Amazon Bets Big on Electric Revolution: Green Festival Update

(Bloomberg) — Top executives, policy makers, scientists and activists have been gathering this week for the first-ever Bloomberg Green Festival. The virtual event focuses on the core issues of climate change. Thursday’s sessions covered topics such as the business case for climate action and building a carbon neutral city, with […]

(Bloomberg) — Top executives, policy makers, scientists and activists have been gathering this week for the first-ever Bloomberg Green Festival. The virtual event focuses on the core issues of climate change.

Thursday’s sessions covered topics such as the business case for climate action and building a carbon neutral city, with speakers including Christian Ulbrich, chief executive officer of Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.

Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates also spoke. He said climate change is an even harder problem to fix than the global pandemic.

Click here to register and watch the event. Sign up here to receive the daily Green newsletter. See Bloomberg’s real-time dashboard of climate and energy transition data.

Biden’s Plan Is a ‘Great Goal’ and ‘Difficult to Achieve,’ Gates Says (2:10 p.m. NY)

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign pledge to make all of U.S. power-generation clean by 2035 is a “great goal” that would be difficult to realize, said Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft Corp.

The reasons: Batteries and power storage are still too expensive, grid modernization has much work to do and nuclear power is still too marginalized. The $2 trillion that the Democratic nominee would put toward his goals would have to go in large part to research and development, Gates said.

“If we had a National Institute for the energy and climate that we’d let grow over a period of maybe eight to 10 years to that level, I can see how that money would make a dramatic difference, not just for the United States, but for the world and create all sorts of businesses that would be able to export their innovations,” he said.

While there is no longer a so-called green premium for solar and wind power, steel, cement and other industrial output remain extremely costly to clean up. Nuclear energy remains a divisive issue in the U.S. for concerns ranging from cost to security.

Regarding nuclear power, Gates said “next-generation designs can be very safe and very, very economic.”

The Microsoft co-founder said that he won’t endorse a candidate in the November U.S. presidential election because his health foundation has strong working relationships with both political parties.

“We’re committed to work with whatever administration there is and we’ve had great relationships with both parties on that,” Gates said. “I do think [on] climate, you would get more focus and more expertise from Biden than from the current administration.”

Climate Companies Show Economy-Wide Potential for Clean Tech (1:05 p.m. NY)

When Inc. selected the first five companies for its $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund, it looked at developments in six sectors critical to achieving net-zero emissions, ranging from transportation to materials and agriculture.

“Each of these companies, from Amazon’s perspective, is a key piece of the puzzle that will help us decarbonize by the year 2040,” said Matt Peterson, Amazon’s director of corporate development.

Diego Saez Gil, founder and chief executive officer of Pachama, one of the five companies, lost his home to wildfires in recent weeks, which made the threats of climate change real in a way that few people globally have experienced. His company uses satellite technology and artificial intelligence to certify that forest conservation projects are performing as expected.

“Climate change will make forest fires more frequent and that makes it even more important to be proactive at managing forests,” he said.

Rob Niven, founder and CEO of CarbonCure, which reuses captured CO2 to make concrete stronger, said part of his goal is to introduce an industrial technology that doesn’t require disrupting the existing market.

“We have the right business model that maintains the same price of concrete in the marketplace,” he said.

Ryan Morris, executive chairman of TurnTide Technologies, first fell for energy technology as a nuclear-fusion-obsessed 11-year-old. He now finds himself trying to re-invent one of the world’s oldest and most useful modern tools. Motors run everything from refrigerators to HVAC systems, and TurnTide is bringing vast energy efficiency improvements to them.

“Literally everything that moves has an electric motor,” he said, and it’s a technology that’s relatively unchanged from Nicola Tesla’s 1888 invention — which is why his team is giving it years of attention.

Amazon Bets Big on the Electric Revolution (12:30 p.m. NY) Inc. looked at the existing options for electrifying its delivery fleet and found them wanting.

“To be honest, we’ve just been relatively underwhelmed with the electric vehicles that were viable to us,” said Ross Rachey, director of Global Last Mile Fleet and Products at Amazon

Rivian Automotive and Redwood Materials, two of five companies selected today to join the online retailer’s Climate Pledge Fund, will have a symbiotic relationship, their founders said in interviews.

Rivian expects to deliver 10,000 electric vehicles to Amazon by 2022. R.J. Scaringe, the automaker’s founder and chief executive officer, appeared at the Bloomberg Green Festival from the production floor, where workers are manufacturing vehicles for use in testing. The company has raised $6 billion, and is launching three products next year, before ginning up its deliveries for Amazon.

As Rivian and other EV manufacturers see their cars age and retire, Redwood Materials will mine them for high-value materials — so that they don’t have to be mined from the ground elsewhere.

“Batteries are an amazing device because they don’t consume any materials,” said J.B. Straubel, co-founder and CEO of Redwood Materials, and a former Tesla executive. “All those materials stay inside the car for the life of the vehicle. So even 15 years in the future, when we recycle it, you can recover a very high percentage of the useful materials.”

Once they reach scale, the trick is to maintain cutting-edge technology, Straubel said.

“The engineer in me thinks this is great fun,” he said. “We need to stay nimble and keep innovating, so that as we develop a process, it can stay relevant each time chemistry improves.”

Technology is improving so quickly, it can be difficult for consumer impressions to keep up — perhaps nowhere more than with the expected lifespan of batteries, Rivian’s Scaringe said. These aren’t your old-fashioned disposable power sources.

“A properly designed battery pack today will outlast the video,” he said.

Amazon Makes First Five Investments From Climate Pledge Fund (12 p.m. NY) Inc. announced the first five investments from its $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund, part of a larger initiative to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040:

CarbonCure: Making cement is responsible for about 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions. People use it more than anything other than water, a McKinsey report recently pointed out. CarbonCure uses CO2 that’s been captured from industrial facilities to strengthen concrete. The company counts Amazon, LinkedIn Corp. and McDonald’s Corp. among its customers.

Pachama: About 10% of CO2 emissions come from deforestation, which is why efforts to conserve and regrow trees is of great importance. Pachama has built an artificial-intelligence platform that combines satellite data and forest information to estimate how much carbon trees are storing in any area. This technology allows it to certify carbon “offsets” that companies can buy to supplement direct emissions reductions. Microsoft Corp. and SoftBank Group are customers.

Redwood Materials: Two former Tesla Inc. executives founded this company in 2017 to tackle the complicated engineering and commercial problems with recycling electric-vehicle batteries. Redwood Materials captures high-value metals and components of used batteries for future use, and helps manage other e-waste.

Rivian: Amazon put Rivian in the spotlight last September, when it announced an order of 100,000 electric delivery vans to be delivered through 2030. That deal came six months after Amazon took a $700 million equity stake in the automaker.

TurnTide: Modern motors run refrigerators, pumps, heating and air conditioners, and along the way they waste a lot of energy. TurnTide pairs an advanced motor with software management in a way that can cut motors’ power consumption by more than 60%.

Cutting Building Energy Waste Seen as Key (10:55 a.m. NY)

Carbon emissions in cities are “outrageously high,” and the easiest way to lower them is to reduce energy waste in buildings, said Cristina Gamboa, chief executive officer at the World Green Building Council.

Not enough cities have implemented energy performance codes, and governments can do more to educate building owners on sustainable practices, said Gamboa. For instance, it’s usually more efficient to renovate existing buildings to make them more efficient than it is to erect new ones with state-of-the-art energy systems.

The number of cities that have set net-zero carbon goals is growing, said Paul Simpson, CEO at CDP, and in many cases cities have set more ambitious targets than national governments. The U.S. has more cities that have set such goals than any other country, followed by Sweden and the U.K., he said.

There’s still a lot more that local governments can do to regulate emissions standards, said Gregor Robertson, the former mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia. Ultimately, it falls on voters to urge local lawmakers to take more aggressive action.

“If people are more strident, mayors and councils can deliver that,” he said.

Cement Customers Demand Carbon Capture (8:30 a.m. NY)

Making concrete creates an enormous amount of carbon, but it’s hard to imagine a world without concrete, said Jamie Gentoso, chief executive officer for the U.S. Cement organization at LafargeHolcim.

The company is looking at using carbon capture technology at one of its U.S. plants at a cost of roughly $300 million, Gentoso said. Long-term government policy would make it easier for the company to make such investments, and would also spur research into cheaper carbon capture technologies, she said.

Real estate developers are starting to demand building products that are environmentally friendly, and eventually it will be hard for companies like LafargeHolcim to sell concrete if they’re not capturing carbon, Gentoso said.

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