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IMO 2023 – Shipping Industry Sailing towards a Greener Future but Unsure of the Route

The shipping industry plays a vital role in global trade. Majority of goods is transported by sea and most shipping vessels currently rely on marine fuels such as Marine Diesel Oil (MDO), Marine Gas Oil (MGO), and Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO). One of the main reasons is that these fuels are cheaper and readily available, however, they are not environmentally-friendly. Shipping industry discharges a significant amount of carbon emissions, therefore, decarbonization and eventually reaching zero carbon emissions in this sector has become imperative. The United Nations agency responsible for regulating shipping, International Maritime Organization (IMO), aims to reduce ocean-vessel emissions to half by 2050. To meet the target, the shipping sector is looking to switch to alternative fuels, however, feasibility of this change still remains to be assessed.

Shipping industry accounts for vast proportion of global trade as a result of rapid growth in cargo transportation due to increased globalization and e-commerce. According to the International Chamber of Shipping, 90% of global trade is transported by sea, hence perpetuating carbon emissions in the shipping industry. According to a study published by the European Parliament, the shipping industry could be responsible for up to 17% of global carbon emissions by 2050. In comparison, in 2021, the sector contributed to about 3% of worldwide greenhouse gases. This significant increase in carbon emissions by the sector is resulting in increased pressure on the shipping industry to reduce its carbon footprint.

In an attempt to reduce emissions, IMO has adopted the Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) and the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) rating regulations. While the EEXI is a rating system that assesses the energy performance of existing ships based on speed, power, and engine size, the CII rating uses a ranking system to monitor the efficiency of individual ships. Under the CII rating system, each vessel will receive a ranking from A (good) to E (poor), starting from 2023. Ships receiving grade D for three years or Grade E for one year will have to put a corrective action plan in place. These new sets of regulations have been in effect since January 2023, and are a part of IMO’s Greenhouse Gas Strategy (GHG) that aim to reduce the carbon emissions from international shipping by 40% by 2030 and 70% by 2050 compared with 2008 levels.

Shipping is a highly capital-intensive industry with great dependence on fossil fuel. Most vessels are still dependent on traditional marine fuels and would require significant investment in infrastructure to transition to zero carbon emission fuels. A 2020 study by the University of Massachusetts estimated the total cost of decarbonization efforts would be about US$1.65 trillion by 2050 to create apt infrastructure to support zero carbon emission fuels. With shipping being the backbone of international trade, trade volumes are expected to grow continuously, resulting in increase in carbon emission, which will further push industry players to invest in alternative carbon-efficient fuel.

IMO 2023 – Shipping Industry Sailing towards a Greener Future but Unsure of the Route by EOS Intelligence

Alternative fuels have limited availability and cost restrictions

Currently, there are three primary fuels that are used in ships – MDO, MGO, and HFO. All three fuels are made from crude oil and emit carbon when burnt. Hence, the sector is actively looking for alternative fuels to replace these fuels with the introduction of IMO 2023 regulations.

Methanol could be a suitable alternative but availability could be a challenge

In pursuit of sustainable and greener fuel, the shipping industry is moving towards using other fuels – one of which is methanol. As per a Finland-based technology company Wärtsilä, methanol usage in ships, when compared to HFO, dramatically reduces carbon emissions and is easy to store. Considering this, the shipping giant, AP Moller-Maersk, headquartered in Denmark, has ordered 19 methanol-powered vessels. The company estimated that they would require about one million tons of green methanol per year to run these vessels, which will generate annual carbon emission savings of about 2.3 million tons. Another shipping company based in Beijing, China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO), has ordered 12 container ships, worth US$2.87 billion, which use methanol as a fuel.

However, the availability of methanol is also to be considered while assessing it as an alternative fuel. As per the world’s largest methanol producer, Methanex, the shipping industry would require about three million tons of methanol annually to fuel vessels. Therefore, it is not enough to build vessels that run on methanol but also ensure its availability to fuel the vessels.

Keeping such requirements in mind, Maersk has partnered with six companies across the globe to source at least 730,000 tons of methanol annually by the end of 2025. The six companies are CIMC ENRIC (China), European Energy (Denmark), Green Technology Bank (China), Orsted (Denmark), Proman (Switzerland), and WasteFuel (USA). Additionally, in 2018, COSCO partnered with the US-based IGP Methanol and China-based and Jinguotou (Dalian) Development to construct two methanol plants in IGP Methanol’s Gulf Coast Methanol Park. The plants are planned to have a capacity of 1.8 million tons of methanol per year each. COSCO is ensured to fuel its 12 newly ordered vessels through these two partners

Most methanol produced today is derived from fossil fuels. There are primarily three kinds of methanol – grey or brown methanol derived from natural gas, green methanol made from biomass gasification, and blue methanol derived from natural gas combined with carbon capture and storage technology (CCS). With the help of CCS technology, the carbon emitted is captured and later transported and stored deep underground permanently, hence reducing carbon emissions.

Both green and blue methanol are considered to be the most environment-friendly. However, most methanol available and used currently is either grey or brown. The availability of blue and green methanol is estimated to be less than 0.5 million tons annually in 2022, which is considered to be severely inadequate to power current fleet of vessels. While Washington-based, Methanol Institute estimated that renewable methanol production might increase to over 8 million tons annually by 2027, it is still unlikely to be sufficient to replace diesel as the go-to fuel.

Methanol as a fuel also has its challenges in terms of cost. Depending on the type of methanol consumed, traditional bunker fuels can be up to 15 times more expensive. Assuming the limited availability of methanol the cost is likely to increase. Further, industry players need to ensure methanol availability and feasibility before switching away from traditional marine fuel.

LNG – most likely a transitional fuel

While some players are looking at methanol as an alternative fuel, other players are considering LNG. LNG is 20-25% less carbon intensive than HFO and emits fewer nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides.

Rio Tinto, a mining company based in London, announced plans to add nine LNG dual-fueled Newcastlemax vessels in their fleet that transport bulk cargo, such as coal, iron ore, and grain, in 2023. The company started a one-year trial and is already seeing a reduction of about 25% in carbon emissions.

The main driver to convert to LNG fuel is the reduction in fuel costs. According to S&P Global, an energy company based in the UK, LNG prices vary from US$213-$353 as compared with MGO prices, which vary from US$550-$640. While LNG is cheaper, bunkering LNG to the vessel could be a challenging operation as there is lack of LNG bunkering infrastructure. Another significant drawback in the usage of LNG is methane slip, which is the discharge of unburned methane from an engine that could poison aquatic life.

As per World Bank, LNG as a marine fuel is most likely to play a limited role given its drawbacks. However, a combination of lower prices and the increasing number of LNG dual-fueled vessels might support bunkering demand in the future.

Ammonia at the nascent stage of adoption

Unlike LNG, ammonia is turning out to be a viable option as infrastructure is already taking shape. As per a 2020 report by Siemens, German industrial manufacturing company, 120 ports are already dealing with the import and export of ammonia worldwide. However, even with the infrastructure, only green ammonia is a zero-carbon fuel and it is not produced anywhere at the moment.

Looking at the fuel as an alternative option, Grieg Maritime and Wärtsilä (Norwegian and Finnish shipping companies, respectively), are jointly running a project to launch an ammonia-fueled tanker producing no greenhouse gas emissions by 2024. The project is also being supported by the Norwegian government with a funding of US$46.3 million. The partnership aims to build the world’s first green ammonia-fueled tanker. The partners plan to distribute green ammonia from a factory based in Norway to various locations and end-users along the coast.

There is a wide range of alternative fuels that are yet to be examined from the point of sustainability. Hydrogen is also one of the fuels that is considered as an option for shipping vessels. We wrote about it in our previous Perspective: Hydrogen: Future of Shipping Industry?

Other synthetic fuels combining hydrogen and carbon monoxide are also present and already used extensively in other industries such as agriculture. However, their viability is yet to be tested in the shipping industry. Moreover, transitioning to alternative fuels is not easy. Several factors are needed to be considered before switching. To be a practical replacement for diesel, it needs to be readily available and price competitive with traditional fuels.

EOS Perspective

The global shipping sector was already on its toes since the IMO’s 2020 sulfur regulation that limited sulfur content in a ships’ fuel oil to a maximum of 0.5% (from pervious 3.5%). After the IMO’s sulfur regulation, players started to gradually switch to other fuels and phased out high-sulfur fuel oil from their operations. The new 2023 regulation again brings the shipping industry to heel. The key challenge the marine industry faces in decarbonization is the limited availability and high cost of alternative fuels. Additionally, infrastructural changes are also required while adapting to these new fuels. Ships modifications require major capital investments, while construction of new vessels takes several years.

MGO is shipping’s primary fuel today and is hard to match in terms of existing scale and commercial attractiveness as it already is a well-established fuel and has been in use for decades. Other viable fuels, such as methanol, LNG, hydrogen, and ammonia, although present themselves to be better options for achieving IMO’s 2050 target, are likely to be costly and would require much higher supply to meet the demand to power the vessels. Future fuel scenarios are likely to be determined by both supply and demand side dynamics.

For now, the key question for the players remains the availability of cleaner fuels at a cost that is acceptable and has the potential to replace traditional fuels. This further opens up the scope for partnerships between the players and fuel producers to jointly build a roadmap to ascertain fuel availability and bunkering infrastructure. With the players already moving towards adopting cleaner fuels, it is safe to infer that more partnerships between the fuel producers and the players are likely be seen in the sector in the years leading towards meeting IMO’s 2050 target.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Electric Vehicle Industry Jittery over Looming Lithium Supply Shortage

The transition to Electric Vehicles (EVs) is picking pace with concentrated efforts to achieve the net-zero carbon scenario by 2050. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that global EV sales reached 6.6 million units in 2021, nearly doubling from the previous year. IEA projects that the number of EVs in use (across all road transport modes excluding two/three-wheelers) is expected to increase from 18 million vehicles in 2021 to 200 million vehicles by 2030, recording an average annual growth of over 30%. The estimation is based on policies announced by governments around the world as of mid-2021. This scenario will result in a sixfold increase in the demand for lithium, a key material used in the manufacturing of EV batteries, by 2030. With increasing EV demand, the industry looks to navigate through the lithium supply disruptions.

Lithium supply shortages are not going away soon

The global EV market is already struggling with lithium supply constraints. Both lithium carbonate (Li2CO3) and lithium hydroxide (LiOH) are used for the production of EV batteries, but traditionally lithium hydroxide is obtained from processing of lithium carbonate, so the industry is more watchful of lithium carbonate production. BloombergNEF, a commodity market research provider, indicated that the production of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) was estimated to reach around 673,000 tons in 2022, while the demand was projected to exceed 676,000 tons LCE. In January 2023, a leading lithium producer, Albemarle, indicated that the global demand for LCE would expand to 1.8 million metric tons (MMt) (~1.98 million tons) by 2025 and 3.7 MMt (~4 million tons) by 2030. Meanwhile, the supply of LCE is expected to reach 2.9 MMt (~3.2 million tons) by 2030, creating a huge deficit.

There is a need to scale up lithium mining and processing. IEA indicates that about 50 new average-sized mines need to be built to fulfill the rising lithium demand. Lithium as a resource is not scarce; as per the US Geological Survey estimates, the global lithium reserves stand at about 22 million tons, enough to sustain the demand for EVs far in the future.

However, the process of mining and refining the metal is time-consuming and not keeping up pace with the surging demand. As per IEA analysis, between 2010 and 2019, the lithium mines that started production took an average of 16.5 years to develop. Thus, lithium production is not likely to shoot up drastically in a short period of time.

Considering the challenges in increasing the lithium production output, industry stakeholders across the EV value chain are racing to prepare for the anticipated supply chain disruptions.

Electric Vehicle Industry Jittery over Looming Lithium Supply Shortage by EOS Intelligence

Electric Vehicle Industry Jittery over Looming Lithium Supply Shortage by EOS Intelligence

Automakers resort to vertical integration to tackle supply chain disruptions

At the COP26 climate meet in November 2021, governments of 30 countries pledged to phase out the sales of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040. Six automakers – Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar Land Rover, Quantum Motors (a Bolivia-based automaker), and Volvo – joined the governments in this pledge. While Volkswagen and Honda did not officially sign the agreement, both companies announced that they are aiming to become 100% EV companies by 2040. Other leading automakers have also indicated EVs to be a significant part of their future product portfolio. Such commitment shows that EVs are indeed going to be the future of the automotive industry.

To keep up with the market demand, automakers have resorted to vertical integration to gain better control over the EV supply chain – from batteries to raw materials supply, including lithium.

Building own battery manufacturing capabilities

Till now, China has dominated the global battery market. The country produced three-fourths of the global lithium-ion batteries in 2020. At the forefront, automakers are looking to reduce their reliance on China for the supply of EV batteries. Moreover, many automakers have invested in building their own EV battery manufacturing capabilities.

While the USA contributed merely 8% to the global EV battery production in 2020, it has now become the next hot destination for battery manufacturing, mainly because of the government’s vision to develop an indigenous EV battery supply chain to support their target of 50% vehicle sales to be electric by 2030. As per the Inflation Reduction Act passed in August 2022, the government would offer up to US$7,500 in tax credit for a new EV purchase.

However, half of this tax credit amount is linked to the condition that at least 50% of EV batteries must be manufactured or assembled in the USA, Canada, or Mexico. Taking effect at the beginning of 2023, the threshold will increase to 100% by 2029. To be eligible for the other half of the tax credit, at least 40% of the battery minerals must be sourced from the USA or the countries that have free trade agreements with the USA. The threshold will increase to 80% by 2027. In October 2022, the Biden Administration committed more than US$3 billion in investment to strengthen domestic battery production capabilities. While some automakers had already been planning EV battery production in the USA, after the recent announcements, the USA is likely to become the next EV battery manufacturing hub.

BloombergNEF indicated that between 2009 and 2022, 882 battery manufacturing projects (with a total investment of US$108 billion) were started or announced in the USA, of which, about 25% were rolled out in 2022.

In September 2021, Ford signed a joint venture deal with Korean battery manufacturer SK Innovation (BlueOvalSK) to build three battery manufacturing plants in the USA with a total investment of US$11.4 billion. Once operational, the combined output of three factories will be 129 GWh which is enough to power 1 million EVs.

In August 2022, Honda announced an investment of US$4.4 billion to build an EV battery plant in Ohio in partnership with Korean battery manufacturer LG Energy Solutions.

As of January 2023, GM, in partnership LG Energy Solutions, announced to build four new battery factories in the USA that are expected to have a total annual capacity of 140GWh.

Toyota, Hyundai, Stellantis, and BMW are a few other automakers who also announced plans to establish EV battery production facilities in the USA during 2022.

Automakers are also expanding battery manufacturing capabilities in the regions closer to their EV production base. For instance, Volkswagen is aiming to have six battery cell production plants operating in Europe by 2030 for a total of 240GWh a year.

In August 2022, Toyota announced plans to invest a total of US$5.6 billion to build EV battery plants in the USA as well as Japan which will add 40 GWh to its global annual EV battery capacity.

Focusing on securing long-term lithium supply

While vertically integrating the battery manufacturing process, the automakers are also directly reaching out to lithium miners to lock the lithium supply to meet their EV production agenda.

Being foresightful, Toyota realized early on the need to invest in lithium supply, and thus acquired a 15% share in an Australian lithium mining company Orocobre (rebranded as Allkem after its merger with Galaxy Resources in 2021) through its trading arm Toyota Tsusho in 2018. As a part of this agreement, Toyota invested a total of about US$187 million for the expansion of Olaroz Lithium Facility in Argentina and became an exclusive sales agent for the lithium produced at this facility. In August 2022, a Toyota-Panasonic JV manufacturing EV batteries struck a deal with Ioneer (operating lithium mine in Nevada, USA) securing a supply of 4,000 tons of LCE annually for five years starting in 2025.

Since the beginning of 2022, Ford secured lithium supply from different parts of the world through deals with multiple mining companies. This included deal with Australia-based mining company Ioneer working on Rhyolite Ridge project in Nevada, USA, US-based Compass Minerals working on extraction of LCE from Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA, Australia-based Lake Resources operating mining facility in Argentina, and Australia-based Liontown Resources operating Kathleen Valley project in Western Australia.

GM is also among the leading automakers that jumped on the bandwagon. In July 2021, the company announced a strategic investment to support a lithium mining company, Controlled Thermal Resources, to develop a lithium production site in California, USA (Hell’s Kitchen project). The first phase of production is planned to begin in 2024 with estimated lithium hydroxide production of 20,000 tons per annum, and under the agreement, GM would have the first rights on this. In July 2022, GM announced a strategic partnership with Livent, a lithium mining and processing company. As part of this agreement, Livent would supply battery-grade lithium hydroxide to GM over a period of six years beginning in 2025. The automaker continues to invest in this direction; in January 2023, GM announced a US$650 million investment in the lithium producer Lithium Americas developing one of the largest lithium mines in the USA, which is expected to begin operations in 2026. As a part of the deal, GM will get exclusive access to the first phase of lithium output, and the right to first offer on the production in the second phase.

The year 2022 also witnessed other automakers investing heavily in partnerships with mining companies to secure a long-term supply of lithium. The partnership between Dutch automaker Stellantis and Australia-based Controlled Thermal Resources, Mercedes-Benz and Canada-based Rock Tech Lithium, Chinese automaker Nio and Australia-based Greenwing Resources, are few other examples.

There are also frontrunners who are directly taking charge of the lithium mining and refining process. In June 2022, the Chinese EV giant BYD announced plans to purchase six lithium mines in Africa. If all deals fall in place as planned, BYD will have enough lithium to manufacture more than 27 million EVs. American Tesla recently indicated that it might consider buying a mining company. In August 2022, while applying for a tax break, Tesla confirmed its plan to build a lithium refinery plant in the USA.

This vertical integration is nothing new in this sector. In the early days of the auto industry, automakers owned much of the supply chain. For instance, Ford had their own mines and steel mill at one point in time. Do we see the automakers going back to their roots?

Battery makers are also looking for alternatives

Some of the battery makers, especially the Chinese EV battery giants, are going upstream and expanding into lithium mining. For instance, in September 2021, Chinese battery maker Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) agreed to buy Canada’s Millennial Lithium for approximately US$297.3 million. Another Chinese battery maker Sunwoda announced in July 2022 that the company plans to buy Laguna Caro lithium mining project in Argentina through one of its subsidiaries.

However, being aware that the lithium shortage is not going to be resolved overnight, battery makers are ramping up R&D to develop alternatives. In 2021, CATL introduced first-generation sodium-ion batteries having a high energy density of 160 watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg). This still does not match up to lithium-ion batteries that have an energy density of about 250 Wh/kg and thus allow longer driving range. Since sodium-ion batteries and lithium-ion batteries have similar working principles, CATL introduced an AB battery system that integrates both types of batteries. The company plans to set up the supply chain for sodium-ion batteries in 2023.

Zinc-air batteries, which are composed of a porous air cathode and a zinc metal anode, have been identified as another potential alternative to lithium-ion batteries. Zinc-air batteries have been proven to be suitable for use in stationary energy storage, mainly energy grids, but it is yet to be seen if they could be as effective in EVs. Application of zinc-air batteries in EVs – either standalone or in combination with lithium-ion batteries – is under development and far from market commercialization. A World Bank report released in 2020 indicated that mass deployment of zinc-air batteries is unlikely to happen before 2030.

EOS Perspective

Despite all the measures, the anticipated lithium shortages will be a setback for the transition to EV. One of the major factors will be the escalating costs of lithium, which will in turn impact the affordability of EVs.

Lithium prices have skyrocketed in the past two years on the account of exploding EV demand and lithium supply constraints. The price per ton of LCE increased from US$5,000 in July 2020 to US$70,000 in July 2022.

One of the key reasons driving the adoption of EVs has been the cost of EVs becoming comparable to the cost of conventional internal combustion engine vehicles because of the continually decreasing lithium battery prices. By the end of 2021, the average price of a lithium-ion EV battery had plunged to US$132 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) as compared to US$1,200/kWh in 2010.

Experts project that EVs will become a mass market product when the cost of the lithium-ion battery reaches the milestone of US$100/kWh. Being so near to the milestone, the price of lithium-ion batteries is likely to take a reverse trend due to the lithium supply deficit and increase for the first time in more than a decade. As per BloombergNEF estimates, the average price of the lithium-ion battery rose to US$135/kWh in 2022. Another research firm Benchmark Mineral Intelligence estimated that the cost of lithium-ion batteries increased by 10% in 2022. This would have a direct impact on the cost of EVs as batteries account for more than one-third of the cost of EV production.

The automakers are still healing from the chip shortage, which we talked about in one of our previous articles: Chip Shortage Puts a Brake on Automotive Production. They are now faced with lithium supply constraints which are not expected to ease down for a couple of years. And then there is also a looming threat of a shortage of other minerals such as graphite, nickel, cobalt, etc., which are also critical for the production of EV components. While the world is determined and excited about the EV revolution, the transition is going to be challenging.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Commercial Nuclear Fusion – Reality or a Fairy Tale?

Nuclear fusion has recently gained attention as a potential source of clean energy. It was a result of the US National Ignition Facility in California achieving a major milestone in December 2022 in which researchers were able to produce more energy than was used to ignite it for the first time. Several countries are cooperating in the world’s largest fusion experiment project called ITER, focused on the construction and operation of an experimental fusion reactor located in France. Large cap companies such as Google and the ministries regulating energy policies across the globe are also investing in fusion energy projects and start-ups to promote fusion energy generation. Despite huge investments, commercializing fusion energy still has a long way to go due to certain technological and operational challenges associated with generation of this type of energy.

Ever-increasing carbon emissions due to the ongoing rise in energy consumption are driving the need for accelerating energy generation from renewable sources. As of October 2022, over 40% of global carbon emissions were caused by power generation. As per the International Energy Agency, carbon emissions from energy generation increased by 0.9% in 2022 in comparison with 2021, to reach 36.8GT.

Additionally, the energy crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, particularly in Europe further augmented the need for energy generation using renewable sources. The surge in energy demand from households and industries is putting pressure on the existing energy supplies, thus resulting in high energy prices.

So far, solar and wind energy sources have been prominently used across countries to meet the rapidly increasing energy demand. Nuclear fusion is another alternative renewable source as it does not emit carbon emissions or produce long-lived radioactive waste products, unlike nuclear fission.

Nuclear fusion is an energy-intensive process and requires high temperatures for fusion reaction. In nuclear fusion process energy is released by combining two atomic nuclei into one heavier nucleus. The released energy is then captured and converted into electricity by a fusion machine. This process is also the key source of energy in the sun and other stars.

Nuclear fusion releases around four million times more energy as compared to coal, gas, or oil, and four times more than nuclear fission technology. Nuclear fusion can provide energy to an extent that can power up homes, cities, and whole countries.

Current state of the nuclear fusion energy

The potential of generating nuclear fusion energy has been recognized since the 1950s. Countries across geographies have been involved in nuclear fusion research, led by the EU, USA, Russia, and Japan along with vigorous programs underway in China, Brazil, Korea, and Canada. Various experimental fusion devices have been designed and constructed to advance and transform the way fusion energy is generated. These includes tokamaks, stellarators, and laser-based technology devices. Tokamaks and stellarators have been used more commonly for fusion energy research experiments.

Some of the tokamaks and stellarators built across countries for generating fusion energy include the Joint European Torus (JET) started in the UK in 1978, Wendelstein 7-X stellarator started in Germany in 1994, Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) started in South Korea in 1995, the Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak- (MAST) initially started in the UK in 1997 and further upgraded to MAST-U in 2013, and Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) started in China in 2000, among others. Six countries including China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, the USA, as well as the EU are cooperating in the world’s largest fusion experiment, ITER, an experimental fusion reactor currently under construction in France through EURATOM, the European Atomic Energy Community. ITER idea was first launched in 1985 and established in 2007. Its first experiment was scheduled to start in 2025 but is delayed due to Covid-19 disruptions. It is aimed at producing 500MW of fusion power from 50MW of input heating power.

Further, in 2017, China launched the China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR) project as a follow-up to the ITER. This tokamak device is aimed at producing an extremely powerful magnetic field to confine plasma and generate fusion energy. This magnetic field can contain and control hydrogen gas ten times hotter than the core of the sun. CFETR is aimed at producing a peak power output of 2GW once completed in 2035, bridging the gap between scientific experiments and commercial use.

Extensive progress has been noticed in studying laser-based technology for fusion energy generation. Some of the facilities that use laser technology to produce fusion energy include the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in the USA and the Laser Mégajoule (LMJ) in France.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also supports its member states in research activities related to fusion energy generation. It also organizes various workshops on fusion power plant concepts demonstration, technical meetings, and coordinates research activities.

Nuclear Fusion – Reality or a Fairy Tale?by EOS Intelligence

Nuclear Fusion – Reality or a Fairy Tale? by EOS Intelligence

Some of the breakthroughs achieved in fusion energy experiments to date

There has been significant progress in the research and development activities focused on nuclear fusion energy generation. Researchers are continuously emphasizing optimizing the condition of plasma through changes in density, temperature, and confinement time to achieve the required level of performance for a power plant. Several nuclear reactors were able to sustain high temperatures during the fusion process. For instance, in January 2022, the EAST reactor in China sustained temperatures of 126 million degrees Fahrenheit, which is nearly five times hotter than the sun, for 17 minutes, and thus, broke the record for longest sustained nuclear fusion.

In February 2022, the Joint European Torus (JET) achieved a record performance for sustained fusion energy of 59MJ over five seconds.

Also, in September 2022, the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) experiment achieved plasma temperatures of 120 million kelvins for up to 20 seconds, a key demonstration of simultaneous high temperatures and plasma stability.

Recently in December 2022, a major breakthrough was achieved at the US National Ignition Facility in California by using inertial confinement fusion which released more energy than was pumped in by the lasers for the first time in the world. The laser shot released 3.15MJ of energy in comparison with the 2.05MJ pumped to the hydrogen isotope pellet by lasers. This breakthrough is likely to pave the way for the abundant clean energy in the future.

Breakthroughs driving further investment in fusion energy R&D

Breakthroughs achieved over the past years in various projects have attracted significant investment by both government and private sector in the research and development of fusion energy. For instance, in February 2023, Israel’s Ministry of Energy (MoE) proposed to provide US$11.5 million to establish a national nuclear fusion institute in Israel. This initiative includes major universities of Israel namely the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Technion and Tel Aviv University, the Weizmann Institute of Science, as well as NT-Tao, an Israel-based start-up which is engaged in the development of a compact system for nuclear fusion.

Similarly, in October 2022, the UK government announced to provide US$249.6 million of funding for the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) project’s first phase which will include concept design by the UK Atomic Energy Authority by 2024. STEP is a program aimed at designing and constructing a prototype fusion energy plant by 2040.

In March 2022, the US Department of Energy (DOE) proposed to provide around US$50 million of federal funding to support US scientists involved in conducting experimental research in fusion energy science. Of this, US$20 million was to support tokamak facilities and US$30 million to support fusion research to improve the performance of fusion and increase the duration of burning plasma. In addition to this, the US government’s budget for the financial year 2023 included US$723 million for the Office of Science Fusion Energy Sciences research in enabling technologies, materials, advanced computing and simulation, and new partnerships with private fusion efforts. This amount included US$240 million for the ongoing construction of ITER tokamak. Also, the budget for the financial year 2024 includes US$16.5 billion to support climate science and clean energy innovation including US$1 billion to advance fusion energy technology.

Private funding in fusion companies has also increased significantly in the recent past. As per the Fusion Industry Association Report 2022 published in July, private sector funding amounted to about US$4.8 billion in total, witnessing an increase of 139% since 2021. Fusion companies also received an additional US$117 million in grants and other funding from governments. Big resource groups such as Equinor based in Norway, Google and Chevron based in the USA have also invested in fusion energy research. For instance, in July 2022, Chevron together with Google and Japan-based Sumitomo Corporation invested in TAE Technologies, a US-based nuclear fusion start-up, in a US$250 million fundraising round to build its next-generation fusion machine.

In addition to this, entrepreneurs including Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are also providing financial support. In December 2021, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) raised around US$1.8 billion in series B funding from various key investors including Bill Gates, DFJ Growth, and Emerson Collective among others, to commercialize fusion energy.

Companies engaged in nuclear fusion energy generation

More than 35 companies are engaged in fusion energy generation for commercial use, such as Tokamak Energy, General Fusion, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Helion Energy, Zap Energy, and TAE Technologies, among others. These fusion companies are increasingly emphasizing collaborations and experimenting with new technologies to produce fusion energy and make it available for commercial use.

In March 2023, Eni, an energy group based in Italy, and Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) based in the USA, a spin-out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), signed a collaboration agreement aimed at accelerating the industrialization of fusion energy.

In February 2023, TAE Technologies achieved a breakthrough in its hydrogen-boron fusion experiment in magnetically confined fusion plasma. This experiment was a collaboration between Japan’s National Institute for Fusion Science (NIFT) and TAE Technologies.

Also in February 2023, Tokamak energy proposed to build new fusion energy advanced prototype at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Culham Campus, UK, using power plant-relevant magnet technology. It also built the first set of high-temperature superconducting magnets for testing nuclear fusion power plants. This super magnet can confine and control extremely hot plasma created during the fusion process.

Certain breakthroughs achieved over the years in the nuclear fusion energy field have encouraged the entry of various start-ups across geographies. For instance, Princeton Stellarators, a US-based start-up focused on building modular, utility-scale fusion power, was founded in 2022. Another start-up named Focused Energy, a Germany-based fusion company was founded in 2021 to develop a fusion power plant based on laser and target technology. In September 2021, the company raised US$15 million in seed funding led by Prime Movers Lab along with additional investment from various entrepreneurs.

Start-ups are also emphasizing raising funds to create new fusion technologies and make a significant impact on the industry. In February 2023, NT-Tao, an Israel-based nuclear fusion start-up founded in 2019 raised US$22 million in a series A funding round aimed at developing a high-density, compact fusion reactor to provide clean energy.

Additionally, in January 2023, Renaissance Fusion, a France-based start-up founded in 2020, raised US$16.4 million in a seed funding round led by Lowercarbon Capital. The company is engaged in the development of a stellarator reactor for fusion energy generation.

Challenges to nuclear fusion energy generation

Although a lot of companies and governments across geographies are investing in nuclear fusion energy generation experiments, building full-scale fusion generating facilities requires advanced engineering, advanced vacuum systems, and superconducting magnets. One of the key challenges in fusion process is the requirement of extremely high temperature to produce energy. Also, it becomes difficult to control plasma at such high temperatures.

Additionally, lack of availability of materials that can extract heat more effectively while withstanding their mechanical properties for a longer duration is another challenge affecting the fusion energy generation process.

Moreover, fusion research projects are also facing capital and financing challenges due to high upfront costs, return uncertainty, and long project duration. Capital investment involved in building and operating a fusion reactor is high due to complex technology that requires significant investment in R&D, high energy requirement, use of advanced materials, and regulatory requirements aimed at ensuring the safety and low environmental impact of the fusion reactor. The cost of building a fusion reactor ranges between tens to hundreds of billions of dollars. It can vary depending on various factors such as size, design, location, materials, and technology used.

Since fusion energy is a new technology, there is uncertainty about when nuclear fusion will become a viable and cost-effective energy source such as other energy sources including wind and solar. This makes it difficult for investors to invest in fusion projects and predict the return on investment.

However, ongoing research and development activities aimed at building advanced, highly efficient, and cost-effective fusion reactors, and commercializing fusion energy generation at a large scale are likely to overcome these challenges in the long term.

EOS Perspective

Accelerating climate crisis is driving the investment in nuclear fusion research and development as it does not create carbon emissions and long-lasting nuclear waste products. Over the past several years, various fusion research projects, university programs, and start-ups have achieved breakthroughs in the fusion energy field. The most recent breakthrough at US National Ignition Facility in California, which released more energy than was pumped in by the lasers, has paved the way to the nuclear fusion gold rush and sparked excitement among investors, companies, and researchers.

Many fusion companies such as Commonwealth Fusion Systems and TAE Technologies are claiming to exceed breakeven by 2025 and commercialize fusion energy by 2030. Billions of dollars have been invested in nuclear fusion energy generation experiments but no company or projects have been able to achieve breakeven yet.

Several new fusion projects are planning on using advanced materials and putting a new generation of supercomputers to tweak the performance of ultrahigh-temperature plasma, but commercializing fusion energy is still far from reality. Moreover, the fusion process is very complex, requires extreme temperature for fusion reactions, and involves huge energy costs. Thus, other alternative clean energy sources such as wind and solar are likely to remain the near-term methods to meet sustainable energy demand. At the same time, it should be expected that the increasing government support and investment by large cap organizations and entrepreneurs are likely to help set up viable fusion power plants in the future.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Sustainable Electronics Transforming Consumer Tech Companies

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Globally, electronics are discarded at alarming rates, generating unprecedented amounts of e-waste. On the other side, finite resources such as minerals and metals, which are used to make these electronics, are getting depleted. To foster sustainability across the electronics value chain, many tech companies are adopting strategies such as incorporating long-lasting product design, using recyclable and biodegradable materials, using clean energy for power generation, etc. However, sustainable electronics concept is still in a nascent stage of adoption and a lot of work needs to be done. Strict legislations, cross-sectoral collaborations, organizations facilitating networking and knowledge sharing, and changes in business models are needed to implement sustainability across various business units in the electronics industry.

Growing need for sustainability in electronics

Global consumption of electronics is rising exponentially and is expected to double by 2050. This increase is set to adversely affect the environment leading to more mining of raw materials, an unprecedented increase in e-waste, and increased carbon emissions during manufacturing.

Globally, people are discarding electronics sooner than before due to availability of new electronics, owning outdated models, obsolescence, etc. Over the last few years, nearly 50 million tons of e-waste has been generated annually. Only 17% of this e-waste is recycled globally, and the rest is transported and dumped in developing countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria, and India, which do not have adequate facilities for processing and handling e-waste. This e-waste ends up in landfills accounting for approximately 70% of hazardous chemicals and pollutes the air and water streams. Moreover, e-waste generated globally contains recyclable or reusable raw materials, scrap rare earth metals, plastics, and valuable elements, which are valued at US$62.5 billion per year.

Given the economic and environmental cost of e-waste as well as responding to growing consumer preference for sustainable products, several companies are looking to transition to sustainable electronics. Sustainable electronics are products that are made using recycled or reusable and biodegradable materials as well as products that generate low carbon emissions during manufacturing and distribution.

Sustainable electronics transforming consumer tech companies by EOS Intelligence

Sustainable electronics transforming consumer tech companies by EOS Intelligence

Recycling, clean energy power, and modular design for sustainable electronics

Over the last few years, consumer tech companies have been adopting many strategies for manufacturing electronics sustainably. In 2021, tech giants, Cisco, Dell, Google, Microsoft, Vodafone, and many others, together formed a “Circular Electronics Partnership (CEP)” to accelerate the circular economy for electronics by 2030, and to help businesses and organizations overcome barriers to sustainable electronics.

Several companies are looking to increase the life span of their smart phones to make them more sustainable. Increasing the phone’s life span by two years can reduce carbon emissions to a great extent, as 80% of the carbon emissions come during manufacturing, shipping, and the first year of phone usage. Fairphone, a Dutch-based smart phone manufacturer, has introduced smart phones with a lifespan of approximately 5 years, higher than the average lifespan of 2.5 years. Similarly, Teracube, a US-based sustainable smart phone manufacturer has launched phones that can last up to 4 years.

Many companies are also designing their products with modularity, which allows users to repair, upgrade, customize, and disassemble their gadgets easily. For instance, Framework Computer, a US-based laptop manufacturer, sells laptops that can be upgraded. The company offers upgrading kits that contain laptop main boards and top covers, to customize the device as per the user’s need. Similarly, Fairphone manufactures modular smart phones, which are easy to repair and upgrade. These kinds of gadgets eliminate the user’s need to buy new ones, saving both costs and wastage.

There is also an increased interest among consumer electronics companies to use recycled materials in various products. Sony, a Japan-based multinational corporation, has developed a recycled plastic, SORPLAS, and is using it in a range of its products such as audio systems, and televisions since 2011. In 2022, Logitech, a Swiss-American manufacturer of computer peripherals and software, used recycled plastic in 65% of its mice and keyboards. Similarly, in 2021, Acer, a Taiwan-based electronics corporation, launched a series of PCs named Vero, which uses recycled plastics for the chassis and keycaps. Acer also launched the Earthion program, an eco-friendly initiative, in the same year and started working closely with suppliers and partners to bring various sustainability measures in product design, packaging design, and production. Tech giant, Apple, stopped selling chargers and headphones along with the iPhone in 2020 to cut e-waste. The company used 20% of recycled material in all its products in 2021 and uses robots to disassemble or separate metals from e-waste. There is 40% recycled content in MacBook Air with Retina display and 99% recycled tungsten is used for iPhone 12 and Apple Watch Series. Samsung, a multinational electronics corporation, is using recycled plastics in refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners, TVs, monitors, and mobile phone chargers.

Due to this increased demand for recycled materials, recycling companies are receiving investments to a significant extent. In 2021, Closed Loop Partners, a US-based investment firm, invested an undisclosed amount in ERI, a US-based electronics recycler that supplies materials to companies such as Best Buy, Target, and Amazon, to extend the capacity for the collection and processing of electronics. Similarly, in 2022, Australian Business Growth Fund (ABGF), an investment fund focused on small to medium-sized Australian businesses, invested US$7.5 million in Scipher, an Australia-based urban mining and e-waste recycling business.

Significant activity has been happening in the refurbished electronics market as well due to the rising consumer awareness of sustainability. Trade-in and refurbishment reduce e-waste piling up at landfills, as it limits buying newer gadgets and thereby paves way for greater sustainability across the electronics industry. Back Market, a France-based marketplace of renewed devices (which provides refurbished devices with a one-year warranty), has raised over US$1 billion since its launch in 2014. In 2022, Verdane, European specialist growth equity investment firm, announced an investment worth US$124 million in Finland-based Swappie, a re-commerce company that sells previously owned, new, or used smart phones. Vodafone too announced a major initiative to extend the life of new mobile phones and to encourage customers to trade in or recycle their old devices. The company is planning to provide customers in European markets with a suite of services, including insurance, support, and repairs for their devices in 2022. Samsung collaborated with iFixit, online repair community for its self-repair program in 2022. The company said that under this program, Galaxy device owners in the USA can make their own repairs to the Galaxy Tab S7+, Galaxy S20, and S21 products using easy-to-repair tools available from iFixit.

Tech companies have also started transitioning to renewable energy and looking for ways to reduce their carbon emissions. Intel, a US-based technology company, uses green energy of up to 3,100,000 MWh annually in the manufacturing of processors and computer accessories. Samsung’s facility operations in the USA and China switched to 100% renewable energy in 2019. In 2021, Microsoft entered into a partnership with IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, to reduce carbon emissions in the organization’s supply chain. IFC is said to work with selected Microsoft suppliers in emerging markets, primarily in Asia, to identify technical solutions and financing opportunities to reduce emissions in the production process.

Legislation to aid the shift toward the circular economy in electronics

For years, many countries did not have appropriate policies enforcing sustainability across the electronics industry. Nevertheless, the trend is reversing with several countries adopting legislation for the circular economy. For instance, in 2020 the European Commission announced a circular electronics initiative that would promote eco-design (a design that considers environmental aspects at all stages of the product development), right-to-repair rules, including a right to update obsolete software, and regulatory measures on universal chargers, to name a few. France became the first European country to pass the Anti-Waste for a Circular Economy Act (AGEC) in 2020, which requires producers of electronic devices to provide details on how repairable their products are. According to AGEC, manufacturers are required to scale their products at a rate of 1-10 based on the reparability index. France also plans to introduce a durability index by 2024, whereby manufacturers would be asked to describe the full lifecycle of their products. Moreover, the US government passed an order in 2021 to draft regulations that protect the consumer’s right to repair electronic devices and other tools.

It is not easy to manufacture sustainable electronics

While sustainable electronics are the need of the hour and several leading players have already started promoting and investing in this space, the sector faces many challenges. Currently, there are no established standards, concepts, or definitions concerning sustainable electronics and there is no strict legislation to enforce sustainability practices in the electronics industry. There are some rating systems that identify energy-efficient products followed in USA and Europe (for example, USA’s ENERGY STAR program). However, registering and complying with the ratings and their requirements is up to the manufacturer and is not mandatory. Moreover, e-waste regulations in several countries are poorly enforced due to low financing, and illegal practices such as dumping e-waste, and incineration by the informal sector still persist.

Most electronics companies are also not transparent about their environmental performance, and impact is often hidden. The term ‘sustainable’ is widely misused as a promotional tactic by companies targeting environmentally conscious consumers.

The electronic industry also operates on a linear established model, wherein products are manufactured (with planned obsolescence) and sold to consumers. Incorporating circular strategies for recycling and reuse requires a lot of remodeling and reconfigurations across the supply chain and the rising consumption of electronic devices makes it difficult to adapt to any new changes. Challenges, such as complex recycling process, costs of recycling, and consumer perception of green electronics also hamper sustainability development. Most electronics are not designed for recycling and are made of a complex mixture of materials such as heavy metals, highly toxic compounds, glass, plastics, ferrous and nonferrous materials, etc. Recycling these materials is tedious and involves several steps such as dismantling, removing the hazardous waste, shredding into fine materials, and sorting the materials into various types. The process is also resource and cost-intensive requiring human labor, more processing time, and requires adequate infrastructure such as various material screening types of equipment. Recycling e-waste could also be polluting, with potential exposure to toxic metal fumes.

Finally, the perception of consumers about sustainable electronics also needs to be changed, which is challenging. There is a notion among customers that the use of recycled, sustainable materials in electronics means products would be of lower quality. A lot of investment would be required to educate and convince consumers about the benefits of sustainable electronics and to address any concerns about quality. In most cases, it is difficult to pass on these costs to the consumers as they are unlikely to accept higher prices. Thus, this cost would be required to be absorbed by the companies themselves. Due to this, most current initiatives toward sustainable electronics can be best described as half measures.

EOS Perspective

The economic benefits of sustainable electronics are enormous. The resource scarcity and the price fluctuation of various minerals and metals make them necessary to recycle, recover, and reuse in the circular economy. Over the last few years, consumer electronics manufacturers have taken many sustainability initiatives such as reducing energy consumption, eliminating hazardous chemicals, introducing biodegradable packaging, incorporating recycled and recyclable materials in products and investing in renewable energy projects. Also, refurbished electronics segment is growing fast, while interest is surging in introducing devices with built-in reparability. While several small initiatives are being taken by leading players, electronics manufacturers mainly do not know how to introduce sustainability across their products in a mainstream fashion.

Sustainability in electronics has still a long way to go. Several legislative initiatives are underway toward a circular (sustainable) electronics economy and it is high time for electronics manufacturers to be proactive and rethink their business models. A complete business model transformation is required to integrate sustainability across every unit. Cross-sector collaborations with stakeholders such as product designers, manufacturers, investors, raw material producers, and consumers are crucial to understanding the technical know-how. It is essential to analyze the entire life cycle of products from choosing raw materials to their disposal and to prioritize circular strategies for such products. Electronic manufacturers also need to come up with creative and rewarding ways for consumers to be willing to choose sustainable products as in the end, the industry cannot flourish without consumer acceptability. The future of sustainable electronics can be bright and manufacturers who see this as a potential business opportunity rather than a problem will benefit in the long term.

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Africa’s Mining Industry Gaining Momentum

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Africa is home to 30% of the world’s mineral reserves, 8% of the world’s natural gas, and 12% of the world’s oil reserves. Despite being endowed with abundant resources, the continent accounts for only 5% of the global mining production. Mining in Africa was often overlooked because of the unstable political environment, opaque regulations, and poor enforcement capacity. Despite these challenges, investments in Africa’s mineral wealth have been steadily increasing in recent years. The massive swings in mineral demand due to the accelerated clean energy transition along with the rising geopolitical tensions have made countries across the globe diversify their sources of minerals and venture into highly challenged regions such as Africa.

Clean energy – A major force driving mineral extraction in Africa

The globally accelerating clean energy transition is set to unleash unprecedented mineral demand in the coming decades. Demand for minerals such as lithium, copper, cobalt, nickel, and zinc is expected to increase exponentially since they are required in the production of batteries, electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar photovoltaic plants, all of which are the cornerstone of clean energy development. Among all clean energy technologies, electric vehicle manufacturing and energy storage are likely to account for about half of the global mineral demand over the next two decades.

Lithium

The African continent hosts many of the global mineral reserves required for manufacturing electric vehicles and batteries. Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are among the top ten countries with the largest lithium reserves in the world. Lithium is a crucial component of lithium-ion batteries, which are used in smartphones and electric vehicles. In Zimbabwe, a mine named Bikita holds more than 11 million tons of lithium ore. Despite being bestowed with massive lithium reserves, the region is largely unexplored due to the lack of investment. However, as the lithium demand is on the rise, the government of Zimbabwe has been actively promoting the development of lithium mines to attract foreign investments. At the same time, an increasing interest in electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries is driving the lithium demand, pushing many global economies to invest in lithium mining. One such example is an investment from December 2021, when a Chinese-owned mineral production and processing company, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, acquired a 100% stake in the Zimbabwean Arcadia lithium mine.

Cobalt

Cobalt is another important metal, used in energy storage technologies and electric vehicle production. Most lithium-ion batteries depend on cobalt, which is a by-product of copper and nickel production. The Democratic Republic of the Congo supplies almost 70% of global cobalt, while Australia and the Philippines supply 4.2% and 3.3% of global cobalt, respectively. The growth of the electric vehicle industry has driven major cobalt producers to ramp up the output at multiple mine sites in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Graphite

Like lithium and cobalt, graphite is another significant mineral used in electric vehicle manufacturing. A lithium-ion battery needs 10 times more graphite than lithium. China produces around 82% of the global graphite, followed by Brazil at 7%. Due to the increasing demand, many countries with graphite reserves are launching their graphite mining projects. Mozambique is expected to increase its flake graphite 2021 production levels fivefold by 2030. The country has around 20% to 40% of total global graphite reserves.

Copper

Copper also holds a significant position in a range of minerals used in renewable energy technologies. It plays a vital role in grid infrastructure due to its efficiency, reliability, and conductivity. Around 60% of copper demand is driven by wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicle manufacturing. Increasing copper demand along with the rising global copper shortage has made many global producers expand their production and venture into new regions for mining. Consequently, Africa’s Zambia, one of the largest copper producers in the world, has attracted a significant number of investments recently. The country aims to take its annual copper production levels from 830,000 metric tons in 2020 to 3 million metric tons in the next ten years.

Africa also hosts many other mineral reserves such as platinum, manganese, nickel, and chromium, which are used in a variety of clean energy technologies. The continent is poised to take advantage of the growing demand for these minerals and has already started to attract significant foreign investments.

Africa’s Mining Industry Gaining Momentum by EOS Intelligence

High commodity prices and rising geopolitical tensions favor Africa’s mining

Africa has experienced a boom in mining since 2000 when the commodities super cycle (a phenomenon where commodities trade for higher prices for a long period) began. Along with the commodity boom, the African mining industry has grown substantially, attracting investments in exploration, acquiring new concessions, and opening new mines. The recently spiking prices of commodities such as aluminum, zinc, nickel, copper, gold, and coal are further fueling investments across the continent.

The Russian war on Ukraine further benefits Africa as many countries started to diversify their supply chains away from Russia. In March 2022, the USA and the UK imposed a ban on Russian oil imports. Europe also has plans to cut its Russian gas imports by two-thirds before the end of 2022. These could lead to supply shortages of oil and gas in many countries. Russia also supplies 7% of the world’s nickel, 10% of the world’s platinum, and 25-30% of the world’s palladium, which are critical to the globally accelerating clean energy transition. The US and European governments are looking closely at further sanctions against Russia which could disrupt these critical minerals supply. The situation has made many developed countries diversify and secure their sources of minerals. This will be a huge opportunity for Africa to promote its resources.

Massive African gold reserves attract global gold producers

Gold is often perceived as a safe haven asset and its demand is constantly rising, pushing major global gold producers to ramp up their production. Additionally, as many of the global gold reserves are depleting, mining companies find it imperative to explore new gold deposits across the world. Interestingly, the Birimian greenstone belt of West Africa hosts huge deposits of gold but remains highly underexplored. Many leading global gold producers started exploring the region due to the favorable mining regulations and mining codes implemented recently. Between 2009 and 2019, approximately 1,400 metric tons of gold reserves were discovered in West Africa, while about 1,000 metric tons and 680 metric tons were found in Canada and Ecuador, respectively. A total of US$470 million was invested in West Africa’s gold resource exploration in 2020. This was the third-largest global gold exploration expenditure in 2020, behind that of Australia and Canada.

Investments in Africa’s mining

Countries such as Australia, China, Canada, the UK, and the USA have invested heavily in Africa’s mineral extraction over the years. Emerging economies such as India, Russia, and Brazil also have sizeable investments in Africa’s mining, creating more competition for resources. Among all the countries that have invested, China has demonstrated a significant presence across the continent. The rise of industrialization in China has driven increased demand for mineral exploration and extraction in Africa over the past decades. China’s investment in exploring African mineral resources multiplied to a remarkable extent between 2005 and 2015. In 2021, China’s total outbound foreign direct investment (FDI) was US$145.2 billion, of which a quarter was dedicated to African mining.

Many of the mining projects in Africa are funded by international stock exchanges. For instance, in 2015, Deloitte analyzed the funds of 29 major mining projects which were in development across the continent. The Toronto Stock Exchange funded 28% of these projects, followed by the Hong Kong Stock Exchange funding 17%, and the National Stock Exchange of India funding 10% of the projects.

A 2019 report published by PricewaterhouseCoopers states that, in 2018, total mining deals in Africa amounted to US$48 billion. Out of this, West Africa received the largest share of investment worth US$16.2 billion for its oil, gas, and gold reserves, followed by Southern Africa, which received US$14.7 billion worth of investment for its gold, platinum, nickel, and cobalt. East Africa and Central Africa received the least amount of mining investment.

Challenges

Asia constitutes approximately 60% of the world’s total mining production, followed by North America (14%). Africa, despite being endowed with abundant mineral reserves, constitutes only 5% of the global mining production. The continent has failed to achieve real mining expansion due to many challenges prevailing in the continent. One of the prime challenges is the poor infrastructure (rail and port) that causes trade blockages. High levels of political instability, unstable regulations, and corruption are other significant challenges hindering mining across Africa. Other challenges impacting the African mining industry include poor geological data management, illegal mining, lack of mineral processing facilities, unreliable power supply, and weak local markets.

EOS Perspective

With the world’s increasing appetite for clean energy, Africa has a chance to establish itself as a key player in the mining industry. Significant investments in extraction and exploration are required to get the most out of the continent’s resources, and this is happening to a certain extent. Most significantly, the countries involved must build a robust value chain to promote industrialization and boost their economies, instead of just supplying raw materials. Governments should consider fostering joint ventures and partnerships with foreign companies to bridge the technical skill gaps that prevail in the continent. The industry itself must ensure that it shares the mining benefits with the people, thereby improving their welfare.

The African countries must also address challenges such as poor infrastructure to participate effectively in the value chain. Many projects are already underway to boost the transport infrastructure. China has built significant inroads in Africa under its Belt and Road Initiative. Deloitte estimates approximately US$50 billion would be invested in over 830 infrastructure projects between 2003 and 2030.

Along with infrastructure development, strong governance, and a stable and reliable regulatory environment are critical to attracting foreign investments. Several governments across Africa are revising mining codes and regulations and providing tax incentives to stimulate manufacturing. The mining industry is at a critical stage where it needs to satisfy an increased demand for minerals while also curbing the environmental impact of mining operations. This process seems to be complex, but it also provides many opportunities. For instance, mining companies can utilize the adoption of renewable, energy-efficient systems for power generation. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation, and big data could be adopted to mitigate rising costs.

There is still a long way for the region to achieve the desired mining growth and economic development, with multiple challenges across the entire value chain. However, with stronger governance, more stable regulations, and considerable foreign investments, Africa could position itself as one of the largest mining economies in the world. The opportunity for Africa is huge, but it needs to be utilized properly.

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Commentary: Europe’s Energy Woes – The Way Forward

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Europe is struggling to build up energy supply ahead of anticipated growth in demand due to economic rebound after pandemic outbreak and the winter months. Considering the knock-on effect of the energy crisis on industrial growth and consumer confidence, the prime focus for Europe is not only to respond to the mounting energy issues in the short term, but to also establish energy sustainability and security for the future.

In October 2021, the European Commission published an advisory for the member states to take some immediate steps to ease the effect of the energy crisis. Governments were urged to extend direct financial support to the most vulnerable households and businesses. Other recommended ways of intervention included targeted tax reductions, temporary deferral of utilities bill payments, and capping of energy prices. About 20 member states indicated that they would implement the suggestions outlined by the European Commission at a national level. While these measures may aid the most vulnerable user segment, there is not much that can be done to safeguard the wider population from the energy price shocks.

Energy security and sustainability is the key

While a magical quick-fix for Europe’s energy crisis does not seem to exist, the ongoing scenario has exposed the region’s vulnerabilities and serves as a wake-up call to move towards energy security and self-sufficiency.

Diversify energy mix

In general, petroleum products and natural gas contribute significantly to Europe’s energy mix, respectively accounting for about 35% and 22% of the total energy consumed in the EU. The remaining energy needs are fulfilled by renewable sources (~15%), nuclear (~13%), and solid fossil fuels (~12%).

The high dependence on fossil fuels is one of the main reasons behind Europe’s ongoing energy crisis. In order to mitigate this dependency, Europe has made concerted effort in the development of renewable energy production capabilities. In 2018, the European Commission set a target to achieve 32% of the energy mix from renewables by 2030, but in July 2021, the target was increased to 40%, clearly indicating the region’s inclination towards renewables.

Expediting renewable energy projects could help Europe to get closer to energy self-sufficiency, although the intermittency issue must also be accounted for. This is where nuclear energy can play a critical role.

After Fukushima disaster in 2011, many countries in Europe pledged to phase-out nuclear energy production. France, Germany, Spain, and Belgium planned to shut down 32 nuclear reactors with a cumulative production capacity of 31.9 gigawatts by 2035. However, in the wake of the current crisis, there is a renewed interest in nuclear power. In October 2021, nine EU countries (Czechia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia) released a joint statement asserting the expansion of nuclear energy production to achieve energy self-sufficiency. France, which generates about three-fourth of its electricity through nuclear plants, is further increasing investment in nuclear energy. In October 2021, the French government pledged an investment of EUR 1 billion (~US$1.2 billion) in nuclear power over the period of 10 years.

Look beyond Russia

More than 60% of EU’s energy needs were met by imports in 2019. Russia is the major partner for energy supply – in 2019, it accounted for 27% of crude oil imports, 41% of natural gas imports, and 47% of solid fossil fuels imports. While Europe is accelerating the development of renewable energy production, fossil fuels still remain an important source of energy for the region. In the face of escalating political differences with Russia, there is a need to reduce energy reliance on this country and to build long-term partnerships with other countries to ensure a steady supply.

EU has many options to explore, especially in natural gas imports. One of them is natural gas reserves in Central Asia. The supply link is already established as Azerbaijan started exporting natural gas to Europe via Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), operational since December 31, 2020. In the first nine months, Azerbaijan exported 3.9 billion cubic meters of gas to Italy, 501.7 million cubic meters to Greece, and 166 million cubic meters to Bulgaria. Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) is a proposed undersea pipeline to transport gas from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan. This pipeline can connect Europe with Turkmenistan (the country with the world’s fourth-largest natural gas reserves) via Azerbaijan. As a result, Europe has heightened its interest in the development of this pipeline.

Eastern Mediterranean gas reserve can also prove to be greatly beneficial for the EU. In January 2020, Greece, Cyprus, and Israel signed a deal to construct a 1,900 km subsea pipeline to transport natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean gas fields to Europe. This pipeline, expected to be completed by 2025, would enable the supply of 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year from Israel and Cyprus to European countries via Greece.

Africa is another continent where the EU should try to strengthen ties for the imports of natural gas. Algeria is an important trade partner for Europe, having supplied 8% of natural gas in 2019. Medgaz pipeline connects Algeria directly to Spain. This pipeline currently has the capacity to transport 8 billion cubic meters of gas per year, and the ongoing expansion work is expected to increase the capacity to 10.7 billion cubic meters per year by the end of 2021. In addition to this, Nigeria is planning the development of a Trans-Sahara pipeline which would enable the transport of natural gas through Nigeria to Algeria. This will potentially open access for Europe to gas reserves in West Africa, via Algeria. Further, as African Continental Free Trade Agreement came in to effect in January 2021, the natural gas trade within countries across Africa received a boost. Consequently, liquefied natural gas projects across Africa, including Mozambique’s 13.1 million tons per annum LNG plant, Senegal’s 10 million tons per annum Greater Tortue Ahmeyim project, and Tanzania’s 10 million tons per annum LNG project, could help Europe to enhance its gas supply.

Business to strive to achieve energy independence

While governments are taking steps to reduce the impact of the energy crisis on end consumers, this might not be enough to save businesses highly reliant on power and energy. Therefore, businesses should take the onus on themselves to achieve energy independence and to take better control of their operations and costs.

Some of the largest European companies have already taken several initiatives in this direction. Swedish retailer IKEA, for instance, has invested extensively in wind and solar power assets across the world, and in 2020, the retailer produced more energy than it consumed.

There has also been growing effort to harness energy from own business operations. In 2020, Thames Water, a UK-based water management company, generated about 150 gigawatt hours of renewable energy through biogas obtained from its own sewage management operations.

However, a lot more needs to be done to change the situation. Companies not having any means to produce energy on their own premises should consider investing in and partnering with renewable energy projects, thereby boosting overall renewable energy production capacity.

Energy crisis is likely to have repercussions on all types of businesses in every industry. Larger entities with adequate financial resources could use several hedging strategies to offset the effect of fluctuating energy prices or energy supply shortage, but small and medium enterprises might not be able to whither the storm.

Economist Daniel Lacalle Fernández indicated that energy represents about a third of operating costs for small and medium enterprises in Europe, and as a result, the ongoing energy crisis can trigger the collapse of up to 25% of small and medium enterprises in the region. Small and medium enterprises need to actively participate in government-supported community energy initiatives, which allow small companies, public establishments, and residents to invest collectively in distributed renewable energy projects. By early 2021, this initiative gained wide acceptance in Germany with 1,750 projects, followed by Denmark and the Netherlands with 700 and 500 projects, respectively.

EOS Perspective

Europe must continue to chase after its green energy goals while developing alternative low-carbon sources to address renewables’ intermittency issue. This would help the region to achieve energy independence and security in the long term. In the end, the transition towards green energy should be viable and should not come at a significant cost to the end consumers.

On the other hand, immediate measures proposed so far do not seem adequate to contain the ongoing energy meltdown. Further, energy turmoil is likely to continue through the winter, and, in the worst-case scenario, it might result in blackouts across Europe. If the issue of supply shortages remains difficult to resolve in the short term, a planned reduction in consumption could be the way forward.

In view of this, Europe would need to actively encourage energy conservation among the residential as well as industrial sectors. Bruegel, a Brussels-based policy research think tank, suggested that the European governments could either force households to turn down their thermostats by one degree during the winter to reduce energy consumption while not compromising much on comfort, or provide financial incentives to households who undertake notable energy saving initiatives.

This is perhaps a critical time to start promoting energy conservation among the masses through behavioral campaigns. Like businesses, it is necessary to enhance consumers’ participation in the energy market and they should be encouraged to generate their own electricity or join energy communities. The need of the hour is to harness as well as conserve energy in any way possible. Because, till the time Europe achieves self-sufficiency or drastically strengthens the supply chain, the energy crunch is here to stay.

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UK Paves The Way for A Greener and Carbon-Free Future

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The UK is working to create a policy for building a more sustainable future for itself through the New Green Industrial Revolution, aiming to attain net-zero emissions in the UK by 2050. As the country separated itself from the EU through Brexit, it is also setting its own environmental goals and in that, its own version of the EU’s 2019 Green Deal (we wrote about it in The EU Green Deal – Good on Paper but Is That Enough? in March 2020). With highly ambitious targets, the proposed investments are worth GBP12 billion, creating 250,000 jobs in the process. While this seems like a promising funds allocation, the plan’s success will actually depend on significant investments in next-generation technologies, which have currently not been proven commercially. Moreover, a lot will depend on an equal involvement from the private sector that might be more cautious with investments than the public sector.

The UK is in a bid to position itself at the forefront of global markets for green energy and clean technologies. To achieve this, it proposed a 10-point Green Industrial Revolution in November 2020, which aims to mobilize GBP12 billion funds and create 250,000 jobs in the UK. Through this plan, the UK aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The key areas covered under the plan include offshore wind, hydrogen, nuclear, electric vehicles, public transport, jet zero and greener maritime, homes and public buildings, carbon capture, nature, and innovation and finance.

UK Paves The Way for A Greener and Carbon-Free Future

Offshore wind

The new Green Industrial Revolution outlines the UK government’s commitment to put offshore wind energy at the forefront of the country’s electricity needs. It has increased the offshore wind targets from previous 30GW to 40GW by 2030, aiming to produce enough energy to power all homes in the UK by 2030.

In addition to this, the government plans investments of about GBP160 million to upgrade ports and infrastructure in localities that will accommodate future offshore wind projects (e.g. Teesside, Humber, Scotland, and Wales).

This investment in developing offshore wind energy is expected to support about 60,000 direct and indirect jobs by 2030 in construction and maintenance of sites, ports, factories, etc.

While the government’s plan is great on paper, meeting the 40GW target will require 4GW of offshore wind projects to be commissioned every year between 2025 and 2030, which is extremely ambitious and challenging. Moreover, just developing offshore wind projects will not be enough until works are also done to update the electricity grid. Further, the target 40GW generation is calculated based on current electricity demand by households, which in reality is bound to increase as a shift towards electric vehicles is being encouraged.

Hydrogen

With the help of industry partners, the UK government plans to develop 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 for industries, transport, and residences. The government is expected to publish a dedicated Hydrogen Strategy in 2021, to position the UK as a front runner in production and use of clean hydrogen. It plans to develop 1GW (of the planned 5GW) hydrogen production capacity by 2025.

A central part of the UK’s Hydrogen Strategy is expected to have hydrogen potentially replace natural gas for the purpose of heating. The government is undertaking hydrogen heating trials, commencing with building a ‘Hydrogen Neighborhood’ and potentially developing a plan for the first town to be heated completely using hydrogen by 2030.

In addition to this, works with industry partners are under way to develop ‘hydrogen-ready’ appliances in 2021, such that new gas boilers can be readily converted to hydrogen if any future conversion of the gas network is commissioned. To facilitate this, the government is working with Health and Safety Executives to enable 20% hydrogen blending in the gas network by 2023. However, this is subject to successful trials.

In transportation, an investment of GBP20 million in 2021 is planned to test hydrogen and other zero emission freight truck technologies in order to support the industry in developing zero-emission trucks for long-haul road freight.

To achieve these targets, a GBP240 million Net Zero Hydrogen Fund is planned to be set up. It will provide capital co-investment along with the investment from private sector to develop various technologies. These will include carbon capture and storage infrastructure for the production of clean hydrogen that can be used in home, transport, and industrial requirements. The policy is expected to support 8,000 jobs by 2030 and push private investment worth GBP4 billion by 2030.

However, the government’s ambitious 2030 hydrogen policy requires significant investment and participation from the private sector. While several global companies such as ITM Power, Orsted, Phillips 66, etc., have come together to collaborate on the Gigastack project in the UK (which aims to produce clean hydrogen from offshore wind), such private participation will be required on most projects to make them feasible and meet the targets.

Nuclear power

In search of low-carbon electricity sources, UK plans to invest in nuclear energy. In addition to development of large-scale nuclear plants, the investments will also include small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors.

To this effect, the government has set up a GBP385 million Advanced Nuclear Fund. Of this, GBP215 million is to be used towards small modular reactors, i.e., to develop a domestic smaller-scale nuclear power plant technology that could be built in factories and assembled on site. Apart from this, GBP170 million is to be used towards research and development of advanced modular reactors. These are reactors that could operate at over 800˚C, and as a result, unlock efficient production of hydrogen and synthetic fuels. These are also expected to complement the government’s other investments and initiatives with regards to hydrogen and carbon capture.

While the government expects the design and development of small modular reactors to result in private sector investment of up to GBP300 million, these next generation small reactors are currently considered a long shot as no company has created them yet. While Rolls Royce has offered the government to design one, it is conditional on them receiving a subsequent order worth GBP32 billion for 16 such reactors as well as the government paying half of the GBP400 million design cost.

Moreover, nuclear power plants are expensive and long-term investments and are considered to be one of the most expensive sources for power. Thus it is very important to evaluate their economic feasibility. While the government is bullish on the role of nuclear power in decarbonizing electricity, it is very important for large-scale projects to be economical, while small-scale projects still remain at a conceptual stage.

Electric vehicles

It is estimated that cars, vans, and other road transport are the single largest contributor to the UK’s carbon emissions, making up nearly one-fifth of all emissions emitted. Thus the government is committed to reducing carbon emissions produced by automobiles. To achieve this, the country plans to ban the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 (10 years earlier than initially planned). However, hybrid cars will be allowed to be sold till 2035.

The government has planned a support package of GBP2.8 billion for the country’s car manufacturing sector, which in turn is expected to create about 40,000 employment opportunities up till 2030. Of this, GBP1 billion will be used towards the electrification of vehicles, including setting up factories to produce EV batteries at scale. In addition to this, GBP1.3 billion is planned to be spent to set up and enhance charging infrastructure in the country by installing a large number of charge points close to residential areas, office and commercial spaces, highways, etc., to make charging as convenient as refueling. The government plans to have a network of 2,500 high-power charging points by 2030 and about 6,000 charging points by 2035. Lastly, grants are planned to the tune of about GBP582 million up till 2023 to reduce the cost of EVs (cars, vans, taxis, and two-wheelers) for the consumer. In addition to the investment by the government, private investment of about GBP3 billion is anticipated to trickle into the sector by 2026.

While this is considered to be a very important step in the right direction, it is estimated that it will still leave about 21 million polluting passenger vehicles on the UK roads by 2030 (in comparison to 31 million in 2020). Moreover, the government continues to allow the sale of hybrid cars for another five years beyond 2030, which means that carbon emissions-producing vehicles will still be added to UK roads even after the target dates set in the New Green Industrial Revolution plan.

Green public transport

In addition to reducing carbon emissions from passenger cars, the government also wants to make public transport more approachable and efficient. It plans to spend about GBP5 billion on public transport buses, cycling- and walking-related initiatives and infrastructure.

In addition, funding of GBP4.2 billion is planned on improving and decarbonizing the cities’ public transport network. This will include electrifying more railway lines, integrating train and bus network through smart ticketing, and introducing bus lanes to speed up the journey. The plans also include investment in about 4,000 new zero-emission buses in 2021, as well as funding two all-electric bus towns (Coventry and Oxford) and a completely zero-emission city center. While York and Oxford have shown interest in becoming the UK’s first zero-emission city center, the government has not yet formally announced the city for the same.

Improvements in public transport networks in other cities are also planned to bring them on par with London’s system. A construction of about 1,000 miles of segregated cycle lanes is in plans to encourage people to take up this mode of transportation for shorter distances.

While it is expected these investments will encourage people to use public transport more, the current COVID pandemic has created apprehensions when considering such shared transportation. Although this is expected to be a short-term challenge, it may be a slight damper to the government’s plan for the next year or so.

Jet zero and green ships

Apart from road transport, the government also aims at decarbonizing air and sea travel. It plans to invest GBP15 million in FlyZero – a study by Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) aimed at identifying and solving key technical and commercial issues in design and development of a zero-emission aircraft. Such an aircraft is expected to be developed by 2030. In addition to this, the government plans to run a GBP15 million competition for the development of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) in the UK. The plans also include investing in upgrading airport infrastructure so that it can service battery and hydrogen fueled aircrafts in the future.

In addition to aviation, the government is also investing GBP20 million in the Clean Maritime Demonstration Programme to develop clean maritime technology.

While the plans to develop greener fuel for aircraft and ships is a step in the right direction, it is still somewhat of a long shot as a lot more investment is required into this than proposed. Moreover, the shipping industry in particular has shown little interest in wanting to reform in the past and it is likely that both the sectors will continue to follow international standards (that are high in carbon emissions) to remain competitive globally.

Greener buildings

The UK has a considerable number of old and outdated buildings that the government wants to put in the center of its Green Industrial Plan, thus making existing and new buildings more energy efficient. The plan is to slowly phase out carbon-heavy fossil fuel boilers currently used for heating buildings and instead promote the use of more carbon efficient heat pumps. For new buildings, an energy efficiency standard is to be developed, known as the Future Home Standard. To achieve this, the domestic production of heat pumps needs to be ramped up, so that 600,000 heat pumps are installed annually by 2028. This is expected to support about 50,000 jobs by 2030. In addition to this, the government is providing GBP1 billion to extend the existing Green Home Grant (launched in September 2019) by another year, which is aimed at replacing fossil fuel-based heating in buildings with more energy efficient alternatives.

While the subsequent shift to heat pumps from gas boilers will definitely help reduce the buildings’ carbon footprint, heat pumps are currently much more expensive and more difficult to install. Thus, the government must provide ongoing financial incentives for consumers to make the switch.

Carbon capture, usage, and storage

Carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS) technology captures carbon dioxide from power generation, low carbon hydrogen production, and industrial processes, and stores it deep underground, such that it cannot enter the atmosphere. In the UK, it can be stored under the North Sea seabed. A the technology has a critical role to play in making the UK emission free, a GBP1 billion investment is planned to support the establishment of CCUS in 4 industrial clusters by 2030 to capture 10Mt of carbon dioxide per year by 2030. Developed alongside hydrogen, these CCUS will create ‘SuperPlaces’ in areas such as the North East, the Humber, North West, Scotland, and Wales. The development of the CCUS is expected to create 50,000 jobs by 2030.

CCUS is a very new technology, with no large-scale or commercially successful projects operational across the world. While the technology has been proved in pilot projects, its feasibility is yet to be seen. Also, a significant amount of private investment will be required to carry through the proposed project. While some private players, such as Tata Chemicals Europe have begun constructing the first industrial-scale CCU plant (expected to capture 40,000 tons of CO2 per year) in Northwich, the government needs several more private players to step up to meet its ambitious targets.

Nature

In addition to the above mentioned programs, the government plans to safeguard and secure national landscapes as well as restore several wildlife habitats to combat climate change. To achieve that, it plans to reestablish several of the nation’s landscapes under National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Beauty (AONB), as well as create new areas under these two heads. The National Parks and AONB program is expected to add 1.5% of natural land in the UK and will help the government in reaching the target of bringing 30% of the UK’s land under protected status by 2030.

In addition to this, the government plans to invest GBP40 million in nature conservation and restoration projects, which in turn is expected to create several employment opportunities across the country. Moreover, it plans to invest GBP5.2 billion over six years into flood defenses, which will help combat floods and damage to homes as well as natural environment. This is also expected to create about 20,000 jobs up till 2027.

Green finance and innovation

The last agenda on the 10-point Green Industrial Revolution entails developing new sources of financing for supporting innovative green technologies. To this effect, the government has committed an R&D investment of 2.4% of its GDP by 2027. This will extensively be used towards developing high risk, high reward green technologies, which will help the UK attain net zero emissions by 2030.

Additionally, the government launched a GBP1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio that will focus on commercialization of low-carbon technologies mentioned in the 10-point agenda, including development of floating offshore wind, nuclear advanced modular reactors, energy storage, bioenergy, hydrogen, greener buildings, direct air capture and advanced CCUS, industrial fuel switching, and other disruptive technologies. In November 2020, the government launched the first phase of this investment, GBP100 million, towards greenhouse gas removal and in the coming year it plans to invest another GBP100 million towards energy storage. It also plans to invest GBP184 million for fusion energy technologies and developing new fusion facilities. Moreover, GBP20 million will be directed towards development and trials of zero emission heavy goods vehicles.

Apart from this the government plans to issue the UK’s first Sovereign Green Bonds in 2021. These bonds, which are likely to be first of many, are expected to finance sustainable and green projects and facilitate the creation of ‘green jobs’ in the country. Furthermore, similar to the EU Green Deal, the government plans to implement a green taxonomy, which helps define economic activities into two categories – the ones that help limit climate change and others that are detrimental to the environment – to help investors make better investment choices.

EOS Perspective

The UK’s Green Industrial Revolution seems to be a comprehensive policy with a multi-pronged approach to tackle climate change, promote green technology and investments, and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. With Brexit in action, it seems like a worthy counterpart to the EU’s Green Deal, which the UK was initially a part of. Moreover, it is an important framework for the UK to show its commitment towards controlling climate change, especially with the country hosting the upcoming 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (CoP 26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change summit in Glasgow in 2021.

However, currently the UK’s Green Industrial Revolution is not a legally binding policy document but more of a proposal, which would need to go through several legislative procedures to become binding. Moreover, while the plan is ambitious, it depends heavily on next generation innovative technologies that require hefty investments to achieve the targets. Thus, its success depends on whether the government is seriously committed and prepared to spend heavily on commercializing these technologies along with managing to attract significant amount of private investment to complement own efforts. While few aspects of the 10-point approach have already received investment from the private sector and first phase of funding from the government, it is yet to be seen if the UK’s ambitious net zero emission goals are truly feasible.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Commentary: Is Privatization Key to Self-sustainability for US Post?

United States Postal Service (USPS), one of the largest government entities in the USA with over 633,000 employees as of 2019, has been bleeding red ink on its financial statements for many years now, causing a worry that it might soon need a bail-out with tax-payers money. While majority of the crisis at USPS stems from several regulatory and legislative restrictions, privatization could help USPS to transform its business to align with changing market dynamics in the digital age and to secure sustainable future.

USPS is in dire need of a revamp

USPS, the largest postal system in the world, is feared to be gradually moving towards financial instability as the revenues are not able to meet the operational costs and liabilities.

USPS’ financial woes began with enactment of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) in 2006 which required USPS to create a US$72 billion reserve (equivalent to cost of employee post-retirement pension and health benefits during next 75 years) over a 10-year period from 2007 to 2016. This mandate added a huge financial burden and USPS has been registering losses every year since.

The situation is dire, as clearly stated in USPS’ five-year strategic plan (2020-2024), released in January 2020, highlighting the grim financial condition of the organization:

We have an underfunded balance sheet, significant debt, and insufficient cash to weather unforeseen cyclicality or changes in business conditions…we expect to run out of liquidity by 2021 if we pay all our financial obligations – and by 2024 even if we continue to default on our year-end, lump sum retiree health-benefit and pension related payments.

On February 5, 2020, US House of Representatives passed the US Fairness Act which repeals the prefunding mandate under 2006 legislation, thus, relieving USPS from financial burden of amassing huge reserves to fund retirement benefits. The reform does not exempt USPS from its obligations to its retired employees, but allows them to fund the costs on pay-as-you-go basis, a practice followed by most other government agencies and majority of private businesses in the USA. This bill still needs to be approved by the US Senate.

Even if the US Fairness Act becomes a law after being approved by the US Senate and the president, it does not seem to end all the challenges faced by USPS. The business has taken a major hit due to changing market dynamics with the rise of the Internet.

USPS’ largest revenue segment, i.e. First-Class Mail services, which include the delivery of letters, postcards, personal correspondence, bills or statements of account, as well as payments, has seen about 43% drop in volume between 2007 and 2019. This is because the mode of communication has changed drastically as email, mobile, social media, other tech-based platforms allow Americans to talk to one another instantaneously and mostly for free.

Marketing Mail, which includes advertisements and marketing packages, is another category that also took a hit because of the rise of digital media. Marketing Mail volume declined by more than one-fourth over the same period.

The package delivery service has experienced multi-fold increase with the rise of e-commerce, but it also faces growing competition from private players such as UPS or FedEx as well as e-commerce giants such as Amazon that are rapidly building and expanding their own network.

Due to the prefunding retirement benefit mandate, USPS has not been able to invest in new products and infrastructure since 2006. Rather than expanding its capabilities to capitalize on the new market opportunities, USPS had to take aggressive cost control measures and restricted investment in new service offerings, technology, and training.

Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic is adding to the woes of the agency. Though there has been an increase in online orders for medicines and food, the volume of letter mail, organization’s largest revenue stream, has seen a decline. Marketing mail category business has also gone down as a lot of companies have stopped advertising through mail. In April 2020, Congressman Gerry Connolly indicated that the mail volume could decline up to 60% by the end of the year. Further, USPS is facing a spike in expenses due to provision of necessary support and additional benefits to its workforce affected by the virus. In April 2020, Megan Brennan, then postmaster general, hinted that coronavirus-related losses could reach US$13 billion in this fiscal year.

USPS needs structural transformation to meet the demands of the digital age. USPS’ five-year strategic plan (2020-2024) emphasized that despite taking all possible measures such as cost control, technology upgradation, and service improvement, financial loses are likely to continue in absence of legislative and regulatory reforms.

Privatization to provide USPS with path towards self-sustainability?

Being a government entity, USPS is subject to many regulatory and legislative constraints which makes it less competitive than its private counterparts such as FedEx or UPS. For instance, under Universal Service Obligation, USPS is required to service all areas across the country six days a week. If privatized, USPS will be able to reduce the frequency of delivery on as-needed basis to optimize operations and control costs.

Similarly, USPS is legally obligated to serve all Americans, and hence closing down of any branches generally cause public uproar as locals in the remote and rural areas demand their right to postal service. A post office closure process takes at least 120 days during which affected public can appeal the decision. As per USPS’ five-year strategic plan (2020-2024) released in January 2020, about 36% of the retail post office locations are retained despite being unprofitable. Unlike private entities, USPS cannot easily close or consolidate underperforming non-profit facilities, a fact that adds to the financial strain for the organization.

Moreover, the pricing of the postal service, which ideally needs to be a business decision based on the cost structure and profit margins, is controlled by the US government. USPS needs approval from the government for making any changes in pricing of its products. While for private entities pricing is part of routine business decision-making, for USPS, unreasonable federal controls and limitations make it difficult to adopt a market-oriented pricing strategy for the services that USPS provides.

It is also to be noted that the average compensation offered by the USPS to it employees is higher than what private-sector workers receive. A study conducted by US Treasury found that, for 2017, the average employee costs at USPS was US$85,800, compared to US$76,200 at UPS and US$53,900 at Fed Ex. About fourth-fifth of the USPS workforce is unionized which means that salary increases occur through collective bargaining agreements. While disputes are resolved in binding arbitration, the financial health of USPS is often not given due consideration in the process. USPS could save significant costs by adopting private-sector labor and compensation standards.

Further, USPS is legally required to invest funds for retirement benefits only in treasury bonds which yield very low interest. The idea of conservatively investing retirement funds to avoid risk is reasonable, but the interest earned is too low compared to other investment returns commonly achieved by private entities. Thus, despite having large reserves, USPS is legally prohibited to make sound investment in debt and equity markets which could potentially yield higher returns.

Privatization and breaking away from these limitations would allow USPS to at least attempt to optimize its operations, amend service standards, provide more pricing flexibility, and earn greater return on investments.

EOS Perspective

Time and again, US president Donald Trump has proposed privatization of USPS to make it self-sustainable and profitable. Many countries across the world have illustrated how privatization of the postal service could be a success. For instance, a European Commission report tracking development in the postal sector between 2013 and 2016 indicated that post-privatization postal services were able to diversify their revenue sources, reduce the labor costs, upgrade technology and infrastructure, close unprofitable facilities, and improve delivery frequency based on demand – all the measures which USPS needs to take. Thus, privatization could potentially help USPS to transform its business towards self-sustainability.

It can be argued that upon privatization, USPS may lose certain privileges it enjoys as a government entity. For instance, at present, USPS is exempt from all government taxes, but if privatized, USPS will be subject to federal, state, as well as local taxes. USPS boasts huge workforce operating more than 31,000 post offices using 204,274 delivery vehicles as of 2019. When USPS is opened to competition, it will have the distinct advantage due to its wide-spread delivery network and last-mile delivery capabilities. From market point of view, levying taxes on USPS may actually create a level-playing field for all the postal delivery firms promoting healthy competition. This will in turn prove to be good for the overall development of the sector.

If the idea of USPS privatization floats through, e-commerce companies and retailers such as Amazon and Walmart could be interested in acquiring a majority stake. As the e-commerce business grows, such companies are investing billions of dollars in building logistics network and capabilities to acquire larger market share. Moreover, they already rely on USPS for last-mile delivery. For instance, as per a Morgan Stanley report released in 2018, Amazon accounted for about a quarter of USPS package business. Thus, USPS’ large delivery network and resources offer a great value proposition to these companies.

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