Larry Burns: Holistic approach required to achieve transformational change of transportation and the automobile; the power of “And”
29 February 2012
Larry Burns, former head of GM R&D and strategic planning and currently Professor of Engineering Practice at the University of Michigan and Director, Sustainable Mobility at the Earth Institute, Columbia University, used his presentation at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit (EIS) in Washington to call for a holistic approach to the transformational change required for the transportation sector in general and the automobile in particular.
He also called the propensity to “sit around debating” which drive technology or energy source is better than all the rest as “premature and presumptuous”. Stressing the power of “and” rather than “or”, he asserted that:
The automobile is unsustainable without transformational change. There is a transformation opportunity surfacing. When we take the new DNA—electric drive, diverse energy sources, self-driving and driverless, connected and coordinated, vehicles with a specific purpose—we can put them all together to rethink the entire system.—Larry Burns
Burns’ talk came one day after Bill Ford’s keynote at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, in which he outlined a plan for connected cars to help avoid a potentially unsustainable future of what he called “global gridlock—a never-ending traffic jam that wastes time, energy and resources.” (Earlier post.)
|One thing missing this morning was a discussion of the consumer. The only solutions that will scale will be the ones that people want. The consumer value has to be greater than the market price.|
Propulsion technologies will exist on a continuum ranging from 100% mechanical power (ICE) to mechanical with electrical assist; electrical with mechanical assist; and 100% electrical. All are important, all will play a role, he said.
As an exploration of an approach, he focused on the role of natural gas (which had received some high-level attention in the morning plenary sessions at the EIS) as well as reducing oil imports from OPEC nations (which had also received some high-level EIS attention). Burning compressed natural gas in vehicle offers little efficiency and CO2 advantages versus gasoline vehicles, he noted. Using natural gas to generate electricity and/or hydrogen results in nearly twice the distance with half as much CO2, he said.
When we look at it from a well-to-wheels perspective, it suggests that if we burn it, there is less benefit. All three [uses] are important. But when we look out into the future, if we get myopic about just compressing and burning, we will use it up twice as fast as we should.—Larry Burns
Hypothetically, it would take 5.9 quadrillion Btu (quads) of natural gas in 2025 for the US to get off of OPEC oil for transportation, Burns said—an amount that is 22% more than current production. However, it would take 3.3 quads with battery electric and fuel cell vehicles—about 12% more.
From another perspective, to achieve the target of ridding the country of the need for OPEC oil would require some 80 million vehicles (CNG, battery-electric and fuel cell vehicles) by 2025—representing some 30% of the fleet in 2025, or 40% of cumulative new vehicle sales from 2013-2025. As a point of comparison, the California ARB ZEV regulation is mandating 15% compliant new production by 2025.
What if this natural gas is used in an integrated energy system in concert with renewable energy? Natural gas may be the best thing for renewables—it can deal with the intermittency problem. We can further position to get the US off OPEC oil through the power of “and”.—Larry Burns
Burns also highlighted the future role of driverless, coordinated vehicles and the potential for a “mobility internet” that could manage each individual vehicle along is own space/time path through the city. Burns referenced GM’s ENV concept (earlier post) which, he said, is 15 times more efficient than an auto and uses 1/10 as many parts.
Burns recommended positioning the US to be a world leader in self-driving, driverless vehicles, and to get the mobility internet up and running.
The energy challenge is not due to a lack of resources or knowledge; the challenge is due to a lack of integrated systems. By combining abundant fossil and renewable energy with a broad portfolio of promising technology, we can excite consumers and reward investors. The power of “and” results from holistic thinking and acting. This will require innovative system design, proactive risk management and strong leadership.
The power of “and” promises a better mobility experience for people and goods at radically lower consumer and societal costs.—Larry Burns
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