What if we are being too cynical about China’s eco-future in the transportation sector?
Imagine a future in which China is the secret to moving the world’s auto fleet beyond liquid fuels and the combustion engine.
If they can master electron storage systems of advanced batteries, fuel cells and capacitors- they might surprise the world!
Warren Buffet thinks so. The Oracle of Omaha recently invested $233 into Chinese battery and electric vehicle maker BYD.
Now, we are hearing a similar message from other electrical storage system giants who are needed to transform our global auto fleet. A recent Economic Times article China seen as potential electric car hub describes a vision of Johnson Controls where China changes its course to accelerate adoption of electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Buffet and Johnson Controls see China’s natural advantages:
-Fewer ‘legacy’ issues of existing infrastructure and embedded interests
-Top down policy control to accelerate changes around infrastructure
-Chinese leaders see cleantech as a growth industry, especially around energy storage and electric motor propulsion systems
-Small cars & scooters are the most likely candidates for electric propulsion systems. China (and India) are prime candidates
- A geopolitical desire to avoid issues of oil’s biggest problem. Lack of substitutability. Oil is the perfect fuel, but you can’t put coal or solar or nuclear into a liquid gas tank*. Electricity and hydrogen can be produced by any energy resource.
Of course, electric vehicles are not entirely ‘clean’ and certainly lead to suburban expansion and loss of rural lands. But the trade offs and consequences of doing nothing are hard to challenge. China’s urban areas would benefit from the removal of millions of uncontrolled polluting vehicles.
Even if electricity production came from coal, it is easier to control carbon emissions at a single point power plant rather than individual cars. And China’s industrial strength is powerful enough to change the direction of electric storage companies as well as automakers.
Need more evidence that the electric vehicle industry is going global, quickly?!
Bloomberg is reporting on plans that General Motors is expanding its investment and partnership with China’s SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co. It is unclear whether this investment is simply to secure GM’s position in China’s growing market, or if GM might tap China as the manufacturing hub for electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Why this is important to the future of energy?
The fastest way to move beyond the combustion engine is to tap the power of global markets. But it requires us to rethink our assumptions about the future. Namely, if Asia does leap ahead, the US and Europe will have to rethink their aspirations of being ‘energy independent’. Instead they will trade ‘foreign’ oil, for ‘foreign’ batteries!
The Good news
Electric cars can help to clean up air pollution around the world, expand opportunities for renewables to compete in transportation fuels, and could help us better manage the flow and storage of electrons currently limited to a one-way electrical grid.
Electric vehicles can change the world, but they are likely to do so in ways that we cannot currently imagine by mere extrapolation.
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.
[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!
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?
This [30 minute] interview reflects a very different way of thinking about the future based on the potent combination of new technology platforms and disruptive business models.
The simplest translation of Shai Agassi’s disruptive vision
We should buy the car, but not the battery or fuel cell. Remove the cost and risk of owning energy storage systems out of the consumer equation. Instead consumers would subscribe to an energy infrastructure provider and ‘pay per mile’ (e.g. mobile phone minutes plan). They could refill at a local electric recharge station, or pull up to a station to ‘swap out’ an old battery (or depleted solid block of hydrogen) for a new container. Agassi believes this new business model could lower the barriers that prevent us from leaping beyond the era of the combustion engine.
How do we do it? Big bets, major infrastructure investments and new business models.
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 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.
Researchers have successfully demonstrated a new way to test materials for storing hydrogen as a solid. Dutch-sponsored researcher Robin Gremaud has built a solid storage system for hydrogen based on a light alloy of magnesium, titanium and nickel. Gremaud used a novel (and potentially disruptive) method for simultaneously analyzing thousands of different combinations of the metals. This solid storage system could weigh sixty percent less than a comparable battery pack.
Why is this important to the future of energy?
The concepts of an ‘electric car’ and ‘hydrogen economy’ are misleading. The future is powered by electricity, but we can store electrical energy in form of chemical bonds of hydrogen. (Mother Nature stores energy in chemical bonds of hydrogen-carbon via coal and oil.) So a hydrogen economy is a world powered by electricity. And a hydrogen fuel cell car is still powered by electric motors.
Despite the emergence of advanced lithium ion batteries for the first wave of electric vehicles
, next generation cars are likely to be powered by a combination of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors. Not one energy storage device is adequate enough to meet the demands of automotive applications.
The key to growing the world’s electric vehicle fleet is developing advanced energy storage systems. If batteries struggle to meet the performance demands of automotive applications, hydrogen fuel cells could emerge as a viable alternative assuming we have a viable storage medium. Now researchers have demonstrated a method that might accelerate development of metal based solid state hydrogen solutions.
Gasgoo.com is reporting talks between General Motors Executives and leaders from China’s State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) to extend the countries electricity grid to support the first wave of electric vehicles.
Why is this important to the future of energy
Electric vehicles powered by a combination of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors – are coming to the world market! First generation electric motor vehicles are expected to be powered by batteries, followed by next generation hydrogen fuel cells. Both forms of electron energy require investments in infrastructure and energy storage systems. GM has made its intentions very clear to kill the combustion engine and move towards a new lower cost manufacturing platform of electric motors. The company is planning to build its extended range electric vehicle Chevrolet Volt in 2011 and hopes that China might become a major growth market for its post combustion engine vehicles.
Read more: The Energy Roadmap.com – Electric Vehicle Infrastructure
The key to moving beyond the era of liquid fuels and the combustion engine is to accelerate development of energy storage systems and infrastructure for supporting electric vehicles. We have posts on recent investments into energy storage and electric utilities by Warren Buffet and China’s BYD, France’s GDF, Hawaii’s HEKO utility, Denmark, Australia, and Israel. But according to a recent McKinsey & Co report it is China that holds the greatest potential for transforming the global auto industry in this era of electric vehicles.