Could Tesla Battery Fire Ignite Trouble for EVs?; Japan Adds 3,666MW of Clean Energy; Korean Scientists Transform E. coli into Gasoline; Intel Takes on Smart-Grid; Flextronics Expands into LEDs; Whole Foods Launches Produce Sustainability Ratings

Could Tesla Battery Fire Ignite Trouble for EVs?

A Tesla Motors Model S electric vehicle caught on fire after the driver ran over a chunk of metal in the road.  Vehicle fires are actually common – about 187,000 vehicle fires were reported in the United States in 2011, or one fire for every 1,738 cars on the road. The Tesla fire makes one out of almost 20,000, or 10 times less frequent than conventional car fires says the MIT Technology Review.

Despite these odds, there is concern about the safety of lithium ion batteries since their fires seem to happen spontaneously, according to the article. Investors and electric vehicle advocates and electric vehicle naysayers have been keeping tabs on Tesla to see if a battery fire would damage the company and the chance of mainstreaming electric vehicles. Businessweek reports that analysts don’t expect the news to have long-term consequences for Tesla and that its stock price is recovering on Friday after a drop by 10% since the news was reported. Robert W. Baird & Co. downgraded the company to neutral from outperform. Deutsche Bank has a buy rating on the stock and a target price of $200. Stifel Nicolaus & Co. and Wedbush Securities have a neutral rating on the stock.

But the recent fire was not spontaneous – it happened after the driver ran into a piece of metal. The fire also didn’t spread quickly to the whole battery pack, and no one was hurt. That’s key since one of the worries about lithium ion battery fires is their potential to spread quickly through the battery, causing greater damage to a car and its passengers.

Tesla’s CTO, JB Straubel, has said that the company has engineered the pack to prevent fires from spreading. But there are some potential negatives to the story. First, the fire reminded people how difficult it is to put such fires out. The battery reignited after firefighters thought they had extinguished it. Second, the accident raises questions about how well protected the battery is, which spreads out over most of the floor of the car. More needs to be learned about this fire in order to determine whether these drawbacks are serious enough to have an impact on the company, or if it needs to retool the car’s battery and the way it is installed.

Japan Adds 3,666MW of Clean Energy

Japan added clean energy equal to nearly four nuclear reactors since the beginning of July 2012, the result of an incentive program to diversify its energy mix, says Bloomberg. Specifically, the country added 3,666 megawatts of capacity powered by renewable sources through the 12 months ended in June. Solar accounted for most of the added clean energy. Residential sources totaled 1,379 megawatts while 2,120 megawatts were from utility- and commercial-scale projects, according to the statement.

Korean Scientists Transform E. coli into Gasoline

Escherichia coli or E. coli can cause serious food poisoning but Korean scientists have come up with a green use for the sometimes-deadly bacteria: producing gasoline, according to a Wall Street Journal energy blog.  Using genetically modified E. coli to generate biofuel isn’t that new; U.K. scientists developed a process under which the bacterium turns biomass into an oil that is almost identical to conventional diesel–a development that followed similar research by U.S. biotechnology firm LS9. The breakthrough this time is different in that E. coli can produce gasoline, a high-premium oil product, according to Prof. Lee Sang-yup at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. His team’s study was published in the international science journal Nature. For now, Mr. Lee’s KAIST lab is creating only a few drops of the fuel per hour.

Intel Plans to Take on Smart-Grid Microprocessors

Bloomberg reports that Intel intends to take a “significant chunk” of the market for smart-grid microprocessors, which may surpass $5 billion in annual sales by the end of the decade, said Hannes Schwaderer, Intel’s director of energy in Europe, Middle East, and Africa. Smart grids allow power generators and users to monitor usage, helping utilities adjust supply to consumption and reducing costs by saving energy in transmission. Demand for the technology has grown as countries boost renewables output, overloading traditional networks when production peaks. The Santa Clara, CA-based company has forged partnerships with France’s Alstom SA to cooperate on smart grids and is working with Germany’s EON SE on better integration of renewables on the country’s transmission network.  Cisco Systems Inc. and IBM are also seeking to expand in the smart-energy networks industry.

Flextronics Expands into LEDs

According to PR Newswire, Flextronics announced an expansion of its portfolio of energy infrastructure solutions and services to help original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) address regional shifts in the energy market by developing and delivering products to market faster, enhancing regional market reach, and freeing up cash flow by leveraging Flextronics’ global capabilities. Flextronics also introduced a portfolio of commercial and industrial lighting solutions and services that will help enable those who operate mega square foot facilities to reduce both their procurement and utility costs as they meet corporate and government energy efficiency targets. This move further expands Flextronics’ scope and depth of capabilities to provide broader supply chain and technology solutions across multiple platforms including exploration, generation, distribution, and consumption of energy.

Whole Foods Market to launch a sustainability rating system

Starting in September 2014 Whole Foods will rate and display sustainability index scores for its produce and flowers, according to The Grower. “The new produce ratings will provide deeper transparency to our shoppers, helping them make conscious choices while also celebrating the great work and responsible practices of growers beyond their organic and local efforts,” Edmund LaMacchia, global vice president of perishables, said in a news release. The index will measure performance in pest management, including prohibited and restricted pesticides; farm worker welfare; water conservation and protection; waste, recycling and packaging; energy; and climate. Ratings will also reward suppliers for certification by various “social and environmental” standards, among them Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, and Protected Harvest. The ratings also recognize growers whose practices surpass the retailer’s base standards for produce and flowers.

Guinness Asset Management Opens Sustainable Energy Managed Account

According to PRNewswire and Yahoo, Guinness Asset Management announced that Guinness EIS 5, a discretionary managed account for high net worth investors that will invest in UK sustainable energy companies, is open for investment. Guinness EIS 5 will invest in UK companies that demonstrate predictable revenues, low technology risk, and low correlation with other asset classes. Investment opportunities include solar photovoltaic, wind, hydro electric, anaerobic digestion, and biomass projects. Shane Gallwey and Edward Guinness who both have extensive private equity and renewable energy experience, and have raised and invested Guinness’ existing EIS offerings will manage Guinness EIS 5.

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