$80 Billion in 200 Large Projects to Develop Hydrogen as Clean Energy Source

(p. B1) SHEFFIELD, England — Rachel Smith has lived through green hydrogen’s bumpy journey from scientists’ dream to an industry that may be on the verge of a commercial breakthrough. An engineer, she started out two decades ago working in a converted barn on early devices for making the clean-burning gas.

Now she is part of a team racing to build giant machines that will use electricity to separate hydrogen from water for major companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Orsted, the Danish offshore wind developer.

“We have gone through those toddler years,” said Ms. Smith, an executive director at ITM Power, which is run out of an expansive new factory in Sheffield, a faded center for steel mills and coal mining. “We are playing in the grown-up world rather than in research labs.”

A consensus is forming among governments, environmentalists and energy companies that deep cuts in carbon emissions will require large amounts of a clean fuel like hydrogen.

Proponents of hydrogen have identified more than a score of potential applications of the element for cutting carbon emissions. It could be used to power long-haul trucks and train and air travel. Energy companies are experimenting with blending hydrogen with natural gas for home heating and cooking.

All told, more than 200 large-scale projects are underway to produce or transport hydrogen, comprising investments of more than $80 billion. Daimler and Volvo, the world’s largest truck makers, plan in a few years to begin mass producing long-haul electric trucks that run on devices called fuel cells that convert hydrogen to electricity. Water will be the trucks’ only emission.

“You could imagine an economy that is supported almost entirely by very clean electricity and very clean hydrogen,” said Ernest Moniz, secretary of energy in the Obama administration and now chief executive of the Energy Futures Initiative, a research organization.

(p. B5) But he warned that “a lot of things have to happen” for a gas now mainly used in specialty areas to become a “part of the backbone of the energy system.”

Among the obstacles that must be overcome: creating enough of the right sort of hydrogen, at a price industries and consumers can accept.

For the full story, see:

Stanley Reed and Jack Ewing. “The Race to Harvest Hydrogen.” The New York Times (Saturday, July 17, 2021): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 4, 2021, and has the title “Hydrogen Is One Answer to Climate Change. Getting It Is the Hard Part.”)

Wind Turbines Kill Up to a Half Million Birds a Year

(p. A4) President Biden has taken steps to restore criminal penalties for accidental killing of migratory birds, a move that if adopted as expected later this year would add pressure to wind power developers who are working to fulfill his mandate to boost wind-farm developments as sources of clean energy.

Wind turbines—some with 200-foot blades spinning up to 180 mph—are estimated to kill between 140,000 and 500,000 birds a year through accidental collisions, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The wide variation in the estimate reflects the difficulty in tracking bird deaths, but whatever the toll, it is expected to rise as more wind turbines are built. Wildlife researchers in 2013 estimated that the Energy Department’s 2008 wind-power target would push bird deaths to about 1.4 million annually. That figure hasn’t been updated to reflect the Biden administration’s plans to expand offshore wind farms.

For the full story, see:

Katy Stech Ferek. “Federal Penalties for Killing Birds Test Wind-Power Firms.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 07, 2021): A4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 5, 2021, and has the title “Expanding Wind Power Yet Killing Fewer Birds Is Biden’s Quandary.”)

French Regulators Ban Hardy Grapes that Thrive in Global Warming

(p. A4) BEAUMONT, France — The vines were once demonized for causing madness and blindness, and had been banned decades ago. The French authorities, brandishing money and sanctions, nearly wiped them out.

But there they were. On a hillside off a winding mountain road in a lost corner of southern France, the forbidden crop was thriving. Early one recent evening, Hervé Garnier inspected his field with relief.

In a year when an April frost and disease have decimated France’s overall wine production, Mr. Garnier’s grapes — an American hybrid variety named jacquez, banned by the French government since 1934 — were already turning red. Barring an early-autumn cold snap, all was on track for a new vintage.

“There’s really no reason for its prohibition,” Mr. Garnier said. “Prohibited? I’d like to understand why, especially when you see the prohibition rests on nothing.”

Mr. Garnier is one of the last stragglers in a long-running struggle against the French wine establishment and its allies in Paris. The French government has tried to rip the jacquez and five other American vine varieties out of French soil for the past 87 years, arguing that they are bad for human physical and mental health — and produce bad wine.

But in recent years, the hardiness of the American varieties has given a lift to guerrilla winemakers like him, as climate change wreaks havoc on vineyards across Europe and natural wines made without the use of pesticides have grown in popularity.

. . .

With France awash in wine, lawmakers urgently addressed the problem around Christmas in 1934. To reduce overproduction, they outlawed the six American vines — including hybrids like the jacquez and pure American grapes like the isabelle — mainly on the grounds that they produced poor wine. Production for private consumption would be tolerated, but not for commercial sale.

The government had planned to follow up with bans on other hybrids but stopped because of the backlash to the initial ban, Mr. Lacombe said. Then the war provided another reprieve.

It was only in the 1950s — when hybrids were still cultivated on a third of all French vineyards — that the government really began cracking down on the six forbidden grapes, Mr. Lacombe said. It offered incentives to rip out the offending vines, then threatened growers with fines.

It then condemned the American grapes as harmful to body and sanity with arguments “not completely honest to try to quell a situation that was slipping away from the government,” Mr. Lacombe said.

“In fact, the present defenders of these vines are right in underlining all the historical and government inconsistencies,” he added.

. . .

Originally from northeastern France, Mr. Garnier, now 68, was once a longhaired high school student who traveled to see Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Janis Joplin perform in concert.

. . .

Some years later, he got into winemaking almost by accident. Two elderly brothers asked him to harvest their jacquez grapes in return for half of the wine production. He learned the history of the forbidden vines and eventually bought the brothers’ vineyards.

Today, he makes 3,400 bottles a year of his deeply colored, fruity “Cuvée des vignes d’antan,” or wine from vines of yesteryear. He got around the ban by creating a cultural, noncommercial association, “Memory of the Vine.” A membership fee of 10 euros, or about $12, yields a bottle.

With the growing threat of climate change and the backlash against the use of pesticides, Mr. Garnier is hoping that the forbidden grapes will be legalized and that France’s wine industry will open up to a new generation of hybrids — as Germany, Switzerland and other European nations already have.

“France is a great wine country,” he said. “To remain one, we have to open up. We can’t get stuck on what we already know.”

For the full story, see:

Norimitsu Onishi. “Guerrilla Winemakers Want France to Yield.” The New York Times (Monday, August 30, 2021): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. 16, 2021, and has the title “For France, American Vines Still Mean Sour Grapes.”)

E.U. Blocks Innovations in Charger Port Technology

(p. B1) The European Union unveiled plans on Thursday [September 23, 2021] to make USB-C connectors the standard charging port for all smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices sold across the bloc, an initiative that it says will reduce environmental waste but that is likely to hit Apple the hardest.

The move would represent a long-awaited yet aggressive step into product-making decisions by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm. Apple, whose iPhones are equipped with a different port, has long opposed the plan, arguing that it would stifle innovation and lead to more electronic waste as all current chargers that are not USB-C would become obsolete.

. . .

(p. B6) European Union officials and lawmakers at the European Parliament have been advocating a common charger since 2009, when there were more than 30 charging options on the market, now down to three. They have argued that fewer wires would be more convenient for users and better for the environment, as mobile phone chargers are responsible for 11,000 tons of electronic waste per year across the bloc, according to estimates by the European Commission.

But Apple has also argued that if the European Union had imposed a common charger in 2009, it would have restricted innovation that led to USB-C and Lightning connectors. In a statement, Apple said that although it welcomed the European Commission’s commitment to protecting the environment, it favored a solution that left the device side of the charging interface open for innovation.

For the full commentary, see:

Elian Peltier. “E.U. Aims to Require USB-C Ports.” The New York Times (Friday, Sept. 24, 2021): B1 & B6.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 23, 2021, and has the title “In a setback for Apple, the European Union seeks a common charger for all phones.”)

Central Planners’ Electric-Vehicle Push Is “More Political Showmanship Than Sound Planning”

(p. A1) The Toyota Prius hybrid was a milestone in the history of clean cars, attracting millions of buyers worldwide who could do their part for the environment while saving money on gasoline.

But in recent months, Toyota, one of the world’s largest automakers, has quietly become the industry’s strongest voice opposing an all-out transition to electric vehicles — which proponents say is critical to fighting climate change.

. . .

(p. A9) In statements, Toyota said that it was in no way opposed to electric vehicles. “We agree and embrace the fact that all-electric vehicles are the future,” Eric Booth, a Toyota spokesman, said. But Toyota thinks that “too little attention is being paid to what happens between today, when 98 percent of the cars and trucks sold are powered at least in part by gasoline, and that fully electrified future,” he said.

Until then, Mr. Booth said, it makes sense for Toyota to lean on its existing hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles to reduce emissions. Hydrogen fuel cell technology should also play a role. And any efficiency standards should “be informed by what technology can realistically deliver and help keep vehicles affordable,” the company said in a statement.

. . .

On paper, Toyota’s approach to zero-emissions vehicles, the hydrogen fuel cell, is a dream: Unlike battery-powered electric vehicles, these cars carry hydrogen tanks and fuel cells that turn the hydrogen into electricity. They refuel and accelerate quickly, and can travel for several hundred miles on a tank, emitting only water vapor. And hydrogen, theoretically, is abundant.

But a high sticker price, as well as lack of refueling infrastructure, has hampered the growth of a hydrogen economy, at least for passenger cars.

. . .

Jeffrey K. Liker, professor emeritus of industrial and operations engineering at the University of Michigan and author of “The Toyota Way,” said that there were other factors slowing Toyota’s push. A famously cautious company, Toyota has researched solid-state batteries, which are safer than the widely used lithium-ion technology, but readying that technology has taken longer than they expected, he said. Toyota has also spoken about not wanting to lay off employees or bankrupt suppliers in a rapid transition to electrics.

“Toyota’s view is also that countries are jumping in with the idea of the electric-vehicle endgame without a real plan, and it’s more political showmanship than sound planning,” Mr. Liker said.

For the full story, see:

Hiroko Tabuchi. “Maker of Prius Now Resisting Emissions Push.” The New York Times (Monday, July 26, 2021): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Aug. [sic] 6, 2021, and has the title “Toyota Led on Clean Cars. Now Critics Say It Works to Delay Them.”)

Liker’s book mentioned above is:

Liker, Jeffrey. The Toyota Way, 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer. 2nd ed: McGraw-Hill Education, 2021.

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.”)

Global Warming Makes This “An Exciting Time if You’re a Wine Lover”

(p. B6) . . . rising temperatures have had . . . unforeseen effects. Parts of the United Kingdom, a country not at all known for wine production, are now making sparkling wine — as they did back in Roman times.

For wine connoisseurs, that means changes in the types of wines they’ve long loved and where those wines are produced. The average consumer may not notice but the seemingly stable world of wine has become anything but.

“We’re seeing a broader selection of very interesting wines because of this warming,” said Dave Parker, founder and chief executive of the Benchmark Wine Group, a large retailer of vintage wines. “We’re seeing regions that historically were not that highly thought of now producing some excellent wines. The U.K., Oregon, New Zealand or Austria may have been marginal before but they’re producing great wines now. It’s kind of an exciting time if you’re a wine lover.”

The rising temperatures have certainly hurt some winemakers, but in some wine-growing areas the heat has been a boon for vineyards and the drinkers who covet their wine. Mr. Parker said growing conditions for sought-after vintages in Bordeaux used to come less frequently and sometimes only once every decade: 1945, 1947, 1961, 1982, 1996 and 2000. They were all very ripe vintages, because of the heat. But in the last decade, with temperatures rising in Bordeaux, wines from 2012, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019 are all sought after — and highly priced.

And then, there are the wines from previously overlooked regions.

“What I’d say is, currently, there hasn’t been a better time for wine collectors,” said Axel Heinz, the estate director of Ornellaia and Masseto, two of Italy’s premier wines. “The vintages and wine have become so much better. And for us, the changes over the past 20 years have put a focus on many growing regions that collectors weren’t interested in before, like Italian and Spanish wine.”

For the full story, see:

Paul Sullivan. “Climate Change’s Impact by the Bottle.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, September 4, 2021): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 3, 2021, and has the title “Change May Be Coming to Your Favorite Wines.”)

“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.”)