Posted on

Oil Industry Expresses Concern, Not Alarm, About Biden Comments

HOUSTON — Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s promise that he would “transition” the country away from oil and natural gas might hurt him politically in Texas and Pennsylvania, but it did not come as a surprise to many in the energy industry.

Oil and gas executives have been keenly aware that the world is starting to move from fossil fuels toward renewable energy, although they strongly argue that their industry will continue to provide cheap and plentiful energy for decades to come. And several of them said on Friday that while they did not like Mr. Biden’s comments, they were not alarmed by them, either.

What ultimately matters to the industry is not whether there would be an energy transition, but how rapid it would be and whether companies would be allowed to exploit oil and gas reserves by offsetting their environmental impact by capturing and storing greenhouse gas emissions.

Large European oil companies are embracing the change that Mr. Biden called for as concerns over climate change grow and investors begin to shun fossil-fuel businesses. For example, BP has announced that over the next decade it will shrink its oil and gas production by 40 percent and increase investments of renewables tenfold, to $5 billion a year.

But the U.S. oil industry, which has donated much more to President Trump’s campaign than to Mr. Biden’s, has been more reluctant to change its business models.

Executives note that natural gas is rapidly replacing coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. Gas also complements renewables by providing power when the sun does not shine and the wind is still. Some energy executives have even endorsed levying a tax on the emissions that are causing climate change, arguing that it would create incentives for carbon capture and storage, which would reduce emissions.

“There needs to be a large workhorse, and ultimately that is what we are,” said George Stark, director of external affairs for Cabot Oil and Gas, which has extensive natural gas operations in Pennsylvania. “We complement wind and solar. You need something that can run on an ongoing basis.”

Keep up with Election 2020

Mr. Stark, like others in the industry, said he found Mr. Biden’s comments concerning, but stopped short of criticizing the former vice president harshly. “The opportunity will be there for a greener dialogue that has to take place regarding this whole notion of a transition,” he said.

In Thursday’s debate, Mr. Biden said he would seek to replace fossil fuels with renewables “over time,” noting that the oil industry “pollutes significantly.”

But he had previously said he was against ending hydraulic fracturing of shale fields, a common practice in Pennsylvania, Texas and Ohio. And some oil and gas executives said they liked parts of an energy plan that Mr. Biden put out this summer.

After the debate, Mr. Biden sought to clarify his remarks by saying fossil fuels would not be eliminated until 2050. In remarks that seemed designed to appeal to Democratic progressives and working-class voters who rely on fossil fuel jobs, he added that he wanted to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.

“Of course we were disappointed in the vice president’s comments,” Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s leading lobbying group in Washington, said in an interview. “You can’t just snap your fingers and get to a place where you are suddenly no longer using natural gas.’’

But Mr. Sommers also noted that Mr. Biden had expressed enough ambiguity that a rapid change in oil and gas shale fields was not likely.

The timing of the transition is hard to pin down, in part because the energy industry has been undergoing rapid change in recent years. The United States was importing increasing amounts of oil and natural gas just 15 years ago when suddenly hydraulic fracturing produced a glut of both fuels and made the United States a large exporter.

Now electric cars are becoming increasingly popular, and the costs of wind and solar power are dropping rapidly. Coal, which was the dominant power fuel at the beginning of the century, is in deep decline, losing out to natural gas and renewables.

“The fact that oil and gas are 70 percent of the world’s energy means that you can’t change that on a dime,” said Jon Olson, chairman of the petroleum and geosystems engineering department at the University of Texas at Austin. “If we don’t manage the transition really well, we could end up with energy shortages and all kinds of disasters.”

That still leaves the enduring politics of oil and gas in places, like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, that the Democrats would like to win but where tens of thousands of jobs are directly or indirectly linked to fossil fuel production or processing. One plant, being built by Royal Dutch Shell in Western Pennsylvania to produce plastics from a natural gas byproduct, is providing construction jobs for thousands of workers.

After watching the debate, Mike Belding, chairman of the Greene County Commission in Western Pennsylvania, said he was concerned about the economic consequences of a Biden presidency.

“Regionally, coal, natural gas and oil have been an economic and work force-driving industry over the past century,” he said in an email. “Newly developed technology, like fracking and cracker plant operations, have great potential to drive our economies for the next century.”

But the growth of oil and gas exploration in recent years has also angered some voters in Pennsylvania, who said it had not been an economic boon to many residents and criticized the industry’s environmental record.

“We’ve been transitioning, and let’s keep transitioning,” said Lois Bower-Bjornson, a resident of Washington County in Southwestern Pennsylvania and a field organizer for the Clean Air Council, an environmental group. “It’s a question of economics. They’ve produced too much gas and have nowhere to put it.”

Peter Eavis contributed reporting.

Posted on

How Green Is That Electric Car? And When It Hits 100 M.P.H.?

They only look like conspicuous polluters.

A new breed of electric performance cars, including Porsche’s Taycan and the Tesla Model S P100D, shows how environmentally minded fans of horsepower might square their circles.

A supercar with a carbon footprint that seems closer to a jet engine’s than to a Prius’s may feel irresponsible in the face of climate change. But what about electric vehicles that can keep pace with or even outperform the likes of Lamborghini?

The Tesla Model S can sprint to 60 miles per hour in slightly more than two seconds, making it one of the quickest machines on the market. Is it notably cleaner than a comparably fast gasoline-fueled car like the BMW M5, which is powered by a fuel-hungry 617-horsepower twin-turbo V8?

The numbers say yes. The Tesla is convincingly the green choice, but there’s more to the story.

Even small, less powerful electric vehicles haven’t always been cleaner than the most efficient gas-powered autos. A 2012 article in The New York Times summarized a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists that found the environmental benefits of subcompact, modestly powered electric cars like the Nissan Leaf depended on where they were charged.

At the time, many states still relied heavily on coal-fired plants for electricity, and the investigators found that in some areas, electrics were no cleaner than efficient gasoline-powered cars when factoring in the emissions resulting from electricity generation.

E.V. technology has advanced considerably since then, and electricity generation in America has shifted, as well.

The latest report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a February article by David Reichmuth, its senior vehicles engineer, is much more optimistic than the one eight years ago. After analyzing all emissions — including those from fossil fuel production, along with conventional vehicle tailpipe emissions and power plant emissions — the group found that electric vehicles were responsible for about 10 percent less overall emissions in 2018 than they were just two years earlier. Emissions generated during vehicle and battery production or in the mining of lithium for E.V. batteries were not part of the calculation.

In this study, the average electric vehicle in the United States was found to be responsible for emission levels equivalent to those generated by a gasoline vehicle that gets 88 miles per gallon. In areas where a lot of coal is still burned to make electricity, the electric vehicle m.p.g. equivalency number can fall to as low as 49 miles to a gallon, but those areas are few and less densely populated than regions with clean power.

OK, but what about electric supercars like the Model S and Taycan? Since they produce mammoth horsepower, doesn’t it follow that their emission levels are high as well?

“A very powerful electric performance automobile is less efficient than a hyper-efficient E.V. but still far cleaner than a comparably powerful car that burns gasoline,” Mr. Reichmuth said in a telephone interview. He added that a Model S driven in California, which has some of the nation’s cleanest electrical power, is about equivalent to a gasoline vehicle that achieves 120 m.p.g. In other words, in an area with relatively clean electric plants, this extremely powerful machine can be cleaner than even the most efficient gas car.

The numbers Mr. Reichmuth cited assume that the Model S is driven responsibly. With the throttle held wide open, a Model S will gobble up the watt-hours. While Tesla doesn’t provide data for aggressive driving, some Tesla owners have explored the extremes. One estimate on Tesla’s web forums claims that at full throttle the car will use about 869 watt-hours of electricity per mile and have a range of about 88 miles on a full charge. In simple terms, that means driving 30 miles at full throttle would require about the same amount of electrical energy that an average American home uses in one day.

Driving at wide-open throttle at length would quickly heat the Tesla’s battery, triggering electronic safeguards that would slow the vehicle. So the Tesla isn’t going to take on gasoline rivals in an endurance race. But its fun-to-drive factor is very high, and in short sprints, it is nearly unbeatable. In one 2016 drag race captured on YouTube, a Model S takes on a 707-horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat, and emerges the victor.

The Taycan, according to Car and Driver magazine, is rated even quicker, but the magazine editors recorded identical 70 MPGe power consumption with both cars on a 300-mile trip at 75 miles an hour. (MPGe is an acronym for miles per gallon equivalent, and it’s the government’s way of quantifying the efficiency of electric vehicles. The Environmental Protection Agency, officially, pegs the Tesla at 97 MPGe combined city and highway driving, and the Porsche at 68 MPGe combined.)

The discrepancy in the Tesla and Porsche E.P.A. ratings is likely due to the structure of the test and appears to indicate that the Tesla has an efficiency advantage over the Porsche in stop-and-go city driving. No gasoline-powered high-performance car can be driven anywhere near as economically as the Tesla or Porsche electric.

A comparison of E.P.A. ratings suggests that the least economical gasoline-powered cars emit more than twice the emissions of the most economical gas car. For example, the Mitsubishi Mirage G4, with its three-cylinder engine, is E.P.A. rated at 35 m.p.g. combined, while a Ford Shelby GT 500 Mustang earns a 14 m.p.g. combined rating.

The spread between the electric extremes is much narrower. The Hyundai Ioniq Electric, one of the most efficient electric vehicles, is E.P.A. rated at 122 MPGe, yet the Tesla Model S Performance car earns a 98 MPGe rating.

Choosing a high-performance E.V. over a mild-mannered electric comes with much less of an efficiency penalty.

The way E.V.s are charged adds to their worth. When asked if electric cars were overtaxing the electrical grid, Mr. Reichmuth said, “A high-performance E.V. is not like an appliance with a cord that draws electricity in real time.”

He added, “Oftentimes, they are plugged in at night. So a high-performance model is going to be plugged in longer, but it doesn’t take more power at any one time.”

Consider, too, that charging stations are turning to renewable power sources like solar, in combination with a battery storage system. Tesla has promised that its Supercharger high-speed charger network will eventually be powered exclusively by renewable energy.

It’s all good news for performance enthusiasts. Now you can go fast and go green. You may have to play to an artificial soundtrack, but play you can.

Posted on

As Concerns Over Climate Change Rise, More Developers Turn to Wood

SPOKANE, Wash. — Although it was established in 1873 near some of North America’s most productive forests, Spokane has rarely focused on new timber products in construction. But that is starting to change.

In the city’s downtown, Eastern Washington University has moved into the Catalyst Building, a five-story, 150,000-square-foot structure, the first tall wood office building in Washington State. Sunshine pours through the $40 million building’s large windows and bathes the wood beams and laminated wood floor and ceiling panels.

Built by Katerra, a construction company based in Menlo Park, Calif., Catalyst is the newest of 384 large “mass timber” buildings in the United States. The first was built in Montana in 2011, and according to industry figures, 500 more are under construction or planned.

The cross-laminated wood panels used for Catalyst were manufactured at Katerra’s 270,000-square-foot automated plant on the outskirts of the city. The $150 million plant is the newest and largest of nine in the United States that make laminated wood panels, and three more are in development.

Both the building and the plant are at the leading edge of the fast-growing American market for tall wood buildings constructed of the laminated panels, beams and columns that the industry calls mass timber.

Developers are turning to wood for its versatility and sustainability. And prominent companies like Google, Microsoft and Walmart have expressed support for a renewable resource some experts believe could challenge steel and cement as favored materials for construction.

“We are making huge headway in the U.S. now,” said Michael Green, a leading mass timber architect for Katerra who is based in Vancouver, Canada, and designed the Catalyst Building and several more in North America.

Credit…Rajah Bose for The New York Times

Wood has several advantages over other building materials, including the ability to help curb climate disruption, that are driving the interest, he said.

Steel and cement generate significant shares of greenhouse gases during every phase of their production. By contrast, wood stores carbon, offsetting the emission of greenhouse gases.

“The environmental aspects alone are attractive,” Mr. Green said. “Cross-laminated timber panels are faster to assemble. There’s much less construction site waste.”

Katerra bills itself as a Silicon Valley technology company devoted to designing, manufacturing and constructing ecologically sensitive buildings; it operates a second plant in the United States and two in India. The company reported $1.7 billion in revenue last year, and it has $4 billion in orders, according to company executives.

When Katerra was founded in 2015, only 10 large buildings in the United States were constructed from cross-laminated timber panels. But demand for the products is so strong that the number of construction projects could double annually and reach more than 24,000 by 2034, according to a report released this year by the Forest Business Network, an industry trade group.

Walmart has turned to mass timber as it replaces its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., with a 350-acre corporate campus. Demolition is underway to make room for 12 cross-laminated timber buildings encompassing 2.4 million square feet. The largest is 332,000 square feet, and the tallest is five stories, according to a spokeswoman, Anne Hatfield.

Southern yellow pine, raised in Arkansas forests and cut by local mills, will be turned into laminated panels, beams and columns by Structurlam Mass Timber Corporation, a Canadian manufacturer. The wood will be produced in a 288,000-square-foot steel mill in Conway, Ark., that Structurlam is converting into a $90 million mass timber manufacturing plant that will employ 130 people.


Credit…Benjamin Benschneider

Credit…Benjamin Benschneider

Another significant promoter is Hines, a global real estate investment, development and management firm based in Houston. Four years ago, Hines opened T3, a seven-story, 221,000-square-foot, cross-laminated timber office building in Minneapolis also designed by Mr. Green.

The wood structure cost $60 million, 5 to 10 percent more than one built with concrete and steel. But the ease and speed of lifting and fitting manufactured pieces into place saves money on labor, said Steve Luthman, a senior managing director at Hines.

In addition to the labor savings, tenants are attracted to wood surfaces in work spaces. Hines sold the building in 2018 for $392 a square foot, a record for a Minneapolis office building.

The company has since built a similar six-story, 200,000-square-foot mass timber office project in Atlanta. It is also constructing a 10-story wood office building on Toronto’s waterfront, one of three it plans in that city. And it is in various stages of design and development for mass timber office buildings in Denver, Nashville and the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina.

“Our industry is on the precipice of broad adoption of mass timber for construction,” Mr. Luthman said.

But as the market grows, so have concerns over safety. One of the biggest critics has been the $43 billion ready-mix concrete industry, which produces 307 million cubic yards of concrete annually in the United States for building construction, or 83 percent of total projects. Fearing wood will nudge concrete aside, the industry’s national association formed Build With Strength, an advocacy group that asserts, among other critiques, that tall wood buildings are not safe.

“Have we not learned our lesson about increased density with combustible construction?” said Gregg Lewis, executive vice president of National Ready Mixed Concrete Association. “We’ve seen what happens when we build cities out of wood.”

To counter claims that mass timber buildings are unsafe, developers have financed scientific studies and collaborated with university research groups to show big wood panels and stout support beams defied fire and performed well in earthquakes.

The findings have persuaded building code regulators and municipal permitting agencies to relax height restrictions for tall wood buildings. Washington and Oregon, eager to expand opportunities in their logging and wood products sectors, now allow 18-story wood buildings.


Credit…Rajah Bose for The New York Times

In Milwaukee, city authorities allowed New Land Enterprises and Wiechmann Enterprises to build Ascent, a 25-story, $125 million downtown residential building. It is being built from laminated timber panels manufactured and shipped from Austria, where the technology was developed in the early 1990s. Ascent is 4 feet higher than the 280-foot Norwegian mass timber building that opened last year and was considered the world’s tallest wood tower.

Mass timber developers also dispute claims that timber buildings threaten forests.

Katerra engineers say the average diameter of trees used for panels is 12 inches, which makes them just the sort of small trees that foresters say need to be thinned from forests to curb wildfires.

Environmentalists also are comfortable with mass timber. The United States has hundreds of millions of acres of forest, and no old-growth trees are used to produce cross-laminated panels.

Some lumber at Katerra’s Spokane plant is milled 105 miles away in Lewiston, Idaho, by the Idaho Forest Group, one of the country’s largest buyers of trees from national forests. The company regularly participates in negotiations with the U.S. Forest Service, environmental groups and local governments to set limits on the number of trees that can be cut in national forests while protecting old-growth trees and wildlife.

There is more than enough timber in Idaho’s national forests to meet the demands of the mass timber market, said Brad Smith, North Idaho director of the Idaho Conservation League.

“We are well within the limit for that forest and other national forests here,” he said. “If mills stay below those limits, they can cut for mass timber buildings or anything else they want.”

Posted on

U.S. and European Oil Giants Go Different Ways on Climate Change

HOUSTON — As oil prices plunge and concerns about climate change grow, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and other European energy companies are selling off oil fields, planning a sharp reduction in emissions and investing billions in renewable energy.

The American oil giants Chevron and Exxon Mobil are going in a far different direction. They are doubling down on oil and natural gas and investing what amounts to pocket change in innovative climate-oriented efforts like small nuclear power plants and devices that suck carbon out of the air.

The disparity reflects the vast differences in how Europe and the United States are approaching climate change, a global threat that many scientists say is increasing the frequency and severity of disasters like wildfires and hurricanes. European leaders have made tackling climate change a top priority while President Trump has called it a “hoax” and has dismantled environmental regulations to encourage the exploitation of fossil fuels.

As world leaders struggle to adopt coordinated and effective climate policies, the choices made by oil companies, with their deep pockets, science prowess, experience in managing big engineering projects and lobbying muscle may be critical. What they do could help determine whether the world can meet the goals of the Paris agreement to limit the increase of global temperatures to below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels.

The big American and European oil and gas companies publicly agree that climate change is a threat and that they must play a role in the kind of energy transition the world last saw during the industrial revolution. But the urgency with which the companies are planning to transform their businesses could not be more different.

“Despite rising emissions and societal demand for climate action, U.S. oil majors are betting on a long-term future for oil and gas, while the European majors are gambling on a future as electricity providers,” said David Goldwyn, a top State Department energy official in the Obama administration. “The way the market reacts to their strategies and the 2020 election results will determine whether either strategy works.”

To environmentalists and even some Wall Street investors, the American oil giants are clearly making the wrong call. In August, for example, Storebrand Asset Management, Norway’s largest private money manager, divested from Exxon Mobil and Chevron. And Larry Fink, who leads the world’s largest investment manager, BlackRock, has called climate change “a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects.”

European oil executives, by contrast, have said that the age of fossil fuels is dimming and that they are planning to leave many of their reserves buried forever. They also argue that they must protect their shareholders by preparing for a future in which governments enact tougher environmental policies.

BP is the standard-bearer for the hurry-up-and-change strategy. The company has announced that over the next decade it will increase investments in low-emission businesses tenfold, to $5 billion a year, while shrinking its oil and gas production by 40 percent. Royal Dutch Shell, Eni of Italy, Total of France, Repsol of Spain and Equinor of Norway have set similar targets. Several of those companies have cut their dividends to invest in new energy.

BP tried a transition in the late 1990s and early 2000s under the leadership of John Browne, then chief executive, but financial results from renewables were disappointing and the company eventually dropped its moniker “Beyond Petroleum.”

In an interview, Mr. Browne said this time would be different. “There are many more voices now,” he said, adding that the Paris agreement was a watershed, the economics of renewables have improved and investor pressure was building.

This month BP and Equinor announced a partnership to build and operate wind projects along the coasts of New York and Massachusetts. The governors of those states want to reduce their reliance on natural gas, which this effort will aid.

American oil executives say it would be folly for them to switch to renewables, arguing that it is a low-profit business that utilities and alternative energy companies can pursue more effectively. They say it is only a matter of time before oil and gas prices recover as the pandemic recedes.

Credit…Alana Paterson for The New York Times

For now, Exxon and Chevron are sticking to what they know best, shale drilling in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, deepwater offshore production and trading natural gas. In fact, Chevron is acquiring a smaller oil company, Noble Energy, to increase its reserves.

“Our strategy is not to follow the Europeans,” said Daniel Droog, Chevron’s vice president for energy transition. “Our strategy is to decarbonize our existing assets in the most cost-effective way and consistently bring in new technology and new forms of energy. But we’re not asking our investors to sacrifice return or go forward with three decades of uncertainty on dividends.”

Chevron says it is increasing its own use of renewable energy to power its operations. It also says it is reducing emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. And the company has invested more than $1.1 billion in various projects to capture and sequester carbon so it isn’t released into the atmosphere.

Its venture capital arm, Chevron Technology Ventures, is investing in new-energy start-ups like Zap Energy, which is developing modular fusion nuclear reactors that release no greenhouse gases and limit radioactive waste. Another, Carbon Engineering, removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to convert into fuel.

All told, Chevron Technology Ventures has two funds with a total of $200 million, about 1 percent of the company’s capital and exploration budget last year. The company has a separate $100 million fund to support a $1 billion investment consortium that aims to reduce emissions across the oil and gas industry.

“We need breakthrough technology, and my job is to go find it,” said Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, which employs 60 of Chevron’s 44,000 employees. “The transition is not an 11:59-on-Tuesday event. It’s going to be gradual, and evolving and continual over decades.”

Exxon has also largely steered away from renewables and has instead invested in roughly one-third of the world’s limited carbon-capture capacity, which has been so expensive and energy intensive that few companies have been willing to underwrite large-scale projects.

It spends about $1 billion a year on research and development, much of which goes to developing new energy technologies and efficiency improvements that reduce emissions.

One project involves directing carbon emitted from industrial operations into a fuel cell that can generate power. That should reduce emissions while increasing energy production.

In a separate experiment, Exxon recently announced a “big advance” with scientists at University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for developing materials that help capture carbon dioxide from natural-gas power plants with less heating and cooling than previous methods.


Credit…Alana Paterson for The New York Times

Credit…Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times

The company is also working on strains of algae whose oils can produce biofuel for trucks and airplanes. The plants also absorb carbon through photosynthesis, which Exxon scientists are trying to speed up while producing more oil.

“Step 1, you have to do the science, and it is impossible to put a deadline on discovery,” said Vijay Swarup, Exxon’s vice president for research and development.

Research into fusion, algae and carbon capture has been going on for decades, and many climate experts say those technologies could take decades more to commercialize. That’s why many scholars and environmentalists feel the American oil companies are not serious about tackling climate change.

“Oil companies don’t do things that put themselves out of business,” said David Keith, a Harvard professor of applied physics who founded Carbon Engineering. “That is not the way the world works.”

But some energy analysts argue that the American oil companies are right not to rush to change their businesses. They argue that U.S. lawmakers have simply not given them enough incentives to make a radical break.

“If this is the sunset time for oil and gas, someone forgot to tell consumers,” said Raoul LeBlanc, a vice president at IHS Markit, a research and consulting firm. He said while sales of electric cars may have picked up, it will take decades to replace the more than a billion internal-combustion cars on the road now.

It will probably take just as long, if not longer, to replace the large fleets of trucks, airplanes and ships that run on fossil fuels. There ought to be enough demand for oil over the next 30 to 40 years for Exxon and Chevron to exploit their reserves and make money, though the profits will decline over time, said Dieter Helm, an Oxford economist who studies energy policy.

“Investors can invest in Tesla or any renewable or electric company,” he said. “Why should an oil firm with the skills for large-scale hydrocarbon developments be able to compete against these new players?”

But Mr. Helm, who published the book “Burn Out: The End Game for Fossil Fuels” in 2017, said he believes that all oil companies have a dim future beyond the next few decades because technology advances will make them obsolete in a world economy dominated by electricity, battery storage, three-dimensional printing, robotics and other breakthroughs. “These companies, in the end, will die.”

Posted on

The Age of Electric Cars Is Dawning Ahead of Schedule

FRANKFURT — An electric Volkswagen ID.3 for the same price as a Golf. A Tesla Model 3 that costs as much as a BMW 3 Series. A Renault Zoe electric subcompact whose monthly lease payment might equal a nice dinner for two in Paris.

As car sales collapsed in Europe because of the pandemic, one category grew rapidly: electric vehicles. One reason is that purchase prices in Europe are coming tantalizingly close to the prices for cars with gasoline or diesel engines.

At the moment this near parity is possible only with government subsidies that, depending on the country, can cut more than $10,000 from the final price. Carmakers are offering deals on electric cars to meet stricter European Union regulations on carbon dioxide emissions. In Germany, an electric Renault Zoe can be leased for 139 euros a month, or $164.

Electric vehicles are not yet as popular in the United States, largely because government incentives are less generous. Battery-powered cars account for about 2 percent of new car sales in America, while in Europe the market share is approaching 5 percent. Including hybrids, the share rises to nearly 9 percent in Europe, according to Matthias Schmidt, an independent analyst in Berlin.

As electric cars become more mainstream, the automobile industry is rapidly approaching the tipping point when, even without subsidies, it will be as cheap, and maybe cheaper, to own a plug-in vehicle than one that burns fossil fuels. The carmaker that reaches price parity first may be positioned to dominate the segment.

Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

A few years ago, industry experts expected 2025 would be the turning point. But technology is advancing faster than expected, and could be poised for a quantum leap. Elon Musk is expected to announce a breakthrough at Tesla’s “Battery Day” event on Tuesday that would allow electric cars to travel significantly farther without adding weight.

The balance of power in the auto industry may depend on which carmaker, electronics company or start-up succeeds in squeezing the most power per pound into a battery, what’s known as energy density. A battery with high energy density is inherently cheaper because it requires fewer raw materials and less weight to deliver the same range.

“We’re seeing energy density increase faster than ever before,” said Milan Thakore, a senior research analyst at Wood Mackenzie, an energy consultant which recently pushed its prediction of the tipping point ahead by a year, to 2024.

Some industry experts are even more bullish. Hui Zhang, managing director in Germany of NIO, a Chinese electric carmaker with global ambitions, said he thought parity could be achieved in 2023.

Venkat Viswanathan, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University who closely follows the industry, is more cautious. But he said: “We are already on a very accelerated timeline. If you asked anyone in 2010 whether we would have price parity by 2025, they would have said that was impossible.”

This transition will probably arrive at different times for different segments of the market. High-end electric vehicles are pretty close to parity already. The Tesla Model 3 and the gas-powered BMW 3 Series both sell for about $41,000 in the United States.

A Tesla may even be cheaper to own than a BMW because it never needs oil changes or new spark plugs and electricity is cheaper, per mile, than gasoline. Which car a customer chooses is more a matter of preference, particularly whether an owner is willing to trade the convenience of gas stations for charging points that take more time. (On the other hand, owners can also charge their Teslas at home.)

Consumers tend to focus on sticker prices, and it will take longer before unsubsidized electric cars cost as little to drive off a dealer’s lot as an economy car.


Credit…Samuel Zeller for The New York Times

The holy grail in the electric vehicle industry has been to push the cost of battery packs — the rechargeable system that stores energy — below $100 per kilowatt-hour, the standard measure of battery power. That is the point, more or less, at which propelling a vehicle with electricity will be as cheap as it is with gasoline.

Current battery packs cost around $150 to $200 per kilowatt-hour, depending on the technology. That means a battery pack costs around $20,000. But the price has dropped 80 percent since 2008, according to the United States Department of Energy.

All electric cars use lithium-ion batteries, but there are many variations on that basic chemistry, and intense competition to find the combination of materials that stores the most power for the least weight.

For traditional car companies, this is all very scary. Internal combustion engines have not changed fundamentally for decades, but battery technology is still wide open. There are even geopolitical implications. China is pouring resources into battery research, seeing the shift to electric power as a chance for companies like NIO to break into the European and someday, American, markets. In less than a decade, the Chinese battery maker CATL has become one of the world’s biggest manufacturers.


Credit…Felix Schmitt for The New York Times

The California company has been selling electric cars since 2008 and can draw on years of data to calculate how far it can safely push a battery’s performance without causing overheating or excessive wear. That knowledge allows Tesla to offer better range than competitors who have to be more careful. Tesla’s four models are the only widely available electric cars that can go more than 300 miles on a charge, according to Kelley Blue Book.

On Tuesday, Mr. Musk could unveil a technology offering 50 percent more storage per pound at lower cost, according to analysts at the Swiss bank UBS. If so, competitors could recede even further in the rearview mirror.

“The traditional car industry is still behind,” said Peter Carlsson, who ran Tesla’s supplier network in the company’s early days and is now chief executive of Northvolt, a new Swedish company that has contracts to manufacture batteries for Volkswagen and BMW.

“But,” Mr. Carlsson said, “there is a massive amount of resources going into the race to beat Tesla. A number, not all, of the big carmakers are going to catch up.”


Credit…Felix Odell for The New York Times

The traditional carmakers’ best hope to avoid oblivion will be to exploit their expertise in supply chains and mass production to churn out economical electrical cars by the millions.

A key test of the traditional automakers’ ability to survive will be Volkswagen’s new battery-powered ID.3, which will start at under €30,000, or $35,000, after subsidies and is arriving at European dealerships now. By using its global manufacturing and sales network, Volkswagen hopes to sell electric vehicles by the millions within a few years. It plans to begin selling the ID.4, an electric sport utility vehicle, in the United States next year. (ID stands for “intelligent design.”)

But there is a steep learning curve.

“We have been mass-producing internal combustion vehicles since Henry Ford. We don’t have that for battery vehicles. It’s a very new technology,” said Jürgen Fleischer, a professor at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in southwestern Germany whose research focuses on battery manufacturing. “The question will be how fast can we can get through this learning curve?”

Peter Rawlinson, who led design of the Tesla Model S and is now chief executive of the electric car start-up Lucid, likes to wow audiences by showing up at events dragging a rolling carry-on bag containing the company’s supercompact drive unit. Electric motor, transmission and differential in one, the unit saves space and, along with hundreds of other weight-saving tweaks, will allow the company’s Lucid Air luxury car — which the company unveiled on Sept. 9 — to travel more than 400 miles on a charge, Mr. Rawlinson said.

His point is that designers should focus on things like aerodynamic drag and weight to avoid the need for big, expensive batteries in the first place. “There is kind of a myopia,” Mr. Rawlinson said. “Everyone is talking about batteries. It’s the whole system.”


Credit…Felix Schmitt for The New York Times

When Jana Höffner bought an electric Renault Zoe in 2013, driving anywhere outside her home in Stuttgart was an adventure. Charging stations were rare, and didn’t always work. Ms. Höffner drove her Zoe to places like Norway or Sicily just to see if she could make it without having to call for a tow.

Ms. Höffner, who works in online communication for the state of Baden-Württemberg, has since traded up to a Tesla Model 3 equipped with software that guides her to the company’s own network of chargers, which can fill the battery to 80 percent capacity in about half an hour. She sounds almost nostalgic when she remembers how hard it was to recharge back in the electric-vehicle stone age.

“Now, it’s boring,” Ms. Höffner said. “You say where you want to go and the car takes care of the rest.”

The European Union has nearly 200,000 chargers, far short of the three million that will be needed when electric cars become ubiquitous, according to Transport & Environment, an advocacy group. The United States remains far behind, with less than half as many as Europe.

But the European network is already dense enough that owning and charging an electric car is “no problem,” said Ms. Höffner, who can’t charge at home and depends on public infrastructure.

Price and infrastructure are closely connected. At least in theory, people won’t need big, expensive batteries if there is a place nearby to quickly recharge. (Charging times are also dropping fast.)

Lucid’s first vehicle is a luxury car, but Mr. Rawlinson said his dream was to build an electric car attainable by the middle class. In his view, that would mean a lightweight vehicle capable of traveling 150 miles between charges.

“I want to make a $25,000 car,” Mr. Rawlinson said. “That’s what is going to change the world.”

Posted on

Europe’s Big Oil Companies Are Turning Electric

This may turn out to be the year that oil giants, especially in Europe, started looking more like electric companies.

Late last month, Royal Dutch Shell won a deal to build a vast wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands. Earlier in the year, France’s Total, which owns a battery maker, agreed to make several large investments in solar power in Spain and a wind farm off Scotland. Total also bought an electric and natural gas utility in Spain and is joining Shell and BP in expanding its electric vehicle charging business.

At the same time, the companies are ditching plans to drill more wells as they chop back capital budgets. Shell recently said it would delay new fields in the Gulf of Mexico and in the North Sea, while BP has promised not to hunt for oil in any new countries.

Prodded by governments and investors to address climate change concerns about their products, Europe’s oil companies are accelerating their production of cleaner energy — usually electricity, sometimes hydrogen — and promoting natural gas, which they argue can be a cleaner transition fuel from coal and oil to renewables.

For some executives, the sudden plunge in demand for oil caused by the pandemic — and the accompanying collapse in earnings — is another warning that unless they change the composition of their businesses, they risk being dinosaurs headed for extinction.

This evolving vision is more striking because it is shared by many longtime veterans of the oil business.

“During the last six years, we had extreme volatility in the oil commodities,” said Claudio Descalzi, 65, the chief executive of Eni, who has been with that Italian company for nearly 40 years. He said he wanted to build a business increasingly based on green energy rather than oil.

“We want to stay away from the volatility and the uncertainty,” he added.

Bernard Looney, a 29-year BP veteran who became chief executive in February, recently told journalists, “What the world wants from energy is changing, and so we need to change, quite frankly, what we offer the world.”


The bet is that electricity will be the prime means of delivering cleaner energy in the future and, therefore, will grow rapidly.

American giants like Exxon Mobil and Chevron have been slower than their European counterparts to commit to climate-related goals that are as far reaching, analysts say, partly because they face less government and investor pressure (although the American financial community is increasingly vocal of late).

“We are seeing a much bigger differentiation in corporate strategy” separating American and European oil companies “than at any point in my career,” said Jason Gammel, a veteran oil analyst at Jefferies, an investment bank.

Companies like Shell and BP are trying to position themselves for an era when they will rely much less on extracting natural resources from the earth than on providing energy as a service tailored to the needs of customers — more akin to electric utilities than to oil drillers.

They hope to take advantage of the thousands of engineers on their payrolls to manage the construction of new types of energy plants; their vast networks of retail stations to provide services like charging electric vehicles; and their trading desks, which typically buy and hedge a wide variety of energy futures, to arrange low-carbon energy supplies for cities or large companies.

All of Europe’s large oil companies have now set targets to reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. Most have set a ”net zero” ambition by 2050, a goal also embraced by governments like the European Union and Britain.

The companies plan to get there by selling more and more renewable energy and, in some cases, by offsetting emissions with so-called nature-based solutions like planting forests to soak up carbon.

Electricity is the key to most of these strategies. Hydrogen, a clean-burning gas that can store energy and generate electric power for vehicles, also plays an increasingly large role.


Credit…Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

The coming changes are clearest at BP. Mr. Looney said this month that he planned to increase investment in low-emission businesses like renewable energy by tenfold in the next decade to $5 billion a year, while cutting back oil and gas production by 40 percent. By 2030, BP aims to generate renewable electricity comparable to a few dozen large offshore wind farms.

Mr. Looney, though, has said oil and gas production need to be retained to generate cash to finance the company’s future.

Environmentalists and analysts described Mr. Looney’s statement that BP’s oil and gas production would decline in the future as a breakthrough that would put pressure on other companies to follow.

BP’s move “clearly differentiates them from peers,” said Andrew Grant, an analyst at Carbon Tracker, a London nonprofit. He noted that most other oil companies had so far been unwilling to confront “the prospect of producing less fossil fuels.”

While there is skepticism in both the environmental and the investment communities about whether century-old companies like BP and Shell can learn new tricks, they do bring scale and know-how to the task.

“To make a switch from a global economy that depends on fossil fuels for 80 percent of its energy to something else is a very, very big job,” said Daniel Yergin, the energy historian who has a forthcoming book, “The New Map,” on the transition now occurring in energy. But he noted, “These companies are really good at big, complex engineering management that will be required for a transition of that scale.”

Financial analysts say the dreadnoughts are already changing course.

“They are doing it because management believes it is the right thing to do and also because shareholders are severely pressuring them,” said Michele Della Vigna, head of natural resources research at Goldman Sachs.

Already, he said, investments by the large oil companies in low-carbon energy have risen to as much as 15 percent of capital spending, on average, for 2020 and 2021 and around 50 percent if natural gas is included.

Oswald Clint, an analyst at Bernstein, forecast that the large oil companies would expand their renewable-energy businesses like wind, solar and hydrogen by around 25 percent or more each year over the next decade.

Shares in oil companies, once stock market stalwarts, have been marked down by investors in part because of the risk that climate change concerns will erode demand for their products. European electric companies are perceived as having done more than the oil industry to embrace the new energy era.

“It is very tricky for an investor to have confidence that they can pull this off,” Mr. Clint said, referring to the oil industry’s aspirations to change.

But, he said, he expects funds to flow back into oil stocks as the new businesses gather momentum.


Credit…Mary Turner/Reuters

At times, supplying electricity has been less profitable than drilling for oil and gas. Executives, though, figure that wind farms and solar parks are likely to produce more predictable revenue, partly because customers want to buy products labeled green.

Mr. Descalzi of Eni said converted refineries in Venice and Sicily that the company uses to make lower-carbon fuel from plant matter have produced better financial results in this difficult year than its traditional businesses.

Oil companies insist that they must continue with some oil and gas investments, not least because those earnings can finance future energy sources. “Not to make any mistake,” Patrick Pouyanné, chief executive of Total, said to analysts recently: Low-cost oil projects will be a part of the future.

During the pandemic, BP, Total and Shell have all scrutinized their portfolios, partly to determine if climate change pressures and lingering effects from the pandemic mean that petroleum reserves on their books — developed for perhaps billions of dollars, when oil was at the center of their business — might never be produced or earn less than previously expected. These exercises have led to tens of billions of dollars of write-offs for the second quarter, and there are likely to be more as companies recalibrate their plans.

“We haven’t seen the last of these,” said Luke Parker, vice president for corporate analysis at Wood Mackenzie, a market research firm. “There will be more to come as the realities of the energy transition bite.”

Posted on

Concrete, a Centuries-Old Material, Gets a New Recipe

On any given day, Central Concrete, in San Jose, Calif., does what concrete companies have been doing for centuries: combining sand, gravel, water and cement to create the slurry that is used in construction.

But Central — one of a handful of companies at the forefront of a movement to make a greener concrete — is increasingly experimenting with some decidedly new mixtures.

In one part of the plant, carbon dioxide from a chemical gas company is injected into the concrete, locking in that greenhouse gas and keeping it out of the atmosphere, where it would contribute to global warming. Elsewhere, engineers tinker with the recipe for concrete, trying out substitutes for some of the cement, which makes up about 15 percent of the mix and functions as the glue that holds it all together. Cement, however, is also responsible for most of concrete’s carbon emissions — emissions so high that some have abandoned concrete for alternative building materials like mass timber and bamboo.

Concrete, it turns out, has a serious pollution problem.

Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

The most widely used construction material on the planet, it has given us sculptural buildings, sturdy bridges and dams, parking garages and countless other structures that surround us. But concrete is also responsible for about 8 percent of global carbon emissions. If concrete were a country, it would rank third in emissions behind China and the United States.

In the United States alone, 370 million cubic yards of concrete was produced last year, with nearly 40 percent of it going into commercial real estate, according to the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, a trade group.

In recent decades, architects, developers and policymakers seeking to lower the carbon footprint of buildings have focused on reducing energy use by improving the efficiency of lighting, heating and other systems. To lower emissions even further, they are looking beyond such operational matters to the carbon emitted in the production and transportation of the materials that make up the structures, or so-called embodied carbon. All eyes are on concrete because buildings use so much of it, from foundations to the topmost floors.

“People are getting smarter about where global-warming impacts are coming from,” said Amanda Kaminsky, principal of Building Product Ecosystems, a consulting firm in New York. “Concrete is responsible for a disproportionate chunk.”


Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

Central, part of U.S. Concrete, a manufacturer based in Texas, is making progress tackling the problem: Low-emission concrete makes up 70 percent of the material the company produces annually, up from 20 percent in the early 2000s. The plant’s push to decarbonize “has really accelerated in the last three years,” said Herb Burton, vice president and general manager of U.S. Concrete’s west region.

Guiding Central’s effort is U.S. Concrete’s national research laboratory at the plant in San Jose. Headed by Alana Guzzetta, an engineer, the lab scrutinizes technology and products developed by other companies, deciding whether to put them to the test and, ultimately, incorporate them into its operations.

Fiddling with concrete’s recipe is not new, however. The Romans used a formula involving lime and volcanic rock. In the early 19th century, an English bricklayer invented Portland cement, still the most widely used type, whose production involves combining limestone and clay and heating it to blistering temperatures. Each construction project today has its own concrete mix, designed by structural engineers to take into account how and where it will be used.


Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

Before climate change became a pressing issue, concrete producers sought to reduce the amount of cement in their mixes for the simple reason that it tended to be expensive, in part because of the energy-intensive heating in producing it.

Decades ago, they began substituting some of the cement with cheaper fly ash, a byproduct of coal-burning plants, and slag, a byproduct of steel production. Using such materials had the added benefit of diverting them from landfills, and they were also found to improve concrete’s performance. Only in recent years has concrete with fly ash and slag been promoted as a greener product.

But now there’s a hitch: With coal plants being retired, fly ash is not as plentiful as it once was. The decline of steel production in some parts of the country has made slag scarcer. The shortages have set off price increases for these materials, adding to the urgency of experimentation with alternative concrete mixes.


The experimentation has also been driven by demand from architects and developers who want their buildings to be green, companies seeking to achieve ambitious carbon goals and governments instituting low-carbon policies. The movement is playing out on a variety of fronts.

Recycled post-consumer glass — which otherwise might be sent to landfills — is being crushed into a powder, known as ground-glass pozzolan, that can be used in place of some of the cement in concrete.

The cement industry is promoting Portland-limestone cement, which reduces carbon 10 percent, according to the Portland Cement Association, a trade group.

Several new ways to make concrete greener employ waste carbon dioxide.


Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

CarbonCure Technologies, a company based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, invented a process that involves shooting liquid carbon dioxide into concrete during mixing. Doing so not only keeps the greenhouse gas out of the air but also strengthens the concrete and reduces the amount of cement needed.

So far, CarbonCure concrete has a net carbon reduction of only 5 to 7 percent, but the technology has already been installed at 225 plants in the United States. Recently, Central used the CarbonCure technology for the concrete it supplied to LinkedIn for the 245,000-square-foot headquarters the networking company is building in Mountain View, Calif.


Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

Blue Planet, based in Los Gatos, Calif., uses carbon dioxide collected from the exhaust stack of a power plant to produce a synthetic limestone that functions as a substitute for the sand and gravel in concrete. Although Blue Planet is still piloting its technology, Central has already used its aggregate in concrete poured at San Francisco International Airport.

Other companies — including Solidia Technologies in Piscataway, N.J., and BioMason in Durham, N.C. — have developed processes that are being used for cast-concrete products like pavers and tiles.

Central is keeping tabs on all the action.

That is the right approach, said Jeremy Gregory, the executive director at the Concrete Sustainability Hub, an industry-funded group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I don’t see a single game-changer technology,” he added. “It’s going to be a combination of things.”

Green concrete can be more expensive, said Jay Moreau, chief executive of the U.S. aggregates and construction material division of LafargeHolcim, a Swiss company. Last month, LafargeHolcim made a concrete mix that lowers carbon 30 percent a standard part of its offerings. But as the company creates mixes that reduce carbon by 50 percent, the concrete could cost 5 percent more, Mr. Moreau said.

Central said it had kept the price of its low-emissions concrete on a par with conventional concrete, hoping to attract customers that want to reduce the carbon footprint of their buildings.

“We see it as a market differentiator and a way to win more projects,” Mr. Burton said.


Read More

Posted on

Oil and Gas Groups See ‘Some Common Ground’ in Biden Energy Plan

HOUSTON — Joseph R. Biden Jr. won over environmentalists and liberals when he announced a $2 trillion plan to promote electric vehicles, energy efficiency and other policies intended to address climate change.

But the plan released on July 14 has also earned a measure of support from an unexpected source: the oil and gas industry that is closely aligned with the Trump administration and is a big source of campaign contributions to the president.

That might seem odd considering that the plan aims for “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2050, in part by discouraging the use of fossil fuels. Mr. Biden also wants to spend more on mass transit, expand solar and wind farms and build thousands of electric vehicle charging stations.

Yet the industry was relieved by what the plan did not include, chiefly a ban on hydraulic fracturing, the approach that has turbocharged domestic production of oil and gas over the past dozen years.

“There is a lot of room in there for oil and gas,” said Matt Gallagher, president of Parsley Energy, a West Texas oil producer, about the Biden plan.

Some executives were particularly enthusiastic that Mr. Biden wanted the federal government to invest in carbon capture and sequestration, which entails preventing emissions of greenhouse gases from reaching the atmosphere and thus allowing industry to continue burning fossil fuels for decades. In a sign of his all-inclusive, eclectic approach to energy, Mr. Biden is also proposing to use advanced nuclear reactors to produce electricity.

“There is some common ground,” said Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the industry in Washington and is close to the Trump administration. “We appreciate the fact that they recognize that there is going to be a role for natural gas and oil in our future. We share the broad goal of reducing emissions and addressing climate change.”

Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Oil and gas executives noted that they had worked productively with Democratic administrations. During the Obama administration, oil companies enjoyed handsome profits even as federal regulators put in effect tougher environmental regulations.

Charif Souki, a Houston entrepreneur who pioneered the liquefied natural gas export industry, expressed enthusiasm about the Biden plan.

“At first blush, the plan is a masterpiece because he gives something to everybody,” said Mr. Souki, executive chairman of Tellurian, a gas producer that is planning a major export terminal in Louisiana. “Investment in infrastructure is great, $400 billion for research and development is phenomenal and way overdue.”

Like almost all the fossil fuel executives, however, Mr. Souki had some reservations. He described Mr. Biden’s goal of eliminating carbon emissions from the electricity sector by 2035 as “unrealistic and unachievable.” He said Mr. Biden ought to strive for “carbon neutrality,” in which emissions from power plants would be offset by planting trees and using new technologies to suck carbon out of the air.

Of course, most oil and gas executives would prefer President Trump be re-elected because he has spent the past three and a half years rolling back regulations.

Fossil fuel interests have donated seven times more to the Trump campaign than the Biden campaign through June, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group. Those numbers are skewed in part because Mr. Trump has been raising money since he took office in 2017.

The president’s most ardent supporters in the energy industry said Mr. Biden’s plan was craftily intended to appear moderate so he could compete with Mr. Trump in states that produce oil and gas.

“He wants to win Pennsylvania, so he toned down that rhetoric for obvious reasons,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance in Denver.

Coal executives are downright hostile toward Mr. Biden. “Their overall motive is to do away with coal miners and coal use in this country,” said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.


Credit…Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

Yet energy executives have complaints with the Trump administration, too. Some natural gas executives privately grouse that the president’s trade war has cost them dearly because China, the world’s biggest gas importer, has bought only three cargoes of liquefied natural gas from the United States over the past 22 months.

Other executives say Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord needlessly hurt the country’s image abroad. And some think that the administration’s botched handling of the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a big blow to the economy and demand for energy.

“Masks are good for the economy,” Mr. Gallagher of Parsley Energy said. “Masks need to be an economic thing, not a political thing.”

To shore up his base in oil country, Mr. Trump plans to attend a fund-raising lunch in Odessa, Texas, on Wednesday and tour an oil rig.

Stef Feldman, the Biden campaign’s policy director, said it was not surprising that some oil and gas executives were open to some of Mr. Biden’s ideas. “More and more energy companies are realizing the reality of climate change, the direction consumers are headed, the direction other businesses are headed and they are making changes as a result,” she said.

When asked about fracking, Ms. Feldman said Mr. Biden would end new leases for fracking on federal lands but that “he does not support a complete ban on fracking.”

Some executives said they were comfortable with Mr. Biden in part because the Obama administration did not block fracking and even approved drilling in Arctic waters in Alaska. They say Mr. Biden understands the importance of limiting reliance on foreign oil, and using energy exports to help allies like Japan and undercut rivals like Russia.

“The policy of a Biden administration or a Trump administration might not be so different in the sense of leveraging exports of gas and oil as a foreign policy tool,” said Charlie Riedl, executive director of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, an industry group.

There is also growing recognition among some in the oil and gas business that climate change is a problem that the industry has to help address.

“Everyone I know knows we have more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than we used to and it’s common sense that it’s probably not a good thing and we have to do something about it,” said Lawrence B. Dale, chairman of Dale Operating Company, a Dallas-based company that has investments in 5,000 oil and gas wells.

Mr. Dale said he was pleased that Mr. Biden had put forward an energy plan that did not endorse the Green New Deal, a climate proposal embraced by many progressive lawmakers.

Support for Mr. Biden’s plan is clearly stronger among other parts of the energy industry, including electric utilities and renewable energy companies.


Credit…Zack Wittman for The New York Times

The Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, said its members were generally aligned with Mr. Biden’s plan for a clean electricity grid.

Pedro J. Pizarro, president and chief executive officer of Edison International, the parent company of Southern California Edison, said the Biden plan’s emphasis on clean energy jobs, energy efficiency and transportation was smart. If anything, he said, the proposals for more electric vehicle chargers would most likely need to be increased, as emissions from cars and trucks remain a major contributor to climate change.

“While the devil is in the details, we think the plan mostly gets it right,” Mr. Pizarro said.

The Biden plan would renew the federal government’s efforts to improve energy efficiency that the Trump administration has whittled away. The proposal also calls for extending tax credits for solar and wind power, which have become increasingly competitive against natural gas. Wind and solar groups also endorse Mr. Biden’s proposals to strengthen the electricity transmission network to help their technologies.

At least some in the renewable energy business accept that the Biden plan will keep fossil fuels in the energy mix.

“I don’t want to minimize in the near term that natural gas is an important partner,” said Tom Kiernan, chief executive of the American Wind Energy Association. “What we’re seeing is all kinds of combinations.”

That oil and gas interests are OK with a potential Biden presidency might scare some liberals, said Robert Shrum, the director of the University of Southern California’s Center for the Political Future who has advised Al Gore, John Kerry and other Democrats. “There would be some people in the Democratic Party who would get upset that there are oil people who are supporting Biden, but they ought to back off,” Mr. Shrum said. “Don’t we want to win Texas?”

Clifford Krauss reported from Houston, and Ivan Penn from Los Angeles.

Posted on

The Not Company, a maker of plant-based meat and dairy substitutes in Chile, will soon be worth $250M

The Not Company, Latin America’s leading contender in the plant-based meat and dairy substitute market, is about to close on an $85 million round of funding that would value it at $250 million, according to sources familiar with the company’s plans.

The latest round of funding comes on the heels of a series of successes for the Santiago-based business. In the two years since NotCo launched on the global stage, the company has expanded beyond its mayonnaise product into milk, ice cream and hamburgers. Other products, including a chicken meat substitute, are also on the product roadmap, according to people familiar with the company.

NotCo is already selling several products in Chile, Argentina and Latin America’s largest market — Brazil — and has signed a blockbuster deal with Burger King to be the chain’s supplier of plant-based burgers. It’s in this Burger King deal that NotCo’s approach to protein formulation is paying dividends, sources said. The company is responsible for selling 48 sandwiches per store per day in the locations where it’s supplying its products, according to one person familiar with the data. That figure outperforms Impossible Foods per-store sales, the person said.

NotCo is also now selling its burgers in grocery stores in Argentina and Chile. And while the company is not break-even yet, sources said that by December 2021 it could be — or potentially even cash flow positive.

NotCo co-founders Karim Pichara, Matias Muchnick and Pablo Zamora. Image Credit: The Not Company

With the growth both in sales and its diversification into new products, it’s little wonder that investors have taken note.

Sources said that the consumer brand-focused private equity firm L Catterton Partners and the Biz Stone-backed Future Positive were likely investors in the new financing round for the company. Previous investors in NotCo include Bezos Expeditions, the personal investment firm of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos; the London-based CPG investment firm, The Craftory; IndieBio; and SOS Ventures.

Alternatives to animal products are a huge (and still growing) category for venture investors. Earlier this month Perfect Day closed on a second tranche of $160 million for that company’s latest round of financing, bringing that company’s total capital raised to $361.5 million, according to Crunchbase. Perfect Day then turned around and launched a consumer food business called the Urgent Company.

These recent rounds confirm our reporting in Extra Crunch about where investors are focusing their time as they try to create a more sustainable future for the food industry. Read more about the path they’re charting.

Meanwhile, large food chains continue to experiment with plant-based menu items and push even further afield into cell-based meat using cultures from animals. KFC recently announced that it would be expanding its experiment with Beyond Meat’s chicken substitute in the U.S. — and would also be experimenting with cultured meat in Moscow.

Behind all of this activity is an acknowledgement that consumer tastes are changing, interest in plant-based diets are growing, and animal agriculture is having profound effects on the world’s climate.

As the website ClimateNexus notes, animal agriculture is the second-largest contributor to human-made greenhouse gas emissions after fossil fuels. It’s also a leading cause of deforestation, water and air pollution and biodiversity loss.

There are 70 billion animals raised annually for human consumption, which occupy one-third of the planet’s arable and habitable land surface, and consume 16% of the world’s freshwater supply. Reducing meat consumption in the world’s diet could have huge implications for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If Americans were to replace beef with plant-based substitutes, some studies suggest it would reduce emissions by 1,911 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Read More

Posted on

From bioprinting lab-grown meat in Russia to Beyond Meat in the US, KFC is embracing the future of food

From a partnership with the Russian company 3D Bioprinting Solutions to make chicken meat replacement using plant material and lab-cultured chicken cells to an expansion of its Beyond Fried Chicken pilots to Southern California, KFC is aggressively pushing forward with its experiments around the future of food.

In Russia, that means providing 3D Bioprinting with breading and spices to see if the company’s chicken replacement can match the KFC taste, according to a statement from the company. As the company said, there are no other methods available on the market that can allow for the creation of complex products from animal cells.

“3D bioprinting technologies, initially widely recognized in medicine, are nowadays gaining popularity in producing foods such as meat,” said Yusef Khesuani, co-founder and managing partner of 3D Bioprinting Solutions, in a statement. “In the future, the rapid development of such technologies will allow us to make 3D-printed meat products more accessible and we are hoping that the technology created as a result of our cooperation with KFC will help accelerate the launch of cell-based meat products on the market.”

Image: Beyond Meat

Closer to its home base in the U.S., KFC is working with the publicly traded plant-based meat substitute developer Beyond Meat on an expansion of their recent trials for KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken.

Continuing its wildly successful limited trials in Atlanta, Nashville and Charlotte, KFC is now setting its sights on the bigger markets in Southern California, near Beyond Meat’s headquarters in Los Angeles.

Beginning on July 20, KFC will be selling Beyond Fried Chicken at 50 stores in the Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego areas, while supplies last, the company said.

Unlike the 3D bioprinting process used by its Russian partner, Beyond Meat uses plant-based products exclusively to make its faux chicken meat.

Beyond Fried Chicken first appeared on the market last year in Atlanta and was made available in additional markets in the South earlier this year. The menu item — first available in a one-day consumer test in Atlanta — sold out in less than five hours, the company said.

“I’ve said it before: despite many imitations, the flavor of Kentucky Fried Chicken is one that has never been replicated, until Beyond Fried Chicken,” said Andrea Zahumensky, chief marketing officer, KFC U.S. “We know the east coast loved it, so we thought we’d give those on the west coast a chance to tell us what they think in an exclusive sneak peek.

Beyond Fried Chicken nuggets will be available as a six or 12-piece à la carte or as part of a combo, complete with a side and medium drink starting at $6.99, plus tax.

Meanwhile, KFC’s Russian project aims to create the world’s first lab-made chicken nuggets, and plans to release them this fall in Moscow.

Popularizing lab-grown meat could have a significant impact on climate change according to reports. The company cited statistics indicating that growing meat from cells could cut in half the energy consumption involved in meat production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while dramatically cutting land use.

“Crafted meat products are the next step in the development of our ‘restaurant of the future’ concept,” said Raisa Polyakova, general manager of KFC Russia & CIS, in a statement. “Our experiment in testing 3D bioprinting technology to create chicken products can also help address several looming global problems. We are glad to contribute to its development and are working to make it available to thousands of people in Russia and, if possible, around the world.”

Read More