Electric Vehicles and the Future of Personal Transportation  

Posted by Big Gav in

IEEE Spectrum has an interesting interview with former head of R&D for General Motors, Larry Burns, talking about increasing the energy efficiency of transport - Larry Burns on Electric Vehicles and the Future of Personal Transportation.

Susan Hassler: What kind of things is your group working on at the University of Michigan? And also, what kind of things are you doing with Google? Because then you’re talking about self-driving cars, right?

Larry Burns: Well, yes. Where it gets exciting is the holistic opportunity that surfaces when you combine connected vehicles. A connected vehicle is basically a vehicle that communicates with things along the roadway system and with other vehicles, and you can get content brought in. So OnStar is an example of a connected vehicle. You’ll hear the term “telematics” as well. But connectivity is here. It’s happening, whether it’s in your navigation system or your Bluetooth system, whatever it is, you’re connected as you’re moving.

You combine that with autonomous vehicles, and those are vehicles that literally drive themselves. And that’s what Google’s working on, as well as many other companies. General Motors, Toyota, Daimler, BMW, all of those companies are working hard to push the limits of how far we can take technology so that vehicles can drive themselves.

Then you marry that up with shared vehicle systems. So we’ve all heard of Zipcar, RelayRides, Car2go—those are examples of a conclusion which is, “Geez, why are people buying all these cars and then having them be parked 90 to 95 percent of the time?” Whereas if we shared those cars, we could have those cars utilized 70, 80 percent of the day and dramatically reduce the parking challenge.

Better yet, as a user of that vehicle, I can get dropped off at my door if I combine that with a driverless system. So now you put those things together, and you can begin to think about tailoring the designs of the vehicles to be much lower mass. Ninety percent of the trips in the U.S. are one- and two-person trips. So if we can design a vehicle that’s tailored to the one- to two-person trip, that happens to weigh less than 1000 pounds, that happens to be shared, that happens to not need a driver so you can use your time as you like, and it can reposition itself when it’s dropped you off and pick up somebody else, suddenly you begin to see this world of a totally different mobility system that could be far less costly.

The point I’m trying to make here is we need to think about transforming the entire mobility system as a system. That’s what the Michigan Mobility Transformation Center is focused on, and the work I do with Google is really part of the self-driving vehicle program.

Everything I’ve mentioned is starting to converge. We’ve got electric vehicles. We’ve got shared vehicles. We have connected vehicles. We know how to tailor designs. And autonomous is the next piece that will fall into that puzzle. And when that fits into that piece, I think we’re going to have a transformation. And for the heated debate, passion around “Are battery-electric vehicles green?” really I think is a small discussion compared to what is the opportunity that we see down the road to really begin moving ourselves around in ways that make much, much better sense than moving around with 4000-pound cars, whether they’re electric cars or combustion cars.


Another piece of the sustainable transport puzzle;
C-Negitive Biofuel;
Just a note on Pyro-Catalyic thermal conversion developments, by 2016 CoolPlanet will be producing 1.14 Billion liters of petrel & 200K tons of Char/yr ; Checkout CoolPlanet's Announcement;

The complete Cool Planet story. What is it? Why transformational? What are the next steps?

I think the Jewel in CP's crown will be these small decentralized, sub-scale plants;

"Cool Planet is on its third generation design now, and expects to have its first mass producible plant open in the September period, producing what it calls 400,000 gallon per year sub-scale systems, and is expecting a fourth generation design by Spring 2013."

"The company’s business model calls for developing 400 of the micro-refineries across the U.S. in the next decade."

As these Cool CEOs have BP & Conoco over a barrel, a natural gas barrel, with these Big Oil companies wanting/needing CP's tail end catalytic Gas to Liquid process,

My reviews of the biographies of their board & speaking with the CEOs, convinces me they are not in this for money. They want Scale, distributed scale to serve food, Energy & Climate security to the people. Climate security only works with scale. Massive ecological Restoration, based on soil carbon.

If CoolPlanet Biofuels processed the entire projected US biomass harvest in 2030; 1.6 Billion Tons, the yields would be;
120 Billion Gallons of tank ready fuel ,The US uses 150 Billion gallons per year, and 0.3 Billion Tons of Biochar
It would require just 12,000 distributed refineries. each producing 10 Million gallons. Building 1000 plants per year is quite realistic.

According to Dr Hansen's new formula for assessing national CO2 liabilities, The US CO2 reduction fraction is;
26.3 PPM = 207Gt CO2, 207 GtCo2 = 56 GtC,
The avoided Fossil carbon from 120 Billion gallons of Bio-Gasoline = -0.324 GtC/yr + -0.3 Gt Char = -0.624 GtC/yr
A significant draw-down & avoidance without even accounting for the out year increases of NPP, lower fertilizer use & avoided CH4 & N2O emissions .

2011 Son of Billion Ton Study
A research team led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory projected that the US would have between 1.1 and 1.6 billion tons of available, sustainable biomass for industrial bioprocessing by 2030. The finding was a highlight of the “2011 U.S. Billion-Ton Update: Biomass Supply for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry”. The report is an update of a landmark 2005 study undertaken by the DOE and ORNL in 2005.

This tonnage could be doubled with an aggressive program to develop marginal lands of the south west. Colleagues working with Agave on marginal lands in Mexico & US southwest, estimate that such marginal lands have the potential of another 1.5 Gt of biomass production.

Borland A. et al. 2009
Exploiting the potential of plants with crassulacean acid metabolism for bioenergy production on marginal lands
"The substantial biomass increases reported for CAM species under elevated CO2 on marginal lands indicate that serious consideration should be directed towards exploring the potential of CAM plants as a low-input source of bioenergy and as a means of stimulating sustainable economic growth in developing countries."

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