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Revamped Federal Loan Program Will Produce Cleaner Cars and Create Green Jobs

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Revamped Federal Loan Program Will Produce Cleaner Cars and Create Green Jobs

Clean energy got a boost this week when Secretary Ernest Moniz announced the Department of Energy (DOE) will jumpstart its stalled auto retooling loan program. This is good news for drivers who want cleaner cars, faster and cheaper. A successful restart of the retooling loan program can help clear bottlenecks in the supply chain and ensure that clean energy jobs that might otherwise go overseas, are instead “onshored.”

Retooling loans have helped create or preserve about 35,000 jobs in eight states.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

DOE Loan Program has a Track Record of Success

By objective measures, the grants provided through the retooling loan program--officially called the Advanced Technology Manufacturing Program (ATVM)—has been a clear success.

Of the five loans DOE granted for manufacturers to modernize their facilities to produce cars or their components that are fuel efficient or run on clean energy, only two have failed, but the total losses to government amount to less than 3 percent of the $8.4 billion in loans approved.

According to program participants, retooling loans have helped create or preserve approximately 35,000 jobs in eight states: California, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky, New York and Tennessee.

The loan to Tesla has been a stunning success, with Tesla repaying its $465 million loan five years in advance and the company now has a market capitalization of more than $25 billion. In Smyrna, Tennessee, Nissan is producing battery packs for its U.S.-made all electric LEAF cars in a factory made possible by a $1.4 billion DOE loan. And Ford was able to modernize 13 factories to build more fuel-efficient versions of its most popular models, including the Focus, Fusion, Escape and F-150, thanks to a $5.9 billion DOE loan.

Retooling the Retooling Loan Program

Like any program, the ATVM is evolving and improving over time. The changes are intended to streamline the program, better serve its applicants and clarify upfront whether certain technologies qualify.

DOE’s reboot is specifically focusing on transparency for potential applicants from the supplier industry. To clarify what projects might qualify, DOE is providing a list of pre-approved component categories:  advanced engines and powertrains, lightweight materials, advanced electronics, and fuel-efficient tires. 

As our joint report with UAW (United Auto Workers) and National Wildlife Federation, Supplying Ingenuity, points out, in 2011 there were already 150,000 Jobs at 300 facilities in 43 states in the clean car supply chain  Automakers are increasingly depending on their suppliers for new innovations and cost-cutting, which can strain their finances. For instance, Ford’s and GM’s plans to rely on light-weighting to raise the fuel economy of their best-selling F150 and Silverado pickup trucks will require creating a new auto supply chain for aluminum materials and parts. 

Putting U.S. back on Track

The ATVM program has already been a success. It has helped support 35,000 jobs with only modest losses. Loans to the auto industry to cut pollution and oil dependency is a much better use of public dollars than $8 billion in direct taxpayer subsidies that oil companies receive every year.

As I’ve said before, we shouldn’t let clean energy fall victim to partisanship. Americans deserve cleaner cars, lower fuel bills and good quality jobs. Rebooting the auto retooling loan program can help put us on that road.

This post originally appeared on the NRDC's Switchboard blog.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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