What’s Up: Week of November 23rd

Facebook’s Libra currency to launch next year in a limited format 

The long-awaited Facebook-led digital currency Libra is preparing to launch as early as January, reports the Financial Times. However, according to the media sources, it will be an even more limited format than its already downgraded vision. 

Initially, Libra Association said that it had planned to launch digital versions of several currencies, plus a “digital composite” of all of its coins. This followed regulators’ concerns over its initial plan to create one synthetic coin backed by a basket of currencies. However, the association would now initially launch a single coin backed one-for-one by the dollar. The other currencies and the composite would be rolled out at a later point. Libra’s exact launch date would depend on when the project receives approval to operate as a payments service from the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority. 

First launched in June 2019, the scaling down of Libra’s vision comes as it has received a skeptical reception from global regulators, who have warned that it could threaten monetary stability and become a hotbed for money laundering. 

In April, the association announced it was overhauling its vision to address regulators’ worries, limiting its scope and promising extra measures to police its system for abuse. 

EU promises to be self-sufficient in electric vehicle batteries by 2025

The European Union could produce enough batteries by 2025 to power its fast-growing fleet of electric vehicles without relying on imported cells, reports Reuters.

As part of its plan to become climate neutral by 2050, the EU wants to boost local production of the building blocks for green industries – including hydrogen fuel to make low-carbon steel and batteries to power clean vehicles.

According to European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, “the EU will be able to produce enough battery cells to meet the needs of the European automotive industry, and even to build our export capacity.” Today, China hosts roughly 80% of the world’s lithium-ion cell production, but Europe’s capacity is set to expand fast.

Europe has 15 large-scale battery cell factories under construction, including Swedish company Northvolt’s plants in Sweden and Germany, Chinese battery maker CATL’s German facility, and South Korean firm SK Innovation’s second plant in Hungary.

Sefcovic said by 2025 planned European facilities would produce enough cells to power at least 6 million electric vehicles.

Snapchat launches TikTok-like feature ‘Spotlight’

Snap rolled out a new feature, “Spotlight,” that would allow users to share short-form videos publicly in its Snapchat app, adding a service that would compete with ByteDance-owned TikTok and Instagram Reels. Users, who could previously share snaps or stories with friends, can now share them directly to Spotlight and garner more followers, reports Reuters.

The company said it would give about $1 million every day throughout the remainder of 2020 to users whose snaps make it to the top of the platform in a bid to boost engagement with the feature. Facebook earlier this year launched Instagram Reels – the company’s version of TikTok wherein users can record short mobile-friendly videos, then add special effects and soundtracks pulled from a music library.

China to launch moon probe, seeking first lunar rock retrieval since 1970s

China plans to launch an unmanned spacecraft to the moon k to bring back lunar rocks in the first attempt by any nation to retrieve samples from Earth’s natural satellite since the 1970s, reports Reuters.

The Chang’e-5 probe, named after the ancient Chinese goddess of the moon, will seek to collect material that can help scientists understand more about the moon’s origins and formation. The mission will test China’s ability to remotely acquire samples from space, ahead of more complex missions. If successful, the mission will make China only the third country to have retrieved lunar samples, following the United States and the Soviet Union decades ago.

Since the Soviet Union crash-landed the Luna 2 on the moon in 1959, the first human-made object to reach another celestial body, a handful of other countries including Japan and India have launched moon missions.

The Chang’e-5 mission may help answer questions such as how long the moon remained volcanically active in its interior and when its magnetic field – key to protecting any form of life from the sun’s radiation – dissipated.

Siemens, Deutsche Bahn launch local hydrogen trains trial

Siemens Mobility and Deutsche Bahn have started developing hydrogen-powered fuel cell trains and a filling station, which will be trialed in 2024 to replace diesel engines on German local rail networks, reports Reuters. 

The prototype, to be built by Siemens, is based on the electric railcar Mireo Plus which will be equipped with fuel cells to turn hydrogen and oxygen into electricity on board and with a battery. Siemens mobility chief executive Michael Peter told the train combined the possibility to be fed by three sources in a modular system – either by the battery, the fuel cell, or even existing overhead lines, depending on where it would run. Rail transport must be decarbonized over the long-term under European Union and national climate targets. The new prototype will be fuelled within 15 minutes, have a range of 600 km, and a top speed of 160 km/hour. It will be tested between Tuebingen, Horb, and Pforzheim in Baden Wuerttemberg state in Germany.