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It’s Time for Biden’s New Energy Division to Reject Fossil Fuels

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The late November news out of the White House was filled with pomp and promise. A new energy division within the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) would contribute to climate change policy, and Sally Benson, a prominent energy expert out of Stanford, would take on the role of deputy director for energy and chief strategist for the energy transition at OSTP. This lead author on global climate policy would assist the Biden administration to achieve targets of a 50-52% reduction in greenhouse gases from 2005 levels by 2030, a carbon pollution-free electricity system by 2035, and a net-zero emissions economy no later than 2050.

Just a week or so later, however, a report by Public Citizen said that the Biden administration had auctioned off the right to drill offshore on 1.7 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, locking in more fossil fuel drilling — and carbon emissions — for decades.

The move is a slap in the face to Biden-Harris supporters.

As a candidate, Biden pledged to advocate for “no more subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, no more drilling on federal lands, no more drilling, including offshore, no ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period.”

What changed?

Could it be, as Bloomberg Intelligence’s survey last month indicated, only 2% of investors responding said that oil demand would peak before 2025, and fewer than 40% said that it would peak before the end of the decade. More than a third of investors responding expect demand to peak between 2025 and 2030, but nearly the same number see that peak happening later, between 2030 and 2035. Plus, their findings suggest that 71% of the 122 respondents see the OPEC+ alliance remaining in place through 2025, while 41% think the group will be forced to maintain active supply management forever in response to sluggish demand.

Is the Biden administration looking ahead to the 2024 election with trepidation that powerful fossil fuel allies will rally against the Biden-Harris ticket unless there is a warmer (pun intended) reception to Big Oil? It was also last month that Vice President Kamala Harris said she and President Joe Biden have not been discussing the 2024 election. Uh huh. It was also in November that it was revealed, in a hypothetical 2024 rematch, former President Donald Trump led President Joe Biden in Iowa by 11 percentage points. That news was published via a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll.

On November 26, NPR reported that the Biden administration had recommended an overhaul of the nation’s oil and gas leasing program to limit areas available for energy development and raise costs for oil and gas companies to drill on public land and water.

What is going on with all the contradictions about clean energy versus fossil fuels?

What’s The New Energy Division Charged With Accomplishing?

The passage of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill contains $47 billion designated for climate resilience. The objective is to better prepare the US for extreme fires, floods, storms, and droughts — tangible symbols of the current economic and social climate crisis havoc. The new energy division will help implement those energy provisions in the infrastructure bill.

The formation of the administration’s new energy division, according to the White House press release, is intended to “reinforce the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to using science-based approaches to reduce emissions and scale-up a clean and equitable energy system.”

Elements of that plan are to:

Ensure America’s continued leadership in clean energy innovation
Map the path to get the US to net-zero emissions by 2050
Do things once thought impossible with smart grid technologies, clean hydrogen, and fusion power
Make carbon-neutral energy the cheapest energy, so it’s always the easy choice
Drive the virtuous cycle of invention and deployment that brings down costs
Move toward an emission-free future where clean electricity is the cheapest and most reliable electricity
Enable equitable access to clean energy services to everyone across the country

In an interview with The Washington Post, Benson said that one of her top priorities is ensuring that the swift transition to a clean energy economy benefits all Americans, rather than leaving behind some workers in the oil and gas sector and other polluting industries. “We have a 120-year-old energy system that was built over a long time period, and we’re talking about very quickly changing that to a new system,” she said. “And this is a huge opportunity for American industry, for American workers, to lead.”

Benson says she intends to work toward securing supply chains for the materials needed to make electric vehicles, solar panels, and other clean energy technologies.

More Executive Office Announcements About A Zero Emissions US Economy

This week, an Executive Order was released with the focus on catalyzing clean energy industries and creating jobs through federal sustainability.

Through a coordinated whole-of-government approach, the Federal Government says it shall use its scale and procurement power to achieve:

100% carbon pollution-free electricity on a net annual basis by 2030, including 50% 24/7 carbon pollution-free electricity
100 %  zero-emission vehicle acquisitions by 2035, including 100% zero-emission light-duty vehicle acquisitions by 2027
A net-zero emissions building portfolio by 2045, including a 50% emissions reduction by 2032
A 65% reduction in scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions, as defined by the Federal Greenhouse Gas Accounting and Reporting Guidance, from Federal operations by 2030 from 2008 levels
Net-zero emissions from Federal procurement, including a Buy Clean policy to promote use of construction materials with lower embodied emissions
Climate resilient infrastructure and operations
A climate- and sustainability-focused Federal workforce

We’ll be hearing a lot more about this Executive Order in the days to come. By proclaiming that exactions and investment required to achieve these goals will “protect the environment, drive innovation, spur private sector investment, improve public infrastructure, and create new economic opportunity,” the Biden-Harris administration has committed to policies that will combat the climate crisis; help American businesses compete in strategic industries; create and sustain well-paying union jobs that allow workers to thrive; maximize the use of American goods, products, materials, and services; and promote a secure, just, and equitable future for all in the US.

So how can the administration continue to support oil and gas drilling? It makes no sense.

Final Thoughts

In response to the new energy division announcement, James Carafano, a scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank who was the lead author of a 2016 report recommending the elimination of OSTP, sputtered, “In addition to all the other federal agencies involved, now you’re going to have another layer of bureaucracy that’s going to be involved in policy decision-making.” Carafano served on the transition teams at the Department of Homeland Security and State Department under President Donald Trump. “I think the whole zero-emission thing is literally nonsense. It’s a political agenda; it’s not a science agenda.”

A Biden-Harris administration is far, far better than a Trump administration for the environment, the climate crisis, transition to renewable energy, equal rights for all, and so much more. But the Biden-Harris administration is full of inconsistencies — the administration’s stutter steps on fossil fuels must come to a halt.

The climate crisis math of the Biden administration is not adding up. You cannot approve massive oil drilling projects if you want to swiftly reach net-zero emissions. While rising gasoline prices have adversely affected millions of working people in the US, the world’s biggest fossil fuel corporations have benefited immensely, raking in a combined $174 billion in profits during the first 9 months of this year.

The administration has claimed it is simply complying with a court order as it continues to approve drilling leases, which last year allowed for the extraction of 246 million tons of coal, 314 million barrels of oil, and 3.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the analysis. The action to approve more drilling leases is much more than a marketing snafu; the Biden administration needs to set a clear path toward zero emissions, or else it will be, as Carafano exclaimed, little more than a political agenda to please a segment of the Democratic party base.

Photograph retrieved from NOAA/public domain


 

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The Solid-State Energy Storage Dam Is About to Bust Wide Open

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New solid state lithium-ion energy storage technology is still in the R&D phase, and it has already attracted EV manufacturers who love the idea of packing more muscle into smaller spaces while saving on weight, improving performance, and enhancing their safety profile, too. Now it looks like the stationary storage field is also coming over to the solid-state side, too.

QuantumScape Is On A Solid-State Energy Storage Tear

For those of you new to the topic, conventional lithium-ion batteries are based on a liquid electrolyte, which can be a bit testy unless properly engineered.

One emerging solution is to ditch the liquid electrolyte altogether in favor of a solid material, such as a specialized ceramic. The solid-state approach is also a tricky one, but one of the scientists pursuing the solid-state unicorn is famed University of Texas researcher John Goodenough, who is widely credited with inventing the rechargeable lithium-ion technology of today, and that is a pretty good indicator of the quality of the research in that direction.

Solid-state battery materials were a known thing by the early 19th century, but commercial interest in solid-state batteries didn’t really pick up a head of steam until 2020, when the idea took off like a rocket in the electric vehicle field.

The solid-state battery firm QuantumScape currently cites relationships with three automakers, including Volkswagen Group. The two companies began collaborating on solid-state EV batteries in 2015.

They have upped the ante since then, with plans in the works for a pilot manufacturing facility in Germany. In a recent letter to shareholders, QauntumScape described the battery manufacturing plan and issued a progress report on its four-layer solid-state cells, with each layer consisting of “a cathode, a solid-state separator, and an in-situ formed lithium-metal anode.”

Next Steps For Solid-State Energy Storage

QauntumScape is not letting the energy storage grass grow under its feet. Last week the company announced an agreement with the leading energy technology company Fluence, which is the first non-automotive partnership for its lithium-metal battery technology.

That’s a significant development, considering that as recently as last summer the market analyst IDTechEx was assuming that electric vehicles would lead the demand for solid-state batteries, followed by smart phones. Stationary storage could skip right over both of their heads in short order.

“The strategic relationship brings together two companies leading in technology innovation focused on accelerating clean energy adoption and reducing global carbon emissions,” QuantumScape enthuses. “The companies will collaborate on what they believe to be a first-of-its-kind solution to incorporate QuantumScape’s battery technology into Fluence stationary energy storage products as specific technical and commercial milestones are met.”

The two firms are eyeballing a hot growth rate for stationary energy storage in the coming years. Fluence already has a track record in deploying energy storage to improve transmission networks and replace new gas peaker plants, so look for the partners to zero in on those areas as well as others.

As a partner company that links Siemens and the utility AES, Fluence is in a good position to speed those lithium-metal batteries to market whenever they come rolling off the assembly line.

More Solid-State Batteries For More EVs

Meanwhile, last spring Ford and BMW also hooked up to the solid-state battery train last year. Mercedes-Benz and Stellantis caught the solid-state bug, too. GM dropped a hint about its future solid-state battery ambitions last month when it formed a partnership with the Korean firm POSCO Chemical. Toyota and Hyundai are also reported to be on board.

That’s an awfully big field of energy storage players scrambling for technology that probably won’t hit the market until 2025. However, it does give the R&D folks time to work out any remaining kinks.

One especially interesting development recently popped up in a study published in the journal Nature, which describes a “a class of elastomeric solid-state electrolytes with a three-dimensional interconnected plastic crystal phase.” The new electrolytes demonstrate “a combination of mechanical robustness, high ionic conductivity, low interfacial resistance and high lithium-ion transference number” along with “a powerful strategy for enabling stable operation of high-energy, solid-state lithium batteries.”

The research is a collaboration between the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

In a press release on the new study, GIT explains that elastomers are common synthetic rubbers. Rubber is not the first material that comes to mind when the topic turns to next-generation energy storage materials, but the research team gave their elastomer a high tech twist that transformed it into a “superhighway for fast lithium-ion transport with superior mechanical toughness, resulting in longer charging batteries that can go farther.”

“The key breakthrough was allowing the material to form a three-dimensional interconnected plastic crystal phase within the robust rubber matrix. This unique structure has resulted in high ionic conductivity, superior mechanical properties and electrochemical stability,” explains GIT.

The new electrolytes prevent the lithium dendrite growth that bedevils their liquid counterparts. GIT also notes that fabricating the new electrolyte is a relatively simple, low temperature process that yields a high quality result.

But…What About The Lithium?

Yes, what about it? EV supply chain observers have been watching the lithium supply chain like a hawk. The general consensus is that there needs to be a serious uptick in availability as the energy storage market takes off.

Solid-state technology can assist, partly by introducing more robust batteries with a longer lifecycle, and by decluttering the recycling pathway. However, the global lithium supply chain still has to pump itself up as the demand for batteries accelerates.

Lithium mining and brine extraction are two solutions at hand, but they can easily run afoul of environmental and cultural preservation goals. A more promising area of lithium R&D is geothermal extraction without the use of large evaporation lagoons.

Last June our friends over at the US Department of Energy produced a blueprint for lithium supply in the US and noted that “The worldwide lithium-battery market is expected to grow by a factor of 5 to 10 in the next decade.”

“The U.S. industrial base must be positioned to respond to this vast increase in market demand that otherwise will likely benefit well-resourced and supported competitors in Asia and Europe,” they added.

Game on!

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EVs Beat Diesels As Electric Car Sales Ramp up in Europe

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Auto analyst Mathias Schmidt tells the Financial Times that sales of battery-electric cars in Europe and the UK were higher than sales of diesel-powered cars for the first time in December. “The diesel death march has been playing on repeat since September 2015 when ‘Dieselgate’ was first unveiled — causing VW to draw up the first plans of the ID.3 within 30 days of the scandal coming to light,” he said. The December data indicates 176,000 battery electric vehicles were sold in December — 6% more than in December, 2020 — as opposed to 160,000 diesels.

The Financial Times goes to some lengths to point out to its readers that the boom in electric cars is largely attributable to generous government subsidies and draconian emissions rules that force manufacturers to build low and zero emissions cars. That approach, of course, is anathema to “free market” advocates. If it weren’t for the fact that the world is hurtling toward a climate catastrophe of unimaginable proportions, such market machinations might be condemned and rightfully so.

The Financial Times reports the German government is about to revisit the wisdom of tax credits for diesel fuel that make it 14 cents per liter cheaper than premium gasoline. The love affair with diesel in Europe began after the OPEC oil embargoes in the 1970s.

Diesel engines do squeeze more miles out of a gallon of fuel than gasoline engines, and so there was a reason to promote the sale of diesel-powered vehicles at that time. The mechanism most countries chose was to increase taxes on gasoline and decrease taxes on diesel fuel. The justification for doing that has long since evaporated, however.

According to SwissInfo, sales of electric vehicles — including plug-in hybrids and conventional hybrids — reached a “tipping point” in 2021, particularly at the end of the year. For the period from September to November, fully electric vehicles accounted for 18.3% of new registrations. Including plug-in hybrids, that figure rose to 28% according to the Touring Club Switzerland. The Tesla Model 3 leads all other EV models in sales in Switzerland. The Volkswagen ID.3 is in second place, with less than half as many cars sold.

“Given the ongoing technological advancements, increased social acceptance and the ever-increasing choice of electric vehicle models, the development of electromobility is progressing faster than expected. The 50%-mark for fully electric vehicles, which most experts expected only around 2030, should therefore be reached significantly faster than expected,” TCS said.

While Switzerland’s EV charging infrastructure is on par with that in other European countries — a total of 8,497 public charging stations were available across Switzerland as of the end of 2021 — there are still too few chargers available for apartment dwellers and those who park on the street. “The hurdles for home charging are still too high for tenants, owners of apartments and residents who park on the streets,” says Krispin Romang, managing director of the Swiss eMobility association.

Switzerland is implementing new laws designed to slash carbon emissions by 50% in 2030 as compared to 1990. They include tightening tailpipe emission standards to make them similar to those imposed by the EU. Fines imposed by the new law will be used to pay for charging infrastructure upgrades.

The Takeaway

The Financial Times may harrumph about government subsidies and regulations, but they are working. If they smack of socialism to some, so be it. Socialism is preferable to extinction any day.

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Extreme E Sustainability Award Goes to Team X44 (Video)

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X44 have become the first winners of the Extreme E Sustainability Award after topping the standings in the series’ inaugural Count Us In Challenge. The Extreme E Count Us In Challenge is a simple way for people to take practical and impactful steps that reduce their carbon footprint — and challenge governments, cities, and businesses to accelerate progress on climate action.

Extreme E aims to accelerate the adoption of clean and electrified transport to help protect people and the planet, with the Extreme E Count Us In Challenge also supporting the UN’s Race To Zero campaign. Race to Zero is a global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, investors for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs, and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth.

Extreme E is a challenging racing expedition, a global odyssey, taking 100% electric SUVs to extreme environments. They have a single goal in mind — to highlight the destruction of our planet and to inspire people, companies, and locations to urgently change course and go on the positive journey we must all take. The racing series hopes to inspire everyone to change course for the good of our home planet.

Fans vote for the Extreme E Sustainability Award by supporting their favorite team through making healthier lifestyle choices for themselves and the planet. They set up a profile with Count Us In to keep track of the carbon they are saving. The tracking also adds steps to all the steps people make on the Extreme E platform.

Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of Extreme E, congratulated X44 as the winners of the Extreme E Sustainability Award via the series’ first-ever Count Us In Challenge. “Sport is an incredible platform to not only raise awareness of the climate crisis,” Agag said, “the single biggest threat to our planet today, but also inspire action to tackle it. At Extreme E we will continue to push the boundaries and shine a spotlight on the issues we face, along with the need to act now to help protect our futures.”

Lewis Hamilton, founder of X44, explained that Extreme E, as a new sustainability initiative, “brings my vision for a more sustainable and equal world to life. Extreme E really appealed to me because of its environmental focus. Every single one of us has the power to make a difference, and it means so much to me that I can use my love of racing, together with my love for our planet, to have a positive impact.”

Fan support for X44 through the Extreme E Sustainability Award must come as solace to Hamilton, who lost the Formula 1 driving championship in 2021 when the FIA chose the final race and title winner. Mercedes conceded that “it’s going to take a long time for us to digest” the Formula 1 end-of-2021 season results, revealing that “we will never overcome the pain and the distress” that the final lap decisions caused.

What’s Behind the Extreme E Sustainability Award

Motor racing is a constant hub of transport innovation, and Extreme E represents the latest clean technology, running X Prixs in some of Earth’s most remote and stunning locations while raising awareness for the climate crisis. Extreme E and Count Us In joined forces ahead of Season 1 to launch the Extreme E Count Us In Challenge — a campaign using the power of sport and the excitement of motor racing to inspire fans to take practical steps on climate change. The sport for purpose series asked fans to take real pledges to lead a less carbon intensive lifestyle to reduce their carbon footprint.

The Extreme E Count Us In Challenge includes a variety of actions available to fans to contribute towards a greener future, including not using single-use plastic, walking and cycling more, eating more plant-based foods and driving an electric vehicle. Each step is attributed to the fans’ favorite team, and the team with the most steps at the end of Season 1 would win the inaugural Extreme E Sustainability Award.

The specific steps that Extreme E recommends to its fans are:

Drive electric: Make your next vehicle purchase electric.
Fly less: Reduce your air travel to dramatically reduce your carbon pollution.
Grow some trees: Grow trees to capture and store carbon.
Speak up at work: Come together with colleagues to make change at a bigger scale.
Volunteer: Donate your time and skills.
Dial it down: Turn down the heating in your home by a degree or two.
Switch your home: Move your home to a green energy supplier.
Tell your politicians: Ask your politicians to act or invest in infrastructure to support a step.
Cut food waste: Reduce the amount of food that is wasted or thrown away in your home.
Eat sustainable fish: Eat sustainably sourced fish.
Drink tap water: Stop buying bottled water.
Walk and cycle more: Travel by foot or bike whenever possible.
Talk to friends: Start a conversation about Count Us In and encourage others to take a step.
Buy sustainable palm oil: Look for products that use sustainable palm oil.
Use less plastic: Make plastic-free choices to reduce carbon pollution.
Eat more plants: Reduce the amount of meat in your daily diet.

The greatest fan support for the Count Us In Challenge was achieved by X44, who claimed the Award with 792 steps pledged, with JBXE (749 steps), and Rosberg X Racing (RXR) (422 steps) completing the top three. In total, the Extreme E Count Us In Challenge inspired 1,231 fans to take 3,207 steps saving 1,241,223 KG CO2.

Final Thoughts

Extreme E will continue on to Season 2 to go further in taking climate action and increasing fan interest in the Count Us In Challenge. In 2022, Extreme E will continue to race across the world’s most remote environments to demonstrate the performance and benefits of electric vehicles and clean technology, while highlighting the impact that climate change is already having on these ecosystems, such as melting ice caps, deforestation, desertification, retreating mountain glaciers, and rising sea levels.

Sébastien Loeb, X44, said: “I was very happy to learn that X44 won the Extreme E Sustainability Award for 2021. I joined the team hoping to discover more about the environment while doing what I love, and I have learned so much from the series and the different places we visited — in fact, I even bought my first electric car last year! To know that our fans have come on this journey with us and are making their own commitment to have a positive impact on the planet is inspiring, and I feel good about what we can achieve when we work together.”

When teams and fans take meaningful, simple steps in their own daily lives, they not only reduce their own carbon emissions — they’re added to a growing movement of people and communities showing leaders it’s time to accelerate progress on climate action.

Extreme E Season 2 begins in Neom, Saudi Arabia (19-20 February), before heading to Sardinia, Italy (7-8 May), Senegal or Scotland (9-10 July), Antofagasta, Chile (10-11 September), and Punta Del Este, Uruguay (26-27 November).

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