February 17, 2021
Want answers? We’ve got you covered: DP 2/12 Quiz Answers. Hats off to Anne P., who scored a perfect 10 on last week’s quiz. Check in next week for another chance to test your current affairs acumen!
“The depressing thing about battery technology is that it gets better, but it gets better slowly. There are a whole bunch of problems in materials science and chemistry that come in trying to make existing batteries better.” — Nathan Myhrvold
“Batteries are the most dramatic object. Other things stop working or they break, But Batteries… They Die.” — Demetri Martin
It’s A Battle For Battery Production. Who Will Take Charge?
(Jan Woitas via Getty Images)
Transitioning to electrified, emission-free transportation means we’re going to need a whole lot of batteries, and the global race is on to make that happen. Said differently: this century’s Gold Rush is EVBs.
One energy research firm estimates that electric vehicles will make up 18% of new car sales by 2030, which would increase the demand for batteries eight-fold over what factories can currently produce. It’s a conservative estimate; some analysts expect electric vehicle sales will grow much faster. Lithium-ion batteries are the current standard for electric vehicles, but as demand for the precious metal is increasing, its price is soaring, its future availability is likely diminishing, and it can have a significant, negative environmental impact.
Car manufacturing itself hasn’t fundamentally changed in half a century, and right now it’s barely profitable. The battery industry, however, is still ripe for innovation. So auto manufacturers, government agencies, and investors are pouring money into battery research to find a safer, more efficient, less expensive substance to use. The race is intense to acquire the chemical recipe that will deliver the most energy at the lowest price and in the smallest package.
Four other battery materials being developed are sodium, fluoride, magnesium, and ammonia. Sodium is plentiful in seawater and requires little in the way of mining or extraction, but has a larger ion than lithium and a lower energy density. Fluoride is a negatively charged ion with high energy density, but it’s also reactive and hard to stabilize.
In the past, magnesium batteries lacked the power or storage capacity of lithium, but researchers now think they’ve overcome those problems. Likewise, researchers believe they’ve figured out how to produce ammonia without creating the greenhouse gas emissions that result at present. If so, it can be shipped anywhere to be converted into hydrogen to power fuel cells.
Current battery manufacturing is dominated by companies like Tesla, Panasonic, LG Chem, BYD China, and SK Innovation; nearly all are based in China, Japan, or South Korea. But investors are hurling money at start-ups like InoBat Auto, and QuantumScape, a Silicon Valley start-up whose investors include Volkswagen and Bill Gates.
The EU is subsidizing battery production to preserve auto industry jobs and avoid dependency on Asian suppliers. In the US, several battery factories are in the planning or construction phase, including a factory GM is building in Ohio with LG. But analysts say federal incentives for electric car and battery production are crucial to creating a thriving industry in America. (NYT, $; Discovery)
North Korea Tries To Hack Together A Vaccine Solution
- South Korea’s intelligence agency said Tuesday that North Korean hackers tried to break into the computer systems of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer searching for information on a coronavirus vaccine and treatment technology.
- The impoverished, nuclear-armed country is known to operate an army of thousands of well-trained hackers who’ve attacked companies, institutions, and researchers in the South and elsewhere. Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un closed North Korea’s borders in January 2020 in an effort to protect itself against the virus that had emerged in neighboring China.
- Kim has repeatedly insisted that self-imposed isolation has meant his country has had no coronavirus cases, although an effort to find information on the disease and treatment protocols would appear to contradict that assertion. (CBS News)
Trump Came In On An Escalator, But It’s Biden Who Fears Escalation
- A rocket attack on a US airbase in the Kurdish region of Iraq has killed a civilian contractor and injured nine others.
- The volley of approximately 14 rockets was fired late Monday at the base hosting US troops next to the airport in Erbil.
- It was the deadliest attack in nearly a year to hit US-led coalition forces deployed to fight the Islamic State in Iraq, and the first serious challenge for the Biden administration, which is trying to revive the Iran nuclear deal. (Guardian)
Additional World News
- As Fox News Struggles at Home, Murdoch Brings Its Playbook to the U.K. (NYT, $)
- Australia’s news media code reaches parliament with minor tweaks expected (Guardian). Google may have to pay up, after all.
- It was a milestone for Mexico’s democracy. Now López Obrador wants to get rid of the country’s freedom of information institute. (WaPo, $)
- WHO alerts six African countries after Ebola outbreaks (Reuters)
- Israel blocked Covid vaccines from entering Gaza, say Palestinians (Guardian)
- Spanish police arrest fugitive rapper at centre of free-speech debate (Guardian)
- Defying Biden administration, Egypt again arrests relatives of Egyptian American activist (WaPo, $)
- North Korean defectors: What happens when they get to the South? (BBC). First, they must walk through the defector detector.
- When Climate Change and Xenophobia Collide (New Yorker)
- In Athens, rare snow blankets Acropolis, halts vaccinations (AP)
- Dutch court orders government to lift Covid curfew (Guardian)
- Developing countries use Sinopharm, Sinovac vaccines (WaPo, $)
- Optimism as Cuba set to test its own Covid vaccine (BBC)
Texas Has Snow Winter Precautions In Place
(Chengyue Lao via Getty Images)
- Texas was unprepared for the unusually severe winter storm with wind chills below zero that has hit the state and hobbled the power grid. At least 4.4 million Texas customers were without power as of midday Tuesday.
- Republican Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for all 254 counties on Friday, but attempts to keep the heat and lights on at the onset of the severe weather failed. Rolling blackouts scheduled early Monday to conserve Texas’ energy supply turned into extended blackouts.
- The power supply outages in Texas affected millions of people across the border in northern Mexico, where some 4.7 million customers were left in the dark. Several people have died using unsafe methods to try keeping warm; energy company officials said the blackouts could continue as another winter blast is expected to hit by Wednesday.
- What has sent Texas reeling is not an engineering problem, nor is it the frozen wind turbines blamed by prominent Republicans. It is a financial structure for power generation that offers no incentives to power plant operators to prepare for winter. Critics say that in the name of deregulation and free markets, Texas has created an electric grid that puts an emphasis on cheap prices over reliable service. It’s a “Wild West market design based only on short-run prices,” said a portfolio manager at an analytical firm. (NPR; WaPo, $)
Taking Trump & Giuliani To Their Favorite Place On Earth: Court
- The NAACP, Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson, and a civil rights law firm filed a lawsuit Tuesday against former President Donald Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, two white supremacist groups.
- The suit alleges that Trump and Giuliani, in collaboration with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, conspired to incite the riots to keep Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election, and that their actions violated the Ku Klux Klan Act, a Reconstruction-era statute designed to protect both formerly enslaved African Americans and lawmakers in Congress from white supremacist violence. The litigation was prompted in large part by Trump’s acquittal on February 13th in his second impeachment trial.
- “If we don’t put a check on the spread of domestic terrorism, it will consume this nation and transform it to something that none of us recognize,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson. Plaintiffs also point to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s remarks after Trump’s acquittal that seemingly encouraged litigation against the former president by suggesting he was still vulnerable to legal action for his actions while in office. (Politico, LA Times)
Additional USA News
- A Glimpse of the Future in Texas: Climate Change Means Trouble for Power Grids (NYT, $)
- Biden extends foreclosure moratorium and mortgage forbearance through June (Politico) & Biden extends pandemic help for homeowners, renters wait (AP)
- Police Forces Have Long Tried to Weed Out Extremists in the Ranks. Then Came the Capitol Riot. (NYT, $). Looks like they’ll have to use Roundup.
- Supermarkets struggle to stop HFC leaks in freezers fueling global warming (WaPo, $). Maybe they should stop putting all their leeks in them.
- What McDonald’s Shows About The Minimum Wage (NPR)
- Tuskegee Study Deters Some Black People From Getting COVID-19 Vaccine (NPR)
- Cuomo Defends Nursing Home Coronavirus Reporting (NPR). Backed into a corner, he’s forced to nurse his own reputation.
- Debate rages as Facebook prepares to say whether Trump can return (Guardian)
- Who really owns the largest slice of Wall Street? (Guardian)
- After Trump’s acquittal: A foreign solution to America’s political dysfunction (WaPo, $)
- Opinion | The Plot to Help America’s Children (NYT, $)
- Big Tech’s Next Big Problem Could Come From People Like ‘Mr. Sweepy’ (NYT, $). Mr. Sweepy’s catchphrase is, of course, “chim chimney, chim chimney, chim chim cher-ee.”
- What the Fear of China Is Doing to American Science (Atlantic)
- The IRS Cashed Her Check. Then the Late Notices Started Coming. (ProPublica)
A New Theory From Far Out
- For decades, the consensus within the scientific community about the theorized cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs has remained the same: an asteroid, fleeing from the belt between Mars and Jupiter, crashed down into Earth, causing cataclysmic damage that extinguished most life on earth. Now, scientists think the large flying object may have come from much further away than they previously thought.
- New research at Harvard University theorizes that the ground-shaking damage came not from a nearby asteroid only a few planets away, but from some sort of long-range comet launched from the edge of the solar system, specifically an area called the Oort cloud.
- In this new theory, those who roamed the earth eons ago were wiped away by a mere fragment of this comet, which was sling-shotted by the might of Jupiter’s gravity towards the sun, whose tidal forces shattered it to many smaller fragments. One of those fragments — 50 miles apart, about the size of Boston — crashed into the land the dinosaurs called home.
- Not everyone in the scientific community is ready to subscribe to the new theory yet. “There’s still wiggle room if somebody really wants it to be a comet,” according to one planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute. “I just think making that case is really hard.” (NPR)
- A Deep-Sea Parasite Ekes Out Life in Hydrothermal Vents (Atlantic)
- In A Year Without Parades, Mardi Gras In New Orleans Is All About House Floats (NPR)
- Nature Makes Wood. Could a Lab Make It Better? (Wired). They probably could, but why wood they want to?
- The best of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier (Verge)
- ‘Ice age’ horse skeleton found in Utah backyard isn’t what we thought (Live Science)
- Carnival Was Cancelled, But The Soca Hits Kept Coming (NPR)
- “Don’t be evil” isn’t a normal company value. But Google isn’t a normal company. (Vox). I guess it’s better than the alternative.
- ‘The drum needed a blood sacrifice’: the rise of dark Nordic folk (Guardian)
- Welcome to Polebridge: One of the US’ last frontiers (BBC). Where you don’t need stop signs, because the only traffic hazard is grizzly bear poo.
- The untranslatable word that connects Wales (BBC)
- An Aging Burlesque Dancer’s Unlikely Romance (New Yorker)
- TV Characters Don’t Have Text History. This Is Not OK (Wired)
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU