Hyzon Motors’ hydrogen fuel ambitions include two US factories

Hyzon Motors plans to produce fuel cells, including a critical component required to power hydrogen vehicles, at two U.S. factories in a move aimed at kickstarting domestic production at a commercial scale.

The hydrogen-powered truck and bus manufacturer has already leased a 28,000-square-foot facility in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook and plans to expand it by an additional 80,000 square feet. Production at the Chicago facility is expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2021. The announcement comes just three weeks after Hyzon announced it would become a publicly traded company through a merger with Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corporation in a deal valued at $2.1 billion, and a little over one week after revealing plans to renovate a 78,000-square-foot factory in Monroe County, New York.

Hyzon is a new name with a nearly two decades of experience. The company was established in March of last year after spinning off from Singapore’s Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, which has been developing commercial applications for fuel cells since 2003. Hyzon inked a deal in February with the New Zealand company Hiringa Energy for up to 1,500 fuel cell trucks on New Zealand’s roads by 2026. Now it is setting its sights on the North American hydrogen fuel cell vehicle market. Due to the lack of an established domestic hydrogen fueling network, the company is targeting heavy-duty vehicle customers that have a “back-to-base” business model.

Hyzon’s decision to build factories in the United States is noteworthy because production of fuel cell materials in the country lags far behind Europe and Asia. The U.S. also lacks the kind of national hydrogen refueling and infrastructure network found abroad.

“Hydrogen is much more available in places like Germany or The Netherlands,” Hyzon CEO Craig Knight said in an interview with TechCrunch. “There’s already a number of commercial vehicle stations where you can just pull up and pay to fill up like you do with gasoline today in the U.S. It won’t be long before that is a reality, but for the moment we limit the dependence on networks of hydrogen stations by focusing on the customers that use back-to-base operating models, where you only need one piece of hydrogen infrastructure to fuel dozens or even sometimes hundreds of vehicles in a given area.”

Much of the hydrogen that’s produced in the U.S. is so-called “grey hydrogen,” or hydrogen that’s produced from natural gas. An increasing number of companies are pursuing “green hydrogen,” or hydrogen produced via electrolysis powered by renewable energy. Hyzon sources both types for its operations. Hydrogen production remains one of the main factors determining the rate of scale for fuel cell producers.

The Chicago facility will design, develop and produce the membrane electrode assembly, the fuel cell component that helps trigger the electrochemical reaction required to produce power. The company anticipates the new facility will be able to produce enough MEAs for up to 12,000 fuel cell-powered trucks annually.

Finished MEAs will be sent to the company’s recently announced fuel cell stack and system assembly plant in Monroe County, where the components will be assembled into complete fuel cells. From there, the fuel cells will be delivered to a partner truck manufacturer to be assembled into commercial heavy-duty vehicles. The company’s main assembly partner in the United States is Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary Fontaine Modification.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology is finding use cases in heavy-duty vehicles because trucking companies are frequently paid by how much weight they can transport, and how quickly they can do it. The time investment of battery charging and the loss of carrying capacity makes fuel cells an attractive alternative for companies looking to decarbonize their vehicle fleets.

Hyzon sees positive network effects and economies of scale associated with hydrogen fuel cell adoption — and increasing marginal costs of electric battery adoption. Although the company has not announced plans to dive into the light-duty vehicle market, it remains bullish on the value proposition of hydrogen fuel cells.

“We think at some point it becomes an increasing marginal cost of adoption for battery electric, because you run into infrastructure limitations around the electricity grid, around the size of depots and the capacity to build the charging infrastructure,” Knight said. “We believe there’s a dis-economy of scale attached to going battery electric when you’ve got really high utilization. We believe that some of the lighter vehicles will also start to move onto hydrogen. We’re not totally dependent on that for our model, but that’s our belief.”

Hyzon, which expects to be listed on the Nasdaq in late May or early June, will be listed under the ticker HYZN.

Corporate sustainability initiatives may open doors for carbon offset startups

Commitments to carbon neutrality keep coming from all corners of the business world — over the past few weeks, companies ranging from the fast-casual restaurant chain Sweetgreen to the security-focused networking IT company Palo Alto Networks to the online craft retailer Etsy committed to net-zero carbon emission plans.

As the companies look for ways to reduce their energy consumption, they’re turning to carbon offset programs as a stopgap measure until the energy grid decarbonizes, they implement technologies to reduce their energy consumption, or both.

This push toward corporate sustainability is creating all kinds of strange bedfellows and startup opportunities, with major corporate offset programs and the establishment of new startups focused on offsets creating channels for sustainable technologies to get to market.

The latest example of a company leveraging a sustainability angle to tie a corporate partner even closer to their business is the agreement between Delta and Deloitte, which involves the accounting and consulting firm paying Delta for renewable jet fuel to offset the emissions of its corporate travel.

To be clear, a better policy for Deloitte would be to cut back on non-essential travel significantly and focus on doing as much remote work as possible to reduce the need for flights. But in some cases business travel is unavoidable, and most folks want to get back to a pre-pandemic normal, which — at least in the U.S. and other countries — will include significantly ramping up air travel for a percentage of the population.

As the BBC noted, air travel accounts for roughly 5 percent of the emissions that contribute to global climate change, but only a small percentage of the world actually uses air transport. According to one analysis from the International Council on Clean Transport, just 3 percent of the world’s population flies regularly. And if everyone in the world did fly, aircraft emissions would top the CO2 emissions of the entire U.S.

Which brings us back to Deloitte and Delta and startups.

Delta’s deal to buy sustainable aviation fuel that would offset a portion of the carbon emissions associated with Deloitte’s business travel is one small step toward greening the airline industry, but the question is whether it’s a significant first step or just an attempt to greenwash the unsustainable travel habits of a consulting industry that prides itself on such perks.

The Station: Lucid Motors, Joby Aviation take the SPAC path and Sergey Brin’s airship ambitions

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox

Hi friends and new readers, welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

In last week’s newsletter, I described some of the changes coming to TechCrunch’s transportation coverage, including “market maps.” These articles, which run will always run in Extra Crunch, focus on a particular slice of the transportation industry, along with other mobility-related analysis.

The first of these took a deep dive into the solid state battery industry. As Mark Harris reported: For the last decade, developers of solid state battery systems have promised products that are vastly safer, lighter and more powerful. Those promises largely evaporated into the ether — leaving behind a vapor stream of disappointing products, failed startups and retreating release dates.

A new wave of companies and technologies are finally maturing and attracting the funding necessary to feed batteries’ biggest market: transportation. Keep reading here: Can solid state batteries power up the next generation of EVs?

This week look out for our revamped automotive reviews, an interview with Joby Aviation founder JoeBen Birt, Paul Sciarra, the company’s executive chair and co-founder of Pinterest and Reid Hofffman, whose SPAC merged with Joby as well as a chat with Lucid CEO and CTO Peter Rawlinson. Two new reporters, who will be helping to expand and deepen our transportation coverage, are also starting this coming week.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Micromobbin’ is short and sweet this week. I wanted to flag this upcoming panel.

A free panel called Women on Wheels: Making Micromobility Safer for Female Riders will be held 12 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. ET on March 8. The panel will focus on women and safety. Reservations are required to join. Visit the Eventbrite link here to register.

Speakers include ScootRoute Founder and CEO Meghan Braley, who is hosting the event, SomEV co-founder and battery engineer Natasha George and Saturday Night Bike Club’s director of cyclist engagement, Ashley Ndiaye.

Deal of the week

money the station

After weeks of speculation, Lucid Motors finally announced it would become a publicly traded company through a merger with special-purpose acquisition company Churchill Capital IV Corp.

A string of EV automakers and charging infrastructure companies have taken the SPAC merger path to public markets over the past 10 months, including ArrivalCanoo, ChargePoint, EVgo, Fisker and Lordstown Motors. But this one is by far the largest.

The combined company, in which Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund will continue to be the largest shareholder, will have a transaction equity value of $11.75 billion. Private investment in the public equity deal is priced at $15 a share, putting the implied pro-forma equity value at $24 billion.

I interviewed CEO and CTO Peter Rawlinson after the deal was announced. Watch out for an article based on what he said this coming week.

Meanwhile, another deal worth noting was Joby Aviation’s announcement that it would become a public company through a merger with Reinvent Technology Partners, a special purpose acquisition company from well-known investor and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Zynga founder Mark Pincus. The combined company, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, will have a pro forma implied valuation of $6.6 billion.

Joby Aviation has spent a more than a decade developing an all-electric, vertical take-off and landing passenger aircraft. Joby plans to use the capital to fund the launch of passenger service, which is expected to begin in 2024. The company still must complete certification of its aircraft and develop manufacturing facilities, but it is already on its way to achieving both.

Other deals that got my attention …

Aurora, which recently closed its acquisition of Uber’s self-driving subsidiary, bought its second lidar startup in less than two years. Aurora acquired OURS Technology, a 12-person startup the founded in 2017 by a team of University of California-Berkeley researchers and PhDs. Two years ago, Aurora acquired Blackmore, a Montana-based lidar startup. 

Gettacar, an online used-vehicle startup, raised $25 million in new funding. The company has raised  $48 million over three funding rounds in more than two years.

Gophr, a U.K.-based last-mile delivery startup, raised £4 million ($5.5 million) in a funding round led by pan-European B2B investor Nauta Capital.

Manbang, the Chinese truck-hailing company backed by Tencent Holdings Ltd., confidentially filed for an initial public offering that could raise at least $1 billion, Bloomberg reported.

Nyobolt, the Cambridge, UK-based battery company previously known as CB2Tech, raised $10 million in Series A funding round led IQ Capital.

WiTricity, the EV wireless charging company, announced an additional $18 million to its previously announced fund raise of $34 million. The extension included investments from Tony Fadell’s Future Shape and other private investors. Fadell is also joining the board.

Xos, the commercial electric vehicle manufacturer, plans to go public through a merger with a blank-check company, NextGen Acquisition Corp., in a deal valued at $2 billion.

Zomato, the Indian food delivery startup, has raised $250 million, just two months after closing a $660 million Series J financing round.

A little bird

blinky cat bird green

Back in October, the city of New York released its request for interest in its electric scooter pilot, officially kicking off what promised to be a competitive battle among companies vying for a chance to operate their businesses in there.

The city also released a request for expressions of interest, or “RFEI,” for companies that provide ancillary services to the electric scooter industry, such as data aggregation and analysis, on-street charging and parking vendors, safe-riding training courses as well as scooter collection and impound services.

New York is one of two large markets — London being the other — that has yet name the companies that will receive these highly coveted permits. My sources are telling me that New York will announce this week which companies landed permits for the pilot. It’s possible London will make a similar announcement.

Last week, the New York City Department of Transportation announced the geographic boundaries for the e-scooter pilot will be in eastern Bronx neighborhoods from Eastchester and Co-op City to Throggs Neck and Soundview, an 18-square-mile area home to 570,000 residents. The pilot is expected to launch in the late spring, will run for a minimum of one year. The pilot is estimated to bring as many as 2,000 to 3,000 scooters to the East Bronx during Phase 1 with an increase to as many as 4,000 to 6,000 in a potential second phase in 2022.

A quick history lesson

the station autonomous vehicles1

Remember the ID Buzz, the reimagined microbus that Volkswagen first showed off as a prototype at the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit? The vehicle has been in development since then and on Friday, we received another update on its future.

Volkswagen said it is aiming to have a Level 4 autonomous ID.Buzz in service for commercial use by 2025. Argo AI, the self-driving startup backed by Ford and Volkswagen, is providing the autonomous driving technology that will allow these microbuses to navigate urban environments without a human behind the wheel.

The company is conducting field trials in Germany this year.

The idea is to use these microbuses for a ride-hailing and sharing service similar to what Moia offers today in Germany. VW noted that its commercial vehicle division will develop and build Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV), such as robotaxis and vans.

The announcement suggests that progress is being made. However, it’s important to note VW’s previous timelines and intentions.

In 2016, VW Group launched Moia as a separate company focused on providing mobility solutions, including fleet-based commuter shuttles and, eventually, autonomous on-demand transportation.

Ole Harms, who was Moia’s CEO when it launched, was on the TechCrunch stage in London back in 2016. At the time, he said the first pilots of autonomous driving deployments would come earlier than the 2021 date cited by many competitors for the arrival of self-driving tech.

VW Group tapped self-driving startup Aurora and in January 2018 announced plans to launch commercial fleets of self-driving electric vehicles in two to five cities beginning in 2021. Volks­wagen said at the time that it planned to launch two types of test fleets using Aurora tech, including one for ride-pooling that would use Moia shuttles and another for door-to-door ride-hailing service in the U.S. and Germany.

Aurora and VW’s partnership ended 18 months later.

VW’s launch date — along with the timelines from virtually every other AV developer — was pushed back. This time around, will VW aided by Argo, meet its deadline?

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery

A few more items to note this week.

Foxconn Technology Group reached a tentative agreement with electric vehicle startup-turned-SPAC Fisker to develop and eventually manufacture an EV that will be sold in North America, Europe, China and India. The deal isn’t done yet though.

This is just a memorandum of understanding agreement. Discussions between the two companies will continue with the expectation that a formal partnership agreement will be reached during the second quarter of this year.

Speaking of Fisker, The Verge reported that the electric vehicle startup has dropped plans to create a solid-state battery and that last July it quietly settled a previously unreported trade secret lawsuit with Volkswagen-backed solid-state battery company QuantumScape.

Flipkart said it will deploy more than 25,000 electric vehicles in its supply chain by 2030 as the Walmart-owned e-commerce giant looks to achieve a 100% transition to electric mobility in the next 10 years. The Bangalore-headquartered firm said it partnered with leading EV makers including Hero Electric, Mahindra Electric and Piaggio to build vehicles for its first and last-mile delivery fleets across the country.

Amazon said just a day before the Flipkart announcement that it partnered with Mahindra Electric to develop “close to hundred” electric three-wheelers in India. The American e-commerce giant last year pledged to deploy 10,000 electric vehicles in the country by 2025.

Nikola, the controversial electric truck maker, is trying to make fresh start, admitting in a recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing that nine statements made by founder Trevor Milton were “inaccurate.” Milton, you might remember, resigned from Nikola in September, after a report from noted short-seller Hindenburg Research accused the company of fraud.

The company is also narrowing its focus, getting rid of the various side projects that Milton started. The SEC filing showed the company took a $14.4 million impairment expense after discontinuing the Powersports business unit.

Sergey Brin’s secretive airship company LTA Research and Exploration is planning to power a huge disaster relief airship with an equally record-breaking hydrogen fuel cell, according to a job listing spotted by TechCrunch’s Mark Harris.

United States Postal Service awarded a 10-year, $485-million contract to Oshkosh Defense to deliver between 50,000 and 165,000 Next Generation Delivery Vehicles, Ars Technica reported. The first trucks are due on the road in 2023. Only 10% of the new delivery trucks will be battery electric, which seems to conflict with the new Biden Administration’s plans to replace the entire federal fleet with EVs. The news sent shares of Workhorse Group Inc. into a free fall.


Early Stage is the premiere ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear first-hand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in – there’s ample time included in each for audience questions and discussion.

What Can Amazon’s Product Managers Do About All Of Those Boxes?

Is there any way that Amazon can ship fewer boxes?
Is there any way that Amazon can ship fewer boxes?
Image Credit: Harlem Photograpy Inc

Ok, so I’m willing to make a confession here. I get a little thrill each and every time I come to the front door and see an Amazon box sitting there waiting for me to bring it into the house and open it up. It’s almost like Christmas day all over again! However, the product managers at Amazon have come to a realization that they need to find a way to save money. What they want to do is to find ways to ship things to their customers in fewer and smaller containers. Are they going to be able to do this?


Amazon Loves Boxes

So if you can remember all the way back to the start of this century, back then online sales only represented 1% of retail sales in the U.S. However, things have significantly changed since then. Last year alone, online sales accounted for 17% of retail sales if you ignore the purchase of cars and gas. That kind of increase in sales would look good on anyone’s product manager resume. As you might well image, there is a relationship between the amount of online shopping we all do and the need for paper packaging (boxes).

The need for cardboard boxes has grown as the mail order / e-commerce sector has grown. Last year, roughly half of all domestic retail corrugated-box shipments were used for both e-commerce and mail-order deliveries. It turns out that 80% of the increase in demand for boxes has come from the mail-order and e-commerce sectors. Somewhat surprisingly, it turns out that mail-order and e-commerce sites use roughly seven times as many boxes per dollar spent as traditional bricks and mortar stores do.

All of this would make you think that it must be a great job to be a product manager for one of those companies that makes boxes. The reality turns out to be a bit more complicated. Profits for the box industry have grown very slowly over the past few years. The reason for this slow growth is because the product that box companies make is a generic and easily copied product. This has led to intense competition in the box manufacturing business. In the box industry, the average profit margin increased from 5% of revenue back in 2014 by 5.8% this year. The number of players in the box industry has decreased. In 2001 there were 300 companies in this business. Now there are only 255 companies. This decrease has been attributed to streamlining – the remaining companies are able to produce more boxes.


Can Amazon Use Fewer Boxes?

The Amazon product managers think that the future is going to be different from the present. They believe that the relationship that exists between boxes and e-commerce is going to become weaker. They want to find ways to change their product development definition in order to use fewer boxes. Already alternatives to boxes such as plastic mailers and efforts to try to “right size” packages by doing away with oversize boxes are going to change things. Likewise, the Amazon product managers want to put a halt to what is called “overboxing” which occurs when a product has to be placed in a second box because its original packaging is too flimsy to be able to survive shipping to the customer.

Let’s face it, customers who have to open multiple boxes just to get to the product that they ordered are never happy. There is even a term for how this makes customers feel: wrap rage. The Amazon product managers want to find ways to prevent their customers from ever having to feel this way. If the Amazon product managers were able to find ways to reduce the number of boxes that they used, then they’d be able to reduce their shipping and transportation costs. Last year Amazon spent US$27.2B on shipping and transportation.

The Amazon product managers have come up with new rules for their suppliers. Going forward, products that are larger than 18x14x8 inches or which weigh 20 pounds or more have to be certified as being ready to ship without the need for additional packaging. The challenge that the Amazon product managers are facing is that even as they are trying to reduce the amount of packaging that the company uses, they are at the same time trying to increase their sales. In the end what this is going to mean is that they may end up using even more boxes than they did before!


What All Of This Means For You

Success can be a great thing, but too much success can start to cause problems for product managers. The Amazon product managers have had great success with customers calling them up and ordering products. However, as they ship products to customers they’ve discovered that they are shipping more and more boxes. Those boxes cost money to purchase and to ship. The Amazon product managers need to look at their product manager job description in order to find ways to reduce the cost of all of those boxes.

As we are all well aware, online sales have exploded over the past few years. As more items have been bought online, more boxes have been used to ship products to customers. Mail-order and e-commerce are the ones who are using all of the boxes, not retail stores. In fact, the online firms use seven times as many boxes as retail stores do. Life has not been easy for box product managers. The market for boxes has a great deal of competition and their product is both generic and easily copied. The Amazon product managers want to break the link between rising sales and the increasing use of boxes. They want to use other packaging and to start to use the packaging that products come in to ship them. The Amazon product managers are looking for ways to reduce the number of boxes that they are using. They are starting to require vendors to make their product packaging strong enough to allow their products to be shipped without boxes. However, as Amazon sells more and more products, they will still need more and more boxes.

The Amazon product managers have a real problem on their hands. They need boxes in order to get their products into the hands of their customers. However, as they use more and more boxes, their costs keep going up. What they need to do is to find ways to get products to customers using fewer boxes. The idea of getting vendors to do a better job of packing their products is a great first step. Now Amazon just needs to find ways to package more products together. We’ll have to watch carefully as Amazon tries to keep growing without having to use even more boxes.


– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™


Question For You: How could Amazon ship fewer boxes and still deliver products to customers the next day?


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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When you are thirsty, what kind of drink do you reach for? A lot of us will grab a soda, a water, or maybe even a coffee or a tea. However, just a few years ago a new option showed up: favored bubbly water. The leader in this market category was a brand called LaCroix. The LaCroix product managers did very well for a long time. However, the popularity of their product has attracted new competitors and now the LaCroix product managers have to take a look at their product development definition and find ways to defend their market share. What should they do to keep the fizz in their product sales?

The post What Can Amazon’s Product Managers Do About All Of Those Boxes? appeared first on The Accidental Product Manager.

Lime unveils new ebike as part of $50 million investment to expand to more 25 cities

Lime said Monday it has allocated $50 million towards its bike-share operation, an investment that has been used to develop a new ebike and will fund its expansion this year to another 25 cities in North America, Europe, and Australia and New Zealand. 

If the company hits its goal, Lime’s bike-share service will be operational in 50 cities globally by the end of 2021.

The latest generation e-bike, known internally as 6.0, has a swappable battery that is interchangeable with Lime’s newest scooter. Additional upgrades to the e-bike include increased motor power, a phone holder, a new handlebar display, an electric lock that replaces the former generation’s cable lock and an automatic two-speed transmission. The new bikes are expected to launch and scale this summer. 

The hardware upgrade builds off of the 5.8, a bike developed by Jump that was supposed to be deployed in 2020. That never happened at scale because Uber, which owned Jump, offloaded the unit to Lime as part of a complex $170 million investment round announced in May.

“Jump made great hardware,” Lime President Joe Kraus said in a recent interview. “And we made some further improvements on top with the new bike.”

The hardware upgrades and expansion were funded from its own operational funds, not new financing from outside investors, Kraus said. The funding was possible as a result of Lime achieving its first full quarter of profitability in 2020, according to the company.

“We have figured out how to be profitable and we are funding this,” Kraus said.

Lime not only added a new motor to the bike, it moved its location in an aim to make it easier to handle at low speeds and enough power to climb hills, Kraus said. The swappable battery was perhaps its most important upgrade directly tied to its drive towards profitability, Kraus added.

“When our operations teams is roaming around the city, they take can care of bikes and the scooter fleet, which allows us to both operate profitably and continue to have affordable pricing,” he added.

Lime’s investment in its ebike operation comes a month after it announced plans to add electric mopeds to its micromobility platform as the startup aims to own the spectrum of inner city travel from jaunts to the corner store to longer distance trips up to five miles. Lime is launching the effort by deploying 600 electric mopeds on its platform this spring in Washington D.C. The company is also working with officials to pilot the mopeds in Paris. Eventually, the mopeds will be offered in a “handful of cities” over the next several months.

“This idea of how to service more trips five miles within a city is part of why we continue to do multi modality,” Kraus said. “When we add a new modality like bikes into a scooter city, or when we add scooters to a bike city both modalities go up in usage.”

Relativity Space unveils plans for a new, much larger and fully reusable rocket

3D-printed rocket company Relativity Space has just revealed what comes after Terran 1, the small launch vehicle it hopes to begin flying later this year. It’s next rocket will be Terran R, a much larger orbital rocket with around 20x the cargo capacity of Terran 1, that will also be distinguished from its smaller, disposable sibling by being fully reusable – across both first and second-stages, unlike SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

I spoke to Relativity Space CEO and founder Tim Ellis about Terran R, and how long it’s been in the works for the space startup. Ellis said that in fact, the vision every since Relativity’s time at Y Combinator has included larger lift rockets – and much more.

“When I founded Relativity five years ago, it always was inspired by seeing SpaceX launching and landing rockets, docking with the International Space Station, and this idea that going to Mars was critically important for humanity’s future, and really expanding the possibilities for human experience, on Earth and beyond,” Ellis told me. “But that all of the animations faded to black right when people walked out [of spaceship landing on Mars], and I believed that 3D printing had to be this inevitable technology that was going to build humanity’s industrial base on Mars, and that we needed to really inspire dozens, or even hundreds of companies to work on making this future happen.”

The long-term goal for Relativity Space, Ellis said, has always been to become an “end-product 3D printing company,” with its original Terran 1 light payload rocket simply representing the first of those products it’s bringing to market.

“3D printing is our new tech stack for aerospace, and really is rewriting something that we don’t feel has fundamentally changed over the last 60 years,” he said. “It’s really bringing automation that replaces the factory fixed tooling, supply chains, hundreds of thousands of parts, manual labor and slow iteration speed, with something that I believe is needed for the future on Earth, too.”

Terran R, which will have a payload capacity of over 20,000 kg (more than 44,000 lbs) to low-Earth orbit, is simply “the next logical step” for Relativity in that long-term vision of producing a wide range of products, including aerospace equipment for use right here on Earth. Ellis says that a larger launch vehicle makes sense given current strong customer demand for Terran 1, which has a max payload capacity of 1,250 kg (around 2,755 lbs) to low-Earth orbit, combined with the average size of satellites being launched today. Despite the boon in so-called ‘small’ satellites, many of the constellations being build today have individual satellites that weigh in excess of 500 kilograms (1,100 lbs), Ellis points out, which means that Terran R will be able to delivery many more at once for these growing on-orbit spacecraft networks.

A test fire of the new engine that Terran R will use for higher thrust capabilities.

“It’s really the same rocket architecture, it’s the same propellant, same factory, it’s the same printers, the same avionics and the same team that developed Terran 1,” Ellis said about the forthcoming rocket. That means that it’s actually relatively easy for the company to spin up its new production line, despite Terran R actually being quite functionally different than the current, smaller rocket – particularly when it comes to its full reusability.

As mentioned, Terran R will have both a reusable first and second stage. SpaceX’s Falcon 9’s first stage (a liquid fuel rocket booster) is reusable, and detaches from the second stage before quickly re-orienting itself and re-entering Earth’s atmosphere for a propulsive landing just after entering space. The Falcon 9 second stage is expendable, which is the space term for essentially just junk that’s discarded and eventually de-orbits and burns up on re-entry.

SpaceX had planned to try to make the Falcon 9 second stage reusable, but it would’ve required too much additional mass via heat shielding for it to make sense with the economics it was targeting. Ellis was light on details about Terran R’s specifics, but he did hint that some unique use of fairly unusual materials made possible though 3D printing, along with some sparing use of generative design, will be at work in helping the Relativity rocket’s second stage reusable in a sustainable way.

“Because it’s still entirely 3D-printed, we’re actually going to use more exotic materials, and design geometries that wouldn’t be possible at all, traditionally, to manufacture,” Ellis said. “It’s just too complicated looking; it would be way too difficult to manufacture traditionally in the ways that that Terran R is designed. And that will actually make it a much more reusable rocket, and really helped build the best reusable rocket possible.”

Terran R will also use a new upper stage engine that Relativity Space is designing, which is also unique compared to the existing engines used on Terran 1. It’s 3D printed as well, but uses a copper thrust chamber that will allow it to have higher overall power and thrust capabilities, according to Ellis. When I spoke to Ellis on Thursday evening, Relativity had just completed its first full success duration test of the new engine, a key step towards full production.

Ellis said that the company will share more about Terran R over the course of this year, but did note that the existing large 3D printers in its production facilities are already sized correctly to start building the new rocket – “the only change is software,” he said. He also added that some of the test sites Relativity has contracted to use at NASA’s Stennis Space Center are able to support testing of a rocket at Terran R’s scale, too, so it sounds like he’s planning for rapid progress on this new launch vehicle.

Relativity Space unveils plans for a new, much larger and fully reusable rocket

3D-printed rocket company Relativity Space has just revealed what comes after Terran 1, the small launch vehicle it hopes to begin flying later this year. It’s next rocket will be Terran R, a much larger orbital rocket with around 20x the cargo capacity of Terran 1, that will also be distinguished from its smaller, disposable sibling by being fully reusable – across both first and second-stages, unlike SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

I spoke to Relativity Space CEO and founder Tim Ellis about Terran R, and how long it’s been in the works for the space startup. Ellis said that in fact, the vision every since Relativity’s time at Y Combinator has included larger lift rockets – and much more.

“When I founded Relativity five years ago, it always was inspired by seeing SpaceX launching and landing rockets, docking with the International Space Station, and this idea that going to Mars was critically important for humanity’s future, and really expanding the possibilities for human experience, on Earth and beyond,” Ellis told me. “But that all of the animations faded to black right when people walked out [of spaceship landing on Mars], and I believed that 3D printing had to be this inevitable technology that was going to build humanity’s industrial base on Mars, and that we needed to really inspire dozens, or even hundreds of companies to work on making this future happen.”

The long-term goal for Relativity Space, Ellis said, has always been to become an “end-product 3D printing company,” with its original Terran 1 light payload rocket simply representing the first of those products it’s bringing to market.

“3D printing is our new tech stack for aerospace, and really is rewriting something that we don’t feel has fundamentally changed over the last 60 years,” he said. “It’s really bringing automation that replaces the factory fixed tooling, supply chains, hundreds of thousands of parts, manual labor and slow iteration speed, with something that I believe is needed for the future on Earth, too.”

Terran R, which will have a payload capacity of over 20,000 kg (more than 44,000 lbs) to low-Earth orbit, is simply “the next logical step” for Relativity in that long-term vision of producing a wide range of products, including aerospace equipment for use right here on Earth. Ellis says that a larger launch vehicle makes sense given current strong customer demand for Terran 1, which has a max payload capacity of 1,250 kg (around 2,755 lbs) to low-Earth orbit, combined with the average size of satellites being launched today. Despite the boon in so-called ‘small’ satellites, many of the constellations being build today have individual satellites that weigh in excess of 500 kilograms (1,100 lbs), Ellis points out, which means that Terran R will be able to delivery many more at once for these growing on-orbit spacecraft networks.

A test fire of the new engine that Terran R will use for higher thrust capabilities.

“It’s really the same rocket architecture, it’s the same propellant, same factory, it’s the same printers, the same avionics and the same team that developed Terran 1,” Ellis said about the forthcoming rocket. That means that it’s actually relatively easy for the company to spin up its new production line, despite Terran R actually being quite functionally different than the current, smaller rocket – particularly when it comes to its full reusability.

As mentioned, Terran R will have both a reusable first and second stage. SpaceX’s Falcon 9’s first stage (a liquid fuel rocket booster) is reusable, and detaches from the second stage before quickly re-orienting itself and re-entering Earth’s atmosphere for a propulsive landing just after entering space. The Falcon 9 second stage is expendable, which is the space term for essentially just junk that’s discarded and eventually de-orbits and burns up on re-entry.

SpaceX had planned to try to make the Falcon 9 second stage reusable, but it would’ve required too much additional mass via heat shielding for it to make sense with the economics it was targeting. Ellis was light on details about Terran R’s specifics, but he did hint that some unique use of fairly unusual materials made possible though 3D printing, along with some sparing use of generative design, will be at work in helping the Relativity rocket’s second stage reusable in a sustainable way.

“Because it’s still entirely 3D-printed, we’re actually going to use more exotic materials, and design geometries that wouldn’t be possible at all, traditionally, to manufacture,” Ellis said. “It’s just too complicated looking; it would be way too difficult to manufacture traditionally in the ways that that Terran R is designed. And that will actually make it a much more reusable rocket, and really helped build the best reusable rocket possible.”

Terran R will also use a new upper stage engine that Relativity Space is designing, which is also unique compared to the existing engines used on Terran 1. It’s 3D printed as well, but uses a copper thrust chamber that will allow it to have higher overall power and thrust capabilities, according to Ellis. When I spoke to Ellis on Thursday evening, Relativity had just completed its first full success duration test of the new engine, a key step towards full production.

Ellis said that the company will share more about Terran R over the course of this year, but did note that the existing large 3D printers in its production facilities are already sized correctly to start building the new rocket – “the only change is software,” he said. He also added that some of the test sites Relativity has contracted to use at NASA’s Stennis Space Center are able to support testing of a rocket at Terran R’s scale, too, so it sounds like he’s planning for rapid progress on this new launch vehicle.

Orca wants to give boating navigation its ‘iPhone moment’

Boating is a hobby steeped in history and tradition — and so is the industry and those that support it. With worldwide connectivity, electric boats, and other technological changes dragging the sector out of old habits, Orca aims to replace the outdated interfaces by which people navigate with a hardware-software combo as slick as any other modern consumer tech.

If you’re a boater, and I know at least some of you are, you’re probably familiar with two different ways of chart-plotting, or tracking your location and route: the one attached to your boat and the one in your pocket.

The one on your boat is clunky and old-fashioned, like the GPS interface on a years-old budget sedan. The one in your pocket is better and faster — but the phone isn’t exactly seaworthy and the app drains your battery with a quickness.

Orca is a Norwegian startup from veterans of the boating and chart-plotters that leapfrogs existing products with a built-from-scratch modern interface.

“The industry hasn’t changed in the last 20 years — you have three players who own 80 percent of the business,” said co-founder and CEO Jorge Sevillano. “For them, it’s very hard to think of how software creates value. All these devices are built on a user interface that’s 10-15 years old; think about a Tomtom, lots of menus, lots of clicks. This business hasn’t had its iPhone moment, where it had to rethink its entire design. So we thought: let’s start with a blank slate and build a new experience.”

CTO and co-founder Kristian Fallro started working on something like this years ago, and his company was acquired by Navico, one of the big players Sevillano refers to. But they didn’t seem to want to move forward with the ideas, and so he and the others formed Orca to pursue them. Their first complete product opened up for pre-orders this week.

“The challenge up until now has been that you need a combination of hardware and software, so the barrier to entry was very, very high,” Fallro explained. “It’s a very protected industry — and it’s too small for Apple and Google and the big boys.”

But now with a combination of the right hardware and a totally rebuilt software stack, they think they can steal a march on the dominant companies and be ready for the inevitable new generation of boaters who can’t stand to use the old tech any more. Shuttling an SD card to and from the in-boat system and your computer to update charts? Inputting destinations via directional pad? Using a separate mobile app to check weather and tides that might bear on your route? Not exactly cutting edge.

The Orca system comprises a ruggedized industrial tablet sourced from Samsung, an off the shelf marine quality mounting arm, a custom-designed interface for quick attachment and charging, and a computing base unit that connects to the boat’s own sensors like sonar and GPS over the NMEA 2000 protocol. It’s all made to be as good or better than anything you’d find on a boat today.

So far, so similar to many solutions out there. But Orca has rebuilt everything from the ground up as a modern mobile app with all the conveniences and connections you’d expect. Routing is instantaneous and accurate, on maps that are clear and readable as those on Google and Apple Maps but clearly still of the nautical variety. Weather and tide reports are integrated, as is marine traffic. It all runs on Android or iOS, so you can also use your phone, send routes or places of interest to the main unit, and vice versa.

Several devices showing the Orca chart-plotting interface.

Image Credits: Orca

“We can build new services that chart plotters can’t even dream of including,” said Sevillano. “With the latest tide report and wind, or if there’s a commercial ship going in your way, we can update your range and route. We do updates every week with new features and bug fixes. We can iterate and adapt to user feedback faster than anyone else.”

These improvements to the most central system of the boat mean the company has ambitions for coming years beyond simply replacing the ageing gadgets at the helm.

Information collected from the boat itself is also used to update the maps in near real time — depending on what your craft is monitoring, it could be used for alerting others or authorities, for example if you encounter major waves or dangerous levels of chemicals, or detect an obstacle where none is recorded. “The Waze of the seas,” they suggested. “Our goal is to become the marine data company. The opportunities for boaters, industries related to the sea, and society are immense.”

Being flexible about the placement and features means they hope to integrate directly with boats, becoming the built-in OS for new models. That’s especially important for the up-and-coming category of electric boats, which sort of by definition buck the old traditions and tend to attract tech-savvy early adopters.

“We’re seeing people take what works on land taking it to sea. They all have the same challenge though, the biggest problem is range anxiety — and it’s even worse on the water,” said Fallro. “We’ve been talking to a lot of these manufacturers and we’re finding that building a boat is hard but building that navigation experience is even harder.”

Whether that’s entirely true probably depends on your boat-building expertise, but it’s certainly the case that figuring out an electric boat’s effective range is a devilishly difficult problem. Even after building a new boat from starting principles and advanced physical simulations to be efficient and predictable, such as Zin Boats did, the laws of physics and how watercraft work mean even the best estimate has to be completely revised every few seconds.

“Figuring out range at sea is very hard, and we think we’re one of the best out there. So we want to provide boat manufacturers a software stack with integrated navigation that helps them solve the range anxiety problem their users have,” said Fallro.

Indeed, it seems likely that prospective purchasers of such a craft would be more tempted to close the deal if they knew there was a modern and responsive OS that not only accurately tracked range but provided easy, real-time access to potential charge points and other resources. Sure, you could use your phone — and many do these days because the old chart plotters attached to their boats are so limited. But the point is that with Orca you won’t be tempted to.

The full device combo of computing core, mount, and tablet costs €1,449, with the core alone selling for €449, with a considerable discount for early bird pre-orders. (For people buying new boats, these numbers may as well be rounding errors.)

Fallro said Orca is operating with funding (of an unspecified amount) from Atomico and Nordic VC firm Skyfall Ventures, as well as angel investors including Kahoot co-founder Johan Brand. The company has its work cut out for it simply in fulfilling the orders it has collected (they are doing a brisk trade, Fallro intimated) before moving on to adding features and updating regularly as promised.

Sergey Brin’s airship will use world’s biggest mobile hydrogen fuel cell

Sergey Brin’s secretive airship company LTA Research and Exploration is planning to power a huge disaster relief airship with an equally record-breaking hydrogen fuel cell.

A job listing from the company, which is based in Mountain View, California and Akron, Ohio, reveals that LTA wants to configure a 1.5-megawatt hydrogen propulsion system for an airship to deliver humanitarian aid and revolutionize transportation. While there are no specs tied to the job listing, such a system would likely be powerful enough to cross oceans. Although airships travel much slower than jet planes, they can potentially land or deliver goods almost anywhere.

Hydrogen fuel cells are an attractive solution for electric aviation because they are lighter and potentially cheaper than lithium-ion batteries. However, the largest hydrogen fuel cell to fly to date is a 0.25-megawatt system (250 kilowatts) in ZeroAvia’s small passenger plane last September. LTA’s first crewed prototype airship, called Pathfinder 1, will be powered by batteries when it takes to the air, possibly this year. FAA records show that the Pathfinder 1 has 12 electric motors and would be able to carry 14 people. 

That makes it about the same size as the only passenger airship operating today, the Zeppelin NT, which conducts sightseeing tours in Germany and Switzerland. The Pathfinder 1 also uses some Zeppelin components in its passenger gondola. 

LTA Research and Exploration airship patent

Image Credits: LTA Patent US 2019/0112023 A1

Since the Hindenburg disaster in 1937, most airships, including LTA’s, have used non-flammable helium as a lifting gas. But using hydrogen for fuel still makes sense, according to Professor Dr. Josef Kallo of the German Aerospace Center, which is developing its own 1.5 MW fuel cell to power a 60-seater regional electric aircraft. 

“Where we could go something like 125 miles with batteries, we should be able to go nearly 1,000 miles using hydrogen,” Kallo said. “And airships are even more perfect for the efficiency of fuel cells.”

Fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce water and electricity, but are traditionally heavy and complex. Putting one in an aircraft adds extra complications such as safely transporting the liquid hydrogen in fuel tanks, storing the water produced and dealing with a lot of waste heat.

LTA’s first fuel cell will be a 0.75 MW system, built by a third party and retrofitted into one of its existing prototypes, according to the job listing. That is unlikely to happen this year, however. A planned Pathfinder 3 airship, which will run on batteries, still has not been registered with the FAA.

LTA Research and Exploration airship patent

Image Credits: LTA Research Patent US 2019/0112023 A1

“Functionality wise, there is no showstopper to using a hydrogen fuel cell,” Kallo said. “The challenge is to find someone who can afford not to look at the business case, because I don’t think it works out from an economic perspective. Maybe Sergey Brin can afford to do that.”

Brin is currently the ninth richest person in the world, with a net worth of over $86 billion. LTA’s website says the initial use case for its aircraft will be “humanitarian disaster response and relief efforts, especially in remote areas that cannot be easily accessed by plane and boat due to limited or destroyed infrastructure.” Ultimately, it intends to create a family of zero emissions aircraft for global cargo and passenger travel.

LTA has already started its charitable work, producing more than 3 million face masks for first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic, and donating nearly $3 million last year to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

LTA is likely to operate closely with Brin’s nonprofit disaster relief force, Global Support and Development (GSD), which is based just a few miles from LTA’s Mountain View hangars. GSD has deployed medics and ex-military personnel to numerous natural disasters over the past five years. It prides itself on its ability to arrive before traditional NGOs, on occasion even using Brin’s own superyacht. Tax records show that Brin is by far the largest funder of GSD, giving it at least $7.5 million in 2019.