Hydrogen fuels a revolution in Chinese trucks

Analysts say fuel cell electric vehicles are the leading alternatives to internal combustion engine automobiles

By ALAN KIRK

On March 22, a trio of Chinese electric vehicle (EV) companies – Nio, Xpeng, Li Auto, all New York listed – announced that they were hiring investment advisers to assist them with secondary listings in Hong Kong.

Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley have been appointed as Nio is looking to sell a 5% stake, valued at approximately $3.5 billion. Somewhat lower but still comparable valuations for the other two would bring a total of $7.5 billion to Hong Kong.

Surprising?

CNBC stock market guru Jim Cramer, usually unflappable, did a double take on air, also on March 22, commenting on Ark Investment fund manager Cathie Wood’s call of $3,000 per share for Tesla,

“I don’t think there is a fund manager in this country that could get away with this kind of thing other than Cathie Wood.

“But Cathie Wood actually is so good that you start thinking, ok, what is Elon Musk going to do? Maybe he’s got a lot on his mind that she has thought about and …”

And so it went for several more minutes.

The electric vehicle space is jumping and, of course, Musk almost certainly has a lot in mind that will make it even more attractive to investors.

What he’s most likely not thinking about is the large-scale application of hydrogen for EVs. He once called fuel cells “fool cells.”

But while hydrogen fuel cells are just beginning to provide serious competition to battery powered vehicles in personal transportation, they are making a large impact in the heavier vehicle commercial transportation space where large loads have to be carried over long distances.

That’s where hydrogen has the advantage.

And that’s where China, just getting to be competitive with the likes of Tesla in snazzy passenger cars, is poised to seize the lead with hydrogen-powered trucks.

The hydrogen fuel cell is a rare example of a long-established technology turning into a game-changing disrupter. It has powered spacecraft and submarines for decades. However, it made little headway in ground transportation because governments balked at the cost of building fueling infrastructure. And also because the cost of producing the raw materials was prohibitive.

That’s changing in a big way! Mainly because China has made hydrogen-powered ground transport one of the top priorities of its $560 billion a year technology investment budget.

Europe and Japan  Germany has declared 2021 the year of hydrogen technology  are running only slightly behind China. For the next decade or so, battery-powered passenger vehicles will dominate the market for low-carbon substitutes for the internal combustion engine. But batteries can’t power long-range freight transportation by truck and rail, and China is making a decisive commitment to hydrogen.

China’s commitment to hydrogen has drawn the attention of global investors.

In a March 2021 report entitled “China’s gateway to a hydrogen future,” J.P. Morgan research analysts  Han Fu and Stephen Tsui write, “Green hydrogen, a clean form of energy, clearly holds potential to play a critical role in China’s 2060 carbon neutrality ambitions.

“Fuel Cell EVs appear to be emerging as an early use case. This is an opportunity for the China hydrogen ecosystem to develop approaches to overcome technical and economic challenges, necessary for more widespread future applications. Hydrogen plays have been in market focus, and valuations are lofty.”

“The global automotive fuel cell market size was USD1.07 billion in 2020…This market exhibited a stellar growth of 44% in 2020,” according to a Fortune Business Insights study, and “is projected to grow from USD $1.73 billion in 2021 to UD $34.63 billion in 2028 at a stellar compound adjusted growth rate of 53.5% in the 2021-2028 period.”

The Fortune report adds that fuel cell electric vehicles are “the leading alternatives to the widely used internal combustion engine automobiles.” The lion’s share of the growth, will be in the Asia-Pacific region.

Ares Motor CEO Ian Hanna with some Chinese colleagues at the Wisdom Motor plant in Zhangzhou, Fujian, China. Photo: Supplied.

Already largest market

Already the largest market for Plug-in Energy Vehicles (PEV’s) with 3 million on the road. China projects a fleet of 50,000 fuel-cell vehicles (FCV’s) by 2025 and 1 million by 2030, from only 6,000 on the road in 2019.

Beijing listed hydrogen as an energy source in a public law for the first time in its 2020 Energy Law of the People’s Republic of China. It established subsidies for FCV’s through four government departments, with an emphasis on freight and urban mass transit.

China is ready to finance the refueling infrastructure required to make hydrogen-based transport economically viable. And it has a large supply of hydrogen. It is now produced as a waste byproduct by its chemical industry.

According to government directives issued in September 2020, central government subsidies for FCV’s could reach RMB 17 billion. It is depending on how quickly Chinese cities meet their targets for FCV deployment. Local governments are likely to match the central government support. Supporting between 40,000 and 60,000 new vehicles between 2020 and 2023.

China’s commitment to fuel-cell vehicles prompted a scramble by Europe and Japan to put forward their own programs.

Established Chinese automakers as entrepreneurs are launching new ventures to meet the enormous demand for FCV’s projected by the government. SAIC, a state-owned automaker, plans to produce 10,000 FCV’s a year by 2025. More ambitious is the alliance between startup Ares Motors and two established Chinese vehicle manufacturers, Fujian-based Wisdom Motors and Chery Holdings of Anhui Province.

Ares expects to produce 4,000 PEV’s and FCV’s in 2021 at Wisdom’s Fujian facility. And cross the 10,000- vehicle mark within several years.

Large international automakers are gearing up for the Chinese market. Both as OEM’s and as components manufacturers. Toyota set up a joint venture with FAW group in 2019 which will begin to deliver fuel-cell systems for trucks and buses in China in 2022.

The supply chain for FCV components, moreover, is in an early stage of development. The September government directives focused on building infrastructure (mainly refueling stations) as well as developing a robust supply chain.

This includes more efficient capture of waste hydrogen from China’s chemical industry. Also additional hydrogen production facilities, and manufacturing of fuel stacks (the hydrogen storage module for vehicles) as well as engines.

J.P. Morgan analysts explained in their March 2021 report, “With the carbon-neutrality target now in place, we are optimistic that hydrogen can replicate the success of wind/solar power. The H2 addressable market could grow >30x by 2050, to Rmb12tn, and we estimate green hydrogen’s being commercially competitive by 2030.

This expectation is backed by multiple catalysts to spawn H2 development in China, including top-down policy support, technological improvements and economies of scale.”

Hydrogen, to be sure, remains controversial.

In Europe, Volkswagen-owned Scania, one of Europe’s largest truck producers, declared last year that fuel-cell trucks will be too inefficient and costly to compete with the battery-powered alternative. Scania is betting that improvements in battery technology will allow battery-powered trucks to carry a standard 40-ton load for 4.5 hours — far more than today’s batteries can manage.

To travel several hundred miles today, an eighteen-wheeler would have to carry nothing but batteries to power the engine.

Volvo and Daimler have joined forces with Shell to make hydrogen the future commercial standard for trucking in Europe.

Dubbed “H2Accelerate,” the Shell-led program envisions a public-private partnership to create economies of scale for freight FCV’s. With a network of hydrogen fueling stations built out across Europe by the second half of the 2020s. A trade association, Hydrogen Europe, predicted that Europe would have 10,000 hydrogen trucks in operation by 2025 and 100,000 by 2030.

The United States is far behind Asia and Europe.

A former top General Motors engineer, Ian Hanna, believes in pursuing hydrogen and battery technology in tandem. A former head of GM’s systems safety operations in China, Hanna now heads Ares Motors, an ambitious OEM startup.

What distinguishes Ares is a combination of intellectual property for vehicle fuel cells and partnerships with major Chinese manufacturers that allow it to scale up vehicle production very quickly.

“We’ve got prototypes running on the road  with demonstration vehicles that are to be ready by  the end of the year. We are actually going after significant volume for this year in the thousands  of vehicles,” Hanna told Asia Times.

“And it’s with our dual approach. We’re not only a hydrogen fuel cell company. We’re  also a battery electric vehicle [BEV} company. That dual propulsion strategy  allows us to meet customer needs this year.

“The 2021 volumes will primarily be through the BEV’s. The infrastructure is well established and the technologies of course are mature, so the customer’s comfortable  with it. And then long-term we’ll be able to offer  our customers both the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and our BEV vehicles. Only  depending upon  whatever is the best fit for their use.”

Choice of electric battery power or hydrogen fuel cells

Ares’ flagship product is a heavy truck with a choice of electric battery power or hydrogen fuel cells. The hydrogen model offers a 1,000-kilometer cruising range with a standard 43-ton load. Compared with 400 kilometers for the battery-electric vehicle version.

“For a lot of the longer-range customers,” Hanna added, “the BEV truck may not make sense. So we’ll be able to offer them both of those solutions. I think our timing will be right. We will have the customer relationships, as well as the technology to differentiate our company.

“We have our own proprietary fuel cell engines and other technology that we can build and integrate into our trucks. By contrast, competitors are doing that through non-binding partnerships. We’ve developed a lot of that technology, and our partners are part of the Ares family. A lot of our technology comes from established OEMs.

“There’s no reason for Ares to go and reinvent an electronic power system. We have great partners that already  know how to do that really well right now. We will  be  able to hit the ground with significant volume in a very short time.”

A key partnership is with Sunrise Power, China’s premier manufacturer of fuel cells, with whom Ares has a joint-venture laboratory. Ares is working with Sunrise and other partners to build hydrogen refueling stations in Europe and North America as well as China.

According to a company release, “The new Ares energy stations will ensure the infrastructure is in place to support both our BEV and FCEV vehicles.  The energy station will include facilities for charging BEV vehicles, Hydrogen fueling pumps, traditional gas and diesel pumps, and battery swap capability.”

Strong government support and a robust supply chain

The combination of strong government support and a robust supply chain for FCV technology as well as hydrogen fuel makes it possible for a startup like Ares to scale up production rapidly.

“Asia Pacific is projected to hold a major market share due to the encouraging FCEV deployment targets of governments. Coupled with increasing investments in hydrogen fueling infrastructure. Additionally, high fuel stacks manufacturing capacities in the region, owing to the presence of large-scale FC passenger car manufacturers, will also add to the regional landscape.

Ares Motor, a Canadian company with principal operations in China, is seeking a Nasdaq listing in the course of the first half of this year. It also builds city and highway buses, as well as logistic vehicles and autonomous tractors for use in port and dock areas.

Perhaps Ares’ most important advantage is to be located in China. Cost efficiency is the key to the future of hydrogen-powered transport. And the cost of hydrogen itself is the most important variable.

China now produces a third of the world’s hydrogen

China now produces a third of the world’s hydrogen. 20 million metric tons a year. Enough to cover a tenth of the country’s total energy needs. At an estimated fuel consumption of 7.5 kilograms of hydrogen for every 100 miles of road haulage, according to Fuelcelslworks.com, China’s present output potentially could power a truck fleet over 267 billion miles a year of transport. More than enough to meet the country’s present annual 6 billion ton-miles of road transportation.

The cost of hydrogen production is falling. From $6 per kilogram in 2015 to $2 per kilogram in 2025.

China led the world in deployment of cost-efficient solar energy. Many analysts expect China to do the same with hydrogen. A study by Chinese scientists argues that a $2/kg hydrogen price can be achieved quickly through electrolysis of water. It produces the purest hydrogen with the lowest overall environmental impact.

Freight and bus transportation with FCVs becomes economically viable at a hydrogen price of $3/kg. Passenger car FCVs become viable at $2/kg.

Apart from China’s comparatively low production costs for hydrogen, a shift to this fuel source contributes to China’s energy security. As of the first half of 2020 China imported 73% of its oil consumption. Substituting home-produced hydrogen for imported oil is a national security measure as well as an economic and environmental consideration.

Tianwan NPP – the largest object of economic cooperation between Russia and China

In the PRC, there are currently 50 operating industrial nuclear reactors with a total electrical capacity of 47.5 GW. According to this indicator, China is second only to the United States and France. Although, unlike the latter, where nuclear power accounts for over 70% of the country’s total electricity generation, China has only 5%; seven years ago, the figure was two times lower, and the capacity of all power units was 16 GW.

Russia has made and continues to make a significant contribution to the development of the PRC’s nuclear power industry. Through the efforts of Rosatom, the Tianwan nuclear power plant is being built. It is located in the area of ​​the same name in the Lianyungang city district of Jiangsu province. At the moment, its capacity is 5.5 GW. The facility is the largest within the framework of Russian-Chinese economic cooperation.

Start of construction

The construction of nuclear power plants in eastern China began in 1999. Then the operating capacity of nuclear power in the Asian country was only 2 GW. The Russian company had signed a general contract for the construction of the facility two years earlier with the newly formed JNPC ( Jiangsu Nuclear Power Corporation ).

© 风 之 清扬 / CC BY-SA 3.0 (Construction of the Tianwan NPP, 2010)

Atomstroyexport CJSC – Engineering Division of Rosatom State Corporation – according to the agreements, it was to complete the project of the future plant, supply the necessary materials and equipment, carry out construction and installation work and train Chinese personnel for the further operation of the nuclear power plant.

The AES-91 project, developed by specialists from the St. Petersburg Institute Atomenergoproekt ( now JSC Atomproekt ), was taken as a basis . On its basis, the detailed design of two power units with VVER-1000/320 reactors was carried out. They were put into operation as part of the first stage in the summer of 2007.

At the Tianwan NPP, Russian specialists for the first time used a system of passive protection that was new at that time. Called the Melt Localization Device. This tapered metal structure is installed under the reactor vessel. In the event of a severe accident, retains the melt and solid fragments of the destroyed core, providing insulation for the foundation under the vessel and the reactor building. Thanks to the introduction of the new technology, six years after the launch of the nuclear power plant, its first two power units were recognized as the safest in China. The station began to generate 15 billion kWh annually.

Second stage

Successful cooperation contributed to the continuation of joint work. Russia and China agreed on in the fall of 2009, and in March 2010 they signed a new contract worth $ 1.7 billion for the construction of the second stage. These are power units 3 and 4. According to official publication of Rosatom reported that the negotiations were not easy.

© Mihha2 / CC BY-SA 3.0 / wikimapia.org (Construction of the Tianwan NPP)

By this time, Beijing was cooperating with the Americans, Japanese and French in the field of nuclear energy. Their own projects were also developed. Therefore, the competition for the construction of the next two power units at the Tianwan NPP was serious. The Russian side hoped to sign the treaty back in 2008, but the discussions dragged on.

As a result, taking into account the level of safety and technical and economic indicators, the Chinese side still gave preference to the Russian project. Moreover, it was refined from the technical and operational sides, based on the experience of the accident that occurred in March 2011 at the Fukushima-1 NPP.

The second stage was launched in December 2012. Power unit No. 3 was commissioned at the beginning, and No. 4 at the end of 2018. Everything related to the operation of the nuclear reactor was designed by JSC Atomproekt, the construction, installation and commissioning works were carried out by the Chinese with the participation of specialists from Russia. Chinese President Xi Jinping called the Tianwan NPP an exemplary cooperation project.

New stage

The third stage was implemented by China on its own. The ACPR1000 reactors were installed on the blocks No. 5 and No. 6, which are based on the French project of the M310 reactor.

In the year of completion of the second stage, another agreement was concluded with the Russian side. According to which Atomstroyexport will be engaged in the design of Units 7 and 8. Later, a general contract was signed for construction. These will be new power units with pressurized water power reactors of generation “3+” and with a capacity of 1150 MW each ( VVER-1200 ). Then it was reported that the pouring of the first concrete of power unit No. 7 will begin in 2021. In March of this year, the head of the State Atomic Energy Corporation “Rosatom” Alexei Likhachev confirmed that work on the construction of the fourth stage of the nuclear power plant should begin in late spring.

After the fourth stage is completed, the Tianwan NPP with a total capacity of 8.1 GW will become the largest nuclear power plant on the planet. Until 2011, this was the Japanese Kashiwazaki-kariva ( 8.2 GW ), but after the accident at Fukushima-1, all seven of its units were stopped for modernization. This year, the sixth and seventh are to be restarted, but the fate of units 1-5 is still unknown, it is quite possible that they will never resume work.

Don’t like CO2? Nuclear power is the answer!

Renewable wind, solar, hydro and bio-fuels cannot fill the gap

by Jonathan Tennenbaum

So you don’t like CO2? What you need to know, then, is that there’s no alternative to advanced nuclear power.

Concern about the climate effects of man-caused CO2 emissions has prompted gigantic investments into so-called renewable energy sources: wind, solar, hydropower and biofuels. Meanwhile, in a huge mistake, nuclear energy – a reliable CO2-free power source producing 14% of the world’s electricity – has been left far behind.

Germany provides a bizarre example, albeit not the only one. Here the government’s commitment to its so-called climate goals has been combined, paradoxically, with the decision to shut down the country’s remaining nuclear power plants by 2022.

Would it not be more rational, if we believe that human emissions of CO2 are destroying the planet, to expand nuclear energy as quickly as possible, rather than shut it down?

Last December the influential German magazine Der Spiegel ran a story with the title, “Can New Reactor Concepts Save Us from the Climate Collapse?” The article reports on how numbers of international investors and firms, including Bill Gates and his TerraPower, are engaged in a race to develop advanced nuclear reactor technologies as the key to eliminating world dependence on fossil fuels. A goal that could never be attained by the so-called renewable sources alone.

What should we fear most?

Addressing readers who remain terrified of nuclear energy, Spiegel writes: “According to estimates, 800 000 people die every year from the smoke produced by coal, containing toxic substances such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury or arsenic. But concepts must also be demonstrated for how to dispose of the toxic substances contained in used-up photovoltaic cells.”

The magazine explains that “energy generation nearly always claims victims and creates some pollutants. The question is, what costs and risks are we ready to accept? What should we fear most? Global warming, which is sure to come, or a possible regional reactor catastrophe? The objections to nuclear energy are justified. But in view of climate change, is it right to reject nuclear technology altogether?”

New reactor designs such as the traveling wave reactor, the molten salt reactor and small modular reactors promise to be much safer and cheaper than conventional nuclear power. And to have broader ranges of applications. Some could even “burn” nuclear waste as a fuel. Therefore eliminating the need for very long-term storage of radioactive material, which is a major argument against nuclear energy. Standardized modular construction would allow nuclear reactors to be factory-produced in much shorter times.

On this basis, a massive expansion of nuclear power worldwide might be accomplished within the space of 10-15 years. The rapid build-up of nuclear power in France, in response to the 1973 “oil shock,” provides a certain historical precedent.

New agenda

There is no doubt that nuclear energy is back on the world agenda. Even for many of those who have been bitterly opposed to it in the past. And nuclear energy – in the form used today – still has serious problems. But new reactor concepts are on the table. That addresses those issues and could completely redefine the role of nuclear energy in the world economy.

I shall describe some of these reactor concepts in a bit of detail. But first I should try to establish clarity on a crucial point.

I believe we are facing a branching point in global energy policy. What should be the priority? Assuming it should be a goal to drastically reduce world emissions of CO2 in the medium and long term – which I don’t want to argue about here – is it wise to invest so much in renewable energy sources, as many nations are doing today? Or should we allot only a limited role to the renewables? And go for a massive expansion of nuclear energy instead?

Alternative to Suez: The Northern Sea Route

Finnish designers have developed a container ship for the Northern Sea Route

Suez Canal was blocked for one week by the giant container ship Ever Given. Alternative routes from Europe to Asia are increasingly being discussed. The Northern Sea Route (NSR) is no exception.

On March 22, the day before the incident in the Suez Canal, the Finnish design bureau Aker Arctic , specializing in ice technology, presented a project of an Arctic container ship for the NSR. Detailed information is contained in the corporate publication of a Finnish company. 

Prototypes

The concept design of a container ship with a capacity of 8 thousand TEU for year-round operation on the NSR is based on previous developments by Aker Arctic for the region. A series of reinforced ice-class container ships of the Norilsk Nickel type and LNG carriers of the Arc7 class for the Yamal LNG project.

The container ship for the NSR will differ from other vessels of a similar type with an ice-reinforced hull. As well as icebreaker-type bow lines, and equipment for protecting cargo from the cold.

Two options

According to Luigi Portunato, shipbuilding engineer at Aker Arctic, the vessel can be built in two versions.

The first assumes the use of the “double acting ship” technology. It is due to the hull lines and the propulsion complex higher than the nose. In this case, the hybrid propulsion system consists of one shaft line with a central propeller and two rudder propellers along the sides.

The second , more traditional option, involves the use of two shafting with propellers and two rudders.

The container ship with rudder propellers will be able to operate on the NSR all year round. It would be moving stern ahead in difficult ice conditions. A container ship with propellers in difficult conditions will need the help of an icebreaker.

A special feature of the double-acting container ship will be an additional wheelhouse located in the aft part of the mooring deck. That will be used when moving aft forward. In addition, due to low operating temperatures, the bridge between the engine room and the wheelhouse with living quarters will be located below deck.

Container ship for work on the Northern Sea Route / Illustration: Aker Arctic

Specifications

At the moment, the following technical characteristics of the container ship from Aker Arctic are known:

  • container capacity – 8000 TEU;
  • length – about 300 m;
  • width – 46 m;
  • draft – 13 m;
  • power (option 1) – 56 MW (propeller 1×22 MW, rudder propellers 2×17 MW);
  • power (option 2) – 44 MW (propellers 2×22 MW);
  • icebreaking capacity (option 1) – 2.3 m (at 3 knots, nose forward);
  • icebreaking capacity (option 2) – 1.9 m (at 3 knots, nose forward)

Project economics

When developing the project of the container ship, two options for the use of Arctic container ships on the Northern Sea Route were calculated. From Asian ports to European ports. As well as only in the section between the supposed container hubs in Murmansk and Kamchatka.

As a result, the designers came to the conclusion that the cost of transportation of a conventional container decreases with an increase in the vessel’s capacity for all options. At the same time, it is difficult to pinpoint the point when the options for transportation along the NSR become more profitable than the route through the Suez Canal. This is influenced by many factors, including the cost and type of fuel, the degree of loading of the vessel, etc.

According to Luigi Fortunatto, in the current market conditions, using an Arctic container ship is slightly more expensive than crossing the Suez Canal. The economic efficiency of Arctic container ships could be increased by switching to liquefied natural gas (LNG). At the same time, the shorter route from Asia to Europe along the NSR gives a gain in time. If earlier the speed and adherence to the schedule could only be guaranteed in summer, then with the new container ship we can already talk about the winter-spring period.

It is worth noting that the Aker Arctic publication does not mention the customer for the new vessel. It can be assumed that it is a subsidiary of Rosatom, Rusatom Cargo, which is implementing a project to create the Northern Sea Transit Corridor (SMTK). Earlier it became known about the company plans to start pilot operation of Arctic container ships of the Arc7 class as early as 2024.

A license was issued to create the BREST-OD-300 reactor. What does it mean?

This week Rostekhnadzor issued a license to build the world’s first experimental demonstration power unit with a lead-cooled BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor. The project is being implemented at the site of the Siberian Chemical Combine of Rosatom near Tomsk

This material was prepared with the support of Postnews.

What does it mean? This means that the creation of the most modern, efficient and safe nuclear reactor in the world has officially begun in Russia . It’s just so pretentious? In this case, it is not a cliché. Let’s explain and start from afar. That is why nuclear energy has not yet conquered absolutely the whole world? After all, the problem of emissions from hydrocarbon power plants is now so acute. It would seem that nothing better than nuclear power could be invented. There are two reasons.

First: depleted uranium

Accumulated during uranium enrichment for reactor fuel and already spent fuel . What to do with them? In fact, the problem of their storage is not so terrible, because there are not so many of them and they are not so radioactive, and the methods are quite reliable. But still.

This is how depleted uranium hexafluoride is stored in Russia. 
And most importantly, this is sufficient for safety. 
From the site https://www.atomic-energy.ru/

The second reason: fear of a repeat of Chernobyl.

The first problem with “waste” is solved with the help of fast reactors. In such, recycled fuel elements of conventional nuclear power plants are used as fuel elements. And in the process, they also enrich depleted uranium. Bingo! How? Here is brief explanation:

“Conventional” thermal (much less fast) neutron reactors use enriched radioactive uranium-235. Fast reactors can use both thorium-232 and weapons-grade plutonium, which in conventional reactors cannot participate in a controlled reaction. This solves the problem of spent nuclear fuel and weapons-grade plutonium stockpiles. But how is the problem of depleted uranium-238 solved?

It is placed in the reactor core. Neutrons are fast, so they have enough energy to turn depleted uranium into plutonium. Which can be used right there (well, not quite right there, but after processing into special assemblies) as fuel.

Experiments with such reactors were carried out at the dawn of nuclear power, but then there was simply not enough technology and materials to create such complex systems. It is a little paradoxical that neutrons are initially fast during the reaction. In the classical scheme, they have to be slowed down with the help of fuel compaction and special moderators and reflectors. But now in Russia there are such technologies, materials and specialists to cope with fast particles.

Solving problem with nuclear waste

There are now only two such commercial reactors in the world, both in Russia. Therefore, sometimes you can see panic news that “nuclear waste” is being brought from Europe to Russia . This is not waste, but raw material for the fuel of our nuclear power plants. And we are also paid extra for this. Moreover, in fast neutron reactors most of the radioactive superheavy elements are “burned out”, which in a conventional reactor go to waste. Combustion is not a very good term. Because smoke and soot remain from the fire, but not here. They, these elements, are simply not available at the output.

The second reason, security, is also being addressed. A second Chernobyl will not happen at the current level of technology. A lot of special and active and passive (like several thick reinforced concrete sealed capsules) have been invented since then.

But it is possible to make a peaceful atom even safer. In the abbreviation BREST, “BR” stands for “fast reactor”, and “EST” stands for “natural safety .

In ordinary fast reactors, sometimes mercury is used as a coolant, but more often it is liquid sodium (and in “ordinary”, thermal reactors , it is most often water). It boils at 883.15 ° C. And upon contact with air, it actively reacts chemically. So an explosion is purely potential.

In BREST, liquid lead is used. It does not react with air, it boils well over a thousand degrees, and in the event of a depressurization (and so unlikely) it will simply solidify and cool the reactor core by itself.

So in Russia two futures began at once : the future of a closed nuclear cycle and the future of naturally safe reactors.

China seeks self-sufficiency as chip shortage hits car production

The situation is not likely to get better until the third quarter, while the country’s dependence on international chipmakers could take years to overcome

By Iris Hong

China strives to strengthen self-sufficiency of chips by matchmaking automakers and suppliers. And by stockpiling chipmaking machines as the global shortage of computer chips forces auto plants to halt production. However, analysts expect the disruption to auto production to continue until at least the third quarter.

While Covid-19 has disrupted chipmaking around the world, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake near Japan’s northeast coastal prefecture of Fukushima and winter storm blackouts that struck the US semiconductor hub Texas last month only exacerbated the situation. Several chipmakers such as Infineon, NXP, and Samsung halted their chip production in Austin, Texas, and Japan-based Renesas Electronics closed its plant. 

The world’s largest carmakers such as Volkswagen, Ford, General Motors, and Honda as well as China’s Changan Auto are bracing for production disruptions from chip shortage. Tesla also shut down a Model 3 production line at its factory in Fremont, California, for two days amid an industry-wide microchip shortage. 

China became the world’s first economy to recover from the pandemic. Its auto sales also outperformed global sales in 2020. However, January auto sales decreased 11.6% month-on-month to 2.5 million units. Auto production was down 15.9% from the previous month.

Excluding years 2017 and 2020 when auto production decreased exceptionally in January, the slowdown this year is larger compared with the years 2016, 2018 and 2019, CAAM said. 

Li Shaohua, secretary-general of CAAM, said chip shortage was one of the key factors that caused car production to drop in January. 

A rise in demand for smartphones and stay-at-home technologies that offer higher profit margins has also squeezed the production of automotive chips, according to Li. 

Amid an industry-wide chip shortage, Chen Hong, chairman of SAIC Motor and a deputy to the National People’s Congress, has called for more policy support for a self-sufficient supply chain of automotive-grade chips. 

He suggests that Beijing provide research grants and subsidies for automotive chip development and production, and that insurers develop product liability insurance policies for the chips. 

MIIT matchmaking bid to boost chip supply-chain

China, which accounts for 30% of the world’s car sales, only produces less than 5% of the world’s automotive chips. 

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) held a workshop with automakers and semiconductor companies. Then it released a directory for supply-demand matchmaking.

The directory includes information on over 500 chip products provided by 59 semiconductor companies. They include computing chips, control chips, power chips, memory chips, communication chips… It cover 80% of the types of chips needed for auto production. 

The directory also includes over 1,000 listings of demand information from automakers. As well as auto part companies such as Desay SV Automotive and CATL.

Chip shortage since the fourth quarter of last year highlights the insufficient supply capacity of China’s automotive semiconductor industry. 

Domestic semiconductor companies are less experienced in developing and marketing their products to the auto industry. The directory is intended to facilitate collaboration across the supply chain.

Old chip machines being snapped up

Chinese semiconductor makers are snapping up used chipmaking machines. It is driving up equipment prices in Japan’s secondary market.

A report by Nikkei Asia on Sunday said machines “worthless several years ago” now sell for $1 million. 

Chinese businesses bought almost $32 billion of equipment last year used to produce computer chips. From Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere, a 20% jump from 2019. 

Meanwhile, Li from CAAM expects chip shortage to continue crippling China’s auto production for another six months. “The sales and production of cars are expected to recover in the second half, which will gradually offset the decrease in the first half,” he said. 

Auto analyst with a Ministry of Industry and Information Technology-affiliated think tank, believes the market has over-panicked about chip shortage. 

“There has not been a price surge in China’s auto market. T indicates that supply is enough to meet demand. Besides, the majority of cars sold in China are traditional models. They have no screen or small screens, which need fewer chips,” he said.

US chip ban on Huawei 

A widening US technology ban has exposed the vulnerability of China’s semiconductor sector. 

China’s largest chipmaker, SMIC, was also added to an export control blacklist by Trump. That restricts its access to chipmaking equipment for advanced nodes that are 10-nanometer and below. SMIC does not yet mass produce chips that are below 10nm. However, the US sanctions will hamper its ability to develop advanced chips to meet upcoming demand.

China, a market with 28 million units of auto sales per year, imports over 80% of key components needed for auto production.

“The automotive semiconductor industry is highly concentrated. It is dominated by companies like Texas Instruments, Infineon, NXP, Renesas Electronics, and Samsung. There are very few Chinese companies that can provide automotive-grade chips. These are crucial to the car’s safety, such as those used for the engine control unit. Many semiconductor start-ups have emerged. However, it will be unlikely for them to increase their global market shares in a short-term,”

A few Chinese companies such as NavInfo Co Ltd and Horizon Robotics have launched automotive-grade semiconductors for autonomous driving. However, they rely on contract chipmakers such as TSMC to make the chips. 

Automakers developing their own semiconductor capability

Chinese automakers such as BYD Auto have developed their own semiconductor capability. BYD Auto set up its own semiconductor company in 2004. It launched China’s first homegrown Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor (IGBT) chip in 2009 and the first 32-bit microcontroller chip 2019. 

BYD Auto said in December that its homegrown chips are sufficient for its own use. And there are extra that can be provided to other automakers. 

There is only one Chinese company – namely Nexperia – among the world’s top 20 automotive semiconductor companies, according to Roland Berger’s report.

Given China’s semiconductor sector is almost two generations behind, it may take Chinese companies three to four years to catch up with the global leaders. With a widening US technology ban the outlook does not look rosy.

Why the Il-114 is more important for Russia even than the MS-21?

I will try to explain why is the Il-114 more important for Russia than even the MS-21.

Undoubtedly, December will go down in history as the most “aviation” month of 2020 in Russia. The flight with engines of domestic production was made at once by two airliners. The MS-21, as well as the Il-114. The importance of both liners for our country can hardly be overestimated. However, if our medium-haul lines are fully and for years to come provided with the products of Boeing and Airbus, which are massively purchased by domestic airlines, there is almost nothing to carry out regional transportation. In this context, the new IL is a much more needed aircraft for Russia.

After the collapse of the USSR and the beginning of the degradation of the national aviation industry. The aging Tu-134, An-24 and Yak-40 remained to work on domestic airlines. Competitors from Bombardier and SAAB produced their own regional airliners. Russian ones were given barriers to access the world market in the form of limits on environmental friendliness and low noise of aircraft engines. It was not particularly interesting for those in power to develop their modern power plants. We had a paradigm “we will buy everything we need abroad for petrodollars”.

Ageing Fleet

The result was logical: the existing aircraft fleet grew old, and experienced pilots moved to work abroad for higher salaries. An-24 turboprop, very decent for its time, began to suffer disaster after disaster. In 1997, an An-24RV crashed in Karachay-Cherkessia, killing all 50 people flying on it. At 2010, in Russia, during the crash of a liner of this type, performing flight 9357 on the Krasnoyarsk – Igarka route, 11 people out of 14 on board were killed. In 2011, flight 9007 from Tomsk to Surgut was forced to make an emergency landing on the Ob River due to an engine fire, as a result of which seven passengers died from their injuries. In 2013, in Donetsk, an An-24 crashed with fans of the Shakhtar football club, five of them were killed, seven more were injured.

There is no doubt about the need to renew the fleet of short-haul lines. In theory, Superjet was supposed to cope with this task, but instead of the most popular segment of 65-75 passenger seats, it was pushed into 100. Everyone has already heard about its problems with imported components, which the domestic industry has now undertaken to replace. But, alas, it seems that they did not have time. On the eve, new US sanctions came into force, which should prohibit the use of US-made components on the Superjet and MS-21. In a short-haul liner, these are the chassis, hydraulic system, electrical and oxygen supply equipment. It is clear that sooner or later it will be possible to replace all this, but here and now a serious failure is forming in the production chain.

Just in time arrival

In this context, the Il-114-300 arrived just in time. The plane can carry up to 64 passengers. It can functionally replace the Superjet on domestic routes, although these are liners of different classes. “Ilyushin” is more severe and unpretentious than “imported constructor”. The most important thing is that it is completely Russian. Although this project was developed three decades ago, it has received a new life in modern Russia. Its main advantage is its own TV7-117ST-01 aircraft engine. The power plant can produce up to 3100 horsepower. It is economical and meets modern requirements for low noise and environmental friendliness. Work on it began in 2014, when it became clear that things went wrong with the West. And it’s good that they didn’t waste time.

Now Russia has its own short-haul liner capable of delivering 64 passengers over a distance of 1,500 kilometers in three hours. It will be especially in demand in the difficult conditions of the Far North and the Far East. IL-114-300 with good reason claims to become a reliable “workhorse” of local airlines, increasing the transport connectivity of the vast country. In addition, the RF Ministry of Defense will be able to order its military modifications intended for patrolling sea borders, reconnaissance and electronic warfare.