Originally published on the NRDC Expert Blog.
The Biden administration’s 2022 budget released on Friday includes major funding increases for important Department of Energy (DOE) programs to drive clean energy innovation, address the climate crisis, and build a strong and equitable economy. These funding increases complement the investments proposed in the President’s American Jobs Plan (AJP). Now it’s up to Congress to pass AJP and write a government funding bill that reflects the President’s proposals.
Below are five components of the budget that would accelerate clean energy innovation and redirect DOE programs toward our greatest challenges and opportunities.
1. Historic Funding Increases for Clean Energy
The budget includes $4.7 billion in regular-year funding for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), a $2 billion (or 65%) increase from 2021. EERE houses the agency’s efforts focused on heavy industry, building decarbonization, clean transportation technologies, and renewable power. These programs are underfunded relative to the need for investment and the opportunity to build out domestic clean energy industries. The administration’s budget would give these programs a much-needed funding boost.
The budget also ramps up funding for other clean energy programs at DOE and establishes a new Advanced Research Projects Agency — Climate with initial funding of $500 million, of which $200 million is at DOE.
2. Demonstrations & Deployment to Round Out the Innovation Portfolio
The budget emphasizes funding for demonstration projects and deployment of climate solutions, a welcome pivot from the Trump DOE’s narrow focus on early-stage research and development. The new Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, funded at $400 million, fills a critical gap in DOE’s efforts to commercialize newer, better clean energy technologies, reduce costs, and address barriers to widespread deployment. The $300 million for Build Back Better Challenge grants will help bring the benefits of clean energy to more communities. And the focus throughout the budget on research, development, demonstrations, and deployment will better equip DOE to accelerate clean energy innovation at the scale necessary.
3. Bringing Clean Energy to More Communities
DOE should play a critical role ensuring that more communities see the benefits of technologies like renewable energy, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles. Strong community engagement practices and funding for clean energy projects to benefit low-income, pollution-burdened, and energy transition communities and communities of color can help DOE meet these goals.
The budget includes several new programs to bring clean energy to more communities. For example, it proposes to prioritize the new Build Back Better Challenge grants for marginalized, overburdened, and energy transition communities. It also appears to expand the Weatherization Assistance Program — one of the only existing efforts focused on low-income communities — to enable more households to access funding for cost- and energy-saving retrofits, though the details on the expanded program are not yet clear.
The budget also indicates that EERE’s goal is to accelerate a just, equitable clean energy transition. This explicit focus, while just a start, is an important shift. Historically, EERE and most other offices at DOE have not been designed to support equity and environmental and energy justice.
4. Procurement and Funding to Decarbonize Heavy Industry
Technologies to clean up industrial facilities like steel mills and cement plants are critical to addressing the climate crisis. But these sectors have long been a major gap in DOE innovation efforts. The budget acknowledges that decarbonizing heavy industry should be a focus for both EERE and the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management. This focus is a great first step toward building out a strong federal industrial sector program. As Congress turns the President’s proposals into a detailed appropriations bill, we hope to see large funding increases for the Advanced Manufacturing Office, funding for large-scale demonstrations at industrial facilities, and support for DOE to expand its heavy industry efforts to include electrification, hydrogen, circular economy measures, novel processes, and carbon capture and storage.
The budget also includes more details on the industrial-sector decarbonization efforts proposed in the American Jobs Plan, including, notably, funding to procure low-carbon materials. The federal government is a top purchaser of industrial products like steel and cement for the construction of roads, bridges, buildings and other projects. Government procurement is thus a critical lever in creating early markets and sustained demand for cleaner materials, alongside direct investments to help ensure U.S. industry is making the cleanest products on the market.
To better leverage procurement to drive innovation, the federal government should support efforts to create a reporting system that helps manufacturers account for all the carbon associated with producing a range of industrial products, and require that all construction projects receiving federal funds take climate pollution and labor protection into account when awarding contracts. We urge Congress to include funding in the FY22 budget for the federal government to support these priorities. Doing so will ensure we capture the significant emissions reduction opportunities associated with switching to lower-carbon materials in projects funded by the American Jobs Plan.
5. Support for State, Local, and Tribal Governments
Action from states and municipal governments is critical to meeting our climate goals; increasing clean energy; and driving adoption of innovative technologies, policies, and business models. Federal funding is necessary to support states and cities in these endeavors, but current programs lack the budget to meaningfully support them.
The budget proposes several new programs to support states and cities, including Build Back Better Challenge grants for states and a new Local Government Energy Program. The success of these programs will depend on the details, but it is promising to see new efforts to support states and cities in the budget. Moreover, these programs build on the block grant funding proposed in the American Jobs Plan to provide an influx of support for states to advance clean energy, building electrification, and efficiency.
The budget also includes funding increases to support tribal nations to advance clean energy. Households on tribal lands lack access to electricity at extremely high rates and often face high costs to connect to the electricity grid. The budget proposes a six-fold increase in funding for the Office of Indian Energy (a $100 million increase) to support American Indian and Alaskan Native nations, including to help address energy access and energy poverty.
Federal clean energy programs have already helped foster a revolution in technologies like solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicle batteries. Now, we have an opportunity to accelerate clean energy innovation to improve, demonstrate, and deploy the technologies and strategies we need to combat the climate crisis. With the right funding and policies, we can do so in a way that creates strong economic growth rooted in the industries of the future, addresses inequalities in our energy and economic systems, and cuts pollution in places that have borne the brunt of it in the past. President Biden’s energy budget is a major step toward realizing these goals, and Congress should pass a government funding bill that incorporates these proposals and brings the benefits of clean energy to communities across the country.
Weird Alibaba: An inflatable Chinese electric jet ski for $2,000 – What’s the catch?
As usual for entries in this Awesomely Weird Alibaba Electric Vehicle of the Week column, the fun EVs we dredge up tend to bridge the gap between fun-looking and palm sweat-inducing. Would you take a cheap inflatable electric jet ski out into the bay or off the coast? What if I told you that you had to build it yourself?
That appears to be the case here with this week’s find. It’s an inflatable vessel that is jet ski shaped, though I’m not sure it fulfills all of the requirements to become a jet ski – namely the water jet turbine.
In fact, there’s actually no motor at all. It seems to be just the 3.5 meter (11 ft) boat itself, but at least it comes with a convenient transom in back to mount your own motor.
And in our case, we can slap on an electric outboard to turn this thing into not just a bad idea on water, but a green bad idea on water.
If you really wanted to stay true to the advertising, you could actually get an electrically powered jet ski-style water turbine to add to this boat. Amazon can hook you up with an impressive offering that looks like it would require cutting an inlet hole in the bottom of the boat and an exit somewhere through the rear transom.
Short of building a true jet ski though, I think an overpowered trolling motor will probably suffice. The vendor for the motor linked above seems to propose that is equivalent to 10 hp, which sounds reasonable for a small watercraft like this.
Technically the motor is only rated at 2.2 kW, which is around 3 hp. But we generally find that small electric outboards offer performance of around 3x the rated power of combustion engine outboards due to their much higher torque. It may not rip as fast as the larger gas engine below, but then again maybe it will. Who knows until we find out ourselves?!
You’ll need a whopping 60V of battery for that awesome little electric outboard, which I’m hoping will fit either under the seat or under the “hood” of the jet ski.
I’d actually be pretty interested to get a look under that hood to see what’s going on with that steering wheel. Since the jet ski/inflatable boat seems to be set up for a transom-mounted trolling motor, I don’t know how they expect to tie in steering linkage to something like that.
But my past experience of buying electric boats on Alibaba has taught me to never discount the ingenuity of East Asian engineers building low-cost vehicles that will presumably hold the life of one or more people in their hands.
One thing is for sure: At around $2k, this will definitely be the cheapest new jet ski you could buy, electric or otherwise. Personal watercraft aren’t cheap, and the electric ones carry a significant premium.
But if you’re handy, don’t mind wiring up a motor and battery yourself, and also don’t mind a steering wheel for show while you twist around to control a tiller motor, then you just might wind up with one of the most unique vessels on your local lake or river.
And consider the ease of transport! You probably don’t even need a trailer like you would for a traditional jet ski. The entire thing weighs just 176 kg (388 lb), though the spec sheet also says it is made from fiberglass, so perhaps the data isn’t quite accurate. Either way, this inflatable vessel can’t weigh too much. And the fact that you can deflate it to fit in the back of a van or SUV is a big benefit too. Or you can just leave it inflated and probably fit it in a truck with the tail gate down. Not my mini-truck, but maybe your truck.
At $2,025 for this thing, it’s pretty darn cheap – though that’s before the cost of batteries and a motor. Don’t forget though that there’d be several thousand dollars in shipping costs, customs import charges, taxes, broker fees, etc. Also, don’t forget that you should absolutely not buy this thing. While I’ve picked up some cool and weird little EVs from Alibaba over the years, it’s never a good idea. The process is long and complicated, not to mention fraught with extra charges at every step of the way. And you never know if the company who just received your wire transfer is even going to deliver your product in the end, which is just another fun little stressor that comes with shopping on Alibaba. So please, don’t join the ranks of my foolish readers and risk your hard earned money on something weird like this.
But if you ignore my warnings and decide to go for it, be sure to let me know what happened! And maybe update your will before the maiden voyage.
Here are the best April Fool’s jokes from the e-bike industry this year
April Fool’s Day, celebrated annually on the first of April, is usually a light-hearted and mischievous occasion marked by good-natured pranks, hoaxes, and jokes. Large organizations often take part in hoodwinking others, creating an atmosphere of amusement and (hopefully) harmless trickery. Sure, it’s annoying when you fall for it. But it’s also humorous to see what companies can come up with next. E-bike companies and the larger micromobility industry often have fun getting in touch with their inner prankster (remember the pedal-powered popemobile?!), and this year was no exception. These are some of the fun and light-hearted new announcements from around the electric biking and micromobility world.
We’ll keep updating as we find more, and feel free to send me any you find today (contact info in my author blurb below the article).
Magnum’s human-powered bike
Here in the e-bike industry we are often so deeply focused on the latest batteries or the most innovative new motors that we can sometimes forget our roots. Magnum Bikes, a popular electric bike company, wants to make sure we all remember where we came from with the “launch” of its new human-powered electric bike.
Called the Navigator Infinite, Magnum says the bike can get over 100 miles (160 km) of range. I guess “infinite” truly is at least 100!
Muc-Off releases intimate lube
Muc-Off is a brand of bike cleaning products that is known for, among other things, its various bike lubricants.
I’ve tested the company’s bike cleaners as well as their dry and wet chain lube for different riding conditions.
But now the company is apparently branching out into another industry that is slightly more, err…. intimate.
With the release of personal lubricant for adult activities, Muc-Off wants to be there for you no matter what you’re riding.
Though perhaps the company put it best, explaining that they “worked long and hard to develop a deep penetrating lubricant that fills that sweet spot between smoothness and abrasion. With our bicycle lubes the target is to hit zero friction, but following round, after round, after round of internal tests, we found friction to be vital in achieving a satisfactory outcome.“
Well there you go.
Charge your electric car with pedal power
If you thought traditional fast chargers were just too darn slow, then FastNed says they have the solution. And it just so happens to be connected to your feet.
The company is touting its new 750 kW fast charger known as Bike Boost that is powered by pedaling. They claim it can fill your electric car’s battery in just 5 minutes.
That’s more than just a Wheaties breakfast… that must require eating an entire truck of Wheaties!
Radio Flyer’s new air travel
We’ve been more attracted to Radio Flyer’s electric bikes lately, but perhaps it’s time to rethink travel by wheel. Instead, Radio Flyer has announced a new air service known as Radio FlyAir.
It’s not just a Radio Flyer jet though. The entire airline seems to have gotten the red wagon treatment, complete with wagon luggage carriers and kids riding through the terminal.
The best e-bike April Fools prank of all time?
Try as they might, I’m not sure any company will top what I believe to be the best April Fools product launch of all time: The RadFit from Rad Power Bikes.
Just as electric bikes have revolutionized the bike industry, so too can they upend the stationary exercise bike industry. At least that’s what Rad suggested with its electric stationary bike.
I don’t want to butcher this one, so just watch the short video below for the full effect. I promise that it’s worth it.
Lead image credit: ETA
Scientists have found major storage capacity in water-based batteries
Texas A&M University scientists have been working with metal-free, water-based battery electrodes, and they’re finding that the difference in energy storage capacity is as much as 1,000%.
How the water-based batteries work
In the scientists’ paper, published in Nature Materials this week, the water-based, or aqueous, batteries consist of a cathode – the negatively charged electrode; an anode – the positively charged electrode; and an electrolyte, like traditional batteries. But in this water-based battery, the cathodes and anodes are polymers that can store energy, and the electrolyte is water mixed with organic salts.
The electrolyte transfers the ions – the charge-carrying particles – back and forth between the cathode and the anode, and the electrolyte is also key to energy storage through its interactions with the electrode.
Chemical engineering professor and co-author Dr. Jodie Lutkenhaus asserts:
If an electrode swells too much during cycling, then it can’t conduct electrons very well, and you lose all the performance.
I believe there is a 1,000% difference in energy storage capacity, depending on the electrolyte choice because of swelling effects.
According to their paper, the electrodes – the “redox-active non-conjugated radical polymers” – are promising candidates for water-based batteries because of the polymers’ high discharge voltage and fast redox kinetics.
However, the researchers note in their paper’s abstract:
[L]ittle is known regarding the energy storage mechanism of these polymers in an aqueous environment. The reaction itself is complex and difficult to resolve because of the simultaneous transfer of electrons, ions, and water molecules.
The future of aqueous batteries
The researchers suggest that water-based batteries might be able to mitigate potential shortages of metals such as cobalt and lithium, as well as eliminate the potential for battery fires.
There would be no battery fires anymore because it’s water-based.
In the future, if materials shortages are projected, the price of lithium-ion batteries will go way up. If we have this alternative battery, we can turn to this chemistry, where the supply is much more stable because we can manufacture them here in the United States and materials to make them are here.
The researchers also conducted computational simulation and analysis, and they’ll carry out further simulations to better understand the theory.
Chemistry assistant professor and co-author Dr. Daniel Tabor said:
With this new energy storage technology, this is a push forward to lithium-free batteries. We have a better molecular level picture of what makes some battery electrodes work better than others, and this gives us strong evidence of where to go forward in materials design.
Read more: A Mars rover scientist is about to scale carbon-oxygen batteries
Photo: Texas A&M Engineering
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