Monthly Archives: August 2020

Four pathways being backed during Covid-19, but EVs and renewable energy will have to wait

While several environmental groups and corporate executives (i.e., Elon Musk) would love to see the global fleet transformed into battery electric vehicles fueled by solar, wind, hydro, and other renewables, other fuels and technologies are taking the lead for now. They seem to be the most pragmatic moves for now with governments mandating climate change transformation — and other market forces such as capital investors gaining more interest — opening up to four pathways gaining real traction this year.

  1. Carbon capture: Capture, removal, and sequestration (storage) of carbon dioxide from power-plant combustion and other industry power sources gives end users (like large corporations) a faster and more cost-effective practice for hitting government regulations and company sustainability campaigns. It’s an effective method for extracting carbon and permanently storing it. One r&d project capturing attention and support is coming from scientists supplied by ExxonMobil, University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The team has discovered a new material that could capture more than 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from industrial sources. It needs less energy to capture, remove, and sequester, which can bring down the cost quite a bit. It also opens the door for the technology to eventually support commercial applications.
  2. Natural gas still here: Natural gas is not going away anytime soon though renewable natural gas has a good chance of taking over some day. How long? An executive from engineering firm Black & Veatch believes that natural gas will play a key role approaching a set of strategies over the next 30 years or more before net-zero mandates start being fulfilled. Utility operators and gas companies could be key stakeholders if this were to take shape. Advanced gas turbine generator plants hold the greatest promise, once able to increase capacity and achieve efficiency scaling up to their full-load capacity.
  3. Nuclear could survive and thrive: Nuclear power has high hopes of coming back as a serious competitor in the utility sector through nuclear fusion, but it’s been requiring massive investments and several more years of development before it wins regulatory approval. One symbolic news development was hearing about the Democratic Party’s election year policy paper opening up to nuclear power — especially nuclear fusion — for the first time in nearly half a century. Presidential nominee Joe Biden is also backing nuclear fusion as another tactic for fighting climate change. Dense plasma focus (DPF) could open the door to fusion being adopted much faster and for being economically feasible. Middlesex, NJ-based Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Inc., known as LPPFusion, may soon be leading the way in transitioning over to nuclear fusion through DPF. It could beat the massive Torus Experimental Reactor project under construction in Southern France.
  4. Green hydrogen:  Support for hydrogen has been taking a wider base recently with concern over the cost of extracting hydrogen — and where it comes from — improving substantially. Most of it had been coming from natural gas, but that’s starting to change. For natural gas, much of the hydrogen has come from steam methane reforming (SMR), which causes the methane found in natural gas to react with steam, which then produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Green hydrogen is gaining support as it can almost completely eliminate emissions by using renewable energy for powering electrolysis of water that’s needed in producing hydrogen. However, the pace of development of green hydrogen is not fast enough to meet global energy demand despite developers announcing 50 projects in the last year, according to a new study. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) analyzed these projects and found the supply of global green hydrogen is likely to be three million tons a year; but global demand is forecast to reach 8.7 million tons annually by 2030, creating an “incredible supply shortfall.”

And in other news:
Musk tweets about extended-range battery: Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that much better batteries are on the horizon during a tweet post on Monday. “400 Wh/kg with high cycle life, produced in volume (not just a lab) is not far. Probably 3 to 4 years,” Musk tweeted in response to a Twitter thread by Sam Korus, an analyst at ARK Investment Management LLC, about why Musk keeps dropping hints about airplanes. That would make for mass production of electric vehicles with 50 percent more energy density coming out in three to four years. This is expected to be clarified at the company’s upcoming “Battery Day” event where it is expected to reveal how it has improved its battery performance.

California employees law on hold: A California appeals court ruling on Thursday avoided a shutdown of Uber and Lyft in the state, allowing drivers to remain independent contractors while the court continues reviewing the issue of driver status and whether AB 5 makes them employees. It means that voters may decide whether it will be IC vs. employees while voting on the November ballot measure.

Smog takes the lead: Air pollution is the world’s leading environmental risk factor, and causes more than nine million deaths per year, according to a new study. Published in the the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the new research study shows air pollution may play a role in the development of cardiometabolic diseases, such as diabetes. The study concludes that the devastating effects were reversible with cessation of exposure.

ACT Expo launches virtual seminars: Advanced Clean Transportation Expo recently launched a four-month speaker series, called ACT Virtual, to dig into environmental sustainability in trucking and other fleet applications. “Whether we’re going to end up with fuel cells or whether we’re going to end with hybrid technology or pure battery electric vehicles, we’re investing in companies and technology that can be supported within that,” said Ryan Laskey, senior vice president of the commercial vehicle group at Dana Inc., during the first panel last week.

Next-gen batteries part 2: Changing landscape for supplier partnerships

Here’s the second part of the feature on what’s next for electric vehicle batteries. This time, the focus is on battery manufacturer partners for a few of the top selling global EV models.

Tesla Model 3 getting batteries from new suppliers
Tesla is the top selling electric vehicle brand in the world, and is doing well in four EV segments — sedans, SUVs, compact cars, and sports cars. Much of that comes from the power under the hood. The hp and torque can send you on a silent rocket launch when you take a drive. The battery packs play a vital role in keeping them charged for long distances and staying dependable, longer than what competitors offer. The battery cells had been exclusively manufactured by Panasonic, and the battery modules and packs by Tesla; but that’s starting to change.

Tesla has reached a new three-year deal with Panasonic for battery supply at its Gigafactory in Nevada. The two partner companies made that facility the largest lithium-ion battery factory in the world. Last year, Tesla started breaking off with Panasonic by limiting Model 3 production with the Japanese company. Tesla started making moves to build its own batteries. This year, there was an announcement of the first million-mile battery cell that will be launching in the China market. It’s being developed with a new partner, China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL), the world’s largest lithium ion battery maker. China is an excellent market to be in, with the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers reporting that new energy vehicle sales were up 19.3 percent in July and the overall market rebound continues.

Tesla vehicles produced in Gigafactory Shanghai are powered by battery cells built by LG Chem and CATL. South Korean company LG Chem expects its battery share to grow significantly, with Tesla’s business in China being part of it. The battery maker reportedly secured a large order of batteries from Tesla in July due to high demand, and Tesla’s inability to produce enough batteries on its own. Besides China production, LG Chem may be changing over production lines in South Korea to produce more batteries for Tesla.

BAIC EU-Series bringing in new partner
China-owned carmaker BAIC Motor, the parent company of the BJEV and Senova brands, has been getting its EV batteries from China’s third largest battery maker, Guoxuan High Tech. Guoxuan follows first-place CATL and second-place BYD for China’s new energy vehicle battery market share.

BAIC will be adding SK Innovation’s NCM 811 cells to its EVs. SK Innovation Co. is based in Seoul, South Korea, and is primarily known for being a petroleum refining company. It also supplies batteries to Volkswagen and Ford. The BAIC deal is expected to start sometime during the second half of 2020, with the lithium-ion cells being produced at SK Innovation’s first plant in Changzhou, China. It will be owned by a wholly-owned joint venture between the two companies and Beijing Electronics.

Nissan Leaf stays with AESC under its new owner
Nissan has always taken a slow and conservative approach to producing, selling, and developing changes to its stalwart Leaf model. The battery pack has been made by its former subsidiary, Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC). The Japanese maker sold most of AESC to Chinese renewable energy company, Envision Group, in 2018. Nissan still holds a 20 percent stake in AESC. The 2018 deal also included Nissan selling Envision Group its battery manufacturing plants in Tennessee and in Sunderland, England.

A production version of Nissan’s next EV, an electric SUV based on the Leaf, is expected to begin arriving in showrooms in 2021. The company expects it to sell at a higher volume than the Leaf. Envision Group has plans in place to triple AESC’s lithium-ion cell manufacturing capacity. The company hopes to be ready for producing batteries for Nissan’s next-generation EV, and to continue supplying the Leaf.

In May, Nissan, Renault, and Mitsubishi reaffirmed their automotive Alliance, and will be increasing sharing platforms, technology, and production. The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance had been in doubt after the arrest in Japan of former chairman Carlos Ghosn, who’d been a champion of EVs for the brands. In Europe, B-segment cars will be one of the segments in the Alliance and includes the Renault Clio and Zoe EV, Nissan Leaf, and upcoming Ariya EV SUV. Renault takes the lead in Europe under the Alliance, with Nissan being the lead brand in China, North America, and Japan; and Mitsubishi leading in the South-East Asia (ASEAN) and Oceania regions (several islands including Australia).

BYD supplies its own batteries for BYD Yuan / S2 EV
BYD supplies its own electric vehicle batteries, and was ranked third in the world for lithium ion battery producers during 2018, following No. 1 LG Chem and and No. 2 CATL (in a Bloomberg study). The company supplied batteries for its 229,506 electric vehicles sold in 2019.

That will expand to include Ford Motor Co. On June 1, a document was filed on the website of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology following official protocol. BYD batteries will support Ford’s electric vehicle production in China. Ford’s China joint venture with Changan Automobile is seeking government approval to build a plug-in hybrid EV model equipped with BYD’s batteries, according to the document. The deal will also include BYD’s power management devices that Ford will use.

Renault Zoe sharing large plant with VW Group
Renault is acquiring EV batteries for the Zoe electric small car from LG Chem’s Wroclaw, Poland, facility. The South Korean battery maker hasn’t shared figures on the plant’s output, but it may be on its way to become Europe’s largest EV battery production facility. Along with the Zoe, batteries are being produced for Volkswagen Group electric vehicles such as the Audi e-tron and Porsche Taycan. LG Chem began mass production of its NCM712 batteries in the first quarter of 2020.

Hyundai Kona EV being sent to global markets
Hyundai has been more quiet about its presence in electric vehicles that fuel cell vehicles. It’s Ioniq Electric was given more attention when it launched in the US in 2016.  The company just announced the launch of its new Ioniq brand dedicated to battery electric vehicles, “opening a new chapter as a leader in the era of electrified mobility.” That means it will be marketed more as its own sub-brand focused on all-electric and not just one of its offerings in all-electric, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid variations.

But its Kona EV has been doing pretty well in sales. It started in South Korea and Europe in 2018, with a market debut in the US and Thailand in 2019. In the spring of 2020, Hyundai began production and started delivery of the Kona Electric in Europe at its Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Czech (HMMC) manufacturing plant.

The company rolled out a new EV in China in early 2019, called the Hyundai Encino EV. The two models have small differences in trim, but overall they’re basically the same electric crossover sport utility vehicle.

As for batteries, the company will be going with CATL in China and LG Chem in other markets. Hyundai and LG Chem are in talks about possibly establishing an EV battery manufacturing joint venture in Indonesia, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters in late June.

BMW i3 sticks with Samsung SDI
Samsung SDI, one of South Korea’s top three battery making companies, in November 2019 signed a 10-year contract with BMW Group to supply 2.9 billion euro ($3.2 billion) worth of lithium-ion battery cells to the German automaker and its ambitious EV model launch strategy over the next decade.

The battery maker’s fifth-generation EV batteries are expected to power some of the new 25 environment-friendly vehicles models including 12 all-electric vehicles BMW pledged to roll out by 2025. In 2014, Samsung SDI became the exclusive battery supplier for BMW’s i3 electric car. That year, the two companies expanded their agreement to include developing next-generation materials and EV technology — which has ended up in a wide variety of plug-in vehicles offered under the BMW brand.

Solid-state batteries a big part of the Fisker and VW relationship?
Last year, Fisker Inc., launched its Ocean model, with plans to roll out the $40,000 all-electric SUV in 2021. CEO Henrik Fisker said the solid-state battery that will go into the Ocean can produce 2.5 times the energy density that lithium-ion batteries can, at perhaps a third of the cost. The Volkswagen partnership will be part of it, but there’s likely to be other announcements with automakers and technology suppliers.

The founder is emphasizing that Fisker, Inc., is pursing a different business model than Tesla and many other EV startups have tried. Last month, Fisker Inc,. reached a deal to go public by merging with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) backed by Apollo Global Management. Fisker is cutting out the huge capital outlay needed to become a carmaker. The company has been is in talks with Volkswagen to use its modular EV platform and to assemble its vehicles at a VW plant in Europe.

But where is the solid-state battery coming from? Will they be sharing the same supplier partners? Is VW jumping into the solid-state battery world as well? It seems that QuantumScape could be part of it, with VW recently sinking another $200 million in the solid-state battery company.

VW’s relationship with the solid-state battery company goes back to 2012. In 2018, the two companies forged a joint venture to accelerate the development of solid-state battery technology that can be produced at a commercial scale. The German automaker placed $100 million in the initial investment in September 2018. The company hopes to accelerate that work through the recent $200 million investment.

And in other news……….

A California judge ruled yesterday afternoon that Uber and Lyft must classify their drivers as employees, a decision that could affect many gig workers well beyond the two ride-hailing giants. The ruling will be stayed for 10 days, and then a preliminary injunction will take hold. Uber and Lyft say they will be filing emergency appeals during that 10-day window. This comes from a lawsuit filed in May by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the city attorneys of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. The suit made the case that the drivers were misclassified as independent contractors when they should be employees under the state’s AB5 law that went into effect on January 1st. California later filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that would change the driver classification immediately. Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman ruled yesterday that Lyft and Uber drivers should be given the same protections and benefits under labor law as other full-time employees of the two companies.

Leading refuse company Republic Services is bringing in fuel cell electric vehicles. The company has agreed to purchase 2,500 of these collection vehicles from Nikola Corp., with the potential for up to 5,000 orders. Republic Services said its the largest truck order ever for its fleet of approximately 16,000 collection vehicles. The order will be contingent on initial testing that’s expected to begin in Arizona and California, with wider-scale testing in 2022 and full deployment by 2023. The collection vehicles are said to have a 150-mile range, up to 720 kilowatt hours of battery capacity, and the ability to collect 1,200 cans with one charge. Nikola’s chief told Wall Street Journal that he expects each vehicle will cost under $500,000.

What the post-pandemic world may look like for automakers, electric vehicles, and mobility

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, companies are looking for signs of how to best prepare for the new competitive landscape — as the expectation of everything returning to normal goes to the sidelines. A webinar last week from Lux Research, and a separate interview with a Volkswagen executive, analyzed the ‘new normal’ emerging from the disrupted world.

Michael Holman, vice president, research for Lux Research, a research and advisory firm tracking emerging technologies, identified five key market developments coming from the turbulent marketplace. Infection prevention for hygiene, sanitization, and testing was the first mentioned; the next four trends covered were: remote commerce — providing technology for what used to be done in person; improved resiliency to minimize supply chain disruption and strengthen localized processes; greater agility and adaptability in technology and management practices; and a clear view of macro-economics, primarily risk management, capital availability, pricing changes, and demand.

Telemedicine has been responding to intensive pressure on infection prevention and resiliency of the healthcare system. Plastic waste recycling has been another hot topic among Lux Research clients, and had been so well before COVID-19 as China ended its role as the major import destination for plastic exports.

Automakers are feeling much of this pressure, and have been adapting to plant closures and re-openings, workforce safety, and reprioritizing what had been top priorities earlier this year, Holman said. Tests have been halted on autonomous vehicle trial runs, and vehicle electrification has been hurt for the short-term, but looks good for long-term demand and tech development.

Social mobility is also feeling the impact, with health and safety concerns a top priority for those using services such as Uber and Lyft. Social distancing will continue, which could be an advantage for selling personal vehicles over shared rides.

For now, responding to the safety concerns has taken over and has opened up new ways of thinking. Ford CEO Jim Hackett, who will be handing over his job to Ford’s Jim Farley, has been leading a study on antimicrobial steering wheels and handles.

Lux Research sees two other market dynamics shaping the next phase of automotive — sustainability practices and personalizing the technology to the consumer.

The research firm sees startups struggling to find funding lately. One strategy they need to consider is partnering with competitors to secure a new round of funding for the next six months or longer, Holman said.

Reinhard Fischer, senior vice president of strategy for the Volkswagen Group of America, shared his perspectives during an in-house interview. He sees attitudes about the role of the car, and developments in the next wave of technology, changing in the post-pandemic environment.

“For me, it all starts with understanding how the consumer views the car,” Fischer said. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, people are really recognizing the benefits of having a car. A private means of transportation that you don’t need to share with anybody – it can be your sanctuary.”

For many, there’s lack of comfort in public transportation. Travel should also continue to feel the impact, with consumers likely to use their personal cars more for shorter trips. Another growth trend this year has been an increased popularity in working from home, with people driving less.

Fischer would agree with Lux Research’s take on where EVs are heading.

“I expect the pandemic could cause the transition to electric vehicles to briefly hesitate but then accelerate,” he said.

One of his reasons for reaching this conclusion are that home charging stations take away fear of infection at gas stations coming from touching gas pump handles. Another is consumer and government expectation for clean air, as scenic views that were clogged by air pollution starting to become more visible — and with health concerns over air quality being prioritized.

VW will be watching where ride sharing goes as the new normal landscape takes shape. Customers have to take a hard look at the health condition drivers are in, and who’d been riding in the car before them. What are ride sharing firms doing about it?

The other factor to follow is the political environment, Fischer said.

“Many countermeasures can reduce the flexibility of the ride sharing concept as there is the possibility of being regulated like taxi services are today. That could have an impact on the price position of these services for the consumer,” he said.

California leads the way there, and is also exploring another possibility.

“Other plans, like the one being explored by the state of California where a percentage of  ride sharing vehicle miles in the future will need to be 100 percent electric, will further increase the cost of entry into the ride sharing business model,” Fischer said.

And in other news:
One-year-old Lordstown Motors will become a publicly traded company in an effort to bring its commercial electric pickup truck, the Endurance, to market. General Motors will have a stake in it larger than had been originally expected, according to financial filings. The electric truck maker plans to list on the Nasdaq stock exchange under the ticker “RIDE” by combining with DiamondPeak, a special purpose acquisition company. It will look something like the “reverse merger” stock market deals announced last week by Fisker, Inc., and earlier by hydrogen-powered truck maker Nikola. E-trucks are becoming a hot commodity with electric pickups coming soon from Tesla, Ford, GM, Rivian, and Nikola. Workhorse Group has done well in this segment already.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has done a second interview with Automotive News, and here are a few of the takeaways………. Austin, Texas, was chosen for building the Cybertruck due in part to workers wanting the new plant to be housed there…….. a third US assembly plant may be coming in four-to-five years……….. Musk could care less about J.D. Power rankings…….. electric small cars and minivans may be in the works………. and a more conventional looking electric pickup may be rolled out if the Cybertruck flops.

AltWheels 2020 has opened up conference registration. The 17-year-old clean transportation conference will be taking place on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in a virtual format. The event organizers want to make sure that fleets and other stakeholders will be able to continue attending and sharing information on making clean transportation work. Fleet Day at AltWheels 2020 will include speakers and a breakout session, exhibits, along with leading alternative vehicles of all sizes and the latest options for fleet managers.

Fisker, Inc. says that its planning to have four vehicles in the works by mid-decade, supporting the company’s long-term goal for Electric Mobility as a service. That will include the first-in-line Ocean SUV; a super-sports sedan based on the EMotion concept; a sports crossover; and a pickup truck. The Volkswagen partnership will be part of it, but there’s likely to be other announcements with automakers and technology suppliers. The company will also continue its commitment to bring sustainability front and center — from the solar roof to the tires being used.