I will apologize if I seem harsh and I may seem a bit confrontational in my initial assertions about the Automotive Industry in general in the way they handle innovation. But I can only speak from my personal experience and the long history of their inability to effect significant change. Yet there seems to be a real, albeit fruitless, attempt to make a change in recent months particularly in the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle Development. Unfortunately it seems to be heading in the same direction of the Electric “Leaf”. D.O.A.
I regret to say their methodology seems terribly flawed and their attempt to change or shift the industry/Consumer/societal relationship is ineffectively designed at best. I will attempt to outline the Technology adaption move from Gasoline to the Electric Vehicle, to what I believe is the future, a Hydrogen Fuel Cell (HFC) Vehicle, and provide the reasons for the current failure to launch effectively, and then to propose a solution to those problems.
I have been frustrated in their inability to bring HFC Vehicles into the mass market and while I have tried to make my voice know I am met with indifference on a daily basis. Hence I am forced to declare that the Automotive Industry in general is either naive’ or worse incompetent when it comes to transitioning from Liquid Hydrocarbon Based Fuels Vehicles (aka Gasoline and Diesel) to Alternative Fuels such as Electric, Natural Gas, or Hydrogen. I make this assertion because of the manner in which Automotive Companies have attempted to enter such markets.
This “Fuel” transformation has been a pet project of mine for the last dozen or so years. From Types of fuels to methods of distribution to Consumer behavior to capital investment all have been major obstacles in trying to develop and design an effective prototype for a successful implementation of this transformation.
Recent events have frustrated me in seeing the abject failure by Auto manufactures as well as the leading Fuel Cell manufacturer Ballard Power systems. Their actions show a unilateral non- system approach to this transformation boarding on incompetence. While I should apologize in some way to those companies, I cannot in good conscious do so because I firmly believe they have failed IF in fact they are serious about making this transformation successful.
Strangely enough the ONE company that was interested in finding solutions and actually asked questions was GE… but their New design Hydrogen Generators are more designed for a Micro Grid implementation as opposed to Automotive use. (More about Micro Grids in the future)
Ballard Power Systems never even returned a phone call let alone acknowledged an e-mail and the same with ALL the Automotive Companies. But who can blame them as I am NOT in their industries. Yet Harvard Biz Review today promoted an article called
Hence I was motivated to bring this issue to bear in today’s post.
This is something I have advocated for years. It also Dove-tailed with a “Systems Approach to Management”. As my favorite Mantra is: “If You Cannot Solve The Problem You Are Facing Than You Are Facing The Wrong Problem. Change the definition Of The Problem to Find A Suitable Solution” . Forbes Contributor Steve Denning a few years ago unearthed a Charles Deming Philosophical concept “Working within existing paradigm leads to frustration, not progress.Look at the problem in fundamentally different way to solve the problem.”
This seems to have been an “Industry Problem” in the Automotive sector. An inability to see beyond its own self imposed confines and when it thinks it does it does so without seeing the consumer as the one needing to be served. While the demand it there for Alternative fuels, there is a certain comfort level that the Consumer feels that makes the current generation of Alt fuel Vehicles a toy for early Adopters but unsuitable for the masses.
Electric Vehicles are enticing. This if nothing else this explains the sales of Tesla Vehicles. Elon Musk has broken many paradigms in his efforts to facilitate the Electric vehicle, and especially his own. I applaud this efforts but in this case it is a concept that had 2 flaws. The current actual market is extremely small. A) because of Consumer reluctance to something new hence its appeal was limited to early adopters and B) Because of the issues with the number of household able to “Plug-In” The key then was to have ready rapid charging at multiple locations.
Unfortunately affordable battery storage and rapid (2-3 minutes) recharging technology has yet to raise to the occasion to make this a reality and there is still a certain level of discomfort with this “Newfangled””Horseless Carriage” consumer mentality, which is very complex, and no one really ever addressed that.
Efforts to make batteries interchangeable by Tesla are also not a practical way.. although the concept of battery swap is a major breakthrough.. it needs to be a battery that weighs less than 10 pounds and can be exchanged in 100’s of thousands of locations. like a Duracell. (Maybe Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffet can provide what I refer to in the future.)
Next comes CNG/ LNG but the heavy investment into things like Natural Gas Fueling stations are extremely expensive and the impracticable use of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) which has to be kept at temperatures extremely cold for Specialized Tanker Transport to the “Fueling stations” and than storage there and later pumped into vehicles that an passenger vehicle fueling every few days or more would lose too much of its mass to make it a reasonable alternative for the consumer. Simply it may be viable for Trucks that are always on the highway but as far as passenger vehicles it is not a realistic alternative to Gasoline.
Natural Gas was an ideal solution.. especially since it could be utilized for the creation of “On-Board” Hydrogen generation for the Fuel Cell Technology power trains . It was under this premise I thought I had the ideal solution . One that would fit well into the Consumer behavior in its current form and slowly move people into other means of refueling.
Again I refer to the Consumer and having tens of thousands of locations for the CNG Vehicles to refuel. That is only being done by fleets currently but the investment into natural gas pumps at your local “Gas Station” is not something they will do unless there are more Vehicles and Consumers will not buy these vehicles unless there are many more Fueling locations.. hence the proverbial Chicken and Egg scenario.. who will blink first… currently no one that I can tell.
The solution is so simple but not ONE Vehicle manufacture has wanted to even HEAR the solution let alone decide to do it or not.. WHY?? Because the solution is NOT in the Automotive Industry as the above referenced HBR Article suggests. You cannot blame the Automotive industry. Since Henry Ford the ability to change or accept change fro outside the industry has not been easy and the idea that a non-automotive person can hold the solution is the height of heresy to long standing Automotive insiders who have dedicated their lives to the industry. That a kindergarten teacher could provide insight would seem ludicrous on its face. (for the record I am not a kindergarten teacher.. but yet sometimes outsides see the forest because those in the industry can only see the trees. )
That brings us to Hydrogen. I admit I was a little disappointed that Natural Gas had not won out as I said above. My idea of a light weight canister that can hold as much as 25,000 PSI had already been through engineering review. One may think this is simple but the canisters that were used prior had an aluminium bladder that under anything even close to the tolerance needed would sustain cracks. So by remembering a manufacturing technique from another client for a different produce I was able to find the solution to this “problem”.
Now Enters several Automotive companies. Hyundai, Kia, Audi, BMW, Mercedes etc. Each had developed their own version of the All Electric Tesla thinking they did not want to be left behind on the electric vehicle. Now each has introduced a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle . Ballard is the company I mentioned above with their own Fuel Cell engine design …. but withing the last couple of weeks Audi claims to have something even better.
Everyone wants the best engine.. yet until recently NO ONE had tried to solve the problem of fueling stations. Then came The Mirai, by Toyota. A few weeks ago their CEO of USA Operations announced not only this vehicle but a partnership with Air Liquide A French Company with limited operations in USA. The “partnership” though not fully disclosed on details, would have multiple fueling locations in the North East USA. It seems based on the T. Boone Pickens Company Clean Energy Fuels Corp whose stations run along major highways and interstates to provide LNG to Truck Fleets that have converted to Natural Gas.
At 2 million dollars roughly (as per Elon Musk) these Hydrogen Fueling Stations are presumably not just pumps in some one else’s facility but will be free standing. Therefor they will not only extremely expensive by will not be seen in local markets for many years to come. The profit margins have to be high to recover the investment but that makes the Hydrogen when production and transport and amortization of the actual stations are included to make the cost no better than gasoline.
So while I applaud Toyota to be on the forefront of trying to break the Chicken or Egg Cycle I cannot see it coming to Fruition for 10-15 years, IF even then.
The Canister Solution and the 100,000+ locations will help in soothing Consumer fears, allow them to stay within a partially defined paradigm of how they refuel, will provide the solution to the chicken/Egg Conundrum, and bring together more stakeholders dedicated to the success of making Non-Gasoline Vehicles more prevalent than ever before imagined in a much shorter time frame.
I Mentioned my light- weight canister design above. I successfully modified them to handle Hydrogen. Not only are they easy to handle but because of the multi-stage manufacturing process they are able to be tracked and maintained in great detail over their life-time. I was able to identify a distribution system roll out that can effectively have these canisters in 100,000+ locations in 24-30 months. But to do that several things have to happen:
1/ Automotive Manufactures have to modify the Fuel Tanks for their HFC vehicles to accommodate these Fueling canisters.
2/ The number of canisters manufactured and distributed within the network identified and established has to be no less than 2 times the number of canisters utilized for all HFC vehicle promised to be manufactured on this roll out. Full joint planning of the roll out should be jointly planned
3/ A Strategic Partnership must be established with the Hydrogen producers, the designed distribution system and the auto manufactures who initially agree to this program. All other manufactures must wait 2-4 years before they will be able to access this system. This is not only an incentive for Manufactures who want to enter into this field but also to reward them with 2-4 years of exclusivity without competition from those who want to jump on after the difficult work has been accomplished.
4/ Contractual arrangements for the production of Hydrogen be established and guaranteed.
5/ Continuation of Tax incentives and possible expansion and the attempt to use excess renewable energy to create the hydrogen thereby easing the burden on utilities as well as satisfy those who are concerned as to the power used to generate said Hydrogen.
6/ The creation of a joint organization to promote the above in the USA and overseas where appropriate and or necessary.
These items should take less than 12 months after all parties come together for the expressed purpose of implementing this program allowing for the mass production of hundreds of thousands of HFC vehicles over 3-4 years.
I am but a simple person trying to facilitate what I personally believe to be the biggest change in Automotive Manufacturing history. Further the distribution system I refer to can be used to roll out charging stations for battery swaps as I described above in the Duracell fashion.
The future is here if anyone wants to work with me to make this happen. Unfortunately as a NON-Automotive person I an mot considered legitimate in the automotive circles. I hope my series of articles over the course of time can change that and that the bias that prevents the adoption of alternative theories of success can be abated.