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Technology

Why Researchers Are Excited About Perovskite Solar Cells

On the future of solar, a meaty lawsuit, and microplastics

Why Researchers Are Excited About Perovskite Solar Cells
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Massive wildfires are still burning in the Texas Panhandle • Thailand’s “Royal Rainmaking” program starts today, in which planes seed clouds to induce artificial rain • It will be cold but sunny in Washington, DC, where a special hearing on the rights of people displaced by climate change is taking place.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Sierra Nevada braces for huge blizzard

A massive blizzard could dump up to 12 feet of snow on parts of the Sierra Nevada over the next few days. “Storm total snowfall from Thursday into early Sunday is currently projected at 5 to 10+ feet for elevations above 5,000 feet, locally higher amounts of 12+ feet are possible at peaks, with significant disruptions to daily life likely,” the National Weather Service said.

NOAA/NWS Sacramento

The storm threatens to close Donner Pass, the region’s main thruway, which usually sees 30,000 cars and 6,000 semi-trucks each day. Northern California, Oregon, and Washington state are all under winter storm warnings and wind advisories, with gusts over 55 mph expected.

2. Researchers see breakthrough progress on new kind of solar cell

Researchers out of MIT have published a “guidebook” for controlling and engineering perovskite solar cells. These cells could “redefine the solar energy landscape,” wrote Michelle Lewis at Electrek, “offering a tantalizing combination of high efficiency, low manufacturing costs, and the unique ability to be applied to a variety of substrates, from rigid glass to flexible materials.” But they degrade far too quickly, and struggle to maintain their efficiency in large modules, and these technical challenges have so far hampered their potential for commercial viability. In a new paper published in the journal Nature Energy, MIT researchers outline how to change the properties of the perovskite’s surface so that it maintains efficiency and lasts longer. “I think we are on the doorstep of the first practical demonstrations of perovskites in the commercial applications,” professor Vladimir Bulovic toldMIT News. “And those first applications will be a far cry from what we’ll be able to do a few years from now.”

3. Apple workers reportedly nicknamed doomed EV ‘the Titanic disaster’

More details are emerging about Apple’s ill-fated self-driving electric vehicle, which was reportedly scrapped this week. The secret car – codenamed “Project Titan” – had been in the works since 2014, and was the company’s attempt to protect itself from an anticipated slow-down in iPhone sales. Entering the car market seemed an obvious next step for the company. “Apple would do to cars what it did to phones,” said Tim Higgins at The Wall Street Journal.

But after several starts and stops and at least four project leaders, most employees knew it was going to fail. They even nicknamed it “the Titanic disaster,” according toThe New York Times. The project lacked clarity and identity. Was it a Tesla rival? A self-driving car? All of the above? “Project Titan’s ambitions became diminished, less compelling — from an electric, robot car, then just about perfecting autonomy, then just about an EV,” Higgins said.

One thing’s for sure, Project Titan was expensive, costing the company $10 billion in the end. “Developing the software and algorithms for a car with autonomous driving features proved too difficult,” the Times reported. With that car crash in its rear-view mirror, Apple plans to accelerate its work on generative AI.

4. New York sues world’s top meatpacker over net zero claims

New York state has filed a lawsuit against the world’s biggest meat producer, JBS USA, alleging the Brazil-based company has misled the public about its environmental impact, according toBloomberg. JBS has promised to be net zero by 2040, but the filing claims the company cannot possibly reach this goal and has no plan to do so. Food production accounts for one third of global greenhouse gases, and livestock alone produces nearly 15% of all emissions. JBS has annual revenues of more than $50 billion and its supply chain relies on thousands of farms in the Amazon, many of which overlap on Indigenous land and conservation areas, reportedThe New York Times. Last year JBS was found to have one of the lowest integrity scores among major companies that have made climate pledges. It is currently trying to get its shares listed on the New York Stock Exchange, but has faced fierce opposition from environmentalists, U.S.-based beef producers, and both Democrats and Republicans.

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  • 5. Oil and gas giants eye geothermal projects

    Major fossil fuel companies are investing big money in geothermal energy startups and projects, The Wall Street Journal reported. “Many of these companies are using the same technology employed by frackers, but instead of searching for oil and gas, they are looking for underground heat,” the Journal adds. That heat can be harnessed to provide constant carbon-free electricity, and startups like Fervo Energy are finding new ways to make drilling for geothermal energy much cheaper, as Heatmap’s Matthew Zeitlin recently reported. Fervo is raising $244 million in new funding, including $100 million from fossil fuel company Devon Energy. “Once the industry is proven, I would not be surprised for today’s oil-and-gas industry to either buy or build their way to be significant players in advanced geothermal,” said billionaire former Enron trader John Arnold.

    THE KICKER

    A new study suggests up to 90% of microplastics can be removed from drinking water if the water is boiled and then filtered.

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    Jessica  Hullinger profile image

    Jessica Hullinger

    Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.

    Technology

    Is Sodium-Ion the Next Big Battery?

    U.S. manufacturers are racing to get into the game while they still can.

    Sodium-ion batteries.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images, Peak Energy, Natron Energy

    In the weird, wide world of energy storage, lithium-ion batteries may appear to be an unshakeably dominant technology. Costs have declined about 97% over the past three decades, grid-scale battery storage is forecast to grow faster than wind or solar in the U.S. in the coming decade, and the global lithium-ion supply chain is far outpacing demand, according to BloombergNEF.

    That supply chain, however, is dominated by Chinese manufacturing. According to the International Energy Agency, China controls well over half the world’s lithium processing, nearly 85% of global battery cell production capacity, and the lion’s share of actual lithium-ion battery production. Any country creating products using lithium-ion batteries, including the U.S., is at this point dependent on Chinese imports.

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    AM Briefing: Tesla’s Delay

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    Current conditions: Heavy rains triggered a deadly landslide in Nepal that swept away 60 people • More than a million residents are still without power in and around Houston • It will be about 80 degrees Fahrenheit in Berlin on Sunday for the Euro 2024 final, where England will take on Spain.

    THE TOP FIVE

    1. Biden administration announces $1.7 billion to convert auto plants into EV factories

    The Biden administration announced yesterday that the Energy Department will pour $1.7 billion into helping U.S. automakers convert shuttered or struggling manufacturing facilities into EV factories. The money will go to factories in eight states (including swing states Michigan and Pennsylvania) and recipients include Stellantis, Volvo, GM, and Harley-Davidson. Most of the funding comes from the Inflation Reduction Act and it could create nearly 3,000 new jobs and save 15,000 union positions at risk of elimination, the Energy Department said. “Agencies across the federal government are rushing to award the rest of their climate cash before the end of Biden’s first term,” The Washington Post reported.

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    Politics

    What the Conventional Wisdom Gets Wrong About Trump and the IRA

    Anything decarbonization-related is on the chopping block.

    Donald Trump holding the IRA.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    The Biden administration has shoveled money from the Inflation Reduction Act out the door as fast as possible this year, touting the many benefits all that cash has brought to Republican congressional districts. Many — in Washington, at think tanks and non-profits, among developers — have found in this a reason to be calm about the law’s fate. But this is incorrect. The IRA’s future as a climate law is in a far more precarious place than the Beltway conventional wisdom has so far suggested.

    Shortly after the changing of the guard in Congress and the White House, policymakers will begin discussing whether to extend the Trump-era tax cuts, which expire at the end of 2025. If they opt to do so, they’ll try to find a way to pay for it — and if Republicans win big in the November elections, as recent polling and Democratic fretting suggests could happen, the IRA will be an easy target.

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