Featured Article : Tesla Robotaxi In August

Following a fall in Tesla EV sales and profits, Tesla boss Elon Musk has announced that he’ll be unveiling a ‘Robotaxi’ on August 8 this year.

May Swap Lower Cost EV For Robotaxi 

Reports initially indicated that Mr Musk’s Tesla company would be abandoning its plans to build a lower-cost EV (the Model 2) in favour of building the ‘robotaxi’ instead using the same small EV platform that was designed to power the lower-cost EV. However, Mr Musk took to his ‘X’ platform to quash that rumour.

What Is A ‘Robotaxi’? 

The robotaxi will be an autonomous ride-hailing service but it’s not yet clear if it will resemble a typical car or a vehicle without a steering wheel or pedals.

Promised Years Ago 

A Tesla car with autonomous capabilities was first promised back in 2016 as a way for Tesla owners to make an income from their cars as part of a ride-sharing network. At the time, the idea was that owners could add their car “to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app” enabling them to make money from the car while they’re “at work or on vacation” thereby “significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost.” 

In 2017 and 2019 the ‘robotaxi’ idea – autonomous cars as part of a ride-sharing network – was floated again. Musk then said a couple of years later that a robotaxi with no steering wheel or pedals would enter the market by 2024.

Markets Pleased 

Mr Musk’s announcement that the robotaxi will be unveiled on August 8 initially pleased the markets with Tesla (TSLA) stock closing up nearly 5 per cent shortly after.

Automated Driving Features Anyway 

Teslas already have a driver-assistance system called ‘Autopilot’ as standard, anyway. However, for an extra $12,000, owners can buy a “full self-driving,” or FSD feature. However, this does not yet enable full autonomous driving capabilities but instead adds some automated driving features.

What Makes Tesla Uniquely Able To Introduce A Robotaxi? 

In addition to the original plan for owners to be able to add their car to the Tesla ride-sharing network, and the FSD feature, other factors that make Musk’s Tesla (perhaps uniquely) able to make a robotaxi include:

– Data Collection at scale. Tesla vehicles on the road today are equipped with a suite of sensors that collect vast amounts of data on real-world driving conditions (2.5 million miles of self-driving data from customers every day). Tesla uses this data to continuously improve its Autopilot and FSD algorithms through machine learning. This crowdsourced data collection model is unique to Tesla and is a critical component of its strategy to achieve full automation.

– Vertical integration. Tesla’s vertical integration strategy encompasses the manufacturing of its own batteries, software development, and vehicle production. This control over the entire supply chain and development process allows for rapid iteration and deployment of new technologies, which is essential for the development of an autonomous robotaxi.

– Energy efficiency and operational cost. Tesla’s electric vehicles are known for their energy efficiency, which can significantly reduce the operational cost of running a robotaxi service. Lower costs could make Tesla’s robotaxi service more competitive against traditional ride-sharing services and personal car ownership.

– Innovative battery technology. Tesla’s continuous innovation in battery technology, aiming for higher energy density, longer lifespan, and lower costs, will be critical for the economic viability and sustainability of a robotaxi fleet.

– Telsla’s brand image and consumer trust. Tesla’s brand is strongly associated with innovation in electric vehicles and autonomy. This existing consumer trust and interest could, therefore, encourage quicker adoption of its robotaxi service.

What About Regulation?

Although Tesla has experience in navigating the regulatory landscape for electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles, one of the significant challenges of getting an autonomous robotaxi service on the road is likely to be whether Tesla can successfully navigate the regulatory hurdles.

Another challenge that Tesla may be faced with to get robotaxi on the road could be of a technical nature, i.e. having to add more enhanced sensors, cameras, and other equipment to enable it to achieve full autonomy.

Hype Vs Reality? 

Other more sceptical commentators have seen Musk’s announcement as perhaps just a tactic to boost share prices and keep investors focused on the future of his company by dangling a new product (and one that’s been dangled before a few times). It’s also been suggested (e.g. by Adam Crisafulli of Vital Knowledge) that it’s a case of Tesla perhaps trying to distract from the poor current EV market conditions, and that the hype may not live up to the reality.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

With the EV market going through a bit of a slump and with Tesla stock prices having struggled recently, the more sceptical among us could be forgiven as seeing this announcement as ‘classic Musk’, i.e. floating a new product to give things a boost.

The idea and the original vision for the robotaxi fleet dates back to 2016 but it may now be the case (although Musk denies it) that he’s going to prioritise the robotaxi over the lower-cost EV (Model 2) car.

If successful and all regulatory and technical challenges are overcome, the introduction of a robotaxi could have a number of industrywide ripple-effects. In fact, it could shake up several industries, compelling traditional automakers to fast-track autonomous and electric vehicle technologies. Ride-hailing services could see a direct threat to their business models, as robotaxis promise lower costs and potentially cheaper fares for consumers.

This new service could also impact public transportation usage, influence insurance industry standards due to changing risk profiles, and necessitate new regulatory frameworks. Urban planning may also need to evolve to accommodate autonomous vehicles, and while there could be job displacements in driving professions, new opportunities in tech and fleet management may arise.

Also, with robotaxis being electric, they could contribute to reducing transportation’s environmental footprint, aligning with sustainability goals. These ripple effects, therefore, would span across multiple sectors, prompting widespread innovation and adaptation. All that said, we’ve now got to wait a few months to see if (and how) Musk delivers on his promise.

Sustainability-in-Tech : New £4 Billion EV Battery Factory in Somerset

Tata Group’s global battery business ‘Agratas’ has confirmed previous announcements that it will invest £4bn in a brownfield site near Bridgwater in Somerset to make it the UK’s biggest electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturing facility.

Somerset To Be Centre Of UK’s Green Energy Revolution

Somerset Council has reported that the Agratas factory should create up to 4,000 jobs and many more as part of the supply chain and will, “put Somerset at the centre of the UK’s green energy revolution with the potential to kick-start countywide and regional economic growth and jobs”. 

The Leader of Somerset Council described the Agratas EV battery factory plans, which could see Somerset become the UK’s biggest producer of electric vehicle (EV) batteries, as “momentous and of global significance”. 

The EV factory will be built on the old Royal Ordnance Factory site, once a major employer in the area until its decommissioning in 2008. It’s been reported that the Agratas factory will be smaller, taking only 50 per cent of the land but should, by the early 2030s (production will begin in 2026), have the capacity to produce 40GWh of battery cells annually – half the EV battery manufacturing capacity for the UK’s automotive sector (enough batteries for 500,000 passenger vehicles). It’s understood that JLR and (not surprisingly) Agratas will be the first customers for the batteries.

Residents 

Agratas says it’s informing the thousands of residents around Puriton of its plans via a leaflet through the door, provision of a community WhatsApp channel for progress updates, and an introductory event in the coming weeks.

Agratas – Clean And Green Operations 

Agratas says the “world-class gigafactories” it’s building in India and now the UK unlock green growth opportunities for global customers, that it has a “sustainability-first approach” and that its operations are “accelerating the global transition to net zero.”  

Agratas points out that it’s not just the contribution of the product that will help with the climate crisis. It’s also keen to highlight how its factories (like the one to be built in Puriton, Somerset) are designed to be powered by clean sources of electricity and should include a purpose-built renewable energy plant, thereby supporting its goal of 100 per cent clean power across all its operations. In terms of a nearby (renewable) energy plant, it’s worth noting that the Somerset factory site is only 15 miles from Hinkley point nuclear power station.

Challenges 

In addition to other challenges, The United Kingdom’s ambition to be a leader in the electric vehicle (EV) market has been somewhat hampered by its lack of domestic battery manufacturing facilities (known as gigafactories). This gap has posed significant challenges and implications for the UK’s automotive industry and its transition to electric mobility, e.g. supply chain vulnerability, competitiveness and investment attraction, job creation and economic growth, meeting its environmental targets, and more.

The confirmation that a major EV battery gigafactory will be sited here has, therefore, been greeted enthusiastically by the UK government and those involved in the EV industry.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Building an EV battery gigafactory in Somerset in the UK is likely to bring many important benefits. These include countrywide and regional economic growth and jobs – 4,000 new high-skilled green tech jobs. Also, the fact that Agratas will work with local and regional partners (e.g. Somerset Council, Bridgwater and Taunton College, and the wider Gravity Smart Campus) will mean bespoke education and training programmes with the promise of high-value local jobs for local people in the future. Also, the UK’s ambition to be a major player in the EV market will be well-served by having a battery factory here, and this will boost EV production in the UK, attract manufacturers and investment, and boost the economy.

On the green and sustainability front, the fact that Agratas has a sustainability-first approach and plans to use clean sources of electricity are clearly likely to be attractive. For residents in the Bridgwater area, which also has the first in a new generation of nuclear power stations (Hinkley Point C) being built just a few miles down the road, the EV battery site will contribute even more to the massive boost that the local economy has received in recent years.

All that said, for many people in the UK, there is still the downward pressure of a cost-of-living crisis taking priority over decisions to purchase expensive electric vehicles that don’t yet have anything more than what many would describe as a barely adequate charging network in place. Also, despite the EV factory’s sustainability and environmental focus, it should be remembered that there is still an environmental cost being paid in the mining, production, and transportation of materials including lithium, cobalt, and nickel for EV batteries, not to mention the scarcity of such materials.

Sustainability-in-Tech : Promising Lithium Breakthrough For EV Market

Stanford researchers have discovered a simple way to boost the range of lithium metal batteries to twice the range of conventional lithium-ion batteries which could provide a massive boost to the EV market.

Lithium-Ion Batteries 

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) are currently used in a wide array of electronic devices, including smartphones, laptops, tablets, power tools, portable speakers, drones and (importantly) electronic vehicles. Although they have a high energy-density and longer lifespan compared to many other types of rechargeable batteries, scientists have been testing a variety of new materials and techniques to improve the lifecycle of the kind of batteries needed to push forward with electric vehicle (EV) ambitions.

Lithium Metal Batteries 

Lithium metal is thought the be a serious next-generation contender for EV batteries and they are different from lithium-ion batteries in that (as the name suggests) they contain lithium in its metallic form. One of the key advantages is that lithium metal batteries can go 500 to 700 miles on a single charge, which is twice the range of conventional lithium-ion batteries in EVs today.

Issue 

However, one major issue (until now) of lithium metal batteries is that they lose their capacity to store energy after just a few cycles of charging and discharging. This would obviously be impractical for drivers who expect rechargeable electric cars to operate for years.

The Stanford Research Breakthrough 

Researchers from Stanford University have announced a lithium metal battery breakthrough that is both low-cost and simple and could double the range of electric vehicles. During their research, they discovered that by simply resting the battery in the discharged state, lost capacity can be recovered and cycle life increased. The researchers say that this improvement can be made just by reprogramming the battery management software, with no additional cost or changes needed for equipment, materials, or production flow.

Discharge And Rest 

The researchers highlighted how repeated charging and discharging of a lithium metal battery results in the build-up of additional dead lithium with solid–electrolyte interphase (SEI) around it. This causes the battery to rapidly lose capacity.

Using lessons learned in previous research they found that completely discharging the battery so there is zero current running through it, and resting it in the discharged state (for just one hour) strips the metallic lithium from the anode and dissolves away some of the SEI matrix (surrounding the dead lithium). This means that once the battery is recharged, the dead lithium can reconnect with the anode (the solid SEI matric mass is no longer in the way).

The result is that the dead lithium comes back to life, thereby enabling the battery to recover lost capacity, generate more energy, and extend its cycle life.

Given that the average (American) driver spends about an hour behind the wheel each day, the researchers say the idea of resting a car battery for several hours is, therefore, feasible.

Guide For Future Studies 

The research report’s senior author Yi Cui, a professor of energy and engineering in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability said of the findings:

“Lithium metal batteries have been the subject of a lot of research,” and “our findings can help guide future studies that will aid in the advancement of lithium metal batteries towards widespread commercial adaptation.” 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

This latest rechargeable EV battery research combined lessons learned from previous research and this new research to reveal a low-cost, simple way to potentially double the range of an EV battery. The range anxiety of EV drivers has been one of several factors that has limited the growth of the EV market, so this simple solution could have a major positive influence on EV sales and use. This, in turn, has positive implications for reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, thereby helping to tackle global warming and meet emissions targets.

That said, as acknowledged by the Stanford researchers, more research needs to be done. Also, there’s also the matter of the environmental damage created by lithium mining to consider, and research is currently being carried out into many different non-lithium-based battery technologies such as sodium-ion batteries, and calcium-ion batteries. Also, organic rechargeable batteries, which are transition-metal-free (other metals used in LIBs), eco-friendly, and cost-effective could potentially address the environmental and economic concerns associated with the widespread use of transition metals in batteries.

Although the recent Stanford breakthrough is promising, there’s still some way to go in terms of finding cost-effective and sustainable EV batteries that provide the required performance levels.

Sustainability-in-Tech : Green BT Street Cabinets To Become EV Charging Points

In line with the government’s aim to increase the number of electric vehicle (EV) charging points from 50,000 to 300,000 by 2030, the BT Group has announced that it will be repurposing its old, green street cabinets to EV charging points.

60,000 New EV Charging Points 

The move, as part of a pilot scheme beginning in Scotland “in the coming weeks” will see BT’s end-of-life green street cabinets being repurposed to add 60,000 new chargers nationwide.

Green Boxes 

BT’s green boxes, a familiar sight on many streets, have traditionally been used to house cabling for phone lines and broadband but BT says the cabinets are slowly becoming obsolete as fibre-optic broadband is rolled out across the country. The company says that when the boxes reach the end of their life the old broadband equipment can be recycled, and EV points housed there instead.

Easy To Repurpose 

The BT Group says green boxes can be converted simply by using a small device to supply renewable energy to an on-street charging point, without the need to create a new power connection. The technology can actually be deployed in cabinets which are either in use or due for retirement.

Huge Step 

Tom Guy, Managing Director at BT Group said: “Our new charging solution is a huge step in bringing EV charging kerbside and exploring how we can address key barriers customers are currently facing.” 

Other Ideas 

An insufficient number of charging stations and whether charging points are available at home (or at work) have long been seen as major challenges to the growth of EV ownership in the UK (along with other factors like the price of EVs).

Some of the many suggestions for other potential kerbside solutions include:

– Lamp posts, especially in residential areas where traditional charging stations might be impractical, and they already have an electrical connection, which can be modified to include charging points.

– Parking meters. This would save space plus make use of the existing power supply and payment systems.

– Utility poles (similar to lamp posts), which have an existing power supply and are widely distributed, making them a viable option for EV charging.

– Street furniture such as benches, bus shelters, or other street furniture with integrated solar panels which could be equipped with charging capabilities.

– Retired/classic telephone boxes (only available now in some areas) can (and have been) repurposed as EV charging points, combining cultural heritage with modern technology.

– Bollards could be equipped with charging technology.

– Public toilets, which have been getting scarcer due to closures from council cuts, already have electricity for lighting and heating, and could be adapted to include EV charging points.

– Solar-powered recycling bins with built-in Wi-Fi and charging capabilities are one suggestion of an innovative way to combine waste-management and EV charging.

– Pop-up, temporary charging hubs / mobile charging stations, in areas with high demand, using existing power sources or portable generators.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

The innovative repurposing of BT’s green street cabinets essentially kills two birds with one stone, breathing new life into old infrastructure while tackling the UK’s lack of EV charging points. It’s one step in the right direction towards sustainable technology and environmental responsibility and it sounds as though it has the potential to make a major contribution (60,000) to the UK’s target of having 300,000 EV charging points by 2030. However, bear in mind that this is still only a pilot scheme.

It also seems like quite a practical option for a broad segment of the population. For organisations operating in the EV sphere, this expansion could also open new avenues for growth and innovation, as the increased infrastructure will likely stimulate demand for electric vehicles.

Environmentally, the repurposing of existing structures for EV charging aligns with green initiatives and carbon reduction goals and utilising existing assets, such as BT’s green boxes, is a way to reduce the environmental impact of constructing the necessary new EV charging stations in the UK. It also highlights how sustainability can be achieved through intelligent innovation, rather than just new construction.

Exploring the other potential kerbside solutions, like integrating charging capabilities into lamp posts, parking meters, and even public toilets, underscores the potential for creative solutions to the EV charging challenge. A versatile approach like this could well be the key to meeting the challenge of insufficient charging points in a faster, more affordable way at scale.

However, it’s still important to acknowledge that there are other remaining challenges within the EV market, such as the high initial cost of EVs, the need for widespread adoption of renewable energy sources to truly realise the environmental benefits of EVs, and the technical challenges associated with rapidly scaling up EV charging infrastructure. Addressing these issues requires a concerted effort from both the private and public sectors, with continued innovation and investment in sustainable technologies being paramount.

That said repurposing BT’s green street cabinets, alongside other innovative kerbside solutions, could offer a blueprint for how we can meet our environmental targets while fostering the growth of the EV market in the UK.

Sustainability-in-Tech : World’s First “Superfast Charging” EV Battery

China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology Limited (CATL) has announced the launch of world’s first 4C superfast charging LFP battery.

The ‘Shenxing’ EV Battery 

CATL says the ‘Shenxing’ battery can deliver 400 km of driving range from a 10-minute charge as well as a range of over 700 km on a single full charge, which is around 60 per cent further than the average electric vehicle (EV) on full charge in 2023.

The company says the Shenxing battery will “considerably alleviate fast charging anxiety for EV users” and “opens up an era of EV superfast charging”. 

How It Beats “Fast Charging Anxiety” 

The company, which manufactured more lithium-ion batteries than any of its competitors last year, says that fast charging anxiety is the top factor that stops consumers from shifting to EVs.  CATL says that its Shenxing battery “redefines” Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) batteries and alleviates “fast charging anxiety” because:

– It leverages super electronic network cathode technology and fully nano-crystallised LFP cathode materials to create a super-electronic network, which facilitates the fast extraction of lithium ions and the rapid response to charging signals.

– CATL’s latest second-generation fast ion ring technology has been used to modify the properties of the battery’s graphite surface, thereby increasing intercalation channels (improving energy density) and shortens the intercalation distance for lithium ions. This creates a kind of “expressway” for current conduction.

– Its multi-gradient layered electrode design has been developed to strike a perfect balance between fast charging and long range.

– CATL’s new superconducting electrolyte formula effectively reduces the viscosity of the electrolyte, resulting in improved conductivity within the battery.

– The improved, ultra-thin SEI film (a passivation layer on the anode surface, inhibiting electrolyte decomposition) reduces resistance of lithium-ion movement, thereby improving the transmission rate of lithium ions and decreasing the resistance of lithium-ion movement.

Better Overall Battery Performance

CATL says that new Shenxing battery’s features, as listed above, improves its overall performance in addition to its super-fast charging, because the Shenxing battery also has a longer driving range, fast charging over a wide range of temperatures, and a high level of safety thanks to structure innovation and leveraging intelligent algorithms.  For example:

– The use of CATL’s “trailblazing all-in-one grouping technology,” is a key reason why the Shenxing battery can reach a range of over 700 km, pushing the limits of the performance of LFP chemistry.

– CATL’s cell temperature control technology means the Shenxing battery can charge as normal even at low temperatures. For example, Shenxing can charge to 80 per cent SOC in 10 minutes at room temperature, and from 0-80 per cent in just 30 minutes in temperature as low as -10°C.

– CATL say the Shenxing battery’s upgraded electrolyte and the separator with a highly safe coating, combined with its intelligent algorithms, provide it with a “real-time fault testing system” that can solve the problems brought about by fast refuelling, thereby giving the battery a high level of safety.

EV Batteries

Although CATL identifies “fast charging anxiety” as the biggest obstacle preventing more people from buying electric vehicles, battery technology has long been a real (physical) challenge to how far electric cars are able to travel on a charge. However, many buyers would also argue that there are many other ‘anxieties’ about EVs that are holding back EV sales such as the price of EVs (especially during a cost-of-living-crisis), and the availability of charging points (charging infrastructure).

There was some good news for the UK last month when Tata, the owner of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), confirmed it will be building a £4 billion EV battery factory (termed a ‘gigafactory’) at Bridgwater in Somerset. As well as providing jobs and giving the UK more of foothold in the EV industry, it will also help the UK by delivering half of the battery production needed by 2030 (in the UK, 2030 will see a ban on the sale of new cars using petrol or diesel).

Which Car Companies?

Although it was reported three years ago that CATL had developed a battery that could power an EV for 1.2 million miles over a 16-year lifespan and that deals may have been in place to supply Tesla, BMW, Daimler, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo, it is not clear from its latest more detailed announcement about the Shenxing battery’ which car manufacturers will be the first to use the new battery.

Record Breaking EV Sales In Recent Times

Even with the battery challenges, EVs are two or three times more efficient than conventional petrol/diesel-powered vehicles, plus they have the added benefit of having zero emissions (during driving). Major carmakers have already committed to making EVs and phasing out cars with internal combustion engines entirely by 2040, and it’s predicted (IEA) that electric car sales could overtake fossil fuel-powered car sales within the next 15 years. However, the hope is that breakthroughs in battery technology could make this happen faster which is good news for governments looking to hit carbon emissions targets and deadlines for phasing out fossil fuel vehicles.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

EV battery technology development and how it affects factors like speed-of-charging, range, battery weight, cost (and more) are factors which affect the wider adoption of EVs. The superfast charging and long range (700 km on a full charge) of CATL’s Shenxing battery appear to tackle two of the major challenges, although there are still many more, including charging infrastructure and EV prices.

However, if deals are successfully made with major manufacturers to use the battery and are they’re able to communicate the benefits to the car buying public, this could be one element that could speed up the uptake of EV ownership and the many benefits that brings (e.g. environmental / climate) and giving a better chance of hitting carbon reduction targets.

As mentioned, there are number of challenges that need to be met to make conditions better to enable larger sales of EVs, but this new battery technology could be an important step in the right direction.