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.
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.
India researchers at Pune-based National Chemical Laboratory have created a low cost fuel cell membrane that appears competitive to the current industry standard membrane- DuPont’s Nafion. Nafion (Image shown) is a fluorocarbon based membrane with tremendous performance properties that support the complex electrochemical processes of hydrogen-oxygen reactions inside fuel cells. But it is expensive!
Researchers around the world are working to reduce the costs of fluorocarbon based membranes and also develop alternative hydrocarbon based membranes that would be a fraction of the cost. Based on this story, India researchers may have developed such a low cost electrolyte used in the MEA (membrane electrode assembly) or the heart of a fuel cell.
Why is this important to the future of energy?
Fuel cells convert chemical energy into electricity and heat. They could help the world move beyond inefficient and dirty ‘combustion energy’ systems by finding applications in portable devices, distributed power generation and electric vehicles. Rather than blow up chemical bonds, we can use the high efficiency (and relatively) clean process of electrochemical energy conversion.
Unfortunately, fuel cells have been the victim of the technology Hype Cycle. They failed to meet early expectations (circa Dotcom Boom) and have been targeted by skeptics around the world. But these promising electrochemical devices are not dead yet, and we should expect to see significant steps towards commercialization in the years.
The key to commercialization is lowering the cost and improving performance of membranes. The electrolyte of a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells (used in portable and transportation applications) generally accounts for 75% of the total unit cost. While Nafion provides thermal and mechanical stability, it is expensive.
What to watch – Nanoscale Innovations
Have you ever held natural gas in your hand?
“It ('dry water') looks like a powder, but if you wipe it on your skin, it smears and feels cold” says Andrew Cooper University of Liverpool, UK
Chemists at the University of Liverpool have developed a reliable way of converting methane gas into a powder form in order to make it more transportable.
The researchers use a white powder material made of a mixture of silica and water to soak up large quantities of methane molecules.
Liverpool researchers believe that instead of shipping methane as a 'gas' or 'liquid' (LNG) we can transport it as a powder. It is also possible to use solid natural gas storage being used for electric vehicles that use fuel cells that convert natural gas (on board) into electricity.
Easier method to make store methane in a powder
It does not make sense to store all natural gas as a solid, but the market opportunities are significant. The challenge of methane gas hydrate has been that it is formed at a very slow rate when methane reacts with water under pressure. "To counteract these difficulties we used a method to break water up into tiny droplets to increase the surface area in contact with the gas. We did this by mixing water with a special form of silica – a similar material to sand – which stops the water droplets from coalescing.
This 'dry water' powder soaks up large quantities of methane quite rapidly at around water's normal freezing point."The team also found that 'dry water' could be more economical than other potential products because it is made from cheap raw materials.
Why is this important to the future?
Storing gas as a solid?
To reach a point where our global economy can rely on solar driven energy production, we need to continue making major breakthroughs in fundamantal science.
We still know relatively little about the fundamentals of photosynthesis and how we might replicate the process in materials used to turn energy from the sun into 'clean electrons and molecules'.
Sunlight can be used to capture photons for heat (solar thermal), electricity (photovoltaics) or direct hydrogen production. We are looking at ways of capturing solar energy in silicon and carbon based materials, and also using molecular machines inside of algae and bacteria. We must also find a way to store solar energy efficiently and at a low cost.
List of 11 Solar Energy Breakthroughs in 2008
Researchers at the University of Aberdeen (UK) have announced a new carbon neutral method of producing hydrogen using ethanol feedstock.
The new method could offer an alternative use for bioenergy feedstocks. Instead of transforming biomass (corn stovers, organic waste) into a liquid fuel used in combustion engines, we can now imagine capturing hydrogen bonds from biofeedstocks to use in more efficient fuel cells.
Why care about hydrogen?
Hydrogen is usually misrepresented by both supporters and cynics. It is neither the 'savior' of Planet Earth, nor is it a 'waste of time'.
Hydrogen is a storage system, not a source of energy. But, what the global economy needs are more breakthroughs in energy storage! (Hint: batteries are not the end game!)
Hydrogen Economy = Electricity Economy = Hydricity Economy?
& UK Researchers give us Carbon Neutral, but leave us dependent on Biomass:
Advanced energy storage and portable power solutions continue to grab attention from energy investors.
Massachusetts-based startup up Boston Power has announced a $55 milllion Series D funding round to scale manufacturing, sales, marketing for its Sonata Lithium-ion batteries. This infusion of cash follows an announcement in December that Boston Power would supply HP with batteries for a coming line of laptops.
Boston Power's solutions are most relevant to supporting the continued growth of high performance portable electronics. But the company expects to be involved in first generation electric vehicles powered by batteries. Its branding effort has been to promote itself as a 'cleantech' company with high standards for its sustainability practices and partnerships with Asian manufacturers.
The Evolution of Energy Storage - Batteries, Fuel cells & Capacitors
Political and Industry leaders agree that it is time to re-imagine the Electrical 'Grid' as something 'smarter', more resilient, and open to new forms of energy storage and onsite production.
Utilities are now exploring the idea that electric vehicles (powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors) will someday become the new backbone of the world's electricity grids.
The questions are: 'How' and 'What does the 'Energy Web' of Tomorrow look like?'
Do we 'recharge' objects via cords and wall sockets, or do objects have their own internal power generators that are 'refueled' with high density energy 'packets'?
We are only at the beginning of exploring the future schematics of an 'energy web' infrastructure that integrates electric vehicles. But the test programs are starting to scale up!
The City of Newark has approved a small test project led by the University of Delaware's Center for Carbon-free Power Integration (CCPI) to test 'vehicle to grid' systems using plug-in hybirds integrated into the local utility grid.
Vehicle to Grid (V2G) Energy Storage & Production
(& My Skepticism of Wall Socket Infrastructure)
The future you hear about on the news is not what it appears.
Yes, the 'electric car' is coming, but do not be fooled by first generation ideas being fed into the mainstream media.
The short term challenges are probably being understated as the transition will take many years to unfold. But the long term disruptive changes are more profound than anything you might see on a 60 Minutes special featuring battery car owners in California.
Electric vehicles are likely to change our energy grid, roads, cities and suburbs in ways that are hard to imagine today.
Software - Drive by Wire & The Digital Driving Experience
While stodgy Wall Street Journal Op-Ed pieces continue to characterize electric cars as expensive, wimpy cars- there truth is that electric drive systems offer a lower cost manufacturing platform and a flexible software based driving experience.
Establish software and location based services to vehicles, and you create a foundation for revenue streams based on mobility services in a 'wired and connected vehicle'. (Not to mention 'pay per mile' funding streams for transportation infrastructure instead of paying per gallon taxes.)
Companies like Johnson Controls, Microsoft, Intel, Bosch (et al) are developing 'drive-by-wire' software and microcontroller solutions that can make a car sound and feel like a Ferrari, a Mini-van, or Sedan with the push of a button. There is a huge upside in software-service sales that the digitize the driving experience.
Storage: Vehicle to Grid (V2G) & 'Skateboard' Vehicles on Sidewalks
Do you want to be the Toyota or GM of the 21st century?
Don't worry about how you 'fuel' the car, rethink how you build cars.
Forget about trying to build an electric propulsion SUV. Start small. Build electric battery scooters and tiny (crappy) cars. Then move up the performance ladder with larger cars that integrate fuel cells and capacitors.
Don't try to make money selling new cars. Focus on software enhanced driving experiences, and mobility services as your real revenue stream.
'Manufacturing Footprint' is Everything
For months, we have argued that the real revolution is 'how you build the car, not how you fuel it'. We have made a strong case that the driving force of change towards electric vehicles (powered by a combination of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors) is the desire for a lower manufacturing platform.
While Detroit and Japan struggle to manage their manufacturing footprint of combustion engine factories, Indian and Chinese companies sense an opportunity to leap frog into a lower cost growth platform of modular components around wheel based electric motors, drive by wire, and next generation energy storage.
India's Auto Industry: Low End Path to the Future
India-based electric vehicle maker Reva might be plotting a classic 'low end disruptive' path to growth by expanding its production quantities of its tiny electric platform. BusinessGreen.com is reporting that Reva plans to invest in a new plant with a capacity of 30,000 G-Wiz electric car units a year.
Yes this is a tiny number compared to total global vehicle production, but how do you put a value on the competitive advantage of building non-combustion engine vehicles. Remember when US manufacturers ridiculed Asia-produced consumer electronics? Who's your E-Daddy today?
Related posts on The Future of the Auto Industry
Next generation energy storage solutions (e.g. batteries, fuel cells, capacitors) continue to gain attention from investors and energy forecasters who see significant growth ahead beyond typical production side investments.
A new report from Lux Research, titled Thin Batteries: Novel Storage Powering Novel Devices, believes that this low cost battery platform could have 'enough juice to grow from a $19 million market in 2008 to a market of over $250 million in 2014.'
The report updates Lux Research's analyses of eight thin battery manufacturers and draws on nine additional interviews with application developers downstream to assemble a comprehensive perspective on thin battery technologies, companies, and markets.
Thin batteries appear to be following a classic 'low end disruption' growth strategy of avoiding direct head to head competition with current 'coin cell' batteries in favor of growing around new applications. Lux describes potential growth across a range of sectors including healthcare (e.g. drug delivery patches), media (e.g. video displays), and information systems (e.g. RFIDs/Sensors)
Lux expects opportunities for investors able to find opportunities in later stage funding rounds but stress the inevitability of shake out in emerging markets. "By 2014, there simply won't be enough space in this market for ten thin battery companies to sustain a healthy business," said Jacob Grose, an Analyst at Lux Research and the report's lead author "Anyone interested in getting a seat at the table will need to identify the winners, and identify them early."
Cellulosic biofuels startup Mascoma has announced a breakthrough in a single step consolidated bioprocessing (CBP) method used in converting non-food biomass feedstocks into liqud cellulosic ethanol.
By tapping the power of genetically engineered thermophilie (bacteria that grow at high temperatures) and yeast, the company has demonstrated a way to eliminate the need for multiple step processing using more expensive enzymes and additives typically needed in breaking down biomass material.
Breakthourgh Potential in Bioenergy
“This is a true breakthrough that takes us much, much closer to billions of gallons of low cost cellulosic biofuels,” said Dr. Bruce Dale of Michigan State University’s Biomass Conversation Research Center “Many had thought that CBP was years or even decades away, but the future just arrived. Mascoma has permanently changed the biofuels landscape from here on.”
The ability to reduce the steps needed to convert carbon rich material into more hydrogen-rich fuels is key to lowering costs.
“These advances enable the reduction in operating and capital costs required for cost effective
commercial production of ethanol, bringing Mascoma substantially closer to commercialization,” said Jim Flatt, Executive Vice President of Research, Development and Operations at Mascoma. “Our results go a long way toward establishing the feasibility of the processing concept that we have built our company around - so this is a big day for us.”