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Trucks will be the first phase of hydrogen-powered vehicles

After years of unmet promises, hydrogen vehicles could finally be catching on. If so, it'll be a convoy of clean semi-trucks — not a bunch of quirky passenger cars — leading the way.

The big picture: We've been hearing about zero-emission, fuel-cell vehicles for decades as the answer to our worries about fossil fuels and climate change. But even now, the economic and practical challenges are still too difficult to overcome — except, perhaps, for commercial truck fleets.


The state of play: Like carmakers, truck manufacturers are under intense regulatory pressure to cut carbon emissions.

  • Tesla is developing an electric semi-truck, but most manufacturers say electric trucks make sense only for shorter routes.
  • Strapping a bulky battery under a long-haul truck is impractical if it takes up space that could otherwise be used for revenue-producing cargo.

Driving the news: Several heavy-duty truck manufacturers this week announced they're rolling out hydrogen-powered big rigs.

How it works: Unlike conventional gasoline or diesel cars or trucks, fuel cell vehicles combine hydrogen and oxygen to power an electric motor. The only tailpipe emission is water vapor.

  • One advantage of hydrogen fuel cells over battery electric vehicles is that they can be refueled in less than 10 minutes, vs. 30 minutes to multiple hours for EVs, depending on the power source.

Between the lines: A number of automakers, including Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and General Motors, have tried to market hydrogen fuel-cell cars over the years with little success.

The biggest stumbling block to acceptance (aside from the cost of the technology) is finding a place to fill up.

Commercial trucks, on the other hand, don't require a large network of hydrogen fueling stations, especially if they're operating on set routes. An entire truck fleet can be refueled at a designated terminal.

  • Long-haul operators could build a series of hydrogen fueling depots, 400 or 500 miles apart, along heavily traveled routes.
  • Companies like Nikola even hope to produce hydrogen from renewable sources on-site at its fueling stations.

What to watch: Hyundai officials tell Axios they haven't given up on fuel cell passenger cars, and that the hydrogen ecosystem they're developing for trucks will eventually bring down costs and make hydrogen-powered cars feasible, too.

  • The catch: Battery technology, meanwhile, is leaping ahead, making electric cars cheaper and more appealing to consumers.
  • Yes, but: Rapidly increasing demand could pinch battery supply chains in a few years, warns mobility analyst Sam Abuelsamid of Guidehouse Insights.

The bottom line, says Abuelsamid: "I don't think we necessarily have a single solution. We could absolutely have both hydrogen and battery electric vehicles."

Post-debate poll finds Biden strong on every major issue

This is one of the bigger signs of trouble for President Trump that we've seen in a poll: Of the final debate's seven topics, Joe Biden won or tied on all seven when viewers in a massive Axios-SurveyMonkey sample were asked who they trusted more to handle the issue.

Why it matters: In a time of unprecedented colliding crises for the nation, the polling considered Biden to be vastly more competent.

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The murder hornets are here

Entomologists in Washington state on Thursday discovered the first Asian giant hornet nest in the U.S.

Why it matters: You may know this insect species by its nom de guerre: "the murder hornet." While the threat they pose to humans has been overstated, the invading hornets could decimate local honeybee populations if they establish themselves.

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Biden is highest-spending political candidate on TV ads

After spending an additional $45.2 million on political ads this week, former Vice President Joe Biden has become the highest-spending political candidate on TV ads ever, according to data from Advertising Analytics.

By the numbers: In total, the Biden campaign has spent $582.7 million on TV ads between 2019 and 2020, officially surpassing Michael Bloomberg's record spend of roughly $582 million. Biden's spend includes his primary and general election advertising.

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SurveyMonkey poll: Trump improves, but not enough

President Trump's final debate performance exceeded Americans' expectations, but it wasn't enough to shift the dynamics that left him trailing Joe Biden across most measures, according to a new Axios-SurveyMonkey poll.

What they're saying: "Liar" was the word used most by debate watchers to describe Trump's performance, followed by "lies," "strong," "presidential" and "childish." "Presidential" was the word used most to describe Biden's performance, followed by "liar," "weak," "expected" and "honest."

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Hunter Biden saga dominates online debate

Data: NewsWhip; Table: Axios Visuals

The mainstream media turned away. But online, President Trump's charges about Hunter Biden were by far the dominant storyline about the final presidential debate, according to exclusive NewsWhip data provided to Axios.

  • Coverage of business dealings by Joe Biden's son — and pre-debate allegations by one of his former business associates, Tony Bobulinski — garnered more than twice as much online activity (likes, comments, shares) as the runner-up.
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America was sick well before it ever got COVID-19

From high levels of obesity and opioid addiction to inequities in access to care, America's pre-existing conditionsmake the country an easy target for COVID-19, as well as future pandemics that could cripple the United States for decades to come.

Why it matters: One of the best ways the country could prepare for future threats — and boost its economy — is to improve Americans' overall health.

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Fauci says if people won't wear masks, maybe it should be mandated

NIAID director Anthony Fauci told CNN on Friday evening that if "people are not wearing masks, then maybe we should be mandating it."

Why it matters: Fauci made the comments the same day the U.S. hit its highest daily COVID-19 case count since the pandemic began.

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Harris to Black voters: Casting a ballot is about honoring your ancestors

Sen. Kamala Harris appealed to Black voters in Georgia on Friday, urging them to "honor the ancestors" by casting ballots, and again calling President Trump a "racist."

Why it matters: The U.S. saw a significant decline in African-American voter turnout between 2012 and 2016, reaching its lowest point since 2000. Higher turnout among Black Americans this year could tip the balance in favor of Democrats in key battleground states, including Georgia.

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