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Nuclear-fusion reactor smashes energy record

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The experimental Joint European Torus has doubled the record for the amount of energy made from fusing atoms — the process that powers the Sun.

A 24-year-old nuclear-fusion record has crumbled. Scientists at the Joint European Torus (JET) near Oxford, UK, announced on 9 February that they had generated the highest-ever sustained energy from fusing together atoms, more than doubling their own record from experiments performed in 1997.

“These landmark results have taken us a huge step closer to conquering one of the biggest scientific and engineering challenges of them all,” said Ian Chapman, who leads the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE), where JET is based, in a statement. JET is owned by the UK Atomic Energy Authority, but it’s scientific operations are run by a European collaboration called EUROfusion.

 

If researchers can harness nuclear fusion — the process that powers the Sun — it promises to provide a near-limitless source of clean energy. But so far no experiment has generated more energy out than it puts in. JET’s results do not change that, but they suggest that a follow-up fusion reactor project that uses the same technology and fuel mix — the ambitious US$22-billion ITER, scheduled to begin fusion experiments in 2025 — should eventually be able to achieve this goal.

“JET really achieved what was predicted. The same modelling now says ITER will work,” says fusion physicist Josefine Proll at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, who was not involved in JET’s research. “It’s a really, really good sign and I’m excited.”

Two decades’ work

The experiments — the culmination of almost two decades’ work — are important for helping scientists to predict how ITER will behave and will guide its operating settings, says Anne White, a plasma physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge who works on tokamaks, reactors like JET that have a doughnut shape. “I am sure I am not alone in the fusion community in wanting to extend very hearty congratulations to the JET Team.”

 

JET and ITER use magnetic fields to confine plasma, a superheated gas of hydrogen isotopes, in the tokamak. Under heat and pressure, the hydrogen isotopes fuse into helium, releasing energy as neutrons.

To break the energy record, JET used a tritium fuel mix, the same one that will power ITER, which is being built in southern France. Tritium is a rare and radioactive isotope of hydrogen that, when fusing with deuterium, produces many more neutrons than do deuterium reactions alone. That ramps up the energy output, but using this fuel required JET to undergo more than two years of renovation to prepare the machine for the onslaught. Tritium was last used by a tokamak fusion experiment when JET set the previous fusion energy record in 1997.

Record DT shot 99971

JET contained two types of heavy hydrogen, deuterium and tritium, in fusion experiments performed last year.Credit: EUROfusion consortium

In an experiment on 21 December 2021, JET’s tokamak produced 59 megajoules of energy over a fusion ‘pulse’ of five seconds, more than double the 21.7 megajoules released in 1997 over around four seconds. Although the 1997 experiment still retains the record for ‘peak power’, it was over a fraction of a second and its average power then was less than half that of today, says Fernanda Rimini, a plasma scientist at the CCFE who oversaw the latest experimental campaign. The improvement took 20 years of experimental optimization, as well as hardware upgrades that included replacing the tokamak’s inner wall to waste less fuel, she says.

Power ratio

Producing the energy over a number of seconds is essential for understanding the heating, cooling and movement happening inside the plasma that will be crucial to run ITER, says Rimini.

Five seconds “is a big deal”, adds Proll, who works on an alternative fusion-reactor design called a stellarator. “It is really, really impressive.”

Last year, the US Department of Energy’s National Ignition Facility set a different fusion record — it used laser technology to produce the highest fusion power output relative to power in, a value called Q. The facility produced a Q of 0.7, where 1 would be breakeven — a landmark for laser fusion that beat JET’s 1997 record. But the event was short lived, producing just 1.9 megajoules over less than 4 billionths of a second.

JET’s latest experiment sustained a Q value of 0.33 for five seconds, says Rimini. At one-tenth of the volume, JET is a scaled-down version of ITER — a bathtub compared to a swimming pool, says Proll, and because it loses heat more easily it was never expected to hit breakeven. If engineers applied the same conditions and physics approach to ITER, she says, it would probably reach its goal of a Q of 10, producing ten times the energy put in.

Fusion researchers are far from having all the answers. A remaining challenge, for example, is dealing with the heat created in the exhaust region of the ITER reactor, which will increase in area compared with JET, but not proportionally with the surge in power it will have to deal with. Research is under way to work out which design would best withstand the heat, but they’re not there yet, says Proll.

The record-breaking run happened on the last day of a five-month campaign from which Rimini says scientists gleaned a wealth of information that they will analyse over the coming years. The final experiment pushed the device to its “absolute maximum”, adds Rimini, who witnessed the record-breaking test in real-time. “We didn’t jump up and down and hug each other — we were at 2 metres distance — but it was very exciting.”

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-00391-1

Great Barrier Reef on verge of another mass bleaching after highest temperatures on record

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‘Shocked and concerned’ US government scientists say heat stress over Australia’s ocean jewel is unprecedented.

Economic Watch: January Job Growth Triples Expectations

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Executive Summary

  • The U.S. added 467,000 jobs in January, triple the consensus expectations of 150,000. This higher-than-expected improvement, coupled with sharply higher revised job growth in November and December, shows that despite headwinds from the omicron variant, the U.S. economy has strong momentum.
  • Leisure & hospitality gained 151,000 jobs, the most of any sector.
  • The labor participation rate increased by 30 basis points to 62.2%. Workers returning to the labor force caused the unemployment rate to tick up by 10 basis points to 4.0%. Wage growth was very strong with a 5.7% year-over-year increase.
  • Significant upward revisions were made to November and December job growth. December was revised to 510,000 from 199,000 and November went to 647,000 from 249,000.
  • CBRE maintains a positive outlook for the economy and commercial real estate in 2022. With higher-than-expected inflation, the Fed has signaled a tightening of monetary policy in 2022 by ending its asset purchases (quantitative easing) and raising interest rates, both likely beginning next month, along with decreasing the size of its balance sheet later in the year.

Impacts on Commercial Real Estate

Office

Office-using jobs increased by 95,000 in January. Professional & business services gained 86,000 and financial activities added 9,000. Although the omicron variant is clearly disrupting work routines and the timing of workers returning to the office, this job growth bodes well for demand later in the year.

Industrial

The warehousing & storage sector gained 13,400 jobs in January and manufacturing added 13,000. Healthy consumer balance sheets, improved supply chain operations, and e-commerce growth are positive portents of continued robust industrial & logistics real estate demand.

Retail

Traditional retail gained 61,400 jobs in January, while food services & drinking places added 108,200. This strong growth was recorded despite a surge in COVID infections from the omicron variant. A strong labor market and healthy consumer balance sheets underpin positive expectations for retail in 2022.

Construction

The construction sector lost 5,000 jobs in January, with heavy & civil engineering construction down 9,500. Residential building jobs grew by 3,600, while nonresidential added 400. Although disrupted supply chains and labor shortages will remain problematic over the near term, strong economic growth and relatively low-interest rates underpin a positive outlook for the construction industry.

Health Care

Health care gained 18,000 jobs in January. Ambulatory health care (outpatient services) added 14,700, while hospitals gained 3,400 and nursing & residential care lost 100. Long-term trends continue to support demand for healthcare real estate.

Hotels

Accommodation services gained 22,600 jobs in January; however, continued COVID uncertainty could slow the sector’s recovery in the months ahead. Although business and international travel will be most impacted, recovery is expected to resume once the omicron wave wanes.

Multifamily

Continued strong job and wage growth will support household formation. As economic activity recovers in large cities and COVID infections subside, urban multifamily markets should see additional improvement. Expectations of strong demand, amid a shortage of new housing, will support the sector.

The Bottom Line

The U.S. economy remained resilient in the face of omicron, with January job growth well above expectations and sizeable upward revisions in the November and December job numbers. This will reinforce the Fed’s plan to tighten monetary policy by ending quantitative easing and raising interest rates several times this year, both likely beginning in March, along with reducing its balance sheet later in the year.

Financial market volatility likely will continue for the next several months, as investors adjust to a new interest rate environment. This volatility should diminish somewhat as inflationary pressures ease in the second half of the year. Even with higher interest rates, the U.S. economy will continue to expand thanks to consumer strength and a greater ability to mitigate the impacts of COVID. This, in turn, will support real estate demand as the year progresses.

Small Businesses Hit Hard by Omicron with Staffing Shortages, Inflation, and Supply Chain Issues

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Worried businesswoman at office

Taking the Pulse of America’s Small Business Sector: January 2022

By Daniel Newman

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Business Pulse Survey provides timely insight into the condition of the country’s small business sector as economic conditions continue to evolve through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This analysis primarily covers data from December 27th to January 16th, the final weeks before the survey went on hiatus until mid-February.

Here are five things we learned about the small business economy this week:

The Omicron surge has made it difficult for many small businesses to operate at full capacity, particularly in the accommodation and food services industry. The latest Covid-19 surge stymied many employers’ efforts to operate at full capacity last week, leading to a noticeable uptick in the number of small businesses grappling with a decrease in the number of paid employees (14 percent) or a decline in employees’ hours worked (24 percent). Amid the wave of infections that have been sweeping the country, nearly 8.8 million people were out of work in early January either because they suffered from Covid-19 symptoms or were caring for someone who felt sick. That number is the highest reported since the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey began tracking trends early in the pandemic. The accommodation and foods services sector has been particularly hard hit, and more than one-quarter of that industry’s businesses reported a decline in the number of paid employees last week. At the same time, 40 percent had a decrease in the number of hours worked by employees — a level not seen since the end of 2020 amid a similar jump in infections but before vaccinations had really ramped up.

A growing share of small businesses has dealt with falling revenues in recent weeks—the first substantial increase since late 2020. There was a steep increase in the percentage of small businesses reporting a fall in revenue last week: Just over one-third of businesses reported a decline in income, up from 22 percent in late November and the highest share in more than a year. The decrease in revenues comes at a challenging time for many consumers and businesses alike, as widespread concern over inflation has infected nearly every corner of the economy. Nationally more than three-quarters of small businesses on average reported moderate-to-large price increases compared to a pre-pandemic normal, with the construction industry reporting the most widespread effects (91 percent).

Supply chain issues eased somewhat in late December, only to tick up again in the new year. Over 14 percent of small businesses faced production delays in the past week—a high point since tracking began in the summer of 2020. Domestic supplier delays, in particular, remained a core contributor to the production slowdown, as more than 45 percent of small businesses nationwide were experiencing this problem, a level just below the all-time high recorded in the survey results from mid-November 2021. While the effects are widespread across the country, certain industry sectors have been particularly hard hit: ​​manufacturing, retail trade, construction, as well as accommodation and food services.

A small but increasing share of businesses requires proof of vaccination or a negative test result to work and are primarily concentrated in just a handful of states.

The share of small businesses requiring employees to show proof of vaccination or a negative test before coming to work has steadily ticked up by several percentage points in recent weeks. Around 15 percent of small businesses nationwide required employees to have received a vaccine, while just under 16 percent required workers to have a negative test before coming to work. Some of the states where businesses report being most negatively affected by the pandemic, such as New York, California, or Washington, are much more likely to require proof of vaccination to work.

Despite the Omicron surge, half as many businesses foresee the need for additional financial assistance as did a year ago amid growing concerns over inflation, supply chain woes, and tight labor markets.

Even as Congress discusses the possibility of another round of assistance to small businesses reeling from the effects of the Omicron surge, the needs of businesses have changed significantly over the past year. In January 2021, more than one-third of businesses indicated a need for financial assistance or additional capital, yet that share has shrunk by more than half to 16 percent last week. As economic circumstances continue to evolve and businesses look to their needs over the next six months, many have instead identified the need to hire new employees (41 percent) and find new supply chain options (23 percent) as growing priorities relative to a year ago.

Joe Rogan releases apology video after clips of N-word use and a racist story go viral

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Spotify removed more than 70 episodes of his podcast after India Arie posted a montage that Rogan says ‘looks horrible’

Just after Spotify removed around 70 episodes of Joe Rogan’s podcast without offering an explanation, Rogan posted a video on Instagram apologizing for saying the N-word on his show in the past (via New York Times). In his apology, Rogan specifically addresses a clip compilation, which was shared by singer India Arie, that shows Rogan saying the N-word repeatedly during podcast episodes over several years.

“I know that to most people, there is no context where a white person is ever allowed to say that word, never mind publicly on a podcast, and I agree with that now,” Rogan says. “Instead of saying the N-word, I would just say the word. I thought as long as it was in context, people would understand what I was doing.”

A source close to the situation told Bloomberg that Rogan chose to remove these episodes after discussing it with Spotify, however, this still hasn’t been confirmed by the company. The Verge reached out to Spotify with a request for comment but didn’t immediately hear back.

Rogan says the clips were taken “out of context,” and that he used the N-word when talking about comedians, such as Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, and Lenny Bruce, who used the word in the past. He also apologizes for another clip in which he compares being in an area with a large population of Black people to the film Planet of the Apes, and says that “immediately afterward” he told the story he called it “a racist thing to say.” According to Rogan, he chose to delete that episode because it was “clunky.”

Arie shared the compilation on her Instagram story just days after she announced her departure from Spotify. Arie joins artists Neil YoungJoni Mitchell, and Nils Lofgren in leaving Spotify in protest of Rogan’s podcast. But unlike Young, Mitchell, and Lofgren, who are protesting the podcast over its potential spread of COVID-19 misinformation, Arie says she’s troubled by Rogan’s “language around race.”

 

Verizon’s phone contracts are all three years now

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Buy the device at full price or pay monthly installments for three years

If you’re looking to buy a new phone at Verizon, you now only have two options: buy the device outright, or pay monthly installments for three years. As reported by Droid Life (via Android Police), Verizon appears to have gotten rid of its 24- and 30-month contracts for all devices — including phones, hot spots, and smartwatches — and has instead extended it to 36 months.

Verizon’s payment program FAQ page explains that there isn’t any interest attached to the 36-month plan, and you can choose to pay off the phone in full whenever you want. What you can’t do, however, is pay more than your set monthly installment — so unless you can pay off the entire device, you’re locked into the three-year plan. If you’ve agreed to a 24- or 30-month plan before February 3rd, 2022, Verizon says you won’t be affected by this change.

As phones get more expensive, with more than a few crossing into $1,000 territory, it’s no longer uncommon for us to want to hold onto our smartphones for several years. Plus, a number of phone manufacturers still roll out updates several years after a phone’s release, killing the urge to upgrade our devices (at least for some of us). As a bit of a recap, Samsung phones get security updates for four additional years, Apple provides updates on devices for five to seven years, and Google offers updates on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro for five years. But not all phone companies are so generous (looking at you, Motorola), so you might want to look into your phone’s software update policy before you’re locked into a three-year contract.

That said, it’s unclear when exactly Verizon shifted towards longer contracts, but it seems like it’s a little late to the game. AT&T has already gotten on board with the idea, as the company started offering just three-year contracts last year. And while T-Mobile started experimenting with the idea of 36-month plans in 2018, it has since gone back to offering only 24- or 30-month plans.

Cincinnati Brewery Expanding Production At Its OZ Facility

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Bircus Brewing Company, a restaurant and craft brewery based in the Cincinnati area, is expanding production in its Ludlow, Kentucky facility. Bircus Brewing offers a unique entertainment experience, providing beer, music, circus acts, magic, and comedy.

The company currently has two locations in Ludlow and Covington and will expand to Cincinnati this year. The Ludlow headquarters is located in an Opportunity Zone.

Bircus is also offering an opportunity for the public to invest in the business in $250 increments. “I want them to not just experience the show, but to proudly own a piece of the brewery as we expand, because we couldn’t have done it without their support during COVID,” said Paul Miller, founder of Bircus Brewing.

‘Obsessed with optics’: The paradoxes of the UAE’s plan to get to net zero

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The UAE was my home. Its policies could make it uninhabitable.

Last year, Chris Hemsworth took a moment out of training for the sequel to his latest action film, Extraction, to promote the upcoming World Expo in Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, or UAE. In a video featuring flying robots, levitating trains, and what appeared to be a terraformed Mars, the one-time “sexiest man alive” beckoned viewers to “the future.” Silver stallions galloped in the air as Hemsworth danced with a robot in a pink luminescent dress.

“This is Dubai,” his voice boomed. “And this is the world’s greatest show.”

The reality has been less fantastical. In October, opening day festivities at the Expo were marred by visitors fainting from temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. When I visited in late November, they still hovered around 90 degrees in the afternoon. The sugar cane and banana trees planted around the site looked parched, the leaves brown and droopy.

Though the heat may have come as a shock to the international tourists at the Expo, for me it felt familiar. Growing up in the Emirates, I was accustomed to 100-degree days. Summer months in the UAE were usually punctuated with news of construction worker deaths and videos of reporters and residents attempting to fry eggs on the sun-scorched pavement — and often succeeding. Still, after a few years in California’s Bay Area, I couldn’t help but be amazed that a place can be this hot in late autumn.

I had returned to my childhood home to visit family and explore the Dubai Expo. You’ll be forgiven if you haven’t heard of it. Commonly known as a world’s fair, the Expo is an international showcase that takes place once every five years, providing an opportunity for each country to promote its accomplishments and self-image. The Expo typically shows off technological innovations and architectural marvels: The Palace of Fine Arts near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, for instance, is a remnant of the 1915 World Expo and was meant to prove to the world that the city had recovered from the 1906 earthquake.

A traditional band performs in front of Terra, the Sustainability Pavilion at the Dubai Expo on November 27. GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images

The Dubai Expo, which finally opened in October after a year of COVID-related delays and will run through the end of March, is built on a sprawling 1,083-acre site on the outskirts of the glistening metropolis. Each country has exhibits in one of three pavilions dedicated to the broad themes of mobility, opportunity, and, most curiously, sustainability. No expense appears to have been spared to prove the sustainability pavilion’s green bona fides. At its center sits Terra, a saucer-shaped building with solar panels on its roof. Along with 18 solar “energy trees” surrounding it, Terra produces enough energy to sustain itself and is expected to receive LEED Platinum certification. It also collects rainwater and dew that it recycles for use on-site.

But as with the UAE itself, a different picture emerges when you scratch the Expo’s sleek surface. While Terra may be producing its own renewable energy, the Expo’s water is supplied by desalination, an energy-intensive process that removes salt from seawater and is primarily dependent on burning oil and gas. And while the Expo is powered by a solar park nearby, Dubai is still reliant on the Al Hassyan coal plant — the only such facility in the entire Middle East.

The UAE rose to global prominence over the last four decades on the strength of oil and gas reserves unearthed in the middle of the last century, and fossil fuels remain responsible for almost a third of the country’s gross domestic product. Though its oil production pales in comparison to larger neighboring rivals like Saudi Arabia, the small Gulf nation nevertheless accounts for about 6 percent of global petroleum exports. Oil funded the country’s rapid growth and famously lavish lifestyles. Today, its per capita carbon footprint is among the highest in the world — higher even than that of the U.S.

The country is nevertheless trying to position itself as a leader on climate action. In 2017, it announced a national climate change plan, and more recently it unveiled plans to produce half of all its energy needs from renewable sources. It aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and just won a bid to host next year’s COP28, the United Nations conference that brings countries from around the world together to coordinate climate action.

Still, the UAE is not kicking fossil fuels anytime soon. Construction of the Al Hassyan power plant began just a few years ago, shortly after the country expanded its environment ministry’s mandate to tackle climate change and as it announced it would teach climate change in schools. In its energy strategy for 2050, the country expects “clean coal” will provide 12 percent of its energy needs. Another 50 percent will come from “clean energy” — presumably solar — and nuclear power. How the country plans to square emissions from coal and natural gas with its net-zero goal is unclear.

Visitors at the Expo’s sustainability pavilion walk by an exhibit showing rising carbon dioxide emissions. Grist / Naveena Sadasivam

What’s more, the country’s net-zero goal ignores an enormous swath of its carbon ledger. In 2020, the UAE’s state-owned oil company announced the discovery of new oil reserves and efforts to increase oil production by almost 20 percent by 2030. A quirk in global carbon accounting rules mean that the petrostate may well cut carbon emissions domestically and reach its net-zero targets while continuing to expand oil and gas exports. Someone will burn those fuels — but as long as it’s not the country that pulled them out of the ground, it doesn’t count against the UAE’s ambitious targets. For this reason, the country’s climate strategy calls into question the meaningfulness of net-zero plans and exemplifies why some scientists oppose net-zero targets altogether.

Qais Al Suwaidi, the director of the climate change department at the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, said in a written statement that given the country’s significant cooling needs, renewables alone cannot meet the power demand. He said that “oil and gas will remain a part of the energy mix for a while” and that the UAE’s oil and gas sector has been “at the global forefront of adopting climate-friendly industry practices.” Al Suwaidi also referenced carbon capture efforts planned for the coal plant and a solar-powered hydrogen facility as examples of clean energy solutions.

“We believe that cleaner fossil fuels can play a vital role in the energy transition by capturing CO2 from large point sources, such as power plants, and storing it safely underground instead of releasing it into the atmosphere,” he said.​​

Ultimately, the UAE’s climate efforts may amount to nothing more than a creative way to extend the shelf life of its oil and gas assets. Every drop of oil that it conserves domestically — where energy is heavily subsidized — can be exported globally at market price.

“They don’t want to be left with a valueless asset in the future,” said Justin Dargin, a Middle East energy expert and a former Harvard University research fellow. “So they’re trying to produce as much as possible and export it before that nail in the coffin for oil consumption.”

The UAE is home for me — although it has never accepted me as one of its own. I’m one of the hundreds of thousands of people whose families immigrated to the country in the 1990s on work visas. After being overlooked for a promotion at the telecommunications company he worked for in southern India, my dad one day declared he was going to find a job in the Middle East. Within six months he moved to Saudi Arabia. When he found a job in Dubai a couple of years later, my mom and I joined him. I was five at the time.

As a child, I didn’t understand the tradeoffs my parents made. For college-educated South Asians, the UAE offered career opportunities and economic mobility. It was safe and relatively socially progressive. The home was just a four-hour flight away, and to top things off: No taxes. In exchange, we lived with the uncertainty of being second-class in a country that wanted our labor but offered no safety net. We were on the lower rungs of a social hierarchy that valued native Emiratis and Western ex-pats. We had no path to citizenship no matter how long we lived there. We lived with the knowledge that if the ruling sheikhs woke up one day and decided we were no longer useful to them, we would be on the next flight out. For this reason, my dad converted one of his old briefcases into a go-bag. Stored on a shelf above his neatly-ironed office wear, it held our passports and other important documents. I memorized the briefcase’s code when I was nine.

Photos of Grist reporter Naveena Sadasivam growing up in Dubai. Courtesy of Naveena Sadasivam

None of this struck me as odd growing up, though we spoke in hushed tones when we criticized the rulers because we’d heard a tenth of the population spied for the government. During the summers, we surmised that the government tampered with weather reports because the temperature never officially hit 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), even though it sure felt like it.

It’s only as an adult, having moved out of the country, that I’ve been re-examining my childhood memories. We still don’t really know how many people spy for the government, but we do know that the country has used Israeli spyware to track dissidents and launched a messaging app that covertly spied on users. And while there’s absolutely no evidence the government altered weather reports, it was an easy rumor to believe considering the country’s notoriously harsh conditions for migrant workers doing manual labor. Given the rulers’ determination to build the tallest buildings, the largest malls, and man-made islands, it seemed impossible they’d let a little heat stand in their way, even though we’d heard local laws required outdoor work to halt above 50 degrees C. It was easier to imagine that the government would tweak weather reports instead.

Another reason these rumors seemed believable is that the country has always been obsessed with optics. It has carefully concocted an image that projects luxury, prosperity, and a sort of multicultural progressiveness. Dubai’s ruler has long been a fixture at the Royal Ascot, wearing a sharp top hat and hobnobbing with British royals. When the world’s airlines cut back amenities after the 2008 recession, Dubai’s airline, Emirates, doubled down with first-class cabins, in-flight showers, and lie-flat beds. Emirates continues to sign multi-million dollar deals with soccer clubs in the United Kingdom, a practice it began in the early 2000s. You can’t watch a soccer match anymore without seeing a flash of Emirates’ logo on a jersey or on a sideline board on the field. The glitz obscures the harsh reality of life for many who built the country.

At the same time, it’s no exaggeration to say that the UAE — and Dubai in particular — has been a pioneer in the Middle East. When my family moved to Dubai, most hadn’t heard of the city, let alone could correctly point it out on a map. But three decades later, Dubai has become a tourist destination and trade hub, while the UAE is a powerful broker in Middle Eastern politics and a close ally of the United States. So much of its success is a credit to the country’s savvy rulers, who spent billions of dollars in profits from oil and gas exports to turn the dusty desert city into a gleaming metropolis. Its model of development has been inspirational to other Gulf countries.

The Dubai city skyline, as photographed in February 2021. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

When the UAE developed industrial zones for trade and manufacturing and poured billions into developing Dubai as a tourist destination, neighboring Gulf countries aped the strategy. After Dubai launched the Emirates airline, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman followed suit. After Abu Dhabi signed deals with the Louvre and Guggenheim to build art museums in the city, Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia raced to build their own.

The UAE’s latest sustainability efforts may be both a recognition of its role as a regional leader and a public relations ploy to maintain its polished progressive image. It’s already working: After the UAE announced its net-zero target during COP26, Saudi Arabia announced a net-zero target of its own.

Ghiwa Nakat, the executive director of Greenpeace’s Middle East and North Africa office, said that it’s important to view the UAE’s climate efforts in the context of others in the region, where climate change has not been a priority. In this context, “we have to give [the UAE] credit,” she said.

“UAE has always had a pivotal leadership role in the region, and they are very good at challenging the status quo and driving positive change in the region,” said Nakat. “If anyone could drive this change within the region and achieve real zero [emissions], it’s UAE.”

Jim Krane, a longtime Associated Press correspondent who was posted in Dubai and is now a professor at Rice University in Houston, Texas, views the UAE’s attempts to stay ahead of the pack in business terms. “The UAE, and Dubai in particular, have always tried to get first-mover advantage,” he said.

Workers bend rebar at a construction site in Dubai in 2007. KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images

True to its reputation as a country of superlatives, the largest solar park in the world is being built in Abu Dhabi, the Emirati capital. The UAE has also promised to invest $163 billion in renewable energy by 2050 and has committed to providing $400 million to a fund that helps accelerate the energy transition in developing countries. The fund is managed by the ​​International Renewable Energy Agency, which is headquartered in Abu Dhabi.

The UAE’s investments — in green energy, aviation, tourism, trade, and expanding fossil fuel exports — seem almost perfectly calibrated to get the country to net-zero with as little sacrifice as possible. Like fossil fuel production for export, aviation and shipping emissions are not included in a country’s emission totals. Even emissions from Emirates, which is owned by the Dubai government and is the largest international airline in the world, are not added to the UAE’s carbon footprint. Similarly, shipping emissions from Dubai’s bustling ports are ignored.

The UAE has several other advantages: It imports 80 to 90 percent of the food it consumes, and its agricultural emissions are miniscule. Land is abundant, sunshine is plentiful, and an autocratic system of government means few bureaucratic hurdles and fewer concessions to public opinion.

“They’ve got a long way to go,” Krane summarized. “But it’s going to be an easier ride for them than it would be for many other countries.”

Even if it overshoots its goals, the UAE is poised to continue contributing to a warming planet. With no exit strategy for oil and gas production and the country’s coffers still heavily reliant on fossil fuels, Greenpeace’s Nakat warned that the UAE’s sustainability efforts could all be for naught. “They have to reduce their exports,” she said, “because even if it’s not burnt locally, the fossil fuel that is exported will have an impact on them.”

As the planet continues to warm, the UAE’s nearly 10 million residents will feel its effects acutely. The Middle East has been warming at a rate twice the global average, and the UAE is already 1.5 degrees C warmer than the preindustrial baseline. Researchers have found that if temperatures continue to rise, extreme heatwaves will make Dubai and Abu Dhabi uninhabitable by 2070.

A view of Burj Khalifa and the Dubai skyline covered by fog during a winter sunset in 2018. Artur Widak/NurPhoto

Summers in the UAE have always been a challenge. Some of my earliest memories are tied to the relentless, draining heat: Sweating through my gray pinafore in elementary school, second showers after school, turning on the cold tap only to be blasted with scalding water. The sweet relief of stepping onto air-conditioned buses in fourth grade. Excitedly waiting for the winter months because it meant barbecues and picnics every weekend.

While the heat was mostly an inconvenience for me, it was deadly for others. At the height of its construction boom, the UAE depended on cheap labor mostly from South Asian countries. (Today, almost 90 percent of the UAE’s residents are expatriates, and half of all migrant workers are South Asian.) Many migrant laborers, particularly those who worked in the construction industry, were overworked, underpaid, and often found themselves trapped in a system of exploitation. With their passports seized by their employers, they were required to work long hours in the punishing heat, where many died of heat stroke. To this day, tallies of worker deaths and their causes are hard to come by.

The UAE is notoriously secretive about migrant worker deaths, blaming “natural causes” for the lives cut short. By one estimate, nearly 34,000 Indian migrant workers died in Gulf countries between 2014 and 2019. During the Expo construction alone, officials said three workers had died due to construction-related fatalities, but they declined to say how many had died offsite. The European Parliament asked countries to boycott the Expo in part due to the UAE’s “inhumane practices toward foreign workers” and “exposing them to extreme working hours in unsafe weather conditions.”

According to a report by the International Labor Organization, workers lose half of their work capacity as temperatures reach 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures routinely approach 120 degrees during summer months in the UAE. As the planet warms, the report projects that the UAE will lose the equivalent of 164,000 full-time jobs due to lost productivity by 2030 — the highest among Arab countries. And that’s not counting how many migrant workers may lose their lives.

Al Suwaidi, the UAE climate ministry official, said that the country is already taking steps to adapt to a changing climate. It has introduced a compulsory two and a half hour midday break for all outdoor workers during the summer months and a heat stress index is being used to gauge workplace safety. “I​t is necessary that we mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, and build a climate-resilient future for the next generations,” he said. “Not taking action is not an option for us.”

Construction workers drink water at a building site in Dubai in 2007. Temperatures in the city regularly exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer months. KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images

The effects of climate change are also set to alter the UAE’s coastline. The country’s seven Emirates, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi, lie along the coast, and the cities have developed billions of dollars worth of waterfront properties. Dubai has also created entire man-made islands in the shape of palm trees and a map of the world. Luxury hotels, bungalows, and apartment buildings boasting sea-front views line the islands. As the seas rise, both the UAE’s coast and the islands are likely to be submerged. Under one extreme climate scenario, researchers predict that sea levels along the UAE’s coast will rise by 9 meters, flooding most of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

It’s unclear whether Expo organizers considered climate projections in selecting its location. After the Expo winds down in March, the structures built for it are supposed to be repurposed into a “smart and sustainable city” called District 2020. If Dubai executes this plan, it may just put more people in harm’s way. Even a “mild” two-meter rise in sea levels will likely submerge the Expo site.

On the sticky November day I visited, no one appeared to be thinking about such dire futures. In the sustainability pavilion, people seemed thrilled to be outside and marvel at Dubai’s latest architectural wonders. Temperatures were dropping, winter was almost here, and with the Omicron variant still early in its spread, the mood was jubilant. As a group of men in kanduras tested their mizmars and drums, readying to sway to a traditional Emirati folk song, my tour guide leaned in with a bemused smile.

“I don’t know what they told you when you bought the tour,” he half-laughed. “Most people don’t want any sustainability knowledge. You tell them, ‘no water, no food’ — they don’t want that. They want some fun, some entertainment.”

Update: This article has been updated to include comment provided by UAE officials.

Omni OZ Fund Targets Clean Fuel Technology

Aerial top view oil and gas chemical tank with oil refinery plant background at twilight.

The Omni OZ Fund is seeking to raise up to $300 million to fund the development of a processing plant that will produce a clean fuel to be sold to refineries and distributors. GreenMix fuel can reduce up to 45% of carbon output and eliminate upwards of 80% of other harmful chemicals emitted by car engines.

According to Omni, the finished clean fuel will be blended with unleaded gasoline to produce a product with higher gasoline octane.

The fund is seeking to raise $50 million in its series A round with a minimum investment of $100,000. In total, it is seeking $300 million of investment. The fund indicated that the GreenMix fuel processing plant could be operational within 12-18 months.

 

Omni OZ Fund

This fund will raise the necessary capital to produce an energy industry first GreenMix Fuel (methanol/ethanol blend) Processing Plant. The finished product can be mixed with unleaded gasoline at the refinery level, or at the distribution level, for clean-burning fuel in automobiles, while providing a significantly lower carbon emission and better performing cleaner fuel.

Fund Manager: Omni OZ Fund
Asset Classes: Business
Fund Size: $300M
Minimum Investment: $100K
Portfolio Type: Single-Asset
Fund Status: Open to new investors

Fund Contact Information

For additional information on this fund, contact:

Profitable Veterans Housing In Opportunity Zone, With Kim Kuhle

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Opportunity Zones provide many benefits, including federal capital gains tax advantages for investments made in these areas. Socially conscious investors are also turning their attention to opportunity zones, as QOFs offer local communities housing and supportive services for residents.

Kim Kuhle is the CEO of the Veterans Victory Opportunity Fund (VVOF), a private-equity real estate Qualified Opportunity Fund (QOF) designed as a vehicle for investors with capital gains equity.

Click the play button above to listen to our conversation with Kim.

 

Episode Highlights

  • How the Opportunity Zone program offers tax benefits to investors making qualified investment in a Qualified Opportunity Funds (QOF).
  • The power of opportunity zones to generate positive social impact alongside risk-adjusted returns.
  • How to achieve the full tax benefits of opportunity zones and the specific tax incentives they provide.
  • How to integrate the needs of local communities into the formation of Qualified Opportunity Zones.
  • Holistic real estate developments and supportive services for veterans in Qualified Opportunity Zones.
  • The types of opportunity zones capturing investors’ interest right now.
  • How solar tax credits work for businesses and the benefits of these systems.

Featured On This Episode

Industry Spotlight: Veterans Victory Housing & Small Business Centers

Veterans Victory Opportunity Fund – Colorado Springs, CO (VVOF) is a private-equity real estate Qualified Opportunity Fund (QOF) designed as a vehicle for investors with capital gains equity. Funds will be used to purchase, construct and renovate a mixed-use property marketed to Veterans, resulting in ADA-accessible, green multifamily apartments, business offices and programs for Veterans that create above-market returns for the investor. VVSBC will be built in 10 other cities.

Learn More About Veterans Victory Housing & Small Business Centers

About The Opportunity Zones Podcast

Hosted by OpportunityDb.com founder Jimmy Atkinson, The Opportunity Zones Podcast features guest interviews from fund managers, advisors, policymakers, tax professionals, and other foremost experts in opportunity zones.

Show Transcript

Jimmy: Welcome to The Opportunity Zones podcast. I’m your host, Jimmy Atkinson. Joining me today is Kim Kuhle, CEO of Veterans Victory Housing and Small Business Centers. She has an opportunity zone fund, which focuses on developing communities for veterans in opportunity zones, and she joins us today from Omaha, Nebraska. Kim, welcome to the show.

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Kim: Thank you.

Jimmy: Great to be with you here today, Kim. Really excited to dive into this topic and the services that you’re providing to our nation’s veterans. So to start us off, could you tell me and our listeners, what exactly is it that you’re doing? Tell us a little bit more about Veterans Victory Housing.

Kim: Yes, I’d love to. Veterans Victory Opportunity Fund is basically private equity real estate, and it’s located in Opportunity Zones. Our first one is Colorado Springs. It’s a vehicle for investors who care about veterans and want to invest in the programs we’re offering. So we basically have a mixed-use project, single-asset project in Colorado Springs. Our first one is 15 acres. It’s at the top of the hill. We have 15 small business offices and 240 apartments on a gorgeous campus together with programs, and we’ll get into that a little bit later.

Jimmy: Yeah, I’ll ask you about the programs in a minute here, but first, I wanna learn more about why you started this, Kim. Give us a little bit more of your backstory and how you got involved.

Kim: Sure, I’d love to. I was born on an air force base and my family moved around a lot to different air force bases while my dad was a supply lieutenant. And then, fast forward, my mother, she was part of an explosion, and my father went to visit her at the hospital and he had a heart attack while seeing her in the burn ward. So then we learned the devastation of the impact of the terrible post-traumatic stress disorder that comes from a traumatic event. And then I realized that I had the skills to build an opportunity zones fund, and I cared passionately about veterans. So my particular mixed-use housing and small business opportunity features some healthy living programs, and it provides support for entrepreneurs.

My mother went on to be an award-winning real estate broker, and she went all over the world helping victims of crime. So I’m one of the first individuals to say that people who have post-traumatic stress disorder through wartime events can go on to run excellent businesses. So that’s my mission, and I’m really excited that opportunity zones programs came about because I’m able to show my financial prowess and I can provide 20% to 26.8% internal rate of return for the investors.

Jimmy: And a lot of that return is derived from the system of revenue production that you’ve developed under what you refer to as the five main programs of this concept. And the five programs I’m just looking at your slide deck now, Kim, you identify as, one, the Digital Connection Program, two, the Veteran-Owned Small Business Development Program, three is the Holistic Healthy Housing Program, four, the Innovative Business Investment and Risk Reduction Program, and five, the Carbon Footprint Reduction Program, where you’re taking advantage of some solar and other types of energy-efficient materials. Could you go through each of those programs one by one, tell us a little bit more about each one and how they’re helping the overall program that you’re developing?

Kim: Yes. First of all, we’re working with AdvantEdge Technology that’s owned by GTSD Global and it has 20 patents. So our Digital Connection Program is helping us in several ways. We’re running our utility management system and the solar system through the technology. Plus, we’re providing a database for our veteran entrepreneurs to find each other and buy and sell among veterans through the database. We’re also providing higher, faster broadband technology through this technology. And we’re also providing the street lighting and the security monitoring systems for our real estate.

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So my husband works in a factory and really I’m using factory principles. All factories run on two or three shifts. At my entrepreneurial campus, Veterans Victory Housing and Small Business Center Campus, I’m basically running money-making programs on the same site, but the rental income is enough to pay the investors handsomely. It’s just that we have more programs that bring in more money. So the Veteran-Owned Small Business Development Program is another one of those money makers, and that’s where the veterans pay rent and they get access to the state of the art database and the technology and the quick broadband. Plus, the veterans are in a community, they’re supporting one another, encouraging each other to land those veteran preference military and construction contracts. And as we know through the National Build Back Better Program, there are more contracts with the government available than ever before. Veterans get a preference on every one of the contract bids.

Next, we have Holistic Healthy Housing, and that’s where we’re totally ADA-accessible. We already have 40 units rented because we’re providing supportive, permanent housing to some veterans. And we have really fun programs, we have an art center, we have yoga, all the classic gymnastics programs, plus we have a physical therapy program that brings us money. And then next, we have the Innovative Risk Reduction Program. That’s a partnership with banks, where we help the bank, including my very own bank, TBK Bank, get community reinvestment at credit for the loans and the investments that they make as well as the small business seminars that they provide on-site. We think that we’ll probably have a bank branch at each one of our Veteran Victory Housing and Small Business Centers.

And then finally, we have my most favorite part and that is renewable energy. We are using the roof and the canopies over the parking stalls to collect the energy from the sun. And our architects designed our building so that we could have maximum collection. And that’s really exciting because the opportunity zone program gives us an extra financial incentive for providing renewable energy services. So we just can’t be more excited about all the money-making aspects of Veterans Victory that help everything work together very beautifully for the investor.

Jimmy: Yeah, it’s remarkable, the scope of what this project is trying to accomplish here, a very impressive list of those five programs there. Tell us a little bit more about the opportunity zone fund itself. And I’m also curious, is it a single-asset fund that’s only investing in this initial Colorado Springs development, or is it a multi-asset fund? Because I know you have more projects coming down the pipeline and we’ll discuss that a little bit later in the episode. And then, how much are you still looking to raise, and is it still open to investors? Tell us everything you can about the fund, if you don’t mind, Kim.

Kim: Yes. Well, my attorneys are brilliant. They developed the single-asset funds and the idea is to have one of these in each of the target cities that we’re working in. And then that allows the local investors to get really excited about the project. And it’s working very beautifully already because the owners of the land that I purchased the first 15 acres from became our key advocate, and they’re working in the entire veteran community in Colorado Springs to tell the great story that we have. And also, the original landowners say, “Hey, this is one of the better deals. It doesn’t matter that it’s in an opportunity zone. The rate of return is outrageously high in comparison to other real estate.”

So, yes, we have a single-asset fund, but then we also have this other fund and it’s a $15 million impact fund. So there could be a large investor out there that wants to invest in several locations and maybe that investor just wants to invest in 30% of the equity that’s needed, and that’s fine, we can take that $15 million impact fund investor and include him or her in each one of our single-asset funds in the other cities. So we think we just have the excellent combination where we can attract investors that want the really high dollars and they also want to have their name attached to a social impact program. We also have the ability to take $10,000 in investment from the neighbor.

We have one board member and neighbor and volunteer, and he’s a provost marshal from the army. He’s so excited. He wants to take his tractor up to the top of our hill at our location, and he wants to help the engineers and the builders actually build Veterans Victory. He’s probably going to come in at $25,000, and we love him just as much as we will love the $20 million investor. Now, what we need right this minute is another $18 million to close out Veterans Victory Colorado Spring, and they need the investment desperately because the city needs 25,000 units of housing today. And the city is growing 1.6% every year, so we already have a waiting list, and we’re working on that waiting list and we expect to be totally rented up before we even open our doors.

Jimmy: Well, that’s incredible. Kim, I love this concept for a lot of reasons. One, its social mission and helping our nation’s veterans is incredible and very much needed in this country. And not only that, but it’s also profitable through those five programs. And not only that, but it’s also an opportunity zone fund, so there’s these amazing tax incentives. But speaking of tax incentives, the opportunity zone fund is not the only tax incentive program that you’re taking advantage of here that is benefiting your investors in the long run, but I know you are also stacking a lot more state and local tax incentives and some additional federal tax incentives. You have some solar tax credits, I would imagine, or some sort of PACE financing that you’re able to take advantage of. Can you tell us a little bit more about all of the different types of incentive programs that this fund is taking advantage of?

Kim: Yes. Well, it’s really exciting because we do have the potential of getting the PACE funding. And what that means is that I can combine a bigger package of the AdvantEdge Technology and the HVAC systems, the silver lighting systems, anything that has moving parts. I can combine everything and get more PACE financing, which is a long-term financing program. And I can buy more beautiful things for our veterans, and at the same time, make sure that I have maximum value for the 10-year buyout of the investors at 10 years and one day.

So my whole concept is about using the time value of money so that I can make sure that my investors have a great return when they walk out with their appreciation, their dividends, their rental income, all capital gains tax-free in 10 years. So it’s really exciting. I’m working with banks to get the new market tax credit investments for the small business side, and respecting the number of people that are using low-income housing tax credits. And I’m actually avoiding using those because so many other people depend upon them, and I’m purposely trying to create a new model where I can prove that the opportunity zone investment program is a success and it is right for growing distressed communities.

A number of people debated against opportunity zone legislation because they said rich people will just get richer on it, but I can prove that there are many wealthy investors that want to do a great job. And just look at the impact, 315 new jobs at the Colorado Springs location, 240 new homes, 150 new veteran-owned businesses creating 600 jobs, 67 million in green construction. And yes, I’m working with the State of Colorado. They have the most advanced incentive program for solar technology. I’m pretty sure that we’ll get a very fine, handsome enhancement for our solar technology. Plus, we’re sitting in an enterprise zone. You name it, I’m going after any incentive that I can because I’ll be able to provide more for my investors and more for my veterans with the total brilliant package of various incentives.

Jimmy: Yeah, and that’s what it’s all about. You’re doing a terrific job there, Kim, it sounds like. And so you’re well underway right now with this initial development in Colorado Springs, but you do not want that to be the full story. You are targeting several other markets and projects, and you’ve got several in the pipeline, including South Sioux City, Grand Junction, Jacksonville. I know there’s several other cities. Can you tell us a little bit more about the target markets that you’d like to go after and some of the other projects that are in your pipeline?

Kim: Yes, I’m going after high-growing communities that have the potential for a rapid improvement. Basically, we know that every $10 million of investment creates 45 jobs. And if we’re going into some real distressed areas, then we can make a huge impact more quickly. And all throughout San Benito, we’re so excited because we’re able to build 360 apartment units in San Benito for first responders, border patrol, and veterans. Plus, we’re doing the entrepreneurship offices and retail space and that’s at RVG Epicenter. So we’re marrying the advanced technology with that and doing our whole program there.

Now, in South Sioux City, we’ve got a very unique opportunity. We’re partnering with community collaborative, and that means our Veterans Victory will own for-profit offices, and we already have them free rented by the nonprofit community. Twenty nonprofits are in this collaborative, and they want to do a rent-to-own program. So our Veterans Victory will help these new nonprofits grow up to be landowners, office owners within 10 years. We’re in Sioux Falls. We’re going to do a single-family housing program in Sioux Falls with veterans’ preference. We’re in Omaha and we’re doing the same project. We’ve got a targeted space within one mile of 40 veteran programs. We’re near Sac, of course.

In Jacksonville, it’s very exciting. We’re going to do some work with the navy, and we have a place picked out that is just about one mile away from the stadium there in Jacksonville. In Tucson, we’ve got a place picked out that’s just a rocks throw away from the hospital. So each community will represent a different type of partnership and a different specialty, and we totally anticipate that we will be able to buy our materials for the Veterans Victory at a discount because we’re going in at a quantity situation. And we also anticipate that our clients, our veterans, our business people will interact with each other and introduce something that’s even better as a community of Veteran Victories than we could provide individually.

Jimmy: Well, it’s an amazing concept, incredible investment product that you have here, Kim, and it’s been a pleasure speaking with you about today. And I hope our listeners learned a lot and they get in touch with you if they wanna learn more. Where can our listeners go to learn more about you and Veterans Victory?

Kim: Well, we just use the simple website title and it’s just the usual www.vvsbc. So it stands for Veterans Victory Small Business Centers. And I do have the call to action. I’m asking everyone to tell other people about the veteran preference for military contracts, all kinds of government contracts. I’m also asking everyone promote veterans as they seek their jobs and start their businesses. And then we do need equity, investment dollars, and capital gains investment dollars. We even have a nonprofit where we’re helping veterans when they need extra items such as wheelchairs, or prosthetic arms, or you name it. Whatever the veteran needs, our nonprofit will try to provide that.

Jimmy: Terrific. Well, I appreciate it there, Kim. And that URL again was vvsbc.com stands for Veterans Victory Small Business Centers, vvsbc.com, to learn more about the Veterans Victory Housing and Small Business Centers and the Veterans Victory Opportunity Zone Fund which Kim manages. And Kim, I wish you nothing but the best of luck in the future. I’m curious to see where you can take this over the next several months and years. For our listeners out there today, as always, I will have show notes for today’s episode on the Opportunity Zones Database website. You can find those show notes at opportunitydb.com/podcast, and there you’ll find links to all of the resources that Kim and I discussed on today’s show. Kim, again, it’s been a pleasure. I appreciate you spending some time with us and coming on and telling us more about Veterans Victory Housing and Small Business Centers. Thanks, again.

Kim: Thank you, Jimmy. Take care.