How will biofuels, three-wheeled cars and EV charging come together to create a more sustainable transportation system in the future? The discussion at last week’s Women in Clean Tech and Sustainability panel on The Future of Transportation centered on this question. The panel featured Virgina Klausmeier, the CEO of Sylvatex biofuels, Mark Fronmayer, CEO of Arcimoto, a low form-factor EV, and myself, the Head of Marketing Partnerships for ChargePoint. Moderated by Lisa Ann Pinkerton, with lots of interaction from the women (and some men) in the audience, we tried to imagine how the shift to shared, autonomous vehicles would take place and the role that each of our technologies will play when it did.
With two different alternative fuels and an alternative vehicle represented on the panel, we were able to dig in to questions of vehicle and fuel choice with lively debate. At first, there was a natural divide on the panel between EVs and biofuels. Biofuels are sometimes thought of as competition for electricity as the cleaner fuel of the future. Additionally, while we spend a lot of time thinking about alternative fuels, we don’t often think about alternative types of vehicles—most people don’t think outside the current portfolio of cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles and trains for motorized ground transportation. But, we will really need it all to address the current problems with our transportation options.
Through our conversation we seemed to land on a vision of the future that included shared fleets of autonomous cars with advanced management systems to optimize the type of vehicle and fuel to the specific trip. Smaller, all-electric cars would be sent for shorter trips or when there were just a few passengers. Bigger plug-in hybrid vehicles with low-emission fuels in the gas tank would be sent for longer trips or when larger vehicles are needed to carry big loads. By taking humans out of the equation with autonomous cars, we could make sure that the best fuel and vehicle choices are always made to minimize economic and environmental costs, while maximizing utility for the passengers and efficiency for any cargo.
Uber and Lyft are already starting to help us become comfortable with the shared economy for transportation. In cities where these services are popular, people are already making the choice not to own their own vehicle because they know Uber and Lyft are there when they need them. By extending this model, you could imagine cities in which no one owned a car and instead governments or private companies invested in diversified fleets of vehicles managed by algorithms that could always make the most practical choice about which type of vehicle and fuel to use for a specific trip.
In this model, everyone would have access to all vehicle types at all times. We would not be limited by the necessity of purchasing a single car model that we think will suit all of our driving needs for the next several years. This pressure makes us all think we need a big car with long range, even though for most people there are very few times when we actually need those things. By sharing, everyone would save money on vehicle purchases, fuels and maintenance. Everyone would save time in traffic because routes would be optimized and emissions would be greatly reduced by selecting the smallest possible vehicle and the best fuel.
It may seem expensive to make this switch, but Mark made the point that some cities already spend so much on public transportation and infrastructure that maybe investing in these kinds of fleets is not so far-fetched.
The discussion at the Women in Clean Tech and Sustainability event just scratched the surface of the potential opportunities and challenges transportation faces in the future. The biggest thing I took away from the conversation is that biofuels, EV charging and new types of EVs all complement each other. They allow us to achieve our carbon reduction goals without compromising on performance and flexibility.
Here’s a little bit more about each of the companies represented on the panel and what they are doing to pave the way for better transportation in the future.
If a car and a motorcycle had a baby, it would look like the Arcimoto Generation 8. I’ve often wondered why almost all cars on the road have five seats when most of the time you only need one or two. This doors-optional, all-electric two-seater, is made to answer that question. Mark asked the audience to reconsider the need to move two tons of material around with us everywhere we go. The newest Arcimoto model will be about half the weight of a regular car and will have a range compatible with the Nissan Leaf and other economical EVs. It will be a low-cost route to a fun-to-drive EV and it will be ready for the marketplace in the next couple of months.
Sylvatex makes MicroX, a fuel additive that blends with diesel, biodiesel and renewable diesel. It is said to reduce the carbon-intensity of the blended fuel, and cut NOSx emissions by 13% and particulate matter emissions up to 57%. It’s been tested in a light-duty passenger vehicle as well as heavy-duty trucks and has not shown any degradation in fuel consumption, performance, operability, or wear on the vehicle. Virginia emphasized that while electricity is a great alternative fuel option for passenger vehicles, there are additional challenges associated with switching heavy-duty trucks and other larger vehicles with long-distance routes to electricity in the near future. Biofuels and additives like MicroX can play an important role in reducing emissions, particularly in these contexts.
At ChargePoint we focus on creating the infrastructure needed to enable mass adoption of all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles which are more efficient and can drive on electricity created from less carbon-intense sources like renewables and natural gas. Though our best-in-class hardware is designed to meet the needs of the EVs on the market today and in the future, the most important piece of what we are building is the extension of the electricity grid into our roads and parking lots, and the network connectivity and management systems for EV drivers to access and pay for that power.