Nanobiomaterial boosts neuronal growth in mice with spinal cord injuries


Researchers from the Department of Orthopedics of Tongji Hospital at Tongji University in Shanghai have successfully used a nanobiomaterial called layered double hydroxide (LDH) to inhibit the inflammatory environment surrounding spinal cord injuries in mice, accelerating the regeneration of neurons and reconstruction of the neural circuit in the spine.

The researchers were also able to identify the underlying genetic mechanism by which LDH works. This understanding should allow further modification of the therapy, which, in combination with other elements, could finally produce a comprehensive, clinically applicable system for spinal cord injury relief in humans.

The research appeared in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano on February 2.

There is no effective treatment for spinal cord injuries, which are always accompanied by the death of neurons, breakage of axons or nerve fibers, and inflammation.

Even though the body continues to generate new neural stem cells, this inflammatory microenvironment (the immediate, small-scale conditions at the injury site) severely hinders the regeneration of neurons and axons. Worse still, the prolonged activation of immune cells in this area also results in secondary lesions of the nervous system, in turn preventing the stem cells from differentiating themselves into new cell types.

If this aggressive immune response at the injury site could be moderated, there is the possibility that neural stem cells could begin differentiation, and neural regeneration could occur.

In recent years, a raft of novel nano-scale biomaterials—natural or synthetic materials that interact with biological systems—have been designed to assist activation of neural stem cells, along with their mobilization and differentiation. Some of these “nanocomposites” are capable of delivering drugs to the injury site and accelerate neuronal regeneration.

These nanocomposites are especially attractive for spinal cord treatment due to their low toxicity. However, few have any ability to inhibit or moderate the immune reaction at the site, and so do not tackle the underlying problem. Moreover, the underlying mechanisms of how they work remain unclear.

Nanolayered double hydroxide (LDH) is a kind of clay with many interesting biological properties relevant to spinal cord injuries, including good biocompatibility (ability to avoid rejection by the body), safe biodegradation (breakdown and removal of the molecules after application), and excellent anti-inflammatory capability.

LDH has already been widely explored in biomedical engineering with respect to immune response regulation, but mainly in the field of anti-tumor therapy.

“These properties made LDH a really promising candidate for the creation of a much more beneficial microenvironment for spinal cord injury recovery,” says Rongrong Zhu of the Department of Orthopedics of Tongji Hospital, first author of the study.

Under the leadership of Liming Cheng, corresponding author of the study, the research team transplanted the LDH into the injury site of mice and found that the nanobiomaterial had significantly accelerated neural stem cells migration, neural differentiation, activation of channels for neuron excitation, and induction of action potential (nerve impulse) activation.

The mice also exhibited significantly improved locomotive behavior compared to the control group of mice. In addition, when the LDH was combined with Neurotrophin-3 (NT3), a protein that encourages the growth and differentiation of new neurons, the mice enjoyed even better recovery effects than the LDH on its own. In essence, the NT3 boosts neuronal development while the LDH creates an environment where that development is allowed to thrive.

Then, via transcriptional profiling, or analysis of gene expression of thousands of genes at once, the researchers were able to identify how the LDH performs its assistance.

They found that once LDH is attached to cell membranes, it provokes greater activation of the “transforming growth factor-β receptor 2” (TGFBR2) gene, decreasing the production of the white blood cells that enhance inflammation and increasing production of the white blood cells that inhibit inflammation.

Upon application of a chemical that inhibits TGFBR2, they found the beneficial effects were reversed.

The understanding of how LDH performs these effects should now allow the researchers to tweak the therapy to enhance its performance and to finally create a comprehensive therapeutic system for spinal cord injuries—combining these biomaterials with neurotrophic factors like NT3-that can be used in clinical application on people.

Source

Carbon Nanotubes: The Next Generation of Global Water Purification?


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A typical day (maybe like yours) involves waking up, taking a 10 minute shower, cooking breakfast, running the dishwasher if it’s full, going to work, eating dinner with a refreshing glass of filtered water, and maybe tackling a load of laundry in the evening. None of these actions feel extravagant, but when I look at statistics of global water usage and the lack of fresh water availability, it’s obvious that as Americans, we consume significantly more gallons of water per day than anywhere else in the world. In fact, on average each American uses about 152 gallons of water daily, while people in some other countries such as Uganda and Haiti use only about 4 gallons.1

That extreme low usage in some countries is not just because people are very conservation-minded – it is largely because there is not enough clean water to go around. Living in Wisconsin, I am conscientious of my water intake, but I am fortunate to not be in constant fear of turning on the faucet to see no water or even dirty water pouring out. Unfortunately, as we’ve learned from the recent experience of people in Flint, Michigan, it is not only countries outside the U.S. that have to worry about availability of clean water.

Personally, a trip to Israel last winter was what forced me to step out of my typical routine and experience firsthand how precious water is to their nation as a natural resource. My guide on the trip encouraged us to shower efficiently, never leave the water running while doing dishes, and to purchase bottled water, but to never waste a drop.

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Enjoying the availability of fresh, clean water. (image by Elvert Barnes)

Being a scientist and an advocate for reducing my footprint on the environment, I wanted to learn more about what is being done to solve the problem of global freshwater availability. Considering what other recent medical and energy-related advancements have been made with the use of nanotechnology, it came as no surprise to me that carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are being studied as a means of water purification.

What exactly is a carbon nanotube? Picture a flat sheet of carbon atoms rolled into an incredibly tiny cylindrical tube with a diameter on the nanoscale, as shown here:

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Carbon nanotube. (image from wikimedia commons)

These tiny, flexible, and surprisingly resilient materials may very well be our new direction in sustainable, large-scale water purification. The major advantage of CNTs is that water passes through them in a nearly frictionless manner due to something called hydrophobicity (i.e. preference to be away from water). But if CNTs are hydrophobic, you might wonder why water would even come near or enter them in the first place. This is an important point because water is a polar molecule and CNTs are non-polar, meaning they typically don’t want to mix together. One option for overcoming this is to coat the top of each tube with specific molecules that will initially attract water to the opening. Then, when water enters the nanotube, it flows through very quickly because it is being repelled by the hydrophobic tube walls. Conversely, most salts, ions, and pollutants won’t flow through the nanotube because they are attracted to and captured by the coating at the opening.

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Also Read: Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future

Because water passes through the CNTs so easily and pollutants do not, CNTs have potential to be a great solution for water purification. If we’re able to use CNTs in the next generation of water purification technology, then we may be able to both desalinate (get rid of salt) and remove pollutants from otherwise unusable water around the world with less energy and less money than current methods require.

Improving water purification really is a global issue. On my trip last winter, I learned that Israel, along with other nations in the Middle East and Northern Africa, were already considered “water stressed” in 1995. This phrase indicates that the nation is withdrawing more than 25% of their renewable freshwater resources for agricultural, domestic, and industrial uses annually. By the year 2025 it is predicted that over 2.8 billion people in 48 countries will be “water stressed” or worse.2 To combat this growing issue, countries are turning to unconventional options for wastewater treatment and desalination.

Global map of freshwater stress
Freshwater stress map showing percentage ranges of how much water will be withdrawn with respect to amount naturally available.2

With a greater understanding of the problem at hand, let’s take a closer look at current techniques for water purification. Right now, the most common practice of cleansing salt water to produce freshwater is the use of desalination plants. These plants operate by the technique of reverse osmosis, which is shown in the figure below. Osmosis is when a less concentrated liquid (like fresh water) moves through a membrane toward a more concentrated liquid (water containing salt in this case). This process happens naturally without any need for applying external pressure. For reverse osmosis, we want the exact opposite to happen, and unlike osmosis, that requires an input of external energy. These semi-permeable reverse osmosis membranes that separate the two liquids are usually made of common organic materials with pores ranging from 0.3 to 0.6 nanometers in diameter. (As a comparison the diameter of a dime is 18,008,600 nanometers while the diameter of a water molecule is a mere 0.1 nm).

diagram of osmosis & reverse osmosis
Differences between osmosis and reverse osmosis. (image by Emily Caudill)

As of 2013, there were over 17,000 plants worldwide providing more than 300 million people with desalinated water, many using reverse osmosis technology.3 Israel alone, with its relatively small land mass, has four plants with a fifth currently being built, while the U.S. houses about 250 plants.4

Desalination plants are effective, yet they are costly monetarily, energetically, and environmentally speaking. These plants require a great deal of energy input daily, and most desalination plants run on non-renewable energy sources (like fossil fuels and nuclear energy).5 With global freshwater availability declining, there is a need for cheaper, more efficient, and more environmentally sustainable desalination technology, and CNTs may be our most viable option looking forward. Their desalination capacity and frictionless water interaction means they require less energy than reverse osmosis to produce the same amount of fresh water.

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Inside a reverse osmosis desalination plant  (image by James Grellier)

There are a few hurdles that must be overcome before we hear about the next “CNT desalination plant,” though. For example, we need to develop a method for large scale synthesis of CNTs that ensures consistent shape, size, and function. However, it is evident that our current methods of water purification aren’t enough and motivation is strong to develop this new use for CNTs.6

With increasing resources and technologies, we are closer than ever to a newer, faster, cheaper, and overall better way to provide fresh water on the global scale. Nanotechnology has proven to be a wonderful alternative to previously used methods in energy and medicine, for example, and we may be close to seeing a similar improvement in the case of water purification. As part of the Center for Sustainable Nanotechnology, I want to mention that it will be absolutely vital to produce and dispose of CNTs in a way that doesn’t lead to greater issues in the future (such as their own toxicity to the environment). This is an exciting time in science because we have groundbreaking approaches, but we are also in a day and age where we need to be more thoughtful about how our actions impact our finite supply of water, precious metals, and other vital resources.


EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES


REFERENCES (may require subscription for full access)

  1. The Water Information Program. Water Facts http://www.waterinfo.org/resources/water-facts.
  2. United Nations Environment Program. Vital Water Graphics, retrieved from http://www.unep.org/dewa/vitalwater/article141.html.
  3. International Desalination Association. Desalination by the Numbers http://idadesal.org/desalination-101/desalination-by-the-numbers/.
  4. Texas Water Development Board. Seawater FAQs http://www.twdb.texas.gov/innovativewater/desal/faqseawater.asp.
  5. Nuclear Energy Institue. Water Desalination
    http://www.nei.org/Knowledge-Center/Other-Nuclear-Energy-Applications/Water-Desalination
  6. Das, R.; Ali, M. E.; Hamid, S. B. A.; Ramakrishna, S.; Chowdhury, Z. Z. Carbon nanotube membranes for water purification: a bright future in water desalination. Desalination2014, 336, 97-109. doi: 10.1016/j.desal.2013.12.026

China’s Dominance Of Clean Energy Supply Chains Raises Concerns


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Over the past decade, no major energy source has grown faster than solar power. According to the 2020 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity has grown at an average annual rate of over 42% over the past 10 years, translating into a doubling of global capacity every 1.7 years on average.

Although that blistering pace could start slowing down as installed capacity grows, solar will likely remain the fastest-growing energy source for the foreseeable future. Much as with other energy sources, however, solar growth is giving rise to a number of thorny questions regarding geopolitics, supply chains, and national security.

The Path to Decarbonization

From a North American perspective, the election of Joe Biden as U.S. President has breathed new life into the Paris climate agreement — the most significant global effort to rein in carbon dioxide emissions to date. Fulfilling a key campaign promise, President Biden officially rejoined the Paris accord last month. At the same time, following meetings between President Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada also pledged to submit its own new target under the Paris pact, with the two leaders insisting on a joint approach to climate issues.

The European Union, for its part, has consistently maintained an aggressive stance toward carbon emission reductions. The EU is on a path to surpass its goal of generating a third of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Last September, the European Commission presented its plan to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. That would put the EU on a path to reach climate neutrality by 2050.

All of these efforts point to one inescapable conclusion: installed renewable energy capacity will continue to rise as governments on both sides of the Atlantic pour money into decarbonization efforts.

At the same time, many of these countries are understandably sensitive about energy security. Political leaders don’t like to depend on other countries for their energy supplies, but this is frequently an accepted trade-off due to economic considerations.

That pattern has long held true for fossil fuels, with OPEC maintaining a stranglehold on the world’s oil supplies until the U.S. fracking boom somewhat weakened its monopoly. Now, as the renewable revolution picks up steam, one country – China – has built up a clear advantage around certain key renewable technologies, in particular the components needed to construct solar energy infrastructure in the West.

Huawei in the Spotlight

China’s own energy consumption continues to grow rapidly, making the Chinese economy the world’s largest energy consumer. As a result, Beijing invested aggressively in renewables and has now achieved predominant market shares in solar photovoltaics as well as lithium-ion batteries, another key renewable technology.

Chinese state-linked company Huawei, better known for telecommunications equipment and consumer electronics, has also become one of the world’s largest suppliers of solar inverters, a critical part of solar PV systems that converts direct current power generated by solar panels into alternating current electricity to power electronics in homes and businesses.

Huawei’s dominant position in the inverter market, coupled with the backing it enjoys from the Chinese government, has raised concerns in the U.S. In 2019, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators sent letters to Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, urging them to ban the sale of all Huawei solar products in the U.S., citing a national security threat to U.S. energy infrastructure.

Noting that Congress had previously blocked Huawei from the U.S. telecommunications equipment market due to concerns over its links to China’s intelligence services, the letter stated in part:

“Both large-scale photovoltaic systems and those used by homeowners, school districts, and businesses are equally vulnerable to cyberattacks. Our federal government should consider a ban on the use of Huawei inverters in the United States and work with state and local regulators to raise awareness and mitigate potential threats.”

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Comparing finite and renewable planetary energy reserves (Terawatt-years). Total recoverable reserves are shown for the finite resources. Yearly potential is shown for the renewables.

The concern is that if the U.S. power grid becomes dependent on a critical piece of state-linked Chinese electronic equipment, it could render that grid especially vulnerable to outside disruption or manipulation. This dynamic mirrors concerns in the U.S. about reliance on OPEC for oil supplies. Huawei responded to what it called an “unwelcoming climate being fostered in the United States” by closing its U.S. inverter business.

Europe’s Diverging Approach

A more ambivalent approach toward Huawei was initially adopted in the EU, which only agreed to reduce its dependency on equipment susceptible to Chinese government influence for future 5G networks. However, officials in a number of EU countries are now sounding an alarm over the Chinese state’s role in sectors of their economies that represent key national security interests, including banking, energy, and infrastructure.

Those concerns extend to solar energy, with EU policymakers also expressing concern over China’s use of Muslim forced labor in solar PV module supply chains. That issue has given additional impetus to the European Parliament, which is now pushing for trade bans on Chinese solar module equipment if human rights abuses are involved in their manufacture.

These factors all create major incentives for Western countries to address Chinese state dominance in the clean energy sector. That imbalance didn’t arise overnight, and it will take some time to address.

President Biden took a step in that direction by signing an executive order aimed at making U.S. supply chains more resilient. Among other things, the report calls for identifying “risks in the supply chain for high-capacity batteries, including electric-vehicle batteries, and policy recommendations to address these risks.”

The EU will now have to decide whether it is ready to pursue a similar approach. Clean energy supply chains haven’t received a lot of policy attention until recently, but governments are increasingly under pressure to ensure potential threats to those supply chains don’t derail global efforts to decarbonize.

Article from The Energy Collective Group: Robert Rapier

How Quantum Computing Could Remake Chemistry


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Photo Credit: Andriy Onufriyenko  Article By Jeanette Garcia

In my career as a chemist, I owe a huge debt to serendipity. In 2012, I was in the right place (IBM’s Almaden research lab in California) at the right time—and I did the “wrong” thing. I was supposed to be mixing three components in a beaker in the hope of systematically uncovering a combination of chemicals, meaning to replace one of the chemicals with a version that was derived from plastic waste, in an effort to increase the sustainability of thermoset polymers.

Instead, when I mixed two of the reagents together, a hard, white plastic substance formed in the beaker. It was so tough I had to smash the beaker to get it out. Furthermore, when it sat in dilute acid overnight, it reverted to its starting materials. Without meaning to, I had discovered a whole new family of recyclable thermoset polymers. Had I considered it a failed experiment, and not followed up, we would have never known what we had made. It was scientific serendipity at its best, in the noble tradition of Roy Plunkett, who invented Teflon by accident while working on the chemistry of coolant gases.

Today, I have a new goal: to reduce the need for serendipity in chemical discovery. Nature is posing some real challenges in the world, from the ongoing climate crisis to the wake-up call of COVID-19. These challenges are simply too big to rely on serendipity. Nature is complex and powerful, and we need to be able to accurately model it if we want to make the necessary scientific advances.

Specifically, we need to be able to understand the energetics of chemical reactions with a high level of confidence if we want to push the field of chemistry forward. This is not a new insight, but it is one that highlights a major constraint: accurately predicting the behavior of even simple molecules is beyond the capabilities of even the most powerful computers.

This is where quantum computing offers the possibility of major advances in the coming years. Modeling energetic reactions on classical computers requires approximations, since they can’t model the quantum behavior of electrons over a certain system size. Each approximation reduces the value of the model and increases the amount of lab work that chemists have to do to validate and guide the model. Quantum computing, however, is now at the point where it can begin to model the energetics and properties of small molecules such as lithium hydride, LiH—offering the possibility of models that will provide clearer pathways to discovery than we have now.

THE QUANTUM CHEMISTRY LEGACY

Of course, quantum chemistry as a field is nothing new. In the early 20th century, German chemists such as Walter Heitler and Fritz London showed the covalent bond could be understood using quantum mechanics. In the late the 20th century, the growth in computing power available to chemists meant it was practical to do some basic modeling on classical systems.

Even so, when I was getting my Ph.D. in the mid-2000s at Boston College, it was relatively rare that bench chemists had a working knowledge of the kind of chemical modeling that was available via computational approaches such as density functional theory (DFT). The disciplines (and skill sets involved) were orthogonal. Instead of exploring the insights of DFT, bench chemists stuck to systematic approaches combined with a hope for an educated but often lucky discovery. I was fortunate enough to work in the research group of Professor Amir Hoveyda, who was early to recognize the value of combining experimental research with theoretical research.

THE DISCONTENTS OF COARSE DATA

Today, theoretical research and modeling chemical reactions to understand experimental results is commonplace, as the theoretical discipline became more sophisticated and bench chemists gradually began to incorporate these models into their work. The output of the models provides a useful feedback loop for in-lab discovery. To take one example, the explosion of available chemical data from high throughput screening has allowed for the creation of well-developed chemical models. Industrial uses of these models include drug discovery and material experimentation.

The limiting factor of these models, however, is the need to simplify. At each stage of the simulation, you have to pick a certain area where you want to make your compromise on accuracy in order to stay within the bounds of what the computer can practically handle. In the terminology of the field, you are working with “coarse-grained” models—where you deliberately simplify the known elements of the reaction in order to prioritize accuracy in the areas you are investigating. Each simplification reduces the overall accuracy of your model and limits its usefulness in the pursuit of discovery. To put it bluntly, the coarser your data, the more labor intensive your lab work.

The quantum approach is different. At its purest, quantum computing lets you model nature as it is; no approximations. In the oft-quoted words of Richard Feynman, “Nature isn’t classical, dammit, and if you want to make a simulation of nature, you’d better make it quantum mechanical.”

We’ve seen rapid advances in the power of quantum computers in recent years. IBM doubled its quantum volume not once but twice in 2020 and is on course to reach quantum volume of more than 1,000, compared with single-digit figures in 2016. Others in the industry have also made bold claims about the power and capabilities of their machines.

So far, we have extended the use of quantum computers to model energies related to the ground states and excited states of molecules. These types of calculations will lead us to be able to explore reaction energy landscapes and photo-reactive molecules. In addition, we’ve explored using them to model the dipole moment in small molecules, a step in the direction of understanding electronic distribution and polarizability of molecules, which can also tell us something about how they react.

Looking ahead, we’ve started laying the foundation for future modeling of chemical systems using quantum computers and have been exploring different types of calculations on different types of molecules soluble on a quantum computer today. For example, what happens when you have an unpaired electron in the system? Do the calculations lose fidelity, and how can we adjust the algorithm to get them to match the expected results? This type of work will enable us to someday look at radical species, which can be notoriously difficult to analyze in the lab or simulate classically.

To be sure, this work is all replicable on classical computers. Still, none of it would have been possible with the quantum technology that existed five years ago. The progress in recent years holds out the promise that quantum computing can serve as a powerful catalyst for chemical discovery in the near future.

QUANTUM MEETS CLASSICAL

I don’t envision a future where chemists simply plug algorithms into a quantum device and are given a clear set of data for immediate discovery in the lab. What is feasible—and may already be possible— would be incorporating quantum models as a step in the existing processes that currently rely on classical computers.

In this approach, we use classical methods for the computationally intensive part of a model. This could include an enzyme, a polymer chain or a metal surface. We then apply a quantum method to model distinct interactions—such as the chemistry in the enzyme pocket, explicit interactions between a solvent molecule and a polymer chain, or hydrogen bonding in a small molecule. We would still accept approximations in certain parts of the model but would achieve much greater accuracy in the most distinct parts of the reaction. We have already made important progress through studying the possibility of embedding quantum electronic structure calculation into a classically computed environment obtained at the Hartree-Fock (HF) or DFT level of theory.

The practical applications of advancing this approach are numerous and impactful. More rapid advances in the field of polymer chains could help address the problem of plastic pollution, which has grown more acute since China has cut its imports of recyclable material. The energy costs of domestic plastic recycling remain relatively high; if we can develop plastics that are easier to recycle, we could make a major dent in plastic waste. Beyond the field of plastics, the need for materials with lower carbon emissions is ever more pressing, and the ability to manufacture substances such as jet fuel and concrete with a smaller carbon footprint is crucial to reducing total global emissions.

MODELING THE FUTURE

The next generation of chemists emerging from grad schools across the world brings a level of data fluency that would have been unimaginable in the 2000s. But the constraints on this fluency are physical: classically built computers simply cannot handle the level of complexity of substances as commonplace as caffeine. In this dynamic, no amount of data fluency can obviate the need for serendipity: you will be working in a world where you need luck on your side to make important advances. The development of— and embrace of—quantum computers is therefore crucial to the future practice of chemists.

This is an opinion and analysis article.

Super Oil & Gas Company Total Orders Hydrogen Re-Fueling Station from HRS – A Hydrogen Fuel Success Story


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Hydrogen Refueling Solutions (HRS) has announced that it has received an order from Total for the supply and installation of a hydrogen station at the site of one of its customers.

A European designer and manufacturer of hydrogen fueling stations, HRS is a success
story. Recently listed on the stock exchange, the Iserise company has just formalized an order related to the supply and installation of a hydrogen station for one of the total group’s customers.

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A hydrogen station delivered by June 2021

If hrS does not specify the location of this future station, it says it will be delivered and commissioned by June 2021.
Specially designed to meet the needs of Total’s teams, this station will be able to distribute up to 200 kilograms of hydrogen per day. Accessible to all types of vehicles, it will offer two levels of pressure: 350 and 700 bars. With a storage capacity of 190 kilos, it can be easily dismantled and transported.

(Quote) Philippe Callejon, Director of Mobility and New Energy of Total Marketing France,

“With this high-capacity, transportable HRS solution, Total is able to offer its customers an innovative solution of temporary rental offer turnkey and quickly deployable, to address their experimental operational needs (bus fleets, household dumpsters, heavy trucks, commercial vehicles …).” says

Why is the World So Short of Computer Chips? What Will This Mean Going Forward?


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Carmakers from Tokyo to Detroit are slashing production. PlayStations are getting harder to find in stores. Even aluminum producers warn of a potential downturn ahead. All have one thing in common: an abrupt and cascading global shortage of semiconductors.

Semiconductors, also known as integrated circuits or more commonly just chips, may be the tiniest yet most exacting product ever manufactured on a global scale. That level of cost and difficulty has fostered a growing worldwide dependence on two Asian powerhouses — Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and Samsung Electronics Co. — a reliance exacerbated by the pandemic and rising U.S.-China tensions even before the current deficit. Hundreds of billions will be spent by governments and corporations in a plethora of sectors in coming years on a “chip race” with geopolitical as well as economic implications.

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1. Why are there shortages of chips?

A lot, but not all, of the disruption can be tied to the pandemic. Here are some factors:

* The stay-at-home era caused by the coronavirus pushed demand beyond levels projected by chipmakers. Lockdowns spurred growth in sales of laptops to their highest in a decade, along with home networking gear and monitors, as office work moved out of the office, and of Chromebooks as school left school. Sales also jumped for home appliances from TVs to air purifiers, all of which now come with customized chips. Even webcams like the Razer Kiyo grew hard to find after video services boomed for work and entertainment.

* Uncertainties caused by the pandemic led to sharp swings in orders. TSMC executives said on its two most recent earnings calls that customers have been accumulating more inventory than normal to hedge against uncertainties. Automakers that cut back drastically in the early days of the outbreak underestimated how quickly sales would rebound. They rushed late last year to re-up orders, only to get turned away because chipmakers are stretched to the max supplying smartphone giants like Apple Inc. 

* Stockpiling: PC makers began warning about tight supply of semiconductors early in 2020. Then by mid-year, Huawei Technologies Co. — a major smartphone and networking gear maker — began hoarding components to ensure its survival from U.S. sanctions that threatened to cut it off from its primary suppliers of chips. Other Chinese companies followed suit, and the country’s imports of chips climbed to almost $380 billion in 2020 — making up almost a fifth of the country’s overall imports for the year.

2. What’s the upshot?

Some businesses are getting whacked. Chip shortages are expected to wipe out $61 billion of sales for automakers alone and delay the production of a million vehicles in the March quarter, but the fallout now threatens to hit the much larger electronics industry. Not only cars but possibly a broad spectrum of chip-heavy products from phones to gaming consoles could see shortages or price hikes. NXP Semiconductors NV and Infineon Technologies AG both indicated that supply constraints have spilled beyond Automotives.

3. Who are the big players?

Advanced logic chips grab the headlines as the most expensive and complex pieces of silicon that give computers and smartphones their intelligence. When you hear about Apple or Qualcomm or Nvidia chips, those companies are actually just the designers of the semiconductors, which are made in factories called foundries.

* TSMC leads the industry in production capabilities and everyone now beats a path to its doorstep to get the best chips made in its Taiwan facilities. The company’s share of the global foundry market is larger than its next three competitors combined.

* Samsung, overall a bigger chipmaker because of its dominance in memory chips, is trying to muscle in on that goldmine and is improving its production technology to be widely rated as the best option behind TSMC. Companies such as Qualcomm Inc. and Nvidia Corp. have increasingly turned to Samsung.

Intel Corp., the last U.S. champion in the field, still has more revenue than any other chipmaker but its market is heavily concentrated in computer processors and production delays have made it vulnerable to rival designers that’re taking share using TSMC.

* TSMC and Samsung do face smaller competitors including Global foundries, China’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. and Taiwan’s United Microelectronics Corp. But those rivals are at least two to three generations behind TSMC’s technology.

4. What’s happening in this race?

The two Asian giants are spending heavily to cement their dominance: TSMC raised its envisioned capital expenditure for 2021 to as much as $28 billion from a record $17 billion a year prior, while Samsung is earmarking about $116 billion on a decade-long project to catch its Taiwanese arch-rival. But China is pushing hard to catch up. It’s aimed for years to reduce its reliance on US. technology, particularly in chips. The Trump administration’s efforts to curb China’s technology giants — by barring Huawei’s access to chips and and discouraging American investment in scores of players like SMIC and Xiaomi Corp. — crystallized those fears. Beijing has enshrined chipmaking among its biggest priorities in its national economic blueprints, and has pledged to spend more than $140 billion on building a world-class domestic semiconductor sector. But it has a long way to go. For instance, in the automotive sector, China has developed a large number of chip design companies in recent years but they’re still not able to make the advanced chips needed for today’s cars.

5. How about elsewhere?

Given the difficulty in developing sophisticated chipmaking capabilities, governments from Brussels to Washington are dangling incentives to anyone who will build or expand advanced facilities in their backyards. The White House is expected to sign an executive order directing a government-wide supply chain review for critical goods in the coming weeks, with the chip shortage a central concern behind the probe. The Biden administration, which is putting together a longer-term plan for chip supply, will play a key role in formulating tax incentives for a proposed $12 billion TSMC plant in Arizona and another costlier one Samsung is eyeing, possibly in Texas. And the European Union is considering building an advanced semiconductor factory in Europe with potential assistance from TSMC and Samsung. Governments including China are now considering various ways to prop up local companies.

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6. Why is it so hard to compete on chips?

Chipmaking is a high-volume business that calls for incredible precision, along with making huge long-term bets in a field subject to rapid change. Famous companies such as Texas Instruments Inc.International Business Machines Corp. and Motorola have exited or given up trying to keep up with the most advanced chip manufacturing. Today most companies focus on design. With only three companies — TSMC, Samsung and Intel — still making advanced logic chips, and the American company struggling to keep up, a crucial skillset has become concentrated in the hands of just a few. Chips are made in plants that cost billions to build and equip. They have to run flat-out 24/7 to recoup their investment. But it’s not just that. Yield, or the amount of good chips per batch, determines success or failure. It takes years of knowhow and experience to get a yield of 90% out of the complex photolithographic process used to make chips. Imagine Ford being happy to throw away one car in ten. But chipmakers, who make millions of chips in a process that takes three to four months to complete, are successful if they’re hitting that mark. A foundry gobbles up enormous amounts of water and electricity and is vulnerable to even the tiniest disruptions (whether from dust particles or distant earthquakes). In 2019, TSMC shipped about 10 million advanced 12-inch wafers.

7. Who benefits from the chip wars?

Even small improvements in semiconductors can deliver substantial savings in energy and cost when multiplied across the full scale of something like Amazon Web Services. As 5G mobile networks proliferate and push up demand for data-heavy video and game streaming and more people work from home, the need for newer, more power-efficient silicon is only going to grow. One way to measure the sophistication of a chip is so-called line-widths, or the distance between circuits. The current standard in advanced chips is 5 nanometers or billionths of a meter, about a hundred-thousandth of the width of a strand of hair, although TSMC and Samsung are working on 3nm mass production by 2022. Along with 5G, the rise of artificial intelligence is another force pushing chipmakers to innovate: AI relies on massive data processing. More efficient or power-saving designs is also becoming a critical consideration given the so-called Internet of Things — a universe of smart or connected devices from the beefiest phones to the most common fridges and washing machines — is expected to swell usage of chips exponentially in coming years.

8. How does Taiwan fit into all this?

The island democracy has emerged as an industry linchpin thanks to TSMC and an entire ecosystem geared toward high-end electronics. U.S., European and Japanese automakers are lobbying their governments for help navigating the chip crunch, with Taiwan and TSMC being asked to step in. Those pleas illustrate how TSMC’s chip-making skills have handed Taiwan political and economic leverage in a world where technology is being enlisted in the great power rivalry between the U.S. and China — a standoff unlikely to ease under the Biden administration.

The Reference Shelf

Bloomberg: Debby Wu; Sohee Kim; and Ian King 

Hydrogen projects worth $300 billion are dropping green H2 prices fast


 
Hydrogen 1 download
 
Key hydrogen projects that have been announced globally – Hydrogen Council
 

A new Hydrogen Council report sheds some light on Hydrogen’s rise as a green fuel source. More than 30 countries now have a national H2 strategy and budget in place, and there are 228 projects in the pipeline on both the production and usage sides.

Europe is leading the way, with 126 projects announced to date, followed by Asia with 46, Oceania with 24 and North America with 19. In terms of gigawatt-scale H2 production projects, there are 17 projects planned, with the largest in Europe, Australia, the Middle East and Chile.

Overall, projects seem fairly well balanced between hydrogen production and end-use applications, with a smaller number focusing on distribution.

European projects are balanced between production and usage initiatives, while Korea and Japan are developing much more on the usage side, for both transport and industrial applications. Australia and the Middle East are more active on the supply side, working to position themselves as hydrogen exporters.

The majority of these projects – some 75 percent, it should be noted – have been announced but do not yet have funding committed. This figure includes budgets committed by governments for spending, for which no project has yet been identified.

Only US$45 billion worth of projects are at the “mature” stage, having reached the feasibility study or engineering and design stage, and $38 billion are at the “realized” stage, with a final investment decision made, construction started, or already operational. 

Hydrogen production projections for 2030 have leapt up in the last year. The previous report estimated that 2.3 million tons will be produced annually by 2030, and this report revises that figure up to 6.7 million tons. To put that another way, two-thirds of the global hydrogen production expected to be operational in 2030 has been announced in the last year.

Government decarbonization initiatives are a huge driving force behind the hydrogen wave, with some $70 billion committed globally. Carbon pricing is helping, with some 80 percent of global GDP covered by some kind of CO2 pricing mechanism. 

Japan and Korea, as you’d expect, are leading the charge on fuel cell vehicles, and globally the report projects some 4.5 million FCVs on the road by 2030, with 10,500 hydrogen fuel stations targeted to meet that demand.

Hydrogen 2 download

Green hydrogen production prices are dropping faster than previously expected, with optimal operations beginning to achieve price parity by 2030 even without carbon taxes on gray hydrogen  – Hydrogen Council

There’s good news too in terms of production costs, with prices for green, renewable hydrogen falling faster than expected. Partially, this is because electrolyzer supply chains are ramping up faster than expected, bringing the price of electrolyzers down 30-50 percent lower than anticipated.

Other factors include a declining cost of energy, with renewable energy costs revised down by 15 percent, and green hydrogen production companies figuring out their mix of renewable inputs more effectively to keep the hydrolyzers up and running longer.

So while “gray” hydrogen costs are expected to remain stable at around $1.59 per kg, green hydrogen is expected to drop from its current price around $4-5.50 per kilogram to hit an average of $1.50 by 2050, with green supply potentially becoming cheaper than gray hydrogen in optimal areas as soon as 2030. Low-carbon hydrogen production will start coming online around 2025, with prices sitting roughly between the two. Adding carbon taxes to the gray production could bring green hydrogen to price parity by 2030. 

Hydrogen transport is going to become a big deal, with major demand centers likely to look at imports. The cheapest way to do it for short to medium distances is through retrofitted pipelines, provided you’ve got a guaranteed demand to fill.

If demand fluctuates, trucks become more attractive. For longer distances, some routes have undersea pipelines that could be used, but much of the rest will have to be done using ships, which will add around $1-2 to the cost per kilogram.

Long-range overland pipelines also look like an interesting opportunity, with the report pointing out that hydrogen pipelines can transport 10 times more energy than a long-distance electricity transmission line at one eighth the cost. And existing pipelines can be retrofitted to handle hydrogen to vastly reduce the cost of pipeline projects.

The report makes further long-term projections for hydrogen vehicles, trucks, ships and aircraft. In aviation, the report projects hydrogen will become a cost-effective way to de-carbonize short and medium range flights (sub-10,000 km, or 6.200 mi) by around 2040, but there’ll need to be significant advances in storage to make it practical for longer range flights.

The report should not be taken as gospel, having been written by the H2 industry itself, but it makes for some interesting reading if you’re interested in the development of the clean energy economy.

Source: Hydrogen Council

Why all the Hydrogen Hoopla?


With so much attention focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions across so many sectors, hydrogen has suddenly become a hot topic in energy. (Business Wire)

Go back to chemistry class. Remember hydrogen? It’s the simplest element on earth, consisting of one proton and one electron.

Well, humble hydrogen has suddenly become the hottest topic in energy circles around the globe.

That’s because hydrogen’s simplicity and versatility can be applied to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across an ever-growing number of manufacturing and power segments, while also advancing the adoption and distribution of renewable energy.

The relatively high cost of adding hydrogen into the value chain has some skeptics questioning just how extensive its role will be but supporters say economies of scale — combined with a lot of government spending — will lead to an energy system at least partially infused with hydrogen.

“It’s just starting to get the attention of people like investors and other industrial players,” said Dave Edwards, a hydrogen energy advocate who works for the U.S. arm of the French multinational Air Liquide. “The average citizen doesn’t think of hydrogen in their energy future yet, although it absolutely will be playing a role.”

What hydrogen can do

Unlike, say, natural gas or solar generation, hydrogen is not a source of energy. Rather, it is an energy carrier that can store and deliver usable energy.

When mixed with oxygen in a fuel cell, hydrogen burns clean. And, crucially, the element can be applied across a variety of sectors.

For example, manufacturing industries such as steel and cement require tremendous amounts of heat to make their products. Hydrogen can burn hot enough to run a blast furnace. The element can be injected into the natural gas that is used as a feedstock at those factories, resulting in a smaller carbon footprint.

Hydrogen can also be applied to help decarbonize the transportation sector, which accounts for more than half of California’s carbon pollution.

Chris Schneider fills up his hydrogen fuel cell Honda Clarity at the Shell station in Carmel Valley.

A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, which runs a motor. To fuel the car, a driver pulls up to a pump similar to a conventional gasoline station and pumps hydrogen into the tank. It takes about three to five minutes to fill up and the only emissions are a few drops of water that come out of the tailpipe.

About 9,000 hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles — such as the Toyota Mirai and the Honda Clarity — are on the roads in California, and state policymakers want to go from about 40 hydrogen fueling stations currently in use across the state to 200 in the next four years.

But with the electric vehicle segment making strides, a more immediate opportunity for hydrogen may be found in larger vehicles. Buses and medium- and heavy-duty trucks powered by fuel cells don’t need the heavier battery systems required in electric vehicles and they perform well in cold weather. Hydrogen fuel cells can also be used to power forklifts and movers at sites like warehouses, shipping sites and ports, replacing gasoline and diesel.

Hydrogen is also seen as a spur to develop energy storage sites.

Solar production in California is plentiful during the day when the sun is out but disappears after the sun sets. When there is an oversupply of solar during the day, grid managers sometimes have to curtail solar generation or send the excess to neighboring states.

Energy storage systems save up the excess generation and then discharge the electricity when demand is high on the grid, such as between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. when power is more expensive.

Is it safe?

For some, the mention of the word “hydrogen” brings to mind the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 that killed 36 people. Hydrogen is indeed highly volatile and flammable but the element’s supporters say it has an excellent safety record.

The U.S. Department of Energy says to prevent ignitions, “adequate ventilation and leak detection are important elements in the design of safe hydrogen systems.” Since hydrogen burns with a nearly invisible flame, special flame detectors are required.

In fuel cell vehicles, the hydrogen is stored in tanks with thick walls that have a liner that’s wrapped inside a carbon-fiber shell and sensors are placed around the tank to detect leaks. The pressurized tanks have passed repeated crash tests. Toyota said the fuel tanks in its Mirai even withstood being “shot at with high-velocity weapons.” BMW last fall said an uncontrolled reaction of hydrogen and oxygen while driving a fuel cell vehicle is “virtually impossible.” Edmunds.com has called hydrogen fuel as safe as gasoline.

For decades, the element has been produced, stored and transported. Oil refineries, for example, use steam methane reformers to make hydrogen so they can remove impurities like sulfur from petroleum and diesel fuels.

As for the Hindenburg, the cause of the fire above Lakehurst, N.J. is still a matter of intense debate. A recent explanation points the finger at a hydrogen gas leak ignited by an electrostatic discharge.
Others insist hydrogen did not cause the fire. Theories include everything from a coating on the airship’s exterior that proved flammable to an internal puncture to sabotage.

Battery storage helps but it is designed to be used on a short-term, hour-to-hour, basis. Hydrogen, however, can store energy for months at a time.

“If you want to store electricity for a long period of time, battery storage gets more and expensive,” Paul Browning, CEO of Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Americastold CNBC. “Whereas with hydrogen, we can store it underground in large salt domes for long periods of time at very low cost.”

That’s exactly what Mitsubishi is doing with fuel storage company Magnum Development, at a power station in Delta, Utah, that’s operated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The stored electricity will be discharged to power gas turbines at the power plant.

The Intermountain Power Plant in Delta, Utah plans to use 30 percent hydrogen by 2025 and 100 percent hydrogen by 2045.

When the project starts in 2025, Browning said the turbines will use 30 percent hydrogen and 70 natural gas instead of coal. By 2045, the plan is to use 100 percent hydrogen, fed by renewable sources.

Hydrogen also can be applied to residential and commercial power. Work is being done to blend the element into the natural gas transmission and distribution system.

Combined Heat and Power, or CHP, systems can lead to 35 percent to 50 percent reductions in emissions by conventional means and the U.S. Department of Energy has estimated reductions of more than 80 percent if hydrogen from low- or zero-carbon sources are used in a fuel cell.

How do you make it?

Since hydrogen does not typically exist by itself, it must be produced from compounds that contain it. The element can be produced using a wide range of resources that use different production methods.

Given the emphasis policymakers have placed on clean energy, most of the attention has focused on making “blue hydrogen” and “green hydrogen.”

In blue hydrogen, natural gas — which contains hydrogen as part of natural gas’s methane compound — is commonly put into a steam methane reformer. The reformer isolates the hydrogen but leaves behind carbon dioxide, or CO2. Since CO2 is a greenhouse gas, it is then captured and stored instead of getting released into the atmosphere. It’s estimated the process could cut the amount of carbon produced in half.

In green hydrogen, the element is produced using renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, hydropower or even biomass. One process getting substantial attention is electrolysis, in which electricity from carbon-free sources is sent into an electrolyzer and water — made up of hydrogen and oxygen, H2O — is pumped into it. Out comes hydrogen and no carbon emissions are released, hence the term “green hydrogen.”

Hurdles, promoters and skeptics

But the process used to produce hydrogen is expensive and the cleaner the version, the more costly it gets. Hydrogen now accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s energy supply, so to build and expand its reach will be expensive.

Keen to meet its climate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 55 percent by 2030, the European Union has taken the early lead in promoting hydrogen. Last summer, the EU produced a roadmap that called for spending up to $569 billion (470 billion euros) in green hydrogen investments by 2050.

President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion plan to tackle climate change includes hydrogen but no specific dollar figure was attached to it in his clean energy proposal that was released on the campaign trail.

Hydrogen’s advocates are counting on costs coming down as the hydrogen becomes more ubiquitous — similar to the economies of scale that have led to steep declines in the costs of solar, wind and batteries. There are certainly no guarantees that hydrogen can duplicate that but analysts at IHS Markit have predicted the production of green hydrogen could become cost competitive in nine years.

On the infrastructure side, there are issues with hydrogen’s compatibility with existing pipes in the natural gas system. When exposed to hydrogen over time, some types of steel pipes can become brittle and crack.

San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas have partnered with the National Fuel Cell Research Center at UC Irvine on a blending program in which hydrogen will be injected into plastic pipes to see how it performs. The initial blend level will be 1 percent and may increase to 20 percent.

“Steel pipes don’t do well; plastic does a lot better,” said Kevin Sagara, group president at Sempra Energy, the parent company of SDG&E and SoCalGas. “So we’ll start with plastic, see how that goes and then slowly scale it up to other types of pipe.”

The program is one of seven hydrogen projects Sempra companies are taking part in. Earlier this month, SoCalGas announced it will spend $1.3 million to fund the development of hydrogen refueling stations at ports and fuel cells for marine vessels and locomotives.

California recently set a mandate to derive 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045 but even though Sempra touts owning the largest natural gas franchise in the Western Hemisphere, Sagara said the Fortune 500 company is “all in” on hydrogen.

“We want to lead in this area,” Sagara said. “Our grid will be the backbone for not only continuing this path of electrification but then delivering renewable electricity to make the clean molecules like hydrogen to decarbonize those other sectors” of the energy economy.

Ever versatile, hydrogen can also be liquefied, which can play into the millions of dollars Sempra has invested in liquefied natural gas, or LNG, facilities. “You could see a big hydrogen hub down in the Gulf by Texas, where there’s ample storage, lots of low-cost renewables — both solar and wind,” Sagara said. “It’s one of the best places to make hydrogen.”

Talk like that riles Matt Vespa, staff attorney of the environmental group EarthJustice, who says fossil fuel companies are latching onto hydrogen as a lifeline.

“I think there’s this broader play by the gas industry to suggest there’s some Holy Grail that will allow us to keep the gas system running as it currently does, just with a different fuel,” Vespa said.

For one, he’s very skeptical that hydrogen can be safely injected into gas pipelines to a degree where it makes a substantial environmental improvement. “There’s really not a lot you could do with existing pipeline structure without having to completely replace the pipelines and appliances that currently run on gas,” Vespa said.

Many environmentalists want resources spent on green hydrogen projects that use electrolyzers, not on blue hydrogen that uses natural gas or other fossil fuels as a feedstock.

“Let’s concentrate on that and also target the applications where (hydrogen) has the most greenhouse gas benefit,” Vespa said.

At the California Legislature, Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, has introduced Senate Bill 18 that would direct state agencies to designate green hydrogen as a key energy source for all renewable power uses and long-term storage to help propel investment and technology.

When she introduced the bill, Skinner called hydrogen “the only renewable energy source that has the potential to decarbonize all aspects of our economy. To put it simply: We might not get to a carbon-free world without it.”

Globally, investments in hydrogen are expected to grow to more than $700 million in the next two years and hardly a week goes by without news of another hydrogen investment, initiative or research program.

Air Liquide, which has been in the hydrogen business for 50 years, is constructing a $150 million plant near Las Vegas that will turn biogas from organic waste into hydrogen and then sell it in California to power hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, forklifts, as well as other applications.

Last month, the company announced plans to build the world’s largest electrolyzer, using hydroelectricity in Quebec to produce hydrogen.

“Does hydrogen ever fully replace gasoline, diesel and natural gas? It’ll play its part in replacing those, without a doubt,” said Edwards of Air Liquide. “You’ll see it as a transportation fuel, as a home fuel, as an industrial fuel. You’ll see it in all of these places over time and 50 years from now, I think it will be very common across all those sectors.”

By Rob Nikolewski The San Diego Union Tribune

U.S. Lawmakers “Pedal” Tax Credits For E-bikes


E Bike TC 1 Biking-Capitol

Have you heard the big news out of Washington, D.C., this week? No, not that news …

We’re talking about the Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment Act, also known as the EBIKE Act (clever, right?), that was proposed Tuesday by U.S. House of Representatives co-sponsors Earl Blumenauer (Oregon) and Jimmy Panetta (California).

If passed, this legislation would provide a tax credit of 30 percent off (up to $1,500) a new electric bike priced at under $8,000. If you’re one of the many Americans who end up getting money back from the IRS around tax time, this could add to your refund. If you’re eyeing a new Rad model, that’s a potential average credit of $419 in your pocket.

In a statement, Panetta said that this proposal is rooted in the environmental benefits that come from more people jumping on an ebike rather than driving a car.

“Ebikes are not just a fad for a select few, they are a legitimate and practical form of transportation that can help reduce our carbon emission,” the Congressman explained. “By incentivizing the use of electric bicycles to replace car trips through a consumer tax credit, we can not only encourage more Americans to transition to greener modes of transportation, but also help fight the climate crisis.”

The legislation comes on the heels of other bicycle-friendly bills put forward by Blumenauer, the Co-Chair of the Congressional Bike Caucus, including some that would strengthen the nation’s cycling infrastructure and expand tax credits for commuters who bike to work.

“One of the few positive developments of the last year has been the surge in biking. Communities large and small are driving a bike boom,” Blumenauer said in a statement. “Notably, electric bicycles are expanding the range of people who can participate, making bike commuting even easier.”

Our mission from day one has been to revolutionize the world of mobility, and seeing concrete legislative action that’ll motivate more people to turn to ebikes is a surefire sign we’re on the right path.

But like so many bills floated in the nation’s capital, the EBIKE Act won’t pass without a few riders (some legislative humor for ya). In this case, that means Rad riders like you!

If you want to see a consumer tax credit for new e-bikes, contact your Congressional representative and politely ask them to lend their support. Find Your Rep!

And keep an eye on this issue. We’re not counting on seeing this passed by peak riding season and there’s a long road ahead, including making it to the Senate!

Lithium-ion batteries: Does the SK Innovation import ban by the USITC threaten North America’s Lithium-ion battery supply for an emerging and growing US EV Market?


sk-innovation-symbolbild

Last week, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) proposed a 10-year import ban on South Korean battery producer, SK Innovation, after the conclusion of an IP lawsuit filed by fellow South Korean battery maker, LG Chem. This decision to ban imports essentially cuts material supply from two factories with a combined capacity of almost 22GWh (9.8GWh and 11.7GWh respectively), expected to commence production in 2022 and 2023. However, there is still an option of local material sourcing, though there are limited opportunities to source the required materials, such as active cathode materials domestically within the USA at the scale required.

Roskill View

Roskill’s analysis shows that in 2020, the USA accounted for 1% of the global cathode materials market, which is forecast to increase to around 5% by 2030. The legislation passed by the US ITC, however, maintains SK innovation’s ability to supply battery cells to Volkswagen’s MEB line in North America for two years and Ford’s F-150 for four years, in addition to supplying spare parts for Kia models. Considering sales/production levels of Ford and Volkswagen in USA, Roskill estimates SK Innovation’s potential market size to be 9GWh through to February 2023, falling to 3GWh until February 2025, as potential to supply VW’s requirements expires. As a result, it seems unlikely for SK Innovation to invest further capital and time developing and commissioning its two USA based factories, only to achieve production of battery cells for 2-3 years at 14% planned utilization rate.

SK-Innovation-1 US

SK Innovation announced plans for additional investment in its U.S. battery business, following approval by the SK Innovation Board of Directors to fund the start of construction of a second electric vehicle battery plant in Georgia. READ MORE: SK Innovation Increases Planned Investment in U.S. EV Battery Business to $2.5 Billion (electriccarsreport.com)

The removal of 22GWh of pipeline production capacity would represent a 10% decrease in total giga-factories capacity in North America in 2023, while EV demand in North America is expected to triple in the next five years and requires nearly 75GWh in installed battery capacity. As a result, the ITC’s decision, if not reversed or altered, would negatively impact the supply of Li-ion batteries for EV applications in the USA. The absence of SK Innovation would also place greater reliance on other battery makers in the USA, including Tesla/Panasonic, LG Chem and Envision AESC.

Roskill publishes annual Market Outlook reports for lithium-ion batteries and for a range of commodities across the lithium-ion battery supply chain, including lithium, cobalt, nickel sulphate and graphite. To see our full range of analysis, click here.

Join Roskill’s Lithium Mine to Market Conference to gain insight into the key drivers of the lithium market in 2021 and beyond. To register, click here. 

Contact the authors

This article was written by Egor Prokhodtsev and Kevin Shang. Please get in touch below if you wish to discuss further

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