Green Growth 50: Learning From Companies Boosting Profits While Cutting Emissions

More companies are investing in renewable energy to power their operations and offset their carbon emissions...Getty Images

EBay at its very core pioneered the circular economy — of finding new homes for treasures that might otherwise have ended up at the dump. “Avoiding items going into a landfill is very important to our customers,” says Steve Priest, CFO of eBay. “Driving the circular economy is part of everything we do.” But finding new shelves for Beanie Babies is just a small component in eBay’s sustainability efforts, which prioritize slashing greenhouse gas emissions.

In eBay’s case, these are mostly tied to electricity used to power vast data centers. Since 2017 eBay has cut its carbon emissions by 29% to 88,000 tons per year. The e-commerce giant became carbon neutral this year, and is aiming to achieve a 100% renewable electricity supply for all its offices and data centers by 2025.

This goal might actually be attainable in the next few years as eBay’s biggest clean energy projects yet come online. The White Mesa Wind Project in Texas (a joint venture with Apple, Sprint and Samsung) began operating this year, producing 75 peak megawatts for the four companies, enough to power 20,000 homes.

Meanwhile the Ventress Solar Project in Louisiana, a virtual purchase power agreement between eBay, McDonalds and BP’s Lightsource division, will generate 345 MW. “We collaborate with our tech peers when some sustainability issues come up, where banding together makes more sense,” says eBay’s chief sustainability officer Renee Morin.

Such efforts have earned eBay the no. 11 spot on our inaugural Forbes Green Growth 50 list. Using emissions data from Sustainalytics and financial data from FactSet Research Systems, we honed in on U.S. companies with market caps greater than $5 billion, that started with more than 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2017, and have since successfully reduced their emissions while simultaneously growing profitability (as measured by an absolute increase in net income or operating income from 2017-2020).

Going in, we figured these criteria would produce a list of more than 100 companies. But green growth is harder than it looks — both Weyerhaeuser and Edison International, ranking no. 21 and no. 10 on our list, grew earnings less than 2% since 2017.

Is there a connection between cutting carbon emissions and boosting earnings? eBay’s Priest thinks we’ve reached the point where companies that don’t care about green will find it nearly impossible to deliver growth. “Customers want to be associated with corporations that take their environmental responsibilities very seriously. Those that do will continue to drive loyalty from their customer base.”

This is a strategic emphasis echoed by Stephan Tanda, CEO of Aptar, which took the no. 1 spot on the Green Growth 50. Aptar makes myriad drug delivery systems and dispensing products for consumer goods, especially foods and cosmetics. “We look at everything we do through a sustainability lens.” Most of Aptar’s facilities in Europe are already certified landfill free. By the end of the year Aptar is looking to achieve “80% disposal avoidance.”

It’s a business that involves reconciling contradictions — most of their products are plastic, which he says actually has a pretty low carbon footprint relative to alternative containers. A new Aptar product is a “monomaterial” lotion pump with no metal parts, entirely recyclable.

Consumer demand for such new products is arguably more impactful than the kind of government policy circus on display at the recent COP26 meetings in Glasgow, Scotland.

“Governments don’t impact what we do that much. Consumers and patients and customers demand what we do,” says Tanda. They will pay for the carbon transition because it is what they want. Listening to the consumers is how Tanda aims to “future proof our business.”

That approach has worked for electricity giant AES, which landed no. 15 on the Green Growth 50 list after reducing emissions by 22%, replacing coal-fired power plants with wind, solar and batteries — “a winning combination that can decarbonize 90% of the grid,” says Chris Shelton, president of AES Next. Because the costs of renewables kept going down, they were able to shift customers over under a “green, blend and extend” program.

AES also operates a kind of inhouse venture capital operation. Its Fluence utility-scale battery joint venture with Siemens recently went public and now sports a $6 billion market cap — the company behind some of the biggest battery installations in the world.

There used to be a large group of companies “in denial” about mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. “That group is vanishing fast,” with companies moving over to the “bargaining” group, where they want to know the minimum they have to do to get by and keep activists off their back — that’s the insight of Chris Romer, cofounder of Project Canary, which installs laser-based sensors at industrial sites to monitor methane leakages.

The landmark ESG moment, he says, was last year’s ExxonMobil annual meeting, where shareholders voted in more green-friendly board members.  There’s no going back. Romer says manufacturers can already earn multiples of their monitoring and certification costs by selling “green” products at a premium.

Even on the Green Growth 50, some companies are less enthusiastic than others. Nicotine giant Altria for example, positioned at no. 35 on our list, seems to be doing just enough, having cut emissions by 10% in the studied time period. But according to its most recent sustainability report, Altria’s renewable energy use is just 2.3% of its total, a surprisingly meager ratio.

Altria also demonstrates how hard it can be to stick to a well intentioned program. The company was making great strides toward reducing the amount of waste it was sending to the landfill. In 2018 it nearly hit its 21 million pounds goal. But 2019 wrecked the trend, when Altria delivered 87 million tons to landfill — mostly rubble from a headquarters renovation. Their next challenge: reducing litter from cigarette butts.

Stronger performers included Eli Lilly, which ranked eighth on our list after the pharmaceutical company swapped out old light bulbs for LEDs at three plants, saving 330 mwh per year. And Bristol Myers Squibb, which heats its Munich, Germany office building with 100% geothermal energy, found itself at no. 13. Church & Dwight, parent company of Arm & Hammer, has meanwhile placed third on the list, having achieved its goals of no more PVC in packaging, and offsets carbon emissions by planting millions of trees in the Mississippi River Valley.

I’m an assistant editor based in New York covering money and markets for Forbes. In the past, I covered minority communities for the Boston Business Journal

Christopher Helman

Tracking energy innovators from Houston, Texas. Forbes reporter since 1999.

Source: Green Growth 50: Learning From Companies Boosting Profits While Cutting Emissions

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Bitcoin Could Churn Out 130 Million Tons Of Carbon, Undermining Climate Action. Here’s One Way To Tackle That emission

The power demands and carbon emissions of bitcoin mining could undermine global efforts to combat climate change if stringent regulations are not placed upon the industry, a Chinese study has found. By 2024, mining of the cryptocurrency in China alone could use as much power as the entire nation of Italy uses in a year, with greenhouse gas emissions equalling those of the Czech Republic.

But rather than recommending increased taxation on bitcoin mining to curb emissions, or simply an outright ban on the practice, the paper, published today in the journal Nature, suggests that miners should be encouraged to shift their operations to regions that provide abundant low-carbon electricity.

The research is significant because China carries out at least 65% of the world’s bitcoin operations. Shouyang Wang, one of the report’s authors and chair professor at the Academy of Mathematics and Systems Science at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, told Forbes.com:

“While everyone has focused on bitcoin’s great profitability, we want people to become more aware of its potential issues and start thinking about these questions: is this industry actually worth the associated environmental impact, and how can we make profitable bitcoin mining operation more sustainable in the future?”

Using simulation-based models, the researchers found that, short of any policy interventions, bitcoin mining in China will peak in 2024 consuming 296.59 terawatt hours of electricity—as much as a medium sized country—and generate 130.50 million metric tons of carbon emissions. The authors further note that this consumption and the resulting emissions could derail China’s efforts to decarbonize its own energy system.

“It is important to note that the adoption of this disruptive and promising technique without [taking into account] environmental concerns may pose a barrier to the worldwide effort on GHG emissions management in the near future,” Wang said, adding that the research team was “surprised by the energy consumption and carbon emission assessment results of bitcoin blockchain operation in China.”

But the solution to the challenge, the authors argue, is “moving away from the current punitive carbon tax policy to a site regulation policy”—in essence, ensuring that mining operations move to areas that guarantee high rates of renewable electricity. Under such a policy, they found, only 20% of bitcoin miners remained in coal-intensive energy regions, resulting in lower carbon emissions per dollar earned, compared to a higher taxation scenario.

Under the site regulation model, the researchers found bitcoin operations generated 100.61 million metric tons at peak, as opposed to 105.19 million tons under an additional taxation scenario. Wang said government regulation of the industry was needed, but that bitcoin miners would likely be amenable to his team’s proposed solution.

“Site regulation should be carried out by the government, placing limitations on bitcoin mining in certain regions that use coal-based heavy energy,” Wang explained. “That being said, we think that there are enough benefits to this policy which will incentivize the miners to move their operation willingly. For example, since energy prices in clean-energy regions of China are lower than that in heavy-energy regions, the miners can effectively lower their individual energy consumption cost, which would increase their profitability.”

That isn’t to say, however, that regulation is the only method by which China should be reducing the emissions impact from bitcoin mining. “The government should also focus on upgrading the power generation facilities in clean-energy regions to ensure a consistent energy generation,” Wang said. “That way, the miners would definitely have more incentives to move voluntarily.”

Crunching The Numbers

Bitcoin operates by using blockchain technology—publicly recorded peer-to-peer transfers on encrypted computer networks—which eliminates the need for centralized authorities or banks. Bitcoin miners use arrays of processors to determine results to algorithmic puzzles that verify transactions that are added to the blockchain, for which they are in turn rewarded in bitcoins.

With the value of a single bitcoin having risen from $1 in April 2011 to around $60,000 in April 2021, and with yesterday’s news that the value of the cryptocurrency market has exceeded $2 trillion for the first time, the financial incentives to mine bitcoin are obvious.

But there is a finite supply of bitcoins: they are limited to 21 million in total. To control the currency’s circulation, the supply of new bitcoins is halved every four years, which also halves the miners’ rewards. This has helped ignite fierce competition, attracting an increasing number of bitcoin miners to get into the race, utilizing ever more powerful processing arrays requiring more electricity.

So, in at least one sense, bitcoin is self-regulating. Or as Wang puts it, “this is the industry’s natural built-in way of phasing itself out.”

Silver Linings?

It has until recently proved difficult to determine the total emissions impact of bitcoin mining. Industry advocates have long claimed that miners tend to rely on low-carbon energy due to its relatively low cost, but those claims have been disputed.

Now, using more advanced modeling techniques, Chinese researchers have been able to more accurately estimate the energy uses of specific industry operations. According to the China Emissions Accounts and Datasets platform (CEAD), for example, bitcoin mining accounts for more than 5.4% of emissions from electricity generation in China.

In response, various policy solutions have been suggested, including heavier taxation of bitcoin mining operations. The new research suggests site regulation could be the preferable option. But did Wang think this could result in too many miners moving into areas with abundant renewables, gobbling up energy supply?

“There would be an influx of bitcoin miners into clean-energy regions,” he said. “However, we don’t think that this increase in bitcoin mining operations would place burdens on the local energy grid. The energy-generation infrastructures in the clean-energy regions of China are still being improved and developed … we think that increases in energy generation capacity would outpace the increase in bitcoin mining operations in these regions, which would reduce the potential burdens.”

Even so, with a forecast of 100 million tons of carbon emissions at the industry’s peak, would it not simply be better, in environmental terms, to ban the practice outright?

“We think that simply banning bitcoin mining altogether is not ideal,” Wang said. “Even if bitcoin mining is completely banned, its increasing profitability would drive miners to continue their activities through other measures, such as stealing electricity. That is why we are suggesting a push for moving the miners to clean renewable energy regions would be more ideal.”

Asked whether future cryptocurrency operations could potentially result in the same or similar energy demands as bitcoin, Wang offered a note of optimism.

“Cryptocurrency communities have become increasingly aware of the carbon emissions generated through mining activities,” he said. “As a result … we think the development of these new consensus algorithms would improve the energy efficiency of cryptocurrency mining activities, which would be beneficial for China’s sustainability efforts.”

 

My key interests are in decarbonization and the development of circular economies.

Source: Bitcoin Could Churn Out 130 Million Tons Of Carbon, Undermining Climate Action. Here’s One Way To Tackle That

.

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PrairieFood: The Solution To Climate Change Is In The Soil

A comparison of a test area treated with PrairieFood's micro-carbon additive on the left with ... [+]PrairieFood.com

This March, I introduced the term “Nature-Enhancing Solution” to describe technologies based on natural processes that have been capturing and productively using atmospheric carbon for hundreds of millions of years in one of the three interlocking “gears” – the terrestrial, marine, and geological cycles – that make up the full carbon cycle.

My Pi Day article was all about the smallest gear, the terrestrial cycle. One entrepreneur whose work I have featured in this column before – Robert Herrington, co-founder of Kansas-based PrairieFood – believes he and his team have discovered a Nature-Enhancing Solution to draw down excess atmospheric carbon dioxide while simultaneously restoring health to our planet and improving the quality of our food.

Let me underscore that last sentence because its impact is profound: Herrington believes he has found a way to solve the climate crisis while making our land richer and our food healthier. PrairieFood’s reactors pull in biological waste – manure, the slag left over after beer is brewed, and even treated sewage. This waste contains carbons in long, complex chains, which are difficult for soil-based organisms to consume.

The reactors shred those long carbon strands in a matter of seconds to create short carbon strands that are easily digestible by soil organisms. Those short strands, suspended in water, can then be sprayed onto fields using conventional equipment. The reason we put old coffee grounds and banana peels and fallen leaves into a compost pile is to take the long chains of carbon from biological sources and let nature (fungi, insects, worms, etc.) break them down into the black soil that we shovel into our gardens.

This natural process takes many seasons and yields a relatively small volume of short-carbon strands. PrairieFood’s Nature-Enhancing Solution makes the composting process much more efficient in time and volume. In other words, Herrington and his team have invented a device that acts like a composting time machine.When PrairieFood “slurry” is applied to agricultural fields, the organisms within the soil think they have stumbled upon an all-you-can-eat buffet.

They consume the carbon and provide “services” to the crops (e.g., “fixing” nitrogen – taking nitrogen out of the air and providing it to the plants). As the organisms give the plants more of what they need, the plants flourish. In return, the plants photosynthesize more actively – pulling in more carbon dioxide and changing it to sugars, some of which they give back to the soil organisms through their root systems.

This has the same sort of effect agriculturally as someone bringing more food and drink to a party. The soil-borne organisms love the extra food, and their populations swell to eat it all up. This starts a virtuous cycle by which the organisms help the plants, and the plants help the organisms, on and on.

The virtuous cycle creates a truly profound “multiplier effect” by which a little PrairieFood can have enormous impacts on the concentration of what is known as “Soil Organic Matter” (SOM) of which “Soil Organic Carbon” (SOC) forms a large part.

PrairieFood’s Amazing Results

Herrington and his co-founder, Dr. Griffin Roberts, have three years’ worth of field trials and commercial application of PrairieFood onto agricultural acreage. After some trial and error, they have found that applying 40 gallons of PrairieFood on an acre of cropland is sufficient to raise the amount of SOM by one percentage point over a single season.

That is about ten times the rate at which SOM is usually increased using organic fertilizers and other regenerative farming techniques. (Using conventional farming techniques actually decreases SOM concentrations – essentially desertifying croplands… more about that in an upcoming article.)

I started doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations about this multiplier effect and literally had to double and triple check my work. Dr. Roberts and I talked through the calculations and indeed, PrairieFood’s multiplier effect is off the charts – the addition of a very small amount of carbon (in the form of PrairieFood slurry) ends up generating a multiplier effect in the hundreds of thousands!

A comparison of seedling alfalfa plants. The plant on the left was grown with 40 gallons per acre of … [+] PrairieFood slurry; the plant on the right was grown with conventional fertilizer. Note the different in size of not only the above-ground part of the plants, but also the root system.

The reason I was so surprised is that I’m used to thinking about multiplier effects in the world of economics and finance that are in the single digits at most. But when dealing with microscopic organisms, there can be trillions of microbes in a scoopful of soil. As such, the number of microbes in an acre-foot of agricultural land (an acre-foot is the volume of soil in an acre to a depth of 1 foot) is phenomenally high. It is this astronomical number of organisms in the soil – all of which increase population exponentially given enough food – that creates the astounding multiplier effect.

Not all fields respond [with] such dramatic effect, [and] we have seen a range of responses. At times we have witnessed biological community shifts. This happens when nutrient food sources change in microbial populations. The shifts we see typically include [a] balancing of bacterial and [fungal] populations (most [agricultural] fields are bacterial dominated), and/or a rise in [the populations of small organisms] such as nematodes and Protozoa, etc. These higher [small organism population] levels…consume bacterial and [fungal] populations [and] play another significant role in nutrient cycling, both carbon and nitrogen…

“We have found where [farmers] that have applied manure and/or reduced [the practice of tilling, or turning up the soil] in the past, typically see the highest increase right away. We believe [that in these cases] the soil is primed for biological activity but is still stagnant/dormant, so when PrairieFood is applied, the nutrient cycling gets turned on right away, specifically in building SOM. Other fields which may have been…heavily reliant on [synthetic] mineral fertilizer, have a bit of adjusting at first.”

A Solution to the Climate Crisis

Herrington and Roberts have pulled together a thought experiment to illustrate the amazing potential of increasing SOM by a relatively small amount. “What if,” they ask “20% of agricultural land in our home state of Kansas could increase its SOM by one percentage point each year for 10 years?”

The answer to this question is amazing and offers great hope to the human civilization home team. An increase of SOM means a decrease in atmospheric CO2 levels – PrairieFood is enhancing the normal terrestrial carbon cycle. The increases posited would result in the draw-down of nearly 4 Gigatons of carbon!Widening the scope to a global level, the same increase in SOM in the 12.5 billion acres of land now used for agriculture would result in the draw-down of over 180 Gigatons of carbon.

For the average net addition to atmospheric carbon stores and the sources of change between 2009 and … [+] 2018, look at the graphic on the right. The red bar at the far right of the graph is the amount of carbon that was forced into the atmosphere in excess of what nature could absorb. 0.4 Gigatons on average.

To put this figure in context, according to a study done by the Earth System Science Data team at German-based Copernicus Publications, the average net increase in atmospheric carbon levels from 2009-2018 was 0.4 Gigatons per year. 180 Gigatons of atmospheric carbon drawdown would, in other words, remove 450 years’ worth of excess atmospheric carbon dioxide – enough to bring us back to the pre-Industrial Revolution average of 250 parts per million (and then some).

Other Benefits

If saving civilization from burning up in a furnace of its own making was not enough, applications of PrairieFood slurry to fields creates a lot of other benefits as well.

The PrairieFood-driven SOM increase is important in part because carbon-rich soil stores so much more water than carbon-poor soil does. This will make agricultural regions less dependent on irrigation and much more resilient to flood-producing downpours; it will also give someplace for water absorbed from increasing sea levels to go beside someone’s condo. This is such an important topic that I will take it up in a separate article.

Turning to the benefits to human health, over the last 70 years, there has been a marked trend for vegetables to become less nutritious. The only way that vegetables can become more nutritious is to have healthier soil, so increasing soil health may tie directly to better human health for anyone who eats vegetables or who eats animals that eat vegetables.

I have a lot more to say about the work PrairieFood is doing, so will continue in an upcoming article. For those who want to learn more about this homespun start-up with a mission to do nothing less than save the planet, PrairieFood is sponsoring a conference on November 14-15 in beautiful Pratt, Kansas. I attended last year and credit a quantum shift in my thinking about multiple issues facing humanity—climate change, biodiversity collapse, water management, agricultural productivity, and human health—to my conversation with farmers and ranchers at that event.

Herrington and Roberts know, as I know, that the Goldilocks environmental conditions that have allowed humans to build complex societies teeter on a knife’s edge. Our carbon emissions are pushing us over that edge and threatening the stability of our civilization, which is literally built on agricultural advances. PrairieFood offers a way to right that balance and pull us back from the edge.

Source: PrairieFood: The Solution To Climate Change Is In The Soil

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Google Maps Could Promote Safe Bike Routes

 

While Google Maps increasingly offers information on where bike lanes are, its routing algorithms don’t offer the same level of nuance that drivers enjoy.  Google Maps has a suite of features to make driving easier. The app gives users options to avoid tolls and highways and even recommends low-emission routes where available.

Bikers using the app, though, have far fewer options, particularly when it comes to determining how safe a route is. Fixing that could get more people on bikes and e-bikes, two of the most accessible forms of no-carbon transit available today. Given that the transportation sector is the biggest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, encouraging the use of alternatives to driving — especially driving gas-powered cars — is more urgent than ever.

With its abundant data and mapping resources, Google Maps is well-poised to create a powerful tool that keeps people safe while navigating their city by bike. Doing so could encourage the use of one of the most reliable zero-emissions transportation technologies, a benefit that dovetails nicely with Google’s ambitious emissions reduction goals.

That’s not to say it’s a cut-and-dried task, though. The puzzle of how to set up a mapping algorithm for driving is relatively simple compared to doing so for biking. Estimating roughly how long it will take to drive somewhere requires little more than knowing speed limits and whether or not intersections have stop signs or stop lights. For biking, though, finding the “right” route is a lot more qualitative.

Often, safety trumps speed. A quiet residential road with speed bumps but without a bike lane can feel more comfortable for bikers — especially new bikers — than a busy thoroughfare with a painted-on bike lane where delivery trucks tend to idle.

While Google Maps and other mapping apps increasingly offer information on where bike lanes are, its routing algorithms don’t offer the same level of nuance that drivers enjoy. Routing options for bikers, whose goals range from commuting to exercising, are largely missing from the platform. As a consequence, bikers have tended to rely more on crowdsourcing, either via the rider-to-rider grapevine or a patchwork of tech-focused alternatives that vary by country and city.

But the lack of a single, comprehensive bike-routing app represents an opportunity for tech companies like Google and Apple, especially given that the pandemic-related boom in biking seems to have staying power. Both companies have rolled out new features to flesh out their bike mapping features in the last year and have plans to continue improving them, but there’s still a long way to go before the mapping apps serve as a reliable alternative to crowdsourcing.

The status quo of simplistic routing options on the most popular mapping apps, said Warren Wells, the policy and planning director of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, represents a barrier to entry for new riders. He worries that first-time riders will rely on Google Maps in the same way they do for driving and follow a route blindly; even if they use Google’s bike lane layer, it is not clear which bike lanes are fully protected by a physical barrier and which are simply painted onto the shoulder of a busy road.

“For 100 years, we have engineered every street to work fine for driving, more or less,” said Wells. “We have put just so little effort into making every street easy to bike on.”

If a new biker ends up on one of these many high-capacity roads that happen to have an often unprotected bike lane, they are liable to arrive at their destination scared or jaded and never get on a bike again. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1,000 bicyclists are killed and over 130,000 are injured in the U.S. each year.

Some biking groups have stepped in to fill the route-mapping void, creating their own apps for cyclists. In the Netherlands, for instance, the national cyclists union, Fietsersbond, created its own mapping software that gives users qualitative options for their journeys. While the interface is not nearly as advanced as Google’s — Wells compared it to the early 2000s version of MapQuest — the app offers bikers many more ways to explore routes, including options like “easy,” “car-free,” “shortest” or “nature” routes.

Google Maps usually offers bikers three options for a biking journey, but it is generally not clear what distinguishes one from another, especially for someone new to a city or new to a bike. In 2018, the Chicago Reader’s John Greenfield created a guide to the city’s lowest-stress bike routes, dubbed the Mellow Chicago Bike Map, which incorporated the opinions of riders in a biking community forum online. (It was later updated as biking interest swelled mid-pandemic.)

Jean Cochrane, a Chicago-based civic technologist and casual biker, stumbled upon the map and turned it into a website with routing capacity, primarily for her own use. However, it has become widely used by others looking to get around Chicago.

“I think that has really been its own huge sea change in the way that I experienced biking,” Cochrane said, “where I do bike much further distances in the city between neighborhoods in a way that I never really have before because I feel like I have a way of accessing other neighborhoods safely.”

The website distinguishes between off-street bike paths, mellow streets (which are largely residential and often have infrastructure like speed bumps or traffic circles to slow down cars), main streets (which usually have bike lanes) and other streets. The simple routing software that Cochrane incorporates into the site prioritizes bike paths and mellow streets in suggesting routes to users.

Demand is high for this kind of resource. Cochrane said people have reached out to her about creating a version of the same webpage for other U.S. cities, but absent the crowdsourcing that Greenfield did initially for Chicago’s “mellow” streets, redoing the project from scratch is a heavy lift. This is in part because determining which streets are “mellow” is harder than it might appear: Cochrane characterized it as a “data problem.”

At least in Chicago, installing infrastructure to slow traffic is a largely decentralized process, and public data is hard to find. The open-source project OpenStreetMap has some of that information, Cochrane said, but it’s incomplete and user-generated, and thus difficult for her to rely upon.

“I know exactly what I would build, if I could know where every speed bump is in the city of Chicago,” she said. “I would love to be able to restrict my directions to residential streets or to streets with traffic-calming infrastructure.”

But, Cochrane said, if anyone is able to cobble together the data that’s relevant to bikers, it’s Google, which she described as a “data leviathan.” The company confirmed that it uses a combination of imagery and data from both government authorities and community contributions, and has partnerships with more than 10,000 local governments, transit agencies and other organizations globally. Google also has access to data on road type and quality, stairs, hills, and elevation.

“The value proposition of Google is that they have this omniscient understanding of all of the streets and businesses in so many different places in the U.S.,” Cochrane said.

In July, the company outlined plans to offer more bike route information. The routing sample included in the post illustrates a detailed breakdown of the type of road bikers encounter, from major thoroughfares to shared paths, and gives riders choices between routes with descriptors like “more bike lanes” and “less turns.” This functionality is slated to roll out “soon” in cities where Google Maps already offers biking directions, including New York, London and Tokyo; the company did not respond to questions from Protocol about a more precise timeline, though.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report emphasizes that walkable communities — including protected pedestrian and bike pathways — can help cities reduce their emissions by encouraging low- or no-emission transportation options. With a user base that is more than 1 billion strong, Google Maps is uniquely positioned to effect a virtuous cycle: If more people are comfortable navigating their city by bike, that’s more people with a stake in improving low- and no-carbon infrastructure for getting around.

Source: Google Maps could promote safe bike routes – Protocol

Critics By  Alexis C. Madrigal

Behind every Google Map, there is a much more complex map that’s the key to your queries but hidden from your view. The deep map contains the logic of places: their no-left-turns and freeway on-ramps, speed limits and traffic conditions. This is the data that you’re drawing from when you ask Google to navigate you from point A to point B — and last week, Google showed me the internal map and demonstrated how it was built.

It’s the first time the company has let anyone watch how the project it calls GT, or “Ground Truth,” actually works. Google opened up at a key moment in its evolution. The company began as an online search company that made money almost exclusively from selling ads based on what you were querying for. But then the mobile world exploded. Where you’re searching from has become almost as important as what you’re searching for.

Google responded by creating an operating system, brand, and ecosystem in Android that has become the only significant rival to Apple’s iOS. And for good reason. If Google’s mission is to organize all the world’s information, the most important challenge — far larger than indexing the web — is to take the world’s physical information and make it accessible and useful.

“If you look at the offline world, the real world in which we live, that information is not entirely online,” Manik Gupta, the senior product manager for Google Maps, told me. “Increasingly as we go about our lives, we are trying to bridge that gap between what we see in the real world and [the online world], and Maps really plays that part.”

This is not just a theoretical concern. Mapping systems matter on phones precisely because they are the interface between the offline and online worlds. If you’re at all like me, you use mapping more than any other application except for the communications suite (phone, email, social networks, and text messaging).

Google is locked in a battle with the world’s largest company, Apple, about who will control the future of mobile phones. Whereas Apple’s strengths are in product design, supply chain management, and retail marketing, Google’s most obvious realm of competitive advantage is in information. Geo data — and the apps built to use it — are where Google can win just by being Google. That didn’t matter on previous generations of iPhones because they used Google Maps, but now Apple’s created its own service.

How the two operating systems incorporate geo data and present it to users could become a key battleground in the phone wars. But that would entail actually building a better map. The office where Google has been building the best representation of the world is not a remarkable place. It has all the free food, ping pong, and Google Maps-inspired Christoph Niemann cartoons that you’d expect, but it’s still a low-slung office building just off the 101 in Mountain View in the burbs.

I was slated to meet with Gupta and the engineering ringleader on his team, former NASA engineer Michael Weiss-Malik, who’d spent his 20 percent time working on Google Mars, and Nick Volmar, an “operator” who actually massages map data. “So you want to make a map,” Weiss-Malik tells me as we sit down in front of a massive monitor. “There are a couple of steps. You acquire data through partners.

You do a bunch of engineering on that data to get it into the right format and conflate it with other sources of data, and then you do a bunch of operations, which is what this tool is about, to hand massage the data. And out the other end pops something that is higher quality than the sum of its parts.” This is what they started out with, the TIGER data from the US Census Bureau (though the base layer could and does come from a variety of sources in different countries).

.

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Amazon To Buy Plug Power’s ‘Green’ Hydrogen In Deal With $2.1 Billion Stock Option

An electric warehouse forklift uses Plug Power's fuel cell system. Plug Power

Plug Power, which supplies fuel cells for electric forklifts used by Amazon and other companies, said the retail giant plans to buy thousands of tons of carbon-free “green” hydrogen from it per year in a deal that also includes an option to acquire a stake in the company worth up to $2.1 billion.

Under the agreement Plug will begin providing Amazon with 10,950 tons of liquified hydrogen per year that will be used to fuel transportation and building operations, starting in 2025. It’s the biggest such deal to date for the Latham, New York-based company, which expects to hit an annual revenue target of $3 billion by 2025 as a result.

“It’s a huge deal … it’s a huge deal for the (hydrogen) industry,” Andy Marsh, Plug Power’s CEO, tells Forbes. Along with fuel for forklifts, Amazon may also use hydrogen to power a range of vehicles used in delivery operations, including long-haul trucks, he said. “It’s the first, much larger-scale hydrogen ecosystem for Amazon where they’re really thinking about all the applications they can use hydrogen in.”

Hydrogen is expected to become a major source of electric power, along with batteries, for both vehicle propulsion, as well as an option for stationary power generation and storage. While most industrial hydrogen that’s used for oil refining, food processing and the chemical industry is currently made by extracting the element from natural gas, that method emits carbon dioxide.

Companies including Plug, Cummins, Nikola, Nel Hydrogen and many others are shifting to a new technique using electrolyzers that can make a “green” form of the fuel from electricity–ideally from renewable sources–and water that has no climate-harming carbon emissions.

Hydrogen also gets a boost from the new Inflation Reduction Act signed into law this month by President Joe Biden, which includes a production tax credit for green hydrogen worth $3 per kilogram of carbon-free fuel.

Plug, which will benefit from that credit, has sold Amazon fuel cells for its warehouse forklifts since 2016, and estimates it’s provided more than 15,000 units to date. The company aims to expand its hydrogen fuel supply business and is adding production capacity to do that. Plug has said it will be able to make 500 tons of green hydrogen per day at facilities in North America by 2025, up from a goal of 70 tons per day by the end of this year.

By 2028, it hopes to produce 1,000 tons of hydrogen per day. Amazon said the deal is part of efforts to achieve net-zero carbon emissions across all its operations by 2040. It believes “scaling the supply and demand for green hydrogen, such as through this agreement with Plug Power, will play a key role in helping us achieve our goals,” Kara Hurst, Amazon’s vice president of sustainability at Amazon, said in a statement.

As part of the deal, Plug granted Amazon a warrant to acquire up to 16 million shares, with an exercise price of $22.98 for the first 9 million. It vests in full after Amazon spends $2.1 billion on Plug products over the seven-year term of the deal.Shares of Plug Power rose 9% to close at $30 in Nasdaq trading on Thursday.

I track technology-driven changes that reshape how we get around from Los Angeles, America’s sunny capital of congestion.

Source: Amazon To Buy Plug Power’s ‘Green’ Hydrogen In Deal With $2.1 Billion Stock Option

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