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It seems like only yesterday that a mysterious new program called Energy Earthshots was in the works for the US Department of Energy, and everybody was wondering what that could possibly be. The curtain has now lifted and the answer is clean hydrogen. If you’re thinking why clean hydrogen and not green hydrogen, that’s a good question. The answer could make fossil energy stakeholders very happy or very, very sad.

Green Hydrogen Vs. Clean Hydrogen

For those of you new to the topic, hydrogen is the cornerstone of the modern industrial economy. The booming market for hydrogen fuel cells is just one slice of a huge chemical pie that includes agriculture, food processing, and refining, among other areas.

The problem is that almost the entire global supply of hydrogen comes from natural gas and coal.

However, not for long. Low-cost renewable energy has fostered a rosier economic outlook for new and more sustainable hydrogen sources, aka green hydrogen. Most of the activity is concentrated in the field of electrolysis, which refers to systems that deploy electricity to tease bubbles of hydrogen gas out of water.

This is what is known as green hydrogen. Other renewable hydrogen sources include biomass, biogas, municipal wastewater, and municipal solid waste.

The idea of producing hydrogen from reclaimed industrial gasses and plastic waste is also catching on. That’s more sustainable than using virgin natural gas or coal to produce hydrogen, though much of the foundational feedstock is still fossil-based and not renewable.

Then there’s a public relations gimmick cooked up by fossil energy stakeholders, in which you still produce hydrogen from natural gas or coal, but you hook it up to a carbon capture system and call it “blue” hydrogen, which supposedly translates into “clean” hydrogen.

I know, right? We think so, too.

So What Is It, Green Hydrogen Or Clean Hydrogen?

All else being equal, the “clean hydrogen” referred to in the new Energy Earthshots initiative could include support for fossil-sourced hydrogen with carbon capture, as well as reclaimed hydrogen from wastes.

However, last week CleanTechnica eyeballed the Biden administration’s FY 2022 budget proposal, and we took a quick look back the Energy Department’s green hydrogen initiatives during the administration of former President and accused insurrectionist Donald Trump, and then we connected the dots to current Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s pronouncements about renewable hydrogen earlier this year, and our conclusion is that when Energy Earthshots says clean hydrogen, they may be leaving a bit of wiggle room for fossil sources, but probably not all that much.

Get Ready For The Hydrogen Shot

The name “Earthshots Initiative” is a play on the successful 20th century Moonshot venture that shot US astronauts into space before anybody else got there, and the Energy Department’s early 21st century Sunshot Initiative, which launched during the Obama administration with the goal of bringing down the cost of solar power.

Energy Earthshots aims to replicate that all-hands-on-deck frenzy of collaborative innovation to tackle the energy challenges of the early mid-century period, which will make or break the ability of humankind to save itself from catastrophic climate change.

The Energy Earthshots Initiative aims to “accelerate breakthroughs of more abundant, affordable, and reliable clean energy solutions within the decade,” the Energy Department explained in a press release on Monday.

Skeptics were and still are laughing off the idea of the hydrogen economy of the future, but the Energy Department is a big fan and they just clapped back bigly when they picked hydrogen as the very first focus of the new Energy Earthshots initiative.

“The first Energy Earthshot — Hydrogen Shot — seeks to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% to $1 per kilogram in one decade,” the Energy Department said. “Achieving these targets will help America tackle the climate crisis, and more quickly reach the Biden-Harris Administration’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 while creating good-paying, union jobs and growing the economy.”

“Clean hydrogen is a game changer. It will help decarbonize high-polluting heavy-duty and industrial sectors, while delivering good-paying clean energy jobs and realizing a net-zero economy by 2050,” Secretary Granholm added.

Here’s the money quote from the press release:

“By achieving Hydrogen Shot’s 80% cost reduction goal, we can unlock a five-fold increase in demand by increasing clean hydrogen production from pathways such as renewables, nuclear, and thermal conversion. This would create more clean energy jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and position America to compete in the clean energy market on a global scale.”

Fossil-Sourced Hydrogen With Carbon Capture, Or Maybe Not

If you caught that thing about renewables and nuclear, that’s a reference to electrolysis, meaning green hydrogen. There is also something called thermochemical conversion, which deploys high heat from nuclear or concentrating solar plants to split hydrogen from water, but that seems a bit too early-stagey to fit into the Hydrogen Shot timeline. The other option is thermal conversion, which generally refers to steam reformation and other processes that apply to natural gas and coal, meaning not green hydrogen.

The Hydrogen Shot Request for Information emphasizes diverse energy sources in the US, and it specifically mentions fossil energy plus carbon capture for ramping up hydrogen production, so it looks like fossil energy stakeholders have something to cheer about after all.

Or, maybe not. Climate action has become a mainstream business model. It’s a good bet that the market for fossil-sourced hydrogen will shrink as the supply of sustainable hydrogen grows, carbon capture or not.

The Energy Department’s RFI appears to recognize that the private sector is already leaning towards green hydrogen. Despite the nod to fossil-sourced hydrogen, the agency highlights green hydrogen in a shortlist of major projects currently under way:

“… hydrogen production, storage, and end use in turbines through the $1 billion Advanced Clean Energy Storage project in Utah; a 5 MW electrolyzer project planned in Washington State; first-of-a -kind nuclear-to-hydrogen projects in multiple states; a 20 MW electrolyzer plant to produce hydrogen from solar power in Florida; and the first GW-scale factory for electrolyzers announced in New York, with a 120 MW electrolyzer soon to be installed.”

If you can spot the thermal conversion project in that list, drop us a note in the comment thread (hint: there is none).

But What About Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles?

Yes, what about them? Hydrogen Shot is not taking aim at the hydrogen fuel cell passenger car and SUV markets, though Toyota and a small but growing list of automakers have been pitching the idea (for the record, the growing list includes Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, and most recently, BMW).

Instead, Hydrogen Shot is focusing on long haul trucks and other heavy applications. That could include locomotives as well as hydrogen aircraft and hydrogen watercraft.

Green hydrogen has already been incorporated into much of the planning for transportation applications, so it’s no surprise that green hydrogen producers are already jockeying to compete for business.

In the latest development on that score, the firm SGH2 Energy is pitching a “greener than green” hydrogen product that draws from biomass and other bio-based waste. The company claims that its green H2 displaces more carbon than both electrolysis-based process as well as thermal conversion, so hold on to your hats.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image: Hydrogen production from various sources courtesy of US Department of Energy.


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Aptera’s clever new community funding program prioritizes your SEV delivery the more you invest

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Aptera's clever new community funding program prioritizes your SEV delivery the more you invest

One week after sharing details of its Launch Edition Solar EV, Aptera Motors has announced a community funding program called Accelerate Aptera, hoping to raise between $20 and $50 million. By investing a predetermined minimum, reservation holders have a better chance at receiving delivery of one of the 2,000 Launch Edition Apteras planned. Better still, the person who invests the most on the leaderboard (yes there’s a leaderboard) locks in delivery slot #1.

It’s been a newsworthy week for Aptera Motors and solar EV companies in general. With one fellow SEV startup toiling through a bankruptcy filing and another fighting for its life, our hope in a future of EVs powered by the Sun currently rests heavily on Aptera.

Last Friday, the company’s cofounders Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony held a live streamed webinar, where they walked the public through the specifications of Aptera’s unified, preconfigured Launch Edition solar EV.

The startup’s loyal community was up in arms about the lack of DC charging capability, but it took just three days for the cofounders to take to YouTube once again and quickly makes things right. ALL Aptera solar EVs will now come equipped with DC fast charging, including the Launch Edition. Phew.

While most of last week’s Aptera news was exciting, one discouraging aspect was the fact that deliveries of the Launch Editions remain at least a year away and that the startup needs another $50 million in funding to reach its first gate of scaled production.

Well, the guys at Aptera are back with another video, this time explaining the launch of a new competitive community funding campaign called Accelerate Aptera, complete with a leaderboard.

Aptera funding
The Launch Edition Aptera

Aptera’s accelerated funding program starts at $10,000

The company shared details of its new accelerator program in a post to its website this afternoon, which also included a new video from its cofounders you can peep below. First off, Aptera’s team is working through a Series B2 funding round, but says that will take time to secure and finalize.

Aptera has received a $21.9 million grant, but it is all but guaranteed and the process will not be completed until February or March. Furthermore, the grant is a reimbursement, so Aptera must complete eligible purchases (production equipment, machines, etc.) up to $21.9 million with its own money first.

Enter #AccelerateAptera – the company’s latest community funding program intended to put money in the bank and bridge to gap toward prospective grants and series funding rounds. Per the release:

We want to deliver solar mobility to the world as quickly as possible. Our Launch Edition vehicle is only one of many future products we hope to build that will make the world a better place.  Once funded, we expect it will be 12 months until production of our first vehicle commences. Without funding, we anticipate our timelines will continue to be pushed back. Our community has always been our biggest asset and we’re asking our order holders and other supporters to now help us to accelerate our growth.  If we can raise $20-50 million to execute on the first phase of our production plan, it will help tremendously. We expect our use of proceeds to include capital expenditures such as equipment and tooling and assisting in completing the requirements for obtaining the grant.  

Here’s how the accelerated funding program works.

From now through March 26, anyone can invest a minimum of $10,000 in Aptera to join the Launch Edition leaderboard. Investments over $10k qualify you for a $100 coupon (okay?) and a 5% discount on your Aptera solar EV (up to $2,500 and does not include purchase price).

Whoever contributes the highest investment by the end of the funding round will receive the first delivery slot of 2,000 planned Launch Editions. The remaining 1,999 slots will be prioritized down the leaderboard.

Lastly, those reservation holders who already have their hard earned money invested in Aptera will have those amounts added to their leaderboard funding total… as soon as they donate an additional $10,000.

You can join the funding leaderboard by investing here, and can follow the “competition” here. If you still haven’t reserved an Aptera, you can do so here and get $30 off the $100 fee. To learn more about the Accelerate Aptera campaign, see the video below where the cofounders explain it best.

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Norway just greenlit this vertical-axis floating wind turbine

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Norway just greenlit this vertical-axis floating wind turbine

Swedish wind turbine maker SeaTwirl got the go-ahead to test its 1 megawatt (MW) S2X vertical-axis floating offshore prototype in Norway.

Vertical-axis floating wind turbine pilot

In March 2022, Norway’s Ministry of Energy gave approval to SeaTwirl and Norwegian offshore wind test center Marine Energy Test Centre to pilot the vertical-axis floating wind prototype for five years at a former fish farm in Boknafjorden, northeast of Lauplandsholmenoff, 700 meters (2,297 feet) from the coast.

But four groups – the Norwegian Environmental Protection Association, the Norwegian Fishermen’s Association, and two campaign groups – appealed against SeaTwirl’s permit, and so the project was put on ice.

Yesterday, the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate rejected the appeal, so SeaTwirl’s S2X pilot can now proceed, and no further appeals will be considered.

CEO Peter Laurits said:

Our main focus is the commercialization of large turbines, SX, in floating wind farms. The outcome provides freedom to choose and plan the installation of S2x in the way that best supports that goal.

How S2X works

SeaTwirl says that “multiple S2xs can be placed in a dense pattern for increased output.” The company’s reasoning for building vertical (instead of horizontal) axis floating turbines is this:

The simplicity of the design and low center of gravity are the big advantages. All moving parts and electrical systems are easily accessible [and] close to the water’s surface, lowering maintenance costs.

The S2X prototype is 55 meters (180 feet) above sea level, and it’s around 80 meters (262 feet) below sea level. The turbine diameter is 50 meters (164 feet). Its rotor blade height is around 40 meters (131 feet). Its optimal operating depth is 100 meters (328 feet) and deeper.

SeaTwirl isn’t the only company testing vertical-axis wind turbines off the Norwegian coast – earlier this month, aluminum and energy giant Hydro and floating wind specialist World Wide Wind announced that they’re going to test a vertical-axis wind turbine made out of aluminum.

Read more: These companies will build a floating wind turbine out of aluminum


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Audi hints at luxury electric 4×4 to compete with Mercedes Benz and Land Rover

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Audi hints at luxury electric 4x4 to compete with Mercedes Benz and Land Rover

The luxury electric 4×4 you’ve been waiting for is set to emerge in 2027, and no, it’s not the Mercedes Benz G-Class or Land Rover Defender. It’s a new secret project from Audi.

A luxury electric Audi 4×4 coming in 2027

In a first from Audi, the German automaker is showing interest in the luxury 4×4 segment. The secret new electric SUV will feature a top-notch interior with the ability to perform its best on and off the road.

Audi unveiled its new activesphere concept Thursday, a four-door crossover coupe that doubles as a truck. The concept combines a luxury SUV, sports car, and off-roading pickup into one versatile EV.

Although this is a separate concept from the planned electric Audi 4×4, the off-road EV gives us an impression of where the automaker is headed.

In an interview with Autocar, Audi’s head of design, Marc Lichte, hinted at the idea of a new 4×4, saying:

I think there is space [for a rugged SUV in Audi’s lineup]. There is potential because there are only two premium players, and I think there is space for a third one.

Lichte didn’t give up details other than mentioning it will ride on one of Volkswagen’s platforms other than the Audi-Porshce co-developed PPE platform like the activesphere concept.

Since Volkswagen’s next-gen SSP platform designed for all segments has been delayed until at least 2028, there’s a good chance Audi’s new 4×4 will share technology with VW’s recently revived Scout off-road brand of vehicles.

electric-Audi-4x4-2
Audi activesphere concept, a separate project from the 4×4 (source: Audi)

Following Volkswagen’s announcement last year that it would revive the Scout brand for an all-electric lineup and bring rugged SUVs to the United States, reports surfaced VW was considering Canadian parts manufacturer Magna (which also builds the Mercedes Benz G-Class) to help build the vehicles.

The initial plans called for Audi to build Scout models in a new US facility but were later scrapped. According to Autocar, the two brands may still benefit from each other.

Audi is already working with Magna to develop electric vehicle batteries for the Scout brand. With VW reportedly leaning toward having the part supplier build 100,000 Scout EVs, there could be room for an additional 50,000 electric Audi 4×4 models to be built alongside.

Audi is already familiar with electric off-road technology with its beastly RS Q e-tron rally car (and Quattro four-wheel drive tech) and is well known for its premium luxury interior. It seems like a match made in heaven to me.

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