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The school year is beginning, so the buses will be out in full force. However, you may notice a significant difference this year as emission-free electric school buses roll out across the United States. One of the nation’s leading school bus manufacturers, Thomas Built Buses, just achieved a major milestone with help from its Virginia-based dealer Sonny Merryman — Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley electric school buses have now driven more than 500,000 miles.

Electric school buses are designed for a cleaner, sustainable future. Not only do they produce zero emissions, but they are also more efficient, can cost less to maintain, and have abilities their gas-powered counterparts lack.

450,000 yellow school buses across the United States travel over 4.3 billion miles each year, according to information from the US Department of Transportations National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

More importantly, toxic emissions from traditional school buses can harm students, bus drivers, and the communities they drive in.

Although the EPA has introduced stricter standards, it’s not enough as many school buses still emit harmful diesel exhaust. With federal funding more accessible than ever for electric school buses, making the transition makes sense.

As of June 2022, 38 states had adopted electric school buses thanks to several initiatives such as the $5 billion Clean School Bus program.

Meanwhile, states like Virginia are taking the initiative to provide funding and accelerate the transition. For example, in 2019, Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam and Dominion Energy announced an initiative to provide 13,000 electric school buses by the end of 2030.

Through programs like these, Virginia has grown to become the country’s second-largest electric bus fleet, currently operating 64 Thomas Built electric school buses. In a significant milestone, the electric school buses have now traveled over 500,000 miles, with more buses expected to be delivered as the school year progresses.

electric-school-buses-miles
Growth of electric school buses in Virginia Source: Sonny Merryman

Thomas Built Buses achieves 500,000 electric miles in Virginia

The first electric school bus to roll out in the state of Virginia was Thomas Built Buses’ Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley in November 2020.

One C2 Jouley electric bus can transport 81 students with up to 138 miles of range and a 226 kWh standard battery capacity.

Virginia now has 64 electric buses in total. The first 50 were purchased and deployed through the Dominion Energy program, and the remaining 14 were bought using funds from the American Power electric school bus program.

The 500,000 miles driven include several different terrains (city, rural, and hills) and distances from less than 20 miles to more than 90 miles. Although the electric buses have primarily been used for regular school routes, a few have made their way to field trips, band competitions, and more.

By using electric buses for these trips, 447.7 short tons of greenhouse gases were avoided, according to the AFLEET tool.

Through the experience so far, Thomas Built Buses dealer Sonny Merryman and its customers have learned a few critical takeaways that can help others deploy electric buses safely and efficiently:

  • Properly train drivers and technicians for a smooth transition.
  • Consider assigning a partner or team to help with the deployment.

Perhaps, most importantly, the electric buses have withstood various operational tests, and drivers who have switched to the electric Jouley school buses have loved them so far, according to the school bus dealer.

Electrek’s Take

First things first, congratulations to Thomas Built Buses and Sonny Merryman on the huge milestone. Electric school buses protect students and communities from harmful emissions while saving school districts money on fuel and maintenance in the long run.

At the same time, I think there is a major takeaway from this case study. State funding works, and electric buses are the future. Virginia is proving it. California has proved it. State leaders need to get on board to speed up the transition. There are no excuses now.

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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.

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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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