It is no secret that the energy delivered by batteries has failed to keep pace with the growing demands of power-hungry consumer products. We all deal with the inconvenience of batteries and plugging in to recharge!
Meanwhile, the multi-billion market for batteries will continue to grow exponentially in the years ahead as more people around the globe cling to advanced consumer electronics. This means more people will be dependent on cords, plugging in and recharging batteries.
The winning combination of qualities in micro-power systems is simple: low cost, long-life, high energy density, quick recharge or refill, non toxic, and safe (e.g. chemical stability and heat management).
Today, portable power means one source- lithium ion batteries (Li-ion). Unfortunately Li-ions suffer from bad chemistry. As manufacturers try to cram more energy into lithium-ion batteries, more heat is generated and the device runs a higher risk of a runaway reaction and fire. The good news is that nanoscale science and engineering is expanding the list of potential solutions to Li-ions problems.
There are a number of promising start ups innovating around nanoscale electrodes, separation membranes and new compounds that could allow lithium ions to grow their market leadership position. Boston-Power Inc, ActaCell, and Lion are start ups with impressive academic institution foundations. So their science seems strong!
Then there are the rapidly rising stars of Altair Nanotechnologies Inc. and A123 Systems who might skip over portable power applications for a potentially more lucrative role for Li-ions in automotive applications.
But let’s think beyond lithium ions. What options exist beyond today’s highest performing consumer batteries? And is there a chance that we might go ‘cord-free’ someday?
How about Silver-zinc batteries and methanol-based micro fuel cells?
It is a great time to be a professional futurist working in the automobile sector!! We see clearly how quickly change can happen- and how the public’s most deeply held assumptions about the future can be revised in only a few years.
The recent string of announcements coming from Detroit, Japan, China and the rest of the automotive sector suggest big changes ahead. Yes, it will take years to unfold, but the shift toward the electrification of the world’s transportation sector has begun.
Between 2010-12 consumers can expect to see first generation all-electric vehicles from nearly every major automobile manufacturer. The monopoly era of liquid fuels and the combustion engine has started its descent. By 2025 the industry might be in a position abandon this 19th century propulsion platform and begin a new era of electric propulsion with the help of batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors.
Accelerating change happened. We are now adjusting our outlook to reflect a convergence of new market conditions, shifts in the regulatory environment and new consumer expectations for positive change. And of course, materials science technology changed.
Detroit (and others) seem to be saying – “Nobody Killed the Electric Car, but would someone Please Kill the Combustion Engine!!
Last week General Motors released production model details for its all-electric extended range Volt. GM now seems to believe that the internal combustion engine might best be used to power the battery not the vehicle itself..
Who else has made statements about planned electric models for 2010-12? How about Toyota, Renault, BYD (China), Tata (India) and Mitsubishi?! And what about start ups like Tesla, Fisker, Zap, and Morgan.
And that doesn’t include all the aspiring vehicle makers in China and India who might see profits ahead around leap frogging into electric power train systems. Or visionaries in Ohio and Michigan who realize that electric vehicles could be a very good thing for revitalizing the ‘Rust Belt’ around high value added manufacturing. Now we have a green light for politicians to speak confidently about electric cars. The stigma is gone.
Yes, things will take time to change. But the public tends to focus on the new growth rather than the old technologies that fade away slowly. Adoption rates for electric vehicles might surprise us!
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?
Imagine stepping into a local car dealership in 2020.
Does that new car look familiar by today’s standards? Or has it evolved in shape and style?
What powers that car of the near future in 2020?
Hybrids, plug-ins, electric motors, diesel engines, ethanol blends, biodiesel, synthetic fuels, veggie power, air power, natural gas, solar, batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, or the flux capacitor?
There are many ideas out there that could re-shape the auto industry in the next decade, but none is more important than how we power our vehicles.
If you are confused by the mixed messages you see in the media – welcome to our Futurist’s Guide to the Cars of 2020(Part 1- Powering the Car)
Q: What powers my new car in 2020?
We have two basic choices – liquid fuels or electrons.
Internal Combustion Engines (I.C.E.) use liquid fuels such as gasoline, next generation biofuels (bio-gasoline or biodiesel equivalents) or synthetic fuels. By 2020 most combustion engine vehicles are likely to accommodate a wide range of liquid fuels- but we expect that gasoline will retain its market position.
Electric motors use electrons fed by batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors. Despite the mis-representation in most media reports, there is no fundamental difference between ‘electric’ cars and ‘hydrogen fuel cell’ vehicles – both use streams of electrons to power high performance electric motors. The phrase ‘electrification’ of the transportation sector includes electricity from batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.
Let's think beyond simply trying to find new ways to produce more energy, and focus on ways of storing energy. Why? Because this expands ways for us to produce more energy! Confused?
Solar and wind alone are a hard sell to utility providers because of intermittent production when the sun isn't shining or wind doesn't blow. Add utility scale storage to solar and wind farms, and you have a more valuable proposition.
Battery powered cars sound great, but not if we have to plug in our vehicles every 50 or 100 miles. Or what about a new iPhone with a battery that cannot last the entire day.
We have written dozens of posts on energy storage and believe it deserves much more attention from the media and policy leaders. 2009 could be a turning point for awareness around the importance of enabling next generation batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
List of 20+ Energy Breakthroughs in Batteries, Fuel cells, and Capacitors
Most new technology platforms must walk up the stages of the 'Hype Cycle', and confront our tendency to overestimate short-term change, but underestimate the long term potential.
Fuel cells are this decade's poster child for failing to meet expectations of the Hype Cycle. But there are positive signs of progress.
PC World is reporting that Toshiba plans to release its first commercial version of a Direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) battery recharger by the end of the first business quarter.
Micro Fuel cells help you unplug Micro power applications are widely considered to be the first market application for fuel cells. Dozens of startups and incumbent energy companies are developing micro methanol fuel cells as portable power solutions that help us 'unplug everything'.
Rather than carry around a charger+cord, you could carry a small fuel cell to recharge. Of course the idea of a fuel cell battery recharger is still a strange concept to consumers, and could remain an early adopter niche product.
The inevitable step for micro fuel cells is to replace batteries entirely. To arrive at this future, hardware makers must integrate MFCs into products, and consumers must be able to buy small fuel cartridges (e.g. liquid methanol, solid hydrogen) on every retail shelf. Until that day, the 'recharger' concept is the industry's best option.
Batteries & Fuel cells are like Peanut Butter and Jelly, not Oil and Water
The world economy would be better off to move beyond combustion conversion towards more efficient, non-mechanical, and modular electrochemical conversion devices like fuel cells. (This doesn't require pure hydrogen, since you can still use hydrocarbon fuels.)
But I admit that diesel engines are not going away anytime soon, so efforts to improve efficiency for industrial applications could move us further down the road.
Now scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have created the first three-dimensional simulation that fully resolves flame features, such as chemical composition, temperature profile and flow characteristics in diesel engines. Their efforts could lead to new lower temperature engine designs that are more efficent.
3D Models / 120 Terabytes of Data Reveals Combustion Process Unfolding
Imagine standing in front of global auto executives in 1999 and presenting a forecast that within ten years an Indian Automaker would be planning to build and sell electric vehicles in Europe. You might have walked away with that negative ‘futurist’ stereotype of a fringe corporate strategic thinker thinking way too far ahead!
Now India’s Tata Motors has announced plans to build an electric vehicle for European markets in 2009.
The company’s UK subsidiary has acquired a 50.3% holding in Miljø Grenland/Innovasjon of Norway to advance solutions for electric vehicles. The move brings Tata closer to realizing its vision of building affordable, clean electric motor vehicles powered by a combination of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
The first generation of Miljø produced electric vehicles will use Electrovaya Lithium Ion SuperPolymer® batteries. Tata plans to launch Indica EV in Europe during 2009 as a 4 person vehicle with a predicted battery charge range of up to 200 km (125 miles) with an acceleration of 0-60 kmph (40 mph) in under 10 seconds.
In recent years advocates of plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles have argued ‘the infrastructure for electric cars exists. We only need to plug in our cars at night while nobody is using the electricity.’ This was the source of their disdain for the other electron energy carrier hydrogen. Why waste time on building something new, when it already exists?
It turns out that this observation of our electricity grid was only a snapshot of reality, not the description of a future-ready system for supporting electric vehicles. The world’s electric grids are not ready to support commercial vehicle fleets. And now auto makers like Renault are leading efforts to rally utility grid operators, energy storage companies and entrepreneurs to prepare for the electrification of the global auto fleet.
France’s EDF & Renault creating the future
Business Week is reporting on a pledge by French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Paris Auto Show to dedicate 400 million euros ($549 million) in state support for the development of electric and hybrid cars.
The funds are likely to be packaged with a major agreement between Renault and France’s utility EDF to jointly develop the infrastructure needed to recharge electric vehicles, allowing Renault to deliver vehicles in 2011. (The French government owns 85 percent of EDF and 15 percent of Renault.)
GDF is already the owner of the world’s biggest corporate fleet of electric vehicles and has an obvious stake in developing a “smart” charging stations.
Meanwhile Business Week confirms that Renault-Nissan is to establish infrastructure in Israel, Denmark, Portugal, the U.S. state of Tennessee and the Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan, with production plans for electric cars from 2011.
Are electric recharge stations the best path?
Futurist Jamais Cascio has been quoted as saying ‘The road to hell is paved with short-term distractions.” And as someone who has followed the hype cycle of transportation propulsion systems I wonder if a strategy based solely on batteries and electricity could be that? A short-term distraction.
The future of vehicle fueling infrastructure might actually be more complicated than just plugging in. Why should we hedge our bets with powering electric vehicles around other electrons carrier systems like fuel cells and capacitors? (Continue)
Among the talk of thin-film solar, nano self-assembly, among other ideas at NanoTX’08 conference in Dallas, TX, was a researcher talking about his work with paper batteries. Dr. Mangilal Agarwal of Louisana Tech University talks about how paper batteries work and what problems they solve.
BMW will unveil its electric version of the Mini Cooper at the Los Angeles Auto Show on November 19 and 20, 2008. The company is claiming to be the world’s first manufacturer of premium automobiles to deploy a fleet of some 500 all-electric vehicles for private use in daily traffic. The MINI E will be powered by a 150 kW (204 hp) electric motor fed by a high-performance rechargeable lithium-ion battery, transferring its power to the front wheels without a sound. The MINI E is expected to accelerate to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 8.5 seconds. With its top speed electronically limited to 152 km/h (95 mph).
The battery technology will have a range of more than 240 kilometers, or 150 miles. Sales are expected to focus on private and corporate customers in pilot projects in California, New York and New Jersey.
Electric Motors vs Combustion Engine BMW’s announcement follows along with recent industry plans to electrify the world’s auto fleet. We might interpret these announcements as a response to the ‘oil problem’ or ‘climate change’ regulations. But what if the real reason is based on a desire to abandon the design and manufacturing complexities of the combustion engine? Forward looking industry insiders hope that a new low cost manufacturing platform could emerge around the combination of wheel based electric motors, drive by wire systems, and the tight integration of batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors.
We believe there is something happening in the auto industry that goes beyond oil and climate change The end game might be to change how we build and sell cars, not how we fuel them. If the real problem really is the combustion engine, and not oil, BMW’s plans might really be an effort to accelerate its shift to a new vehicle platform.
We might be closer to reframing the public conversation about the future of the auto industry.
The real problem for the auto industry is its manufacturing footprint, not its carbon footprint.
Of course we must build more efficient vehicles.
But the industry's problems have nothing to with small cars vs big cars, or fuel efficiency.
The real problem is the manufacturing intensity of building mechanical engines, and their inability to produce multiple chassis on one factory floor. The other problem is that they build new cars then have them sit on dealership lots until someone buys it.
Yes, we must reduce the eco-impact of vehicles, but to get there we must recognize that the real revolution is changing how we build cars, not how we fuel them. Need more evidence?
Fiat exchanges Access for Equity Fiat is negotiating a 35% stake in Chrysler in exchange for access to its small vehicle manufacturing capacity and revival of its European brands in the US.
But we should not be confused. The future is not 'small cars', but leaner manufacturing.
Does Chrysler need small vehicles to meet current market demand? Probably.
But the real takeaway is Chrysler's inabilty to build different types of vehicles (small or large) without major retooling investments.
So the company exchanges access to manufacturing for equity.
The future is modular manufacturing
The future is a factory floor that can build multiple chassis using modular electric motors and energy storage devices (batteries, fuel cells and capacitors).