Rivian Entrepreneur Is “Starkly Different” From Elon Musk, but Both “Are Immersed in the Details of Their Business”

(p. B5) Rivian, a promising and well-funded electric truck maker, plans to sell shares through an initial public offering, the company said Friday [Aug. 27, 2021], just weeks before it expects to deliver its first electric pickups to customers.

. . .

“Rivian is one of the best-positioned electric vehicle start-ups,” Asad Hussain, senior mobility analyst for PitchBook, said by email. “The company’s focus on the relatively untapped premium electric truck market should allow it to gain rapid market adoption.”

The leaders of Rivian and Tesla are also starkly different. Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, has been a brash and combative force in the automotive industry, making big promises and engaging in public feuds with individuals and government agencies. Mr. Scaringe is understated and has been measured in his public statements and promises.

Still, both executives are immersed in the details of their business. Mr. Musk has said he has slept at his company’s main factory in Fremont, Calif., at important moments when Tesla was ramping up production. Mr. Scaringe is also a frequent presence at Rivian’s factory in Normal, Ill., and workers there refer to the color of robots and safety lines directing the flow of people as “R.J. Blue.” He has been known to weigh in on vehicle colors, including one known as “launch green.”

. . .

“In the very beginning, on Day 1, Year 1, the risk of starting a business like this is enormously high, and the likelihood of success was very low,” he said. “That’s just true. And I had to accept that.”

But Mr. Scaringe said he remained confident in his team and in the strategic plan they had assembled: First, raise enough money to develop core technologies — software, battery architecture, mechanical systems — that could support vehicles for both consumers and commercial customers; then raise more capital to mass produce trucks and vans.

Rivian appeared to embark on that second phase a few years ago. In the fall of 2018, Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder, flew to Michigan to meet Mr. Scaringe and preview the company’s vehicles. By the end of the next year, Rivian had raised nearly $3 billion from investors including Ford and Amazon, which also ordered 100,000 delivery vans.

For the full story, see:

Niraj Chokshi, Noam Scheiber and Lauren Hirsch. “Rivian Set to Go Public as It Prepares to Deliver Electric Pickup Trucks.” The New York Times (Saturday, August 28, 2021): B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. [sic] 13, 2021, and has the title “Rivian, Electric Truck Maker Backed by Amazon and Ford, Files for I.P.O.”)

“Extrapolate to Doomsday”

(p. B1) The giant tech companies with their power-hungry, football-field-size data centers are not the environmental villains they are sometimes portrayed to be on social media and elsewhere.

Shutting off your Zoom camera or throttling your Netflix service to lower-definition viewing does not yield a big saving in energy use, contrary to what some people have claimed.

Even the predicted environmental impact of Bitcoin, which does require lots of computing firepower, has been considerably exaggerated by some researchers.

Those are the conclusions of a new analysis by Jonathan Koomey and Eric Masanet, two leading scientists in the field of technology, energy use and the environment. Mr. Koomey is now an independent analyst, and Mr. Masanet is a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. (Mr. Masanet receives research funding from Amazon.)

They said their analysis, published on Thursday [June 24, 2021] as a commentary article in Joule, a scientific journal, was not necessarily intended to be reassuring. Instead, they said, it is meant to inject a dose of reality into the public discussion of technology’s impact on the environment.

. . .

(p. B3) Exaggerated claims, the pair said, are often well-intentioned efforts by researchers who make what may seem like reasonable assumptions. But they are not familiar with fast-changing computer technology — processing, memory, storage and networks. In making predictions, they tend to underestimate the pace of energy-saving innovation and how the systems work.

. . .

Computer data centers are a case study. The biggest data centers, from which consumers and workers tap services and software over the internet, do consume huge amounts of electricity. These so-called cloud data centers are operated by companies including Alibaba, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

From 2010 to 2018, the data workloads hosted by the cloud data centers increased 2,600 percent and energy consumption increased 500 percent. But energy consumption for all data centers rose less than 10 percent.

What happened, the authors explain, was mainly a huge shift of workloads to the bigger, more efficient cloud data centers — and away from traditional computer centers, largely owned and run by non-tech companies.

In 2010, an estimated 79 percent of data center computing was done in traditional computer centers. By 2018, 89 percent of data center computing took place in cloud data centers.

“The big cloud providers displaced vastly less efficient corporate data centers,” Mr. Koomey said. “You have to look at the whole system and take substitution effects into account.”

The complexity, dynamism and unpredictability of technology development and markets, the authors say, make projecting out more than two or three years suspect. They critiqued a Bitcoin energy paper that projected out decades, based on what they said were old data and simplified assumptions — an approach Mr. Masanet called “extrapolate to Doomsday.”

For the full story, see:

Steve Lohr. “The Internet Is Eating Up Less Energy Than Expected.” The New York Times (Saturday, June 26, 2021): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 24, 2021, and has the title “The Internet Eats Up Less Energy Than You Might Think.”)

The commentary summarized in the passages quoted above is:

Koomey, Jonathan, and Eric Masanet. “Does Not Compute: Avoiding Pitfalls Assessing the Internet’s Energy and Carbon Impacts.” Joule 5, no. 7 (July 21, 2021): 1625-28.

Average Global Temperature in 2100 Will Likely Be 2.5 Degrees Celsius Higher than Late 1800s

(p. A15) The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued its latest report assessing the state of the climate and projecting its future. As usual, the media and politicians are exaggerating and distorting the evidence in the report.

. . .

As is now customary, the report emphasizes climate change in recent decades but obscures, or fails to mention, historical precedents that weaken the case that humanity’s influence on the climate has been catastrophic. The Summary for Policy Makers section says the rate of global sea-level rise has been increasing over the past 50 years. It doesn’t mention that it was increasing almost as rapidly 90 years ago before decreasing strongly for 40 years.

Extreme weather events are invoked as proof of impending disaster. But the floods in Europe and China and record temperatures across regions of the U.S. are weather, not climate—singular events, not decadeslong trends. Both Europe and China have experienced equally devastating floods in past centuries, but these are forgotten or deliberately ignored. The drought and wildfires in the Western U.S. are part of a trend going back a few decades, but forest management and expanding human presence in the forests are perhaps more important than climate change in causing these events.

. . .

Refreshingly, the report deems its highest-emissions scenarios of the future unlikely, even though those are the ones you’re mostly likely to hear about in media reports. The more plausible scenarios have an average global temperature in 2100 about 2.5 degrees celsius warmer than the late 1800s. The globe has already warmed 1 degree since that time, and the parties of the Paris Accord arbitrarily agreed to limit further warming to another degree. But since humanity’s well-being has improved spectacularly, even as the globe warmed during the 20th century, it is absurd to suggest that an additional degree of warming over the next century will be catastrophic. In fact, the AR5 report from 2014 says even 1.5 degrees of additional warming by 2100 will have minimal net economic impact.

For the full commentary, see:

Steven E. Koonin. “Climate Change Brings a Flood of Hyperbole.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 10, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Koonin’s commentary, quoted above, is related to his book:

Koonin, Steven E. Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, 2021.

Startup Technology Captures 80% of Truck Carbon Dioxide for Reuse

(p. B6) A handful of heavy-duty truck operators are hoping an early-stage startup can help lower the carbon emissions of their industry, one that has been particularly hard to clean up.

Companies including Ryder System Inc., Werner Enterprises Inc., NFI Industries, ArcBest Corp. and Cargill Inc. are planning to test a mobile carbon-capture system in development by Echeneidae Inc., which does business as Remora. The tests start later this year.

Remora’s 24-year-old chief executive and co-founder, Paul Gross, said he was surprised at how quickly he got interest from the trucking industry, where he knew no one as of last year. “I thought this would be one of the hardest parts of starting a company,” he added. Livonia, Mich.-based Remora, named after a suckerfish that clings onto sharks and cleans them, was incorporated in November.

Remora’s device is attached to the tailpipes of 18-wheelers with the intent of capturing as much as 80% of the emitted carbon dioxide. Remora then plans to sell the carbon dioxide for reuse.

. . .

Supply-chain snarls at electric-truck plants have been a particular obstacle in getting the vehicles on the road. Production of electric trucks at Tesla Inc., Nikola Corp. and others has been delayed.

“There’s a lot of talk about producing vehicles, but the actual production and delivery of vehicles is a different thing,” Ms. Jones said.

That is where carbon-capture technology comes in, she added.

“While I call Remora a little bit of a bridge to EV, it actually is more than a bridge,” Ms. Jones said.

For the full story see:

Yuliya Chernova. “Truck Operators To Test Mobile Carbon Capture.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, August 10, 2021): B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 9, 2021, and has the title “Heavy-Duty Truck Operators to Test Startup’s Onboard Carbon-Capture System.”)

Toyota Bets Hybrids Are Still Short-Term Best Green Car Technology

(p. B3) TOKYO— Toyota Motor Corp. said most of its U.S. vehicles would still run on gasoline a decade from now because it doesn’t think fully electric vehicles will have caught up in cost and convenience.

Toyota doubled down on its commitment to a technology it pioneered, hybrid vehicles, which are fueled with gasoline but also have an electric motor that raises fuel efficiency. The company projected that in 2030, slightly more than half of the vehicles it sells in North America would be hybrids, while around 30% would run on traditional gasoline engines and the remainder would be fully electric.

“If you take a snapshot of 2030, the price of battery EVs and the provision of infrastructure around the globe probably won’t have advanced all that much,” said Toyota executive Jun Nagata at a news conference Wednesday. “Hybrids and plug-in hybrids will be easier for customers to buy.”

. . .

“The goal is not electric vehicles, the goal is carbon neutrality, and even if we have the best technology, if it’s not chosen by customers, it will not have the impact of reducing emissions,” Mr. Kuffner said at Wednesday’s news conference.

For the full story, see:

Peter Landers. “Toyota Doubles Down on Hybrid Technology.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 13, 2021): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 12, 2021, and has the title “Most Toyotas Will Still Use Gasoline in 2030, Company Says.”)

Plethora of Creative Chip Startups Face: More Stable Demand, More Tools for Quick Design, More VC Funding

(p. B1) OAKLAND, Calif. — A global shortage of semiconductors has cast a cloud over the plans of carmakers and other companies. But there’s a silver lining for Silicon Valley executives like Aart de Geus.

He is chairman and co-chief executive of Synopsys, the biggest supplier of software that engineers use to design chips. That position gives Mr. de Geus an intimate perspective on a 60-year-old industry that until recently was showing its age.

Everyone now seems to want his opinion, as shown by the dozens of emails, calls and comments he received after addressing a recent online gathering for customers. Synopsys says people tuned in from 408 companies — more than double the number for an in-person event last held in 2019 — and many weren’t conventional chip makers.

. . .

(p. B3) Their overriding question: How do you develop chips more quickly?

Even as a chip shortage is causing trouble for all sorts of industries, the semiconductor field is entering a surprising new era of creativity, from industry giants to innovative start-ups seeing a spike in funding from venture capitalists that traditionally avoided chip makers.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company and Samsung Electronics, for example, have managed the increasingly difficult feat of packing more transistors on each slice of silicon. IBM on Thursday announced another leap in miniaturization, a sign of continued U.S. prowess in the technology race.

Perhaps most striking, what was a trickle of new chip companies is now approaching a flood. Equity investors for years viewed semiconductor companies as too costly to set up, but in 2020 plowed more than $12 billion into 407 chip-related companies, according to CB Insights.

Though a tiny fraction of all venture capital investments, that was more than double what the industry received in 2019 and eight times the total for 2016. Synopsys is tracking more than 200 start-ups designing chips for artificial intelligence, the ultrahot technology powering everything from smart speakers to self-driving cars.

. . .

The industry has historically been notorious for booms and busts, usually driven by purchasing swings for particular products like PCs and smartphones. Global chip revenue slumped 12 percent in 2019 before bouncing back with 10 percent growth last year, according to estimates from Gartner, a research firm.

But there is widening optimism that the cycles should moderate because chips are now used in so many things. Philip Gallagher, chief executive of the big electronics distributor Avnet, cited examples like sensors to track dairy cows, the flow of beer taps and utility pipes, and the temperature of produce. And the number of chips in mainstay products like cars and smartphones keeps rising, he and other executives say.

. . .

Chip design software gained popularity in the 1980s to streamline tasks that engineers once carried out with pencils and drafting tables, painstakingly drawing clusters of transistors and other components on chips.

. . .

Mr. de Geus said new growth was coming from what seemed like a problem: a slowdown in Moore’s Law, industry shorthand for the perennial race to shrink chip circuitry so chips do more with less silicon. In response, he said, some companies are using Synopsys tools to design entire systems and bundles of smaller chips that work like a single processor.

During his recent speech to users, Mr. de Geus demonstrated how artificial-intelligence enhancements could allow Synopsys tools to automatically decide how best to situate and connect blocks of circuitry on a chip. A system managed by a single engineer did the work two to five times faster than a team of designers, Mr. de Geus said, while its design used up to 13 percent less energy.

For the full story, see:

Don Clark. “No Shortage Of New Ideas About Chips.” The New York Times (Saturday, May 8, 2021): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 7, 2020, and has the title “Despite Chip Shortage, Chip Innovation Is Booming.”)

World Population Decline Will Slow Global Warming

(p. 1) All over the world, countries are confronting population stagnation and a fertility bust, a dizzying reversal unmatched in recorded history that will make first-birthday parties a rarer sight than funerals, and empty homes a common eyesore.

Maternity wards are already shutting down in Italy. Ghost cities are appearing in northeastern China. Universities in South Korea can’t find enough students, and in Germany, hundreds of thousands of properties have been razed, with the land turned into parks.

Like an avalanche, the demographic forces — pushing toward more deaths than births — seem to be expanding and accelerating. Though some countries continue to see their populations grow, especially in Africa, fertility rates are falling nearly everywhere else. Demographers now predict that by the latter half of the century or possibly earlier, the global population will enter a sustained decline for the first time.

A planet with fewer people could ease pressure on resources, slow the destructive impact of climate change and reduce household burdens for women.

For the full story, see:

Damien Cave, Emma Bubola and Choe Sang-Hun. “World Is Facing First Long Slide in Its Population.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, May 23, 2021): 1 & 17.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated May 24, 2021, and has the title “Long Slide Looms for World Population, With Sweeping Ramifications.”)

“No Sign” That World’s Largest Iceberg Is Due to Global Warming

(p. 16) An iceberg nearly half the size of Puerto Rico that broke off the edge of Antarctica last week is now the world’s largest, researchers said.

The iceberg, known as A76, following a naming convention established by the National Ice Center, naturally split from Antarctica’s Ronne Ice Shelf into the Weddell Sea through a process known as calving, the center said.

It measures about 1,668 square miles (4,320 square kilometers), making it larger than A23a, an iceberg that formed in 1986 and had a total area of more than 1,500 square miles (4,000 square kilometers) in January [2021].

Researchers sought to put the formation of A76 in context, saying that the forces that severed it from the Ronne Ice Shelf were part of the shelf’s normal life span and may not be directly related to climate change.

The iceberg will not add to sea level rise as it melts; as floating ice, it is already displacing the same volume of water it will add as it melts.

Christopher A. Shuman, a research professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, likened the Ronne Ice Shelf’s calving process to a manicure: If it’s the white part of your fingernail that gets clipped off, it’s not a problem.

“There is really essentially no sign that this is an unusual event with climate significance,” Dr. Shuman said.

For the full story, see:

Claire Fahy. “World’s Largest Iceberg May Not Be a Result of Climate Change, Experts Say.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, May 23, 2021): 16.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 20, 2021, and has the title “Iceberg Splits From Antarctica, Becoming World’s Largest.”)

Nanosatellites May Be a General Purpose Technology

(p. B4) Scientists who track the health of Adélie penguins on the ice-covered wastes of Antarctica are managing their cameras from thousands of miles away—via tiny satellites orbiting above our heads.

Energy companies are exploring using the same technology for monitoring hard-to-reach wind farms; logistics companies for tracking shipping containers; and agribusiness companies for minding cattle. It even helped National Geographic track a discarded plastic bottle from Bangladesh to the Indian Ocean.

In the near future, it isn’t unreasonable to imagine this evolving satellite technology could put a distress beacon in every automobile, allow remote monitoring of wildlife in any environment on earth, and track your Amazon shipment—not just when it’s on a truck, but backward, all the way to the factory that produced it. And it could be done at a fraction of the cost of earlier satellite tracking systems.

These novel networks of nanosats—aka cubesats—are a result of a number of factors.

First, the satellites themselves are smaller, cheaper and more capable than ever. The smartphone industry has miniaturized all electronics, benefiting everything from cars to drones. Then there are falling launch costs, due to companies like SpaceX, active national space programs like India’s, and an array of new launch technologies, from reusable boosters to 3-D-printed engines.

Just as important, there’s the rollout and adoption of new long-distance, low-power wireless communication standards that can work just as well in outer space as they do on the ground.

Like so many innovations in their early days, from the internet to the smartphone, no one is quite sure what low-cost, low-power data relays from space will enable—or whether there will be enough demand to sustain the many companies jostling to provide it. In the next year, hundreds of satellites from more than a dozen companies are set to launch.

For the full commentary, see:

Christopher Mims. “A March of Penguins and Progress.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021): B4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 8, 2021, and has the title “The Tiny Satellites That Will Connect Cows, Cars and Shipping Containers to the Internet.”)

“If It’s Consensus, It Isn’t Science”

(p. C9) . . . science itself is not conducted by polls, regardless of how often we are urged to heed a “scientific consensus” on climate. As the science-trained novelist Michael Crichton summarized in a famous 2003 lecture at Caltech: “If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.” Mr. Koonin says much the same in “Unsettled.”

. . .

As for “denying,” Mr. Koonin makes it clear, on the book’s first page, that “it’s true that the globe is warming, and that humans are exerting a warming influence upon it.”

The heart of the science debate, however, isn’t about whether the globe is warmer or whether humanity contributed. The important questions are about the magnitude of civilization’s contribution and the speed of changes; and, derivatively, about the urgency and scale of governmental response. Mr. Koonin thinks most readers will be surprised at what the data show. I dare say they will.

As Mr Koonin illustrates, tornado frequency and severity are also not trending up; nor are the number and severity of droughts. The extent of global fires has been trending significantly downward. The rate of sea-level rise has not accelerated. Global crop yields are rising, not falling. And while global atmospheric CO2 levels are obviously higher now than two centuries ago, they’re not at any record planetary high—they’re at a low that has only been seen once before in the past 500 million years.

. . .

Mr. Koonin’s science credentials are impeccable—unlike, say, those of one well-known Swedish teenager to whom the media affords great attention on climate matters. He has been a professor of physics at Caltech and served as the top scientist in Barack Obama’s Energy Department. The book is copiously referenced and relies on widely accepted government documents.

. . .

Never have so many spent so much public money on the basis of claims that are so unsettled.

For the full review, see:

Mark P. Mills. “The ‘Consensus’ On Climate.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, April 26, 2021): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 25, 2021, and has the title “‘Unsettled’ Review: The ‘Consensus’ On Climate.”)

The book under review is:

Koonin, Steven E. Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, 2021.

Some Oil and Gas Landmen Seamlessly Transition to Being Wind and Solar Landmen

(p. A1) Carter Collum used to spend mornings shoulder to shoulder with competitors in the record rooms of East Texas courthouses, hunting for the owners of underground natural-gas deposits. At night, he made house calls, offering payments and royalties for permission to drill.

Mr. Collum worked as a landman, tracking the owners of oil and gas trapped in rock layers thousands of feet beneath the earth’s surface and getting their signatures, a job about as old as the American petroleum industry.

. . .

These days, the jobs are going dry. Landmen, after riding the highs of the boom, face weakened demand for fossil fuels and investor indifference to shale companies after years of poor returns. Instead of oil and gas (p. A10) fields, some landmen are securing wind and solar fields, spots where the sun shines brightest and the wind blows hardest.

The difference is shale wells eventually empty and, in good times, that keeps landmen on the prowl for new land and new contracts. Wind and solar energy never run out, limiting demand for new leases as well as landmen.

For the full story, see:

Rebecca Elliott. “Oil-and-Gas Landmen Now Hunt for Wind and Sun.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, April 19, 2021): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 18, 2021, and has the title “Landmen Who Once Staked Claims for Oil and Gas Now Hunt Wind and Sun.”)