April 20, 2022
🐪 It's Wednesday! Lots of hot electric transport content today, but this edition's Smart Brevity count is still just 1,186 words, 4.5 minutes.
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🎹 Happy birthday to the late R&B genius Luther Vandross, who has today's intro tune...
1 big thing: Beta Technologies' big fundraise
Beta Technologies, an electric aviation company, announced the close of a $375 million Series B funding round this morning. This brings total venture funding for the maker of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL) to nearly $800 million, Andrew writes.
Why it matters: Beta aims to achieve FAA certification by 2024 and transform the cargo delivery market, from transporting organs to patients to making last-mile and regional cargo deliveries.
The big picture: The funding, led by TPG Rise Climate and Fidelity Management & Research Company, will allow Beta to continue to hone its technology.
- The company's aircraft prototype, currently in flight testing at its headquarters in Burlington, Vermont, is the dragonfly-like ALIA-250. It can carry up to 1,400 pounds of cargo, or five people plus a pilot.
Zoom in: The plane needs less than an hour to charge after a full mission, the company said in a statement, and on three battery packs (it can hold up to five), the max flight duration is about two hours.
- The company is also making a charging network that works for its planes and for electric vehicles.
- United Therapeutics, a biotech company founded by Beta director Martine Rothblatt, plans to use the aircraft and chargers for moving manufactured and repaired organs for human transplantation.
- The charging network includes Bentonville, Arkansas, home of Walmart. Because the planes take off and land vertically, chargers are not limited to airports.
By the numbers: UPS has ordered 10 aircraft with an option for 140 more. It sees eVTOL as a way to improve service to smaller markets while reducing its emissions.
- Beta's eVTOLs can fly up to 250 miles at 170 mph on a single charge, or about 50 miles further than the distance between Washington, D.C., and New York City.
- Blade Urban Air Mobility ordered five of the ALIA aircraft, with an option for up to 20, for use in transferring passengers between airports or on commuter routes.
- The U.S. Air Force is also evaluating Beta's aircraft for its use.
Yes, but: The company has eVTOL competition, several of which have gone public. These include Lilium Air Mobility, Joby Aviation and Archer Aviation.
- Beta stands out for relying on VC funding and focusing on the cargo segment.
- Elroy Air, which has raised $50 million, is a competitor in the cargo sector.
Our thought bubble via Joann Muller: It’s easy to see how electric cargo planes with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities could help companies like FedEx, Amazon and Walmart shuttle goods among warehouses more safely and efficiently.
- The trick is balancing the tradeoffs between payload and power. Batteries are bulky and heavy, and they suck a lot of energy just taking off and landing. That cuts down on their flying range and the amount of cargo they can carry.
2. Tesla earnings arrive amid Musk's Twitter bid
As Tesla CEO Elon Musk tries to buy Twitter, this afternoon will bring the latest window onto how he's faring during his day job of building electric cars, Ben writes.
Driving the news: Tesla will report Q1 earnings after markets close, and the leading EV maker has already said it had record deliveries during the January to March period.
Yes, but: One big thing to watch is the impact of the recent COVID-related closure of Tesla's Shanghai factory, which reportedly reopened this week.
What they're saying: "With Berlin and Austin key factories now on-line and producing Model Y's in a quickly ramping pace, the main question...is just how bad the China production issues are and what that means for deliveries in 2Q and the rest of the year," Wedbush Securities Dan Ives said in a note.
What we don't know: Whether Musk will be on the earnings call with analysts this evening. CNN has more.
3. Energy Dept. readies to throw its nuclear lifeline
The Energy Department has opened the doors for power companies to seek subsidies aimed at preventing nuclear reactors from shutting down, Ben writes.
Why it matters: Early closure of financially struggling plants would hobble White House climate goals by taking large amounts of zero-carbon generation offline.
- Nuclear energy currently provides roughly one-fifth of U.S. electricity.
Driving the news: DOE on Tuesday solicited bids for $6 billion worth of support available under the bipartisan infrastructure law, with applications for the first funding cycle due May 19.
What they're saying: “We’re using every tool available to get this country powered by clean energy by 2035," Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.
- "That includes prioritizing our existing nuclear fleet to allow for continued emissions-free electricity generation and economic stability for the communities leading this important work.”
4. Startups look to jolt urban EV charging
Congested cities stand to benefit the most from switching to electric vehicles, yet they often have the fewest places to charge them, Joann Muller reports.
What's next: As EVs become increasingly available, the plug problem is finally getting more attention.
Why it matters: Transportation is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S and tailpipes also cause air pollution. EVs help both problems.
Yes, but: A plug-in is not an easy choice for people who live in apartments or homes without a garage to charge their cars.
Without widespread access to affordable fast-charging, EVs won't catch on where they're most needed, including in low-income neighborhoods, where local air quality is typically worse.
What's happening: In New York, startups are trying to tackle the urban charging dilemma, not just for private EV owners but also for taxis, ride-hailing fleets and delivery vehicles.
- Gravity Mobility developed a compact, fast-charging solution for cramped parking garages. Its first 24-space hub debuts this spring in Manhattan.
- Revel, which rents mopeds and operates a Tesla-based ride-hailing service, opened a 25-plug fast-charging site in Brooklyn last summer.
- Beam Global has deployed 89 of its off-grid, renewable charging pads for New York's municipal fleets.
5. Need-to-know numbers: Solar, drilling, VC, Amazon
⛅ At least 65% of planned U.S. utility-scale solar projects could be delayed or canceled if the Commerce Department imposes tariffs on panel imports from Southeast Asia, a major trade group said. Read more.
💶 The NYT, citing PitchBook data, reports that just 4% of the $106 billion that VCs invested in European startups last year went into clean energy. Read the story.
🤝🏾 Amazon this morning announced deals for power from 37 new renewable projects worldwide, totaling 3.5 gigawatts of capacity. Go deeper.
6. Carbon removal names on the move
These are busy times in the arena of nascent carbon removal tech, and that includes notable personnel moves of late, Ben writes.
- Jane Flegal left the White House, where she led industrial emissions efforts, to join Stripe's expanding removal efforts via its new Frontier collaboration with Meta, Alphabet and others.
- Noah Deich, co-founder of Carbon180, just took a one-year gig with DOE's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM). He describes the removal-focused role.
- Shuchi Talati has rejoined Carbon180 after serving as chief of staff at FECM. She will "advise on our tech-based carbon removal policy and overall policy strategy," Carbon180 said.
Thanks for reading! See you back here tomorrow.