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If you had asked someone 10 years ago to name an automaker that was leading on electric vehicles, it’s likely the person would say Nissan. If you ask the same question today, I think you’d find a different answer. Just take a look at EV sales in Europe, the US, or China to understand why. Though, Nissan may be intent on changing the story again — on the east side of the Atlantic, at least. In the UK, in particular, Nissan is pumping in a considerable chunk of coin to try to regain its leadership position.

Nissan chose Sunderland, where it already produces the LEAF, to host its “flagship Electric Vehicle (EV) Hub,” EV36Zero. Somehow, this hub launches a “360-degree solution for zero-emission motoring.” We’ll get into what that means in a moment.

Nissan, Envision AESC, and Sunderland City Council are putting £1 billion into the project to start.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, & Politics

Even UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is getting behind the project. “Nissan’s announcement to build its new-generation all-electric vehicle in Sunderland, alongside a new gigafactory from Envision-AESC, is a major vote of confidence in the UK and our highly-skilled workers in the North East.

“Building on over 30 years of history in the area, this is a pivotal moment in our electric vehicle revolution and securing its future for decades to come.

“Commitments like these exemplify our ability to create hundreds of green jobs and boost British industry, whilst also allowing people to travel in an affordable and sustainable way so we can eliminate our contributions to climate change.”

Clearly, someone wrote that statement for Boris. It is a good one capturing some key points for both the UK and Nissan. Naturally, after Brexit, this kind of announcement is a huge deal that requires full vocal support from Boris and his clan. The EV36Zero project is supposed to create 6,200 jobs across Nissan and supplier companies — 909 new jobs at Nissan, 750 at Envision AESC, and more or less 4,500 others. It also reportedly protects 75 Nissan R&D jobs and 300 Envision AESC jobs.

Nissan’s Next Step

“This project comes as part of Nissan’s pioneering efforts to achieve carbon neutrality throughout the entire lifecycle of our products,” Nissan President and Chief Executive Officer, Makoto Uchida said. “Our comprehensive approach includes not only the development and production of EVs, but also the use of on-board batteries as energy storage and their reuse for secondary purposes.”

So, the “360” part of things seems to be that it’s not just about electric vehicle production, but also battery production and battery reuse. So, in essence, it is similar to Tesla’s gigafactory concept.

“Nissan EV36Zero will transform the idea of what is possible for our industry and set a roadmap for the future for all,” Nissan Chief Operating Officer Ashwani Gupta added. “We reached a new frontier with the Nissan LEAF, the world’s first mass-market all-electric vehicle. Now, with our partners, Nissan will pioneer the next phase of the automotive industry as we accelerate towards full electrification and carbon neutrality.”

The new Nissan electric vehicle that will be a central focus of the fresh investments is not announced yet. More information will be coming later in the year.

Don’t Forget Envision AESC

The Envision AESC side of the EV Hub is focused on low-carbon production of batteries for Nissan vehicles in a modern battery production facility. The facility “will deploy integrated AIoT smart technology to monitor and optimize energy consumption, manufacturing and maintenance at its new gigafactory, enabling it to rapidly increase production and provide batteries to power up to 100,000 Nissan electric vehicles a year.” Naturally, having the EV battery production so close to the vehicle production helps a great deal to cut down on shipping costs and emissions.

Envision AESC (formerly just AESC) actually opened the first EV battery factory in Europe when it set up shop in Sunderland back in 2012. Since then, it has produced enough EV battery cells, modules, and packs for 180,000 vehicles distributed across 44 countries. All of those batteries have gone into Nissan LEAF and Nissan eNV200 fully electric cars and vans.

“Supporting this new model allocation, Envision AESC will invest £450 million to build the UK’s first gigafactory on the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP), adjacent to the Nissan plant, powered by renewable energy and pioneering next-generation battery technology.”

The £450 million investment gets battery production capacity up to 9 GWh at this site. However, it’s possible Envision AESC will invest another £1.8 billion and get that production capacity up to 25 GWh. It’s projected that would create 4,500 “high-value green jobs” by 2030. Furthermore, production capacity could rise all the way to 35 GWh based on current estimates.

It’s not clear what would cause the plant to grow to 25 GWh or 35 GWh rather than 9 GWh, but I presume the key questions are:

  • How hard will Nissan work to sell its EVs?
  • How competitive will its coming EV and any future versions of the LEAF and eNV200 be?
  • How well will Nissan dealers sell its EVs?
  • Will Nissan launch a serious marketing effort to grow its EV brand?
  • Are Envision AESC’s future batteries genuinely competitive?

“The new plant will increase the cost-competitiveness of EV batteries produced in the UK, including through a new Gen5 battery cell with 30% more energy density which improves range and efficiency,” Nissan and Envision AESC state. “This commitment will power Nissan’s new vehicles, supporting the continued localization of vehicle parts and components with advanced technology. This will make batteries cheaper and EVs more accessible to a growing number of customers in the future.”

Nissan Still ♥ UK

“I am extremely proud that Nissan has not only reaffirmed its belief in Britain, but is doubling down on its long-standing commitment to our country,” UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng adds. “The cars made in this plant, using batteries made just down the road at the UK’s first at scale gigafactory, will have a huge role to play as we transition away from petrol and diesel cars and kick-start a domestic electric vehicle manufacturing base.”

To date, Nissan states that it has invested more than £5 billion ($6.9 billion) into the Sunderland EV factory. Aims of this investment have included:

  • R&D at Nissan’s European Technical Centre in Cranfield, Bedfordshire
  • Support for UK suppliers to transition to electric vehicles
  • Plant competitiveness and environmental improvements
  • Skills development in the Nissan workforce for future technologies

Long before the LEAF arrived, Nissan started producing vehicles in Sunderland in July 1986. Aside from the LEAF, Nissan also produces the Qashqai and Juke (not electric vehicles) in Sunderland at the moment.

Sunderland City Council is reportedly focused on advancing a 100% renewable electricity microgrid project to power the growing cleantech facilities in its jurisdiction. 10 solar farms totalling 132 MW of power capacity could be built to support this, and there’s already a good amount of wind power in the region. It could also include a large battery using second-life Nissan EV/Envision AESC batteries, perhaps totalling 1 MW in power capacity (a MWh figure was not mentioned).

Nissan announced that it planned to grow its own use of solar power at the Sunderland plant earlier this year.

Featured image courtesy of Nissan (CC BY-NC-ND license)


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The North Sea could become a ‘central storage camp’ for carbon waste. Not everyone likes the idea

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The North Sea could become a 'central storage camp' for carbon waste. Not everyone likes the idea

The receiving dock at the Northern Lights carbon capture and storage project, controlled by Equinor ASA, Shell Plc and TotalEnergies SE, at Blomoyna, Norway, on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Norway’s government wants to show the world it is possible to safely inject and store carbon waste under the seabed, saying the North Sea could soon become a “central storage camp” for polluting industries across Europe.

Offshore carbon capture and storage (CCS) refers to a range of technologies that seek to capture carbon from high-emitting activities, transport it to a storage site and lock it away indefinitely under the seabed.

The oil and gas industry has long touted CCS as an effective tool in the fight against climate change and polluting industries are increasingly looking to offshore carbon storage as a way to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Critics, however, have warned about the long-term risks associated with permanently storing carbon beneath the seabed, while campaigners argue the technology represents “a new threat to the world’s oceans and a dangerous distraction from real progress on climate change.”

Norway’s Energy Minister Terje Aasland was bullish on the prospects of his country’s so-called Longship project, which he says will create a full, large-scale CCS value chain.

“I think it will prove to the world that this technology is important and available,” Aasland said via videoconference, referring to Longship’s CCS facility in the small coastal town of Brevik.

“I think the North Sea, where we can store CO2 permanently and safely, may be a central storage camp for several industries and countries and Europe,” he added.

Storage tanks at the Northern Lights carbon capture and storage project, controlled by Equinor ASA, Shell Plc and TotalEnergies SE, at Blomoyna, Norway, on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Norway has a long history of carbon management. For nearly 30 years, it has captured and reinjected carbon from gas production into seabed formations on the Norwegian continental shelf.

It’s Sleipner and Snøhvit carbon management projects have been in operation since 1996 and 2008, respectively, and are often held up as proof of the technology’s viability. These facilities separate carbon from their respective produced gas, then compress and pipe the carbon and reinject it underground.

“We can see the increased interest in carbon capture storage as a solution and those who are skeptical to that kind of solution can come to Norway and see how we have done in at Sleipner and Snøhvit,” Norway’s Aasland said. “It’s several thousand meters under the seabed, it’s safe, it’s permanent and it’s a good way to tackle the climate emissions.”

Both Sleipner and Snøhvit projects incurred some teething problems, however, including interruptions during carbon injection.

Citing these issues in a research note last year, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a U.S.-based think tank, said that rather than serving as entirely successful models to be emulated and expanded, the problems “call into question the long-term technical and financial viability of the concept of reliable underground carbon storage.”

‘Overwhelming’ interest

Norway plans to develop the $2.6 billion Longship project in two phases. The first is designed to have an estimated storage capacity of 1.5 million metric tons of carbon annually over an operating period of 25 years — and carbon injections could start as early as next year. A possible second phase is predicted to have a capacity of 5 million tons of carbon.

Campaigners say that even with the planned second phase increasing the amount of carbon stored under the seabed by a substantial margin, “it remains a drop in the proverbial bucket.” Indeed, it is estimated that the carbon injected would amount to less than one-tenth of 1% of Europe’s carbon emissions from fossil fuels in 2021.

The government says Longship’s construction is “progressing well,” although Aasland conceded the project has been expensive.

“Every time we are bringing new technologies to the table and want to introduce it to the market, it is having high costs. So, this is the first of its kind, the next one will be cheaper and easier. We have learned a lot from the project and the development,” Aasland said.

“I think this will be quite a good project and we can show the world that it is possible to do it,” he added.

Workers at an entrance to the CO2 pipeline access tunnel at the Northern Lights carbon capture and storage project, controlled by Equinor ASA, Shell Plc and TotalEnergies SE, at Blomoyna, Norway, on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A key component of Longship is the Northern Lights joint venture, a partnership between Norway’s state-backed oil and gas giant Equinor, Britain’s Shell and France’s TotalEnergies. The Northern Lights collaboration will manage the transport and storage part of Longship.

Børre Jacobsen, managing director for the Northern Lights Joint Venture, said it had received “overwhelming” interest in the project.

“There’s a long history of trying to get CCS going in one way or another in Norway and I think this culminated a few years ago in an attempt to learn from past successes — and not-so-big successes — to try and see how we can actually get CCS going,” Jacobsen told CNBC via videoconference.

Jacobsen said the North Sea was a typical example of a “huge basin” where there is a lot of storage potential, noting that offshore CCS has an advantage because no people live there.

A pier walkway at the Northern Lights carbon capture and storage project, controlled by Equinor ASA, Shell Plc and TotalEnergies SE, at Blomoyna, Norway, on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“There is definitely a public acceptance risk to storing CO2 onshore. The technical solutions are very solid so any risk of leakage from these reservoirs is very small and can be managed but I think public perception is making it challenging to do this onshore,” Jacobsen said.

“And I think that is going to be the case to be honest which is why we are developing offshore storage,” he continued.

“Given the amount of CO2 that’s out there, I think it is very important that we recognize all potential storage. It shouldn’t actually matter, I think, where we store it. If the companies and the state that controls the area are OK with CO2 being stored on their continental shelves … it shouldn’t matter so much.”

Offshore carbon risks

A report published late last year by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a Washington-based non-profit, found that offshore CCS is currently being pursued on an unprecedented scale.

As of mid-2023, companies and governments around the world had announced plans to construct more than 50 new offshore CCS projects, according to CIEL.

If built and operated as proposed, these projects would represent a 200-fold increase in the amount of carbon injected under the seafloor each year.

Nikki Reisch, director of the climate and energy program at CIEL, struck a somewhat cynical tone on the Norway proposition.

“Norway’s interpretation of the concept of a circular economy seems to say ‘we can both produce your problem, with fossil fuels, and solve it for you, with CCS,'” Reisch said.

“If you look closely under the hood at those projects, they’ve faced serious technical problems with the CO2 behaving in unanticipated ways. While they may not have had any reported leaks yet, there’s nothing to ensure that unpredictable behavior of the CO2 in a different location might not result in a rupture of the caprock or other release of the injected CO2.”

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SpaceX-backed startup says preorders for its $300,000 futuristic flying car have reached 2,850

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SpaceX-backed startup says preorders for its 0,000 futuristic flying car have reached 2,850

Alef CEO: 2025 target for flying car 'actually pretty realistic'

BARCELONA, Spain — Alef Aeronautics, a SpaceX-backed flying car firm, says it has reached 2,850 preorders for its futuristic electrical vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicle.

Alef Aeronautics, which is based in San Mateo, California, said preorder numbers recently hit a fresh record after previously reporting 2,500 preorders for its two-seater flying car, the Alef Model A.

Customers can access preorders for the Model A online, and to preorder, you have to put down a $150 deposit for the vehicle. Customers can pull the deposit at any time if they want to, so they’re not locked in.

Alef is planning to charge customers $300,000 for the Model A when it becomes commercially available — so on 2,850 preorders, that would give it a combined order value of over $850 million to date.

“As of today we have a little bit more than 2,850 preorders with deposits down, which makes it the best-selling aircraft in history, more than Boeing, Airbus, Joby Aviation, and most of the eVTOLs [electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles] combined,” Alef’s CEO Jim Dukhovny told CNBC.

At a price of $300,000, Alef is asking its prospective customers to part with a lot of cash. Dukhovny insists the higher price tag is needed as Alef is still a startup and isn’t making any serious money yet.

Alef Aeronautics’ Model A car, which it showed off at Mobile World Congress as a half-size model, resembles an actual car with a mesh shell protecting rotors on the inside that allow air to flow through the vehicle.

David Zorrakino | Europa Press | Getty Images

Alef is separately working on a four-person sedan, though, the Model Z, which is scheduled for launch by 2035 at a price of $35,000, matching that of cheaper-priced electric vehicles.

Alef is one of several startups attempting to make flying cars a reality. Others include Lilium, the Germany-based air taxi startup, as well as Chinese company Joby Aviation. Last year, South Korean telecom firm SKTelecom told CNBC it plans to launch a flying taxi service in partnership with Joby Aviation in 2025.

Alef is backed by the likes early Tesla investor Tim Draper and Elon Musk’s space exploration firm SpaceX.

How does Alef’s car work?

Most of the players on the market currently are building models that resemble a jet and come with wings attached to the sides, or big helicopter-like rotors.

What Alef is going for is a much more different style of vehicle. The company’s Model A car, which it showed off at Mobile World Congress as a half-size model, resembles an actual car with a mesh shell protecting rotors on the inside that allow air to flow through the vehicle.

Dukhovny calls Alef’s vehicle the “first flying car in history.” He says it’s the first because, rather than the massive drone-like designs we’ve seen in vehicles from the likes of Lilium and Joby Aviation, Alef’s looks like an actual car.

“I know that people have claimed the first flying car,” Dukhovny said. “But we always had the idea that it has to be a car, a physical car, a regular car, as you can see it’s an eVTOL, an electric car. a regular car, drive, park, look, everything as a car, and a vertical takeoff.”

Alef’s car is mainly designed to be driven on the road, but will be able to take to the skies, too.

To drive on the road, the car uses four small engines in each of the wheels, and will drive similar to a normal electric car. It has eight propellers in the front and back of the car, which spin independently at different speeds to allow it to fly in any direction.

The Alef Model A has a cruise speed of 110 miles per hour while in the air, while on the road it is limited to between 25 and 35 miles per hour.

Once it lifts off, the Alef Model A can then turn onto its side while the cockpit swivels so that the driver can continue facing forward and the car practically becomes a biplane with the long sides of the vehicles serving as the top and bottom “wings.”

Targeting 2025 launch

The Alef Model A, which weighs 850 pounds, also qualifies as an ultra-light vehicle, meaning it comes under the same legal classification as small electric vehicles like golf carts.

Dukhovny says that should make it easier for the car to pass key regulatory approvals to get the green light to launch flights in 2025.

“If everything goes right, we plan to, and if we have enough funding, if the law is at least not going to be worse, it’s going to be existing as it is, we plan to start production of the first one by the end of 2025.”

Last year, the Federal Aviation Authority granted Alef a special airworthiness certificate, allowing for limited purposes that include exhibition, research, and development of its flying car. Alef still needs to get further approval to pave the way for consumer flights.

However, Dukhovny concedes that, despite the company’s high preorder number, it’s not going to be able to match that demand straight away.

“It’s crazy how to produce 2,850 vehicles,” Alef’s CEO said. “We’re going to start slow. And when people think that’s a million of those that are going to fly over San Francisco or Barcelona, that’s not going to happen. It’s going to be very slow — one, and then more, and then more,” he added.

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Oil prices slip after OPEC+ extends voluntary oil output cuts until mid-year

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Oil prices slip after OPEC+ extends voluntary oil output cuts until mid-year

Marathon Petroleum’s oil refinery in Anacortes, Washington.

David Ryder | Reuters

Oil prices edged lower Monday after oil cartel OPEC+ agreed to extend voluntary output reductions until the second quarter, in an effort to support the short-term stability of crude markets.

Global benchmark Brent slipped 0.05% to $83.52 a barrel Monday, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures traded down 0.19% at $79.82 per barrel.

OPEC+ announced on Sunday that the 2.2 million barrels per day of voluntary output cuts that were planned for the first quarter of this year will continue into the next quarter.

OPEC+ kingpin and de facto leader Saudi Arabia said it will prolong its voluntary cut of 1 million barrels per day until the end of the second quarter, state-owned Saudi Press Agency said Sunday. Riyadh’s crude production will stand at approximately 9 million barrels per day until the end of June.

Such a move by OPEC+ might also be seen as a sign that demand prospects in the second quarter are less optimistic than the group thought.

Jorge Leon

Rystad Energy’s Senior Vice President

Russia, another OPEC+ heavyweight, will slash its production and export supplies by a combined 471,000 barrels per day until the end of June. Moscow had volunteered to reduce its supplies by 500,000 barrels per day in the first quarter. Other key producers Iraq and UAE will also extend their voluntary production cuts of 220,000 barrels per day and 163,000 barrels per day respectively, until the end of the second quarter.

“This new move by OPEC+ clearly shows strong unity within the group, something that was put into question after the November ministerial meeting, which saw Angola leaving OPEC,” Rystad Energy’s
Senior Vice President Jorge Leon wrote in a note following the oil cartel’s decision.

The extension signals “robust determination” to defend a price floor above $80 per barrel in the second quarter, he said, adding that if OPEC+ rapidly unwound the cuts, oil prices will drop to $77 per barrel in May.

“Such a move by OPEC+ might also be seen as a sign that demand prospects in the second quarter are less optimistic than the group thought in November last year,” he said.

Stock Chart IconStock chart icon

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Oil prices in the past six months.

Oil prices have been languishing in a narrow $75 to $85 per barrel range since the start of the year, in spite of OPEC+ supply cuts, persistent Houthi maritime attacks in the Red Sea artery and ongoing geopolitical risks from Israel’s war against Hamas.

—CNBC’s Ruxandra Iordache contributed to this report.

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