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Facebook to create 10,000 jobs in EU for ‘metaverse’ vision

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In this photo illustration, the Facebook logo is seen on a smartphone screen with the EU flag in the background.

Chukrut Budrul | SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images

LONDON — Facebook plans to create 10,000 jobs in the European Union over the next five years in a push to build a digital world known as the “metaverse.”

The social media giant said on Sunday it would hire high-skilled engineers in countries across the bloc. The company is focusing its recruitment drive on Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland.

“Europe is hugely important to Facebook,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s head of global affairs, and Javier Olivan, vice president of central products, said in a blog post Sunday night.

“From the thousands of employees in the EU, to the millions of businesses using our apps and tools every day, Europe is a big part of our success, as Facebook is in the success of European companies and the wider economy.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined his vision for a metaverse in July. The metaverse is a term used to describe digital worlds in which multiple people can interact within a 3D environment.

Facebook recently unveiled what it called its first step into the metaverse — a work collaboration app where people hold meetings in virtual reality.

A number of other companies, including Microsoft, Roblox and Epic Games are investing heavily in their own versions of the metaverse.

“As we begin the journey of bringing the metaverse to life, the need for highly specialized engineers is one of Facebook’s most pressing priorities,” Clegg and Olivan said.

“We look forward to working with governments across the EU to find the right people and the right markets to take this forward, as part of an upcoming recruitment drive across the region.”

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Elon Musk has strong views on hydrogen. Not everyone agrees

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A car is fueled with hydrogen at the Frankfurt Auto Show IAA in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on September 13, 2017.

TOBIAS SCHWARZ | AFP | Getty Images

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has a history of expressing strong opinions about hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells.

A few years ago, when the subject came up during a discussion with reporters at the Automotive News World Congress, the billionaire and electric vehicle magnate described hydrogen fuel cells as “extremely silly.”

“It’s just very difficult … to make hydrogen and store it and use it in a car,” Musk said. “The best-case hydrogen fuel cell doesn’t win against the current case batteries, so then, obviously … it doesn’t make sense,” he added later.

“That will become apparent in the next few years. There’s … no reason for us to have this debate, I’ve said … my piece on this, it will be super obvious as time goes by, I don’t know what more to say.”

In the time since those remarks, Musk’s views don’t seem to have changed much, if at all. In June 2020 he tweeted “fuel cells = fool sells,”  adding in July of that year: “hydrogen fool sells make no sense.”

The tech

First things first: What underpins the tech Musk seems so skeptical of?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes hydrogen fuel cell vehicles — which are also known as fuel cell electric vehicles — as being “similar to electric vehicles … in that they use an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine to power the wheels.”

The key difference is that electric vehicles have batteries that need to be charged by plugging the vehicle into a charging point. Fuel cell vehicles, on the other hand, utilize hydrogen gas and, according to the EPA, “generate their electricity onboard.”

Read more about electric vehicles from CNBC Pro

Put simply, with fuel cells, hydrogen gas from a tank mixes with oxygen, producing electricity.

A fuel cell electric vehicle emits “only water vapor and warm air”, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center says.

A range of views

Musk is not alone when it comes to being unconvinced about the use of hydrogen in cars.

In February of this year, Herbert Diess, the CEO of German automotive powerhouse Volkswagen Group, weighed in on the subject.

“It’s time for politicians to accept science,” he tweeted. “Green hydrogen is needed for steel, chemical, aero … and should not end up in cars. Far too expensive, inefficient, slow and difficult to rollout and transport. After all: no #hydrogen cars in sight.”

Musk and Diess are two high-profile figures at the helm of major companies with huge influence and reach. What they say carries weight. It would appear, however, that their views aren’t shared by everyone in the autos sector.

To date, firms including Toyota and Hyundai have produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, while smaller manufacturers such as Riversimple are also working on hydrogen-powered cars.

In June, the BMW Group said it had started to test vehicles that use a hydrogen fuel cell drivetrain, with the company describing hydrogen fuel cell tech as having the “long term potential to supplement internal combustion engines, plug-in hybrid systems and battery-electric vehicles.”

Although these products obviously don’t account for the bulk of car sales at this moment in time — Riversimple won’t actually sell its cars, offering them on a subscription service instead — that such a range of companies are working on fuel-cell offerings at all shows some see potential in the technology.

“Fuel cell cars will certainly play a part in decarbonizing transport,” a spokesperson for Toyota told CNBC.

“As and when refueling infrastructure expands, they will offer a convenient alternative form of electrified transport over a fully electric BEV [battery-powered electric vehicles],” they said.

Toyota viewed hydrogen “as an alternative to fossil fuels in all manner of settings, including heating, lighting, haulage, mass transit and heavy industry,” the spokesperson said.

“The range of hydrogen applications will increase, enabling cheaper, more efficient power supply and we’ll increasingly see hydrogen powering cars, buses, trains and trucks,” they added.

In a statement sent to CNBC, the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association expressed a similar viewpoint.

Fuel cell electric vehicles and hydrogen energy, the FCHEA said, offered customers “a zero-emission option with performance they expect and no change to daily routines — long range, quick refueling, and the ability to scale to larger platforms without adding restrictive weight and size.”

The FCHEA went on to say there was a “tremendous opportunity for fuel cell electric cars and fuel cell-powered material handling vehicles.”  

“Also, given the limitations of battery weight and recharging for long haul trucking, a significant opportunity also exists for medium- and heavy-duty delivery vans, trucks, buses, trains, and planes,” it said.

Indeed, as governments around the world attempt to develop low and zero emission transportation systems, the notion of using hydrogen fuel cells in larger vehicles is starting to be explored by a broad range of companies.

Read more about clean energy from CNBC Pro

In a recent interview with CNBC, the CEO of Daimler Truck was asked about the debate between battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cells. Balance, Martin Daum argued, was key.

“We go for both, because both … make sense,” he said, going on to explain how different technologies would be appropriate in different scenarios.

“In general, you can say: If you go to city delivery where you need lower amounts of energy in there, you can charge overnight in a depot, then it’s certainly battery electric,” Daum said.

“But the moment you’re on the road, the moment you go from Stockholm to Barcelona … in my opinion, you need something which you can transport better and where you can refuel better and that is ultimately H2.”

“The ruling is not out, but I think it’s too risky for a company our size to go with just one technology.”

Versatility

Daum’s comments on fuel cells touch upon the idea that they could, eventually, find a home in heavier forms of transport covering long distances, hauling cargo and, in some cases, ferrying people from one destination to another.

He’s not alone in taking this view. The European transport giant Alstom, for instance, has developed the Coradia iLint, which it describes as “the world’s first passenger train powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.”

In aviation, plans to operate commercial hydrogen-electric flights between London and Rotterdam were announced in October, with those behind the project hoping it will take to the skies in 2024.

In construction, JCB, a major player in the sector, said last year that it had developed an excavator “powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.”

Weighing 20 metric tons, the company said the vehicle had been tested for over 12 months, adding that the “only emission from the exhaust is water.”

Challenges

While there is a sense of excitement about the use of hydrogen fuel cell technology in a variety of applications, the path to any mass rollout may not necessarily be a smooth one.

Earlier this year, Honda ceased production of its Clarity plug-in hybrid and fuel cell models, although the company did make a point of saying that fuel cell electric vehicles would “play a key role in our zero-emissions strategy.”

Elsewhere, the U.S. government has cited a number of challenges. These range from the durability and reliability of fuel cells to vehicle cost.

“The current infrastructure for producing and getting hydrogen to consumers cannot yet support the widespread adoption of FCVs,” it adds.

In February 2020, Brussels-based campaign group Transport and Environment hammered home just how much competition hydrogen would face in the transportation sector.

T&E made the point that green hydrogen — which is produced using renewables — wouldn’t only have to “compete with grey and blue hydrogen,” which are produced using fossil fuels. “It will compete with petrol, diesel, marine fuel oil, kerosene and, of course, electricity,” T&E said.

“Wherever batteries are a practical solution — cars; vans; urban, regional and perhaps long-haul trucks; ferries — hydrogen will face an uphill struggle because of its lower efficiency and, as a result, much higher fuel costs.”

Bridging the gap between battery electric and fuel cell vehicles will be a huge task, as the International Energy Agency’s Global EV Outlook 2021 notes.

According to that report, registrations of fuel cell electric vehicles “remain three orders of magnitude lower than EVs as hydrogen refuelling stations … are not widely available and unlike EVs cannot be charged at home.”

The race to dominate the low and zero emission future of 21st-century transportation is underway.

When it comes to cars, battery electric vehicles are in a strong position with firms such as Tesla leading the charge, but the road to success is never a straight one. Watch this space.



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Chinese tech companies are just starting to go global, VC says

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Ben Harburg, managing partner at MSA Capital speaks to CNBC’s Evelyn Cheng at the annual East Tech West retreat in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, China on Dec. 1, 2021. Harburg discussed Chinese tech companies’ ambitions to go global.

CNBC

GUANGZHOU, China — Chinese technology companies are considering expanding overseas much earlier in their lifecycles, a venture capitalist told CNBC — marking a shift in attitude among firms in the world’s second-largest economy.

That shift has been prompted in part by China’s tighter regulatory scrutiny on technology as well competitive pressure in certain sectors, according to Ben Harburg, managing partner at venture capital firm MSA Capital.

“It’s also forcing Chinese companies much earlier in their lifecycle to think about going global,” Harburg said at CNBC’s annual East Tech West conference in Nansha, south China.

Read more about China from CNBC Pro

Harburg said that a few years ago, his venture capital firm was working with social media or cross-border e-commerce companies that were more mature. But today, early-stage companies in sectors from artificial intelligence to health care are going global or “thinking about plotting their globalization strategy,” he said.

Such Chinese firms could find that their business models work in emerging markets, in particular, Harburg said.

“Our view was that Chinese business models are global best practices, especially for emerging markets, because the way that Chinese consumers have evolved with technology is much more reminiscent of the way the next wave of consumers in India and Pakistan and Egypt and in Nigeria, and Brazil, will engage with technology,” he said.

There are only a handful of examples of Chinese technology firms finding success overseas in the past. But in more recent times, there has been a rise in China-based tech companies growing their international businesses.

Beijing-based Xiaomi is now the third-largest smartphone player by market share globally — thanks to big gains in India. Chinese tech giant ByteDance’s short video app TikTok has a billion monthly users globally.

Chinese fashion brand Shein has also caught on with young Western consumers.

Meanwhile, giants like Alibaba and Tencent continue to expand their overseas businesses.

“I think maybe there’s the perception that this is, you know, this is kind of the pinnacle of China’s expansion into these markets,” Harburg said.

“But our view is that this is just the tip of the spear, and that there is a long tail of Chinese built companies addressing financial services, education, health care, and other social applications in both emerging markets and even in more mature markets.”

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Omicron Covid variant, bitcoin volatility watched

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LONDON — European stocks are expected to open higher on Monday as investors continue to monitor developments around the omicron Covid variant and bitcoin volatility.

The U.K.’s FTSE index is seen opening 56 points higher at 7,165, Germany’s DAX 136 points higher at 15,259, France’s CAC 40 up 72 points at 6,815 and Italy’s FTSE MIB 199 points higher at 26,107, according to data from IG.

European markets are set for a positive start to the trading week although the picture is more mixed at a global level.

Stocks in Asia-Pacific dropped on Monday as investors monitored bitcoin prices after they fell sharply over the weekend. Meanwhile, oil prices jumped during early Asia trade, rising more than 2% in Asia trading hours after mostly falling last week on Covid uncertainty and the OPEC+ plan to increase output in January.

Stateside, stock futures were higher even after a losing week on Wall Street as investors ditched equities amid concerns over the new omicron Covid variant and the Federal Reserve’s move to tighten policy. At least 15 U.S. states have detected the omicron coronavirus variant now.

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The heavy selling in technology stocks last Friday extended to cryptocurrencies with bitcoin prices volatile throughout the weekend. Bitcoin traded around $57,000 on Friday morning, but by Saturday had fallen to around $43,000. By Sunday the world’s largest cryptocurrency had recovered some of its losses, but it still traded below the key $50,000 level; it is currently trading around $49,058.

Data releases in Europe on Monday include German industrial orders in October, the euro zone sentix index for December and a first estimate of Greece’s gross domestic product in the third quarter.

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— CNBC’s Pippa Stevens and Weizhen Tan contributed to this market report.

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