Four pathways being backed during Covid-19, but EVs and renewable energy will have to wait

While several environmental groups and corporate executives (i.e., Elon Musk) would love to see the global fleet transformed into battery electric vehicles fueled by solar, wind, hydro, and other renewables, other fuels and technologies are taking the lead for now. They seem to be the most pragmatic moves for now with governments mandating climate change transformation — and other market forces such as capital investors gaining more interest — opening up to four pathways gaining real traction this year.

  1. Carbon capture: Capture, removal, and sequestration (storage) of carbon dioxide from power-plant combustion and other industry power sources gives end users (like large corporations) a faster and more cost-effective practice for hitting government regulations and company sustainability campaigns. It’s an effective method for extracting carbon and permanently storing it. One r&d project capturing attention and support is coming from scientists supplied by ExxonMobil, University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The team has discovered a new material that could capture more than 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from industrial sources. It needs less energy to capture, remove, and sequester, which can bring down the cost quite a bit. It also opens the door for the technology to eventually support commercial applications.
  2. Natural gas still here: Natural gas is not going away anytime soon though renewable natural gas has a good chance of taking over some day. How long? An executive from engineering firm Black & Veatch believes that natural gas will play a key role approaching a set of strategies over the next 30 years or more before net-zero mandates start being fulfilled. Utility operators and gas companies could be key stakeholders if this were to take shape. Advanced gas turbine generator plants hold the greatest promise, once able to increase capacity and achieve efficiency scaling up to their full-load capacity.
  3. Nuclear could survive and thrive: Nuclear power has high hopes of coming back as a serious competitor in the utility sector through nuclear fusion, but it’s been requiring massive investments and several more years of development before it wins regulatory approval. One symbolic news development was hearing about the Democratic Party’s election year policy paper opening up to nuclear power — especially nuclear fusion — for the first time in nearly half a century. Presidential nominee Joe Biden is also backing nuclear fusion as another tactic for fighting climate change. Dense plasma focus (DPF) could open the door to fusion being adopted much faster and for being economically feasible. Middlesex, NJ-based Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Inc., known as LPPFusion, may soon be leading the way in transitioning over to nuclear fusion through DPF. It could beat the massive Torus Experimental Reactor project under construction in Southern France.
  4. Green hydrogen:  Support for hydrogen has been taking a wider base recently with concern over the cost of extracting hydrogen — and where it comes from — improving substantially. Most of it had been coming from natural gas, but that’s starting to change. For natural gas, much of the hydrogen has come from steam methane reforming (SMR), which causes the methane found in natural gas to react with steam, which then produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Green hydrogen is gaining support as it can almost completely eliminate emissions by using renewable energy for powering electrolysis of water that’s needed in producing hydrogen. However, the pace of development of green hydrogen is not fast enough to meet global energy demand despite developers announcing 50 projects in the last year, according to a new study. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) analyzed these projects and found the supply of global green hydrogen is likely to be three million tons a year; but global demand is forecast to reach 8.7 million tons annually by 2030, creating an “incredible supply shortfall.”

And in other news:
Musk tweets about extended-range battery: Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that much better batteries are on the horizon during a tweet post on Monday. “400 Wh/kg with high cycle life, produced in volume (not just a lab) is not far. Probably 3 to 4 years,” Musk tweeted in response to a Twitter thread by Sam Korus, an analyst at ARK Investment Management LLC, about why Musk keeps dropping hints about airplanes. That would make for mass production of electric vehicles with 50 percent more energy density coming out in three to four years. This is expected to be clarified at the company’s upcoming “Battery Day” event where it is expected to reveal how it has improved its battery performance.

California employees law on hold: A California appeals court ruling on Thursday avoided a shutdown of Uber and Lyft in the state, allowing drivers to remain independent contractors while the court continues reviewing the issue of driver status and whether AB 5 makes them employees. It means that voters may decide whether it will be IC vs. employees while voting on the November ballot measure.

Smog takes the lead: Air pollution is the world’s leading environmental risk factor, and causes more than nine million deaths per year, according to a new study. Published in the the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the new research study shows air pollution may play a role in the development of cardiometabolic diseases, such as diabetes. The study concludes that the devastating effects were reversible with cessation of exposure.

ACT Expo launches virtual seminars: Advanced Clean Transportation Expo recently launched a four-month speaker series, called ACT Virtual, to dig into environmental sustainability in trucking and other fleet applications. “Whether we’re going to end up with fuel cells or whether we’re going to end with hybrid technology or pure battery electric vehicles, we’re investing in companies and technology that can be supported within that,” said Ryan Laskey, senior vice president of the commercial vehicle group at Dana Inc., during the first panel last week.

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