Can China be beaten on rare earths?  Will Beijing separate everyone from electric cars?  What?  What role do American startups play in the war in Ukraine?

Can China be beaten on rare earths? Will Beijing separate everyone from electric cars? What? What role do American startups play in the war in Ukraine?

Small US technology companies are using the war in Ukraine to demonstrate a new generation of military systems. San Francisco-based Capella Space is building a fleet of small, inexpensive satellites to track enemy troops at night or under cloud, where conventional optical satellites cannot see. Fortem Technologies, a small Utah aerospace company, wants to provide the Pentagon with a new type of drone that can take down enemy drones. HawkEye 360, launched its satellites that use radio signals emitted by communication devices and other electronic devices to detect the presence of enemy troop levels.

Will America’s founders win the Defense Department’s battle against bureaucracy and risk aversion? Pentagon procurement officials are trained to avoid risks after decades of scandals related to purchases that are too expensive, ineffective, or tinged with corruption. This culture doesn’t sit well with tech companies that thrive on innovation, speed and constantly updating their products. Today commercial technology is changing the battlefield, especially commercial satellite tools that have given Ukraine greater surveillance capabilities.

Image showing war damage in Ukraine, taken from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Twitter account.

“Developing” countries are making a series of deals to secure the essential minerals needed for the energy transition. The US and Australia have announced a partnership to share information and coordinate standards and investments to create more responsible and sustainable supply chains. Japan has signed an important mining agreement with the United States and may soon do the same with Europe.

European officials have proposed a “buyers’ club” for essential minerals with the G7 countries, setting common labor and environmental standards. Will these agreements be successful in improving the supply of developed countries to compete with China? Many mineral-rich countries do not have sufficient environmental and labor standards to enter into agreements with the US and the EU, such as Indonesia (the world’s leading nickel producer) and Chile (the world’s largest lithium producer). Moreover, rich countries compete for scarce resources. Many supplier countries have proposed nationalizing the industry of these materials to better control the development and use of resources, such as Bolivia and Mexico.

China said it had overtaken Japan to become the world’s largest car exporter. China exported 3.2 million cars in 2022, compared to Germany’s 2.6 million. China’s exports were boosted by demand for electric vehicles and sales to Russia. Chinese car manufacturers including Geely, Chery and Great Wall have seen their market in Russia increase after their rivals including Volkswagen and Toyota fled the country following the invasion of Ukraine.

Raw materials, production capacity and batteries as a service, is China ready to conquer the world’s electricity market? Sales of new energy vehicles (NEVs), which include electric vehicles, increased by more than 90% in China compared to the previous year. Among the most innovative players are Nio and Contemporary Amperex Technology Co, two Chinese companies that offer customers “batteries as a service”. Batteries can be rented and replaced under a certain contract.

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“Permanent chemicals” are so called because they do not break down easily in the environment. Also belonging to this class of substances are those called PFAS (per-epolyfluoroalkyl), which are necessary for the production of everything: from smartphones to firefighters’ suits, from airplanes to electric cars, but above all for microchips. These substances have also been linked to reproductive problems, impaired fetal growth, liver disease and an increased risk of cancer in humans. Could legislation to encourage companies to find alternatives to PFAS represent a turning point for players in the microchip industry?

The EU has launched a public consultation on proposals to ban an entire class of chemicals, with a “transition” period of 13.5 years for the chip industry. If it is implemented, it will be “the biggest obstacle [di sostanze chimiche] in history”. 3M, an American multinational company, has announced that it will stop producing PFAS by 2025, believing that the risks are not worth the potential costs. The companies Microchip Infineon, TSMC, STMicroelectronics, BASF ensure that the supply continues.