BERLIN — BMW plans to introduce its electric i3 car this year, which raises the question of what’s going to happen to the old batteries that, for the purpose of powering electric cars, must be discarded well before they have actually been depleted. It’s a riddle the car company is hoping to solve together with the question of how to store surplus renewable energy.
The maker of “the ultimate driving machine” says that one of the goals when it comes to old batteries is to use them in electric car charging stations or in solar panels. The company is working with the electricity company Vattenfall to research how that could be possible and practical.
The move toward more renewable energy sources over the past several years has led to a situation where there is too much energy available on sunny days, and not enough storage capacity. The same problem exists for wind energy.
In the future, the old batteries from electric cars could be used to store the electricity from wind and solar installations.
The effort could be worth it for green energy producers. Using the old batteries this way would mean an ability to charge higher prices because they would be storing it for times when demand is high but supply is low.
Lithium-Ion battery cells for BMW i3 - Photo: RudolfSimon
At the same time, pressure is increasing for renewable energy producers to find their own customers. Politicians have been discussing abolishing the programs that they have in place to guarantee them a market.
Technologically speaking, there is no problem with using old car batteries to store renewable energy, because the life of the batteries is much longer than the amount of time they can be used to power electric cars. Once the batteries have less than 80 percent storage capacity, they can no longer be used for cars, but they can very well be used for other purposes.
“Instead of sending them to be recycled immediately, these batteries are ideal for reuse,” says Ulrich Kranz, senior vice president of BMW i. “BMW i is also making a major contribution to the use of renewable energy.”
Several pilot projects have already been successful in Germany, the U.S. and China. In Berlin, used batteries from the test fleet were used as buffer storage for a solar energy installation.
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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