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Universal Hydrogen in zero-carbon plane deals with Icelandair, others

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Universal Hydrogen, a U.S. firm that aims to do for clean fuel what Nespresso did for coffee, is poised to announce preliminary hydrogen deals with airlines including Icelandair as it looks at a possible listing as early as next year.

Europe’s Airbus has captured attention with a pledge to introduce 100-seat hydrogen-powered airliners by 2035.

But founded by former Airbus technology chief Paul Eremenko, Universal Hydrogen aims to speed up the introduction of hydrogen for smaller regional airplanes to 2025 by using fuel cells fed by modular hydrogen capsules to replace their turboprop systems.

“It is a $2.5 billion market on a regional scale,” Eremenko estimated in an interview.

Universal Hydrogen is one of a cluster of companies flocking to efforts to decarbonise aviation and says it is trying to solve a crucial problem with the clean but highly flammable fuel: how to connect production to airports where it is needed.

“We are the Nespresso capsule of hydrogen. We don’t grow the coffee and we don’t make the coffee-maker,” Eremenko told Reuters, referring to the Nestle division whose capsules revolutionised premium coffee-drinking habits.

In order to kickstart demand, Nespresso offered coffee makers while encouraging others to build compatible machines.

“It is a similar model for us … Somebody has to build the first coffee maker and our version of that is to develop a conversion kit and offer that to regional airlines,” he said.

The kits include a fuel cell and electric powertrain to replace conventional turboprops built by Pratt & Whitney Canada. Airlines’ cost of investing in the kits can be offset against long-term contracts to supply fuel via modular capsules.

From the viewpoint of a passenger, the propellers remain while the engine architecture and fuel system behind them change, with some seats removed to fit the hydrogen capsules.

Under the tentative deals to be announced on Wednesday, details of which have been supplied to Reuters, Spanish regional airline Air Nostrum would buy 11 kits to convert current and future ATR 72-600 turboprop airplanes.

Ravn Alaska, which last year inherited part of the operations of bankrupt Alaskan regional carrier RavnAir, would buy five conversion kits under a long-term hydrogen fuel deal.

Icelandair would also buy conversion kits for its regional fleet as part of a long-term fuel supply deal.

COST CHALLENGE

Both Ravn and Icelandair operate De Havilland Canada DHC-8 turboprops, more widely known as Dash 8. Universal Hydrogen’s kits can convert power systems used on Dash 8s or ATRs.

Not everyone is confident hydrogen will quickly solve the sector’s environmental challenges despite zero carbon emissions.

A European Union climate masterplan due on Wednesday is expected to include ambitious targets for alternative aviation fuels made from sources like waste. Boeing has focused more on such sustainable fuels than hydrogen.

Hurdles to be solved include cost and availability as well as uncertainty over how hydrogen systems will be certified.

“At the moment hydrogen is more expensive. We believe that in the future when hydrogen is more available it will become closer to being competitive,” Icelandair Chief Operating Officer Jens Thordarson told Reuters, adding governments should also provide support for the zero-emission fuel.

“There is a good opportunity for Iceland to be an early adopter of these kinds of technologies,” he added.

Iceland has plentiful renewable energy to create so-called green hydrogen without relying on fossil fuels in production.

Universal Hydrogen also plans to launch a design study with Deutsche Aircraft aimed at incorporating its capsules into a new version of the out-of-production Dornier 328 regional turboprop.

The same German company last week announced a partnership with H2FLY, a fuel-cell developer based in Germany, with a view to demonstrating a hydrogen-powered Dornier 328 by 2025.

Backed by investors including venture capital arms of Airbus, Toyota and JetBlue, Universal Hydrogen recently raised funds and is now exploring interim ‘Series B’ financing as it ramps up industrially.

Beyond this, it has its eye on joining a wave of listings via special acquisition vehicles or SPACs, “depending on how the SPAC market evolves over the next year or so,” Eremenko said.

“Hydrogen is the 100% decarbonisation solution and there is a willingness and need to start talking about such measures”.

(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Editing by Mark Potter)

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Google and Facebook will require U.S. workers to be vaccinated to return to the office – CBC.ca

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Google is postponing a return to the office for most workers until mid-October and rolling out a policy that will eventually require everyone to be vaccinated once its sprawling campuses are fully reopened.

The more highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus is driving a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Google’s announcement Wednesday was shortly followed by one from Facebook, which also said it will make vaccines mandatory for U.S. employees who work in offices. Exceptions will be made for medical and other reasons.

“With regards to our Canadian offices, we don’t have specifics to share yet,” a spokesperson for Facebook told CBC News. “We will be evaluating our approach in other regions as the situation evolves.”

In an email sent to Google’s more than 130,000 employees worldwide, CEO Sundar Pichai said the company is now aiming to have most of its workforce back to its offices beginning Oct. 18, instead of its previous target date of Sept. 1.

The decision also affects tens of thousands of contractors who Google intends to continue to pay while access to its campuses remains limited.

“This extension will allow us time to ramp back into work while providing flexibility for those who need it,” Pichai wrote.

Pichai disclosed that once offices are fully reopened, everyone working there will have to be vaccinated. The requirement will be first imposed at Google’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters and other U.S. offices, before being extended to the more than 40 other countries where Google operates.

‘The stuff that needs to be done’

Google has extensive operations in Canada, but the company did not immediately reply to a request for comment as to when such a policy may be implemented for its Canadian work force. Pichai’s letter, however, makes it clear that it is not just a U.S. policy.

“We’re rolling this policy out in the U.S. in the coming weeks and will expand to other regions in the coming months,” he said.

WATCH | How social media is helping spread misinformation like a virus:

U.S. officials say misinformation has plagued the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, and case counts across the country are rising. 2:02

Public health experts are lauding the move.

“This is the stuff that needs to be done, because otherwise we are endangering workers and their families,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University and a former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore.

“It is not fair to parents to be expected to come back to work and sit shoulder-to-shoulder with unvaccinated people who could be carrying a potentially deadly virus.”

Because children under the age of 12 aren’t currently eligible to be vaccinated, parents can bring the virus home to them from the office if they are around unvaccinated colleagues, Wen said.

Various government agencies already have announced demands for all their employees to be vaccinated, but the corporate world so far has been taking a more measured approach, even though most lawyers believe the mandates are legal.

Most employers hesitant to require vaccines

Delta and United airlines are requiring new employees to show proof of vaccination. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are requiring their employees to disclose their vaccination status, but are not requiring staffers to be vaccinated.

Less than 10 per cent of employers have said they intend to require all employees to be vaccinated, based on periodic surveys by the research firm Gartner.

Although the vaccination policy is only in effect in the U.S. for now, Google makes it clear it plans to expand it to other countries where it operates too. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

While other major technology companies may follow suit now that Google and Facebook have taken stands on vaccines, employers in other industries still may be reluctant, predicted Brian Kropp, chief of research for Gartner’s human resources practice.

“Google is seen as being such a different kind of company that I think it’s going to take one or two more big employers to do something similar in terms of becoming a game changer,” Kropp said.

Google’s vaccine mandate will be adjusted to adhere to the laws and regulations of each location, Pichai wrote, and exceptions will be made for medical and other “protected” reasons.

“Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,” Pichai explained.

The rapid rise in cases during the past month has prompted more public health officials to urge stricter measures to help overcome vaccine skepticism and misinformation.

It’s unclear how many of Google’s workers still haven’t been vaccinated. In his email, Pichai described the vaccination rate at the company as high.

Remote work still going strong

Google’s decision to extend its remote work follows a similar move by another technology powerhouse, Apple, which recently moved its return-to-office plans from September to October, too.

The delays by Apple and Google could influence other major employers to take similar precautions, given that the technology industry has been at the forefront of the shift to remote work triggered by the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Even before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March 2020, Google, Apple and many other prominent tech firms had been telling their employees to work from home.

WATCH | Business travel particularly slow to bounce back:

A recent study from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company predicts that business travel won’t return to pre-pandemic levels for years. Many companies and business travellers are finding that they can cut costs by switching to virtual events and meetings, which could hurt businesses which rely on corporate travel. 1:59

This marks the third time Google has pushed back the date for fully reopening its offices.

Google’s vaccine requirement also could embolden other employers to issue similar mandates to guard against outbreaks and minimize the need to wear masks in the office.

While most companies are planning to bring back their workers at least a few days a week, others in the tech industry have decided to let employees do their jobs from remote locations permanently.

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TSX closes at all-time high, U.S. markets up after big jump in commodities prices – CBC.ca

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Canada’s main stock exchange closed at an all-time high as commodities like gold and oil benefited from a weaker U.S. dollar on Thursday.

The S&P/TSX composite index was up 81.38 points at 20,311.78.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 153.60 points at 35,084.53. The S&P 500 index was up 18.51 points at 4,419.15, while the Nasdaq composite was up 15.68 points at 14,778.26.

The Canadian dollar traded for 80.32 cents US compared with 79.58 cents US on Wednesday.

The September crude oil contract was up $1.23 US at $73.62 US per barrel and the September natural gas contract was up 9.2 cents at nearly $4.06 US per mmBTU.

The December gold contract was up $31.20 US at $1,835.80 US an ounce and the September copper contract was up nearly 4.2 cents at $4.52 US a pound.

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Robinhood makes its debut on Wall Street – Yahoo Canada Finance

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NEW YORK (AP) — Robinhood made its own leap into the stock market Thursday, the one it helped reshape by bringing millions of new investors to Wall Street, and its shares swung sharply in their first day of trading.

Robinhood Markets’ stock was at $37.57 in early afternoon trading, down 1.1% from its initial price of $38 set late Wednesday. Perhaps fitting for a company that has upended the investing business, it careened from a gain of 5.9% and a loss of 12.2% in the first hour of trading.

It’s a relatively disappointing opening for the highly anticipated offering, which had already priced at the low end of its expected range. The stock could see continued sharp swings through the day given Robinhood’s unusual move to reserve a big chunk of shares for its own smaller-pocketed customers rather than big professional firms.

At its current price, the company is valued at roughly $31 billion, which puts it on par with companies like Kroger and Old Dominion Freight Line, but its heft on the pop-culture landscape may be even weightier. Robinhood has created plenty of passion, both by users and critics alike.

The company has grown explosively since its 2013 founding, with an estimated 22.5 million funded accounts, after it did away with trading fees and made investing easier and even fun to do with its mobile app. More than half its customers are first-time investors, giving them more ability to keep up with the stock-holding, wealthier households that had been pulling away for years.

But Robinhood has also drawn heaps of criticism from users and regulators alike, with a lengthening list of regulatory settlements. Critics say Robinhood encourages unsophisticated investors to make trades too often that may be too risky.

Some users, meanwhile, are still angry at Robinhood after it and other brokers temporarily locked them out of trading GameStop shares earlier this year, when hordes of smaller-pocketed investors were pushing the stock up in part to spite the monied elite on Wall Street.

Now that Robinhood’s stock is trading on the Nasdaq, its performance gives a real-time look at the market’s judgment of Robinhood’s prospects. The company is already delivering the strong growth that Wall Street is always hungry for: Revenue soared 245% last year to $959 million. It then hit $522 million in the first three months of 2021 alone, more than quadrupling from the year-ago level.

But questions remain about whether regulators may tighten oversight of its main money maker. That’s routing its customers’ orders to big Wall Street trading firms, which pay Robinhood to take the other side of the trade.

Beyond that, Robinhood stands to lose if the boom in trading it’s helped create among smaller-pocketed and novice investors fades. That could come if its oftentimes younger customers go back to doing other things than trading on their phones as the pandemic hopefully eases or if users leave for competitors.

Such worries may have dragged Robinhood’s stock down in its early trading, a notable move when stocks traditionally get a pop in their first day.

The relatively low initial pricing for the stock and its early fall were discouraging signs for Sandra Marvel, a 49-year-old investor from Raymore, Missouri, who had been planning on buying shares.

“I completely abandoned my plan,” she said Marvel. “It doesn’t look good. I think there are a lot better trades out there.”

Marvel, who left her job in insurance sales last year to trade stocks full time, has been using Robinhood since 2018.

The company has plans for big growth in the future, continuing its evolution since launching as a stock trading app only for iPhones.

“Over time, we want to be the single money app, the most trusted and most culturally relevant money app worldwide,” CEO Vlad Tenev said in an interview. “So, everything that you use your money for, you should be able to do through Robinhood.”

Among them, he said, were direct deposits of paychecks and paying bills online.

He also pushed back on criticism that Robinhood is making the stock market a casino by encouraging its customers to trade more often.

“I think it’s a big, big mischaracterization because if you look at it, the stock market has been one of the greatest wealth creation tools,” he said. “We should be encouraging access to it and not denigrating people that are able to use it. So in a sense, you’re hearing when wealthier customers are engaging in the stock market, it’s investing. But when the rest of us are accessing the stock market, it’s gambling.”

Robinhood’s stock debut is coming at a very welcoming time. With bonds paying very little in interest, investors are willing to pay much higher prices for stocks than they usually have been through history, and the S&P 500 is close to its record high.

Between 2001 and 2020 the average U.S. IPO returned 14.5% from the offer price on day one, according to Renaissance Capital. So far this year, the jump is even greater, at 34%. For IPOs that have raised at least $100 million, the average first-day return this year is 25%.

Robinhood itself raised nearly $1.9 billion in the deal, which it plans to use to expand and to help pay for expected tax obligations.

Stan Choe And Alex Veiga, The Associated Press

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