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Whistle blows in Germany for world’s first hydrogen train fleet

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From Wednesday, only hydrogen-powered trains will run on a German regional line in 'world first'
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Germany on Wednesday will inaugurate a railway line powered entirely by hydrogen, a “world first” and a major step forward for green train transport despite nagging supply challenges.

A fleet of 14 trains provided by French industrial giant Alstom to the German state Lower Saxony will replace the diesel locomotives on the 100 kilometres (60 miles) of track connecting the cities of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervoerde and Buxtehude near Hamburg.

“Whatever the time of day, passengers will travel on this route thanks to hydrogen”, Stefan Schrank, project manager at Alstom, told AFP, hailing a “world first”.

Hydrogen trains have become a promising way to decarbonise the rail sector and replace diesel, which still powers 20 percent of journeys in Germany.

Billed as a “zero emission” mode of transport, the trains mix hydrogen on board with oxygen present in the ambient air, thanks to a fuel cell installed in the roof. This produces the electricity needed to pull the train.

– Run for its money –

Designed in the southern French town of Tarbes and assembled in Salzgitter in central Germany, Alstom’s trains — called Coradia iLint — are trailblazers in the sector.

The project drew investment of “several tens of millions of euros” and created jobs for up to 80 employees in the two countries, according to Alstom.

Commercial trials have been carried out since 2018 on the line with two hydrogen trains but now the entire fleet is adopting the ground-breaking technology.

The French group has inked four contracts for several dozen trains between Germany, France and Italy, with no sign of demand waning.

In Germany alone “between 2,500 and 3,000 diesel trains could be replaced by hydrogen models”, Schrank estimates.

“By 2035, around 15 to 20 percent of the regional European market could run on hydrogen,” Alexandre Charpentier, rail expert at consultancy Roland Berger, told AFP.

Hydrogen trains are particularly attractive on short regional lines where the cost of a transition to electric outstrips the profitability of the route.

Currently, around one out of two regional trains in Europe runs on diesel.

But Alstom’s competitors are ready to give it a run for its money. German behemoth Siemens unveiled a prototype hydrogen train with national rail company Deutsche Bahn in May, with a view to a roll-out in 2024.

But, despite the attractive prospects, “there are real barriers” to a big expansion with hydrogen, Charpentier said.

For starters, trains are not the only means of transport hungry for the fuel.

The entire sector, whether it be road vehicles or aircraft, not to mention heavy industry such as steel and chemicals, are eyeing hydrogen to slash CO2 emissions.

– Colossal investment –

Although Germany announced in 2020 an ambitious seven-billion-euro (-dollar) plan to become a leader in hydrogen technologies within a decade, the infrastructure is still lacking in Europe’s top economy.

It is a problem seen across the continent, where colossal investment would be needed for a real shift to hydrogen.

“For this reason, we do not foresee a 100-percent replacement of diesel trains with hydrogen,” Charpentier said.

Furthermore, hydrogen is not necessarily carbon-free: only “green hydrogen”, produced using renewable energy, is considered sustainable by experts.

Other, more common manufacturing methods exist, but they emit greenhouse gases because they are made from fossil fuels.

The Lower Saxony line will in the beginning have to use a hydrogen by-product of certain industries such as the chemical sector.

The French research institute IFP specialising in energy issues says that hydrogen is currently “95 percent derived from the transformation of fossil fuels, almost half of which come from natural gas”.

Europe’s enduring reliance on gas from Russia amid massive tensions over the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine poses major challenges for the development of hydrogen in rail transport.

“Political leaders will have to decide which sector to prioritise when determining what the production of hydrogen will or won’t go to,” Charpentier said.

Germany will also have to import massively to meet its needs.

Partnerships have recently been signed with India and Morocco, and an agreement to import hydrogen from Canada was on the agenda this week during a visit by Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

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UK eyes big TikTok fine over child privacy lapse

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A UK regulator said TikTok ay have processed the data of children under the age of 13 without appropriate parental consent
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Britain on Monday warned it could fine TikTok £27 million ($29 million) over a potential failure to protect children’s privacy on the Chinese-owned video app.

The Information Commissioner’s Office said the social media company “may have processed the data of children under the age of 13 without appropriate parental consent”.

The ICO also found that the short-form video platform may have “failed to provide proper information to its users in a concise, transparent and easily understood way”.

The watchdog has served the group with a notice of intent — which is a legal document that precedes a possible fine — over the possible breach of UK data protection law.

“We all want children to be able to learn and experience the digital world, but with proper data privacy protections,” said Information Commissioner John Edwards.

“Companies providing digital services have a legal duty to put those protections in place, but our provisional view is that TikTok fell short of meeting that requirement.”

In response, TikTok said it disagreed with the ICO’s provisional views and stressed that no final conclusions had been reached.

“While we respect the ICO’s role in safeguarding privacy in the UK, we disagree with the preliminary views expressed and intend to formally respond to the ICO in due course,” TikTok said in a statement.

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Apple to make iPhone 14 in India in shift away from China

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The Apple logo at a store in New York
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Apple will manufacture its new flagship smartphone in India, the US tech giant said Monday, as it seeks to diversify production away from a dependence on China.

The iPhone supply chain is based mainly in China but the country’s zero-Covid policies and tensions with the United States have hurt production, analysts say.

“We’re excited to be manufacturing iPhone 14 in India,” Apple said in a brief statement.

The California-based firm already makes older iPhone models in India via Taiwanese manufacturers such as Foxconn, which has a factory in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The latest announcement comes just weeks after Apple launched new smartphones. The tech behemoth is commencing production of the iPhone 14 in India much earlier than it did for previous models, Canalys analyst Sanyam Chaurasia said.

“Over the last couple of years, it has been increasingly diversifying its supply chain to India,” Chaurasia told AFP.

About 7.5 million iPhones — around three percent of Apple’s global production — were made in India last year, the analyst added.

“We expect that the local production of iPhones could reach more than 11 million this year,” he said.

Apple’s announcement will be a boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” strategy under which he has urged foreign businesses to manufacture goods in the South Asian nation.

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US charges Boeing with misleading investors on 737 MAX safety, fined $200 mn

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US regulators say Boeing and its former CEO 'put profits over people,' misleading the public about the safety of the 737 MAX aircraft
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US securities officials fined Boeing $200 million over the aviation giant’s misleading assurances about the safety of the 737 MAX airplane following two deadly crashes, regulators announced Thursday.

Boeing agreed to the penalty to settle charges it “negligently violated the antifraud provisions” of US securities laws, the Securities and Exchange Commission said in a statement, saying the company and its leader “put profits over people.”

Boeing’s former chief executive, Dennis Muilenburg, also agreed to pay $1 million to settle the same charges in the civil case.

The settlement marks the latest hit to Boeing over the MAX following the Lion Air Crash in Indonesia in October 2018 and the Ethiopian Airlines crash in Ethiopia in March 2019, which together claimed nearly 350 lives. 

One month after the first crash, a Boeing press release approved by Muilenburg “selectively highlighted certain facts,” implying pilot error and poor aircraft maintenance contributed to the crash.

The press release also attested to the aircraft’s safety, not disclosing that Boeing knew a key flight handling system, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), posed safety issues and was being redesigned.

After the second crash, Boeing and Muilenburg assured the public that there was “no surprise or gap” in the federal certification of the MAX despite being aware of contrary information, the SEC said.

– Boeing ‘failed’ –

“In times of crisis and tragedy, it is especially important that public companies and executives provide full, fair, and truthful disclosures to the markets,” said SEC Chair Gary Gensler in a press release. 

“The Boeing Company and its former CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, failed in this most basic obligation. They misled investors by providing assurances about the safety of the 737 MAX, despite knowing about serious safety concerns.”

The SEC said both Boeing and Muilenburg, in agreeing to pay the penalties, did not admit or deny the agency’s findings.

Boeing said the agreement “fully resolves” the SEC’s inquiry and is part of the company’s “broader effort to responsibly resolve outstanding legal matters related to the 737 MAX accidents in a manner that serves the best interests of our shareholders, employees, and other stakeholders,” a company spokesman said.

“We will never forget those lost on Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, and we have made broad and deep changes across our company in response to those accidents.”

US air safety authorities cleared Boeing’s 737 MAX to resume service in November 2020 following a 20-month grounding after the crashes.

A principal cause of the two crashes was identified as the MCAS, which was supposed to keep the plane from stalling as it ascended but instead forced the nose of the plane downward. The Federal Aviation Administration required Boeing to upgrade this system to address the flaw.

In January 2021, Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion to settle a US criminal charge over claims the company defrauded regulators overseeing the 737 MAX.

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