In his bold speech calling to transform the energy industry, Al Gore forgot to say one of the most important words of the 21st century – biology. He forgot to mention that if we wanted to ‘grow’ energy, carbon could become a profitable feedstock rather than an economic and environmental liability.
Gore is now calling on America to launch a major Apollo-style program to ‘decarbonize’ the electricity sector by 2018 using renewables, geothermal and carbon sequestration efforts. He imagines a world beyond ‘fossil fuels’, but might be overlooking our greatest potential investment in the energy sector – tapping biological systems that ‘eat’ carbon and ‘grow’ energy resources such as biofuels (for transportation) and hydrogen (for electricity generation).
What is possible by 2018? Within a decade we could transform the role of carbon into a profitable feedstock for clean, abundant energy by tapping the power of biology.
The phrase ‘fossil fuels’ is misleading. Coal and oil are not ancient bones or animal matter, rather they are ancient plant life and microorganisms that locked up hydrogen and carbon molecules using the power of the sun. Coal and oil are bioenergy resources. And rather than extract ancient bioenergy from the ground, we can grow the same hydrocarbon chains ourselves without adding new carbon to the atmosphere. (cont.)
General Motors is not afraid of the future. And it is not afraid to let go of the past.
On Tuesday the company released details of its production version of ‘Volt’ – the industry’s first Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (E-REV) that will go into production in 2010.
And this is only the beginning.
GM’s plan to reinvent the auto industry starts with killing the combustion engine.
We believe the company has three strategies for the future:
#1 The Real Revolution is about Manufacturing
GM knows that in the next automobile revolution – it is not how you fuel a car that matters, it’s how you build it.
GM cares less about the price of oil, than it cares about the cost and complexities of building cars around the mechanical combustion engine. The Volt is important because the combustion engine is relegated to a new temporary task – recharge the batteries. The 21st century auto industry begins when we shift to modularity of electric motors (e.g. lower manufacturing costs, fewer factories).
#2 Design Matters
GM knows that design matters, and the bulky, mechanical combustion engine holds them back. If you eliminate the engine and regain 1/3rd of the vehicle chassis you can rethink how cars are built. Transition to ‘drive by wire’ systems for steering and braking – and you open up new potential for vehicle designs and upgrades.
#3 The breakthrough is Electric motors, not the batteries
GM knows auto-engineering. High performance electric motors have arrived. Now we need to develop systems to deliver the streams of electrons. The future of the automobile is not ‘all’ battery or ‘all’ fuel cell – it’s both.
The electric car is not an iPod. The battery is not our end game. It is merely one piece of the puzzle for electric propulsion. Batteries might have a short-term commercialization advantage, but the platform might struggle to evolve into the 21st century. The chemistry is bad. The costs are too high, and the performance is adequate at best. Future electric propulsion systems will integrate all three systems – batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.
Looking beyond the Chevy Volt
The GM Volt is big – because it is the beginning of the end of the internal combustion engine. R.I.P.
GM’s real revolutionary vision is not the Chevy Volt, but its AUTOnomy concept.
That vision starts with simple idea– skateboard kills car.
Then the industry uses the principles of modular design and manufacturing to change the cost structure of how cars are built, bought, sold and upgraded.
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..
Yesterday Chrysler announced its plans for a full lineup of electric vehicles beginning with a production model in 2010
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!
And I don’t expect to see Who Killed the Electric Car Part Two.
[Continue—- How Nissan’s Ghosn flip-flopped, what drives the shift towards electrification, and what about hydrogen fuel cells?]
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.
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?
Could China help the world move beyond the combustion engine
CBS Video on Future of Electric Car
Detroit to World-Nobody Killed the Electric Car
GM picks Korean battery company for Volt
By Garry Golden
What makes QuantumSphere and A123Systems two of the most
innovative energy companies in the world?
Because they are investing in the future design of catalysts!
And their strategy is to innovate at the nanoscale.
The Beginning of Nano
Physicist Richard Feynman is often credited with launching the
‘nanoscale’ era of engineering with his famous lecture ‘Plenty of
Room at the Bottom’ at Caltech in 1959. Feynman
described our future ability to manipulate individual atoms and
eventually create complex mechanical structures made of the
Fifty years after Feynman’s lecture, researchers and startups
are making significant progress in designing nanoscale structured
materials that will have an enormous impact on all aspects of the
energy industry from production, to storage to end use
What is disruptive about catalysts?
Simply put, catalysts help us get more output with less energy
input. Catalysts speed up the reaction of photo-, chemical and
electrochemical changes in everything from batteries, fuel cells,
and solar cells, to the refining of coal, gasoline, diesel, and
natural gas, and the production of hydrogen and biofuels. Catalysts
also help to reduce the energy required to create plastics,
biomaterials, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer.
The rules of the energy industry game are being re-written by
companies designing synthetic metal and carbon-based catalysts that
change our notions of what is possible in the years ahead. Other
companies are attempting to harness, or mimic, naturally occurring
bio-catalysts that gracefully manipulate energy in all living
things from algae/bacteria to plants to human beings.
Catalysts are the silent work horses of our modern world but you
seldom, if ever, hear or see the word mentioned in mainstream
conversations about energy. Yet they hold the key to unlocking
human potential without draining the planet’s resources. Catalysts
can help realize the vision of a world powered by cheap, abundant,
clean energy. (Continued)
With fuel prices rising with no end in sight, both consumers and
automobile companies have become more and more concerned with
fuel-consumption. While drivers attempt to cut down their gasoline
usage, automobile companies are researching and producing more
fuel-efficient cars, some to come out as early as next year.
Solutions range from hybrids, fuel-efficient engines, pure
electric, plug-ins, solar panels, and hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Even with all these seemingly promising solutions, will we have
fuel efficient cars available for consumers at an affordable price
To help us imagine just what the market has in store for us over
the next 5 years here’s a timeline based on the self-reported
release dates of various major auto manufacturers (visual
first, followed by extensive text):
- Released by General Motors late 2008, early 2009, is the
Saturn Vue 2-Mode hybrid. Touted as the world’s most
fuel-efficient V-6 SUV, the Vue 2-Mode
hybrid has up to a 50% fuel economy increase for urban driving and
an overall 30% increase through the use technology such as
low-speed, electric only propulsion and regenerative breaking. It
will be classified as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle.
- In February, Shelby SuperCars will be releasing the
Ultimate Aero EV, which will be the world’s fastest electric
car. SSC is known for the EV’s
predecessor, the Ultimate Aero, the world’s fastest gas-powered
car. The Ultimate Aero EV will have twin 500 hp electric motors
powered by a battery. Other details regarding its production have
not been disclosed.
- Sometime in the Spring, the next generation of Toyota
Prius will be released, equipped with solar panels that will
provide a portion of the energy to run the air-conditioning unit.
Toyota is planning on bringing 450,000 of these solar-power capable
vehicles to the market.
- Audi will be bringing out their 2009
A2, a compact, fuel-efficient car that manages to feature more
cabin space than Minis. The A2 will have 1.2 to 1.8 liter engines,
as well as diesels and will have a lowered amount of CO2 emissions, due to the European CAFE regulations.
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.
Q: What are the differences?
January 30 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy Year: 2010 Rating: 7 Hot
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
I see efforts to improve combustion engines as trying to 'build a better buggy whip' in an era of 'diminishing returns' on mechanical heat engine innovations.
The problem is not their efficiencies, rather it is the manufacturing costs and complexities of building mechanical engine vehicles.
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
By Garry Golden
Most of us have read about peak oil production in which the ability to extract oil reaches a growth plateau and fails to keep pace with accelerating demand. The result could be managing a ‘peak and plateau’ scenario as we gradually shift away from oil, or a ‘peak and collapse’ scenario as the world economy stumbles and cannot adjust to a more rapid decline in production.
But what about the implications of ‘peak oil demand’ from energy consumers? And how might it change the future of the transportation industry?
This notion of ‘peak demand’ is supported by a new report from leading energy-sector forecast firm CERA titled ‘Dawn of a New Age: Global Energy Scenarios for Strategic Decision Making- The Energy Future to 2030’.
CERA suggests that because of high energy costs the US could reach ‘peak gasoline demand’ in the next ten to fifteen years, and possibly plateau as early as 2010. As our vehicles become more efficient and we change behavior, our demand for gasoline will plateau.
CERA’s forecast of ‘peak demand’ is a game changing concept because it shows the transportation industry the ceiling of its growth opportunities in the world’s largest economy. It also forces drastic changes to enable more growth around a new platform as we electrify the world’s transportation sector.
If peak production is our biggest challenge, ‘peak demand’ might be our best incentive for innovation! (Continued)