Indigenous activists take to Halifax streets to call for government accountability

Demonstrators speak about murdered-and-missing-women inquiry, Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Robin Tress, left, Ducie Howe, middle, and Thunderbird Swooping Down Woman, right, attended an Indigenous rights rally alongside Palestinian demostrators on Wednesday. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Halifax to rally for multiple causes on Wednesday, including Indigenous rights, on the 153-year anniversary of Canada’s Confederation.

“People of Turtle Island are out celebrating a corporation, because Canada is a corporation,” said Thunderbird Swooping Down Woman, a Mi’kmaw woman who attended the rally.

“This so-called Canada Day is made on stolen lands of the Aboriginal people. It continues to be ancestral [land] … so we don’t celebrate Canada.”

The rally was sponsored by Idle No More, an Indigenous-led movement protesting the Canadian government’s changes to environmental protection laws and what they see as the endangerment of First Nation people who live on the land.

Demonstrators called for action for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)


Rallies were held across the country on Wednesday as part of their Cancel Canada Day event.

Indigenous rights activists joined Palestinian demonstrators who voiced opposition to an Israeli plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

Thunderbird Swooping Down Woman said she rallied alongside the Palestinian demonstrators because she understands their situation.

“They’re asking Canada, the corporation, to help them,” she said. “Well I think Canada, the corporation, needs to look at their own land first and realize that the Indigenous people matter in this corporation, which is Turtle Island.”

She said she came out to the rally to call on the Canadian government to provide answers about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The final report on the inquiry was released in September 2019. It includes recommendations to government, the police and the larger Canadian public to help address endemic levels of violence directed at Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people.

The inquiry found that Indigenous women and girls are much more likely to be murdered or to go missing than members of other demographic groups in Canada.

Hundreds marched in Halifax on Wednesday to demonstrate for Indigenous rights and Palestinian opposition to an Israeli plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. (Carolyn Ryan/CBC)


Robin Tress, who joined Thunderbird Swooping Down Woman at the rally, said she feels a “great responsibility” to learn about the history of First Nation people as a person with settler ancestry.

“[I’m] trying to learn how I can use my position as a white person, as a settler person, to address the historical, centuries-long systemic harms that have been done to Indigenous peoples, Black peoples, peoples of colour, so that’s why I’m here today,” Tress said.

She is also looking for answers about the missing and murdered Indigenous women’s inquiry.

“A lot of talking has been done and not a lot of action has been taken and I know that that is a huge disservice to the people who spent their time reliving their trauma [and] sharing their trauma,” Tress said.

“It’s another stall tactic of the Government of Canada that has taken hundreds of years to avoid taking real action to build justice for all.”

Thunderbird Swooping Down Woman said she was glad to see the turnout at the rallies in Halifax.

She said she hopes people learn “that Indigenous lives matter. That you are on stolen land. That we need to understand that corporations can’t just come in and take our lands.”


Supreme Court will not hear First Nations’ challenge against Trans Mountain pipeline

First Nations were seeking to challenge federal government’s re-approval of pipeline expansion project

Workers are pictured at the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project in Burnaby, B.C., on June 17, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Supreme Court of Canada will not allow an appeal from a group of First Nations in B.C. looking to challenge the federal government’s second approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

The country’s top court dismissed the nations’ application for leave to appeal on Thursday. It did not release reasons for its decision, as is custom.

The Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Ts’elxweyeqw Tribes and Coldwater Indian Band were seeking leave to appeal a February decision by the Federal Court of Appeal that found cabinet’s approval of the pipeline project in June 2019 was reasonable under the law.

As there is no higher court in Canada, the decision Thursday brings an end to the groups’ legal challenge.

Tsleil-Waututh Chief Leah George-Wilson and Syeta’xtn (Chris Lewis) of the Squamish Nation will be hosting a virtual news conference later Thursday.


Hydrogen fuel bubbles up the agenda as investments rocket

Governments and carmakers press on with hydrogen fuel cells to power cars, buses, trains and even aircraft

Wrightbus’s prototype hydrogen bus. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA

More than 50 years ago hydrogen fuel cells helped put Neil Armstrong on the moon, but mainstream usage of the technology has remained elusive since.

Now there are signs that may be changing, with a spate of new investments even amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In the UK, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, this week told MPs that the government will experiment with hydrogen fuel cells for an entire town’s bus network. Earlier this month, the Department for Transport gave £400,000 to the Hydroflex project, run by the University of Birmingham and rail-leasing company Porterbrook, to bring the first hydrogen train to UK main lines in the next few weeks.

Fuel cells function by running hydrogen over a catalyst, often platinum, stripping away electrons that run through an electrical circuit. The positively charged hydrogen ions combine with oxygen in the air to form water as its only emission, while the electricity generated can run the same motors as used in any electric vehicle, giving a fuel source with zero harmful exhaust emissions.

Crucially, the hydrogen must be produced from clean sources to be carbon neutral, or “green”. So-called blue hydrogen, created using methane gas rather than electrolysis of water, has attracted significant interest from fossil fuel producers, but it does not come with the same environmental benefits.

Carmakers have recognised the potential of the technology for decades. Detroit’s General Motors first tested its hydrogen-powered Electrovan in 1966, but in the UK only 169 hydrogen cars have ever been registered. Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, regularly describes “fool cells” as “staggeringly dumb” for passenger cars, given the inefficiencies of using electricity to produce hydrogen rather than directly to power vehicles.

The Toyota Mirai, a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Yet many large automotive manufacturers are sticking with it. Toyota, the world’s second-largest carmaker, planned – before the pandemic – to produce 30,000 of its Mirai hydrogen cars in 2020, but larger vehicles are the main aim, said Johan van Zyl, chief executive of Toyota Motor Europe, earlier this year.“

We need scale for hydrogen to be successful,” he said. “To find scale I think heavy commercial vehicles and buses will be the first phase of hydrogen application in Europe.”

Hydrogen has already been used successfully in large vehicles. Transport for London’s RV1 bus route shadowing the Thames used hydrogen buses for eight years, which clocked up more than 1m miles. Buses run on regular routes and return to depots, removing the biggest obstacle to mass adoption of hydrogen: the lack of a network of filling stations across the UK.

The logic of using hydrogen for buses prompted Jo Bamford, the heir to the JCB digger empire, to buy Wrightbus out of administration in October. The Northern Irish busmaker is working with Bamford’s hydrogen production company, Ryse, on a plan to popularise hydrogen buses. Ryse has a contract with TfL to supply hydrogen for 20 new double-deckers, ordered from Wrightbus last year.

Bamford, whose father is Lord Bamford, the billionaire Tory donor, lobbied for the government to support a hydrogen bus experiment.

Bamford estimated that Wrightbus would be able to produce buses at the same cost as diesel at a rate of about 600 buses a year. He expected the firm to be profitable in 2020 before the pandemic struck, and acknowledged that he had spent “millions” of pounds keeping the company afloat after it was forced to stop production.

Part of Bamford’s pitch was that the UK could be a world leader in hydrogen, if it invests in infrastructure soon. “We missed the boat on batteries in Britain,” he said. “This is a great British solution.”

For rail and vehicle usage – and potentially aircraft – fuel cells have the major benefit of allowing refuelling within minutes, compared with the hours of charging required by some battery-powered cars.

The flurry of activity has piqued investor interest. Sheffield-based ITM Power has what it claims is the world’s largest factory making electrolysers, the machines that break down water into its hydrogen and oxygen constituents. Shares in the Aim-listed company, backed by chemicals giant Linde, have more than tripled in price since the start of the year.

Graham Cooley, ITM’s chief executive, says the revolutionary reduction in renewable energy costs has made hydrogen into a genuine solution across the economy. Solar- and wind-powered electrolysis offers the prospect of carbon-neutral hydrogen production, which could also provide an effective way of storing unpredictable renewable energy.

“The market for green hydrogen is expanding exponentially,” said Cooley. “The whole world is moving to net zero.”


The Arctic heatwave: here’s what we know

It’s 38°C in Siberia. The science may be complicated – but the need for action now couldn’t be clearer

Just 6% of UK public ‘want a return to pre-pandemic economy’

Exclusive: Poll comes as 350 union, business and religious leaders issue call for fair and green recovery

 Keir Starmer has highlighted the failure of the starter homes scheme as evidence that the Tories cannot be trusted to rebuild the economy. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

Only 6% of the public want to return to the same type of economy as before the coronavirus pandemic, according to new polling, as trade unions, business groups and religious and civic leaders unite in calling for a fairer financial recovery.

The former head of the civil service Bob Kerslake, the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the heads of the Trades Union Congress, Confederation of British Industry and the British Chambers of Commerce are among 350 influential figures wanting a “fairer and greener” economic rebuilding, and believe there is no going back to the past.

Their call comes as a YouGov poll shows that 31% of people want to see big changes in the way the economy is run coming out of the crisis, with a further 28% wanting to see moderate changes and only 6% of people wanting to see no changes.

It also showed 44% of people were pessimistic when they thought about the future of the economy, while only 27% were optimistic. Forty-nine percent thought the crisis had made inequality worse.

Labour peer Lord Kerslake said: “As the country begins to emerge from the crisis, it is becoming clear that people want a better future, not simply to return to where we were before. As with big crises in the past – from wars to the Great Depression – it was universally agreed that there was no going back.

“And so we have to ask deep questions about what kind of society and economy we now want to build. The moment we are in is a challenge to us all: to governments, businesses, civil society and citizens. But it is a challenge to which, together, we can rise and build something better.”

The research, commissioned by the New Economics Foundation, was released at the launch of their “Build Back Better” campaign. Other signatories include David Walker, the bishop of Manchester, Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the bishop of Dover, senior rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, and the heads of Oxfam, Shelter, Save the Children, the Trussell Trust, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Frances Morris, director of the Tate Modern, has also signed up in a personal capacity.

The campaign is calling for an economic recovery that provides more funding for the NHS and social care, tackles inequality, creates good jobs, particularly for young people, and reduces the risk of future pandemics and climate emergencies.

Miatta Fahnbulleh, chief executive of the New Economics Foundation, said: “The crisis has revealed a number of harsh truths – that our health and social care services had been under-resourced, and that longstanding inequalities have left too many people vulnerable. But we have seen what can be achieved when we are faced with a crisis – government can spend wisely, at speed and at scale.”

It comes as the Labour party leader, Keir Starmer, directly challenged the prime minister on his pledge to spend billions on the country’s economic recovery, considering the scale of “inaction and broken promises” in the last 10 years of Conservative power.

Starmer pointed out a raft of existing regional inequalities in spending per head for education and health in light of Johnson’s promise to “level up” the economy.

Speaking ahead of the prime minister’s planned speech on the economic recovery on Tuesday, Starmer said: “For much of the country, the Tories’ record on building and investment has been a lost decade.

“Much hyped plans such as the starter homes initiative – which built zero houses despite having £2.3bn allocated to it – barely made it beyond the press release. It’s been talk, talk, talk rather than build, build, build.

“Our recovery from the coronavirus crisis needs to match the scale of the challenge. It must be built on solid foundations. It has to work for the whole country and end the deep injustices across the country.”

The National Audit Office assessed the starter home scheme, which was to provide 200,000 houses for those aged under 40 with a 20%discount. They found legislation to take the project forward was never passed and not a single home of that type was ever built.

Using Treasury figures, Labour poured more cold water on the pledged economic bounceback by highlighting the fact that seven of England’s nine regions had experienced a reduction in public capital investment per person over the past 10 years.

In Yorkshire, the east Midlands and the south-west, investment per person is still less than half that of London. Labour also claimed that all regions had seen a decrease in both health and education investment per person.


Kate Proctor is a Guardian political correspondent 

Projects to Stash Carbon Dioxide Underground Get a Boost

The government, after years of delays, is finally clarifying rules on tax breaks for companies that use carbon capture to fight climate change.

Credit…Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

WASHINGTON — Carbon capture, a rarely tested strategy to fight climate change, is attracting growing interest in the United States after the Trump administration began clearing a longstanding roadblock to subsidizing the technology.

In 2018, Congress approved a lucrative tax break for companies that trap carbon dioxide produced by industrial sites before the gas escapes into the atmosphere and heats the planet. But for years, potential carbon capture projects stalled because the Internal Revenue Service had yet to clarify how, exactly, the tax credit worked.

That’s starting to change. In May, the I.R.S. finally issued proposed regulations, outlining the rules companies would have to follow when burying their emissions underground, as well as the penalties they would face if the gas leaked back out.

“That was one of the keys we’ve been waiting for,” said Robert McLennan, chief executive of Minnkota Power Cooperative, an electric utility planning to retrofit a coal plant in North Dakota. The project aims to capture 3 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to the pollution from 640,000 cars, and bury the gas more than a mile underground. At an estimated cost of $1 billion, he said, the venture wouldn’t be financially viable without the credit.

But the complex effort still faces hurdles.

Minnkota needs to find financial partners who can take advantage of the tax break, and Mr. McLennan said the I.R.S. rules may need further changes to make investors feel confident before they are finalized. The coronavirus pandemic has also disrupted some engineering work. “But, on balance, the rules are helpful,” he said. “We’re optimistic we can move forward.”

Across the country, companies have proposed at least 30 carbon capture projects to date. In Indiana, Wabash Valley Resources aims to produce greener fertilizer by stashing its emissions underground. In Texas, Occidental Petroleum plans to capture carbon dioxide from two ethanol plants and inject the gas into its oil wells to dislodge more crude, a process known as enhanced oil recovery. The company says emissions from that oil would be partly offset by the injected carbon dioxide that would stay below ground.

For years, polluters had little incentive to trap their planet-warming emissions. The tax credit shifts that calculus: It is worth up to $50 for each ton of carbon dioxide captured and permanently stored underground, and up to $35 per ton if the captured gas is buried during enhanced oil recovery. For large projects, that break could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars over the measure’s 12-year lifetime.

Carbon capture remains a contentious idea. Coal, oil and gas companies have backed the approach as less disruptive than abandoning fossil fuels entirely. Some Democrats and environmentalists say the technology could prove crucial for reducing emissions from industrial sources like cement or steel plants that are difficult to clean up.

Local leaders want to use carbon capture technology to keep the San Juan Generating Station in Waterflow, N.M., open. 

Credit…Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

Those arguments are on display in New Mexico, where the utilities that own the San Juan Generating Station, an 847-megawatt coal plant, plan to abandon the facility in 2022 as the state imposes stricter emissions rules. Worried about job losses from the shutdown, the nearby city of Farmington has proposed taking over the plant with Enchant Energy and installing carbon capture technology to keep it running through 2035.

Peter Mandelstam, the chief operating officer of Enchant, said carbon capture could reduce the plant’s emissions by 90 percent, enabling it to comply with the state’s climate rules. The $1.3 billion proposal aims to capture 6 million tons of carbon dioxide each year and either sell the gas to nearby oil fields or bury it in a saline aquifer to claim the tax credit.

Critics have questioned whether the company can build the complicated project on time and be financially viable. They say they fear it may give false hope to local coal workers and divert investment from proven alternatives like wind and solar power.

“This is a community that’s struggling and badly needs to diversify its economy, not double down on risky coal technology,” said Mike Eisenfeld of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, a group that advocates for clean air and water.

Enchant plans to use technology previously tested at a carbon capture facility near Houston, completed in 2017 with help from an Energy Department grant. There, exhaust from a coal plant is run through chemicals that bind to the carbon dioxide, which is then piped to nearby oil wells.

But Enchant’s project would be more than quadruple the size, and the company still needs to negotiate with the plant’s current owners, find buyers for its electricity and carbon, and bring in investors. Enchant recently began working with Bank of America to advise it through the process.

“I’m a big fan of more wind and solar,” Mr. Mandelstam, a former wind developer, said. “But we haven’t yet figured out how to run a grid entirely on renewable energy. Until that happens, this project offers a reasonable way to keep the lights on, preserve jobs, and reduce the plant’s environmental impact.”

It remains unclear how many carbon capture projects will actually get built, particularly as Covid-19 roils the economy and oil prices plummet. The clock is ticking: Under current rules, the projects need to begin construction before 2024 to claim the tax credit.

Keith Martin, a lawyer at Norton Rose Fulbright who specializes in tax-financing deals for wind and solar, said he has seen increased interest in carbon capture from investors looking to lower their tax burdens. But, he added, there are still technical aspects of the I.R.S. rules, like how financial partnerships should be structured, that need to be clarified.

“The deals we are working on are largely stalled at the moment,” Mr. Martin said, “because the proposed regulations did not answer all the questions we have.”

In the wake of the pandemic, some policymakers have said that carbon capture may need a further boost. In a recent infrastructure bill, House Democrats proposed extending the tax credit’s deadline by two years and allowing direct payments to developers. Supporters hope that additional aid could help carbon capture go mainstream, much as federal subsidies have done for wind and solar.

“Getting this first round of projects up and running is critically important,” said Kurt Waltzer, managing director at the Clean Air Task Force, an advocacy group. “But if carbon capture is going to play a big role in decarbonization all over the world, in places like China or India, we’ll need to think on a much bigger scale.”

Portrait of Brad PlumerBrad Plumer is a climate reporter specializing in policy and technology efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions. At The Times, he has also covered international climate talks and the changing energy landscape in the United  States. @bradplumer

Drinkable water is scarce. These companies are pulling it out of the air

San Francisco (CNN Business)In the mountains outside Scottsdale, Arizona, the four people and two dogs living at Cody Friesen’s house get all the water they need for drinking and cooking from two big panels mounted on the roof.

Scottsdale — where it rarely rains and temperatures can easily rise above 100 degrees in the summer months — isn’t the kind of place where water is in abundance. But Friesen, an associate professor of materials sciences at Arizona State University, is also the founder of a startup that he says has come up with a solution for gathering water, even in this desert climate.
Called Zero Mass Water, it uses solar-powered rooftop panels, such as the ones on his house, to run a water-gathering system that sounds almost like alchemy: It captures moisture from the air, cleaning and distilling it so Friesen can use it to make dinner or give the dogs a bowl of water to lap up.

Humans have a water problem

Though the earth is covered with plenty of water, the amount of usable water is finite and tiny. Salty ocean water makes up the vast majority of total water on the planet, while freshwater is just a fraction at 2.5%. And of that freshwater, only a small sliver is actually available for us to use, such as the water that flows through rivers.
Yet demand for water is unrelenting, and billions of people still can’t easily access it. According to data from the World Health Organization in 2015, about 29% of the world’s population — 2.1 billion people — didn’t have an on-demand source of contaminant-free water.
The future isn’t looking brighter: By 2025, WHO expects half of the world’s population will live in areas where there isn’t sufficient clean water.
Zero Mass Water panels atop a building in a planned community in Austin, Texas.

Zero Mass Water and Watergen — a somewhat similar startup that recently unveiled a water-generating device for homes and offices — hope to help. If they can make their systems affordable and efficient enough to entice consumers and businesses, they may have a chance at alleviating an intractable problem.

How getting water from air works

Zero Mass Water’s panels capture sunlight to produce electricity and heat. The electricity powers components such as fans, which push air across a material the company engineered to absorb humidity. Then, when the material is exposed to sunlight, it respires water vapor. There’s a 30-liter reservoir inside each panel to hold the resulting water.
“We’re effectively distilling the air, if you want to make it sound cute,” Friesen said in an interview with CNN Business.
The panels also connect to a pump that can transport the water off the roof — say, to a water tap in your kitchen — for use.
So far, Friesen said, the panels, called Source, are being sold in more than 18 countries. The company has partnered with Aboriginal groups in Australia and sold it to high-end homeowners as well.
A couple customers have gone “off grid,” as Friesen calls it, using the water these panels produce for all their needs. And Zero Mass Water’s Scottsdale office has a vertical farm watered entirely by the system.
It typically yields just enough water for cooking and drinking, however — and depending on the weather and your household’s needs, perhaps much less. On average, a panel will produce 4 liters (about a gallon) per day, he said. That means a house with a standard two-panel setup would snag about 8 liters, or two gallons, of water in a day.
Watergen, which also generates water from the air around us, doesn’t use solar power. The company says it can produce a lot more water with a product called Genny, which is aimed at replacing water coolers in homes and offices.
Genny looks like a futuristic coffee maker and weighs 110 pounds. It will yield an average of five gallons per day when it’s available later this year, according to Watergen USA president Yehuda Kaploun. The company claims it will clean the air indoors, too.

Watergen’s Genny will be available later this year.
The device works similarly to an air conditioner or dehumidifier. A fan sucks in air, which is then filtered and chilled to a dew point (a temperature at which water starts condensing) by Genny. The resulting water is filtered once again before it’s ready to drink, while the clean air is let out into the room.
Kaploun said Watergen has devices deriving water from the air in use around the world: 10 locations around Hanoi, Vietnam use Watergen systems to provide clean drinking water for residents, Kaploun said. In the US, it’s in some hospitals, and the Army uses it, too.
“The uses for this are everywhere you need water,” Kaploun said. “We hope to be used in a capacity to assist and create how water is delivered around the globe.”

A reality (and price) check

Since drinking water only comprises a tiny fraction of the water we use, Rutger Hofste, an associate data analyst at nonprofit research organization World Resources Institute, said devices from companies like Watergen and Zero Mass Water could be helpful for that alone.
Despite the promise of these systems for capturing water from the air, it’s hard to imagine them replacing traditional water sources. For one thing, they’re not yet producing anything close to the total amount of water that you likely use: If you’re in the US, that’s about 80 to 100 gallons of water per day.
Water being dispensed from Watergen's "Genny" device.

And they’re not cheap. Genny will cost about $1,500, plus the price of electricity to generate water. Kaploun said Genny generates a gallon of water per kilowatt hour. In the US, where consumers paid an average of 13 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity in late 2018, that would be an additional $237.25 per year, assuming the device yielded its five-gallon-a-day average.
Zero Mass Water’s panels cost $2,000 apiece and are meant to last for 15 years. Since the average home would need two panels, it would cost $4,500 for the two panels and installation.
Even if these systems become cheaper and more efficient, there isn’t an endless supply of water in the atmosphere. US Geological Survey estimates that just 0.001% of the earth’s total water is in the atmosphere at a given time.
Another issue for these kinds of water-gathering devices: capturing water from air doesn’t work — or doesn’t work well — in certain weather and climates. If it’s freezing cold, for instance, Zero Mass Water’s Source system will go into a “hibernation mode,” and it doesn’t work as well in cloudy locations as it does in sunny ones.
Watergen, too, needs certain conditions to work well. Kaploun said Genny requires over 30% humidity and temperatures above 50 degrees for optimal performance.
“The main problem is that they usually only work in tropical environments, hot humid days, summertime,” said Majid Bahrami, a professor at Simon Fraser University who tests systems that condense water from the air in his lab.
That doesn’t mean Bahrami thinks they’ll fail, though. The market for generating usable water is huge, he said, and “all these technologies, in my opinion, are bits and pieces of a puzzle.”
He’s so intrigued by the possibilities that he’s also building a startup, called WaterGenics, to generate water from the air.


This company wants to turn your windows into solar panels

San Francisco (CNN Business)What if every window in your house could generate electricity? One Redwood City, California-based startup thinks its technology can achieve that by transforming the way solar power is collected and harnessed.

Ubiquitous Energy has developed transparent solar cells to create its ClearView Power windows, a kind of “solar glass” that can turn sunlight into energy without needing the bluish-grey opaque panels those cells are generally associated with. The company, spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012, hopes to use that tech to turn practically any everyday glass surface into a solar cell.
“It can be applied to windows of skyscrapers; it can be applied to glass in automobiles; it can be applied to the glass on your iPhone,” Miles Barr, Ubiquitous Energy’s founder and chief technology officer, told CNN Business.
The company is looking to capitalize on the United States’ renewable energy boom, with solar and wind energy projected to surpass coal by 2021, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
While several companies are working on similar products, the technology is still in the relatively early stages. It’s one of several emerging products that harness solar energy, with others including irrigation pumps and a “solar oven” that can be used to make cement and steel. Ubiquitous Energy’s home state of California is one of the first to require that every new home incorporate some form of solar technology.
“This is great for ClearView Power because homeowners can install windows just like they would anyways, but they actually produce power to meet this requirement,” Barr said.
The core of the product is an organic dye that can be used to coat glass surfaces. The dye allows visible sunlight to pass through — just like normal windows do — but captures the invisible infrared rays from that sunlight.
“Light absorbing dyes are found all around us. They’re in paints, they’re in pigments for clothing, and they’re even in electronic devices,” Barr said. “What we’ve done is we’ve engineered those dyes to selectively absorb infrared light and also convert that light into electricity.”

That does mean some of the energy is lost.

“Their basic drawback is their relatively low efficiency,” said Anne Grete Hestnes, a professor of architecture at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who specializes in solar energy. “However, it is all a question of price. If the transparent cells are cheaper, and if the cells are to cover a relatively large area … it may be the better solution,” she added.
Barr said Ubiquitous Energy’s transparent panels can produce up to two-thirds of the energy that traditional panels do. And he said they cost about 20% more to install than a regular window, a cost he claims is offset by the electricity they generate.
The company wants its solar windows to complement traditional rooftop panels rather than replace them. The combination of both methods, according to Barr, could bring the net energy consumption of large buildings to zero — meaning they produce as much electricity as they consume.
Ubiquitous Energy has started installing its solar windows on buildings, including at its headquarters in Redwood City where it manufactures the glass panels.
“We are already installing and selling ClearView Power windows in limited sizes, and we’re in the planning phase for a facility that we’ll be able to produce windows at any size,” Barr said.
However, the coronavirus outbreak has forced much of the company’s production planning to be done remotely. But Barr said it is still making “significant progress.”
“It’s still a bit early to tell what the full effects of the global pandemic will be, including for our business,” said Barr, adding that he is “still optimistic we’ll be able to begin manufacturing activities in the next two years.”
By that point, he anticipates Ubiquitous Energy will be closer to justifying its name: “We really see the future of this technology as being applied everywhere, all around us, ubiquitous.”

How green sand could capture billions of tons of carbon dioxide

June 22, 2020
green sand beach with closeup of sand
The green sand Papakōlea Beach in Hawaii. PROJECT VESTA

A pair of palm-tree-fringed coves form two narrow notches, about a quarter of a mile apart, along the shoreline of an undisclosed island somewhere in the Caribbean.

After a site visit in early March, researchers with the San Francisco nonprofit Project Vesta determined that the twin inlets provided an ideal location to study an obscure method of capturing the carbon dioxide driving climate change.

Later this year, Project Vesta plans to spread a green volcanic mineral known as olivine, ground down to the size of sand particles, across one of the beaches. The waves will further break down the highly reactive material, accelerating a series of chemical reactions that pull the greenhouse gas out of the air and lock it up in the shells and skeletons of mollusks and corals.

This process, along with other forms of what’s known as enhanced mineral weathering, could potentially store hundreds of trillions of tons of carbon dioxide, according to a National Academies report last year. That’s far more carbon dioxide than humans have pumped out since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Unlike methods of carbon removal that rely on soil, plants, and trees, it would be effectively permanent. And Project Vesta at least believes it could be cheap, on the order of $10 per ton of stored carbon dioxide once it’s done on a large scale.

But there are huge questions around this concept as well. How do you mine, grind, ship, and spread the vast quantities of minerals necessary without producing more emissions than the material removes? And who’s going to pay for it?

Then there are particular challenges surrounding Project Vesta’s approach. Researchers don’t yet know how much waves will speed up these processes, how well we can measure and verify the carbon uptake, what sorts of environmental effects may result, or how readily the public will embrace the idea of pouring ground green minerals along seashores.

“A lot of this is untested,” says Phil Renforth, an associate professor at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, who studies enhanced weathering.

An untapped opportunity

Mineral weathering is one of the main mechanisms the planet uses to recycle carbon dioxide across geological time scales. The carbon dioxide captured in rainwater, in the form of carbonic acid, dissolves basic rocks and minerals—particularly those rich in silicate, calcium, and magnesium, like olivine. This produces bicarbonate, calcium ions, and other compounds that trickle their way into the oceans, where marine organisms digest them and convert them into the stable, solid calcium carbonate that makes up their shells and skeletons.

The chemical reactions free up hydrogen and oxygen in water to pull more carbon dioxide out of the air. Meanwhile, as corals and mollusks die, their remains settle onto the ocean floor and form layers of limestone and similar rock types. The carbon remains locked up there for millions to hundreds of millions of years, until it’s released again through volcanic activity.

This natural mechanism draws down at least half a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. The problem is that society is steadily pumping out more than 35 billion tons every year. So the critical question is: Can we radically accelerate and scale up this process?

The idea of leveraging weathering to combat climate change isn’t new. A paper published in Nature proposed using silicates to capture carbon dioxide 30 years ago. Five years later, Exxon researcher Haroon Kheshgi suggested employing quicklime for the same purpose, and that same year Klaus Lackner, a pioneer in carbon removal, evaluated a variety of potential rock types and methods.

But enhanced weathering has gotten little attention in the decades since relative to more straightforward approaches like planting trees, altering agricultural practices or even building CO2-sucking machines. That’s largely because it’s hard to do, says Jennifer Wilcox, a chemical engineering professor who studies carbon capture at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. Every approach has its particular challenges and trade-offs, but getting the right minerals at the right size to the right place under the right conditions is always a costly and complex undertaking.

More researchers, however, are starting to take a closer look at the technology as the importance of carbon removal grows and more studies conclude that there are ways to bring its costs in line with other approaches. If it’s cheap enough on a large scale, the hope is that corporate carbon offsets, public policies like carbon taxes, or sellable by-products from the process, such as the aggregate used in concrete, could create the necessary incentives for organizations to carry out these practices.

A handful of projects are now under way. Researchers in Iceland have been steadily piping a carbon dioxide solution captured from power plants or carbon removal machines into basalt formations deep underground, where the volcanic rock coverts it into stable carbonate minerals. The Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation, in Sheffield, England, is running field trials at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to assess whether basalt rock dust added to corn and soy fields could act as both a fertilizer and a means of drawing down carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, Gregory Dipple at the University of British Columbia, along with colleagues from other universities in Canada and Australia, is exploring various uses for the ground-down, highly reactive minerals produced as a by-product of nickel, diamond, and platinum mining. One idea is to simply lay them across a field, add water, and effectively till the slurry. They expect the so-called mine tailings to rapidly draw down and mineralize carbon dioxide from the air, forming a solid block that can be buried. Their models show it could eliminate the carbon footprint of certain mines, or even make the operations carbon negative.

“This is one of the great untapped opportunities in carbon dioxide removal,” says Roger Aines, head of the Carbon Initiative at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. He notes that a cubic kilometer of ultramafic rock, which contain high levels of magnesium, can absorb a billion tons of carbon dioxide.

“We mine rock on that scale all the time,” he says. “There’s nothing else that has that kind of scalability in all the solutions we have.”

In the wild’

Project Vesta unveiled plans to move ahead with its pilot study in the Caribbean in May. That closely followed online payment company Stripe’s announcement that it would pre-pay the nonprofit to remove 3,333 tons of carbon dioxide for $75 per ton, as part of its commitment to spend at least $1 million annually on negative-emissions projects.

Project Vesta has secured local permission to begin conducting sampling at the beaches and intends to announce the location once it’s finalized approvals to move ahead with the experiment, says Tom Green, the executive director. He estimates the total cost for the project at around $1 million.

The central goal of the study, which will leave the second beach in its normal state as a control, is to begin addressing some of scientific unknowns that surround coastal enhanced weathering.

A green sand beach


Research and lab simulations have found that waves will significantly accelerate the breakdown of olivine, and one paper concluded that carrying out this process across 2% of the world’s “most energetic shelf seas” could offset all annual human emissions.

But a major challenge is that the materials need to be finely ground to ensure that the vast majority of the carbon removal unfolds across years rather than decades. Some researchers have found that this would be so costly and energy intensive, and produce such significant emissions on its own, that the approach would not be viable. Still, others conclude it’ll remove significantly more carbon dioxide than it produces.

“There’s a pretty significant body of research that demonstrates this works and has potential,” Green says. “But now we have to do some real experiments in the wild.”

Project Vesta hopes to get scientists to the site to begin the actual experiment by the end of the year. After they spread the olivine across one of the beaches, they’ll closely monitor how rapidly the particles break down and wash away. They’ll also measure how acidity, carbon levels, and marine life shift in the cove, as well as how much those levels shift further from the beach and how conditions at the control site compare.

The experiment is likely to last a year or two. Ultimately, the team hopes to produce data that demonstrates how rapidly this process works, and how well we can capture and verify additional carbon dioxide uptake. All those findings can be used to refine scientific models.

Another area of concern, which they’ll also monitor closely, is potential environmental side effects.

The minerals are effectively geological antacid, so they should reduce ocean acidification at least on very local levels, which may benefit some sensitive coastal species. But olivine can also contain trace amounts of iron, silicate, and other materials, which could stimulate the growth of certain types of algae and phytoplankton, and otherwise alter ecosystems and food chains in ways that could be difficult to predict, says Francesc Montserrat, a guest researcher in marine ecology at the University of Amsterdam and a scientific advisor to Project Vesta.

“Massive support”

Some suggest that Project Vesta may be overselling the potential or discounting the difficulties of its approach, particularly the likelihood of public backlash against proposals to pour materials along seashores.

“I don’t think anyone’s tested the social license part yet,” says Heriot-Watt’s Renforth, who acted as a scientific reviewer for Stripe’s carbon purchases.

Project Vesta’s Green acknowledges the many uncertainties around coastal weathering. But he stresses that the whole point of the project is to fill in some of the scientific blanks and demonstrate it can be done for $10 a ton. If so, he believes, markets, policies, and the public will increasingly come to support the concept, particularly as the risks of unchecked global warming mount.

“The world is moving toward a place where people are starting to believe more in climate change and more that we need to do something about it,” he says. “In five to 10 years, I think we’ll be living in a world where there’s massive support for carbon capture.”


By James Temple

Warning: The world won’t hit climate goals unless energy innovation is rapidly accelerated

New York (CNN Business)Solar and wind power are booming. Electric vehicles are so promising that Tesla is now worth more than ExxonMobil. Coal is collapsing.

And yet energy watchdogs are warning that not nearly enough is being done to fight the climate crisis.
The International Energy Agency sounded the alarm Thursday about the “critical need” to rapidly accelerate clean energy innovation. That’s because the climate goals set by governments and corporations around the world depend on technologies that have not yet reached the market.
“The message is very clear: in the absence of much faster clean energy innovation, achieving net-zero goals in 2050 will be all but impossible,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said in a statement.
Major parts of the world economy don’t have clean energy options as yet. Power companies are dumping coal in favor of increasingly affordable solar and wind power. And all the major auto makers are racing to develop the best electric vehicles to compete with Tesla.
Yet there are few technologies available to bring emissions down to zero in areas such as shipping, trucking and aviation, the IEA said. The same problem exists in heavy industries like steel, cement and chemicals.
“Decarbonizing these sectors will largely require the development of new technologies that are not currently in commercial use,” the report said.
And that is no slam dunk. It took decades to scale up solar panels and batteries to make them economical. And plenty of technologies failed along the way.
“Time is in even shorter supply now,” the IEA report said.

‘Disconnect’ between goals and efforts

That’s not to say progress isn’t being made.
Late last year, Heliogen, a clean energy startup backed by Bill Gates, discovered a way to use artificial intelligence and a field of mirrors to generate extreme amounts of heat from the sun. The goal is to use that carbon-free sunlight to replace fossil fuels in certain heavy pollution industrial processes, such as making cement, glass and steel.
Still, the IEA said there are “no single or simple solutions to putting the world on a sustainable path to net-zero emissions.”
About three-quarters of the cumulative reductions in carbon emissions to get on that path will need to come from technologies that have “not yet reached full maturity,” the report said.
For instance, while battery technology has evolved significantly, the IEA said “rapid progress” is required to transition battery prototypes to the world’s long-distance transportation needs.
Yet there isn’t enough money being deployed by corporations or the public sector toward researching next-generation energy solutions.
“There is a disconnect between the climate goals that governments and companies have set for themselves and the efforts underway to develop better and cheaper technologies to realize those goals,” the IEA’s Birol said.

Pandemic deals blow to energy spending

That disconnect, like so many others now, is being amplified by the pandemic.
Although social distancing and health restrictions are causing carbon emissions to tumble, investment in energy is also falling sharply. Spending in the energy industry is expected to plunge by a record $400 billion, or 20%, this year, the IEA previously estimated.
That slowdown in spending undermines efforts to develop clean energy solutions.
At the same time, questions about the future of the economy, especially the energy and transportation sectors, will make it harder for startups to attract capital. Governments grappling with dual health and economic crises may be tempted to divert money away from developing clean energy at exactly the wrong time.
“Failure to accelerate progress now,” the IEA report said, “risks pushing the transition to net-zero emissions further into the future.”