step closer to becoming reality. Climeworks and Reykjavik Energy have started running the first power plant confirmed to produce "negative emissions" -- that is, it's removing more CO2 than it puts out. The geothermal station in Hellsheidi, Iceland is using a Climeworks module and the plant's own heat to snatch CO2 directly from the air via filters, bind it to water and send it underground where it will mineralize into harmless carbonates.

Just like naturally forming carbon deposits, the captured CO2 should remain locked away for many millions of years, if not billions. And because the basalt layers you need to house the CO2 are relatively common, it might be relatively easy to set up negative emissions plants in many places around the world.

As always, there are catches. The Hellsheidi plant capture system is still an experiment, and the 50 metric tonnes of CO2 it'll capture per year (49.2 imperial tons) isn't about to offset many decades of fossil fuel abuse. There's also the matter of reducing the cost of capturing CO2. Even if Climeworks improves the efficiency of its system to spend $100 for every metric ton of CO2 it removes, you're still looking at hundreds of billions of dollars (if not over a trillion) spent every year to achieve the scale needed to make a difference. That will require countries to not only respect climate science, but care about it enough to spend significant chunks of their budgets on capture technology.

It could be a long while before you see systems like this implemented on a global scale as a result. With that said, the very fact that CO2 capture prices are falling so sharply (they were estimated to cost several hundred dollars per ton in 2011) is important. It's now realistic enough to use capture technology that it's being used at a real-world power plant, and it's easy to see countries like China adopting this to tackle smog and the other immediate short-term effects of runaway CO2 emissions.

Via: Quartz, Popular Mechanics

Source: Climeworks

Toyota’s fuel-cell big rigs are ready to haul cargo

After completing 4,000 "development" miles at the port of Los Angeles, Toyota's Project Portal hydrogen fuel-cell big rig is ready to start transporting cargo from that port and the one in Long Beach to rail yards and warehouses beginning on October 23.

The class 8 Toyota truck is capable of producing more than 670 horsepower with 1,325 pounds of torque -- more than enough for even the heaviest Amazon delivery. The semi began its testing at the ports back in April, with Toyota partnering with drayage (transporting goods over short distances) provider Southern Counties Express. As the trial progressed, more and more cargo had been added until the two companies decided the truck was ready to become part of the proper fleet of vehicles later this month.

Powering the truck are two fuel stacks from Toyota's fuel-cell Mirai sedan and a 12kWh battery. The automaker says the big rig is capable of transporting 80,000 pounds and has a range of about 200 miles per fill-up. That's more than enough to move cargo around the Los Angeles area. Plus, it can quickly be put back on the road thanks to the fact that hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles can be refuelled as quickly as traditional gas-powered car.

While automakers have been touting their long-term electric vehicle plans, many of them have been simultaneously working on fuel-cell vehicles as a way to hedge their bets. A hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle can refuel as quickly as a gasoline vehicle, but like an EV, produces no CO2. It seems like it would be a seamless transition from traditional driving, or at least more so than what's expected from electric vehicles, which need to be plugged in and charged for hours to fulfill their range promises.

At issue is the lack of a robust hydrogen fuel-cell refueling infrastructure. Toyota and other automakers have worked closely with third parties to set up stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco and the north east. Anywhere else, and you're basically out of luck. But if programs like Toyota's Project Portal prove to be a hit, it might be just the boost the fuel-cell infrastructure needs for mass adoption.