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Climate commitments erupted from this week — Climate Week — like popcorn from seed, oil from a pressurized well, electrons from solar cells.
China, the world’s top emitter, made a surprising pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2060. California said it would ban sales of new gas-guzzling cars by 2035. Meanwhile, a number of corporate giants — from Morgan Stanley to Walmart — committed to various emissions reduction targets.
Big news also spewed from the electric-vehicle industry — namely, from EV firms Nikola and Tesla (which, though rivals, are both named after the inventor Nikola Tesla).
Nikola’s founder and chairman stepped down amid allegations of fraud. Tesla, on the other hand, held its much-anticipated “battery day” Tuesday, during which it announced a new cell design and forthcoming $25,000 electric car.
Let’s jump in.
Picture a drive-in theater for the wealthy with Elon Musk on stage. That was essentially Battery Day.
Seated in parked Tesla cars, shareholders watched as Musk, who’s known for fanfare, announced major changes to the firm’s batteries that would result in steep cost reductions.
The big picture: Those reductions stand to make future Tesla models cheaper than their gas-guzzling rivals.
- The cost of batteries has long held back widespread EV adoption.
The new battery: Tesla’s cells, to be made in-house, will be larger and feature a more efficient “tabless” design.
The problem with silicon: An abundant and cheap element, silicon stores a lot more energy than the leading anode material, graphite (the stuff in pencils). But it’s notoriously challenging to work with.
- As silicon absorbs ions of lithium, i.e. battery juice, it expands dramatically.
- That causes cracking that degrades the cell over time. (To be clear, it’s a lot more complicated. I dive into more of the details here.)
- This problem has stymied the battery industry for decades.
Tesla’s solution: It’s not surprising that Tesla is using silicon, as higher energy density translates to cheaper EVs, but experts we talked to this week weren’t exactly sold on the company’s approach (which we detail here).
- They said Musk’s firm will likely run into the same challenges that have long plagued silicon-cell makers.
- A former Tesla battery engineer, who now runs his own cell company, said it’s unlikely that Musk will achieve the 20% range improvement his company promises through silicon cells.
Do you have info about Tesla? You can reach me at [email protected] or on Signal at 646-768-1657.
Read more: Our transportation team was all over Tesla this week. Here are some of their stories.
It’s old news that oil giants are transforming into clean-energy producers. What’s more interesting is how they plan to adopt a less-familiar business model — one honed by utilities over decades — without sinking.
That’s a question that will test Elisabeth Brinton in her career at Shell.
- Brinton leads Shell’s new energies division.
- She’s also a key figure behind the company’s goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.
Who is she? A former exec in the utility industry, Brinton is known by some of her peers as a near-irrepressible optimist and visionary, whose agenda hasn’t always matched those of her superiors.
In other news: Shell has launched a major cost-cutting initiative, months after the price of oil crashed, called ‘Project Reshape.’
- The company is looking to cut 30% to 40% off the cost of producing oil and gas.
- Shell will also look at cost-saving opportunities in its network of 45,000 gas stations as part of the review.
- The project, first reported by Reuters, is part of the company’s pivot towards renewable energy and mirrors similar moves by other European majors including BP.
Do you have info about Shell? You can reach me at [email protected] or on Signal at 646-768-1657.
BP’s value plummets days after unveiling details of a green makeover
BP’s share price reached a 25-year-low this week, days after the company unveiled fresh details about its strategy to become a major renewable-energy producer.
- It’s not great news for a company that’s considered a paragon of what green makeovers look like for oil companies.
What happened? There’s the usual — oil is cheap and still struggling to gain ground. But there’s also a question among investors about whether BP can be successful while adopting a less-familiar business model.
In other news: BP was in talks with electric-truck maker Nikola for possible partnerships on hydrogen fueling stations but they fizzled this week as Nikola faced fraud allegations, per the Wall Street Journal.
Do you have info about BP? Reach out at [email protected] or on Signal at 646-768-1657.
A quick guide to understanding ‘net-zero’
Defined: Net-zero indicates that a company will not release any more carbon emissions than it removes from the atmosphere, such as through planting trees.
- “Carbon-neutral” is often used as a stand-in for net-zero.
But: Companies produce a range of different kinds of emissions, and net-zero doesn’t necessarily apply to all of them.
- Oil companies, for example, have said they’ll reduce to zero emissions tied to their operations (such as those stemming from heating office buildings).
- However, they don’t go as far as reducing to zero emissions that come from customers using their products like fuel. Those emissions fall into a category known as Scope 3.
- The vast majority of emissions produced by fossil-fuel companies are Scope 3.
A bigger goal: To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, countries need to reach net-zero CO2 emissions by mid-century, according to the Paris Agreement.
- More than 20 countries have set net-zero goals.
4 stories we didn’t cover
- GE said it will stop making coal-fired power plants, Reuters reports.
- Airbus announced it’s working on three zero-emissions hydrogen planes, Bloomberg reports. One design could carry up to 200 people.
- Electric-motor startup Turntide raised $33 million from investors including Amazon and Nest founder Tony Fadell.
- Solar tracking company Array Technologies is the latest cleantech company set to go public through a SPAC, pv magazine reports.
That’s it! Have a great weekend.