Coronavirus can provide catalyst to greener future
COVID-19 opens the door to more green investment as it has given governments, businesses and investors an opportunity to concentrate on fighting climate change, according to a leading renewables investment firm.
Octopus Renewables, part of the UK-based Octopus Group, says fighting global warming without large amounts of investment into renewable energy generation and technologies will making achieving the targets of the Paris Agreement impossible.
“COVID-19 can be the catalyst to a greener, more sustainable future,” explains Alex Brierley, co-head of Octopus Renewables. “But it needs to be a collaborative and organised effort from governments, institutional investors, specialist energy fund managers, banks and energy companies.”
Many institutional investors agree, with the latest Octopus report find that almost a third of those surveyed think the pandemic has made the fight against climate change more urgent. A similar number also believe that the crisis will speed up the implementation of decarbonisation policies.
'The coronavirus pandemic has had a surprisingly positive effect on the environment. In early 2020, we saw carbon emissions decreasing as factories shut down, fewer planes took off, and more people worked from home, keeping cars off the road. The demand for energy fell, along with oil prices. And for the first time, Europe generated more electricity from renewable sources than from fossil fuels,' a statement from Octopus Renewables says.
Furthermore, governments are now being challenged to make the most of these short-term environmental gains by putting climate change measures at the centre of their COVID-19 recovery plans.
“There is now a huge opportunity for governments everywhere to implement measures that not only help economies recover post the pandemic, but create an environment that encourages further, and greater, investment into renewables at the same time,” adds Matt Setchell, co-head of Octopus Renewables. “It is crucial they do.”
Several governments have done so, with the UK’s Build Back Greener plan aiming to make the country a leader in wind energy, while the EU’s recovery proposal – Next Generation EU – commits to investing 30 percent of its funds into sustainable, low-carbon technologies.
‘Encouraged by public demand and government measures, our report shows 80% of institutional investors surveyed [KF6] plan to increase investment in renewable energy over the next few years. This proves investors are still interested in clean energy assets like wind and solar farms, making sure the money they invest has a positive impact,’ the Octopus Renewables statement says.
At the same time, many investors are looking to move money out of fossil fuels. The previous year’s report focused on divestment from oil and gas, highlighting this strategy as investors’ main push towards a cleaner energy future.
‘In the face of Covid-19 uncertainties, the speed of divestment has slowed in comparison to last year’s plans. But institutional investors are still moving money away from fossil fuels, showing momentum has slowed rather than stopped,’ the statement continues.
However, while institutional investors are looking to invest more in renewable energy, there are still barriers in the way of these plans. The first of these concerns is the lack of liquidity involved with renewable energy investments. Once invested in wind or solar farms, money is usually locked up for a set amount of time. Double the number of investors see this as a big challenge for them, in comparison to last year’s report. This is likely down to doubt caused by coronavirus.
Investors would also like to see more joined-up international policies to fight climate change and are worried that if this doesn’t happen, it will become harder to push for innovation in the renewable space.
Ultimately, the report states that although COVID-19 has made institutional investors cautious while moving investment away from fossil fuels, it can also act as a catalyst for more investment in renewable energy.
‘Governments must put lowering carbon emissions at the centre of their COVID-19 recovery plans, creating the opportunity for trillions of dollars of investment from institutional investors. With this injection of funding, renewable energy assets have the potential to help keep global temperatures down, bringing us closer to success in the fight against climate change,’ the statement concludes.
Sakuu Corporation creates 3D printer for EV batteries
Sakuu Corporation has announced a new industrial-grade 3D printer for e-mobility batteries which it claims will unlock the mainstream adoption of electric vehicles.
Offering an industrial scale ‘local’ battery production capability, Sakuu believes the technology will provide increased manufacturer and consumer confidence. Sakuu’s Alpha Platform for its initial hardware offering will be available in Q4.
Backed by Japanese automotive parts supplier to major OEMs, Musashi Seimitsu, Sakuu is set to enable fast and high-volume production of 3D printed solid-state batteries (SSBs) that, compared with lithium-ion batteries, have the same capacity yet are half the size and almost a third lighter.
The company’s KeraCel-branded SSBs will also use around 30%-50% fewer materials – which can be sourced locally – to achieve the same energy levels as lithium-ion options, significantly reducing production costs. Sakuu anticipates the 3D printer’s attributes being easily transferable to a host of different applications in other industry sectors.
"For the e-mobility markets specifically, we believe this to be a landmark achievement, and one that could transform consumer adoption of electric vehicles,” said Robert Bagheri, Founder, CEO and chairman, Sakuu Corporation. “SSBs are a holy grail technology, but they are both very difficult and expensive to make. By harnessing the flexibility and efficiency-enhancing capabilities of our unique and scalable AM process, we’re enabling battery manufacturers and EV companies to overcome these fundamental pain points."
The ability to provide on-demand, localised production will create more efficient manufacturing operations and shorter supply chains, he added.
Sakuu will initially focus on the two-, three- and smaller four-wheel electric vehicle market for whom the company’s SSB proposition delivers an obvious and desirable combination of small form factor, low weight and improved capacity benefits. The agility of Sakuu’s AM process also means that customers can easily switch production to different battery types and sizes, as necessary, for example to achieve double the energy in the same space or the same energy in half the space.
Beyond energy storage, Sakuu’s development of print capability opens complex end device markets previously closed off to current 3D printing platforms. These include active components like sensors and electric motors for aerospace and automotive; power banks and heatsinks for consumer electronics; PH, temperature and pressure sensors within IoT; and pathogen detectors and microfluidic devices for medical, to name a few.
"As a cheaper, faster, local, customisable and more sustainable method of producing SSBs – which as a product deliver much higher performance attributes than currently available alternatives – the potential of our new platform offers tremendous opportunities to users within energy, as well as a multitude of other markets," said Bagheri.
Ongoing research and new funding collaborations
Omega Seiki, a part of Anglian Omega Group of companies, has partnered with New York-based company C4V to introduce SSBs for EVs and the renewable sector in India. As part of an MoU, the two companies are also looking at the manufacturing of SSBs in the country, according to reports.
Solid Power, which produces solid-state batteries for electric vehicles, recently announced a $130 million Series B investment round led by the BMW Group, Ford Motor Company and Volta Energy Technologies. Ford and the BMW Group have also expanded existing joint development agreements with Solid Power to secure all solid-state batteries for future EVs. Solid Power plans to begin producing automotive-scale batteries on the company's pilot production line in early 2022.
"Solid-state battery technology is important to the future of electric vehicles, and that's why we're investing directly," said Ted Miller, Ford's manager of Electrification Subsystems and Power Supply Research. "By simplifying the design of solid-state versus lithium-ion batteries, we'll be able to increase vehicle range, improve interior space and cargo volume, deliver lower costs and better value for customers and more efficiently integrate this kind of solid-state battery cell technology into existing lithium-ion cell production processes."
A subsidiary of Vingroup, Vietnam’s largest private company, Vinfast has signed an MoU with SSB manufacturer ProLogium - which picked up a bronze award at the recent Edison Awards - to accelerate commercialisation of batteries for EVs (click here).
Xin Li, Associate Professor of Materials Science, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is designing an SSB for ultra-high performance EV applications. The ultimate goal is to design a battery "that outperforms internal combustion engines so electrical vehicles accelerate the transition from fossil-fuel-based energy to renewable energy," according to The Harvard Gazette.
The dramatic increase in EV numbers means that the potential battery market is huge. McKinsey projects that by 2040 battery demand from EVs produced in Europe will reach a total of 1,200GWh per year, which is enough for 80 gigafactories with an average capacity of 15GWh per year.