Current Benefits

This lamppost EV charger just went commercial in the US

By: Michelle Lewis
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Image: Voltpost

EV charging company Voltpost‘s “first-of-a-kind” lamppost EV charger is now commercially available in major US metro areas.

The New York and San Francisco-based company is developing and deploying EV charging projects in US cities like New York, Chicago, Detroit, and others this spring.

Voltpost retrofits lampposts into a modular and upgradable Level 2 EV charging platform powered by a mobile app. The company says its platform provides EV drivers convenient and affordable charging while reducing installation costs, time, maintenance, and chargers’ footprint.

Voltpost can install a lamppost charger inexpensively in one to two hours without construction, trenching, or extensive permitting processes. The ease of installation helps bring more EV charging to underserved communities and high-density areas.

Last year, Voltpost participated in the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Studio program, a collaboration between the NYC DOT and Newlab. In its pilot, Voltpost installed chargers on lampposts at Newlab in Brooklyn and in a DOT parking lot. The chargers were installed in an hour, operated with a high uptime, and got positive feedback from EV drivers.

The lamppost EV chargers feature 20 feet of retractable cable and a charge plug with a pulsing light that routes the cable at a 90-degree angle to the car socket so the cable doesn’t become a hazard to pedestrians and traffic.

The system can accommodate either two or four charging ports. There’s a Voltpost mobile app so drivers can manage charging, and it also features a map of available and in-use Voltpost chargers. Users can make reservations, track charging, pay based on electricity consumed, and see stats on financial and environmental savings.

The lamppost EV chargers also have a Charge Station Management System that provides charging analytics for public and private stakeholders. Site hosts can set charger features, including pricing, and remotely monitor chargers.

Timeline 2024: 28 sustainability policies, guidelines and targets to track

The business of sustainability continues to evolve rapidly. Here are the most important changes to expect in the coming year.

By:  Elsa Wenzel
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Sophia Davirro/GreenBiz

With COP28 recent in the rearview mirror, 2024 represents a clear and critical inflection point for confronting the climate crisis. New rules in the European Union and in California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, will change how global businesses report risks, purchase energy and manage supply chains. The effects of the Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S. are still emerging: 175 nations are hashing out the first global treaty to end plastic waste.

Below are some defining moments that will drive change in the business of sustainability in the coming year. 

Carbon

Expected U.S. SEC climate-related disclosures in April will require companies to report their GHG emissions.

The U.S. Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management, part of the Department of Energy, announces winners in February of its carbon dioxide removal purchase pilot prize and will publish details for corporate sustainability teams’ own carbon removal due-diligence processes.

New guidance from the Science Based Targets initiative on the use of environmental attribute certificates, including carbon credits, in decarbonization goals should come out by summer.

By the end of 2024, companies subject to California’s new Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act (SB253) will need to establish processes for auditing their 2025 emissions ahead of 2026 reporting.

Finance and ESG

A new proposal may emerge in the spring from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), after it again delayed its climate change disclosure rulemaking.

Changes to the EU’s Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) 2.0 are likely following a September 2023 review.

Sometime in 2024, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s updated Green Guides are expected to update what “greenwashing” means in business and marketing.

Nature and biodiversity

The EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), requiring companies to disclose their risks from environmental and social factors, takes effect Jan. 1.

COP16, the 16th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, will take place in Colombia from Oct. 21 to Nov. 1.

Revised or updated National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs), including national targets, are due by COP16. 

By Dec. 30, operators and traders must prove deforestation-free sourcing for targeted commodities in the EU market. That’s the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) compliance deadline.

Food and agriculture

The EU CSRD goes into effect as 2024 begins, influencing supply chain impact disclosure and bringing new evidence of deforestation.

Supply chains risk disruptions if the U.S. Farm Bill continues to stall in Washington in 2024.

Watch for the next steps from the hundreds of nations that signed sustainable food declarations at COP28.

Transport

The U.S. Departments’ of Treasury and Energy rules go into effect, barring vehicles with battery components from a “foreign entity of concern” from consumer tax credits. 

The IRS expands its EV tax benefit by letting consumers choose between claiming a credit on their tax returns or using the credit to lower a car’s purchase price.

The ReFuelEU aviation initiative goes into effect Jan. 1 to advance sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) in the European Union. It also requires aircraft operators and EU airports to work towards emission reductions and to ensure a level playing field for airlines and airports.

In January, the EU extends its cap-and-trade Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) to regulate CO2 from large ships of any flag entering its ports.

The U.S. Department of Energy will release an updated Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation (GREET) model by March 1.

Circular economy

A hoped-for Global Plastics Treaty in 2024 moves forward with INC-4 meetings expected in April in Ottawa and INC-5 by November in Korea.

California, Maine, Oregon and Colorado are working on enforcement rules and other fine print for their new extended producer responsibility (EPR) packaging laws.

EU battery regulations are gradually being introduced, encouraging a circular economy for batteries.

Energy

At COP28, the U.S. announced new rules to cut methane emissions in oil and gas production, likely to change the energy cost equation. Watch for progress from 150 countries pledging two years ago to cut methane by 30 percent by 2030.

The Biden administration will be giving out $7 billion for its Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs (H2Hubs).

2024 will be a watershed year for microgrids moment: Interconnection backlogs are creating a new value-add for microgrids, especially as the macrogrid can’t keep up with electricity demand.

Buildings

Watch the 28 countries agreeing at COP28 for “near-zero” buildings by 2030 through the Buildings Breakthrough.

Applications are due and funding will be announced for the EPA’s $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, backing climate tech and moving money into communities.

Applications for the EPA’s Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) grants are due Jan. 16 from manufacturers.

U.S. Inflation Reduction Act: Impacts on Renewable Energy

New law supports more predictable and consistent policies for solar, wind and other renewable energy and storage developers.


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The signing of the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) — enacted into law on Aug. 16, 2022 — heralds significant and long-term changes for renewable energy development and energy storage installations. The new law represents the single largest climate-related investment by the U.S. government to date, allocating $369 billion (USD) for energy and climate initiatives to help transition the U.S. economy toward more sustainable energy resources.

According to industry estimates, the IRA stands to more than triple U.S. clean energy production, which would result in about 40% of the country’s energy coming from renewable sources such as wind, solar and energy storage by 2030. This would mean an additional 550 gigawatts of electricity generated via renewable sources in less than 10 years.

The IRA’s expected impacts present significant opportunities for renewable energy developers and energy storage companies. Below, we discuss the law’s key effects on the renewable and storage industries, with a special focus on critical technology, software and advisory support for companies launching or expanding their renewable energy projects as the new law takes effect.

More reliable tax credit structures likely to transform renewable energy development

Crucially, the IRA establishes long-term energy tax credit structures to support renewable energy development, giving companies a more stable 10-year window for such incentives versus the previous on-again, off-again incentives that drove “boom and bust” cycles of renewables projects.

Renewables industry trade group American Clean Power reports that for the second quarter of 2022, more than 32 gigawatts of renewable energy projects were delayed, and new project development and installations also fell to their lowest levels since 2019. The group attributes these slumping performance statistics to uncertainty in tax and incentive policies along with transmission challenges and trade restrictions; provisions of the IRA may help reverse this performance trajectory.

“Historically, the U.S. renewables industry has relied on tax credits that required reauthorization from Congress every few years, which created boom-bust cycles and significant challenges in terms of planning for long-term growth,” explained Gillian Howard, global director of sustainable energy and infrastructure at UL Solutions. She added that the IRA establishes a 10-year policy in terms of tax credits for wind, solar and energy storage projects. The new law also provides incentives for green hydrogen, carbon capture, U.S. domestic energy manufacturing and transmission, Howard noted.

“We expect the IRA to both significantly accelerate and increase the deployment of new renewable energy projects in the U.S. over the next decade,” Howard says. “This will be transformational.”

Standalone storage now eligible for tax credits: a long-awaited change and major IRA impact

The use of energy storage has taken on added urgency in recent years as extreme weather and geopolitical issues increasingly challenge energy access and reliability. Projects for energy storage, including batteries and thermal and mechanical storage, have previously been included in investment tax credit programs. Now the IRA extends tax credits for energy storage through 2032. The new law also opens tax credit eligibility to standalone energy storage, which entails storage units constructed and operated independently of larger energy grids.

“Providing an investment tax credit for standalone storage is the single-most important policy change in the IRA — period,” said David Mintzer, energy storage director at UL Solutions. “This one change sets up all of the other energy storage advantages gained from the new law. Those of us in the BESS industry have been waiting for this to happen for more than 10 years, and this is the most significant legislation to accelerate the transition to clean energy and smart grids.”

Mintzer noted that the IRA allows placement of battery energy storage systems (BESSs) where energy demand is highest and removes longstanding requirements that storage systems must be paired to solar sources. Accordingly, key impacts of the new law on energy storage projects in the U.S. will likely include the following near-term impacts:

  • Standalone utilities – The IRA provides more substantial economic incentives for more sites (nodes) that connect to grid networks in support of wholesale energy and additional dispatch services.
  • Standalone distributed generation – More flexible placement of standalone BESSs can support economic arguments for commercial development at sites with inadequate access to larger energy grids.
  • Storage technologies – The IRA’s tax credit provisions for standalone energy storage will prompt research and development and, ultimately, the execution of more and different types of batteries.
  • Banking – Smaller banks and lending organizations may be more likely to finance the construction and development of smaller energy storage systems versus larger and costlier main-grid projects.

“This decoupling of the storage-solar rules will enable BESS sites to be placed where they can provide the best economic returns,” Mintzer explained, adding that battery use will also become more flexible to better support energy grids. Ultimately, Mintzer said, developing and deploying more storage systems will help the U.S. achieve its clean energy goals.

Solar provisions: PTC versus ITC

The IRA includes provisions for 100% production tax credits (PTC) for solar, which transitions to a technology-neutral PTC in 2025. Until the passage of the IRA, solar developers could use the investment tax credit (ITC), which was originally set at 30% of eligible project costs, stepping down over the last few years to 26%, 22% and 0%. The IRA reset the ITC to 30% and provides an option for developers to opt for the PTC instead of the ITC. Rubin Sidhu, director of solar advisory services at UL Solutions, said, “Preliminary analysis shows that for projects with a high net capacity factor (NCF), PTC may be a more favorable option. Further, as solar equipment costs continue to decrease and NCFs continue to go up with better technology, PTC will be more favorable compared to ITC for more and more projects.”

Since the PTC is tied to actual energy generation by a project over 10 years, we expect the investors will be more sensitive to the accuracy of pre-construction solar resource and energy estimates, as well as the ongoing performance of projects.

Tools to support renewable energy development and storage in the IRA era

Launching renewable energy development and storage projects under the auspices of the IRA will require robust tools and technologies in order to manage these projects’ technical, operational and financial components in what may well become a more highly competitive and crowded field.

The degree to which a renewable energy developer will require third-party technologies and advisory partnerships will depend on the firm’s internal resources and commercial goals. Our experience at UL Solutions assessing more than 300 gigawatts worth of renewable energy projects has been that some firms require tools to evaluate and design projects themselves, while other companies seek full-project advisory support. To accommodate a diverse array of technology and advisory needs across the industry, UL Solutions has developed products and services, including:

  • Full energy and asset advisory services.
  • Due diligence support.
  • Testing and certification.
  • Software applications for solar, wind, offshore wind and energy storage projects.

Effective tools for early-stage feasibility and pre-construction assessments are crucial for the long-term viability of renewable energy development projects. UL Solutions provides modeling and optimizing tools for hybrid power projects via our Hybrid Optimization Model for Multiple Energy Resources (HOMER®) line of software, including HOMER Front for technical and economic analysis of utility-scale standalone and hybrid energy systems, HOMER Grid for cost reduction and risk management for grid-connected energy systems, and HOMER Pro for optimizing microgrid design in remote, standalone applications. UL Solutions also supports wind energy assessment projects with our Windnavigator platform for site prospecting and feasibility assessments, Windographer software for wind data analytics and visualization support, and Openwind wind farm modeling and layout design software.

For energy storage system developers, HOMER Front also features tools to design and evaluate battery augmentation plans as well as dispatch strategies, applicable when participating in merchant energy markets or contracting with power purchase agreements.

Conclusion: Reliable tools for a new frontier

Given the magnitude and scope of the IRA, it will take some time for regulatory implementation to play out. Effects of the new law will not be immediate. Over time, the IRA will provide more predictability and certainty in terms of tax credits and related incentives for renewable energy development and lays the groundwork for innovation and expansion of energy storage systems and technologies. Gaining a competitive advantage in this new era for renewables, nonetheless, will require the right software capabilities, third-party advisory support or both, depending on companies’ resources and commercial objectives.

The Story of Plastics (and ACC)

By Joshua Baca
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Around the time the first American “chemistry” association was established 150 years ago, a new age was born.

The plastics age.

It was born in large part by chemists, driven by their desire to help solve society’s challenges. And in small part by a story about elephants. 

Billiard Balls
For much of human history, everyday tools and products were made mostly from ivory, wood, metals, plant fibers, animal skins/hair/bone, and the like.

A familiar example: billiard balls.

For hundreds of years, ivory was the favored material for making the smooth, durable spheres. But by the mid-1800s, relying on elephants to meet demand for ivory – about eight balls per tusk – became unsustainable and dangerous. Society demanded substitutes.

In the late 1860s, an American chemist patented the partially synthetic material “celluloid,” made primarily from plant cellulose and camphor, that began replacing ivory in multiple applications. Including billiard balls.

This story – new polymeric materials with advanced properties replacing limited, existing materials – has been evolving ever since, largely written by chemists and engineers.

Chemists Rising
As the first and second industrial revolutions created a huge demand for materials, chemists searched for new sources – plus innovative, new materials. In addition to cellulose, galalith and rayon (a modified cellulose) were born in the late 1800s.

Then in the early 1900s, Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland created the first entirely synthetic plastic – and it would revolutionize the way many products were made

“Bakelite’s” properties were suited for a much wider variety of uses than its predecessors. For example, it was resistant to heat and did not conduct electricity, so it was a really good insulator, making it particularly useful in the automotive and electrical industries emerging in the early 1900s.

After that, chemists really got cooking.

Cellophane, invented in 1912, took off in the 1920s after DuPont made it water resistant.

Vinyl was developed in the 1920s to replace expensive, difficult-to-source rubber in multiple applications.

Polyethylene was produced during the 1930s in fits and starts in the UK (it’s now the most widely used plastic).

Polyvinyl chloride was discovered in 1933 by accident by a Dow Chemical lab worker.

Polyurethanes were invented in the 1930s by Dr. Otto Bayer (soon a household name).

Nylon was unveiled in 1939 at the New York World’s fair (and largely eclipsed silk in clothing.)


These “modern” materials inexorably made inroads in our society and economy. They solved challenges large and small, from creating a more affordable, reliable synthetic “rubber” to making women’s stockings more wearable.

By the 1930s the term “plastic” had become part of our everyday language.

“It’s a Wonderful Life”
The classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” depicts a dramatic inflection point in America’s reliance on plastics: World War II.  

Before the war, George Bailey’s friend Sam Wainwright offers him a “chance of a lifetime” investing in plastics. “This is the biggest thing since radio, and I’m letting you in on the ground floor.”

George turns him down and tells his future wife Mary: “Now you listen to me! I don’t want any plastics! I don’t want any ground floors, and I don’t want to get married – ever – to anyone! You understand that? I want to do what I want to do. And you’re… and you’re…” And then they kiss.

But I digress.

Sam “made a fortune in plastic hoods for planes” during the war. Plastics also were used to make the housing for radar equipment (since plastics don’t impede radar waves). Plastics replaced rubber in airplane wheels. And they even were sprayed on fighter planes to protect against corrosion from salty seawater.

The war required a massive run up in plastics production. Responding in emergency mode, America’s chemists and plastic makers proved invaluable to our nation’s war efforts. It soon became readily clear what these innovative materials could do.

Post War Boom(ers)

In the late 40s and 50s, these new materials began replacing traditional materials in everyday life, from car seats to refrigerators to food packaging.  

Production boomed with the “Baby Boomers.” New plastics were invented – e.g., polyester, polypropylene, and polystyrene – that further cemented the role of plastics in our society and economy.

As the production of plastics rose, the Plastics Material Manufacturers Association in 1950 consolidated its efforts with the Manufacturing Chemists Association (today’s ACC). This kicked off a long and fruitful collaboration between plastic and chemical enterprises.

During the post-war decades, we discovered an interesting characteristic of these modern materials: Plastics allowed us to do more with less because they’re lightweight yet strong.

Later studies demonstrated what industry folks presumed at the time. In general, plastics reduce key environmental impacts of products and packaging compared to materials like glass, paper, and metals. By switching to plastics, we use less energy and create less waste and fewer carbon emissions than typical alternatives.

In short, the switch to plastics contributes immensely to sustainability, an often-overlooked characteristic. Perhaps somewhat unknowingly, chemists (and the companies they worked with) once again were at the forefront of contributing solutions to serious societal challenges.

Is This Sustainable?

As the last century was winding down, personal consumption was soaring. And Americans began to take greater notice of these new-ish materials that were displacing traditional glass, paper, and metals.

In 1987, a wayward barge full of trash travelled from New York to Belize looking for a home for its stinky cargo. The barge received extensive national media attention and stoked fears of a “garbage crisis.” The public began to blame the rapid growth of plastics, particularly packaging, for our garbage problem.

Consumption also was growing rapidly across much of the world before and after the turn of the century. But solid waste infrastructure was growing more slowly than needed in many places.

Increasing amounts of mismanaged refuse wound up in rivers and waterways and our ocean, where currents carried it across the globe. While most refuse sinks, many plastics are buoyant, making them more visible and concerning. As awareness grew of marine litter’s effects on wildlife and beaches, so too did concerns over the role of plastics in our global society.

In light of these and other events, many people began questioning the sustainability of plastics.

Over these decades, plastic makers and the entire value chain responded in part by encouraging growth in plastics recycling. Most communities successfully added plastic bottle/containers to their recycling programs, and plastic bottle recycling rates soon reached par with glass bottles.

And the widely admired “Plastics Make it Possible” campaign helped educate and remind Americans of the many solutions that plastics provide… solutions made possible by the very nature of these innovative, modern materials.

On the ACC front, at the turn of the century, plastic makers reorganized as ACC’s Plastics Division to improve organizational and advocacy efficiencies – and to ramp up solutions.

Making Sustainable Change

Today, most Americans appreciate the benefits of plastics… and they want to see more advances in sustainability. For example, Americans want to see increased recycling of all plastic packaging, especially the newer lightweight flexible packaging that’s replacing heavier materials. And they want an end to plastic waste in our environment.

So today, the Plastics Division is focused on “making sustainable change” by finding new ways to make plastics lighter, stronger, more efficient, and more recyclable. And by driving down greenhouse gas emissions from products and production.

We’re working to keep plastics in our economy and out of our environment. To achieve this, we’re focused on helping build a circular economy for plastics, in which plastics are reused instead of discarded.

We’re continuing to innovate, investing billions of dollars in next generation advanced recycling. Empowered by chemistry and engineering, these technologies make it possible for plastics to be remade into high-quality raw materials for new plastics. Again and again.

We’re advocating for a circular economy in statehouses and at the federal level with our 5 Actions for Sustainable Change. These policies are needed to help us reach our goal: by 2040, all U.S. plastic packaging will be recycled, reused, or recovered.

And we’re actively supporting a global agreement among nations to end plastic waste in our environment.

America’s Change Makers
The story of plastics is evolving. It’s constantly being rewritten by our chemists, engineers, designers, and technicians. People we call America’s Change Makers who dedicate their careers to making sustainable change.

Today this story includes enabling renewable energy. Efficiently delivering safe water. Combatting climate change. Contributing to accessible, affordable medical treatments.

From helping save elephants a century and a half ago to driving down greenhouse gas emissions today, America’s Plastic Makers are leveraging our history of innovation to help solve some of society’s biggest challenges. And to create a cleaner, brighter future.

Here Are 4 Sustainable Office Design Trends To Embrace In 2022

A growing number of firms are adopting bio-based building materials, making it one of 2022’s most prominent emerging design trends.

By: Kate Tattersfield
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  • A growing number of developers, architects and interior designers are embracing sustainable alternatives in an effort to curb climate change. 
  • Reducing waste in the workspace design sector is a trending topic right now.
  • The built environment industry needs to look beyond operational efficiency and focus on decarbonising the materials used in its build and fit out processes.

The built environment is responsible for nearly 40% of global carbon emissions, according to research published by the Green Building Council. 

28% of this derive from operational emissions – the carbon omitted by powering, heating and cooling a building – while 11% is a by-product of embodied emissions which are produced through the extraction, transportation, manufacturing, and assembly of the materials used to build, fit out and furnish a building.

Fortunately for our planet and species, there’s an appetite for change, and a growing number of developers, architects and interior designers are embracing sustainable alternatives in an effort to curb climate change. 

The built environment garnered lots of attention at the COP26 summit in November 2021, with over 130 events dedicated to it.

During the summit 44 businesses, including leading architecture firms, signed a net zero carbon buildings commitment, pledging to take increased action to decarbonise the built environment across their portfolios and business activities.

The 2022 office design trends we’ve chosen to highlight are all sustainability-focused. Our list covers a range of office design aspects – from the construction materials used to how design elements are recycled. Check them out:

How are you planning to make your office more sustainable this year? Photo credit: RODNAE Productions

1. Bio-based design materials

Buildings  – from the homes we live in to the offices we work in – have the potential to become carbon sinks as opposed to carbon generators. 

But to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the built environment industry needs to look beyond operational efficiency and focus on decarbonising the materials used in its build and fit out processes.

One way to reduce embodied carbon is to manufacture using bio-based materials such as wood, straw and bamboo. Bio-based products typically require less energy and have the potential to capture and store carbon through photosynthesis. 

A growing number of firms are adopting bio-based building materials, making it one of 2022’s most prominent emerging design trends. 

In July 2021, Grosvenor Group, one of the world’s largest privately-owned international property businesses, launched Holbein Gardens, its first net zero carbon office development. 

The firm conducted an early whole life carbon assessment to minimise upfront embodied carbon. Grosvenor Group is trialling new low embodied carbon products including cross-laminated timber in the extension, CEMFREE Concrete, Thermalite aircrete blockwork and reclaimed raised access flooring. 

Redesigning an existing office building is often more eco-friendly than constructing one from scratch. However, it’s important to consider the environmental credentials of the procurement, installation and use of materials. 

For example, using wood in office design isn’t necessarily sustainable if a large amount of carbon dioxide is produced in the logging, transportation and manufacturing processes, and if it ends up in landfill when the occupier moves out instead of being recycled. 

Here’s a list of environmentally friendly building material options to explore and use this year, courtesy of the sustainable and biophilic design company, Barbulianno:

  • Cob
  • Recycled steel
  • Sheep’s wool
  • Reclaimed, recycled or sustainable wood 
  • Cork
  • Straw
  • Bamboo
  • Recycled plastic
  • AshCrete 
  • Ferrock
  • Hempcrete
  • Plant-Based Polyurethane Rigid Foam
  • Enviroboard 
  • Mycelium 
  • Clay brick 
  • Timbercrete 
  • Recycled Rubber
  • Newspaperwood 
An indicative view of Holbein Gardens’ eco-friendly communal roof garden. Photo credit: Holbein Gardens

2. 3D printed office accessories

3D printing involves the creation of a 3D object from a CAD or digital 3D model. It’s a very sustainable design method because it produces very little waste compared with objects manufactured using fabrics, metals and other materials. 

It also reduces supply chain carbon emissions. A study by Michigan Technological University discovered that 41-64% less energy was used to 3D print an object compared with manufacturing it overseas and shipping it to the US. 

3D printing is gaining traction quickly and the office design sector is getting on board. In 2021, the international furniture brand Bene, alongside designers Pearson Lloyd and 3D-print specialist Batch.Works, launched bFriends, a new collection of 3D printed desktop accessories using 100% recycled bioplastic from waste food packaging. 

The products can be recycled by Bene at the end of their life to form a “complete closed-loop production model”. 

Caption: The 3D printing process in action. Photo credit: Bene
Bene’s bFriends stands come in different sizes and are designed to hold stationery, notes, mobile phones and more. Photo credit: Bene

3. Biophilic design

It feels like biophilia’s been on the workspace design agenda for so long that it can’t justify being a trend anymore, but here us out. 

In previous years, discourse on biophilic design was primarily concerned with plants, but 2022 will see a sharper focus on multisensory biophilic design. This includes the use of natural light, natural soundscapes and pleasant scents from the natural world that many believe have the power to energise or invoke a sense of calm. 

Another aspect of biophilic design which is set to gain traction in 2022 is the use of circadian lighting. Like natural light, circadian lighting matches people’s natural biorhythms (or internal ‘clocks’) by creating an artificial ‘sunrise to sunset’ that passes through different illuminance levels and colour spectrums. 

Blue-spectrum light is prioritised during daylight hours and warmer tones are introduced when the body is gearing up or winding down, e.g. at the beginning and end of the working day.

Circadian lighting is intended to amplify comfort and productivity, creating a healthier workplace experience. It can also help us feel happier by bolstering our connection to the natural world in an age where we spend the majority (around 90%) of our time indoors in manufactured environments. 

According to the professional services firm, ARUP, “…the future of interior and exterior lighting design certainly lies in this balance of quality daylight and electric light working together to support our human circadian adaptation.”

Circadian lighting supports our internal ‘clock’ which helps boost wellbeing. Credit: Copernico Photo credit: Holbein Gardens

4. Circular economy 

We’ve already included an example of a circular economy in action (Bene), but there are many more examples besides. 

A circular economy is one that involves sharing, resuing, repairing, recycling and leasing existing materials and items. It’s the opposite of a linear economy, which follows a ‘take-make-dispose’ framework. 

Reducing waste in the workspace design sector is a trending topic right now. In fact, it was a focal point at last year’s Workspace Design Show. 

One way to reduce waste is to avoid design change. Waste in the fit out industry is created because of design change, and design change starts at the very early stages of any project, for instance when the client brief changes.

Office designers can also avoid waste by adopting a circular mindset from the outset and partnering up with circular-based suppliers and partners like 2ndhnd, a Scottish-based company that specialises in procuring, refurbishing and reselling office furniture.

The growing awareness of sustainability coupled with the challenges posed by the pandemic has led to an increase in demand for 2ndhnd’s products. In an interview with Insider, co-owner and manager Ross Dutton explained: 

“We’re being asked more and more often to strip offices of their existing office furniture, which will eventually be refurbished and resold via our platforms, but also to help in the reconfiguration of existing spaces as more flexible spaces are introduced such as breakout areas, sofas and catch-up pods.”

New recycling techniques set to make electric vehicles greener

By Pratima Desai
View the original article here

A technician unpacks a completely burned Lithium-ion car battery before its dismantling by the German recycling firm Accurec in Krefeld, Germany, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay
A used Lithium-ion car battery is opened before its dismantling by an employee of the German recycling firm Accurec in Krefeld, Germany, November 16, 2017. Picture taken November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/File Photo

LONDON, July 1 (Reuters) – Researchers in Britain and the United States have found ways to recycle electric vehicle batteries that can drastically cut costs and carbon emissions, shoring up sustainable supplies for an expected surge in demand.

The techniques, which involve retrieving parts of the battery so they can be reused, would help the auto industry tackle criticism that even though EVs reduce emissions over their lifetime, they start out with a heavy carbon footprint of mined materials.

As national governments and regions race to secure supplies for an expected acceleration in EV demand, the breakthroughs could make valuable supplies of materials such as cobalt and nickel go further. They would also reduce dependence on China and difficult mining jurisdictions.

“We can’t recycle complex products like batteries the way we recycle other metals. Shredding, mixing up the components of a battery and pyrometallurgy destroy value,” Gavin Harper, a research fellow at the government-backed Faraday Institution in Britain, said.

Pyrometallurgy refers to the extraction of metals using high heat in blast furnaces, which analysts say is not economic.

Current recycling methods also rely on shredding the batteries into very small pieces, known as black mass, which is then processed into metals such as cobalt and nickel.

A switch to a practice known as direct recycling, which would preserve components such as the cathode and anode, could drastically reduce energy waste and manufacturing costs.

Researchers from the University of Leicester and the University of Birmingham working on the Faraday Institution’s ReLib project have found a way to use ultrasonic waves to recycle the cathode and anode without shredding and have applied for a patent.

The technology recovers the cathode powder made up of cobalt, nickel and manganese from the aluminium sheet, to which it is glued in the battery manufacture. The anode powder, which would typically be graphite, is separated from the copper sheet.

Andy Abbott, a professor of physical chemistry at the University of Leicester said separation using ultrasonic waves would result in cost savings of 60% compared with the cost of virgin material.

Compared with more conventional technology, based on hydrometallurgy, which uses liquids, such as sulphuric acid and water to extract materials, he said ultrasonic technology can process 100 times more battery material over the same period.

Abbott’s team has separated battery cells manually to test the process, but ReLib is working on a project to use robots to separate batteries and packs more efficiently.

As supplies and scrap levels take time to accrue, Abbott said he expected the technology to initially use scrap from battery manufacturing facilities as the feedstock and the recycled material would be fed back into battery production.

PROFITABLE RECYCLING

In the United States, a government-sponsored project at the Department of Energy called ReCell is in the final stages of demonstrating different, but also promising recycling technologies that refurbish battery cathode to make it into new cathode.

ReCell, headed by Jeff Spangenberger, has studied many different methods, including ultrasonics, but focused on thermal and solvent based methods.

“The U.S. doesn’t make much cathode domestically, so if we use hydrometallurgy or pyrometallurgy we have to send the recycled materials to other countries to be turned into cathode and shipped back to us,” Spangenberger said.

“To make lithium-ion battery recycling profitable, without requiring a disposal fee to consumers, and to encourage growth in the recycling industry, new methods that generate higher profit margins for recyclers need to be developed.”

There are challenges for direct recycling, including continuously evolving chemistries, Spangenberger said. “ReCell is working on separating different cathode chemistries.”

Early electric vehicle battery cells typically used a cathode with equal amounts of nickel, manganese, cobalt or 1-1-1. This has changed in recent years as manufacturers seek to reduce costs and cathode chemistries can be 5-3-2, 6-2-2 or 8-1-1.

The approach at Faraday’s ReLib project is to blend recycled with virgin material to get the required ratios of nickel, manganese and cobalt.

Toyota Might Have Fixed an Underlying Issue With Electric Vehicles

By: Sebastian Toma
View the original article here

One of the problems with electric vehicles now, on top of the range, charging times, charging infrastructure, and the price is battery capacity degradation. The first owner of the vehicle may not be affected by it, but that might not be the case with the second or third owners. But there is hope.  

Toyota’s upcoming EV, prefaced by the bZ4X Concept, is said to retain 90 percent of its initial battery capacity after a decade. At first, this might be something insignificant, but it means that the vehicle should be able to achieve 90 percent of its initial range after ten years of use.  

The news is great if we look at what other automakers claim regarding battery capacity degradation. Most EVs on the market today are claimed to keep up to 80 percent of their initial capacity after eight years or so. Mind you, this is an average of several offerings in the market and should not be taken for granted.   

Why is battery capacity degradation an issue? Well, just like in smartphones or laptops, over time, batteries will not be as good as they were when they were new. Some people change their smartphones or laptops sooner than others, and they never get to experience a battery that lost a significant amount of its initial capacity.  

Replacing the battery of a smartphone or a laptop, for that matter, is technically possible for most, if not all, devices on the market today. The cost of a new battery is not that substantial, and it can bring new life to the device in question.  

However, in the case of electric vehicles of yesteryear, the price of a new battery is in the range of several thousand (euros or dollars), and that can mean half or more than half of their resale value today.  

With older model electric vehicles, owners are facing two issues before purchase, and a third looms in the background. The first two refer to the rather low range when they were new, along with current range after battery degradation, and the third is the cost of a replacement battery that looms in the not-too-distant future.   

This is especially true for the first series of electric vehicles found on the market today, which did not excel when the range was concerned. The third issue I am referring to has to do with the drop in range due to the inevitable degradation of the battery, and the cost of a replacement unit. 

People who buy those vehicles risk getting stuck with an electric vehicle that lost more than half of its initial battery capacity, which makes the range a pressing issue.  

Why do I say getting stuck? Well, those customers bought second-hand electric vehicles to avoid the upfront cost of a new electric automobile. Unfortunately, they might have to pay more than those cars are worth on the used car market to replace their batteries and restore their initial range. 

That might sound like a non-issue, but it is a genuine one, since a used mass-market electric vehicle can cost a couple of thousand dollars (or euros, for that matter), and its replacement battery is almost as expensive as the car.  

Will that make the vehicle worth twice on the used car market? No, it will not. At best, it will be worth more than comparable examples without a replaced battery, but the person who pays for the battery replacement will lose the most money out of the entire thing.  

Fortunately for those seemingly stuck in this situation, there is the option of going to an independent shop that replaces individual battery cells. It is still pricey, as the parts themselves and the knowledge of replacing them safely do not come cheap, but it will bring new life to an old battery at a fraction of the cost of a new battery. Unfortunately, we are far from the moment when these repair possibilities will be as commonplace as conventional engine repair workshops.  

Enter Toyota and its promise to offer a battery that will keep ninety percent of its initial capacity over ten years of use. Even though the Japanese brand’s officials did not state if this applies with frequent quick charge use or how this durability is achieved, it is the start of a movement that will improve electric vehicles for all.  

Eventually, the market will match Toyota’s battery durability target, and it will be commonplace for an electric vehicle to offer 90 percent of its initial range after a decade of use. That will bring a boost in resale value for used electric cars, along with more trust when purchasing a used electric vehicle.  

Fortunately for everyone, battery capacity can be measured at a certified dealer of the brand in question. So, if you are looking for a used electric vehicle, it is wise to call the nearest dealer to inquire about the cost of a battery inspection, along with a pre-purchase inspection just to be on the safe side.   

In the case of Toyota’s plug-in hybrids, the company estimated a 45 to 50 percent decrease in battery capacity after a decade of use, which improved to a 35 to 40 percent decrease for the second generation of the model. The China-only electric versions of the C-HR/IZOA come with even higher durability, which approaches 75 to 80 percent of initial capacity after a decade.  

Once automakers find ways to make batteries more durable, used electric vehicles will get an extended life without high repair costs for their owners. In time, battery repair shops will become more commonplace, and technicians will learn how to safely diagnose and repair (even by replacement) batteries for electric vehicles. 

U.S. Electric Vehicle Market Poised for Record Sales in 2021, According to Edmunds

Experts say 2021 could be a pivotal year for EV adoption thanks to greater selection of EV offerings, rising consumer interest
NEWS PROVIDED BY EDMONDS
View the original article here

SANTA MONICA, Calif., Feb. 2, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Electric vehicle sales are poised to hit their highest level on record in 2021, according to the car shopping experts at Edmunds. Edmunds data shows that EV sales made up 1.9% of retail sales in the United States in 2020; Edmunds analysts expect this number to grow to 2.5% this year.

“After years of speculation and empty promises, 2021 is actually shaping up to be a pivotal year for growth in the EV sector,” said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of insights. “We’re not only about to see a massive leap in the number of EVs available in the market; we’re also going to see a more diverse lineup of electric vehicles that better reflect current consumer preferences. And given that the new presidential administration has pledged its support for electrification, the U.S. is likely to see incentive programs targeted at fostering the growth of this technology further.”

“2021 is actually shaping up to be a pivotal year for growth in the EV sector” – Jessica Caldwell, analyst, Edmunds

Edmunds analysts anticipate that 30 EVs from 21 brands will become available for sale this year, compared to 17 vehicles from 12 brands in 2020. Notably, this will be the first year that these offerings represent all three major vehicle categories: Consumers will have the choice among 11 cars, 13 SUVs and six trucks in 2021, whereas only 10 cars and seven SUVs were available last year. For the full list of EVs expected to come to market in 2021, please see the table below.

This diverse spread of EV offerings should help encourage stronger loyalty among EV owners, which has dwindled over the years as shoppers have gravitated toward larger vehicles. According to Edmunds data, 71% of EV owners who didn’t buy another EV traded in their vehicle for a truck or SUV in 2020, compared to 60% in 2019 and 34% in 2015.

“Americans have a love affair with trucks and SUVs, to the detriment of EVs, which have until recently been mostly passenger cars,” said Caldwell. “Automakers should have a much better shot of recapturing some of the EV buyers who they’ve lost now that they can offer larger, more utilitarian electric vehicles.”

Edmunds analysts note that this infusion of fresh new products comes at a time where the market is also seeing a positive shift in consumer interest in EVs. According to Google Trends data, consumer searches for electric trucks and SUVs have recently hit a high point after trending upward for years.

“Besides affordability, one of the biggest barriers to increased EV sales has simply been tepid consumer reception — it’s been tough for companies that aren’t Tesla to crack the code of how to get shoppers hyped up for these vehicles,” said Caldwell. “But in the past year we’ve seen automakers throw huge advertising dollars behind their EV launches in an attempt to drum up some buzz, and it’s promising that consumers seem to at least be more aware of the options out there.”

As more consumers look to EVs as a possibility for their next car purchase, Edmunds experts emphasize that shoppers should take extra time to consider their alternatives and do their research.

“Buying an EV is an entirely different beast than a traditional car purchase, so extra research and diligence are key,” said Ivan Drury, Edmunds’ senior manager of insights. “Range and weather conditions play a huge factor in determining whether certain EVs make sense for your everyday needs, and whether you own a home with a garage or rent an apartment could affect your charging situation. Federal and state tax incentives are at play with these purchases. And with a number of manufacturers following Tesla’s direct sale model, there might not be opportunities to take a test drive, or even to trade in your current vehicle, like you would at a traditional dealership.”

To help consumers, the Edmunds experts have put together a comprehensive analysis of the true cost of powering an EV, and they also maintain an authoritative EV rankings page that highlights the best electric vehicles currently in production.

Electric Vehicles Expected to be Available for Sale in 2021

Model YearMakeModelVehicle Category
2021AtlisXTlarge truck
2021Audie-tronluxury midsize SUV
2021Audie-tron Sportbackluxury midsize SUV
2021BMWi3luxury subcompact car
2021ChevroletBolt EVsubcompact car
2021FordMustang Mach-Emidsize SUV
2021HerculesAlphalarge truck
2021HondaClaritymidsize car
2021HyundaiIoniq Electriccompact car
2021HyundaiKona Electricsubcompact SUV
2021KiaNiro EVsubcompact SUV
2021Lordstown MotorsEndurancelarge truck
2021LucidAirluxury large car
2021Mercedes-BenzEQCluxury compact SUV
2021MiniHardtop 2 Doorsports car
2021NissanLeafcompact car
2021Polestar2luxury midsize car
2021PorscheTaycanluxury large car
2021RivianR1Sluxury large SUV
2021RivianR1Tmidsize truck
2021TeslaCybertrucklarge truck
2021TeslaModel 3luxury compact car
2021TeslaModel Sluxury large car
2021TeslaModel Xluxury large SUV
2021TeslaModel Yluxury compact SUV
2021VolvoXC40 Rechargeluxury subcompact SUV
2021VWID.4compact SUV
2022ChevroletBolt EUVcompact SUV
2022GMCHummer EV SUVlarge truck
2022NissanAriyacompact SUV


Are Electric Cars Truly Better for the Environment?

Looking at the whole life cycle of EVs, the verdict is clear.

Looking at the whole life cycle of EVs, the verdict is clear.
Written By: David M. Kuchta
View the original article here.

Are electric vehicles truly better than gas cars for the environment? Not in all facets or in all regions of the world, but overall, unquestionably, yes—and as time goes on, only more so.

While much clickbait has been written questioning the environmental superiority of EVs, the cumulative science confirms that in almost every part of the world, driving an EV produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than a gas-powered car. The internal combustion engine is a mature technology that has seen only incremental changes for the past half-century. By contrast, electric vehicles are still an emerging technology witnessing continual improvements in efficiency and sustainability, while dramatic changes in how the world produces electricity will only make electric vehicles cleaner.

“We still have a long way to go, and we don’t have the luxury of waiting,” said David Reichmuth of the Union of Concern Scientists in a recent interview with Treehugger.1

The transportation sector generates 24% around the world and 29% of total greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions in the United States—the largest single contributor in the U.S.2 According to the EPA, the typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year at an average of 404 grams per mile.3 Beyond carbon emissions, road traffic from gas-powered vehicles generates fine particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur oxides, the adverse health effects of which—from asthma and heart disease to cancer and pregnancy disorders—have been well demonstrated and disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color.4 EVs can’t solve all those problems, but they can make our world a more livable place.

Life-Cycle Analysis

The key to comparing gas-powered vehicles with electric ones is life-cycle analysis, which accounts for the entire environmental impact of vehicles from the extraction of raw materials to the manufacturing of vehicles, the actual driving, the consumption of fuel, and their end-of-life disposal.

The most significant areas of difference are in the upstream processes (raw materials and manufacturing), during driving, and in fuel sources. Gas-powered vehicles are currently superior when it comes to resources and manufacturing. EVs are superior when it comes to driving, while the issue of fuel consumption depends on the source of the electricity that fuels EVs. Where the electricity supply is relatively clean, EVs provide a major benefit over gas-powered cars. Where the electricity is predominantly coal—the dirtiest of the fossil fuels—gas-powered cars are less polluting than electric vehicles.

But coal is less of a major source of electricity around the world, and the future favors EVs fueled by clean energy. In two comprehensive life-cycle studies published in 2020, the environmental superiority of gas-powered vehicles applied to no more than 5% of the world’s transport.5 In all other cases, the negative impacts of upstream processes and energy production were outweighed by the benefits of a lifetime of emissions-free driving.

In the United States, given the decreasing reliance on coal in the electricity grid, “driving the average EV is responsible for fewer global warming emissions than the average new gasoline car everywhere in the US,” according to Reichmuth’s recent life-cycle analysis for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

As Nikolas Hill, co-author of a major 2020 study for the European Commission, told the podcast How to Save a Planet: “It’s very clear from our findings, and actually a range of other studies in this area, electric vehicles, be they fully electric vehicles, petrol-electric, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell vehicles, are unquestionably better for our climate than conventional cars. There should be absolutely no doubt about that, looking from a full life-cycle analysis.”

Raw Materials and Manufacturing

Currently, creating an EV has a more negative environmental impact than producing a gas-powered vehicle. This is, in large part, a result of battery manufacturing, which requires the mining, transportation, and processing of raw materials, often extracted in unsustainable and polluting ways.6 Battery manufacturing also requires high energy intensity, which can lead to increased GHG emissions.7

In China, for example, the raw materials and manufacturing process of a single gasoline car produces 10.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide, while it takes 13 tonnes of CO2 to produce an electric vehicle.8 Equally, a recent Vancouver study of comparable electric and gas-powered cars found that the manufacture of an electric vehicle uses nearly twice as much energy as manufacturing a gas-powered vehicle.9

But the differences in manufacturing, including raw materials extraction, need to be placed in the context of the entire life cycle of the vehicles. The majority of a gas vehicle’s emissions come not in the manufacturing process but in the cumulative time the vehicle is on the road. By comparison, raw materials and manufacturing play a larger role in the total life-cycle emissions of electric vehicles.10

On average, roughly one-third of total emissions for EVs come from the production process, three times that of a gas vehicle.11 However, in countries like France, which rely on low-carbon energy sources for their electricity production, the manufacturing process can constitute 75% to nearly 100% of a vehicle’s life-cycle GHG emissions.12 Once the vehicle is produced, in many countries emissions drop precipitously.

So while EV manufacturing produces higher emissions than the production of a gas-powered car does, a lifetime of low- to zero-emissions driving leads EVs to have greater environmental benefits. While, as we saw, manufacturing emissions are higher in China for EVs than for gas-powered cars, over the lifetime of the vehicles, EV emissions in China are 18% lower than fossil-fueled cars.13 Likewise, the Vancouver study cited above found that over their lifetimes, electric vehicles emit roughly half the greenhouse gases of comparable gasoline cars.14 And the benefits of EV driving come quickly after manufacturing: according to one study, “an electric vehicle’s higher emissions during the manufacturing stage are paid off after only two years.”15

Driving

The longer an EV is on the road, the less its manufacturing impact makes a difference. Driving conditions and driving behavior, however, do play a role in vehicle emissions. Auxiliary energy consumption (that is, energy not used to propel the car forward or backward, such as heating and cooling) contributes roughly one-third of vehicle emissions in any type of vehicle.16 Heating in a gas-powered car is provided by waste engine heat, while cabin heat in an EV needs to be generated using energy from the battery, increasing its environmental impact.17

Driving behavior and patterns, though less quantifiable, also matter. For example, EVs are far more efficient than gas-powered vehicles in city traffic, where an internal combustion engine continues to burn fuel while idling, while in the same situation the electric motor truly is idle. This is why EPA mileage estimates are higher for EVs in city driving than on highways, while the reverse is true for gasoline cars. More research needs to be done beyond specific case studies on the different driving behavior and patterns between drivers of EVs compared to gas-powered vehicles.18

Traffic Pollution

While most studies of the benefits of electric vehicles are understandably related to greenhouse gas emissions, the wider environmental impacts of non-exhaust emissions due to traffic are also a consideration in the life-cycle analysis.

The negative health consequences of particulate matter (PM) from road traffic are well-documented.19 Road traffic generates PM from resuspension of road dust back into the air, and from the wear-and-tear of tires and brake pads, with resuspension representing some 60% of all non-exhaust emissions.20 Due to the weight of the battery, electric vehicles are on average 17% to 24% heavier than comparable gas-powered ones, leading to higher particulate matter emissions from re-suspension and tire wear.21

Braking comparisons, however, favor EVs. Fine particles from braking are the source of approximately 20% of traffic-related PM 2.5 pollution.22 Gas-powered vehicles rely on the friction from disc brakes for deceleration and stopping, while regenerative braking allows EV drivers to use the kinetic force of the motor to slow the vehicle down. By reducing the use of disc brakes, particularly in stop-and-go traffic, regenerative braking can reduce brake wear by 50% and 95% (depending on the study) compared to gas-powered vehicles.23 Overall, studies show that the comparatively greater non-exhaust emissions from EVs due to weight are roughly equal to the comparatively lower particulate emissions from regenerative braking.24

Fueling

Beyond manufacturing, differences in fuel and its consumption are “one of the main drivers for life-cycle environmental impacts of EVs.”25 Some of that impact is determined by the fuel efficiency of the vehicle itself. An electric vehicle on average converts 77% of the electricity stored in its battery toward moving the car forward, while a gas-powered car converts from 12% to 30% of the energy stored in gasoline; much of the rest is wasted as heat.26

The efficiency of a battery in storing and discharging energy is also a factor. Both gas-powered cars and EVs lose fuel efficiency as they age. For gasoline cars, this means they burn more gasoline and emit more pollutants the longer they are on the road. An EV loses fuel efficiency when its battery becomes less efficient in the charging and discharging of energy, and thus uses more electricity. While a battery’s charge-discharge efficiency is 98% when new, it can drop to 80% efficiency in five to ten years, depending on environmental and driving conditions.27

Overall, however, the fuel efficiency of a gas-powered engine decreases more quickly than the efficiency of an electric motor, so the gap in fuel efficiency between EVs and gas-powered cars increases over time. A Consumer Reports study found that an owner of a five- to seven-year-old EV saves two to three times more in fuel costs than the owner of a new EV saves compared to similar gas-powered vehicles.28

Cleaning the Electricity Grid

Yet the extent of the benefits of an electric vehicle depends on factors beyond the vehicle’s control: the energy source of the electricity that fuels it. Because EVs run on standard grid electricity, their emissions level depends on how clean the electricity is going into their batteries. As the electricity grid gets cleaner, the cleanliness gap between EVs and ICE vehicles will grow only wider.

In China, for example, due to a large reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector, electric vehicles were projected to improve from 18% fewer GHG emissions than gasoline cars in 2015 to 36% fewer in 2020.13 In the United States, annual greenhouse gas emissions from an electric vehicle can range from 8.5 kg in Vermont and 2570.9 kg in Indiana, depending on the sources of electricity on the grid.29 The cleaner the grid, the cleaner the car.

On grids supplied exclusively by coal, electric vehicles can produce more GHG than gas-powered vehicles.30 A 2017 comparison of EVs and ICE vehicles in Denmark found BEVs “were not found to be effective in reducing environmental impacts,” in part because the Danish electricity grid consumes a large share of coal.31 By contrast, in Belgium, where a large share of the electricity mix comes from nuclear energy, EVs have lower life-cycle emissions than gas or diesel cars.32 In Europe as a whole, while the average EV “produces 50% less life-cycle greenhouse gases over the first 150,000 kilometers of driving,” that number can vary from 28% to 72%, depending on local electricity production.15

There can also be a trade-off between addressing climate change and addressing local air pollution. In parts of Pennsylvania where the electricity is supplied by a high share of coal-fired plants, electric vehicles may increase local air pollution even while they lower greenhouse gas emissions.33 While electric vehicles provide the highest co-benefits for combating both air pollution and climate change across the United States, in specific regions plug-in hybrid vehicles provide greater benefits than both gas-powered and electric vehicles.34

How Clean Is Your Grid?

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Beyond Tailpipe Emissions Calculator allows users to calculate the greenhouse emissions of an electric or hybrid vehicle based on the energy mix of the electricity grid in their area.

Charging Behavior

If EV drivers currently have little control over the energy mix of their electricity grid, their charging behavior does influence the environmental impact of their vehicles, especially in places where the fuel mix of electricity generation changes throughout the course of the day.35

Portugal, for example, has a high share (55%) of renewable power during peak hours, but increases its reliance on coal (up to 84%) during off-peak hours, when most EV owners charge their vehicles, resulting in higher greenhouse gas emissions.”36 In countries with a higher reliance on solar energy, such as Germany, midday charging has the greatest environmental benefit, whereas charging during hours of peak electricity demand (usually in the early evening) draws energy from a grid that relies more heavily on fossil fuels.30

Modifying EV charging behavior means “we can use EVs to benefit the grid,” as David Reichmuth told Treehugger. “EVs can be part of a smarter grid,” where EV owners can work with utilities so that their vehicles are charged when demand on the grid is low and the sources of electricity are clean. With pilot programs already underway, he said, “we’ll soon see the flexibility inherent in EV charging being used to enable a cleaner grid.”

In the build-out of electric vehicle charging stations, the success of efforts to increase the environmental benefit of EVs will also rely on charging stations that use clean or low-carbon energy sources. High-speed DC charging can put demands on the electricity grid, especially during hours of peak electricity demand. This can require utilities to rely more heavily on natural gas “peaker” plants.

Reichmuth noted that many charging stations with DC Fast Charging are installing battery storage to cut their utility costs and also reduce reliance on high-carbon power plants. Charging their batteries with solar-generated electricity and discharging them during peak demand hours allows charging stations to support EV adoption at the same time that they promote solar energy even when the sun isn’t shining.37

End of Life

What happens to electric vehicles when they’ve reached their end of life? As with gas-powered vehicles, scrap yards can recycle or re-sell the metals, electronic waste, tires, and other elements of an electric vehicle. The main difference, of course, is the battery. In gas-powered vehicles, over 98% of the materials by mass in lead-acid batteries are successfully recycled.38 EV battery recycling is still in its infancy since most electric vehicles have only been on the road for fewer than five years. When those vehicles do reach their end of life, there could be some 200,00 metric tons of lithium-ion batteries that need to be disposed. A successful battery recycling program needs to be developed to avoid decreasing the relative benefits of EVs.39

It Only Gets Better

Periods in the life cycle of an electric vehicle can be more environmentally harmful than in similar periods of a gas-powered car, and in areas where the electricity supply is dominated by coal, EVs produce more air pollution and greenhouse gases than gas-powered cars. But those areas are far outweighed by the overall benefits of EV—and the benefits can only improve as EV manufacturing evolves and as electricity grids get cleaner.

Were half of the cars on the road electric, global carbon emissions could be reduced by as much as 1.5 gigatons—equivalent to the current admissions of Russia.40 By 2050, electrification of the transport sector can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 93%, nitrogen oxide emissions by 96%, and sulfur oxide emissions by 99%, compared to 2020 levels, and lead to the prevention of 90,000 premature deaths.41

The electric vehicle industry is young, yet it is already producing cars that are environmentally more beneficial than their gas-powered equivalents. As the industry matures, those benefits can only increase.

How Will Covid-19 Change Demand For Office Space?

Organizations have had to do without the office during lockdown. Will they ever go back?
View the original article here

COVID-19 has focused minds on exactly what the office is for and how central a role it should play in corporate strategies and budgets, as well as making the strengths and limitations of home set-ups all too apparent.

Over the last few weeks, WSP has been considering what the future holds for the buildings where so many of us used to spend so much of our waking hours. From a human point of view, we’ve already explored how we’ll feel about going back to the office and how we might behave differently when we get there. From an engineering point of view, we’ve looked at whether we can virus-proof the office and improve resilience in this and future pandemics. Both of these have implications for how much space organizations might need or want in future, how much that space costs to fit out and operate, and ultimately how much occupiers can, or choose to, afford.

This article is about those decisions: how is demand for office space likely to change as a result of COVID-19?

Why do we need offices? Hasn’t lockdown proved that we can work just as well remotely?

To the surprise of many, COVID-19 has indeed demonstrated that a considerable amount of the work that usually takes place in offices can carry on when they are closed. Some have discovered that they can be more productive at home, and enjoy the freedom of a more relaxed schedule. Few openly mourn their morning commute.

But if COVID-19 has accelerated the trend for home working, it has also revealed its limitations – in a knowledge economy, an organization’s success will still depend on face-to-face interaction, collaboration and serendipity. With universal flexible working, the office could become a vital anchor. “When you’re trying to attract, retain and nurture top talent, the workplace plays a really significant part in how people perceive a business,” says Michael Holloway, general manager of property investment at Kiwi Property, one of New Zealand’s largest real estate firms. “Rather than doing a job interview on a videoconference, you want to go into their space and see how they value other members of staff.”

The office has an arguably even more important role in providing learning opportunities for younger employees, says Jim Coleman, head of economics at WSP in London. “A lot of developing people is not formal training, it’s all the other interactions. There’s still a lot to be gained from being together as a team.” This will apply differently across demographics – with a tension between younger employees’ need for training and senior employees’ greater motivation to work from home. “For people at the start of their careers, there’s probably more desire to be with other people because you’re still learning and you want the experience and the social life that goes with it. Whereas as you get older and you may have settled down and have children, it’s much easier to work from home.”

A greater amount of home working will persist: for the sake of resilience as much as anything else. “The next time a coronavirus comes along, we know we need to move quickly to this model, which means that it has to be in play – at least in part – most of the time,” says Coleman. “I don’t think any business will want to go back to the way things were done, so that has an immediate implication for space.”

 “I don’t think any business will want to go back to the way things were done, so that has an immediate implication for space”. Jim Coleman Head of Economics, WSP UK

How much office space will companies want?

Changing working practices are not the only determining factor. The International Monetary Fund has described the “Great Lockdown” as the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and foresees a recession at least as bad or worse than the 2007-08 global financial crisis.

Inevitably there will be a reduction in occupier demand, though it will vary from sector to sector. The worst-affected tourism and leisure industries will need less corporate space, while some professional services firms may be able to continue as normal with altered working practices. Booming sectors like technology and e-commerce are already more likely to embrace virtual working – Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has said that employees can work from home permanently if they want to. “Companies could see this as an opportunity to downsize, to reduce operating costs and invest more in technology,” says Paul Stapley, vice president in the project management team at WSP in Canada. “Occupiers have already been moving to shorter lease terms. If they’ve only got, say, six months left, they may decide to walk away.”

Organizations had already started to shrink footprints so that they had less than one desk per person, and the recession is likely to accelerate that trend. “In a crisis, there is always a focus on trying to reduce fixed costs like offices,” says Magnus Meyer, Managing Director WSP Nordics & Continental Europe. “The typical tenant will start thinking that maybe they don’t need space for 100% of their employees, maybe only 75% or 60%. Or they might not expand because of the crisis, but just work with the space they have.”

What makes COVID-19 such a strange phenomenon is that its immediate impact will be to push organizations in the opposite direction – they will need more space per employee. Companies have been squeezing more and more people onto floorplates for a long time, with just 8m2 per employee becoming a typical density. For offices to reopen safely and maintain physical distancing, ratios will have to shoot up again, with shifts, staggered start times and continued remote working essential.

It’s too early to say whether we will ever again feel comfortable occupying space in such close proximity to others, which makes the longer-term impact on office requirements very hard to gauge. Perhaps the better question is whether organizations will want the same kind of space that they’ve occupied in the past.

 “Companies could see this as an opportunity to downsize, to reduce operating costs and invest more in technology” 

Paul Stapley Vice president in the project management team , WSP Canada

What kind of office space will organizations want?

Companies will now be well aware that they could make do with less office space. But they may also have realized that they also need better, more resilient office space. “This crisis is probably going to accelerate the need for modern, flexible office space with lots of services,” says Meyer. “The buildings that suffer will be the older ones that tenants just don’t want any more. They’re just the wrong product.” 

Landlords will have to differentiate themselves with added services: “You might call it ‘high-end’, not from a luxury perspective but from a content perspective – you won’t just lease a ‘stupid’ space, you need to fill it with services to help the tenant be more productive, whether that is sustainability or wellness solutions or digital technology.” 

To justify its existence, the office will have to become a destination with a purpose, says David Gooderham, global account director with WSP in London. “If people continue to be the driver for change, as the most important component of an organization’s profitability, businesses will have to provide safe working environments that increase the feelgood factor and ultimately raise productivity and creativity. There’s much that we can learn from this lockdown period to make the workplace better and our interactions with it more effective.”

Holloway thinks the “hotelization” of office space will continue, with workplaces importing some of the home comforts that we’ve become used to. This might mean more relaxed dress codes, but also real planting and soft furnishings, to make spaces more cosy while helping to subtly create distance between people. “We need to think about furniture and other design solutions to create separation without losing the benefits of collaboration. If offices have a future, people need to feel safe in them.” 

Coworking spaces have been leaders in the field of hotelization, and are perhaps the ultimate destination offices. But COVID-19 has left tumbleweed blowing through these buzzy, high-density communities. We’ve considered whether this will be the death of the coworking space in a separate article.

“To justify its existence, the office will have to become a destination with a purpose” 

David Gooderham Global account director, WSP UK

This is another area where the short-term impact of COVID-19 may look very different to how things will eventually pan out. As workplaces start to reopen with physical distancing measures in place, offices in the centre of major cities are the most problematic, often necessitating commutes on crowded public transit. Suburban or out-of-town locations where workers typically drive will be able to resume something approaching normal operations much more quickly.

But if offices become destinations to meet coworkers, get inspiration and exchange ideas, rather than just to sit at a desk, those in buzzy locations make more sense. If organizations don’t need as much space because people work remotely more often, they may choose not to cut their rent bill but to spend the same amount on a smaller, more characterful building in an amenity-rich central location – a much more attractive destination for employees than a featureless office park.

A shift to working fewer days in the office will benefit expensive central locations most, believes Tommy Craig, senior managing director at Hines in New York. “New York is a very challenging place to achieve good work-life balance because it’s extraordinarily expensive to live and raise a family. If you alter that paradigm and allow employees to work from home one or two days a week, the whole work-life balance shifts in the direction of something much more favourable. Commuting 40% less is a big deal, given how large New York is and the length of our commutes.”

Economic activity has strongly clustered in the US’ larger cities over the last 50 years, as employment has shifted from manufacturing to services. Professor Bill Kerr at Harvard Business School has studied the progress of its world-beating talent clusters such as Silicon Valley, which exert a powerful, self-perpetuating global pull for skills and capital. Will they continue to thrive in the post-pandemic world? “What made talent clusters so powerful is that ideas can jump from person to person – of course if germs and viruses are also jumping from person to person, that’s going to make them a lot less attractive,” he says. “This has always been a big challenge for places that were built around interaction and being in close proximity.” If we can get back to work within the next few months, he thinks talent clusters will be secure for some time to come. “But if the pandemic continues for several years, these cities are going to struggle and we may see a more systematic pullback from the clusters. It’s a question of how it plays out over the next year.”

Another impact of COVID-19 could be that companies split operations between several locations, potentially benefiting smaller centres. “A lot ofcompanies are going to be thinking about how they could make their workforce if not pandemic-proof, at least pandemic-resistant,” says Kerr. “Opening a second office might not have made sense historically, but may be something that younger companies should do at an earlier stage. We have celebrated density and packing people together, but that’s putting a lot of eggs in one basket.”

” A lot companies are going to be thinking about how they could make their workforce if not pandemic-proof, at least pandemic-resistant”

 Bill Kerr Professor, Harvard Business School

What about new office developments? Do we really need to build extra space?

This will be down to the dynamics of supply and demand in local markets. In some places, there was already a structural undersupply of modern, high-quality office space, and COVID-19 is likely to exacerbate this, even if the overall demand remains the same. Changes may also take a while to feed through. As CBRE Canada has pointed out, commercial real estate is a lagging industry – two years elapsed before office vacancy rates peaked following the global financial crisis.

The other side of the equation is the supply of capital for office projects. WSP director Gary McCarthy advises financial institutions, and he thinks real estate will still be attractive. “There is a deep pool of capital available for the right assets and real estate will continue to offer long-term investment managers a defensive strategy for their portfolio, and return yields sufficiently above government bonds. There will be specific challenges – regional offices will struggle more than prime city centre offices – but I don’t see there being a drop in capital commitment.”

The big question for investors in the commercial sector, McCarthy adds, will be how to differentiate your asset from the rest. How can you make sure that your office is the one that tenants and their employees want to go to. What will make an office into a compelling destination in a post-COVID world? That’s a question we’ll consider in the next article in the series. Subscribe to receive the latest updates