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Larry Burns: Holistic approach required to achieve transformational change of transportation and the automobile; the power of “And”

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.
—Larry Burns

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

Comments

Engineer-Poet
The MTG and Core methods are more than 45% efficient
You kept asserting this without references.  I finally found this abstract claming 55%, but that's still nothing to write home about.
we need a transition plan and waiting for all PHEV/BEV with no other source of liquid fuel but oil is not a good one...IMO.
You're proposing to build a mass of synthetic gasoline plants lasting 50 years to feed today's fleet of vehicles with an average remaining lifespan of ~9 years; converting existing vehicles to CNG does not represent such a long-term commitment.  Do you wonder why some of us think you're duped by the oil industry?
SJC

Please name the "some of us", if you mean the other guy that made insults, I would not associate yourself with him.

SJC

MTG efficiency greater than 54%

http://www.greencarcongress.com/2011/05/janus-20110501.html

You commented on the article, so I know you were aware of this, yet you say I have no references.

SJC

Natural gas to DME to gasoline...

"The thermal efficiency of the process
developed by Japan’s JFE is 65 to
70%, higher than the conventional
Fischer Tropsch process."

http://www.altfueltechnology.com/files/total.pdf

Since the wholesale price of natural gas is less than 30 cents per therm right now and the price of oil is over $100 per barrel, this could be cost effective.

Engineer-Poet

I posted a response to this, where did it go?

Lucas


It is possible to buy today an electric motor with an efficiency above 90%. It weighs 13 oz. (380g) Can be bought in volume for about $100. One (or two) driving each wheel will get you to expressway speeds as quickly as rubber traction will allow.

The car could be built today. Where are all the auto engineers with imagination?

Engineer-Poet

All right, I'm ticked off.  My response to SJC's 1:41 comment was there after I posted it, then vanished without a trace.  I'll re-create it and also respond to the follow-up, removing any URLs which might trigger some brain-dead filter.

MTG efficiency greater than 54%
I had completely forgotten that.  The case for GTM and GTL at Valdez is better than elsewhere; the pipeline needs extra volume, can benefit from the diluent and antifreeze effects of the GTL products, and exploits stranded gas that's effectively free.  None of these things are true in the lower 48.

The GCC article you cite does not give an efficiency.  Suppose it is 55%; when you are dealing with NG at spike prices upwards of $6/mmBTU (which we'd probably get to quickly if NG demand increased, because that's about what it takes to recover costs from gas-only plays), you are talking feedstock costs of about $1.30/gallon.  That might sound good compared to petroleum at $2.50/gallon, but the entire physical plant would have to be built from scratch and amortized.

Natural gas to DME to gasoline...

"The thermal efficiency of the process
developed by Japan’s JFE is 65 to
70%, higher than the conventional
Fischer Tropsch process."

Not true.  That is the efficiency of producing DME.  The DME-to-gasoline conversion has losses of its own, and you just contradicted your previous claim of 55% efficiency.

SJC, I am unimpressed.  Not one of your claims has stood up as relevant to the argument you're making (Valdez) or even accurate (NG->DME rather than NG->gasoline).  If you continue to do this badly, I'll have to conclude that you're not competent to judge the truth of things, or worse.

SJC

We do not care what you conclude, get a life.

Engineer-Poet

You don't care to correct your errors.  I guess they weren't mistakes, they were deliberate.

Joann

Hi,
I do not want to argue with Larry, he is almost there, but I want to let you know that recently it happened to read a difficult book, from kindle, entitled "Challenges of the future" (in fact there are 2 with same name, I read one about individual transportation, and I got an idea on what it might happen very soon to US - the vehicle there looks robotic and is praised to deliver helicopter speeds at fraction of an actual car fuel cost, if and only if our society will be able to socialize and computerize enough to make it working;
It is a multi-modal concept...and seems to be some prototypes developed somewhere in Los Alamos.

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