Add Warren Buffet’s latest investment to the list of major news indicators that fuel forecasts saying that the dominant days of the combustion engine are coming to an end. (Read GM to Combustion Engine-R.I.P.)
Through his Berkshire controlled MidAmerican Energy, The Oracle of Omaha has invested $230 million for a 10% stake in China’s car and battery maker BYD. BYD could soon become a global leader in electric propulsion auto systems and a mainstream vehicle brand.
Following the growth in electric propulsion systems
While there are reports
that BYD plans to ‘roll out fully electric cars before the end of next year’ and sell within the US, BYD does not have to displace GM or Toyota to return on Buffet’s investment.
Think of Shenzhen-based BYD as an advanced electric propulsion and electron storage device maker for Li-ion, Nickel batteries, capacitors and fuel cells. Rather than fight for market share against Toyota and GM in vehicle sales, BYD’s growth could be as an energy systems manufacturer.
Why MidAmerican might love BYD’s batteries more than its cars
Buffet’s other (or main) intention could be to expand the role of the electrical grid in fueling automobiles. He might also see promise in BYD’s battery systems for utility scale storage to improve the electrical grid.
Electric cars are coming in 2010-12 but we need to innovate energy storage solutions.
Recharging electric vehicles is not as simple as ‘plugging in at night.’ Our aging electrical grid and home wall sockets are not a suitable foundation for mainstream growth in battery vehicles- and automakers understand this.
Watch in the weeks and months ahead as electrical grid startups and electron storage companies like Shai Agassi’s Better Place gain more media attention and venture backing.
But what other innovative business models might emerge around electron-based transportation fleets? How about ‘swapping’ boxes?
According to a June 15 analysis published in the French bi-monthly magazine L’Auto-Journal, a long-standing car magazine, the European Union will soon no longer be on the short list of the top 3 contributors of greenhouse gases. The French-originated NAC (Nouvelle Affaire de Carburant) program, widely known as the New Fuel Deal by the English-speaking world, was initially criticized by citizens of nearly every European nation for being an economic fiasco.
The brainchild of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who served a six month stint as EU president, has certainly paid off for the environment, despite the widespread criticism and dire predictions. The Affaire was created by the members of the EU’s French-led APRE Summit (Automobile-fabricants pour la Protection et la Régénération de l’Environment, or ACRE – Auto-makers for the Conservation and Regenration of the Environment) in 2011, which formed an impressive international think-tank consisting of automobile manufacturers, leaders in the alternative fuel industry, financial wizards and various government officials. Despite initial opposition from such countries as the Czech Republic and Ireland, the plan was consensually ratified in February, 2010.
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.
The Art Center of Pasadena has released video highlights from its recent Summit: Expanding the Vision of Sustainable Mobility held in March 2009. There are a number of energy related videos to share, but we'll start with one that gets the blood pumping!
Former Assistant Secretary in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Andy Karsner, is a fresh voice on long held but widely suppressed ideas that promote a holistic policy strategy towards transportation, energy and urban design.
I'm impressed with Andy's ability to communicate! Of course, Karsner shares a few perspectives that I might challenge. Namely, looking back at the past with a critical lens. The problem was not our failure to build vehicles that get more miles per gallon, it's the entire supply chain and manufacturing footprint of the internal combustion engine. A Detroit version of the Prius would not have helped GM or Chrysler's flawed 'new car' sale business model.
And, I agree with Karsner that our 'big plans' (e.g. FreedomCAR) were destined to fail. What we needed was an event - the Fall of 2008.
The recent collapse of the auto industry was just what the doctor ordered- a well-timed crisis to force the accelerated death of a century old mobility platform. Tweaking the combustion engine around hybrids or flex fuels was never the solution. Sometimes the future needs a crisis, not a plan!
Andy Karsner passionately describes the beginning of this transition from mechanical engines to electric drive trains powered by the integration of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors. He is someone who can frame this vision and rally the troops. And I agree it is time to push the acceleration button! Watch this Video!!
With all the technical terms frequently sprinkled about in most futures-related content, it’s a rare day when you come upon a futurist with a totally different and refreshing view on what might be in store for mankind. In this clip, The Hour TV show hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos (try saying in three times fast) interviews famed Canadian science fiction writer Robert Sawyer on his view of the future of travel. On top of his ideas that the elderly may soon retire in space due to safety hazards brought about by gravity (broken hips, arms, legs), I found his view on the future of travel in cities very interesting. Check it out.
The most refreshing thing about this interview is how realistic Robert Sawyer is about the future of travel. For instance, although he admits that cars could be built that could fly, the problem is that if you get into a fender-bender at 300 feet you’re pretty much toast. And as he points out rather comically, “A drunk driver in a flying car is worse than the worst terrorist with the damage he can do.” People already have a hard enough time with two-dimensional driving, imagine adding in a third.
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?
[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!
Founder Elon Musk (of Paypal fortune; SpaceX rocket fame) is now leading the company replacing CEO Ze’ev Drori. In the company’s blog Musk reports the anticipated closing of its Rochester Hills office near Detroit, and new growth focus on its Roadster sports car and sales of its powertrain.
Only a month ago the company brought joy to the California Cleantech community by announcing plans to build a $250 million facility to manufacture a zero-emission lithium ion powered sedan in the heart of Silicon Valley. Now this Model S version of Tesla’s electric car might be delayed until 2011 depending on a number of conditions.
The change in leadership is related more to ‘extraordinary times’ rather than the core vision of Tesla’s business plan. The electric vehicle market is just getting started and Tesla could certainly emerge as a specialty vehicle maker or powertrain designer.
In recent days, we have highlighted the steady stream of media commitments of production vehicles (2009-2011) from automakers GM, Nissan, Tata Motors-, BYD, and Chevrolet
Electric infrastructure investments are also not likely to slow down unless automakers divert from recent plans. In recent weeks electric vehicle infrastructure startups like Better Project have had their business efforts validated by Warren Buffet’s $233 million investment in Chinese battery maker BYD, and $500 million plan to extend France’s grid to vehicles by utility giant EDF
The future of electric vehicles based on a combination of batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors should not be completely derailed by an economic slowdown. So despite the bumps ahead, we expected Tesla to stay on its course.
Has China developed the ultimate vehicle? A cheap, solar powered car? Not quite.
While the ‘solar car’ concept makes a great viral story for web readers, it is not a revolution for the auto industry. Powering electric cars takes a lot more than putting solar panels on the roof. We need viable infrastructure and tremendous amounts of stored energy density to make a real transition into electric vehicles.
The vehicle was demonstrated at the 29th Zhejiang International Bicycles and Electric-powered Cars Exhibition. The solar panels are simply placed on the roof and not integrated into the vehicle’s body. And it reportedly takes 30 hours of direct sunlight to charge the batteries that will drive up to 90 miles.
Electric Vehicles need Energy density
The good news is that electric vehicles are coming. We have highlighted recent electric vehicle commitments of production vehicles (2009-2011) from automakers GM, Nissan, Tata Motors-, BYD, and Chevrolet.
So why is this solar powered cars more a gimmick, than a revolution?
Electric vehicle infrastructure start up Better Place continues to grab headlines with projects in Israel, Denmark and Hawaii. Now the company announced plans to build out infrastructure in Australia.
Infrastructure for Electricity & Hydrogen
Electric cars are coming but we will need to develop new infrastructure and business models that go beyond today’s notions of corner gas stations delivering liquid fuels to combustion engines.
Electric cars are likely to be powered by a combination of batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors. Not one energy storage device is expected to rule them all. And while the short-term strategy of extending the world’s electricity grid to vehicles seems logical, in a few years we might turn to the chemical storage of electricity via hydrogen to overcome cost and performance challenges of electron storage in batteries.
Electrification in Australia
Startup Better Place has announced agreements with AGL Energy and financial advisor Macquarie Capital Group to raise $1 billion (AUD) and begin deploying an electric vehicle (EV) network powered by renewable energy.
Australia has the world’s seventh highest per capita rate of car ownership, the country has nearly 15 million cars on the road after adding over a million new cars last year.
Victorian Premier John Brumby said, “The Victorian Government supports any initiative that will have positive outcomes in reducing emissions in the transport sector and welcomes this innovative approach to help make broad adoption of EVs in Australia possible.”