Saturday, August 17, 2013


I am approaching this research project not from the point of view of a person who is looking at the field of alternative energy for the first time, but as a long-time observer of the technological change in the field of alternative fuels. A few years ago, I delved deeply into the subject of batteries and electrochemistry. By doing so I acquired a rudimentary means to interpret what is realistic technology and what in the long-run will be a technological dead-end. My research inspired me to write an article I sent out widely for publication titled “We can manufacture a practical electric car NOW.” That article was written in 2001 and focused on breakthrough technology such as lithium-ion polymer batteries, electric regenerative braking systems that could recoup much more momentum energy than the small amounts that were being recouped at the time, secondary braking systems such as hydraulic braking that would recoup energy above and beyond electric regenerative braking. I came across Minn Kota’s Maximizer technology, solar panel energy help, automatic and robotic electric source connectors and more. In the interim time more advancements have been made to batteries and other technologies that could make what was then just a highly likely possibly to what is today a feasible and practical reality.
The survey of the technology, as I present it in this report, will lead the reader to understand what feasible technology is, and what technology may be a ruse by the auto industry and others to direct attention away from functional breakthroughs. I will also show in this report that missteps in the recent past by the U.S. and European automakers have left room for Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Indian firms to dominate the American and European car markets. This report in essence will be a guide to how both US and European firms, if they pay attention, can position themselves to be the future dominant firms. We will also discuss disruptive technology which may bring new players into the new markets of alternative fuels and there vehicles.
The practical application of current technology could still yield a marketable solution to the problems of oil. Such technology, whether it be fuel-cell, battery power, or something else, will most definitely change the balance of economic power in the United States. Big oil will most likely loose. The American auto industry could win if it can change its ways and become a first adopter of the technology. However, winning with electric propulsion systems means that it will loose a large portion of its after market profits. The loss of after market sales, I believe, is the strongest force behind the main automakers reluctance to go into an electric future. There is a simple fact that can not be ignored about electric vehicles, and that is that electric vehicles have few moving parts, are simple to assemble, need far less maintenance and quality built motors are known to last much longer than the most durable internal combustion engines. All of those lubrication outlets, tune-up shops, car parts stores could be severely affected if widespread adoption of the new electric oriented technology was to take place.
All standard economic assumptions about demand, supply, substitutes and price are assumed to be in effect for this study. Because this study is mainly to understand why substitutes (i.e. economic term for alternatives) for oil have not established themselves as a substantive niche in the market for automobiles, there will be extensive reliance on using basic economic principles to understand if there are other factors at play in this market that would counter free market behavior.
Other assumptions in this study are that pollution problems are real. Of late in the conservative press there has been a propensity to cast doubt on whether or not the problems of air pollution are actually caused by automobiles. There is quite a substantial amount of evidence that many of the particular pollution problems that humans face today are directly attributable to oil derived product burning in automobiles. I will not be arguing this case in this report. It is sufficient to say that tailpipe emissions from gasoline or diesel burning ICEs today are of lesser quality than the air we breathe and therefore logic would suggest that automobiles contribute to the pollution problem. It is also well known that to confine oneself in an enclosed space with a running car that operates on gasoline and an internal combustion engine is deadly. While operating an electric vehicle or a hydrogen powered fuel-cell vehicle in an enclosed space is nearly harmless. This point is self evident so I do not need to belabor the point in this report. That gasoline and diesel ICE powered cars pollute is a given for this report.
Also, this report looks at “greenhouse” gas emissions as a significant problem. About a decade ago there was rather strong debate about whether there was actually a thing called “global warming.” Today the debate is only taken up by the most extremist on the argument. The main affect of global warming is raising oceans. Its affects are clearly visible in low lying areas around the world. For this report global warming is assumed a reality, however, whether or not global warming is real will not be debated in this study. This study will focus on whether or not a technology reduces or eliminates greenhouse gas production and the affect a push to reduce greenhouse gas production has had on bringing these new technologies to the forefront.
This study is a look at the zero and low pollution drive train technology and its feasibility in the present and near future. This report is a research survey of the technologies. It is limited to technologies that make cars far more efficient by reducing their consumption of oil significantly, and technologies that supplant oil related and oil like problems altogether.
You may find the technologies reported here compelling, however, some of the technologies have barriers to entry that sustain even into mass production. This study will point out technologies that have significant barriers to market sustainability. The study’s primary focus will be on battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid technology, hybrid technology, fuel-cells, other alternative fuels and their long-term feasibility in entering the marketplace and achieving costs that will sustain them in the marketplace for the long-run.
Significance of the Study
The importance of this study is to let all who read it know how far the technology has progressed. Those persons who read this report will be made more familiar with the technology at hand. They will be better able to evaluate car manufacturers on their sustainable competitiveness. The report could guide legislatures on rules and regulations that stimulate the application of these new technologies. This study will give the reader some ability to evaluate the arguments for or against the adoption of new technologies.
Armed with the knowledge of where the technology is readers of this study may push for greater access to these technologies. The greater the demand for these technologies by the readers of this study the greater the likelihood that they will become more commonplace in the markets of the near future. The greater adoption of these technologies in the market will significantly reduce the world’s dependence on oil, reduce or eliminate the problems of smog and other pollutants, reduce the future compounded effects of global warming, and reduce the effect of oil rich nations on our and the world’s economy.
Research Design and Methodology
The research methodology that I employ in this study is operational. Operationalisation method, according to Project Gold’s research methods glossary, “is the process of translating specific research concepts into observable phenomena that are measurable.” Operationalisation uses procedures to observe and define a specific concept. These procedures of operation are then referred to as operational definitions. In simpler terms, what we will be doing is defining concepts of market phenomena observed in our historical study of the market. For example, a particular type of barrier to entry into the market place can be observed in history and defined by us; then we can apply that definition of a particular barrier to technologies currently out on the market.
The research in this project begins with an exploration of the literature about the first establishment of the market by the emergence of the technology and it will go on to find a substantial amount of examples of today’s technology for alternative fuel use in automobiles. This expedition will be used to find out what others have discovered are the main factors or barriers for the acceptance of subject technologies in the marketplace. These factors will become the operational definitions for observing the latest technology.
The literature of a few years ago on alternative fuel and propulsion technology will be the basis for establishing a base line of where the technology stood just about the year 2000. A description of technologies as they stood will be a large part of chapter 2, as well as a historical perspective of the acceptance of technology, a description of the known barriers to entry and how the technologies of 2000 advanced the market establishment of such alternatives to the current norms of transportation. This will largely be a literature review of what was written on historic and more recent yet still historic technology.
The primary research will be conducted by using Internet searches, a search of the most current journals and articles provided by EBSCO Host and other journal databases, a review of industry magazines and periodicals, visits to the library, and personal communications with persons close to the technology. With this information at hand the study will extract the names of companies and individuals with emerging technologies. The study will then access direct information on their technology, either by accessing the organization’s published data on the innovation, raw data available by other parties that measure such innovations, (i.e. Underwriters Laboratories), or data available through the U.S. Patent Office or other government agencies. Then the study will subject the innovations to the measures defined as the operation definitions. The study will also look at adaptive technologies from other industries that have application in alternative propulsion and subject them to the operational definitions.
The research is primary because much of the data gathered about the technology will be basic data. For example, batteries are rated by standard amperes hours (Ah). Amp hours are akin to how much fuel a battery can hold. Using amp hours as a comparison tool between battery technology and the volume of space the batteries occupy gives us a means of comparing the relative energy density of a new battery technology. In operationalisation the data is gathered to be measured against the operational definition, for example, the acceleration of an EV that is acceptable to the purchasing public would act as an operational definition. Through this prism of an operational definition the data is then viewed and comparisons then can be made between technologies. The final operational definition will be the conventional vehicle. How does the new technology compare to what is already provided for with a conventional vehicle?
To establish an operational definition of use I have conducted a survey sent out to 727 people chosen at random. Some are in the United Kingdom, others are in various places in the United States and still others are from around the world. The survey questions that are asked are to establish a basic definition on how the participants use a conventional vehicle. The participants are asked to choose from answers that define use based on perceived limitations of alternative fuel vehicles. This is done unbeknownst to the participants. Depending on the answers we can then establish the current areas where alternative fuel vehicles can compete, in what areas do alternative vehicles need to advance the technology in order to compete, and we can explore unused technology that may be available to improve alternative vehicles to make them more competitive with conventional vehicles.
Organization of the Study
The study is organized into the various large categories of the technologies, batteries, hybrid drive trains, fuel cells, alternative fuels, other technologies and adaptive technologies. Chapter 2 will give a historical perspective to automotive technology, factors that lead to the turn of the century dominance of the internal combustion engine, the onus for change in the 1970s, and the legislative push that sparked significant moves in the technology in the 1990s. It also establishes a criterion for defining what is a marketable innovation, and goes on to look at where the state of the art of the technology is today. What is the state of technological breakthrough since the reduction or elimination of legislative mandates at the end of the 1990s? Does the current state of the art of innovation represent a realistic change in the marketability of low and zero emission vehicles? It also looks at what an innovation must achieve before market acceptance. In other words technological hurdles that need to be met before a new technology has a chance to enter the marketplace. Chapter 3 deals with the scope of the primary research. Chapter 4 uses the information in Chapters 2 and 3 to project what breakthroughs will actually come to market. The study will show that as markets are found for alternative uses or support uses of the products described in the study, market effects and factors will change the accessibility of such innovations.
Cost factor barriers will and have begun to come down. As automakers attempt to compete with each other and economies of scale are unintentionally established, innovation technology, now thought to be too expensive for the market will become accessible. This rate of change currently happening will be used to predict the state of adoption of these technologies in the near future and beyond.
The first electric taxis hit the streets of New York City in 1897 (Electric Vehicle News - Electric Vehicles History Part III)