What Happened? Responding to the US government's request that they provide plans for what they would do with government loans, the Big Three automanufacturers presented their plans. Here's an overview of what they're asking.
The Big Three automakers all describe a 'perfect storm':
- sales down 30% or so from last year due to downturn in economy - credit markets frozen so they can't offer credit to car buyers, accelerating the decrease in sales. - All in various stages of transition to new technology (smaller vehicles, electric vehicles, more fuel efficient gas engines & drive trains, etc.)
'Help us through this rough patch,' they all seem to be saying, 'and we'll help you by not tanking the economy even further.' GM is the most direct in articulating the threat. "A failure by GM will likely trigger catastrophic damage to the U.S. economy..." while Chrysler goes into detail why a bailout is preferable to bankruptcy. Ford's the most upbeat. "We note that Ford is in a different situation from our competitors, in that we believe our Company has the necessary liquidity to weather this current economic downturn – assuming that it is of limited duration."
As sensors and computers continue to spread throughout the world they quantify our environment and offer the opportunity of real-time feedback. Case in point is Honda's new "Ecological Drive Assist System for Enhanced Real World Fuel Economy", a sensor/display system that learns your driving style and conditions you to become a more ecologically conscious driver.
Here's what the interface will look like:
And here's Honda's description of the new system:
TOKYO, Japan, November 20, 2008– Honda Motor Co., Ltd. announced the development of the Ecological Drive Assist System, which combines three functions to enhance fuel economy: the ECON Mode utilizes harmonized control of the continuously variable transmission (CVT) and engine to support more fuel-efficient driving; the guidance function uses speedometer color to provide real-time guidance on fuel-efficient driving; and thescoring function provides feedback about current driving practices, as well as feedback on cumulative, long-term fuel-efficient driving.
On November 20th California took a major step towards building out the state’s “green” infrastructure to support the electrification of the auto fleet towards vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors. State and local leaders gathered in San Francisco to announce a new public partnership with ‘mobility operator’ Better Place.
Better Place has big plans for California and has estimated that the network investment in the Bay Area alone will total $1 billion when the system is fully deployed.
We have featured several stories on Better Place and CEO Shai Agassi [Video Interview] to highlight the company’s vision for changing the business model for how cars are fueled. Better Place is moving quickly and has already negotiated infrastructure projects within Israel, Denmark, Australia, and Hawaii. Adding California to their list could be the tipping point. Not just for Better Place, but for how we think about fueling our vehicles with batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
The simplest translation of Shai Agassi’s disruptive vision?
To expand adoption of electric vehicles we must lower barriers for consumers and rethink our notions of infrastructure in a way that goes beyond the model of paying at the corner gas station pump.
Consumers should buy the car, but not the energy storage device (battery, fuel cell or capacitor). Remove the cost and risk of owning energy storage systems that might be improved in the next six months or a year. Instead consumers would subscribe to an energy infrastructure provider who offers a ‘pay per mile’ (e.g. mobile phone minutes) plan.
Drivers could recharge at a local station, or (pay attention!!) pull up to a station to ‘swap out’ an old battery (or solid block of hydrogen, other fuel cartridge) for a new container. It is this ‘swap out’ model that holds the greatest disruptive potential.
Flying planes has been the sort of thing that, to most, seems daunting enough to avoid entirely. Pilot’s license, cost of the plane, upkeep, runway dues, etc. Luckily for us, there’s a company out there which designed a small airplane that’s cheap, easy to handle, and drives like a car. Meet the ICON A5.
Designed for the budding sport-flying enthusiast, the A5 is more affordable than most small aircraft (it will cost an estimated $139,000) and is incredibly easy to operate having taken much of its cockpit design from cars. Its carbon fiber body ensures that it will be lightweight, durable and corrosion resistant to water. The wings also fold back for easy transportation.
[2008 Los Angeles Auto Show] Honda has revealed the FC Sport design study model- a three-seat sports car concept hydrogen powered electric car based on Honda’s V Flow fuel cell technology already deployed in the Honda Fuel Cell (FCX) Clarity sedan.
The lightweight sports car design has an ultra-low center of gravity, powerful electric motor performance and zero-emissions. The design study concept is inspired by supercar levels of performance through low weight and a high-performance, electrically driven fuel cell powertrain.
Hydrogen cars are electric cars!
While many journalists and bloggers are getting this story wrong and asking is the future ‘battery or fuel cell’- – the answer is both. Hydrogen fuel cell cars ARE electric powered cars! Hydrogen converted in a fuel cell produces electricity to power electric motors.
Pure battery vehicles are based on first generation energy storage systems. But cars are not iPods and next generation high performance electric vehicles- will combine batteries, fuel cells and capacitors! Not one device rules them all, and Honda understands this engineering reality!
Dr. Sebastian Thrun, Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University where he directs the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, went over the steps his team has made in developing a self-driving vehicle at RoboDev in Santa Clara today. He showed some incredible video of cars smashing into obstacles (sometimes even seeking other cars out to smash into) but ended with videos of their latest vehicle successfully navigating slowly around other moving cars.
The great thing about his presentation was his appeal not to the side that wants self-driving cars, but to a side we can all agree with — saving energy, lives, and time.
In saving energy, Dr. Thrun explained that 22% of the Nation’s energy consumption is used by cars. You also only use your car on average during about 10% of your day, making it useless the other 90%. If self-driving cars could be developed, one car could be used by multiple people. “You could be dropped off at work and then send the car back home to pick up your wife.” Added safety will also increase gas mileage since removing the extra weight of safety features (airbag, reinforced steel) would increase fuel efficiency by 30%. (It should also be noted that convoys reduce energy consumption by 11%-17%)
Nippon Paint Co. has developed a new gel-like paint to coat ships in order to reduce the drag they face on the water. The substance, developed with tuna and dolphins in mind, promises to improve fuel efficiency by 4%. That’s a considerable amount when you consider how much fuel the average tanker uses in an ocean crossing.
Not only does the gel-like paint reduce drag on the boat, it also fills in small imperfections in the hull that may be small but still have the overall effect of causing drag. Although the paint is three times more expensive than regular paint, the savings made over a year in fuel costs more than offset this investment.
Transportation is trying really hard to save money while saving the environment. One wonders if we’ve gone past the point where companies stop worrying about PR (does a shipping company need PR?) and just want to help out the environment. On top of gel-paint for hulls, you may have read about how the largest shipping company in China (COSCO) has signed a deal to develop solar sails for their tankers in order to reduce fuel usage by 20-40 percent. With Obama and Biden moving into the White House, the hope is that Biden (a huge supporter of trains) will help the train industry here in the US to greater heights as well.
MemeBox’s Garry Golden, Editor of The Energy Roadmap, just meme-blasted the minds of morning commuters across the country with his analysis of the near-term future of transportation and suggestions for our new President-elect. [Podcast of Interview]
Appearing on PRI’sThe Takeaway with John Hockenberry, Golden was asked how he would advise Congress and the upcoming Obama administration on the proposed U.S. multi-billion dollar auto industry bailout. He responded by unequivocally advocating the avoidance of “any further investments into the old combustion engine model” arguing that the country needs to quickly move past hybrids by leap-frogging “to an all-electric platform.”
Garry pointed out that “the electric vehicle is … going global quickly”, thus opening a market window to countries like China who are developing competencies in areas such as battery production. So it’s now incumbent upon U.S. companies like GM to successfully adapt to the new conditions, possibly by building out the new electrically powered chassis that will serve as platform for new transport structures.
Dean Kamen has jolted the world yet again with his latest contraption — A Stirling engine hybrid car.
The Stirling engine, for those in the dark, is an engine which derives its power from an external heat source. The amazing thing about it is that the heat source can be just about anything, even your own body. Kamen’s car, dubbed “REVOLT,” can run on any conventional fuel, from biodiesel to natural gas.
Despite the practicality of such an engine, development of the Stirling engine in the world has been trying at best. Weird to think that an engine, which runs on heat and was invented in 1816, could fall to the side all these years. But we’re starting to see the Stirling engine pop up more and more these days, especially in large solar arrays.
The Financial Times has obtained a draft copy of the International Energy Agency annual World Energy Outlook. The Paris-based IEA is a highly regarded information agency on the global energy sector. The report, which will be officially released next month, states that the world’s largest oil fields have a natural annual rate of output decline is 9.1 per cent. This suggests that the world will struggle to add capacity against such a steep decline. [We will not know IEA’s official figures until November 12th, but the issue of new capacity growth should not be dismissed.]
Peak Production, not Supply
Peak oil relates to extraction, production and new capacity, not total supplies. Even though oil is a finite resource, we are not ‘running out of oil’ – especially around non-conventional hydrocarbon resources. The real concern relates to our ability to increase production to meet growing global demand. The real question is how much can we ‘add’ in new capacity, at what cost and how quickly.
The central element of this story from the IEA, and a key concept to peak oil production, is the ‘rate of decline’ of existing oil field output. The Financial Time reports from the IEA draft “…as they (oil fields) mature it is the single most important determinant of the amount of new capacity that will need to be built globally to meet demand”.
Who is going to add new capacity?
The big question is – where will the oil come from? Forget about claims of ‘known or proven reserves’, there is plenty of oil in the ground. We must ask ourselves which countries and companies can bring massive amounts of oil online at a reasonable cost. This is where things look more uncertain.
Richard Heinberg writes with the Energy Bulletin: “This (9% decline) is a stunning figure. Considering regular crude oil only, this means that 6.825 million barrels a day of new production capacity must come on line each year just to keep up with the aggregate natural decline rate in existing oilfields. That’s a new Saudi Arabia every 18 months.”
CleanTech Group is reporting that Hyundai plans to sell commercial fuel cell electric cars in 2012 (not shown). The South Korean company is taking a bold step in anticipation that the future of electric vehicles will require tight integration of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Electric Vehicle Roadmap includes Fuel cells
The key to commercializing electric vehicles is to develop advanced energy storage devices. Batteries appear to be good enough, but not a great long term platform for automobiles. We can also store electricity in the form of chemical bonds of hydrogen and as a physical charge inside capacitors. (Imagine lightning in a box!)
Electric vehicles are not iPods- and require very different energy storage and delivery systems to match the performance of combustion engines. The future of electric vehicles is likely to evolve around the tight integration of all three major energy storage systems.
Hyundai understands this long term focus on integrating battery and fuel cells and might be trying to position itself in this new era of electric vehicles.
Hyundai’s decision stands out from the string of recent announcements from GM, Nissan, Rennault, China’s BYD, India’s Tata who all plan to sell commercial all battery electric vehicles by 2011. GM, Honda and now Hyundai have all been clear that they are not likely to bet the farm on an all battery energy storage system given the cost and performance potential of fuel cells.
Where are we in the Hydrogen Fuel cell Hype Cycle?
Want to think about a tough pill to swallow? Electric cars are not likely to make countries more energy independent. The US and Europe are likely to trade ‘foreign’ oil, for ‘foreign’ energy storage systems! And this might not be a bad thing. If we expect to transform the largest industries in the world (energy and transportation) it will have to be a global effort.
Key to Electric Vehicles – Asia & Energy Storage
If we look closely at recent announcements around electric vehicles, the future is looking very globally integrated and interdependent. Even as the US tries to grow its manufacturing base around ‘cleantech’ industries, Korea, China, and India are making strategic investments in the future of energy storage systems (batteries, fuel cells and capacitors) to power electric vehicles.
In the last few weeks Warren Buffet placed a $233 million bet on China’s BYD, a US firm purchased a Koren battery maker, India’s Tata announced plans to sell electric cars in Europe, and GM picked the unit of Korea’s LG Chem to supply batteries of its Volt electric car.
Today, Green Car Congress picked up a Reuters report that Korea’s number one refiner SK Energy is in talks with major automakers such as Daimler and Ford on the joint development of next-generation batteries used in electric cars. SK Energy is looking to leverage ‘separator’ components for lithium ion batteries that prevent overheating. SK joins the crowd of Exxon, Chevron and Toshiba who are getting involved in battery materials.
Selling a new message: The Eco benefits of being Global
In the months and year ahead leaders in the US and Europe might have to change their simplistic and nationalistic message of independence to reflect the complexities of the energy industry and the future. It will likely be globally integrated.
If the US and Europe expect to kill the combustion engine, and end the monopoly era of liquid fuels, they will need Asia and the rest of the world to join in the effort. This new message might better reflect the brutal facts of the global economy and fate of the planet – we’re all in it together whether we are talking energy finance, energy resources, energy emissions, energy software or energy storage.
The solar industry is growing globally. The wind industry is growing globally. Why not electric vehicles? Could that be an easier pill to swallow and a better image of the future?