Leading the News
Tesla Announces Market Expansion, Gigafactory Opening.
Reuters (7/26, White) reports Tesla Motors chief executive Elon Musk on Tuesday announced that the company plans to expand into the electric truck and bus industry and car-sharing market over the course of several years. Musk said that the incentive may cost it “tens of billions” of dollars, but that its 2017 launch of the Model 3 sedan will fund the project.
AP (7/26, Durbin) says that on Tuesday, Tesla also opened its Gigafactory in Nevada to construct in-house lithium-ion batteries, which could reduce its battery expenses by over a third by 2018 and, according to Musk, provide employment to about 10,000 people in under four years. The Gigafactory will supply the batteries for its upcoming Model 3, which the AP says is Tesla’s least expensive vehicle in part because of Tesla’s reduced battery costs.
USA Today (7/26, Cava) reports that Tesla initially planned to begin manufacturing its batteries at the Gigafactory in 2017, but will instead begin production this year specifically for its Model 3. Musk told reporters, “The factory has far more potential for innovation than the product itself.”
ED Yanks Federal Funding From Medtech College Schools.
The Washington Post (7/26, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that ED announced Tuesday that it is revoking Federal student aid eligibility from three schools operating under the Medtech College brand in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC “because the for-profit trade school allegedly lied to authorities about the number of graduates who landed jobs.” The Post quotes Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying, “Students should be able to trust that colleges are telling the truth — not using smoke and mirrors — about their graduates’ job placement rates. Unfortunately, Medtech violated the trust of both students and taxpayers by valuing profits over the students they serve. When schools mislead students, accreditors or the federal government, we will take action.” ED investigations “uncovered widespread misrepresentation of job-placement rates and discovered that Medtech overstated the numbers to prospective students,” ED, and its accreditor.
USA Today (7/26, Miller) reports that the cutoff takes effect at the end of this month, noting that students at the three schools “received $16 million in Pell Grants and federal student loans last year.” This article explains that MedTech operates schools across the country, and says the ones in Virginia and Maryland “boasted in its annual report of a 73% placement rate while the campus in Washington said it had a 70% placement rate.” ED investigators say the top placement rate fro any of those schools was 56%. The AP (7/26) and the Wall Street Journal (7/26, Korn, Subscription Publication) also cover this story.
Massachusetts AG Calls On ED To Forgive Debt For Students Of Shuttered For-Profit.
The Boston Globe (7/26, Adams) reports that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has called on ED to “forgive around $30 million in loans of Massachusetts students who attended a defunct for-profit ‘career institute’” called American Career Institute. The school “admitted in a June consent judgment that it illegally tricked thousands of Massachusetts residents into signing up for pricy but ultimately worthless classes by lying about its graduates’ success rates, forging students’ signatures on enrollment agreements, and falsifying grade and attendance records.”
The AP (7/26) reports that Healey is seeking loan forgiveness for some 4,400 former ACI students, filing a formal petition urging ED to cancel their debt. The piece notes that Healey had also asked for loan forgiveness for Corinthian Colleges students, 11,000 of whom eventually had their debts erased. The MetroWest (MA) Daily News (7/26) and WWLP-TV Springfield, MA (7/26) also cover this story.
Advocates Urge Funding To Increase Enrollment At HBCU’s.
Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions research assistant William Casey Boland and Director Marybeth Gasman wrote in the “Pundits Blog” of The Hill (7/26) in opposition to North Carolina’s Senate Bill 873, which would cap tuition at five University of North Carolina (UNC) colleges, including three Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Boland and Gasman say “the bill would effectively deprive the institutions of a substantial amount of their primary revenue streams,” and thus urges policymakers to “commit to funding these institutions at an adequate and equitable level rather than targeting them for systemic elimination.”
Morgan State University Names Next Dean Of Engineering.
The Baltimore Times (7/26) reports Morgan State University named Cornell University professor Michael G. Spencer as dean of its Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. School of Engineering. The Times lists Spencer’s awards and honors, including his receipt of the NSF’s Presidential Young Investigator award. Spencer “has more than 160 publications and 20 patents in the fields of compound semiconductors, graphene, power conversion, microwave devices and solar cell technology.”
Research and Development
ONR Announces Readiness Of First Combat-Ready Laser Weapon.
US News & World Report (7/26, Risen) reports on the US Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) development of new laser weapons and electromagnetic rail gun cannons. ONR spokesman Robert Freeman said “‘at any given moment we have 10,000 research projects going on,’ including research to perfect directed energy lasers with unlimited ammunition to shoot down waves of missiles or rail guns that can launch a simple projectile farther and faster than any gunpowder cannon.” ONR Chief Rear Adm. Mathias Winter said on Friday “that more work needs to be done but that the laser on” the USS Ponce deployed in the Middle East “is ‘ready’ to shoot down aerial adversaries if needed.”
Cybersecurity Firm Says Hackers May Access Info On Wireless Keyboards.
The Washington Post (7/26, Peterson) reports cybersecurity firm Bastille released research on Tuesday that says hackers may be able to detect and record the keystrokes on a wireless keyboard if they are nearby. Bastille calls the practice “KeySniffer.” Bastille’s research found that some “low-cost wireless keyboards” could be susceptible to attack from up to 250 feet away. The Post adds that Bastille’s research found no vulnerability among Bluetooth keyboards due to “industry standards that require stronger security measures.”
Wind Power Projects Prompt Mixed Emotions Among Indigenous Communities In Mexico.
The New York Times (7/26, Burnett, Subscription Publication) reports that Mexico’s wind power push has generated mixed emotions among indigenous communities living in Oaxaca’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec. One Spanish energy company that owns such a farm “has paved roads and built drains, part of social projects in the region that have cost more than $1 million.” The “wind farms create a burst of employment during construction, but much less after that, experts and residents said.” In short, says “an engineer who for several years led the climate change campaign for Greenpeace Mexico,” there is a “need to balance the scramble for clean energy with the concerns of those whose lands produce it.”
Judge Gives Preliminary Approval To Volkswagen Settlement.
The Hill (7/26, Henry) reports US District Court Judge Charles Breyer on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to the $14.7 billion settlement in Volkswagen’s diesel emissions cheating scandal, allowing VW to begin collecting data from car owners set to receive compensation as part of the settlement. USA Today (7/26, Bomey) reports that Breyer “set the settlement in motion, allowing the German automaker and plaintiff attorneys to begin collecting information from 475,000 eligible consumers of 2-liter diesel cars that were rigged with software to cheat emissions standards.” Final approval of the class-action lawsuit settlement “could come at a hearing Oct. 18, at which point compensation could begin immediately.”
The Detroit News (7/26, Laing) reports that in addition to $10 billion to buyback or fix affected vehicles, the settlement calls for Volkswagen to pay $2.7 billion into a federal environmental mitigation trust fund and spend another $2 billion for research on zero-emissions vehicles. The AP (7/26, Thanawala) also reports VW “still faces billions more dollars in fines and penalties and possible criminal charges.”
Apple Buoyed By SE Sales Amid Low Expectations For “iPhone 7.”
On Tuesday, Apple announced that in the quarter ending on June 30, it sold more iPhones than analysts expected, although far fewer than in same quarter of fiscal 2015. Tom Warren of The Verge (7/26) notes that “Apple’s average selling price for the iPhone has dropped to $595 from $662 last year, suggesting that people are opting for the smaller iPhone SE.”
MarketWatch (7/26) points out that, according to FactSet, analysts’ “consensus estimate” of the average iPhone sale price in the quarter was $612. The average sale price was “nearly $700 just two quarters ago.” Bloomberg News (7/26, Webb) says it appears the SE is “gaining more traction than expected” after having “garnered a healthy dose of criticism when it was unveiled in March.” On Tuesday, CEO Tim Cook told CNBC (7/26): “I feel fantastic about how iPhone did this quarter. Looking ahead, iPhone will be more important than ever.”
LG Display To Invest $1.75 Billion On OLED Display Facility.
Yonhap (KOR) (7/27) reports that on Wednesday, South Korean LCD manufacturer LG Display announced that it will spend 1.99 billion won (US$1.75 billion) to build a new OLED production line for smartphone and smartwatch displays. Reuters (7/26, Lee) says the investment represents the company’s latest attempt to meet rising demand from manufacturers of mobile devices, as OLED is expected to replace LCD as the standard technology for smartphones in a few years, allowing for flexible, even foldable, displays. Reuters says LG, the world’s largest maker of LCDs, has focused on making OLED screens for televisions, and trails Samsung’s display subsidiary in the smartphone OLED market space.
The Wall Street Journal (7/26, Cheng, Subscription Publication) reports that LG’s investment in a new OLED production line will enable it to scale up mass production by the second half of 2018. Apple has continued to use LG-produced LCD panels for iPhone screens, but it is expected to switch to OLEDs in iPhones to be released in 2017. According to the Journal, analysts believe Samsung won the contract to supply OLED displays to Apple, although Samsung declined to confirm that. UberGizmo (7/26, Lee) notes that Samsung is “rumored to be working toward a 2017 release of a smartphone with a foldable OLED display.”
Expendable Rocket Makers: Reusable Launchers Not Currently Viable.
Ars Technica (7/26, Berger) reports a panel of aerospace industry officials on Monday discussed reusable launchers at an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics forum on propulsion, but says the panel did not include anyone “actually building reusable rockets,” and relied heavily on those who “expressed doubt about the viability of reusable launch vehicles.” Doug Bradley, chief engineer of advanced space & launch at Aerojet Rocketdyne, offered the “sunniest outlook” for reusable systems when he said “looking ahead decades, it’s going to be just commonplace that rockets and spacecraft are going to be reusable.” Ben Goldberg, director of technology at Orbital ATK, “expressed the most skepticism about the business case for reusable rockets,” saying that the company had studied the issue and found “only a limited benefit” for missions to low-Earth orbit, geostationary transfer orbit, and exploration into deep space.
Engineering and Public Policy
US Army Corp Approves River Iowa Crossings For Dakota Access Pipeline.
The AP (7/26) reports the Iowa Utilities Board post documents on Tuesday indicating that the US Army Corps of Engineers “approved 60 river crossings in Iowa” needed for the 1,168-mile Dakota Access crude oil pipeline planned to cross “18 Iowa counties diagonally from northwest to southeast.”
Attorneys Argue Cases In Trial Linking PG&E To San Bruno Explosion.
The San Jose (CA) Mercury News (7/26, Avalos) reports in a trial attempting to hold PG&E responsible for its alleged part in the San Bruno explosion, the prosecution continuously asserted the company “made a series of deliberate choices to break pipeline safety regulations” which shows intentional obstruction to the investigation of the deadly blast. Prosecutors claim PG&E officials knew the company was breaking federal regulation “by deliberately spiking pressure on their older, more fragile pipelines” and refusing to conduct pricey water pressure tests to ensure pipe safety. According to the San Francisco (CA) Chronicle (7/26, Egelko) Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Schenk said PG&E is a company “driven by greed” and had “lost its way.” PG&E lead attorney Steven Bauer countered, stating the case was “an elaborate second-guessing exercise,” adding company engineers always put maximum effort into complying with “laws that were often unclear.”
Environmentalists Seek Moratorium On Supertankers Carrying Canadian Oil Sands Crude.
The Portland (ME) Press Herald (7/26, Miller) reports that several environmental organizations opposed to pipeline projects carrying Canadian oil sands crude oil are now shifting their focus oil tankers that carry the crude oil in US waters. The National Resources Defense Council said that the traffic of crude oil-carrying tankers has increased by nearly 300 percent in the region, and is allowing “the Alberta tar sands industry to reach American refineries without laying pipe on U.S. soil, providing an alternative to the rejected Keystone XL pipeline.” The group has launched a petition campaign urging President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to establish a moratorium on tar sands tanker traffic in the US at least until “more research can be conducted on how to clean up” a potential water-based spill.
Despite Coal Power Plant Closures, Power Grid’s Performance Remains Consistent.
USA Today (7/26, Loveless) reports that despite “concerns that the electric power industry might fail to deliver when demand for power heightens,” electric grids nationwide have been delivering power to consumers without problems. Electric power companies continue to close coal and nuclear power plants that cannot compete with low-price natural gas and government-supported wind and solar power – and even more coal power plants are expected to close following the implantation of the Administration’s Clean Power Plan – but industry leaders say that new grid capacity is keeping up with the losses of old power plants.
Institute For 21st Century Energy CEO: Democrats’ Energy Policy Will Hurt Growth.
Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the US Chamber of Commerce, writes in an op-ed for theWall Street Journal (7/26, Harbert, Subscription Publication) that the energy policy proposed in the 2016 Democratic party platform – discouraging the use of natural gas, promising new EPA rules on fracking, and creating a “climate test” for future federal permits – is wrongheaded and will hurt the country’s economy. Harbert says that voters must demand an explanation and hold Democratic politicians accountable for these anti-industry policies.
DOE Report: US Hydropoower Could Grow Significantly.
The Washington Post (7/26, Mooney, Dennis) writes that a new report from the Department of Energy’s Wind and Water Power Technologies Office “concludes that substantial growth is possible in the” hydropower “sector, considerably upping the percentage of electricity that could come from non-carbon emitting sources.” The report says the current hydropower electricity-generating capacity of about 101 gigawatts could be increased by about 50 percent by 2050, partly because a number of existing dams aren’t generating electricity. However, dams can harm wildlife, block fish migration, and affect water quality. Still, Jose Zayas, who directs the Office, called hyrdopower “a really flexible generation source, significantly more flexible than say fossil, coal, significantly more flexible than nuclear, and even possibly more flexible than natural gas.”
Utility Billing Changes Making Home Solar Less Attractive.
The New York Times (7/26, Cardwell, Subscription Publication) reports, “Even as policy makers at the federal and state levels promote clean energy to fight global warming, the economics of electricity can often be at odds with those goals,” with changes to power bills making solar power less attractive. Utility regulators have started allowing companies to end retail-rate credits, make solar customers pay mandatory monthly fees, and “institute rate design measures that could undermine the economic appeal of home solar systems,” such as paying less for energy put into the grid by homeowners and shift peak hour rates later, to when solar systems aren’t producing energy. “The challenge is to design a new kind of rate system” to accurately value electricity flowing “in different directions and at different volumes at different times of day,” as well as increasing or relieving strain on the grid depending on location and level of demand. Meanwhile, those who invested in solar systems feel the rules are changing on them while their debt or costs are not.
Expert Sees Strong Market, Policy Commitment To Fuel-Cell Cars.
Christian Science Monitor (7/26, Edelstein) reports that a limited number of hydrogen fuel-cell cars are currently available to consumers in California, but “the current fuel-cell landscape represents an important change from past efforts to promote hydrogen cars.” Joan Ogden at UC Davis said in an interview that the framework for a long-term commitment to developing fuel-cell cars and fueling infrastructure is strong than in the past. “As more hydrogen fuel-cell cars hit the road, advocates are gaining more knowledge about how they work and what can be expected of them, inspiring greater confidence in potential investors, she noted.”
LAUSD To Open All-Girls STEM Academy.
KCAL-TV Los Angeles (7/26) reports that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will “open its first GALA, or Girls Academic Leadership Academy on Los Angeles High School’s Mid-City campus” in three weeks. According to KCAL-TV, “the school will be welcoming students from 51 schools and 39 zip codes, a large amount of whom are from private and charter schools.”
Tuesday’s Lead Stories
• Administration Announces Plan To Start Regulating Airplane Pollution.
• USA Today: Clinton’s College Tuition Plan Costly, Unfair.
• MIT Researchers Create 3D Movie Screen Without Glasses.
• Bob Mansfield To Lead Apple Car Project.
• Without Keystone XL, Canadian Crude Oil Export By Train Expected To Rise.
• Illinois District Holds STEM Camp.
• Solar-Powered Plane Completes First Round-The-World Journey.