Trans Mountain construction work can go ahead as National Energy Board re-validates permits

CALGARY – The National Energy Board has cleared the way for construction to resume on portions of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project by re-validating all the orders and decisions it enjoyed before its permits were overturned last year. Read More

Tesla’s new V3 Supercharger can charge up to 1,500 electric vehicles a day

Tesla has opened a massive next-generation electric vehicle charging station in Las Vegas that combines the company’s core products into one sustainable energy ecosystem, fulfilling a vision CEO Elon Musk laid out nearly three years ago.

The new V3 Supercharger, which supports a peak rate of up to 250 kilowatts, is designed to dramatically cut charging times for its electric vehicles. Tesla unveiled its first V3 Supercharger in March at its Fremont, Calif. factory. A second V3 Supercharger is located in Hawthorne, Calif., near the Tesla Design Studio. Both of these locations, which were initially used as test sites, lack two key Tesla products.

This new location in Las Vegas is considered the first V3 Supercharger. It’s notable, and not just because of the size — there are 39 total chargers in all. This V3 Supercharger also uses Tesla solar panels and its Powerpack batteries to generate and store the power needed to operate the chargers. The result is a complete system that generates its own energy and passes it along to thousands of Tesla vehicles.

The new Supercharger, located off the Las Vegas Strip, below the High Roller on the LINQ promenade, was built on Caesars Entertainment property. The site is part of Caesars Entertainment’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2025.

There are caveats to the capabilities of this Supercharger station. Only one Tesla vehicle — the Model 3 Long Range iteration — can charge at the peak rate of 250 kW. The 250 kW results in up to 180 miles of range added to the battery in 15 minutes on a Model 3 Long Range.

The company’s new Model S and Model X vehicles can charge up to a 200 kW rate.

However, even older Model S and X vehicles and more basic versions of the Model 3 will experience faster charging rates at this location because there is no power sharing, a standard practice at Tesla’s other charging stations.

Improvements to charging times are critical for the company as it sells more Model 3 vehicles, its highest volume car. Wait times at some popular Supercharger stations can be lengthy. Early adopters might have been content to wait, but as new Tesla customers come online that patience could dwindle. And as more of these V3 Superchargers come online, potential customers might be encouraged to buy the pricier long range version Model 3.

Tesla has said in the past that these improvements will allow the Supercharger network to serve more than twice as many vehicles per day at the end of 2019 compared with today.

The V3 is not a retrofit of the company’s previous generations. It’s an architecture shift that includes a new 1 MW power cabinet, similar to the company’s utility-scale products, and a liquid-cooled cable design, which enables charge rates of up to 1,000 miles per hour. Tesla uses air-cooled cables on V2 Superchargers.

Alberta natural gas producers propose limiting production in exchange for royalty credits

CALGARY – Natural gas companies in Alberta have pitched the provincial government on a plan to voluntarily limit production even as their oil-focused counterparts are looking for a way out of the limits imposed on them. Read More

Negative? How a Navy veteran refused to accept a ‘no’ to his battery invention

Decades ago, a young naval engineer on a British nuclear submarine started taking an interest in the electric batteries helping to run his vessel. Silently running under the frozen polar ice cap during the Cold War, little did this submariner know that, in the 21st century, batteries would become one of the biggest single sectors in technology. Even the planet. But his curiosity stayed with him, and almost 20 years ago he decided to pursue that dream, born many years beneath the waves.

The journey for Trevor Jackson started, as many things do in tech, with research. He’d become fascinated by the experiments done not with lithium batteries, which had come to dominate the battery industry, but with so-called “aluminum-air” batteries.

Technically described as “(Al)/air” batteries, these are the — almost — untold story from the battery world. For starters, an aluminum-air battery system can generate enough energy and power for driving ranges and acceleration similar to gasoline-powered cars.

Sometimes known as “Metal-Air” batteries, these have been successfully used in “off-grid” applications for many years, just as batteries powering army radios. The most attractive metal in this type of battery is aluminum because it is the most common metal on Earth and has one of the highest energy densities.

Think of an air-breathing battery which uses aluminum as a “fuel.” That means it can provide vehicle power with energy originating from clean sources (hydro, geothermal, nuclear etc.). These are the power sources for most aluminum smelters all over the world. The only waste product is aluminum hydroxide and this can be returned to the smelter as the feedstock for — guess what? — making more aluminum! This cycle is therefore highly sustainable and separate from the oil industry. You could even recycle aluminum cans and use them to make batteries.

Imagine that — a power source separate from the highly polluting oil industry.

But hardly anyone was using them in mainstream applications. Why?

trevor battery 2

Aluminum-air batteries had been around for a while. But the problem with a battery which generated electricity by “eating” aluminum was that it was simply not efficient. The electrolyte used just didn’t work well.

This was important. An electrolyte is a chemical medium inside a battery that allows the flow of electrical charge between the cathode and anode. When a device is connected to a battery — a light bulb or an electric circuit — chemical reactions occur on the electrodes that create a flow of electrical energy to the device.

When an aluminum-air battery starts to run, a chemical reaction produces a “gel” by-product which can gradually block the airways into the cell. It seemed like an intractable problem for researchers to deal with.

But after a lot of experimentation, in 2001, Jackson developed what he believed to be a revolutionary kind of electrolyte for aluminum-air batteries which had the potential to remove the barriers to commercialization. His specially developed electrolyte did not produce the hated gel that would destroy the efficiency of an aluminum-air battery. It seemed like a game-changer.

The breakthrough — if proven — had huge potential. The energy density of his battery was about eight times that of a lithium-ion battery. He was incredibly excited. Then he tried to tell politicians…

trevor battery 1

Despite a detailed demonstration of a working battery to Lord “Jim” Knight in 2001, followed by email correspondence and a promise to “pass it onto Tony (Blair),” there was no interest from the U.K. government.

And Jackson faced bureaucratic hurdles. The U.K. government’s official innovation body, Innovate UK, emphasized lithium battery technology, not aluminum-air batteries.

He was struggling to convince public and private investors to back him, such was the hold the “lithium battery lobby” had over the sector.

This emphasis on lithium batteries over anything else meant U.K. the government was effectively leaving on the table a technology which could revolutionize electrical storage and mobility and even contribute to the fight against carbon emission and move the U.K. toward its pollution-reduction goals.

Disappointed in the U.K., Jackson upped sticks and found better backing in France, where he moved his R&D in 2005.

Finally, in 2007, the potential of Jackson’s invention was confirmed independently in France at the Polytech Nantes institution. Its advantages over Lithium Ion batteries were (and still are) increased cell voltage. They used ordinary aluminum, would create very little pollution and had a steady, long-duration power output.

As a result, in 2007 the French Government formally endorsed the technology as “strategic and in the national interest of France.”

At this point, the U.K.’s Foreign Office suddenly woke up and took notice.

It promised Jackson that the UKTI would deliver “300%” effort in launching the technology in the U.K. if it was “repatriated” back to the U.K.

However, in 2009, the U.K.’s Technology Strategy Board refused to back the technology, citing that the Automotive Council Technology Road Map “excluded this type of battery.” Even though the Carbon Trust agreed that it did indeed constitute a “credible CO2-reduction technology,” it refused to assist Jackson further.

Meanwhile, other governments were more enthusiastic about exploring metal-air batteries.

The Israeli government, for instance, directly invested in Phinergy, a startup working on very similar aluminum-air technology. Here’s an, admittedly corporate, video which actually shows the advantages of metal-air batteries in electric cars:

The Russian Aluminum company RUSAL developed a CO2-free smelting process, meaning they could, in theory, make an aluminum-air battery with a CO2-free process.

Jackson tried to tell the U.K. government they were making a mistake. Appearing before the Parliamentary Select Committee for business-energy and industrial strategy, he described how the U.K. had created a bias toward lithium-ion technology which had led to a battery-tech ecosystem which was funding lithium-ion research to the tune of billions of pounds. In 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May further backed the lithium-ion industry.

Jackson (below) refused to take no for an answer.

PHOTO 2019 06 18 19 35 52

He applied to U.K.’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. But in 2017 they replied with a “no-fund” decision which dismissed the technology, even though DSTL had an actual programme of its own on aluminum-air technology, dedicated to finding a better electrolyte, at Southampton University.

Jackson turned to the auto industry instead. He formed his company MAL (branded as “Metalectrique“) in 2013 and used seed funding to successfully test a long-range design of power pack in its laboratory facilities in Tavistock, U.K.

Here he is on a regional BBC channel explaining the battery:

He worked closely with Lotus Engineering to design and develop long-range replacement power packs for the Nissan Leaf and the Mahindra Reva “G-Wiz’ electric cars. At the time, Nissan expressed a strong interest in this “Beyond Lithium Technology” (their words) but they were already committed to fitting LiON batteries to the Leaf. Undeterred, Jackson concentrated on the G-Wiz and went on to produce full-size battery cells for testing and showed that aluminum-air technology was superior to any other existing technology.

And now this emphasis on lithium-ion is still holding back the industry.

The fact is that lithium batteries now face considerable challenges. The technology development has peaked; unlike aluminum, lithium is not recyclable and lithium battery supplies are not assured.

The advantages of aluminum-air technology are numerous. Without having to charge the battery, a car could simply swap out the battery in seconds, completely removing “charge time.” Most current charging points are rated at 50 kW which is roughly one-hundredth of that required to charge a lithium battery in five minutes. Meanwhile, hydrogen fuel cells would require a huge and expensive hydrogen distribution infrastructure and a new hydrogen generation system.

But Jackson has kept on pushing, convinced his technology can address both the power needs of the future, and the climate crisis.

Last May, he started getting much-needed recognition.

The U.K.’s Advanced Propulsion Centre included the Metalectrique battery as part of its grant investment into 15 U.K. startups to take their technology to the next level as part of its Technology Developer Accelerator Programme (TDAP). The TDAP is part of a 10-year program to make U.K. a world-leader in low-carbon propulsion technology.

The catch? These 15 companies have to share a paltry £1.1 million in funding.

And as for Jackson? He’s still raising money for Metalectrique and spreading the word about the potential for aluminum-air batteries to save the planet.

Heaven knows, at this point, it could use it.

Virgin Orbit performs a successful drop test of its LauncherOne rocket launch system

Richard Branson-backed space startup Virgin Orbit has completed a key step along its path to launching satellites for commercial customers. The company held a successful “drop test” of its LauncherOne rocket, in which the crucial piece of its launch system was released in a free fall from its Boeing 747-based launch aircraft (nicknamed “Cosmic Girl”).

LauncherOne was released from a height of 35,000 feet, which is a typical cruising altitude for commercial aeroplanes, which is where it would be during an actual launch. Virgin Orbit’s model flies its rocket to this altitude before engaging the engine, which is a lot more energy and cost-efficient versus launching the rocket from the ground (which is what SpaceX does, for instance).

During this test, the LauncherOne rocket did not engage its engine (and in fact, it’s a full-scale dummy rocket rather than a real one) once it detached from the wing of the modified 747, which is what it would do if this was an actual launch. Instead, it fell 35,000 feet to the ground, where it impacted in a planned drop zone at Edward’s Air Force Base in the Mojave desert.

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All of this was to plan, as the main focus of this drop test was to study the separation of the rocket from the launch aircraft’s wing, and to gather a number of sensor readings about how the rocket behaves when it’s falling freely through the air.

Virgin Orbit is part of Virgin’s duo of space companies, which also includes Virgin Galactic (which announced its intention to become a publicly traded company earlier this week). Orbit’s specific focus is offering an affordable option for smallsat launches, a market where it’ll compete with Rocket Lab, which is using a more traditional ground-based rocket launch model.

Apple stops selling the 12-inch MacBook, a computer you either loved or were confused by

Apple officially stopped selling the 12-inch MacBook today, a computer that hasn’t had an update since June 2017 and that is also maybe one of the most contentious Macs in Apple’s lineup. The 12-inch MacBook at one time seemed like Apple’s path forward (plenty of Apple fans and analysts saw it as a sign of things to come when it launched in 2015), but ultimately ended up representing some of Apple’s biggest challenges with its Macs in general.

The biggest indicator that Apple felt the MacBook was a showcase and crucial product was the name – it was just THE MacBook, without any addition epithets or qualifiers like “Air” or “Pro” (both of which predated its existence. And when it debuted, it brought a number of firsts for Apple’s laptop lineup, including USB-C for both data and power, a keyboard with butterfly mechanisms, a Force Touch trackpad and a new way of “terracing” batteries that allowed Apple to maximize the power available to the diminutive notebook without making any compromises on size.

For sheer portability and screen-to-size ratio, the MacBook was an absolute feat. But this computer was one of Apple’s boldest statements yet when it came to a separation from current standards and opinions about what users did and didn’t need in a laptop. It only came with a single USB-C port (‘just one!’ people gasped, and that’s for power, too!); the butterfly keyboard was strange and different. This last thing would later prove possibly Apple’s biggest technical gaffe in terms of fundamental component design, which has impact even today in that the company released brand new computers using butterfly keyboards and immediately added them to an extended keyboard replacement program.

The MacBook also always lagged significantly behind its Pro and Air companions in terms of processor power, thanks to the energy-sipping Intel chips required in its construction to minimize heat. As a former MacBook owner myself, it was enough that you noticed the chug when you were doing stuff that wasn’t necessarily heavy-duty, and painfully apparent if you used the little notebook simultaneously with a home desktop, for instance.

But the MacBook was also excellent in its own way. It was so portable as to be almost forgotten as an addition to a bag. It was maybe the ultimate pure writing notebook, because that’s not something that ever felt the lack of processor power under the hood. And as often maligned as it was for being a single-port machine (besides the headphone jack, which is now a luxury in the smartphone world), there was a certain amount of focus necessitated by this monk-like approach to I/O.

Ultimately, the MacBook resembles the original MacBook Air more than anything – an oddball that had both lovers and haters, but that didn’t meet the needs or expectations of the masses. Like the Air, the MacBook could rise from the ashes with a future incarnation, too – perhaps one made possible by the much-speculated future Apple transition to ARM processor architecture. Or maybe it’ll just make way for an ever-evolving iPad powered by the more sophisticated iPadOS coming this fall.

Regardless, the MacBook was an eccentric machine that I enjoyed using (and was potentially considering using again pending an update), so here’s hoping it’s not gone forever.

Volkswagen and Autodesk turned a vintage Microbus into a tech design showcase

Volkswagen and Autodesk teamed up to celebrate the 20th anniversary of one of the automaker’s biggest R&D facilities with an iconic vintage VW Microbus that looks retro on the outside but packs a ton of tech on the inside, including an electric powertrain and significant weight savings afforded through use of ‘generative design.’

That’s the design practice in which designers use software to autonomously create (or ‘generate,’ get it?) designs based on input of their desired performance requirements, the materials they have available, or what they’re using in terms of manufacturing.

In this case, one of the key requirements for this retrofit was saving space and weight to make the Microbus more energy efficient. That’s what led to things like the almost organic-looking wheel design, which offer 18 percent weight savings vs. standard wheels. Similarly, the steering wheel, rear-view side mirror mounts and back bench supports sport similar, root-structure like looks that it was grown more than manufactured.

In addition to light weight, strength and ease of construction, designers on the project say they hope that these results of generative design generally invite touch more often from users of the vehicle, which is not typically a result of utilitarian support structure design for your average car.

Engineers and designers from both Autodesk (which has also done generative design collaborations with GM and NASA JPL previously) and Volkswagen’s Innovation and Engineering Center California worked together on this project, but it’s just a show car so don’t expect to be able to buy any tree vans anytime soon.

First Nations chiefs behind Eagle Spirit pipeline project to make first regulatory application

CALGARY – The First Nations chiefs behind the Eagle Spirit pipeline corridor intend to commence the National Energy Board regulatory process this year, but have asked for more clarity before filing a full project description. Read More