Phill Davies, Co-Founder of Magway, a UK firm behind a new form of e-commerce and freight delivery system, believes the transition to electric vehicles won’t be enough to secure needed emissions reductions for sectors such as logistics, and offers a few thoughts on alternative approaches
The death of the internal combustion engine (ICE) has now been given a date in the UK. Come 2030 and the sale of new diesel and petrol-only vehicles will be outlawed. Following the phase-out on sales, all new vehicles will need to be fully zero emission at the tailpipe from 2035.
If successful, this puts the UK on course to be the fastest G7 country to decarbonise cars and vans; a great achievement! The phase out of non-hybrid or non-electric vehicles forms part of an ongoing shift towards a greener transport industry, in part driven by government net zero initiatives. Schemes such as London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone, for example, will extend further out of central London in late 2021. For consumers, the answer to these changes has for some time now been electric vehicles. From Tesla’s semi to Volvo and DAF, manufacturers have been preparing for this moment.
However, while electric vehicles will no doubt play an important role in the future of the transport industry, especially when it comes to the cars consumers will drive, they alone will not be enough. While shifting to electric does have clear environmental benefits, the batteries that power electric vehicles still have limitations. With issues around weight and the harm caused by materials used in their construction, more new and innovative ways are needed to help make the transport industry truly sustainable. It’s time then to look at what the green future of the logistics industry will look like.
Racing forward to first place
A future gaze should encompass a much wider look at the contribution the logistics industry makes towards the economy as a whole. At Magway, we are developing a revolutionary zero-emission high-capacity delivery system that not only transports goods more efficiently, more securely and at greater speed but makes our roads safer and our air less polluted by removing the need for 90% of traditional online freight deliveries HGV haulage.
Many severely underestimate the hidden cost of the UK’s logistics model. The Department for Transport’s ‘Freight Carbon Review 2017’ estimates that 23.5% of UK CO2 is emitted directly from road transport, of which a third is from commercial vehicles. Propelled at high-speed, along a network of underground and overground pipes, by magnetic waves generated by linear motors, Magway systems are a zero-emission step-change in how we transport online freight and make deliveries. When powered using renewable energy, the scope to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions grows further.
Mega infrastructure projects like HS2 also aim to tackle a net zero carbon logistics industry. In addition to tempting passengers to swap car journeys for a faster mass transit option, by dedicating new intercity lanes to high-speed trains HS2 frees-up space on existing rail networks for additional freight transport. According to HS2 every freight train can remove nearly 80 lorries off the road and transporting freight by rail reduces carbon emissions by 76% compared to road haulage. Incorporating Magway takes this even further with each individual system having the capacity of 40,000 forty foot HGV’s.
Sustainable aviation fuels
Change is also happening in the skies above. This February, British Airways announced it will begin operating a number of flights partly powered by sustainable fuels as early as 2022. In a partnership with LanzaJet, the fuel derived from sustainable ethanol and produced at a plant in Georgia, USA, will deliver a reduction of more than 70 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional fossil jet fuel. This is equivalent to taking almost 27,000 petrol or diesel cars off the road each year.
However, the big elephant in the room is also how to balance the creation of a greener logistics industry with a successful post-COVID-19 economic recovery. In short, we must seize this for the opportunity it is. When summarising the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) 2020 progress report, Chairman Lord Deben stated that “The UK is facing its biggest economic shock for a generation. Meanwhile, the global crisis of climate change is accelerating. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address these urgent challenges together; it’s there for the taking. The steps that the UK takes to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic can accelerate the transition to a successful and low-carbon economy and improve our climate resilience. Choices that lock in emissions or climate risks are unacceptable.”
The challenge is clearly set, and it is also certainly being heard. For example, the ‘Short Straits to Smart Straits’ initiative proposed by the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel at the beginning of February is a completely revolutionary, but complementary, alternative to the UK Government’s call for freeport bids. In addition to using ‘dynamic digital optimisation’ to create a virtual border solution as part of the Government’s 2025 UK Border Strategy, the project proposes incorporating technology from Magway and other partners to create the UK’s first zero emissions logistics corridors. Demonstrating British ingenuity in developing green freight solutions ahead of COP26 in Glasgow this November, the result will be the transformation of the ‘Short Straits’ into a high speed, low carbon trading gateway which has the potential to create new economic opportunities while also reducing the impact of logistics on the environment.
Full steam ahead?
Although the move to carbon neutrality will be a significant undertaking and more guidance on carbon reduction strategies for the private sector is certainly needed, the desire from both business and consumers is clearly very strong. COP26 will no doubt propel efforts further, and the UK is already reaching several key milestones in the net zero journey. Both the UK’s, and Europe’s, renewable electricity output outpaced fossil fuel generation for the first time in 2020 according to Think Tank, Ember. Moreover, the UK government’s target of 40GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 should also ensure that the next decade sees further rapid declines in gas generation.
Reaching these goals are pivotal moments in the construction of a carbon-free, electric alternative to present modes of transportation. We certainly have cause to be optimistic.
South Africa Has One Of The Highest Ratios Of Public EV Chargers To EVs In The World
A lot of people generally look at it as a chicken and egg scenario — which one comes first? Electric cars or the charging stations? Players who want to roll out charging infrastructure would want to see a critical mass of EVs before investing heavily in charging infrastructure, while on the other hand, range-anxious consumers would want the assurance of a charging network.
Well, in South Africa, thanks to the hard work of several stakeholders such as BMW, Nissan, Jaguar, GridCars, evCrowdRoute (now called Breev), and BluePlug, among others, the charging side of things has grown significantly over the years. In fact, South Africa ranked fifth globally in the ratio of public electric vehicle (EV) chargers to electric vehicles in 2020. Only Korea, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, and the Netherlands have more chargers per EV than SA, according to the IEA Global EV Outlook 2021 report released recently.
The public EVSE per EV ratio at the end of 2020 for the Netherlands was 0.22, meaning there were 2.2 public chargers per 10 EVs there, while the ratio for South Africa was close to 1.8 chargers per 10 EVs. This is much higher than the 1 EVSE per 10 vehicles target that the Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Directive (AFID), which is the key policy regulating the deployment of public electric EVSE in the European Union, had recommended that member states aim for 1 public charger per 10 EVs, a ratio of 0.1 in 2020.
South Africa’s ratio is also due to the fact that there is currently a low penetration of EVs in the country, with just close to 1000 fully electric vehicles registered in South Africa so far. Some of the countries with high penetration of EVs, such as Norway, had much lower EVSE to EV ratios, of around 0.03 as at the end of 2020. Potential EV buyers in South Africa have a pretty good public charging network to use and can make long road trips on the country’s main highways quite comfortably.
So what’s holding back the transition in South Africa? Well, the limited range of EVs available and the high sticker prices thanks to hefty import duties and taxes for EVs. While petrol and diesel vehicles from the EU have a customs duty of 18% in South Africa, for electric vehicles the duty is 25% in South Africa! Then there is the Ad Valorem Customs Excise Duties and VAT. A quick look at the vehicles and pricing of models available in South Africa shows that these vehicles are out of reach for the majority of car buyers.
To really move the needle, we need more affordable models in a price range closer R300,000 ($21,000). ICE brands of Chinese OEMs such as Great Wall Motors have been well received in South Africa. The Haval range is quite popular and the new GWM P-Series Passenger Double Cab pickup truck has had some positive responses from the market. Cheaper Chinese BEV models could really help catalyze the EV market if they were made available in right-hand drive for this market. Small city EVs such as the BYD e2, the Changan Ben Ben eStar, and even the blockbuster Wuling Hongguang Mini EV for students and recent graduates could be a game-changer. These city EVs could play a big role in a popular segment of vehicles similar to the VW Polo, the Toyota Tazz, Starlet, Dutsun Go, and Renault Kwid type vehicles.
“Electric vehicle adoption remains key within automotive market developments while also decarbonising the transport sector,” says uYilo eMobility Programme Director Hiten Parmar. “It is clear that South Africa’s EV charging infrastructure has a good footprint for now based on the low volume of EVs in the country, however greater policy implementation is the next step to improve wider eMobility adoption.”
Has Tesla Acquired Another Innovative Battery Startup?
Everyone loves a good mystery, especially when it has to do with Tesla and a potential battery breakthrough. In regards to Tesla’s rumored acquisition of a Canadian battery startup, we know just enough to spin an intriguing story (at least we hope you, dear readers, will find it so).
Automakers are naturally secretive about their technologies, especially ones that are still in development. Tesla is certainly no exception in this regard, so we won’t expect the company to release any details about this matter any time soon. However, TechCrunch has pieced together enough from publicly available information to indicate that Tesla has acquired Toronto-based Springpower International, the developer of an innovative manufacturing process that could make Tesla’s batteries cleaner and cheaper.
At Tesla’s Battery Day last September, Senior VP of Engineering Drew Baglino described a new process for making nickel-metal cathodes. The current process generates large quantities of wastewater, which contains bits of metal, ammonia, and other toxic chemicals. The new process reuses water and produces little waste. Baglino said it has the potential to reduce operating costs by 75%.
Just a couple of weeks earlier, Tesla purchased a number of patent applications from Springpower International, one of which describes an innovative process similar to the one that Baglino mentioned. In Springpower’s process, “the bulk of the aqueous solution used for the wet chemical reaction can be recycled…so that the total process has little or no effluent generated during production of the cathode precursor material.”
Since then, Springpower’s former website has disappeared, and several of Springpower’s top techies are now working for Tesla.
Springpower was founded in March 2010, and received a $3.4-million grant from tech incubator Sustainable Development Technology Canada in 2018. James Sbrolla, who mentored the young company and helped it to secure the government grant, told TechCrunch that, although he hasn’t been in contact with Springpower lately, he wasn’t surprised to hear about the rumored Tesla acquisition.
“It’s a group of smart people, no question about it,” Sbrolla told TechCrunch. “Technology like Springpower’s gives tremendous upside with a reduced environmental footprint, and being attached to a larger organization makes scaling much quicker and easier.”
Acquiring Springpower would fit nicely with Tesla’s long-term goal of bringing more of its battery technology in-house. “Now that we have this process, we’re going to start building our own cathode facility in North America,” said Baglino on Battery Day. While the California carmaker will continue to use suppliers such as Panasonic, LG Chem, and CATL (for reasons of scale, if nothing else), it is always on the lookout for new ways to make its batteries safer, greener, and cheaper.
The new cathode manufacturing process is just one of many incremental improvements Tesla has in store for its batteries (and other components) and the techniques used to make them. Over the next few years, the cumulative results could be nothing short of revolutionary.
EU “Zero Pollution” Plan Offers Role For Cities But Is Vague On Limits
The EU’s new Zero Pollution Action Plan contains welcome ideas to put cities on a path to zero emissions, but lacks ambition about tightening air pollution limits Europe-wide, Transport & Environment (T&E) has said. The European Commission plan, published today, fails to say if the “Euro 7” limits and the review of the Ambient Air Quality Directives (AAQD) will be in line with what the World Health Organization recommends as safe. The WHO is expected to publish new guidelines in June.
Just aligning the AAQD limits on air pollutants and the Euro 7 standards for vehicles “more closely” with these scientific guidelines is not enough, T&E said. Full alignment is needed. The last standard, Euro 6, was set in 2008 and full enforcement is still lacking today.
Jens Mueller, air quality coordinator at T&E, said: “Europeans deserve to breath clean air after decades of living under toxic, illegal levels of pollution. Today’s strategy sets the right goal of a toxic-free environment but is vague on detail. We need to align our air quality rules with the scientific evidence and the world’s best practice. Vehicle standards like Euro 7 need to be on a par with that.”
The Clean Cities Campaign, a new movement of over 50 grassroots and civil society groups across Europe which is backed by T&E, welcomed the Commission’s proposal to reward cities that make the quickest progress on addressing air pollution. This will complement initiatives announced previously, such as support for 100 cities in their transition towards climate neutrality by 2030 as well as the proposal to hold a “Year of Greener Cities.” But the success of the Zero Pollution Action Plan will depend on the EU setting the right laws. Today more than 100 EU cities breach the legal pollution limits.¹
Barbara Stoll, director of the Clean Cities Campaign, said: “Dirty air is a deadly haze that plagues our cities and damages the health of hundreds of thousands of people across Europe. Only stricter EU laws, which are fully aligned with the newest science, will provide the certainty and stringency that is needed to get cities to move ahead and clean up toxic air.”
Tackling air pollution from transport is overdue: toxic air causes 400,000 premature deaths a year in the EU, with road transport being one of the main sources. As part of the European Green Deal, the EU announced the world’s most ambitious clean air goal — a “zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment” — which today’s action plan was supposed to translate into action.
¹See Zero Pollution Action Plan, “Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil”, page 17.
Colonial Pipeline: Details emerge of landmark cyber-security breach
A cyber-attack on the largest fuel pipeline in the US, on Friday 7 May, is being described as possibly the most impactful ransomware event in history, and certainly the most significant attack on a piece of critical national infrastructure. At the time of writing (12 May), fuel shortages were reported to be spreading rapidly in the eastern and southern regions of the country, with fuel prices having hit a seven-year high in the preceding hours.
Blame for the attack has been attributed to a criminal organisation believed to be from Russia, DarkSide, in statements made by the FBI (10 May) and sources cited by Bloomberg and Reuters.
The Colonial Pipeline distributes “gasoline, diesel and jet fuel” across a 5,500-mile extent that connects refineries in the Gulf Coast to population centres like New York, and further north. It transports around 2.5 million barrels of liquid fuel per day.
The operating company, Colonial Pipeline Co., has not disclosed details of exactly how its system was breached, although the attack appears to have begun with a data theft on Thursday 6 May – around 100 gigabytes of data having been stolen in a couple of hours. On 7 May the company was served with a ransomware notice. According to Bloomberg, the attack reached the firm’s administrative network, with employees finding themselves locked out of the system.
Bloomberg described the attack as “a double-extortion scheme” since it involved both encrypting company files and stealing data (and threatening to leak these data, in the absence of a ransom payment).
As an immediate response, the operating firm took the decision to shut down a large portion of the pipeline – its “four main lines”, as US newspaper The Financial Post put it – as a proactive measure. These were still reported to be offline on Sunday evening, but the firm had restarted “smaller lateral lines between terminals and delivery points”, according to the same newspaper.
On Monday (10 May) the firm said it intended to restore deliveries of fuel to the Eastern US by the end of the week. On Tuesday (11 May), US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said: “Last night one of Colonial’s major lines resumed operation under manual control.” She said the firm expected “to substantially restore operations by the end of this week.”
In a statement, Colonial said it would “bring our full system back online only when we believe it is safe to do so, and in full compliance with the approval of all federal regulations.”
A decision on a full restart was expected to be forthcoming late Wednesday (12 May).
Granholm said that, were that decision to be made, it would still take “a few days to ramp up operations”.
“This pipeline has never been shut down before,” she said, adding that it travels great distances, and there is fuel in the pipe, as well as fuel in the off-take from the refineries that will have to be added.
Responding to the event, the White House declared a state of emergency on Sunday evening, covering 17 states and the capital, and said it was working with Colonial to restart operations. The administration also announced measures to help with the supply of fuel, including a relaxation of environmental rules, and steps taken to allow foreign tankers to bring fuel to ports on the East coast.
Biden was also expected to present a House briefing on the cyber-attack at 6 pm Washington time on Wednesday.
How did it happen?
In the wake of the attack, experts in the industrial cyber-security field offered opinions on how the hackers might have gained access.
Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) networks, widely used in industrial control systems in sectors such as energy and water, have been frequently pegged as a point of vulnerability in recent years, including with pipeline systems. In the latter, this kind of network connects computers and terminals with every kind of physical device on the network, including pumping stations, tanks farms, and valves used for flow control purposes.
In comments made to The Financial Post, industrial cyber-security expert John Cosimano, pointed out that “once someone gains access to the SCADA network they have access to every device on the network.” He cited other points of vulnerability with SCADA systems, including the limitations of firewalls. While these will likely be present, and separating the pipeline SCADA networks from other business IT systems in the firm, they will still allow some data to pass between the two, such as network monitoring software like SolarWinds (previously the target of a malware attack in early 2020).
SCADA networks will tend to cover huge distances, and in an application like the Colonial pipeline, will reach all kinds of smaller facilities and maintenance areas along its extent, places where there might be limited physical security, providing a potential point of attack for a hacker.
The growing reliance on wireless networks within pipeline systems provides another avenue by which a malicious actor could gain access.
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