Tag Archives: Josef Shomperlen Milwaukee Blog

Climate talks wrap up with progress on Paris rulebook

Global talks on curbing climate change wrapped up Friday, with delegates and observers claiming progress on several key details of the 2015 Paris accord.

The two-week negotiations focused on a range of issues including transparency, financial assistance for poor nations and how to keep raising countries’ targets for cutting carbon emissions.

“We are making good progress on the Paris agreement work program, and we are on track to complete that work by the deadline,” Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama told diplomats hours before the meeting in Bonn, Germany, was due to conclude.

Bainimarama, who presided over the talks, faced the challenging task of reconciling the often conflicting positions of rich and poor countries, especially when it comes to what each side needs to do to curb climate change.

By late Friday, two main issues remained unresolved: the question of how far in advance rich countries need to commit billions in funding to help developing nations, and a dispute over whether Turkey should have access to financial aid meant for poor countries.

Signatories of the Paris agreement want to keep global warming significantly below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. That goal won’t be achieved unless countries make further efforts to sharply reduce carbon emissions caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels.

Observers say the U.S. delegation played a largely constructive role during the talks, despite the Trump administration’s threat to pull out of the Paris accord.

While one group of American officials led by White House adviser George David Banks raised eyebrows by hosting a pro-coal event during the talks, a second group consisting of seasoned U.S. negotiators quietly got on with the painstaking job of refining the international climate rulebook, said Elliot Diringer, a veteran of such U.N. meetings.

“It’s a smaller team but a strong team,” said Diringer, who is the executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a Washington think tank. “From all accounts they have been playing a constructive role in the room advancing largely the same positions as before.”

Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, cautioned that while the Bonn talks might be considered a diplomatic success, little concrete progress has been made on tackling what he called the “coal trap.”

“We are being pressured by the mass of available coal: it’s very cheap on the market but it’s very expensive for society because of air pollution and climate change,” he said, noting that Japan, Turkey, Egypt and Indonesia plan to keep investing in coal-fired power plants — a major source of carbon emissions.

Environmental groups voiced disappointment at German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s failure to announce a deadline for her country to stop using coal, even as other nations such as Canada, Britain and France committed to a phase-out during the talks.

Leadership hopes are now being pinned on President Emmanuel Macron of France, who is hosting a climate summit in Paris next month to mark the second anniversary of the landmark accord.

Further low-level talks will take place over the next year in order to present leaders with final drafts for approval at the next climate meeting in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018.


Follow Frank Jordans on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/wirereporter

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/climate-talks-wrap-progress-paris-rulebook-51218438

Interstellar visitor shaped like giant fire extinguisher

A newly discovered object from another star system that’s passing through ours is shaped like a giant pink fire extinguisher.

That’s the word this week from astronomers who have been observing this first-ever confirmed interstellar visitor.

“I’m surprised by the elongated shape — nobody expected that,” said astronomer David Jewitt of the University of California, Los Angeles, who led the observation team that reported on the characteristics.

Scientists are certain this asteroid or comet originated outside our solar system. First spotted last month by the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii, it will stick around for another few years before departing our sun’s neighborhood.

Jewitt and his international team observed the object for five nights in late October using the Nordic Optical Telescope in the Canary Islands and the Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona.

At approximately 100 feet by 100 feet by 600 feet (30 meters by 30 meters by 180 meters), the object has proportions roughly similar to a fire extinguisher — though not nearly as red, Jewitt said Thursday. The slightly red hue — specifically pale pink — and varying brightness are remarkably similar to asteroids in our own solar system, he noted.

Astronomer Jayadev Rajagopal said in an email that it was exciting to point the Arizona telescope at such a tiny object “which, for all we know, has been traveling through the vast emptiness of space for millions of years.”

“And then by luck passes close enough for me to be able to see it that night!”

The object is so faint and so fast — it’s zooming through the solar system at 40,000 mph (64,000 kph) — it’s unlikely amateur astronomers will see it.

In a paper to the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the scientists report that our solar system could be packed with 10,000 such interstellar travelers at any given time. It takes 10 years to cross our solar system, providing plenty of future viewing opportunities, the scientists said.

Trillions of objects from other star systems could have passed our way over the eons, according to Jewitt.

It suggests our solar system ejected its own share of asteroids and comets as the large outer planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune — formed.

Why did it take so long to nail the first interstellar wanderer?

“Space is big and our eyes are weak,” Jewitt explained via email.

Anticipating more such discoveries, the International Astronomical Union already has approved a new designation for cosmic interlopers. They get an “I” for interstellar in their string of letters and numbers. The group also has approved a name for this object: Oumuamua (OH’-moo-ah-moo-ah) which in Hawaiian means a messenger from afar arriving first.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/interstellar-visitor-shaped-giant-fire-extinguisher-51198889

Experts: Idaho hatchery built to save salmon is killing them

A relatively new $13.5 million hatchery intended to save Snake River sockeye salmon from extinction is instead killing thousands of fish before they ever get to the ocean, and fisheries biologists in Idaho think they know why.

The Department of Fish and Game in information released this week says water chemistry at the Springfield Hatchery in eastern Idaho is so different from that in the central region that the young fish can’t adjust when released into the wild.

“It’s not a disaster, it’s part of what you experience when you open a new hatchery,” Paul Kline, Fish and Game’s assistant fisheries chief, said in a post on the agency’s website.

Idaho Rivers United, an environmental group, blasted the report as more reason for removing four dams on the lower Snake River that impede salmon.

“Until we address main-stem survival we’re missing the biggest opportunity for these amazing fish,” Kevin Lewis, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

Sockeye salmon are a prized sport fish and the Idaho run is culturally important to the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. An estimated 150,000 sockeye returned annually to central Idaho, and Redfish Lake was named for the abundant red-colored salmon that spawned there.

Federal officials say the run began to decline in the early 1900s due to overfishing, irrigation diversions, dams and poisoning, teetering on the brink of extinction in the early 1990s.

The fish have been the focus of an intense recovery program centered at Fish and Game’s Eagle Fish Hatchery in southwestern Idaho after being listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1991.

The Springfield hatchery was completed in 2013. Salmon eggs from the Eagle hatchery and the federally operated Burley Creek Hatchery in Washington state are transported to Springfield where they are raised until they are ready for release as young fish, called smolts, into the Salmon River.

The goal has been to release 1 million smolts with the hope that up to 5,000 of them could survive the ocean odyssey to return annually as adults to Redfish Lake. This year, 162 adults returned, none from the Springfield Hatchery.

Fish and Game officials say smolts from the hatchery released in central Idaho are not surviving.

The main theory, officials say, is that water at the Springfield Hatchery has a high amount of dissolved minerals, called hard water, while the water at Redfish Lake and the Salmon River does not, making it soft water.

Young fish headed for the ocean transition from living in fresh water to salt water. Biologists say the additional stress of trying to also adjust from hard water to soft water could be killing the salmon.

Idaho officials say they plan on trying various solutions, including releasing fish directly into Redfish Lake in the fall as pre-smolts, raising more sockeye at the Sawtooth Hatchery in central Idaho, and gradually softening water as fish are transported from the Springfield Hatchery in trucks to central Idaho.

The Bonneville Power Administration paid for the Springfield Hatchery as part of federally required mitigation to replace fish killed by hydroelectric projects that provide power to the region.

“We are confident that this hatchery is still viable and that our partners will find a solution,” said David Wilson, spokesman for the agency.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/experts-idaho-hatchery-built-save-salmon-killing-51227241

20 years of changing seasons on Earth packed into 2½ minutes

NASA captured 20 years of changing seasons in a striking new global map of the home planet.

The data visualization, released this week, shows Earth’s fluctuations as seen from space.

The polar ice caps and snow cover are shown ebbing and flowing with the seasons. The varying ocean shades of blue, green, red and purple depict the abundance — or lack — of undersea life.

“It’s like watching the Earth breathe. It’s really remarkable,” said NASA oceanographer Jeremy Werdell, who took part in the project.

Two decades — from September 1997 to this past September — are crunched into 2 ? minutes of viewing.

Werdell finds the imagery mesmerizing.

“It’s like all of my senses are being transported into space, and then you can compress time and rewind it, and just continually watch this kind of visualization,” he said Friday.

Werdell said the visualization shows spring coming earlier and autumn lasting longer in the Northern Hemisphere. Also noticeable to him is the Arctic ice caps receding over time — and, though less obvious, the Antarctic, too.

On the sea side, Werdell was struck by “this hugely productive bloom of biology” that exploded in the Pacific along the equator from 1997 to 1998 — when a water-warming El Nino merged into cooling La Nina. This algae bloom is evident by a line of bright green.

In considerably smaller Lake Erie, more and more contaminating algae blooms are apparent — appearing red and yellow.

All this data can provide resources for policymakers as well as commercial fishermen and many others, according to Werdell.

Programmer Alex Kekesi of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland said it took three months to complete the visualization, using satellite imagery.

Just like our Earth, the visualization will continually change, officials said, as computer systems improve, new remote-sensing satellites are launched and more observations are made.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/nasa-captures-20-years-seasonal-home-planet-51227350

Climate nemesis, carbon, could become valuable resource

On a dreary November morning, a small party of visitors from around the world boards a boat for an hour-long ride around what was once one of the most polluted waters in the Ruhr valley.

Lake Baldeney has become a symbol for the efforts Germany is making to revive its western industrial heartland, and the gleaming white vessel is meant to showcase where the journey is heading: toward a cleaner, sustainable future.

The boat is the first in the world to be fitted with an electric engine powered by a fuel cell containing methanol — a form of alcohol that inevitably prompts “booze cruise” jokes among passengers. What makes the boat really stand out, though, is the fact that the methanol is produced using a chemical process which draws carbon out of the air.

The technology, though still relatively new, is being touted by some as a weapon in the fight against man-made climate change, caused to a large degree by carbon emissions from fossil fuel use.

Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have steadily increased since the industrial revolution, contributing to the greenhouse effect that is spurring global warming.

The U.N.’s panel of scientific advisers on climate change has predicted that unless carbon emissions peak within the coming years, average temperatures around the world will rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) with potentially catastrophic results.

The boat is one of three prototypes designed to show that carbon converted to methanol — in this case with power from a nearby hydroelectric plants — can serve as an eco-friendly fuel of the future. The others are a car than can run for 500 kilometers (310 miles) on methanol and a house capable of producing and storing all the electricity it needs to be self-sufficient.

Similar projects are springing up around the world and several were showcased on the sidelines of the global climate meeting in Bonn, Germany, while delegates were hammering out rules needed to implement the landmark Paris climate accord. The 2015 agreement, since denounced by President Donald Trump but backed by every other government on the planet, set a goal of keeping global warming significantly below 2 degrees Celsius, but didn’t lay down many of the practical details needed to ensure the treaty works.

Among the pioneers that have been getting the most attention is Swiss company call Climeworks, which operates a site near Zurich that draws carbon dioxide from the air and pumps it to a nearby plant nursery. While the saplings would naturally absorb CO2, Climeworks is effectively providing them with fertilizer and speeding up the removal of carbon at the same time.

Daniel Egger, the company’s head of sales, said the operation should break even within two years and can be scaled up easily. Climeworks is also experimenting with a different type of carbon capture at a site in Iceland, where CO2 is harvested from the air and pumped deep underground. There, it bonds with limestone to form a solid that stays safely out of the atmosphere.

Analysts such as Andrew Jones say such systems can at best make a small contribution to achieving the Paris goals.

“If your basement is flooding, your top priority is to turn off the faucets, not reach for the mops and buckets,” said Jones, who is co-director of Climate Interactive, a think tank that uses computer models to simulate solutions to global warming.

Jones said that removing 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, as some models suggest will be necessary, would require the energy equivalent of 1,200 new nuclear plants, or more than all of the wind and solar power forecast by the International Energy Agency to be available by 2040.

“While we should study these machines, the world runs the risk of being distracted by the fantasy of large-scale carbon dioxide removal when the priority should be a war-scale effort at preventing greenhouse gas emissions in the first place,” he said.

Doing so, however, would mean ending all use of fossil fuels by the year 2050 at the latest, a plan that few governments and businesses are willing to get behind.

To most, the notion of going “carbon neutral” by the middle of the century will require a broad mix of measures, from reducing emissions to recapturing some and even using technologies that haven’t been invented yet.

A half-hour drive from Lake Baldeney lies one of Europe’s oldest steelworks. The site in Duisburg, next to the Rhine river, was founded in 1891 and to this day a vast mesh of pipes, railways and chimneys covers the 10-square-kilometer (four-square-mile) site.

It is operated by Thyssenkrupp, a company that once made cannons for the German kaiser but is now struggling to compete against cheaper rivals from India and China. One solution, according to its chief technology officer, Reinhold E. Achatz, has been relentless innovation. Recently, that has included devising a way to utilize the carbon dioxide released in the steelmaking process and turning it into fuel, fertilizer or plastic.

A new facility scheduled to open in April will cut down 10 million tons of CO2 emissions a year, Achatz said. Replicated across steel plants worldwide, the process could save 50 times as much while providing a raw material that would cut down on the need for oil.

“Carbon dioxide isn’t a waste,” Achatz said. “It’s a resource.”

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/climate-nemesis-carbon-valuable-resource-51218066

US restarts nuclear testing facility in Idaho after 23 years

Federal officials have restarted an eastern Idaho nuclear fuel testing facility amid efforts to boost the nation’s nuclear power generating capacity and possibly reduce concerns about nuclear power safety.

The U.S. Department of Energy said the facility at the Idaho National Laboratory about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls began operating Tuesday for the first time since it went on standby status in 1994.

“It went well,” John Bumgardner, director of the laboratory’s Transient Testing Program said Wednesday. “The reactor and the facility as a whole, as well as our trained personnel, all performed as expected.”

Testing of the facility’s equipment began Tuesday, Bumgardner said. Nuclear fuel testing is expected to begin next year.

The Energy Department proposed resuming operations at the Transient Reactor Test Facility in 2013 as part of former President Barack Obama’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by generating carbon-free electricity with nuclear power. Nuclear power currently produces about 19 percent of the nation’s energy.

Energy department officials hope the testing facility will help researchers create fuels that leave behind less nuclear waste, that are harder to turn into weapons and that are less likely to lead to a reactor core meltdown.

The United States has no permanent nuclear waste repository, which means the waste is often stored at the same sites where it is produced — often near large cities.

Accident-tolerant fuels could help to avoid the type of reactor core meltdowns that occurred at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania in 1979 and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan in 2011.

“Trying to save the nuclear industry is sort of a fool’s errand,” said Wendy Wilson, executive director of the Idaho-based Snake River Alliance, a nuclear watchdog group. “We’re going to spend taxpayer money to save an industry that is dying due to economic reasons.”

Bumgardner said the test facility in Idaho is the only one in the world with its capabilities and flexibility. It is five times more powerful than commercial nuclear plants, he said.

“It’s kind of like crash testing a car,” he said. “We will take the new fuel up to the limit to make sure it can perform as expected. In some cases, we go well beyond the limits to understand what it is capable of.”

Harold Blackman, associate vice president for research and economic development at Boise State University, spent a little over 30 years working at the laboratory, including when the test facility was operating.

The facility shut down in part, he said, from reduced funding in research and development at a time when federal officials were moving away from nuclear power. But with global warming and a desire for non-carbon sources of energy, nuclear power has become for some an attractive alternative.

“One of the major reasons is that nuclear is so environmentally friendly on the carbon side of things,” Blackman said.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/us-restarts-nuclear-testing-facility-idaho-23-years-51178018

Getting more ‘wolflike’ is the key to the future for coyotes

The future of the coyotes that roam forests, cities and suburbs from Newfoundland to Virginia could hinge on the animals becoming the “wolves” of the East Coast. And humans better get used to them.

Coyotes have lived in the East since the 1930s, and recent genetic tests have shown they are actually a mixture of coyote, wolf and dog. That’s why Eastern coyotes tend to be bigger than their Western cousins.

And they might be getting increasingly similar to wolves. The hybrid carnivore has expanded its territory and thrived over the past eight decades, and increasingly wolflike traits are making it a larger, more adaptable animal equipped for survival on the East Coast, scientists say. The growing wolflike characteristics mean humans must learn to better coexist with the adaptable predators, scientists and wildlife advocates said.

“We now have a novel, large canid to take over that new role,” said Robert Crabtree, chief scientist of the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center. “The right size is going to be selected for us by biological evolution itself.”

It’s especially bad news for deer. In becoming more wolflike, the coyotes might become more effective predators, scientists said. And the genetic changes bode well for their ability to keep thriving in highly populated areas, including New York City and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, as well as the deer-rich woods of Maine and upstate New York.

And it could ultimately mean the coyotes start to play the role of top predator on the East Coast — one played by wolves long ago and no longer occupied by a single, dominant species.

The Eastern coyote is one of 19 subspecies of coyote, which are adaptable predators that live everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to Florida swamps. The Eastern subspecies, which ranges as far west as Ohio, is thought to have migrated to the Northeast some 80 years ago, taking over the range occupied by wolves and interbreeding with the larger animals.

They no longer overlap with wolves, which are long gone from the East save for the very rare red wolf, but they remain eight to 25 percent wolf genetically, said Roland Kays, a leading coyote biologist with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

They are also about eight to 11 percent dog due to past interbreeding with feral dogs, he said. The Eastern coyote remains capable of having pups with dogs, but it’s not common in part because their breeding cycles don’t neatly overlap.

Hybridization with wolves gave Eastern coyotes their size and weight, with Eastern coyotes averaging about 35 pounds and the Western subspecies averaging about 25 pounds.

Scientists see evidence that the wolf DNA is increasingly helping the Eastern coyotes survive, Kays said. And they might also be growing in number.

Current numbers of Eastern coyotes are hard to come by, state wildlife officials said. Kays has estimated there are likely more than a million.

Reports about coyotes living in populated areas have accelerated in the past 10 years. Some towns in Massachusetts and Connecticut have called meetings to discuss safety concerns and more lethal trapping methods.

Suburbanites from New Hampshire to Maryland have complained that they snatch outdoor pet cats. Police in Lynn, Massachusetts, advised pet owners to avoid leaving pet food or small pets outside on Wednesday after a coyote was spotted in the Boston-area city of 90,000. And Manhattan dwellers have even reported seeing them in Central Park.

But fears that the animals could become a bigger threat, especially to people, are largely unfounded, said Camilla Fox, executive director of California-based Project Coyote. The animals are generally timid around humans.

There has been only one documented fatal Eastern coyote attack. Canadian singer Taylor Mitchell, 19, was mauled by coyotes in Nova Scotia in 2009.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also reported that the percent of sheep and lambs killed by coyotes nationwide has actually tracked downward. Coyotes were responsible for nearly 59 percent of predator kills of sheep in 1994 and about 54 percent in 2014, the agency reported.

“If we leave them alone, they will self-regulate,” Fox said.

The Eastern coyotes will have a greater chance of survival if they have access to large deer, said scientists. Abundant food, such as the Eastern whitetails, will give their offspring a better chance of survival, leading to healthy new generations of large, wolflike coyotes, Kays said.

“Are they going to get a little bigger? Maybe,” he said.

The wolflike appearance of Eastern coyotes has motivated some people to dub them “coywolves.” Eastern Coyote/Coywolf Research of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, wants them recognized as a separate species.

But Gerry Lavigne, a retired state wildlife biologist in Maine, says Eastern coyotes are not genetically distinct enough to constitute their own species, although they have wolf genes and are very adaptable. And Kays, the North Carolina coyote researcher, said so-called coywolves are “not a thing.”

Numerous states issue extermination permits for coyotes or allow hunting of them. Some, including Maine and Vermont, allow recreational or sport hunting year round. Coyote hunter David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said he has observed “wolflike tendencies” in Eastern coyotes, such as hunting in packs.

State wildlife authorities are interested in finding what more wolflike traits will mean for the future of coyotes, said Wally Jakubas, mammal group leader for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

“Whether these wolf genes are conferring some kind of advantage to these coyotes,” Jakubas said. “That’s where it really gets interesting.”

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/wolflike-key-future-coyotes-51215117

Tesla wants to electrify big trucks, adding to its ambitions

After more than a decade of making cars and SUVs — and, more recently, solar panels — Tesla Inc. wants to electrify a new type of vehicle: big trucks.

The company unveiled its new electric semitractor-trailer Thursday night near its design center in Hawthorne, California.

CEO Elon Musk said the semi is capable of traveling 500 miles (804 kilometers) on an electric charge — even with a full 80,000-pound (36,287-kilogram) load — and will cost less than a diesel semi considering fuel savings, lower maintenance and other factors. Musk said customers can put down a $5,000 deposit for the semi now and production will begin in 2019.

“We’re confident that this is a product that’s better in every way from a feature standpoint,” Musk told a crowd of Tesla fans gathered for the unveiling. Musk didn’t reveal the semi’s price.

The truck will have Tesla’s Autopilot system, which can maintain a set speed and slow down automatically in traffic. It also has a system that automatically keeps the vehicle in its lane. Musk said several Tesla semis will be able to travel in a convoy, autonomously following each other.

Musk said Tesla plans a worldwide network of solar-powered “megachargers” that could get the trucks back up to 400 miles of range after charging for only 30 minutes.

The move fits with Musk’s stated goal for the company of accelerating the shift to sustainable transportation. Trucks account for nearly a quarter of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to government statistics.

But the semi also piles on more chaos at the Palo Alto, California-based company. Tesla is way behind on production of the Model 3, a new lower-cost sedan, with some customers facing waits of 18 months or more. It’s also ramping up production of solar panels after buying Solar City Corp. last year. Tesla is working on a pickup truck and a lower-cost SUV and negotiating a new factory in China. Meanwhile, the company posted a record quarterly loss of $619 million in its most recent quarter.

On Thursday night, Tesla surprised fans with another product: An updated version of its first sports car, the Roadster. Tesla says the new Roadster will have 620 miles of range and a top speed of 250 mph (402 kph). The car, coming in 2020, will have a base price of $200,000.

Musk, too, is being pulled in many directions. He leads rocket maker SpaceX and is dabbling in other projects, including high-speed transit, artificial intelligence research and a new company that’s digging tunnels beneath Los Angeles to alleviate traffic congestion.

“He’s got so much on his plate right now. This could present another distraction from really just making sure that the Model 3 is moved along effectively,” said Bruce Clark, a senior vice president and automotive analyst at Moody’s.

Tesla’s semi is venturing into an uncertain market. Demand for electric trucks is expected to grow over the next decade as the U.S., Europe and China all tighten their emissions regulations. Electric truck sales totaled 4,100 in 2016, but are expected to grow to more than 70,000 in 2026, says Navigant Research.

But most of that growth is expected to be for smaller, medium-duty haulers like garbage trucks or delivery vans. Those trucks can have a more limited range of 100 miles (160 kilometers) or less, which requires fewer expensive batteries. They can also be fully charged overnight.

Long-haul semi trucks, on the other hand, would be expected to go greater distances, and that would be challenging. Right now, there’s little charging infrastructure on global highways. Without Tesla’s promised fast-charging, even a mid-sized truck would likely require a two-hour stop, cutting into companies’ efficiency and profits, says Brian Irwin, managing director of the North American industrial group for the consulting firm Accenture.

Irwin says truck companies will have to watch the market carefully, because tougher regulations on diesels or an improvement in charging infrastructure could make electric trucks more viable very quickly. Falling battery costs also will help make electric trucks more appealing compared to diesels.

But even lower costs won’t make trucking a sure bet for Tesla. It faces stiff competition from long-trusted brands like Daimler AG, which unveiled its own semi prototype last month.

“These are business people, not fans, and they will need convinced that this truck is better for their balance sheet than existing technology. It probably is, based on the specs provided, but this isn’t necessarily a slam dunk,” said Rebecca Lindland, an executive analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

Musk said Tesla will guarantee the semi’s powertrain for one million miles to help alleviate customers’ concerns.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/tesla-enter-trucking-business-electric-semi-51202931

Ex-Catalan leader to head campaign for election from Belgium

The fugitive leader of Catalonia’s secessionist movement said Wednesday that he will repeat as his party’s leading candidate in upcoming elections for the Spanish region while he fights extradition from Belgium.

Carles Puigdemont told El Punt-Avui television from Brussels that he is handpicking a list of candidates to run under him in Dec. 21 elections for Catalonia’s regional parliament, which were called by Spain’s national government after the region’s legislators voted to declare independence.

He said that the list, running under the name “Together For Catalonia” (Junts pel Catalunya), will include members from his Democratic Party of Catalonia (PDeCAT) and some independents without a background in politics.

“I have told PDeCAT that I need to make a list that is more mine than of the party so the greatest number of people feel comfortable,” Puigdemont said. “PDeCAT has accepted it and is working toward it.”

The Democratic Party of Catalonia confirmed to The Associated Press that its national board decided Wednesday to accept Puigdemont’s proposal to create his own list.

Puigdemont said he plans to run his campaign from Brussels, where he and four former Cabinet members are facing an extradition hearing that could send them back to Spain to face accusations of rebellion and sedition. A Belgian judge released them from custody after they turned themselves in more than a week ago under the condition that they remain in Belgium.

“I am excited to campaign, but with limitations,” Puigdemont said. “I don’t have the right to leave Belgium and obviously I won’t.”

Puigdemont is a wanted man since he fled Spain following a crackdown by authorities after Catalonia’s parliament voted in favor of a declaration of independence Oct. 27. He has said he went to the European Union’s capital because he didn’t trust that he would be fairly treated by Spanish courts.

Puigdemont and the other four former ministers have their extradition hearing Friday. However, the entire extradition process could take months.

He and 13 other former Cabinet members face prison sentences of up to 30 years. Nine former members of his government remained in Spain and were sent to prison by a judge while the investigation proceeds.

Spain’s government responded to the northeastern region’s declaration of independence by firing Puigdemont’s government, dissolving Catalonia’s Parliament and calling snap elections that it hopes will lead to a victory by parties against independence.

Polls forecast a tight race between parties in favor of secession and those who want to preserve centuries-old ties with the rest of Spain. According to the polls, Puigdemont’s party is poised to lose votes, while the pro-secession Republican Left is expected to get the biggest block of votes yet fall well short of an outright majority.

Puigdemont said he was disappointed that he failed to persuade the Republic Left party to join his coalition.

Catalan separatists claim a mandate for independence from the results of a referendum on secession held Oct. 1 despite a ban by Spain’s top court, a boycott by parties against independence and its failure to meet international standards. Forty-three percent of eligible voters turned out to cast ballots in the face of police raids on polling places.

If Puigdemont is convicted, besides jail time he could be banned from holding public office.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has pledged to quash all attempts of a breakaway, citing the Spanish constitution’s provision that the nation is “indivisible.”

Earlier Wednesday, Rajoy expressed confidence his government could handle any outside attempts to tamper with the election in Catalonia after his government had said there were indications of cyber-meddling by foreigners. Rajoy declined to give details on what security measures Spain would take to prevent or counter electronic interference with the vote, but said “people will vote with complete liberty.”

Spanish Defense Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal said Monday that “many actions” to mount a misinformation campaign to destabilize Catalonia had “come from Russian territory” and elsewhere in recent months. However, both Cospedal and Rajoy said Spain had no indication the Russian government was involved.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, dismissed insinuations of Russian meddling in Catalonia as unsubstantiated.

“We consider these accusations unfounded,” Peskov said Wednesday, adding that Spain’s concerns sounded like a “continuation of the hysteria in the U.S. and some other countries.”


Associated Press writer Ciaran Giles reported this story from Madrid and AP writer Joseph Wilson reported in Barcelona. AP writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/spains-leader-unworried-catalonia-election-meddling-51166723

Amid global electric-car buzz, Toyota bullish on hydrogen

At a car factory in this city named after Toyota, the usual robots with their swinging arms are missing. Instead, workers intently fit parts into place by hand with craftsmanship-like care.

The big moment on the assembly line comes when two bulbous yellow tanks of hydrogen are rolled over and delicately fitted into each car’s underside.

While much of the world is going gung-ho for electric vehicles to help get rid of auto emissions and end reliance on fossil fuels, Japan’s top automaker Toyota Motor Corp. is banking on hydrogen.

Toyota sells about 10 million vehicles a year around the world. It has sold only about 4,000 Mirai fuel cell vehicles since late 2014, roughly half of them outside Japan.

The Mirai, which means “future,” is not cheap at $57,500, but Toyota loses money on each one. Still, the company’s goal is to sell 30,000 fuel-cell vehicles a year by about 2020.

Hydrogen fuel cells don’t suffer the EVs’ main drawback of limited range. The Tesla Model S can go about 300 miles (480 kilometers) on a single charge, although that varies depending on driving conditions, and that’s quite a distance for an EV.

Other models run out of juice quicker, at about half that, because the longer the range, generally the heavier the batteries. And electric vehicles usually take hours to charge.

The Mirai can run for 312 miles (502 kilometers) per fueling, under U.S. EPA conditions, and fuels as quickly as a regular car.

Toyota’s chairman, Takeshi Uchiyamada, believes hydrogen is an ideal, stable fuel for a future low-carbon society.

“In this light, hydrogen holds tremendous potential,” Uchiyamada, known as “the father of the Prius,” the world’s top-selling hybrid car, said during a tour of the factory.

“Hydrogen doesn’t exist in the natural world on its own, but you can create hydrogen from various materials,” he said.

The Prius turned out to be a good bet for Toyota. The Mirai could be the same. But not everyone shares Uchiyamada’s enthusiasm for hydrogen.

A fuel cell mixes hydrogen with the oxygen in the air to generate electricity that can power a motor.

Producing the highly flammable gas and getting it into the vehicles requires energy. Ultimately, the idea is to convert energy from renewables like wind and solar power into hydrogen, or even make hydrogen from sewage waste.

Unlike a gas-powered internal combustion engine, the only byproducts from a fuel cell are electricity, heat and water. There are no emissions of pollutants that can cause global warming. Yet the energy unleashed is powerful: Hydrogen is the fuel that sends NASA rockets into space.

So fuel cells could be used to power cars, trains, buses, trucks and forklifts, and to provide electricity and heat for homes.

Detroit-based General Motors Co., Mercedes-Benz of Germany, Japan’s Honda Motor Co. and Hyundai of South Korea have also developed fuel cell vehicles that are on the roads in extremely limited numbers.

The global stock of electric vehicles will soon surpass 2 million, according to the International Energy Agency. It’s projected to climb to between 9 million-20 million by 2020. Fuel cell vehicles are scarcely a presence.

The Hydrogen Council, made up of 28 companies that are promoting hydrogen fuel, said in a report this week that it expects hydrogen to power about 10 to 15 million cars and 500,000 trucks by 2030. It also forecasts it will be widely used for industries, heating and power and power storage.

The group met this week in Bonn, on the sidelines of the COP23 U.N. meeting on the environment.

Toyota and other manufacturers pursuing hydrogen fuel cells face some significant hurdles. Japan has an ample 28,000 EV charging stations but only 92 hydrogen fueling stations, and they are costly to build.

Hydrogen is viewed as potentially hazardous: the 1937 Hindenberg disaster, when 36 people died when the hydrogen-fueled airship caught fire and crashed, ended an earlier era of hydrogen-powered passenger travel.

Hydrogen explosions during the 2011 nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima are a more recent example of such hazards. But proponents of the fuel say hydrogen is no more dangerous than gas or electricity if handled properly.

A fill-up with hydrogen takes about as long as at a gas pump, while EV charging takes about 30 minutes using special equipment for quick charging. Regular charging can take hours.

“I’m not claiming that hydrogen will replace any form of energy, but it will find its place in the world energy mix,” Benoit Potier, chief executive of French industrial gas company Air Liquide, and a chair of the Hydrogen Council, said in a telephone interview.

Air Liquide has been working on producing, storing and distributing hydrogen fuel for more than four decades. Potier says he expects costs for making the gas will fall as its use becomes more widespread.

In one step toward widening use of hydrogen, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, an aerospace, motorcycle and ship manufacturer, is developing a technology to make hydrogen in Australia using “brown coal,” peat or low-grade coal for shipment to Japan in tankers it plans to make.

Not all Japanese automakers are sold on the idea. Manabu Satou, general manager of technology at Toyota’s rival Nissan Motor Co., finds it an “utter mystery” why anyone would be so set on fuel cells when China, the world’s biggest car market, is going for conventional EVs.

“If we are talking about a form of great energy like hydrogen, then why not just go all the way to a nuclear car?” said Satou, whose company leads in EV sales with its popular Leaf compact.

Ryuichi Kino, who has written about electric vehicles and energy, views fuel cell vehicles as an excessively expensive, futuristic technology.

“If it focuses too much on fuel cells, Japan is going to end up super-ultra-Galapagos,” he said, alluding to the secluded Pacific islands that are home to unique species that don’t exist elsewhere.

For most automakers, fuel cells are an area just for research, while EVs already are commercialized, Kino said.

But he allows that a technological breakthrough could bring a hydrogen-based sea change in the global race toward automotive “electrification.”

“Winners could become losers, and losers could become winners. It’s still anyone’s game,” Kino said.


Yuri Kageyama can be reached at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

Her work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/yuri%20kageyama

Article source: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/amid-global-electric-car-buzz-toyota-bullish-hydrogen-51186887