Top 5: Meet the “Carculator”

05.27.20 | Blog | By:

Hello friends! Here’s my monthly take on five most interesting developments in fuels and vehicles trends. What I try to do each month is select stories, studies and other interesting items that you may not have seen elsewhere but that really represents an important issue or trend that I think you would want to know about. Or, I try to poke behind the hype to provide a deeper understanding of what’s happening. Items I selected this month include:

  • Meet the “Carculator”: Scientists at the Paul Scherrer Institute have developed a web tool called the Carculator that can be used to compare the environmental performance of different passenger cars in detail.
  • Green Stimulus in the EU: It appears that the EU will be the first to heed the calls on green stimulus, preparing to put €1 trillion on the table.
  • Trouble in the Autonomous Vehicle World: Some of this is pandemic-related, but some of it isn’t.
  • J.D. Power Survey on Mobility: U.S. consumers aren’t too keen on either autonomous vehicles or battery electric vehicles.
  • Wireless Charging Research: Stanford University researchers have published a new demonstration of highly efficient wireless charging that could allow the technology to one day be scaled up to boost driving range of EVs.

1. AlphaGalileo: Life Cycle Assessment of Cars – New Web Tool Helps Consumers And Researchers Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute have developed a web tool called the Carculator that can be used to compare the environmental performance of passenger cars in detail. The program determines the environmental balance of vehicles with different size classes and powertrains and presents the results in comparative graphics.

Besides the engine type and fuel, those who use the Carculator can also enter the size category of the vehicles to be compared, from subcompact cars to vans. The user also selects the country where the vehicles are to be used as well as the year, between 2000 and 2050, when the cars will be registered. For the future, the electricity mix can also be manually entered to test the effects of different scenarios.

The tool also assesses the environmental impacts of the entire life cycle of passenger cars, including the manufacture of the body and all other components, such as batteries for electric motors. It shows not only the calculation of all GHGs—added together and expressed in CO2 equivalents—but also those for the release of particulates, nitrogen oxide emissions and environmental assessment indicators such as pollution of water bodies.

The Carculator also gives professionals a look behind the scenes: If the program is installed from the website, all the underlying calculations can be viewed, assessed and even changed. I did a simple search for the U.S. and it showed diesel, gasoline and electric cars for the years 2020, 2035 and 2050.

Source: Carculator website, May 2020

2. Euractiv: LEAKED: Europe’s Draft ‘Green Recovery’ Plan – It appears that the EU will be the first to heed the calls on green stimulus, preparing to put €1 trillion on the table. A leaked plan last week shows the Commission is focused on three main areas: building renovation, renewables and hydrogen and clean mobility. For renewables and hydrogen, the Commission noted in the leaked document presented to the Parliament that, “Without sustained growth of the renewables market, there is no future for clean hydrogen in Europe while sustainable hydrogen technology has a critical role to play in decarbonising the economy.” On renewables, key aspects of the recovery plan include:

  • An EU tendering scheme for renewable electricity projects worth 15 GW over 2 years, with a total capital investment of €25 billion.
  • Support for national schemes with €10 billion over two years, using co-financing by the European Investment Bank (EIB).

For clean hydrogen, the Commission intends to:

  • Double the amount of funding for clean hydrogen research and innovation, currently standing at €650 million.
  • A further €10 billion over the next ten years – involving co-financing – to “substantially reduce risks” of large and complex projects such as hydrogen.

On clean mobility, the plan proposes among other things:

  • An EU-wide Purchasing Facility for Clean Vehicles, that reduces CO2 and pollutant emissions in line with EU standards. Amount: €20 billion in the next two years.
  • A Clean Automotive Investment Fund to accelerate the investments in zero-emission drive trains. Amount: €40-60 billion.
  • Doubling EU investment on EV recharging infrastructure, with the objective of reaching 2 million public charging and alternative refueling stations by 2025.

The recovery plan also foresees greater funding for urban mobility programs, such as cycling infrastructure, to be financed under the EU’s regional funding programs.

3. The New York Times: This Was Supposed to Be the Year Driverless Cars Went Mainstream – Not so much, according to this report from the Times. Some of this is pandemic-related, but some of it isn’t. The article notes autonomous vehicle start-ups spend $1.6 million a month on average — four times the rate at financial tech or health care companies while it will be many years before companies turn a profit. Here’s a run-down of where some companies stand:

  • Cruise: Testing has been curtailed with the pandemic, but it has gotten a few cars back on the road by making deliveries for two food banks in San Francisco.
  • Ford: Pushed back the launch of its autonomous service from 2021 to 2022.
  • Waymo: Work has been set back at least two months with the pandemic and figuring out how to do social distancing (you need at least two people in a car when testing). The company has raised $750 million in funding, adding to the $2.25 billion it secured at the beginning of March.
  • Zoox: Investors have valued the company at $2.7 billion, but it recently hired the investment bank Qatalyst Partners to explore a potential sale while it also tries to raise new funding. The company has laid off staff.
  • Lyft: Laid off 1,000 employees, including in its autonomous division.
  • Voyage: Has raised $52 million in funding which will last through 2021; doing simulations in lieu of on-road testing right now.

4. J.D. Power: Reality Check: Consumer Sentiment on Future Mobility Technologies Declines Even Before the New Normal Hits – And speaking of which, J.D. Power 2020 Q1 Mobility Confidence Index Study has found that North American consumer confidence in future mobility technologies lags far behind automakers’ plans to bring self-driving and battery-electric vehicles to market. This quote was interesting:

“Frankly, we’re concerned for automakers. They’re pushing forward with technology that consumers seem to have little interest in. Nor are they making the strides needed to change people’s minds. Especially now, automakers need to reevaluate where they’re spending money. They are investing billions in these technologies but they need to also invest in educating consumers. Lack of knowledge is a huge roadblock for future adoption.” – Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction & human machine interface research at J.D. Power

Here’s a couple of key findings from the study:

  • Technology failure or error remains the top concern about self-driving technology in the U.S. and Canada, with Canadians being even more worried about it (75% compared with 67% in the U.S.). Canada’s climate and mountainous terrain present a significant challenge. Concerns about creating a lazy society dependent on technology and with diminished driving skills is a heightened concern.
  • Few consumers have any experience with battery-electric vehicles (BEVs): The majority (70%) of American respondents have never been in a BEV, and 30% say they know nothing about them. Canadians are only slightly more experienced with BEVs (67% have never been in one) but are more knowledgeable, with 19% saying they know nothing about them.
  • Charging station availability, driving range and purchase price are the top 3 barriers to BEVs as perceived by American and Canadian consumers today. These were also the top 3 barriers in 1997 when J.D. Power studied consumer interest in electric vehicles when the GM EV1 was launching. Vehicle technology and infrastructure availability have progressed dramatically in 23 years, but consumers have not budged in their perception. Even those who have owned a BEV previously have these items as their top 3 barriers.

5. The Driven: Stanford Research Brings EVs One Step Closer to Wirelessly Charging on Roads – Researchers from Stanford University have published a new demonstration of highly efficient wireless charging that could allow the technology to one day be scaled up to boost driving range of electric vehicles on highways of the future. Wireless, or inductive, charging – the same technology that is nowadays often used for electric toothbrushes and some smartphones – is under development and being piloted by some car makers already.

Current electric car inductive technology has its limitations: it relies on charging pads that must be aligned perfectly with the oscillating magnetic field that transmits the current to optimally recharge the vehicle, and of course the subsequent downtime to recharge. The culprit causing such system sensitivity is the typical amplifier used in inductive charging technology, that becomes very inefficient if a device is not sitting in just the right place.

The new demonstration, published in Nature Electronics, is based on a new circuit configuration that allowed the researchers to make use of another type of amplifier known as a “switch mode” amplifier, which is far more efficient but requires precise conditions in order. The new system demonstrated by Stanford electrical engineer Shanhui Fan and Sid Assawaworrarit who shows up to 92% efficiency can be achieved, with the lab prototype used in the demonstration transmitting 10 watts over a distance of up to 1 meter.

Initially the system may be suitable for smaller devices such as drones or robots but according to Fan, there are no fundamental reasons the system couldn’t be scaled up to transmit hundreds of kilowatts needed to charge an electric vehicle.

Tammy Klein is a consultant and strategic advisor providing market and policy intelligence and analysis on transportation fuels to the auto and oil industries, governments, and NGOs. She writes and advises on petroleum fuels, biofuels, alternative fuels, automotive fuels, and fuels policy.

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