12 December 2015

Vehicles powering the future

Since the 'Benz Patent Motorwagen' was launched in 1879, cars have evolved into technological marvels, with new features like electric powertrains and autonomous driving capabilities pushing our expectations into the realms of science fiction.  Additionally, new ownership models like car-sharing mean the once-important aspiration of owning a car has evolved into Generation Y just wanting to access one.


However, to-date, the car fundamentally does exactly what the horse and cart did before it - to transport people (and luggage) from A to B.  But is that about to change, with in-car battery storage introducing new propositions and business models?

This week, in partnership with ENEL, Nissan introduced smart grid trials, with the car being an 'energy hub' for the home. 

The concept is straightforward:
  • 'Vehicle to Home' (V2H) allows energy stored in the car battery to be used to power the home - useful when buying electricity directly from the grid may be more expensive, e.g. at peak times
  • 'Vehicle to Grid' (V2G) allows the car owner to sell excess stored energy from the car battery back to the grid, helping to flatten peaks and/or meet short-term energy demand

A video from Nissan describes a little more about the concept:

Other energy storage options can be found in static battery solutions much like the recent Tesla Powerwall and a similar approach from Daimler, but of course these can't also transport you to difference places!

Other manufacturers are investing in similar propositions (some using hydrogen fuel cells), with several concepts unveiled at the 44th Tokyo Motor Show in October 2015


Models shown above from Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi respectively.

There are two propositions which seem to make sense to exploit this technology - it will be interesting to see how soon they may appear...

Household energy

In the most basic model, a single household uses their charged car when at home to provide additional energy for their home (V2H), reducing the reliance on peak grid electricity (and avoiding potential high-carbon emitting loads like backup diesel generators).  This can be more intelligent still if the household can also generate their own electricity, e.g. via solar panels... potentially getting close to being 'off grid'.  Excess energy can be sold to the grid (V2G).

Community/collective energy

The proposition above may be attractive enough to households to reverse the trend of declining car ownership, but perhaps that's an irreversible trend.  If so, there may be some innovative business models which emerge, using a fleet of vehicles, where households do not own a vehicle:
  • A community own a fleet of vehicles, leasing vehicles to households/businesses, or providing a car-sharing pool.  This consolidated fleet of batteries together provide a 'virtual distributed energy storage solution'
  • The concept could be extended to public transport too, as electrification emerges as a viable powertrain in buses
  • Combined with solar arrays on a mixture of residential, commercial and industrial premises, a 'portfolio' effect within the geographical community can start to automatically match energy demand with supply, perhaps setting dynamic price signals to nudge behaviours to optimise the system.  Excess energy would be sold to the 'national grid', or neighbouring communities
  • As autonomous vehicles become a reality, could a fleet of driverless taxis spend part of their day ferrying passengers around a city, and during 'downtime', find a local dock to either recharge or sell some of the stored energy to the grid, using predictive 'big data' analysis to be positioned for likely customer pick-ups?

Of course there are a significant number of barriers to overcome:
  • Cost - both Capex and Opex
  • Behaviour change - for households to be willing to share data, to trust the system will work, and to nudge their energy usage to fit the most efficient model
  • Battery density and cycling performance
  • The need for a 'smart grid' (including metering and billing platforms) to be able to manage a hugely complex and dynamic distributed energy lifeform
  • Regulation, with some incumbent parties potentially lobbying against progress
  • Insurance liabilities
  • Operations - servicing, cleaning, asset protection, infrastructure reliability, health & safety, etc. 
...but there are also a large number of parties who may be interested to making it successful, as they want to diversify, or see their traditional revenues/funding decline:
  • Car manufacturers
  • Energy retailers or network operators
  • Data/information firms (Google)
  • Trusted retailers (IKEA?)
  • Cities, or local councils
  • Existing vehicle fleet owner (courier service)

Do you think any of these concepts could become a commercial reality, at scale?

*UPDATE* In fact, BMW are currently running a trial in the US, with 100 BMW i3 drivers, and their utility, PG&E.   As part of the BMW i Charge Forward programme, BMWi will be able to remotely delay the charging of EVs by up to an hour, to better match the grid requirements, whilst allowing the driver to override/opt-out if required.

All images © respective manufacturers

02 December 2015

European Commission (EC) adopts ambitious new Circular Economy Package

COP21 is taking place in Paris, with powerful opening speeches by HRH Prince Charles and President Obama. It hopes to reach a global consensus on ambitious measures to become a more sustainable planet.


About 165 miles Northwest from Paris lies the Belgian capital, Brussels.  There today, the European Commission adopted their revised Circular Economy package, with "funding of over €650 million under Horizon 2020 and €5.5 billion under the structural funds".  Although some may express concern with various targets being watered-down, the new proposals have the potential to transform not just European society's attitude to waste (or resource as it should be regarded), but also the design of products themselves.  This is big news not just for the environment, but for new innovative business models, job creation, and ultimately, nudging new attitudes away from consumerism.  It has the potential to 'rewire' the economy which recent generations have become accustomed to in Europe.


In the diagram above, which was originally posted here, I've adapted a 'waste hierarchy' to show a broader view, which I've called a 'resource hierarchy'.  The central pyramid shows a prioritisation of approach to managing resource, with the concepts towards the top being preferable to those lower-down.  The left-hand side shows associated business models, and on the right, implications on products. In essence, it's simply common sense - it's best to eliminate the cause of waste at its origin, than deal with the the waste by-product afterwards.  Of course, products can't always simply be eliminated, so it's important that any new proposals from the EC tackle all of the levels in the pyramid.  Let's see if they do...
Towards the bottom of the pyramid is sending waste to landfill, energy from waste, recycling, and repurposing products for another use.  The proposals from the EC have some ambition in this area:
  • A common EU target for recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2030;
  • A common EU target for recycling 75% of packaging waste by 2030;
  • A binding landfill target to reduce landfill to maximum of 10% of all waste by 2030;
  • A ban on landfilling of separately collected waste;
  • Promotion of economic instruments to discourage landfilling ;
  • Simplified and improved definitions and harmonised calculation methods for recycling rates throughout the EU;
  • Concrete measures to promote re-use and stimulate industrial symbiosis –turning one industry's by-product into another industry's raw material;
  • Economic incentives for producers to put greener products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes (e.g. for packaging, batteries, electric and electronic equipment, vehicles).
Alongside a specific strategy to limit the damage plastics can make (in particular for marine life), the most exciting part of the proposals relate to some of the areas towards the top of the pyramid:
  • Development of quality standards for secondary raw materials to increase the confidence of operators in the single market;
  • Measures in the Ecodesign working plan for 2015-2017 to promote reparability, durability and recyclability of products, in addition to energy efficiency
These are the areas which have the potential to disrupt and challenge some incumbent business models and products, helping us ask:
  • Why can't I easily repair the screen on my mobile phone?  And why shouldn't I be able to replace the battery?
  • Why do washing machines always always seem to break just after the 2 year warranty period expires?
  • Why do I find I wear some clothes only a few times before they wear out?
  • Although I got this appliance cheaply, it has really high running costs, as it uses so much energy.  Why can't the manufacture lease the appliance to me, and they can pay for the energy costs?

Finally, food waste is of course a particular concern, with a recent focus in the UK by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his '#WasteNot' campaign.  The EC has a specific approach for this, albeit with 'tools' rather than binding targets:
  • Actions to reduce food waste including a common measurement methodology, improved date marking, and tools to meet the global Sustainable Development Goal to halve food waste by 2030

It will be interesting to see how the "European Parliament and Council...build on this important preparatory work and prioritise adoption and implementation of today's legislative proposals".  It will be such a 'waste' if the opportunity isn't exploited for this package of proposals to be a powerful ally and tool for Europe to support COP21 agreements.

10 October 2015

44th Tokyo Motor Show - Highlights

The Tokyo Motor Show is an opportunity for Japanese manufacturers to reveal their latest production-ready and concept vehicles.  Below is a summary of the vehicles which have sustainability in mind, with some noticeable introductions of 'Vehicle to Home' (V2H) energy systems. Amongst other applications, these can provide short-term emergency power - something Japan is very sensitive to, following the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima disaster.

Toyota FCV Plus (2015) - in 'power sharing' mode

Honda Clarity FCV

Honda's investment in hydrogen energy continues, with the Clarity saloon, the first to incorporate the entire fuel-cell powertrain in the space normally occupied by the engine and transmission.  It has a cruising range of 700km, and the Japanese version of the model can act as a mobile power plant, with an external power feeding inverter.

Honda FCV

Lexus LF-FC

Lexus have introduced the Lexus LF-FC, a fuel-cell powered flagship concept.  Here are the details of the powertrain:

"At the heart of the LF-FC is a high output fuel cell power system that energizes the rear wheels, and also sends power to two in-wheel motors in the front, making the LF-FC all-wheel-drive. This innovative drive system allows precise torque distribution control between the front and rear wheels, giving the full-size sedan exceptional dynamic handling and superior road stability. The strategic placement of the fuel-cell stack at the rear of the vehicle, power control unit at the front and T-formation configured hydrogen fuel tanks result in front and rear weight distribution optimal for a sporty sedan."

New luxurious Lexus Concept - teaser image

Lexus LC-FC

Mercedes-Benz Tokyo Concept

Mercedes have released their 'Tokyo Concept' vehicle, aimed at 'generation Z' (those born after 1995!), living in mega-cities.  'Deep machine learning' and an intelligent Predictive Engine means it adapts to its occupants' preferences over time.  It's assumed to be a hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain under its sleek body.

Mercedes-Benz Tokyo Concept - pre-show teaser image

Mercedes-Benz Tokyo Concept

Mercedes-Benz Tokyo Concept

Mitsubishi eX

Mitsubishi are due to launch a new all-electric EV, the eX.

Mitsubishi eX

In the ever-increasingly competitive compact SUV market, the eX will have all-wheel drive, automated driving technologies, active safety and connected features.

An Outlander PHEV will also be demonstrated in a 'Vehicle to X' (e.g. home) setup, showing how the battery can be used to power the home.

Nissan Gripz

One of two EV concepts being introduced by Nissan at Tokyo this year is the Gripz.

Nissan Gripz Concept

An efficient gasoline engine powers the same electric motor used in the Nissan Leaf. 

Nissan Teatro for Dayz

Nissan's concept car has a peculiar name, 'Teatro for Dayz', and ahead of the motor show isn't giving anything away about its powertrain, except that it's an EV.  Hopefully we'll find out more soon...
Nissan Teatro for Dayz

Toyota FCV Plus

Hydrogen power is currently the underdog to be the dominant fuel source for mobility solutions in the future, but some manufacturers are investing huge amounts in the technology - see my recent blog to read about some examples (including the Mirai from Toyota).  Toyota has now taken this one step further, and sees hydrogen cars as being an energy source to share with the community.  Specifically, as well as its own hydrogen tank, it can also generate electricity from an external hydrogen source, allowing the power generated to be available at home, work, etc.

Toyota FCV Plus (2015)

Toyota FCV Plus (2015) - inside

30 September 2015

Tesla Model X - Introducing a game-changing SUV

Tesla's mission is to 'accelerate the world's transition to sustainable transport'.  And last night, Tesla Motors launched a key part of its arsenal - the much-anticipated Model X, a game-changing SUV, proving electric mobility can be used to move large families/groups, in comfort, style and with zero tailpipe emissions.

Tesla Model X
Its performance is also something to make the headlines, putting other 'performance SUVs' to shame.  In P90D guise, its four wheel drive powertrain can provide 0-60mph in as little as 3.2 seconds, and with a 250 mile range and 30 minute charge time, more time can be spent on the road enjoying its character.

Tesla Model X
When shipping around a family, safety is obviously critical, and Tesla haven't disappointed in the new Model X.  It's the safest SUV ever, with 5 star NHTSA ratings in every category. Without a traditional engine in the bonnet, the equivalent area can be used as a much extended crumple zone.  Side impacts have about a 50% reduced intrusion in a 'side pole' test, compared to the next best SUV.  And rollover risk is reduced with its lower centre of gravity.  And with 'active safety', sensors and cameras will provide automated emergency braking and even active steering to provide collision avoidance.  It even has a 'bio-weapon defence' button to protect occupants from outside toxic gases!

Other features include the driver's door which automatically opens and closes as the driver approaches the car, then sits in their seat; 2276kg of towing capacity; and of course the dual-hinge falcon wing doors with its impressive passenger access, even in a tight space...

Tesla Model X - Falcon Wing Doors
UK prices expected to be around £65,000.

You can watch Elon Musk introduce the Model X in this video.

14 September 2015

Frankfurt Motor Show - Highlights

Here's a selection of the highlights from the Frankfurt Motor Show, where manufacturers have made significant incremental, or in some cases revolutionary, improvements to the sustainability of the automobile.  Although it's hard to avoid the launch the (hideous) Bentley Bentayga, the Rolls-Royce Dawn, the Jaguar F-Pace, and the Ferrari 488 Spider, it's the news below which is setting the future direction of the industry.

Artega Scalo

The Scalo offers 402bhp from two electric motors powering the rear wheels. 0-60mph comes in 3.6 seconds. A 37kW battery supports a range of up to 250 miles.

Artega Scalo

Audi Q6 e-tron

Audi has released a concept all-electric SUV, sized somewhere between the Q5 and Q7. Its figures suggest innovation in aerodynamics contribute to a claimed range of 310 miles.

Audi Q6 e-tron concept

BMW is the 'traditional' manufacturer which I predict will be the first to have an alternative powertrain available in all of its model series first.  And a pre-show announcement has helped them achieve this...

BMW 225xe Active Tourer

The Active Tourer 225xe mates a 134bhp front-mounted 1.5L petrol engine, with a rear-axle mounted 88bhp electric motor.  25 miles of electric-only range should be possible, courtesy of the 7.7kWh lithium ion battery.

BMW 225xe Active Hybrid

BMW 225xe Active Hybrid

BMW 330e

Also delivering a 25 mile all-electric range, the 330e has a different powertrain - a 2L petrol engine, alongside a 65kW electric motor.  A top speed of 140mph (75mph in electric only), as low as 44 CO2 g/km.

BMW 330e

The powertrain within the BMW 330e

BMW 740e

To complete the trio and with 25 miles of all-electric range again, the 740e will be available in standard and long wheel based version (the latter also available as an xDrive 4WD option). Claimed figures are 134mpg and 49g CO2/km.

BMW 740e
Mercedes Concept IAA

Mercedes has introduced a new design language and world-beating aerodynamics in its IAA Concept (Intelligent Autonomous Vehicle')

Mercedes Concept IAA

Mercedes Concept IAA, with a Cd of 0.19
Its coefficient drag coefficient (Cd), is a mere 0.19, helped with automatic changes to the car's exterior above 80km/h.  And this isn't just about a rear spoiler which raises at speed... The changes are:

  • Eight segments extend at the rear, increasing its length by up to 390 millimetres
  • Front flaps in the front bumper extend by 25 mm to the front and 20 mm to the rear, improving the air flow around the front end and the front wheel arches
  • The Active Rims alter their cupping from 55 mm to zero
  • The louvre in the front bumper moves 60 mm to the rear, improving the underbody air flow

With a petrol-electric hybrid powertrain, CO2 emissions can be as low as 28g CO2/km.

Nissan Leaf

The Nissan Leaf has been a global success, in fact is the world's best-selling EV. And now Nissan have announced improvements, which include a 30kWh battery, increasing the motorway range to 250km, for only a 21kg increase in weight.

Nissan Leaf with 30kWh battery

Peugeot FRACTAL Concept

Peugeot have launched a new concept car, the FRACTAL, an electric urban coupe.  Its main focus is on sound, supporting their i Cockpit® sight and touch sensory experience.

Peugeot FRACTAL concept
"The 30kW/h lithium-ion battery powers the electric motors on the front and rear axles to provide a total output of 150kW/204hp and combined-cycle autonomy of up to 450km"

Porsche Mission E Concept

  • 600bhp+
  • 331 mile range
  • 3.5 seconds to 60mph
  • 800V charging capacity
  • Tesla have some competition!

Porsche Mission E

Porsche Mission E

Smart ForTwo and ForFour

"Both vehicles will be fitted with an electric motor produced by Renault’s Cléon plant in France, the same one used in the Renault ZOE. The battery of the new smart electric drive will be produced by the Daimler subsidiary, “Deutsche ACCUmotive,” in Kamenz, Germany."

Thunder Power

A new entrant to the sector, from Taiwan, Thunder Power have introduced a concept car looking to take Tesla on with some impressive stats:

  • 430bhp
  • 373 mile range
  • Top speed of 155mph, with a 0-62mph sprint in less than 5 seconds

Thunder Power Concept

It's set for a 2017 release in Europe, so it will be interesting to see how much of an impact it will make, as more established brands enter this segment.

Toyota Prius

Back in 1997, Toyota released the Prius... and started a revolution.  Well, it's time for an update, and although you can see some familiarity with the previous versions, it's fair to say the latest incarnation takes more than a little inspiration from the hydrogen-powered Mirai.

Toyota Prius through the generations

The 2016 Toyota Prius
The petrol engine now boasts a thermal efficiency of 40%, whilst the new nickel-metal hydride hybrid battery is more compact with its durability and charging performance being significantly improved.  It's claimed that there's a 10% improvement in efficiency overall.

Volkswagen Tiguan GTE Concept

Alongside Volkswagen's refreshed Tiguan series, they have introduced a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid GTE concept.

Volkswagen Tiguan GTE
A 1.4L TSI turbocharged petrol engine is combined with an electric motor to power the front wheels, generating 215hp.  CO2 emissions are expected to be 42g/km.  The 13kWh lithium ion battery can also be topped-up by solar panels on the roof, with optimum sun conditions extending the car's range up to 621 miles.


With a combination of existing models being upgraded, and some new concepts released, the Frankfurt Motor Show has clearly demonstrated we're accelerating towards more sustainable motoring.  And if you're in the UK, and would like to see what's available on the forecourts today, please check out my UK Sustainable Car Directory.

05 July 2015

Hydrogen cars - update

In a recent blog, I gave an overview that alongside the momentum behind plug-in electric and hybrid cars, manufacturers are still investing in hydrogen-powered mobility via fuel cells. Below, I've outlined another couple of recent developments which continue to suggest there's strong interest in making it part of our future.

Japanese manufacturers

Toyota, Nissan and Honda have added significant weight behind the support for developing a more robust hydrogen infrastructure in Japan.  

Hydrogen Station in Ebina city, Kanagawa Prefecture
Looking holistically across the product service system, the initiatives include:
  • Working with infrastructure providers to improve customer service levels
  • Extending operating hours
  • Promoting Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs)
Nissan, Toyota and Honda in agreement on hydrogen

Honda FCV

Toyota Mirai
More information here.

BMW Hydrogen development

BMW announced a partnership with Toyota in 2013 for fuel cell electric vehicle development, and have recently showcased a prototype based on their 5 series Gran Turismo.

5 Series Gran Turismo - powered by hydrogen
Its features include:

  • 180kW electric motor
  • Hydrogen storage from a 'tunnel tank' between the front and rear axles
  • A >300 mile range
  • Refuelling in less than 5 minutes
With rapid refuelling and a impressive range, it sets a high bar for electric vehicles to challenge.

Hydrogen refuelling

BMW have also released images of a futuristic hydrogen-powered prototype, with a more than passing similarity to the current i8:

BMW Hydrogen Fuel Cell eDrive technology
BMW Hydrogen Fuel Cell eDrive technology 

29 June 2015

FIA Formula-E - Round 10, London, 27th June 2015

In Formula-E's inaugural season, the last two rounds were held in Battersea Park in London. As an incredible opportunity to showcase green technology to a global audience, it was great to attend and experience the excitement first hand.  I attended on Saturday 27th June, for Round 10, the penultimate round, with everything still to play for.

For those skeptical about the potential lack of excitement of electric racing cars, or the ability for Battersea Park to successfully host the first piece of motor racing in the capital for 45 years, they need not have worried.

The cars

Each of the racing cars are the same model, Spark Racing Technology's Spark-Renault SRT_01. There are more details of the cars on the official Formula-E website, with a seemingly Anglo-French consortium including Renault, Williams, McLaren and Michelin all taking key roles.  The battery doesn't yet last an entire race, so mid-way through the race, the drivers have to change to a second car.  This actually adds an interesting dynamic to the race, where energy preservation can be just as important as the racing line.

Nicolas Prost, in a e.dams-Renault, the team co-founded by his Father
Even the safety, medical and Race Director's cars are electric:

The BMW i8 Safety Car, with inductive charging

Rimac Concept_One Race Director's car

The Drivers

Formula E has attracted some famous racing names into its first season, some running teams, some as drivers, and Trulli doing both!

Jarno Trulli, team co-founder and driver

Nick Heidfeld

Lucas de Grassi

Bruno Senna, nephew of the great Ayrton Senna

Sam Bird, the winner of the subsequent day's final round

Stephane Sarrazin

Alex Fontana

Salvador Duran

Jerome D'Ambrosio

The Race

The start lights...
Practice, qualifying and the race are all on the same day, so there was plenty of action to follow. Although the sounds from the car is unusual, it's still quite loud and being so close to the action means there's still a great atmosphere.

Eventually, Sebastian Buemi came out as the winner.

Sebastian Buemi - the winner of Round 10

And on the final day of the season, the championship, with one point difference, went to Nelson Piquet Jr.

Nelson Piquet Jr., the eventual championship winner

What does the future hold?

Richard Branson has predicted that Formula E has the potential to overtake Formula 1 in the coming years, and I'd be amazed if next year's season doesn't attract other manufacturers and drivers.  With desire and commitments to improve the technology further and the inevitable drip-feeding into the road cars of the future, finger's crossed next year is even bigger.