“Our worst fears have come true,” VW Group exec wrote to Audi exec

Audi and Volkswagen signs.

On Thursday, a federal grand jury in Detroit, Michigan, indicted four Audi executives for playing a role in the diesel cheating scandals that rocked parent company Volkswagen Group in 2015 and 2016. The four executives—Richard Bauder, Axel Eiser, Stefan Knirsch, and Carsten Nagel—all worked for Audi in Germany, and they have not been arrested.

The four men have been charged (PDF) with conspiracy to defraud the United States, commit wire fraud, and violate the Clean Air Act.

The indictment offered some new details on how emissions cheating unfolded at Audi and VW Group, especially with respect to emissions control system cheats on Audi’s 3.0L diesel vehicles.

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Fiat Chrysler settles in lawsuit over diesel-emissions cheating

Fiat Chrysler vehicles in a lot

The US Justice Department (DOJ) on Thursday announced a $305 million civil settlement between Fiat Chrysler and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a lawsuit over illegal software found on certain diesel Dodge Ram models and diesel Jeep Grand Cherokee models.

The terms of the settlement also included an additional $19 million payment to the state of California, which regulates auto emissions through the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

On top of all this, Fiat Chrysler is expected to upgrade the software on all of the offending vehicles and pay into a mitigation fund designed to ameliorate damage done by excess nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. The two programs together will cost the company an additional $185 million.

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Volvo’s coming all-electric semi will compete with Tesla’s

Volvo

On Wednesday, Volvo Trucks North America announced that in 2019 it will demonstrate an all-electric Volvo semi truck, which it expects to go into production in 2020.

The semi will be an all-electric VNR, similar to Volvo’s current diesel VNR model, and it will be used for regional-haul operations as well as drayage (that is, transporting shipping containers from barges to their next mode of transport).

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First hydrogen-powered train hits the tracks in Germany

René Frampe, Alstom

French train-building company Alstom built two hydrogen-powered trains and delivered them to Germany last weekend, where they’ll zoom along a 62-mile stretch of track that runs from the northern cities of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervörde, and Buxtehude. The new trains replace their diesel-powered counterparts and are the first of their kind, but they are likely not the last. Alstom is contracted to deliver 14 more hydrogen-powered trains, called Coradia iLint trains, before 2021.

The trains are an initial step toward lowering Germany’s transportation-related emissions, a sector that has been intractable for policy makers in the country. But hydrogen fuel faces some chicken-and-egg-type problems. Namely, hydrogen is difficult to store, and making it a truly zero-emissions source of fuel requires renewable electricity to perform water electrolysis. The more common option for creating hydrogen fuel involves natural gas reforming, which is not a carbon-neutral process.

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EU investigating German automakers, alleging collusion on emissions tech

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The European Commission said on Tuesday that it is opening an investigation into possible collusion among Volkswagen Group, BMW, and Daimler to avoid competition on developing state-of-the-art emissions control technology.

According to Bloomberg, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager told reporters at a press conference that the investigation is not focused on price-fixing as much as it is focused on the allegation that the companies together “agreed not to use the best technology” in order to cut costs together.

The emissions control technology in question applies to both gas and diesel vehicles in the EU. A press release from the European Commission noted that it suspected the companies of agreeing to limit the development and roll-out of two types of emissions-regulating technology. The first is Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) systems, which are specific to diesel engines and reduce the amount of nitrogen oxides (NOx) emitted by the vehicle. The second are “Otto” Particulate Filters (OPF), which reduce the particulate emissions from gasoline vehicles. These emissions treatment systems are based on their diesel counterparts and started appearing in Daimler vehicles after 2014.

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New sponge for cleaning harbor oil leaks has a successful real world test

In March 2017, Ars wrote about a new material that could soak up oil like a sponge. The so-called Oleo Sponge could be wrung out, the oil could be collected, and the sponge could be used again. The material had just been developed at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) outside of Chicago, so it was still being tested in controlled environments.

Now, Argonne has announced a successful real-world test of the Oleo Sponge at an oil seep in a channel near Goleta, California.

The test, conducted in April, involved immersing the Oleo Sponge in the Coal Oil Point Seep Field in the Santa Barbara Channel. The oil seep field is natural and one of the largest in the known world (PDF). Not only does it release lots of methane every day, but it also releases oil into the channel water. A press release from ANL notes, “the seeps have been active for at least 500,000 years and release roughly 40 tons of methane, 19 tons of other organic gases, and more than 100 barrels of liquid petroleum daily.”

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Are diesel’s days numbered? A view from a trip to BYD’s electric bus factory

LANCASTER, CALIF.—One single diesel transit bus consumes the equivalent of 10,440 gallons of gasoline a year, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Replacing that diesel-burning transit bus with an electric bus has some obvious benefits. Electric buses improve local air quality, because the particulates that come from burning diesel don’t exist. And, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, an electric bus runs cleaner than a diesel bus no matter where you plug it in on the US grid, even if you’re plugging into a grid fed by fossil fuels.

In the desert north of Los Angeles, a Chinese company called BYD (short for “Build Your Dreams”) is banking on transit managers realizing this. BYD offered Ars a tour of its Lancaster facility in July, and we found a bustling factory floor filled with 900 workers who were building, welding, shaping, and painting about 90 buses in various stages of completion. The company’s workforce, recently unionized, is expected to grow to 1,200 in the near future.

So far, BYD has put more than 250 electric buses on US roads, and, as of mid-July, the company had more than 400 orders in the pipeline. That’s a significant number of buses in this nascent industry: last December, Reuters estimated that only 300 public buses on US roads were electric. Of course, BYD’s numbers include publicly and privately owned electric buses, while Reuters’ statistic only tallies public buses. Still, the numbers show just how aggressively the electric bus industry is growing, considering the size of the market just six months ago.

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Time is running out for dieselgate Volkswagen owners to get their money

If you own a diesel Volkswagen or Audi that was affected by the company’s 2015 diesel scandal, and if you haven’t submitted the proper paperwork to receive compensation, you only have one month left to do so.

Two years ago, Volkswagen proposed a settlement with a consumer’s class-action group: the automaker would put up more than $10 billion to fix or buy back roughly 475,000 diesel Volkswagens and Audis outfitted with illegal software. The software allowed the cars to pass emissions tests under pre-arranged testing conditions, but the cars suppressed the emissions control system while they were being driven on the road in the real world.

After news of the cheating was made public, the value of the affected vehicles dropped dramatically. Vehicle owners filed a class-action suit in district court, and VW Group proposed its settlement nearly a year later. Customers would have two years to file a claim for restitution. They also had a choice: allow VW Group to buy back their car at the value of the vehicle before the news of the cheating was made public, or allow VW Group to fix the vehicle to bring it into compliance with federal emissions rules. All owners and lessees would receive an additional cash payout as well.

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