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AVs, EVs, or TVs: How will we decide?

Updated: Apr 30

This blog post is a repository of articles I use in teaching.


Teaching an engineering management course in a Detroit suburb attracts many of the product developers currently developing autonomous and battery electric vehicles. But as I teach Systems Thinking, we look beyond what the technology might be capable of, and at the systemic nature of this possible new mode of transportation. The following is a collection of articles which may be used when researching semester projects.


For Oakland Students, you can access newspaper articles (esp. NYT and WSJ) via Library.Oakland.Edu.


  • The author finds an "intricately tangled web of technological innovation, complexity, and uncertainty, combined with equal amounts of policy optimism and dysfunction. These last two rest on rosy expectations that the public will quietly acquiesce to the considerable disruptions that will inevitably occur in the coming years and decades. The transition to EVs is going to be messier, more expensive, and take far longer than the policymakers who are pushing it believe."


  • NYT: A rarely used technique to upgrade old power lines could play a big role in fixing one of the largest obstacles facing clean energy, two reports found.

  • Also provides links to many relevant sources.


 

BEV Supply Chains

 

  • Cowritten by Patrick Hillberg and Sawyer Hall, of the 2021 class for the World Economic Forum's Agenda Blog. Synopsis: As electricity generation transitions from fossil fuels to renewables, it will place a burden on the world’s supplies of critical battery minerals. The world’s battery capacity must grow to 40 times larger than it is today, and electric vehicles will require 80% of that future capacity, as well as an increased need for integrated circuits. Competition for both will develop between vehicles and other uses.

  • To paraphrase: "China largely owns the battery supply chain, possessing about 90 percent of global capacity to process raw lithium, about 70 percent of cobalt and 40 percent of nickel. China also has almost all the manganese- and graphite-refining capacity."

    • NYT: Nov. 12, 2021, Section A, Page 22 of the New York edition with the headline: A Snag for the Electric Car Future. By Steve LeVine

  • Companies and the U.S. government are shelling out billions of dollars to establish a supply chain for batteries in North America, a manufacturing effort that is critical to the auto industry’s long-range plans to put more electric vehicles on the road. Batteries are the most expensive component in an electric vehicle, accounting for about one-third of its cost. American electric-car makers traditionally haven’t assembled batteries themselves. They rely on a far-flung supply chain. The raw materials are mined primarily in countries such as Australia, China, Congo and Indonesia. Chemical processing, battery components and assembly are mostly done by Chinese companies.

    • WSJ: Appeared in the February 7, 2023, print edition as 'EVs Hinge on Made-in-America Batteries'.

Car companies are scrambling to lock up exclusive access to mines before others swoop in. But the strategy exposes them to the risky, boom-and-bust business of mining, sometimes in politically unstable countries with weak environmental protections. Auto executives said they had no choice because there weren’t sufficient reliable supplies of lithium and other battery materials, like nickel and cobalt, for the millions of electric vehicles the world needs.

Note: there are about 1.4 billion ICE vehicles in the world today.

Leaders of Japan, Europe and other advanced nations, agree that the world’s reliance on China for more than 80 percent of processing of minerals leaves their nations vulnerable to political pressure from Beijing. The global demand for these materials is triggering a wave of resource nationalism that could intensify. Outside of the United States, the European Union, Canada and other governments have also introduced subsidy programs to better compete for new mines and battery factories

The elephant in the room on both sides of the Atlantic is that there can be no such thing as self-sufficiency. Australia and South America are currently the big producers of lithium; Indonesia leads nickel output. The EU hopes to mine just 10% of its domestic critical-material needs in 2030.

  • WSJ: Hear on the Street, March 13, 2023


  • “How We Survive” explores the technology that could provide some of those solutions, the business of acclimatizing to an increasingly inhospitable planet, and the way people have to change if we’re going to make it in an altered world. Season 1 covers the battery mineral supply chain, and Season 2 covering the impact of Sea Level rise on South Florida.

  • See also: Lithium Brines in the Salton Sea: "The U.S. race to secure a material known as ‘white gold’ turns to the Salton Sea, where energy companies hope to extract lithium from a geothermal reservoir."

    • WSJ: Appeared in the February 5, 2022, print edition as 'Is There ‘White Gold’ Underneath This Lake?'.

  • Discusses the (largely unnoticed) global competition to control production of the rare earth metals which are crucial to all our futures, especially for the energy transition.

  • Episode 3, on Super Magnets is of particular interest to BEVs... the magnets needed for electric vehicle motors are also needed for the turbines used to create electricity.


  • Minerals are essential components in clean energy technologies – from wind turbines and electricity networks to electric vehicles. Demand for these minerals will grow quickly as clean energy transitions gather pace. This new World Energy Outlook Special Report provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the complex links between these minerals and the prospects for a secure, rapid transformation of the energy sector.

    • International Energy Agency

  • This report, Securing Clean Energy Technology Supply Chains, assesses current and future supply chain needs for key technologies – including solar PV, batteries for electric vehicles and low emissions hydrogen – and provides a framework for governments and industry to identify, assess and respond to emerging opportunities and vulnerabilities.

    • International Energy Agency

  • Geopolitical turbulence and the fragile and volatile nature of the critical raw-material supply chain could curtail planned expansion in battery production—slowing mainstream electric-vehicle (EV) adoption and the transition to an electrified future. Soaring prices of critical battery metals, as observed in the following chart from S&P Global Commodity Insights, are threatening supplier and OEM profit margins.

    • S&P Global Mobility Auto Supply Chain & Technology Group.

  • Among the most widespread and conflictual claims is that it’s immensely destructive if not impossible to find enough minerals to make all the batteries that a global fleet of electric vehicles (EVs) will need. These mineral concerns are indeed not trivial, but are often exaggerated. I’ll outline here how they can become manageable if we include solutions often overlooked... While there are proper concerns about mining battery minerals, there are also many powerful and multiplicative solutions that conventional projections often understate or ignore, exaggerating future mining needs. Let’s now explore six successive and multiplicative parts of the solution space.

    • Rocky Mountain Institute.

  • The world’s largest supply of cobalt is controlled by Chinese companies backed by Beijing.

    • A version of this article appears in print on Nov. 22, 2021, Section A, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: How U.S. Lost a Clean Energy Treasure to China.

  • Falling costs and green mandates are boosting demand for batteries capable of storing large amounts of wind and solar power for later use. (Stationary Battery Power, not transportable as would be used in a car.)

    • WSJ: Appeared in the December 22, 2021, print edition as 'Electric Grid Cranks Up Batteries'.

  • WSJ: Progress has been more evolutionary than revolutionary due to the inherent complexity of high-capacity batteries. At the molecular level, what goes on inside a lithium-ion battery is a complex cascade of chemical reactions that must repeat countless times.

  • CarbonBrief: Electric vehicles (EVs) are an important part of meeting global goals on climate change. They feature prominently in mitigation pathways that limit warming to well-below 2C or 1.5C, which would be inline with the Paris Agreement’s targets.However, while no greenhouse gas emissions directly come from EVs, they run on electricity that is, in large part, still produced from fossil fuels in many parts of the world. Energy is also used to manufacture the vehicle – and, in particular, the battery.

  • Adoption of electric vehicles is picking up, mostly thanks to supportive policy and technological advancements. Car manufacturers, suppliers, and dealers may do well to think about the implications of vehicle electrification.

  • I find this chart interesting, as a comparison. US Field Production of Crude Oil from 1M Barrels per day in 1920 to 10M per day in 1970. (Over the next 50 years it declined and then increased to current levels, around 12M barrels per day.) The point being, using that as a model, it may take five decades for US battery and magnet mineral production to reach the necessary capacity for the current number of miles driven. (That is an apples-to-oranges comparison, but if petroleum required 50 years, we should not expect battery production to reach current levels in a non-disruptive period of time.


 

The Integrated Circuit Supply Chain

 
  • NYT: Increased demand for the semiconductors that power cars, electronics and electrical grids have stoked inflation and could cause more factory shutdowns in the United States.

  • WSJ: The drought’s impact on semiconductor producers, which require voluminous quantities of water to churn out chips, is so far modest as the government creates exceptions for these manufacturers. But companies are starting to make adjustments, and officials have warned that the water shortage could worsen without adequate rainfall.

  • WSJ: Discusses TSMC, the world's largest supplier. Note that they supply much more than the auto industry.

  • NYT: More than 35 companies have pledged nearly $200 billion for manufacturing projects related to chips … Much of the world’s cutting-edge chips today are made in Taiwan, the island to which China claims territorial rights. That has caused fears that semiconductor supply chains may be disrupted in the event of a conflict… Taiwan accounts for about 22 percent of total chip production and more than 90 percent of the most advanced chips…The new spending is set to improve America’s position. A $50 billion government investment is would likely take the U.S. share of global production to as much as 14 percent by 2030.

  • WSJ via YouTube: Good 5-minute video on the use, and scarcity, of IC chips in automobiles.


 

Environmental Impacts

 
  • The transportation sector is the largest direct source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, surpassing the power sector in 2015. Cars and light-duty trucks (including pickups and SUVs) are responsible for 58 percent of transportation emissions. Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, which include tractor-trailers, large pickups and vans, delivery trucks, buses, and garbage trucks, produce about 24 percent of transportation emissions.

    • Center for Climate and Energy Solutions


  • As electric vehicles have bulked up, they have also faced new questions over their environmental and safety impacts. Here’s where they stand.

  • New York Magazine: A green future, the story goes, looks a lot like today — it’s just that the cars on the road make pit stops at charging stations instead of gas stations. But a one-for-one swap like that — an EV to take the place of your gas guzzler — is a resource-intensive, slow crawl toward a future of sustained high traffic deaths, fractured neighborhoods, and infrastructural choices that prioritize roads over virtually everything else.

  • Note the hyperlinks in the article for research sources.

    • Ask for access.

  • Severe drought expected to heighten fire risk throughout the summer and fall. In a BEV future, how will people escape forest fires, if power is shut off in a failed attempt to prevent the fire?

    • WSJ: Appeared in the June 12, 2021, print edition as 'California Blackout Warning Anticipates Big Wildfire Risk'.

  • Touches on BEVs, Fuels Cells, ethical mining practices, and the need for micro mobility and public transport

    • The NextWeb

  • Rocketing demand for electric vehicles, combined with supply disruptions caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have made Indonesia—and IMIP—a critical link in the supply chains of EV manufacturers. That's especially true for Tesla, which has signed multibillion-dollar deals with companies at the site and is reportedly in talks to set up its own manufacturing facility in the Southeast Asian country. Meeting this demand has come at a huge social and environmental cost. Workers claim that deaths and injuries are common at IMIP. Medical professionals and environmentalists say the polluted air and water are causing respiratory problems, sickness, and eye injuries and destroying forests and fisheries. The rush to expand production has pushed local communities and infrastructure to the brink of collapse.

    • Wired Magazine


 

Other BEV Ideas

 

  • "There’s a debate over how to make the trucking industry free of emissions, and whether batteries or hydrogen fuel cells are the best way to fire up electric motors in big vehicles. [But there is] a third alternative: a system that feeds electricity to trucks as they drive, using wires strung above the roadway and a pantograph mounted on the cab." My own note: autonomous trucking becomes much simpler if the trucks are constrained to following the lane which is beneath the overhead cables.

    • A version of this article appears in print on Aug. 5, 2021, Section B, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: Electric Highways? Germany Is Trying.

Truck decarbonization race by SIEMENS ADVANTA (siemens-advanta.com) This is a little sales-y, but gives an overview of catenary trucking


  • Here the E.V. revolution is an illuminating case study. To stabilize global temperatures, we have to get emissions basically all the way down to zero, not just reduce them. To do that, we need to stop burning fossil fuels in cars, not just supplement the existing fleet with slightly more green alternatives. A rapid growth in market share isn’t itself sufficient, in other words, because — like carbon itself, which hangs in the air for centuries at least — dirty cars stay on the road for a very long time, emitting all the while.

    • This is a NYT subscriber's newsletter. Ask me for access.

  • Competition, government incentives and falling raw material prices are making battery-powered cars more affordable sooner than expected.

    • NYT: A version of this article appears in print on Feb. 14, 2023, Section B, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: Electric Vehicle Prices Are Closing In on Gas Cars.

  • Includes good background info on the battery supply chain.

    • WSJ: Appeared in the August 5, 2022, print edition as 'Car Makers Seek Easier Path on EV Tax Credit'.

 

Autonomous Vehicles

  • Co-authored with Sanjeev Santhanam and Bharath Kaimal, of the 2019 class for the World Economic Forums' Agenda Blog. The cumulative energy impacts for Autonomous Vehicles could range from a 90% decrease to a 200% increase in fuel consumption by the year 2050. The sustainable solution includes vehicle electrification and light rail, and adds a shift in mobility patterns by maximizing the use of shared vehicle trips. This would improve impacts on energy and CO2 emissions, and dramatically reduce the number of vehicles on the world’s roads by 2050.

  • The world is massively underestimating the volume of data we create as well as our storage requirements over the next few decades from IoT and autonomous EVs... our long-term estimate of 1,000 ZB global storage capacity by 2040... Considering that it has taken over US$2 trillion to build just 2 ZB of data center capacity we expect it will cost over US$100 trillion to reach 1000 ZB by 2040. (Holon.investments)


  • Faulty computer systems are prompting class-action lawsuits by disgruntled car owners, a symptom of automakers’ bumpy transition to the digital age.

  • WSJ Experts aren’t sure when, if ever, we’ll have truly autonomous vehicles that can drive anywhere without help. First, AI will need to get a lot smarter.

  • Engineering.com: Discusses SAE Levels 2, 4, & 5, and the role the Systems Engineering might play (TBH - I think that this is hooey, as seen at GM Boeing, and others... but I have been wrong before. 🙄)

  • Consumers expect more innovative features and services in their cars (such as advanced driver assistance, immersive infotainment, and connectivity, among others) and seamless digital continuity with the increasing number of smart devices they use. OEMs need to become more efficient and agile, delivering new software-based features and services to market at a faster rate, compelling them to achieve software excellence, as they also face new regulatory demands relating to data privacy, cybersecurity, safety, sustainability, and risk management

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