Just a short post to clear up a common mistake made by the media on the future of electric cars:
We do not have to choose between ‘electric’ versus ‘hydrogen’ cars. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are electric vehicles. The only alternative to the combustion engine is an electric motor. The question is – what should power that electric motor? Batteries or fuel cells? Why not both?
Good News: Electric vehicles are coming!
The good news is that stories on electric vehicles are popping up all over the web. Bloggers and mainstream media outlets are covering announcements for production volumes of electric vehicles that are coming from every corner of the world. Sooner or later a leader will step up a confirm our plans to kill the combustion engine-’.
Bad news: People confuse electric motors for energy storage devices
The bad news is that while trying to describe ‘the future’ most bloggers and journalist fall back on merely describing a snapshot view of today. Then they extrapolate it forward assuming the past will dictate the future. They see battery powered electric cars and assume this is the future.
Cars are not iPods, and batteries alone cannot carry the auto industry forward. While there is no doubt that the first generation of electric vehicles are going to be built around advanced lithium ion batteries, next generation electric vehicles (circa 2015-2025) are likely to integrate three different energy storage systems- batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors.
So while bloggers and journalists often describe uncertainty about the direction of the auto industry by asking: Is the future car powered by a battery or fuel cell? – the answer is both.
Hydrogen stored as a solid, then converted in a fuel cell produces electricity.
Hydrogen fuel cell cars are electric vehicles.
A ‘hydrogen economy’ is an economy driven by electricity. H2 is just the chemical storage system.
Earlier we made a bold forescast that an old industry giant, Johnson Controls, could become one of the most relevant (and greenest) companies in the 'new energy economy' as it delivers energy management solutions, and enables the transition to electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Now we're adding DuPont to that list of companies to watch in the new energy economy.
A New Vision for American Competitiveness? Speaking to an attentive crowd at the Detroit Economic Club, DuPont Chairman and CEO
Charles Holliday, Jr. described a 'unique time for transformation' and called on the United States to improve its global competitiveness via sustainability.
"As industries shift to address the new reality, innovative, science-based products that provide the solutions must lead the way. Speed, agility and transformative science are needed today as never before. Success during this time is ultimately going to come down to two very key concepts: sustainability and competitiveness. Without sustainability, it will be hard for a business to remain competitive in the new reality."
The Detroit Project Holliday also supported the proposal for the 'Detroit Project', a 'Manhattan Project' style effort to develop a new, energy-efficient vehicle that could achieve 75 miles per gallon. The U.S. Council on Competitiveness has proposed funding for the program to come from a U.S. savings bonds program to stimulate U.S. personal savings and provide financing for U.S. infrastructure investments like the Detroit Project.
Why DuPont?Does the Auto Industry need help from the World of Science?
Researchers at the University of Illinois are working on developing a synthetic polymer which would hopefully self-heal scratches and cracks on items that get constant human and environmental exposure. "Applications range from automotive paints and marine varnishes to the thick, rubbery coatings on patio furniture and park benches." In other words, when someone dings your car door it can be good as new in just a few minutes or hours depending on the weather.
How does it work?
The self healing polymers are made up of two components: a catalyst and a healing agent. These chemicals are stuffed into small spheres about 100 microns in diameter and put onto the surface of an object. When scratched, the small spheres break open and mix, forming a healing agent that repair the surface. In tests with a steel beam where a scratch was delivered by a razor blade, the steel coated with the polymer was found to be fine while the one without rusted.
Self-healing products of course have a vast array of possibilities that are useful. Anything metal rusts, wood gets scratched or chipped, and hard drives can rack up some serious wear and tear if you're not careful. Self-healing coatings on products could extend the life of your goods for years longer than they should have lived. Combined with a superhydrophobic surface, our gadgets will look years from now just as good as the day you bought them.
What went wrong? Everyone has their own reasons for why automakers are failing: Labor costs, oil, management, credit markets, et al. All have valid points. And, obviously there are multiple problems, not one issue.
But I have a very different theory and set of presriptions.
The problem isn't oil, it's the combustion engine and its legacy liabilties of intensive manufacturing, limited design and obsession with 'new car' sales paradigm.
Our great opportunity? The problem is based on how we build and sell cars, not how we fuel them. So let's focus on the platform of a post-combustion engine era of mobility.
How do we get there? You cannot summon the future on demand with band-aid solutions, you must enable it and wait for it to change.
Our priority should be to enable a multi-decade long transition that changes how cars are bought, sold, driven and upgraded.
21st Century Vehicles: Focus on Wheel-based Electric Motors, Energy Storage and Software...
American Industrial leaders might be ready to reinvest in the country's industrial capacity to innovate and manufacture components needed to reinvent the energy and auto industries.
The keys to electric vehicles are electric motors, energy storage systems (batteries, fuel cells and capacitors) and drive by wire systems.
The US has now formed a new coalition to pursue the biggest prize: Energy Storage!
Pride or Profits? US playing catch up with Asian What if electric cars didn't bring America and Europe 'energy independence'? The public relations failure of trading 'foreign oil for foreign batteries', has motivated US business leaders to form a coalition to seek federal funding for securing a domestic battery industry.
The Chicago-baesd National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture will include 14 companies and the US DOE's Argonne National Laboratory. 'The Alliance' will be modeled around Sematech which helped the U.S. semiconductor indutsry play catch up to Asian manufacturers in the late 1980s
The founding members of the Alliance include 3M, Johnson Controls, ActaCell, All Cell Technologies, Altair Nanotechnologies, Dontech Global, EaglePicher Corporation, EnerSys, Envia Systems, FMC, MicroSun Technologies, Mobius Power, SiLyte, Superior Graphite, and Townsend Advanced Energy.
Short term vs Long view of 'Electric' We have been writing for several months about the globalization of electric vehicle industry, and Asia's early lead in the first energy storage device lithium ion batteries.
We have also suggest that the 'car is not an iPod', and that 'pluggin in' battery systems are not the default future of electric vehicles. It is not certain that batteries can solve the energy storage problem.
Ask a lawyer or engineer if there is something wrong with this plug in picture!
Instead, next generation vehicles will integrate batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, and capacitors. But industry leaders, politicians and the public seem only ready to take one step at a time, and for now talk is focused on first generation storage of batteries. So we will crawl instead of leap into the future.
The US Fuel Cell Council is now lobbying Congress for more than a billion dollar investment to accelerate America's manufacturing position around this important piece of the future energy sector.
Energy Storage - Sprint vs Marthon Even though Asia appears to have won the sprint towards next generation 'batteries', the US could regain its position in energy storage and conversion around the marathon race towards fuel cells.
Fuel cells convert chemical energy (e.g. hydrogen, methanol, natural gas) into electricity. They can be used for stationary power to reinforce the electrical grid with onsite generation, or to power portable devices and electric vehicles.
Fuel cells are not Dead, just Misunderstood There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty and skepticism towards fuel cells among eco and energy bloggers. The technology fell victim to the 'Hype Cycle' after the Dotcom Bust in 2000, but the energy conversion platform has been making steady progress in recent years. Their long term advantages in terms of cost per kilowatt, performance durability, scalable modular manufacturing are still complelling reasons to support fuel cells as alternatives to batteries and combustion engines.
USFCC's Recommendations: Now, the USFCC believes the invesment could create an estimated 24,000 jobs and is recommending funds for: Deploying Fuel Cells ($100 Million), Supporting a Fueling Infrastructure ($65 million), improving Federal Fuel Cell Investment Tax Incentives, expanding applied Learning Demonstrations ($375 Million) building foundation for American Manufacturing Capacity ($100 Million), accelerating Research in Partnership with Industry ($350 Million), investing in Fuel Cell Transit ($180 Million) and including Fuel Cells in President-Elect Obama‘s Energy Initiative.
The US continues to play catch up to Asia in manufacturing advanced energy storage solutions used in electric vehicles and 'smart grids'. But a more organized US energy storage industry is starting to emerge.
Last month a group of battery makers formed a coalition to seek federal support. A week later a group of fuel cell makers petitioned Congress for its share of cleantech funding.
Now lithium-ion battery start up A123 Systems has submittedan application to qualify for $1.84 billion in direct loans to support the construction of new world-class battery plant in Michigan. At full operation, A123 expects the combined plants would occupy as much as 7 million square feet and create over 14,000 jobs to supply battery systems for five million hybrid vehicles or half a million plug-in electric vehicles per year by 2013.
Should the US leapfrog batteries into fuel cells and capacitors? (Continue)
The Wall Street Journal has finally reported on the real driver of change around the electrification of the world's auto fleet: Manufacturing.
Reframing the Problem Our insights into the crossroads of energy and the future of the auto industry have reflected a very unique tone when compared to all major media outlets and bloggers.
We have been alone in pushing a few disruptive ideas about the future of energy and the auto industry:
Kill the Combustion Engine While others focused on the problem of oil, we said it was the manufacturing legacy of the combustion engine. We have argued that it's how you build the car, not fuel it that matters most.
Bloomberg is reporting that Toyota plans to sell a 'limited' line of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles to consumers by 2015 or maybe sooner.
Toyota's fuel cell integration strategy (along with Honda, Kia and GM) suggests that the auto industry is looking ahead towards next generation electric drive vehicles that go beyond battery platforms.
Fuel cells vs Batteries? Or both? A very profound transition is happening in our world. The 'electrification of the auto industry' has started, but it will take decades to complete.
The tricky part? 'Electric' refers to the motor.
What delivers electrons to those electric motors is more open to debate.
The popular assumption today is that batteries will power the future of cars. But the reality is more sobering. Energy storage solutions that are appropriate for the auto industry are not likely to emerge from anything that exists on the commercial market today.
Cars are not iPods, and the cost of building 'plug in' station infrastructure is likely to be prohibitive, if not totally inconvenient to consumers. Fuel cells and capacitors offer superior cost / size and performance advantages. And more convenient infrastructure options such as rapid refill or 'swap out' boxes (e.g. solid hydrogen).
While eco-bloggers are excited over batteries, the long view is more cloudy. Automakers are hedging their bets on energy storage solutions, and it appears the the 'hype' phase of battery powered cars might be short lived.
Related posts on the Auto Industry at The Energy Roadmap.com
21st Century Growth Platforms Growth has nothing to do with moving beyond oil, or finding better ways to sell 'new' cars. In fact, we must get over this notion of a 'new' car industry model. What other industry manufactures a $20,000-60,000 product without a pre-arranged buyer?
Growth has everything to do with:
1) Reducing 'Manufacturing Footprint' Lowering costs by moving beyond the combustion engine manufacturing platform towards modular electric drive trains powered by the integration of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
2) Software Services & After Market Shifting revenues towards the software-service side of the driving experience, and physical 'after market' design upgrades. GM should profit 'per mile', not 'per vehicle'. Dealerships need customers that buy some new upgrade every month, not one vehicle every few years.
3) Rebranding as a Mobility Service Company Why should GM be limited to a brand for personal vehicle ownership? Develop new categories of mobilty products (e.g. personal urban vehicles). Integrate products and services into a broader 'mobility services' sector that blends private and public transit options. (Realize you aren't in the 'new car' business, but in mobility services)
Many of GM's leaders like Sr VP Larry Burns, (Mr. 'Skateboard kills Car') understand this new reality, and I wish they'd be more public about a new vision for mobility and jumpstart this multi-decade long transition. I'm not talking about an 'ad campaign', but a clearly stated vision that inspires the next generation of mobility industry entrepreneurs.
Fixated on Building better 'Buggy Whips' (and Related Posts)
This is not game-changing news, but certainly worth noting since expectations are that Asian energy storage manufacturers (not US-based) are likely to dominate the first generation battery-power vehicles.
This news arrived close to a NY Timesfront page article covering China's aspirations to lead the world in electric vehicles by 2011.
It is an obvious win for A123 Systems, which was passed up by General Motors for Korea's LG last Fall, for GM's Volt battery pack. But it is still unclear how the battle over energy storage will play out in the long term.
Today's lithium ion battery batteries are better thanks to nanostructured components and membranes, but I'm doubtful that they will be the only power system in next generation electric vehicles.
Fuel cells and capacitors will eventually have their day as pieces to the complex engineering puzzle of powering cars. So let's not waste too much money extending 20th century wall socket cords to 21st century vehicles! We should decouple transportation fueling from the grid, not add excess strain to an aging grid with no storage mechanism!
How Should US Automakers Respond? I am a big fan of A123 Systems, but would rather see their nano-enhanced products used in non-automotive applications. Let's get Li-ion batteries right for laptops before we head into automotive applications!