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Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi attends a news conference in Tehran, Iran June 21, 2021.
Majid Asgaripour | WANA News Agency | Reuters

U.S. officials say they are still trying to determine exactly what’s happening, but numerous reports say there’s potentially one hijacked ship in the Gulf of Oman and the status of several others is unclear.

The situation occurred as tensions between the West and Iran have been rising, and as the U.S. and other world powers have been trying to reach a new deal with Iran over its nuclear program.

At a briefing, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said “we are aware of the reports of a maritime incident in the Gulf of Oman. We are concerned. We are looking into it.”

Price said this was part of a disturbing pattern of belligerent behavior from Iran “including belligerents in the maritime domain.”

Price was referring to what military experts call a drone attack against a ship last week that killed a British crew member and a Romanian crew member aboard the ship Mercer Street.

Other U.S. officials say the situation is moving quickly, but it appears armed Iranian gunmen had boarded the seized tanker.

The incident has not moved oil prices, yet anyway. West Texas Intermediate crude futures for September settled down nearly 1% at $70.50 per barrel but they were off the lows of the day after the reports.

Lloyds List reported that the Panamanian flagged Asphalt Princess was the ship that was reportedly seized by armed men. The British navy earlier Tuesday had warned of a “potential hijack” in the Gulf of Oman, and the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations warned ship operators that “an incident is currently underway” off of Fujairah, according to news reports.

Tankers depicted in the Strait of Hormuz — a strategically important waterway which separates Iran, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
ATTA KENARE | AFP | Getty Images

The Associated Press had reported that at least four ships off the coast of the United Arab Emirates broadcast warnings Tuesday that they had lost the control of their steering. The four vessels were identified as Queen Ematha, the Golden Brilliant, Jag Poofa and Abyss, according to the AP, citing MarineTraffic.com.

Helima Croft, a former CIA analyst who heads global commodities strategy for RBC, said the activity is alarming and it appears to have been some sort of action that involves the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. The IRGC is a powerful military force that Iran wields separately from the standard Iranian armed forces and it reports directly to the Ayatollah.

“It is alarming given the fact we had two fatalities on Friday,” she said. “You have to put it in the context of Iran continuing to make progress on the nuclear restart against the backdrop of a new hardline government coming to power in Tehran. It raises the risk of unintended escalation, or one side not appreciating the other’s red lines.”

This is all happening amid stalled nuclear talks between Iran and major international powers. At the same time, a new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, took over as of Tuesday. In the past several days he’s increased the rhetoric against the United States calling the U.S. “tyrannical.”

“We will not tie the economy to the will of foreigners,” Raisi said.

Croft said the best window for Washington to get a deal done with Iran has probably passed, now that a new government is in place.

“The fact we are now dealing with a different negotiating team in and of itself would signal the process would be more protracted,” she said. “If you add the maritime security incidents … that makes it a much bigger hill to climb to get back into the deal.”

Croft said Iran may be using a hardline stance to try to push Washington into a deal. “The Iranians may be calculating if you raise the temperature enough, Washington will fold because Washington does not want a military operation in the Middle East,” she said.

Croft said the market is singularly focused on the potential of a renewed economic slowdown and drop off in oil demand due to the breakout of the delta variant of Covid.

The escalation of tensions makes it less likely a deal will be struck soon, meaning Iran’s oil will not be back on the market. But if the tensions escalate and the activity disrupts the oil market that would impact prices.

“If we see real signs of a disruption in production or delivery the market will move very quickly,” she said.

Alireza Nader, a senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says the Iranian attacks on international shipping shows the policies of the Biden administration aren’t working. 

“The U.S. obsession with keeping the nuclear agreement alive at all costs incentivizes the regime in Iran to take more aggressive actions against US interests without fear of punishment,” Nader said in an interview with CNBC Tuesday.

Despite an increase in tensions, Again Capital’s John Kilduff, who watches the oil market closely, said “there’s not enough here yet for me to be convinced, the market isn’t getting excited yet.”

Kilduff does believe however “the Islamic Revolutionary Guard is clearly ascendant and they have a lot of power to cause a lot of disruption.”

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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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