Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

Report: Toyota and Panasonic to create an electric car-battery spinoff company

January 21st, 2019
A Toyota Prius battery

Enlarge / This photo taken on June 5, 2009, shows Toyota Motors' third-generation Prius hybrid vehicle battery module displayed at Panasonic's EV Energy headquarters in Kosei, Aichi, prefecture. (credit: TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)

According to Nikkei Asian Review, Toyota Motors and Panasonic have agreed to set up a joint-venture company to manufacture vehicle batteries, with Toyota owning 51 percent of the company and Panasonic owning 49 percent.

Ars Technica contacted both companies to confirm the report, and we'll update this story if we hear back.

Nikkei reports that Panasonic would transfer ownership of five battery factories in Japan and China to the joint venture. The joint venture would start operations "in the early 2020s," and it would start producing "batteries with 50 times the capacity of those now used in hybrid vehicles, aiming to bring down production costs through higher volume," according to Nikkei.

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Posted in batteries, battery electric vehicles, cars, Energy, fuel, panasonic, Tesla, Toyota | Comments (0)

Elon Musk has been pitching cheap tunnels from The Boring Company to big names

January 21st, 2019
A map of a potential location for a tunnel through Australia's Blue Mountains.

Enlarge / Plans for a potential tunnel connecting Sydney, Australia, to the West. (credit: Jeremy Buckingham)

Elon Musk—CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and The Boring Company—has been pitching his new tunnel-boring capabilities to curious elected officials as well as the director of CERN (the organization that owns and operates the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland).

Just a month after Musk opened up his first, rather rugged test tunnel under the SpaceX campus in Hawthorne, California, the CEO has been on Twitter floating prices and talking projects.

Last week Jeremy Buckingham, a member of Parliament in New South Wales' Upper House, asked Musk on Twitter, "How much to build a 50km tunnel through the Blue Mountains and open up the west of our State?" Musk replied, "About $15M/km for a two-way high-speed transit, so probably around $750M plus maybe $50M/station."

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Posted in cars, Energy, science, the boring company, Transportation, tunnels | Comments (0)

Oil from humble saltwater plant blended with jet fuel on Etihad Airways flight

January 17th, 2019
One type of salicornia plant.

Enlarge / Glasswort bush (Salicornia europaea), Chenopodiaceae. (credit: De Agostini/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, an Etihad Airways Boeing 787 in Abu Dhabi embarked on a roughly seven-hour flight to Amsterdam with its tank full of a mixture of jet fuel and biofuel. The biofuel was derived from oil pressed out of Salicornia plants, which require saltwater to grow.

Gulf News reported that a full 50 percent of the jet fuel needed to take the plane to its destination was biofuel, which is an extraordinarily high ratio of biofuel to jet fuel, if this report is correct. Ars contacted Etihad Airways to confirm this number, and we will update the story when we receive a response.

Previous notable flights using biofuel have included a Qantas flight that used a 10-percent blend of mustard seed oil, a Virgin Atlantic flight that used a 5-percent blend of fuel made from industrial waste gas, an Alaska Airlines flight that used a 20-percent blend of fuel made from waste wood from Pacific Northwest timber harvests, and a series of United Airlines flights that used a 30-percent blend of biofuel from various sources.

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Posted in airplanes, biofuel, Biz & IT, Energy, FLIGHT, jet fuel, science | Comments (0)

Tesla sells a new wall charger, Maryland backs away from big EV charging program

January 16th, 2019
Tesla wall charger can be plugged into a standard outlet.

Enlarge / New Tesla wall charger. (credit: Tesla)

This week, Tesla introduced a new wall charger that can plug directly into a NEMA 14-50 standard American wall outlet. The new wall charger is similar to the company's second-generation mobile wall connector but with the ability to provide 40 amps (9.6kW) to long-range Model S, X, and 3 vehicles. Mid- and standard-range vehicles still charge at 36 amps, much like the mobile wall connector.

The new wall charger can be used wherever an applicable wall charger exists, without the need for an electrician to come out an install the charger. Both the new wall charger and the electrician-installed wall connector cost $500, but the new charger that is NEMA 14-50-compatible obviously won't require electrician's fees if you have an accessible outlet. Still, Tesla recommends its electrician-installed wall connector "for new installations."

The Tesla Wall Connecter offers the fastest charging speeds, but according to Tesla, this new wall charger is 25 percent faster at charging than the Gen 2 mobile wall connector. As far as charging speed, it seems to sit somewhere between the high-end hardwired charger and the mobile charging kit.

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Posted in cars, charging infrastructure, Electric vehicles, Energy, Tesla | Comments (0)

EPA at a 30-year low for referring pollution cases for criminal prosecution

January 15th, 2019
EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler

Enlarge / Acting Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency EPA Andrew Wheeler listens as President Donald J. Trump leads a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on July 18, 2018, in Washington, DC. (credit: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Polluters likely had a good year in 2018. According to numbers from advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the number of criminal pollution cases that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) referred to the Department of Justice for potential prosecution was lower in 2018 than it had been in 30 years.

That's probably not because industry in America is becoming more environmentally conscious. PEER suggests the reason for the low number of referrals is that the EPA is only employing between 130 and 140 special agents in the agency's Criminal Investigation Division, less than the minimum 200 agents specified by the US Pollution Prevention Act of 1990.

The EPA only referred 166 cases to the Justice Department in 2018. According to numbers from the Associated Press, referrals peaked in 1998, with 592 cases referred for prosecution. Throughout the George W. Bush presidency, referrals ranged somewhere between 300 and 450. Referrals dipped during the Obama presidency to a range between 200 and just over 400. Referrals have been on a downward trend since 2012.

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Posted in Energy, environment, EPA, Policy, pollution, science | Comments (0)

As the US nuclear fleet ages, one lab group hopes to give it a second wind

January 14th, 2019
A pair of nuclear towers against a blue sky.

Enlarge / The Watts Bar nuclear power plant in Tennessee. (credit: Tennessee Valley Authority / Flickr)

Nuclear power provides roughly 20 percent of the United States' electricity and about half of its low-carbon electricity. Whether you think nuclear power is a good or a bad thing, the fact is that the existing nuclear power fleet contributes a significant amount of energy to the US grid, and all that capacity is rapidly approaching its sunset years.

Most nuclear power plants were built in the 1970s and '80s and were planned around a 40-year lifespan. Only one new nuclear reactor has been put into commission since the '90s. This presents a problem: the US is facing a fast-approaching loss of a significant source of zero-carbon electricity, which it can either replace with intermittent renewables or fossil fuels. The first option may require expensive storage to smooth out the times when wind or sun are not available, and the second is undesirable given the nature of climate change.

One group at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is trying to help utilities and energy companies extend the lives of their aging reactors. The Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors (or CASL, for short) has been building and refining a reactor modeling program called VERA (an acronym for Virtual Environment for Reactor Applications), which offers high-resolution computer modeling of nuclear reactor equipment.

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Posted in electricity, Energy, Nuclear, Policy, regulation, science | Comments (0)

After a boom year for new natural gas plants, renewables set to retake the lead

January 14th, 2019
Wind turbines at the Cedar Point Wind Energy Project in Limon, Colorado.

Enlarge / Wind turbines at the Cedar Point Wind Energy Project in Limon, Colorado. (credit: Getty Images)

In 2019, more renewable energy will be added to the grid than fossil fuel-based energy, according to estimates from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). That had been the trend between 2013 and 2017, but last year new natural gas-fired power plants outpaced renewable additions to the grid. As a result, US carbon emissions increased, notably from the power sector, despite the rapid retirement of coal plants and a growing consciousness about the necessity of low-carbon energy.

EIA expects 2019 to be a more modest year for new energy capacity compared to 2018, with only 24 gigawatts (GW) of total capacity additions predicted for 2019 compared to the 34GW of capacity additions predicted for 2018. In 2018, EIA predicted that 21GW of natural gas plants would come online, with roughly 11GW of new renewables coming online, making 2018 the first year since 2013 in which renewables didn't make up the bulk of the new capacity added in the US.

A recent report from the Rhodium Group shows that actual installations in 2018 track with the EIA's 2018 estimate: between January and October 2018, 14.9GW of natural gas capacity were added to the US grid, while only 7.9GW of solar and wind capacity were added. More power plants were likely turned on between October and December, and the ratio of natural gas to renewable installations is comparable.

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Posted in Biz & IT, coal, Energy, natural gas, nuclaer, renewables | Comments (0)

Fiat Chrysler settles in lawsuit over diesel-emissions cheating

January 10th, 2019
Fiat Chrysler vehicles in a lot

Enlarge / A row of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Dodge Ram trucks sit on display at a car dealership in Moline, Illinois, on Saturday, July 1, 2017. (credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The US Justice Department (DOJ) on Thursday announced a $305 million civil settlement between Fiat Chrysler and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a lawsuit over illegal software found on certain diesel Dodge Ram models and diesel Jeep Grand Cherokee models.

The terms of the settlement also included an additional $19 million payment to the state of California, which regulates auto emissions through the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

On top of all this, Fiat Chrysler is expected to upgrade the software on all of the offending vehicles and pay into a mitigation fund designed to ameliorate damage done by excess nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. The two programs together will cost the company an additional $185 million.

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Posted in cars, diesel, diesel emissions, Energy, Fiat Chrysler, Volkswagen | Comments (0)

Natural gas is now getting in the way; US carbon emissions increase by 3.4%

January 8th, 2019
PINEDALE, WY - MAY 3: A natural gas facility stands on the Pinedale Anticline, on May 3, 2018 in Pinedale, Wyoming. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

Enlarge / PINEDALE, WY - MAY 3: A natural gas facility stands on the Pinedale Anticline, on May 3, 2018 in Pinedale, Wyoming. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

"The US was already off track in meeting its Paris Agreement targets. The gap is even wider headed into 2019."

That's the dire news from Rhodium Group, a research firm that released preliminary estimates of US carbon emissions in 2018. Though the Trump administration said it would exit the Paris Agreement in 2017, the US is still bound by the agreement to submit progress reports until 2020. But the administration has justified regulatory rollbacks since then, claiming that regulation from the US government is unnecessary because emissions were trending downward anyway.

But it appears that emissions have increased 3.4 percent in 2018 across the US economy, the second-largest annual increase in 20 years, according to Rhodium Group's preliminary data. (2010, when the US started recovering from the recession, was the largest annual increase in the last two decades.)

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Posted in carbon emissions, electricity, Energy, Policy, power sector, science, Transportation | Comments (0)

Canadian plans to transport oil as solid briquettes move forward

January 8th, 2019

The Canada National Railway Company (CN) has spent years developing a product called CanaPux, in which thick bitumen crude oil from Canada's oil sands is mixed with a polymer to become a solid puck that can be transported with little fear of spills or fires. When the pucks reach their destination, the polymer is separated from the oil and can be sent back to the processing plant for reuse.

Now, CN Innovations, the branch of CN that developed CanaPux, has found two partnering groups that are interested in building production plants to develop the pucks. One is a Chinese group seeking to export bitumen (the name for the low-grade heavy oil found in Canadian oil sands) to China, the other is a Canadian group wanting to export the stuff to South Korea and India, among other countries. The Canadian group in particular has been focusing on exporting bitumen for non-combustion purposes: heavy oil like bitumen is often used to pave and waterproof roofs, according to James Auld, the project lead for CanaPux at CN.

Auld told Ars on Monday that a 10,000 barrel-a-day CanaPux production plant would cost about CAN$50 million (US$37.6 million) to build, not including a facility at the other end of the transportation chain that would de-polymerize the briquettes of oil. The two groups looking to build CanaPux plants are eyeing plants that could process between 10,000 and 50,000 barrels per day.

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Posted in Biz & IT, CanaPux, cars, climate change, Energy, oil, rail | Comments (0)