Cal on December 4th, 2016


Cal on December 3rd, 2016

Scientists from the UK’s University of Bristol have developed a lab-made nuclear diamond that can generate electricity and is made from radioactive waste. The diamond battery has an incredible lifetime, and will only be half used up by the year 7746.  As most people know, a severe downside of the nuclear fission process is the creation of dangerous radioactive waste, which ultimately deposits in the graphite core that it is housed in. Today, this nuclear contamination is safely stored away until it stops being radioactive, and with a half-life of 5,730 years, that takes quite a while. The scientists found a way to heat the radioactive graphite to release most of the radioactivity in a gaseous form. The gas is subjected to high temperature and low pressures that turn it into a man-made diamond. When these diamonds are placed near a radioactive field, they generate a small electrical current. The developers enclosed the diamond battery in another non-radioactive diamond to absorb the harmful emissions, which in turn allowed for the generation of even more electricity, making the battery nearly 100% efficient. The development also presents an efficient way to treat radioactive waste. Within the past 40 years, for example, the US has amassed 76,430 metric tons (84,250 tons) of this waste. Tom Scott, Professor of Materials at Bristol said:

“We envision these batteries to be used in situations where it is not feasible to charge or replace conventional batteries. Obvious applications would be in low-power electrical devices where long life of the energy source is needed, such as pacemakers, satellites, high-altitude drones or even spacecraft.”


Here is the outcome of the OPEC agreement earlier this week.

Saudi Arabia must reduce its output by 486,000 barrels per day (bpd), to 10.05 bpd. The Saudis will continue to produce nearly one-third of total OPEC crude oil output.

OPEC agreed to use Iran’s production of 3.97 million bpd in the final quarter of 2015 — that country’s highest level in 16 years — as the base for calculating any cuts. Iran can increase current production by 90,000 bpd and still comply with the OPEC accord.

Despite general statements about cutting production, Russia has not provided any concrete details of what actions it might take in support of OPEC. As a result, we will not know what the country will do until we hear the results of the December 10th meeting in Vienna between OPEC and non-OPEC members.

Even if the agreement is successful in moving world crude oil prices towards $60 a barrel, it will be of little help to Angola, Nigeria and Venezuela. Their government revenues are in desperate shape since world prices collapsed from $100 two years ago and they don’t have the deep pockets to help temper their ongoing social and economic turbulence and their growing piles of international debt.

Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, BMW, Daimler and Ford have agreed to jointly invest in thousands of ultra-fast electric car charging sites across Europe to boost acceptance of EVs. The automakers are planning a joint venture to fund the creation of new charging sites starting next year. By 2020 they expect their customers to have access to thousands of new charging points. The network will have ultra-fast power levels of up to 350 kilowatt-hours. The six companies have asked other competitors to participate in the project, adding the joint venture will cooperate with regional partners.

German automaker Daimler announced plans to invest up to 10 billion euros ($11 billion) in developing electric vehicles. By 2025 the company wants to have 10 electric cars based on the same architecture. Three of the models will be Smart cars with cruising ranges up to 700 kilometers (434 miles.)  In addition it will add at least six electric car models to compete with Tesla and Volkswagen’s Audi.

OP Financial Group, one of the largest financial companies in Finland, is starting an electric car leasing service. Private individuals and small firms in Helsinki can rent an EV for a monthly fee. The cheapest full electric Renault model can be leased for just under 500 euros a month, while a top-of-the-range Tesla comes at more than 1,000 euros monthly. Customers must agree to a minimum two-year leasing agreement.

Currently, the countries leading the adoption of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are South Korea and Japan, with the United States, China, and Germany following closely behind. The South Korean government recently announced plans to bring some 10,000 fuel cell vehicles to the country and build more than 100 hydrogen refilling stations by 2020. Japan has similar plans.

Solaris Bus & Coach has entered into a long-term agreement with Ballard Power Systems for the sale and supply of fuel cell modules to support the sale of Solaris fuel cell buses in Europe. An initial order has been placed for 10 FCveloCity®-HD fuel cell modules, with deliveries planned to start in 2017. These modules will be powering Solaris Trollino articulated trolley buses in the Latvian city of Riga.

Russia will have its first offshore wind park to be located off the coast of Karelia in northeastern Russia. The White Sea park will have a capacity of 60 megawatt-hours and is planned to be built in the period 2017-2020. Currently the Republic of Karelia is dependent of its hydro power generation and energy imports from the neighboring regions of Murmansk and Leningrad Oblast. Russia has only a handful of wind power projects and none offshore.

India has opened the world’s largest solar plant. The 648 megawatt project in Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu is largely self-maintaining, with a host of solar-powered robots that clean the solar panels, keeping efficiency rates high and human effort to a minimum. Once the plant is fully operational, it is expected to generate enough electricity to power 150,000 households. The facility contains 2.5 million individual solar cells and spans across 1,270 acres in southern India.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cal on December 2nd, 2016


Cal on December 1st, 2016


Cal on November 30th, 2016


Cal on November 30th, 2016

OPEC members agreed today to cut back on their crude oil production.  This is the cartel’s first cuts in eight years. OPEC accounts for a third of global crude oil production.

OPEC will reduce production by 4.5% or by 1.2 million barrels a day (b/d) to 32.5 million b/d. However, Iran will be allowed to increase production. The move is expected to help the struggling finances of oil-producing countries while boosting other markets around the world, from the value of the Canadian dollar and Nigerian bonds to US shale equities.

Implementation of the agreement will start in January and last for 6 months.

It appears Saudi Arabia accepted that Iran can raise output to about 3.9 b/d. Iran has long fought for special treatment as it recovers from years of nuclear sanctions. One source said Saudi Arabia will cut its production by 1/2 million barrels per day to 10.06 million b/d.

The agreement is also likely to call for a reduction of about 600,000 barrels a day by non-OPEC countries, such as Russia. OPEC is likely to hold talks with non-OPEC producers on December 9th.

Investment banker Morgan Stanley said Monday that an OPEC agreement could boost crude prices by $5 a barrel or more.

However, there are skeptics who wonder if the “deal” will hold.  Carsten Fritsch, an analyst at Commerzbank AG said:  “The devil is in the details. We will have to wait for a country by country breakdown and determine whether it’s reliable or not.”

Many important questions remain, including how countries will be held accountable for these cuts, whether countries will self-report production numbers or “secondary sources” (outside organizations) accounting will be used.

Some expect that once crude oil hits $60 a barrel, it becomes more profitable for US shale oil companies to start resuming production from their large fields in the states of North Dakota, Texas and Pennsylvania. OPEC had lowered prices in an attempt to shut down the US shale oil industry.

As of this writing both US West Texas crude and Brent crude were hovering around $50 a barrel.


Note: all prices are in US dollars.


UPDATE:  Sources say that OPEC will be meeting with the Non-OPEC members in Vienna on December 10th to discuss other countries also cutting their production to assist in boosting world oil prices. OPEC is hoping non-OPEC countries will contribute another 600,000 barrels per day to the cut. Russia has said it will reduce output by around 300,000 bpd.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cal on November 30th, 2016

Today’s critical meeting of OPEC members is being touted as the “Most Important OPEC Meeting Ever” as many are saying that the crude oil cartel’s role in controlling oil prices will be lost if there is no agreement to cut production and dramatically increase the world price of oil. And any meaningful agreement would have to involve “real” production cuts not only among the OPEC members themselves, but also non-OPEC members such as Russia.

The International Energy Agency says that higher crude oil prices will only bring more US shale oil back into production offsetting the effectiveness of any OPEC cut. In effect, the IEA is saying that OPEC has already lost its cartel pricing power.

India is now the world’s fastest growing consumer of crude oil whose demand for fossil fuels is forecast to surge in the next two decades.

Russia is rapidly assuming the role of leading crude oil supplier to China, taking over the lead in the first ten months of this year. Imports from Russia in October were 1.1 million barrels per day (b/d), 39% higher than a year earlier. During October, imports from Iran were 773,000 b/d; from Iran 875,000 b/d, and from Saudi Arabia, 935,000 b/d.

Argentina is beginning to open up access to the Vaca Muerta shale area. The country is investing $1.2 billion in railways, roads and highways to connect to the area. The US Energy Information Administration estimates total recoverable hydrocarbons from this area to be 16.2 billion barrels of oil and 308 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

For the first time in decades, the economic situation in the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not good. Efforts to diversify the economy away from oil and make major spending cuts in the midst of the low-oil-price crisis is taking the country into the first non-oil recession in 30 years. Government bills are not being paid, the benefits of public sector workers, which comprise a large portion of the working Saudi citizens, are being cut, and the air war in Yemen is becoming expensive and leading to widespread disapproval of Saudi policies.  If oil prices remain low, the royal family will no longer be able to buy acquiescence in its rule. Ten years from now we could easily see a different Saudi Arabia.

Venezuela’s currency lost over 45% of its value this month, the largest monthly decline ever. At this rate hyperinflation could easily destroy the economy. Hungry Venezuelans are fleeing the country by every means possible. China says it plans to invest $2.2 billion in Venezuela in return for an increased share of the country’s crude oil production. Venezuela is already sending some 550,000 barrels per day to China in lieu of loans the South American country received in the last ten years. The new deal would increase China’s daily imports from Venezuela to 800,000 b/d. In the short-term loans from China may help Venezuela’s economy, but in the long run sending 800,000 b/d of its oil production to China in return for nothing does the economy little good. Either the financial system will break down completely, the popular demonstrations will become too large for the security forces to contain, or there will be a military coup and civil war and another refugee problem. How the country’s crude oil production will fare in the event of a societal collapse remains to be seen.

The population of Nigeria in West Africa is now up to 188 million and many in the northern regions are facing starvation. The UN forecasts that Nigeria will grow to 400 million by the end of this century. While the situation is not as bad as in Venezuela, the social decay that is talking place in the country on many fronts suggests that crude oil production will decline over the next decade.  Government revenue has plunged, foreign currency is scarce, and the state is falling behind on payments owed to the international oil companies.

In light of low world crude oil prices and plummeting energy company values, private equity funds are raising record amounts of capital for energy investments. Most of that money is earmarked for US shale assets but some is now extending to cheap global oil and natural gas assets in Asia.

Ten of the world’s top 25 crude oil producing countries that are experiencing declining reserves-to-production ratios will face serious problems down the road unless new reserves are found and exploited. The list, in increasing order of problems: Brazil, China, Malaysia, Angola, Indonesia, Mexico, the US , Norway, the UK, and Colombia.

Demand for electric battery metals are expected to soar over the next decade, according to industry experts. This includes lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, silicon, and graphite. The drivers of this demand are batteries for electric cars as well as storage batteries for producers of renewable electricity.  Lithium demand already significantly outpaces supply. Spot prices in China have reached $25,000 per metric ton this year, compared with long-term contract prices of $4,000-$7,000/mt, reflecting its scarcity.

Japanese electronics manufacturer Panasonic is abandoning plasma display panels and other consumer lines to invest in a new project: becoming an automobile parts supplier. The company is spending up to $1.6 billion and providing 200 of its employees to help Tesla build its $5 billion battery gigafactory in the US — in return for which it becomes the exclusive supplier of batteries for Tesla’s mass-market Model 3 electric car. It expects these investments to pay off within two years as tougher auto emissions regulations boost demand for EVs. In addition to Tesla, Panasonic has other investments in the new electric, self-driving auto future. It supplies Toyota and Volkswagen with electric vehicle batteries and makes infotainment systems, advanced cameras and sensors for all automobiles. The company is also considering a bid for parts of Nissan’s car battery manufacturing venture with NEC, in order to expand its battery technology and manufacturing capability to meet future EV demand.

The UK announced it is pledging £390 million ($485 million) investment in future transport technology, including electric and driverless cars, renewable fuels, and energy efficient transport. £80 million ($99 million) will be invested towards installing charging points for ultra-low emission vehicles; £150 million ($186 million) hopes to provide at least 550 new electric and hydrogen buses, and another £100 million ($124 million) will be spent towards testing infrastructure for driverless cars.



with h/t Tom Whipple


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cal on November 29th, 2016

It seems everywhere auto manufacturers and Internet firms and electronics manufacturers are engaged in a fierce race to develop the first driverless or autonomous car, which experts say should hit the road by 2020. Indeed one source thinks there will be 22 million of these vehicles on the world’s roads by 2025 while another sees this figure at 71 million by 2030.  In other words, the digital revolution is about to enter the driver’s seat of your vehicle.

Currently several auto manufacturers are pushing ahead with driverless car plans including Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, Tata, Mercedes, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Renault, Tesla and Toyota. Most expect their cars to be on the road within 4 years. cbinsights has a list of 33 organizations that are working on driverless car technology including high tech firms like Google, Apple, Intel, and Microsoft. To that list we can add Panasonic which has invested heavily in Tesla’s battery gigafactory in the US.

Governments are also getting involved by creating new regulations for driverless vehicles as well as funding testing infrastructure to study how they work under real life situations. For example, last week the UK government announced it was making available £100 million for infrastructure.

Apart from the legal and regulatory obstacles facing the auto and insurance industries as the technology evolves — such as who will be responsible in the event of an accident — a digital battle is being waged over the vast amounts of technical data that will be stored in such vehicles. As Intel Chief Executive Brian Krzanich said recently:

“Data is the new oil. If you have rich data, your car will be able to deal with complex route situations. If not, the car will stop.”

We are being told sensors, radars and cameras on autonomous vehicles will be able to exchange this data with other cars as well as with “intelligent” roadways that can help set speed limits depending on weather and traffic conditions. The passenger behind the wheel (or maybe sitting in the back seat) will be sending e-mails and text messages, listening to music, streaming movies, holding a conference call, making a restaurant reservation, or making on-line purchases. Even our homes will be connected to our vehicles.

According to research author Gareth Owen:

“The introduction of driverless cars will result in fundamental changes to the automotive world and society in general; and it is clear that the boundaries between private vehicle ownership, car sharing and rental fleets will increasingly become blurred.”

The experts seem to have no doubt that driverless vehicles will have a disruptive impact on transportation around the world and will ultimately lead to millions of professional drivers being made redundant. City taxi drivers and long haul truck drivers will be among the first groups to be affected.  Economists say in the US automated vehicles pose a threat to 2.9 million truckers and delivery drivers, 674,000 bus drivers, and 181,000 cab drivers and chauffeurs. Across China, 16 million drivers are responsible for intercity transportation of goods. These drivers account for around 40% of the costs incurred by trucking companies.

Here are some recent developments in the driverless car world to illustrate how close the future really is.

There were several reports this week on how driverless cars might affect the car insurance industry. Autonomous cars will impact everything from who pays for the cost of a crash to how many people are employed by the insurance companies. The changes raise issues around who will be liable for a crash. What happens if a car is in a crash while it is in autonomous mode and it turns out that the latest software update had not been installed? What if the car’s owner had opted to delay the latest software install, the way you can delay a computer software update? Does this mean the driver has voided the insurance policy and is liable for the cost of the crash?

Consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimates that by the middle of this century autonomous vehicles could reduce road deaths in the United States by 90%. This should lead to a sharp decrease in insurance premiums.

Business consultants KPMG predict that by 2040 the US automobile insurance industry could shrink in size by 60%.

The British insurance industry is leading calls for legislation that would require automobile manufacturers to provide a standard set of data from crashed autonomous cars. This would help the insurance companies to work out who is liable for any accident. The data would include information that would help determine whether the vehicle was operating autonomously or not, and what technology was in use. The information would not measure driver performance.

In the US state of Michigan work has begun on the American Center for Mobility, a new technologically advanced testbed for autonomous and connected vehicles. The 335-acre site will enable global automotive manufacturers, suppliers, and high-tech firms to test their cars, connected infrastructure technology, and vehicle communication systems.  All the parties involved will be able to interact with one another and conduct research in tandem. The new facility is designed for research, product development, and education.  The site will mimic cities and highways with off ramps, rail crossings, cyclists and pedestrians so as to offer a microcosm of most scenarios a car can expect to encounter in the real world.  In addition it will take advantage of testing in Michigan’s four seasons of weather including rain, ice and snow. The Center is jointly owned by Toyota, General Motors, Ford, Nissan, and Honda.

Concurrent with the work being done on the American Center for Mobility, the state of Michigan made it legal for fully autonomous cars to drive without a driver inside and opened up 122 miles of public road for testing. Someone must monitor the autonomous car, but they don’t have to be inside. This provides an opportunity for Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing apps to explore their driverless business plans.

The Canadian province of Ontario became the first region in the country to approve the testing of driverless cars. Testing is allowed on any road in the province and under 4 season weather conditions. While the vehicles are being tested, Ontario will require that someone sit in the driver’s seat and be ready to take control immediately if necessary.

Ford announced it will make its first fully autonomous car by 2021. However, Ford believes it will take another decade before we see autonomous cars that require no driver input. Between now and then Ford will be gradually adding technology to make their cars more autonomous such as braking and evasive steering.

Chinese automaker Baidu expects to have a small number of functional driverless cars on the roads by 2018. Mass production could begin as soon as 2021 and the majority of its cars produced in 2026 could be autonomous.

Ford Motor Co., Google, Volvo, Uber and Lyft have banded together to form The Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets and are calling on the US government to change federal auto safety standards that prohibit the operation of driverless cars. The coalition also wants new legislation to aid self-driving car deployment. This is the first time that companies developing self-driving car technologies have explicitly called on regulators to issue new rules or amend current ones. In particular the group wants one national standard for driverless vehicles rather than having to face many different state and local government standards.

Swedish research firm Berg Insight put out a research paper on the The Future of Autonomous Cars. The study predicts there will be 71 million self-driving cars on the world’s roads by 2030. However, true driverless cars (ie. no human driver) are not expected to be widely available until after 2030.

US Investment banker Morgan Stanley has its own views about the our driving future here. “A future of shared, fully electric, driverless cars on demand is closer to reality than it might appear.” Car ownership will become a thing of the past. Fully electric, autonomous, shared vehicles will eventually be cheaper per mile than automotive ownership.  Fewer cars will be owned, meaning that fewer cars will be sold and fewer vehicles insured, especially in urban areas. No longer will we be talking about how many vehicles companies sell. Instead, we will analyze how many miles are driven. And, when we say “driven”, we do not mean by people. By 2030 26% of all car rides will be in a shared vehicle.  That compares with the 4% today in taxis and Uber and car sharing services.

To sum up our future shared, autonomous vehicle experience we defer to Jeffrey Sobel at Foley & Lardner LLP:

What does this mean for airlines? For public transportation? Why take the train or bus when I can hop in a shared, autonomous vehicle and go to work? Especially for shorter haul flights, why fly given the headaches and delays instead of ride (no one will be driving). Already, many people consider driving for trips 3-5 hours (or more). Imagine if that same trip can be done in an autonomous vehicle and spent working, or reading, or watching a movie.


UPDATE: I note that Collision Repair has a weekly update of events in the driveless world.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,