“Great Things from Small Things” Top 50 Nanotech Blog – Read What You Missed Last Week!


 

The Links below will take you to our Top Posts from last week. Thanks for Following Us!

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Getting More Cancer-Fighting Nanoparticles to Where they are Needed – University of Toronto

University of Toronto Engineering researchers have discovered a dose threshold that greatly increases the delivery of cancer-fighting drugs into a tumor. Determining this threshold provides a potentially universal method for gauging nanoparticle dosage and could help advance a new generation of cancer therapy, imaging and diagnostics ….

A Titanate Nanowire Mask that can Eliminate Pathogens – EPFL Labs

Filter ‘paper’ made from titanium oxide nanowires is capable of trapping pathogens and destroying them with light. This discovery by an EPFL laboratory could be put to use in personal protective equipment, as well as in ventilation and air conditioning systems. As part of attempts to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic … 

NanoCommerce Inks Joint Venture with Pulsar UAV to Develop and Commercialize On-Board Hydrogen Powered Drone

NanoCommerce Sdn Bhd (NCSB), a subsidiary of NanoMalaysia Bhd, signed a joint venture with Pulsar UAV Sdn Bhd (PUSB) to commercialize an increased range hydrogen-powered drone known as the High Endurance Fuel Cell Powered Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (On-board H2 Generation). The partnership will give NanoCommerce a 20 per cent stake in Pulsar UAV, a Malaysian company that builds its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones from scratch ….

Phoenix Arizona’s ‘Lectric eBikes are taking the Industry by Storm – 2 Young Entrepreneurs Capture Market Interest with ‘Fun-To-Ride’ Affordable eBikes

All Levi Conlow’s dad wanted was an electric bike that didn’t cause sticker shock. So when he approached his son and his son’s best friend Robby Deziel with the proposal that they put their heads together to make obtaining his e-bike dream come true, the new college graduates started thinking. “My dad was just entering that phase of his life when he wanted an e-bike for himself and my mom. Their friends had e-bikes,” Conlow said. “He was frustrated. He couldn’t find one for less than $2,000 or $3,000” ….

Hyperion’s Hydrogen-Powered Supercar can Drive 1,000 Miles (Yes … ONE THOUSAND MILES) on a Single Tank And … Go from ‘0’ to 60 in 2+ Seconds!

The Hyperion XP-1 Pictured Above

Hyperion, a California-based company, has unveiled a hydrogen-powered supercar the company hopes will change the way people view hydrogen fuel cell technology.  The Hyperion XP-1 will be able to drive for up to 1,000 miles on one tank of compressed hydrogen gas and its electric motors will generate more than 1,000 horsepower, according to the company. The all-wheel-drive car can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in a little over two seconds, the company said.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars are electric cars that use hydrogen to generate power inside the car rather than using batteries to store energy. The XP-1 doesn’t combust hydrogen but uses it in fuel cells that combine hydrogen with oxygen from the air in a process that creates water, the vehicle’s only emission, and a stream of electricity to power the car.

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You May Also Want to Read About: Hydrogen or Electric Vehicles? The Answer is … Probably Both

 

Watch Our Video on Our ‘Nano-Enabled’ Batteries and Super Capacitors

Phoenix Arizona’s ‘Lectric eBikes’ are taking Industry by Storm – 2 Young Entrepreneurs Capture Market Interest with ‘Fun-to-Ride’ and Affordable eBikes


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         Founders of Lectric eBikes (based in Phoenix AZ) Robby Deziel  and Levi Conlow

All Levi Conlow’s dad wanted was an electric bike that didn’t cause sticker shock.

So when he approached his son and his son’s best friend Robby Deziel with the proposal that they put their heads together to make obtaining his e-bike dream come true, the new college graduates started thinking.

“My dad was just entering that phase of his life when he wanted an e-bike for himself and my mom. Their friends had e-bikes,” Conlow said. “He was frustrated. He couldn’t find one for less than $2,000 or $3,000.”

This is when the professional exploration path of Conlow — equipped with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business entrepreneurship and leadership from Grand Canyon University — and Deziel — who has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota — merged with dad’s personal quest.

“Our parents and their friends were said they’d buy one if we figured it out,” Conlow said. “The dream of being able to work for ourselves was always cool and we just went for it.”

Deziel added, “We put our heads together to make them more accessible for everyone without sacrificing quality.”

That union resulted in Lectric eBikes, Conlow and Deziel’s electric bike company that has become a monster in the industry just over a year after launching in Phoenix in 2019. To date, more than 15,000 of their bikes have sold. In June, the company sold $3.5 million worth of bikes alone, Conlow said. 

This success rides on their two models, the original XP and the customer demand-inspired XP Step-Thru, each of which bears a more wallet-friendly price tag of $899.

The more they researched and got into the nitty gritty, they saw no reason for consumers to pay into the four digits.

“Other companies just wanted a higher profit margin. We’re really committed to a community of riders,” Conlow said.

Lectric is part of a global e-bike market that was valued at $23 billion in 2019, according to an Analytical Research Cognizance report. It’s also projected to be worth $46 billion by 2026, according to Fortune Business Insights.

This commitment has created a thriving business model that has relied on word-of-mouth. The idea: Deliver a product that generates strong support from customers, who will become natural advocates when they are stopped on the street by curious bystanders.

“We make it so customers absolutely love and support us. It shows the power of the customer advocate and what wonders they can do,” Conlow said.

Beverly Lambert has been one of those advocates from the start. She and her husband own two XP’s and have a Step-Thru on order.

Her husband used to own a bicycle store and they had owned every kind of bike on Earth. The last thing she wanted was another new-fangled version. But her husband bought them XP’s anyway.

Founders of Lectric E-Bikes Robby Deziel and Levi Conlow credit their success to influencers and reviews from YouTubers.

She tried to return hers but was convinced to try it just once.

“I was like, whoa, this is really easy to ride,” said Lambert, who was impressed at its performance up a gravel hill. “I thought, ‘What just happened?’”

Today, Lambert rides it every chance she gets. She’s currently on a camping trip, where she and her husband use it to ride around the campsite, hiking trails and to run quick errands. She takes it on bike trails and the reserve area near her Norco, California, home.

Lambert has helped sell many Lectric bikes to friends and complete strangers who became friends after spotting her on the road and asking her about her e-bike.

Separating from the pack

Conlow and Deziel have been pals since the sixth grade in their hometown of Lakeville, Minnesota. College geographically separated them but they kept in touch and hoped to get into some kind of business together after they graduated.

They did. But for a while, it seemed their entrepreneurial dream would be just that.

At first, Conlow and Deziel, who moved to the Valley, designed several renditions and got fine tuning feedback from their parents.

Originally, they envisioned a sleek, high-tech version aimed at a young audience. They designed the bikes, sourced the manufacturing and were poised to dazzle at tradeshows.

But what they found was that their bike wasn’t practical for the audience that really wanted it. Among the complaints: people couldn’t fit on it; they wanted a more comfortable experience; and its traditional bicycle look meant it needed to be hauled on a car rack with other accessories, which quickly negated the bike’s low price.

“We could not sell those bikes to save our lives,” Deziel recalled. “With all of those lessons in mind, we went back to the drawing board.”

They emerged with what would be their flagship model, the XP. This version has smaller diameter wheels and is lower to the ground, allowing riders of various heights to easily get on and off. The handlebars and seats are adjustable and, because it’s a folding fat tire bike, the increased air volume allows for a more comfortable ride and no rack is needed.

Founders of Lectric E-Bikes Robby Deziel and Levi Conlow credit their success to influencers and reviews from YouTubers.

It fits neatly into the trunk of Deziel’s Honda Civic. It can do mild off-roading onto gravel and hiking trails.

The bike also is assembled when shipped. All customers need to do is pump up the tires and make seat and handlebar adjustments and they’re good to go.

All of these, Deziel said, would be key factors that separate them from the pack.

“With some, you need to put the wheels and handlebars on and build the seat. One company asks you to build the brakes,” Deziel said. “The way we see it, we are the bike people. Not all of our customers are mechanics.”

A sudden surge in orders

Early on, no one was biting. Their parents were the only customers. Deziel was evaluating his bank account and figuring out how many days he could afford to live here before having to move back home.

“We had no inventory. No money. We were in debt to my dad,” Conlow said.

They took a gamble with the little money they did have, made eight bikes and sent those to influencers. With no funds to partner with them, the guys crossed their fingers that at least a couple of the influencers would post positively about their bike.

“We were on pins and needles,” Conlow said.

Soon, one influencer reached out and said he liked the bike would post a review. Still, they were skeptical. They did not set up a bank account and decided to put up a website at the last minute.

“No way people are going to buy a bike on the first day,” Conlow said of their thinking at the time. “We planned to make an account later.”

The first day the influencer’s video posted, $30,000 in Lectric bikes were sold. Over the next 24 hours, another $30,000 in sales, Conlow said.

“We knew we had other videos scheduled to come out after that first day,” Deziel said. “I thought, ‘I can’t believe this, this is crazy… oh man, it’s about to get even crazier.’”

By the time the company was 10 days old, a second influencer video had posted, generating $120,000 a day in sales.

Needless to say, that company bank account was set up real quick.

At the 21-day mark, Lectric sold $1 million in pre-orders. For the first few months, Conlow and Deziel worked out of a Phoenix garage doing $1 million a month. They worked 18-hour days and personally answered emails and calls.

“We were simply overwhelmed. We didn’t really have time to appreciate it because we were consumed by it. We were just trying to hold on,” Conlow said. “But after having nothing, we were excited to wake up and get to work and answer those calls and e-mails.”

Since then, they’ve added to their staff and moved out of the garage into a 13,000-square foot headquarters and showroom.

Most of Lectric’s client base is between the ages of 45-80, who haven’t been on a bike in a while or have mobility issues that prevent them from riding a traditional bike, Deziel said. However, they are all outdoorsy and enjoy time in nature.

Many clients, like the Lamberts, use their bikes around campsites, explore trails while camping or to run errands into town without having to unhook their vehicle. This led Lectric’s involvement with Homes on Wheels Alliance, a non-profit that helps people struggling with homelessness through converting vans into livable spaces and assisting them with managing their finances.

So far, Lectric has sponsored two build outs and plan to do more.

“We’re extremely excited and grateful that we are able to be part of it. Just knowing the impact is very important to us,” Conlow said.

Each bike comes with a one-year warranty, one of the amenities that Deziel knew needed to be worked out as the company saw its profile rapidly rise.

“We feel a great sense of responsibility as to what we are doing with our customers. We needed to get all of this in place so people can have a positive experience,” he said.

Employee Sam Newman, left, and Robby Deziel work on a bike that needs repairs. Deziel founded the Lectric E-Bikes company with childhood friend Levi Conlow.

The Step-Thru model was a response to customers asking for an even easier bike to get on and off of. The frame allows greater ease to do that.

The first day the company announced its release, it sold $300,000 in pre-orders, Conlow said. He and Deziel had to answer calls and e-mails just to handle the customer traffic. It was then when Conlow took a call from a woman named Sue who had a leg condition that prevented her from getting on to the XP. She was excited because with the Step-Thru, she could ride with her husband.

“She was brought to tears telling me about the impact the bike would have and how it’s going to change her life,” Conlow said. “It reaffirmed why we do what we do and why we design what we do. We don’t want to leave anyone out and get as many people riding as possible. It’s a very cool thing to be part of.”

What: Lectric eBikes

Where: 2010 W. Parkside Lane, Phoenix

Employees: 14

Factoid: The global e-bike market was valued at $23 billion in 2019, according to an Analytical Research Cognizance report.

Details: 602-715-0907, lectricebikes.com

A New Electric Turbine could Revolutionize the Future of Electric Cars


Conceptual futuristic sports car - design is generic and custom made.

        A Look Into the Future of Electric Turbine Cars

In the past two years, companies have promised electric motors producing far more torque density, measured in kilowatts per kilogram. Avid said its Evo Axial Flux motor makes “one of the highest usable power and torque densities of any electric vehicle motor available on the market today.” Equipmake says its motors develop “class leading power densities.” Yasa claims its “electric motors … provide the highest power/torque density available in their category.”

Enter Linear Labs, which says it has a motor to beat all. The company declares its Hunstable Electric Turbine (HET), perhaps with unintentional shades of Ayn Rand, “The Motor of the World.”

Watch The Video

 

The company told Autoblog, “The defining characteristic of this motor [is that] at very low RPMs … [for] the same size, same weight, same volume, and the same amount of input energy into the motor, we will always produce – at a minimum, sometimes more, but at a minimum – two to three times the torque output of any electric motor in the world, and it does this at high efficiency throughout the torque and speed range.”

“Hunstable” comes from the two principals: Fred Hunstable, an engineer who spent years designing the electrical infrastructure for nuclear power plants in the United States; and Brad Hunstable, Fred’s son and an ex-tech entrepreneur who helped found the streaming service Ustream, sold to IBM in 2016 for $150 million.

Linear Labs began as a father-son project to create a linear generator surrounding the shaft of an old-fashioned windmill that would provide reliable power (as well as clean water) to impoverished communities. The challenge was designing a generator able to produce sufficient power from the shaft’s low-speed, high-torque reciprocating movement. Brad said his father cracked the code about four years ago, resulting in “a linear generator that produced massive amounts of electricity from a slow-moving windmill.” What’s more, the breakthrough was modular, leading to a family of motors that has been issued 25 patents so far.

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What is the Hunstable Electric Turbine?

Electric motors are well into their second century, having barely changed since Nikola Tesla patented his innovations with the modern three-phase, four-pole induction motor between 1886 and 1889. While all motors consist of similar fundamental components – copper wire coils known as windings, and magnets – the way in which those components interact is slightly different. In a radial flux motor, one component spins within the other – imagine a small can spinning inside a larger stationary one. In an axial flux design, the components spin next to each other, like two flywheels sandwiching a central, stationary plate.

Typically, the way to create more torque is to send more current into a motor or build a larger motor. Linear Labs has found another way: by combining axial and radial flux designs in a single motor.

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Images: Stators and Rotors

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Copper Windings Inside the Huntstable Electric Turbine: Illustrations by Linear Labs

The HET is four rotors surrounding a stator. A central rotor spins inside a stator, creating one source of flux. A second rotor spins outside the stator, creating a second source of flux. Two additional rotors lie at the left and right ends of the stator, essentially forming an AF motor. That’s two more sources of flux, making four in total. It’s essentially two concentric radial motors bookended by two axial ones.

Linear Labs says all the HET generates all torque in the direction of rotor motion. In a promotional video, Fred Hunstable said, “We call it circumferential flux, sort of like a torque tunnel.”

Generating more torque in a given volume, and having all of that torque move in the direction of rotor motion, is how the Hunstables claim, “two to three times the torque for that size envelope compared to any other motor out there. It doesn’t matter what kind [of motor] it is, we will always out-produce it.”

Furthermore, by using discrete rectangular coils inset into the stator poles, the HET needs 30% less copper than a motor of similar size. The design also eliminates end windings – lengths of copper that lie outside the stator in a typical motor, generating wasted magnetic field and heat.

 

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Illustration by Linear Labs

What the HET could mean for future electric cars

So far, Linear Labs has inked deals with a scooter maker, with Swedish electric drive system firm Abtery, and with an unnamed firm designing a hypercar to be released within two years, utilizing four HETs. However, Brad Hunstable thinks the HET could have applications in the electric vehicle space, since the HET’s torque comes at RPMs that match the end use. Current EV motors spin much faster than the wheels, so most EVs use a reduction gear to connect a motor spinning at several thousand RPM with wheels spinning at anywhere from one to perhaps 1,800 RPM. If the HET generates the necessary torque at RPMs that match wheel speed, a carmaker could theoretically discard the reduction gear, reducing weight and improving powertrain efficiency.

Brad said testing has shown the HET in direct-drive configuration works in applications normally served by a 6:1 reduction gearbox, and it’s possible that the ratio is even higher. The downstream effects could be significant, according to Hunstable. That weight savings – the lower operating speed of the HET means fewer and lighter electronics, the company says – and efficiency gain could be used to reduce the size of the battery and thus the weight of the vehicle, saving cash and letting the manufacturer use lighter-duty components – perhaps enough to make a significant difference to the bottom line, Hunstable thinks.

The HET can also take over the role of a component known as a DC/DC boost converter, used in some EVs in situations in which the vehicle needs to trade torque for horsepower, such as during hard acceleration at highway speeds. By doing so, they use additional energy that can’t be put towards range. In general terms, EVs that emphasize performance use a boost converter, like the Tesla Model S, while ones that emphasize efficiency don’t, like the Hyundai Ioniq EV. (It should be noted that some hybrids, such as Toyota and Lexus hybrids, utilize boost converters to goose acceleration.)

Linear Labs says the HET does the job of the DC/DC boost converter on its own by changing the relative position of one or more of its four rotors, analogous to the variable cam system on an ICE, altering position depending on load needs. Combining the extra torque, reduced weight and complexity possible without a gearbox or boost converter, and lighter ancillaries, Linear Labs claims the HET could increase range by 10%.

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A carmaker says …

No automaker will address claims by a company it has never heard of about a component it has never used. Still, we wanted to get OEM commentary to compare to Linear Labs’ statements. We contacted ChevroletTesla, and Hyundai. Only Hyundai agreed to a Q&A, connecting us with Jerome Gregeois, a senior manager at a Hyundai Group powertrain facility, and Ryan Miller, the manager for Hyundai’s electrified powertrain development team.

Gregeois said OEMs invest so much in batteries because they’re “so much more expensive than any of the [other] components,” and there’s so much more efficiency to be extracted from battery chemistry. Therefore, “The only way to reach competitive pricing compared to internal combustion engines or hybrids is really to get battery costs lower and lower.”

Concerning motors, Miller said, “Our focus and the industry’s focus on motors has been transitioning to silicon-carbide-based motor inverters.” The motor inverter converts the battery pack’s direct current (DC) into the alternating current (AC) used to power the electric motors that provide drive to the vehicle. Under regenerative braking, the motor inverter does the opposite – turning AC from the motors back into DC to recharge the battery. Silicon carbide technology, which the IEEE called “Smaller, faster, tougher,” is seen as enabling something like a 50% reduction in inverter volume.

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View photos Illustration courtesy Hyundai

Miller told us the permanent magnet motor in the Hyundai Ioniq is about 50 kilograms, or 110 pounds. The gearbox, which contains a final drive and a differential, is about 70 pounds. “It’s not light,” he said, “because gears are generally steel.” As for volume, the gearbox occupies about 70% of the volume of the motor.

We asked Gregeois and Miller if a direct-drive motor that allowed elimination of the gearbox would make an enormous difference in cost or complexity of the powertrain. Said Gregeois, “We think cost-wise that gearbox is going to be cheaper than two motors.” Miller added, “Steel and aluminum is very cheap.”

One automaker example doesn’t negate the benefits of the Hunstable Electric Turbine, and Brad Hunstable believes the savings are there. “Every drivetrain can be designed and engineered multiple ways,” he said. “But if you have two motors that produce twice the torque in half the size as one conventional motor that must utilize a gearbox, then there is no comparison. HET wins. Of course, for the short-term mass-market vehicle, one motor driving directly into the differential is the most likely scenario, still eliminating the standard … gearbox.”

And automakers are throwing money at improving their motors. Honda improved the electric motor in the Accord Hybrid by using square copper wires for the stator windings, and three magnets instead of two on the rotor. The changes are said to have added 6 pound-feet of torque and 14 horsepower.

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View photos Illustration by Linear Labs

The First Inning

We asked Brad how long he thought it would be before we’d see an HET in a car like the Chevrolet Bolt. “Three or four, some say five years out … There are longer lead cycles to get into production for big companies, [but] we are in joint development agreements, we are testing with [automakers].”

There have been so many charlatans in the EV space that many of the stories we’ve read about the HET end in commenters attacking it like hyenas disemboweling a wildebeest.

“There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in the motor space,” Brad acknowledged. “The difference in this one: We’ve built them. At the end of the day you can’t argue with something that’s built right in front of you.”

“We’re literally in the first inning of this technology,” he continued, “so there’s more things that we’ll continue to do that that’ll make this even better. But the first motors that we’re producing in the market are literally a quantum leap on everything that’s out there.”

The question, then, is whether that quantum leap makes sense from a cost and packaging perspective for the spectrum of EV manufacturers, or does it make sense primarily for luxury EV makers who can justify the HET’s cost. Can this one more efficient-yet-expensive component be countered and justified by removing a not-especially expensive thing (the gearbox) and removing some of these pretty expensive and heavy things (batteries)? Hyundai’s representatives weren’t so sure, but if this really is just the first inning for HET, perhaps more development and actual access by major manufacturers will provide the answer as the game goes on.

 

 

 

Will Tesla’s “Battery Day” mean “doomsday” for legacy carmakers playing catch-up?


A peek inside a segment of a Tesla Model 3 battery pack.

Tesla is expected to hold its Battery Day in April as Elon Musk announced during the company’s Q4 earnings call. The chief executive said the company has a “compelling story” to tell about things that can “blow people’s minds.”

These statements do not only pique the interest of the electric vehicle community; they also hint of updates that can spell disaster for legacy car manufacturers trying to catch up with Tesla in the electric vehicle market.

Batteries are key to staying on top of the electric vehicle segment and Tesla is the leader of the pack when it comes to batteries and energy efficiency. This has been validated by organizations such as Consumer Reports and even by competitors who go deep into their pockets and go as far as cutting their workforces to catch Tesla in terms of hardware, software, and battery technology.

Come Tesla Battery Day, the obvious would be made more obvious. Tesla could further widen the gap and set itself apart from the rest, not just as the maker of the Model 3, Model Y, Cybertruck or other vehicles in its lineup but as an energy company.

Mass Production Of Cheaper Batteries

Batteries are among the most expensive components of an electric vehicle. This is true for Tesla and other electric vehicle manufacturers. With pricey batteries, car manufacturers cannot lower prices of their vehicles and therefore cannot encourage the mass adoption of zero-emission cars.

Tesla has reportedly been running its “Roadrunner” secret project that can lead to mass production of battery cells at $100/kWh. According to rumors, Tesla already has a pilot manufacturing line in its Fremont facility that can produce higher-density batteries using technology advancements developed in-house and gained through the Maxwell acquisition.

With a $100/kWh battery, the prices of Tesla’s vehicles can be competitive even without government subsidies.”

Tesla Gigafactory 1, where Model 3 battery cells are produced. (Photo: Tesla)

Aside from the Roadrunner project, Tesla has also been setting itself up to succeed in the battery game and dominate the market with its partnerships. It has a long relationship with Panasonic that helped it manufacture batteries in Giga Nevada, but has also signed battery supply agreements with LG Chem and CATL in China.

Battery prices have been going down significantly in the last decade. According to BloombergNEF, the cost of batteries dropped by 13% last year. From $1,100/kWh in 2010, the price went down to around $156.kWh in 2019. This is predicted to come close to the target $100/kWh by 2023. If Tesla achieves the $100/kWH cost sooner than the rest, it will give the company a massive advantage over its competitors and that will eventually lead to better profit margins.

Aside from cheaper batteries, the increased battery production capacity is also key in bringing products such as the all-electric Cybertruck and Tesla Semi to life.

“The thing we’re going to be really focused on is increasing battery production capacity because that’s very fundamental because if you don’t improve battery production capacity, then you end up just shifting unit volume from one product to another and you haven’t actually produced more electric vehicles… make sure we get a very steep ramp in battery production and continue to improve the cost per kilowatt-hour of the batteries,” Musk said during the Q4 2019 earnings call.

Enhanced Tesla Batteries

Tesla already has good batteries through its years of research, experimentation, and partnerships with battery producers. It has invested a good amount of money and effort to make sure it’s leading the battery game.

This advantage is made very clear on how Tesla was able to produce the most efficient electric SUV today in the form of the soon-to-be-released Model Y crossover with an EPA rating of 315 miles per single charge versus the Porsche Taycan with a range of around 200 miles.

The Tesla Model Y crossover. (Credit: Tesla)

With the acquired technologies from companies such as Maxwell and recently a possible purchase of a lithium-ion battery cell specialist startup in Colorado, Tesla demonstrates it’s not stopping its efforts to perfect its battery technology. Maxwell manufactures battery components and ultracapacitors and it’s just a matter of time before Tesla makes use of these technologies.

When asked about Maxwell’s ultracapacitor technology during the Q4 2019 earnings call, Musk said, “It’s an important piece of the puzzle.”

Musk also referenced the Maxwell acquisition during an extensive interview at the Third Row Podcast. “It’s kind of a big deal. Maxwell has a bunch of technologies that if they are applied in the right way I think can have a very big impact,” Musk said during a Third Row Podcast interview.

There are rumors out of China claimingthat Tesla may come up with a battery that combines the best traits of Maxwell’s supercapacitors and dry electrode technologies. This could mean batteries that could charge faster, pack more energy density, and last longer.

Controlling Battery Supply

Knowing what works and what doesn’t for electric car batteries puts Tesla on top of the game. Of course, add to that what could be the best battery management system that makes Tesla vehicles among the most efficient if not the best in utilizing their batteries. With the advantage on hardware and software fronts, the thought of Tesla becoming a battery supplier is far from being a crazy idea.

Its competitors such as Audi and Jaguar have recently expressed concerns about their battery supplies as they both depend on LG Chem. Tesla– aside from its partnerships with Panasonic, LG Chem, and CATL — pushes the limit to develop its new battery cells in-house and that opens up a lot of possibilities for Tesla as a business.

“It would be consistent with the mission of Tesla to help other car companies with electric vehicles on the battery and powertrain front, possibly on other fronts. So it’s something we’re open to. We’re definitely open to supplying batteries and powertrains and perhaps other things to other car companies,” Musk was quoted as saying.

Recent job postings for a cell development engineer and equipment development engineers suggest that Tesla might actually be considering the idea of introducing a battery line of its own. But of course, the next-generation batteries would be first used for its vehicle lineup. Once it meets that demand and hits economies of scale, one can only imagine how Tesla could play the important role of supplying batteries to other carmakers.

Whether Tesla would announce cheaper batteries, enhanced electric car batteries, or give updates about its efforts, Battery Day in April will most definitely be worth the wait. For other car manufacturers, time would pause during that day as they listen to what Elon Musk and his team will say. And most likely, after the company talk, other car manufacturers will have to go back to their drawing boards once more in an attempt to catch up.

Three Innovations To Upend The Energy Storage Market


The battery craze isn’t really about batteries at all. It’s about something far grander than a battery, which is simply a conduit to a much bigger story.

Batteries are like the internet without Wifi. 

The holy grail is energy storage.

And while perpetually bigger batteries themselves have emerged as the dominant solution to our energy storage needs, their reliance on rare earths elements and some metals that are controversially sourced, as well as the fact that their product life is quite limited, indicates they are simply a stop along the way to more creative innovations. 

Already, there are several challenger solutions that have the potential to rise above the battery as the answer to our energy storage needs.

Gravity 

One of these solutions is gravity. Several companies across the world are using gravity for energy storage or rather, moving objects up and down to store and, respectively, release stored electricity.

One of these, Swiss-based Energy Vault, uses a six headed crane to lift bricks when renewable installations are producing electricity than can be consumed and drop them back down when demand for electricity outweighs supply. The idea may sound eccentric but kinetic energy, according to a Wall Street Journal report on these companies, is getting increasingly popular.

The idea draws on hydropower storage: that involves pushing water uphill and storing it until it is needed to power the turbines, when it is released downhill. On instead of water, these companies use gravity, essentially lifting and dropping heavy objects. Energy Vault uses bricks and says 20 brick towers could power up to 40,000 households for a period of 24 hours. Related: Oil Suppliers Slash Prices To Save Asian Market Share

Another company, in the UK, lifts and drops weights in abandoned mine shafts. 

Gravitricity, which last year ran a crowdfunding campaign that raised $978,000 (750,000 pounds), is using abandoned shafts to raise and lower weights of between 500 and 5,000 tons with a system of winches. According to the company, the system could be configured for between 1 and 20 MW peak capacity. The duration of power supply, however, is even more limited than Energy Vault’s, at 15 minutes to 8 hours.

The duration of power supply is an important issue. When the wind dies down and the sky is overcast, this could last more than a day as evidenced by the wind drought in the UK two years ago, when wind turbines were forced to idle for a week.

Heat

Gravity-base storage is one alternative to batteries, some of it cheaper than batteries, but for the time being, less reliable than batteries if we are thinking about a 100-percent renewable-powered grid. Another solution is thermal storage.

EnergyNest is one developer of thermal energy storage. It works by pumping a heated fluid along a system of pipes and storing it in a solid material. The heat flows into the material from top to bottom and is released into this material where it stays until it is needed again. Then, the flow gets reversed, with cold fluid (thermal oil or water) flowing from the bottom up, heating up in the process and exiting the storage system. Related: Restarted Saudi, Kuwaiti Oilfields To Pump 550,000 Bpd By End-2020

Then there is liquid air storage as an alternative to batteries. It works by separating the carbon dioxide and the oxygen from the nitrogen in the air and then storing this nitrogen in liquefied form. When needed to generate electricity, it is regasified. The process of liquefaction is powered by the excess electricity that needs to be stored and when a peak in demand requires more electricity generation, it is reheated and regasified, and used to power a turbine. According to experts, the process is not 100-percent efficient, with rates ranging from 25 percent to 70 percent.

Geothermal

Yet another potential alternative to batteries for energy storage is using geothermal energy to store heat and then releasing it to generate more electricity. The so-called sensitized thermal cells developed by researchers from the Tokyo Institute of Technology are technically batteries, as they use electrodes to move electrons. But on the flip side, it does not work with intermittent energy such as solar or wind. It taps the potential of geothermal energy, an underused renewable source.

Not all of these energy storage idea swill take off. Not all of them will prove viable enough to become widely adopted. Yet some alternatives to batteries will likely work well enough to provide an alternative to the dominant technology. Alternatives are important when you are aiming for 100-percent renewable electricity. 

EVs

Failing that, we could simply use our EV batteries as energy storage for excess power from solar and wind installations, as the International Renewable Energy Agency said earlier this month. While a strain on the grid when they charge, IRENA said, electric cars could juice up at the right time to take in surplus power and then release it back into the grid if that grid is a smart one. In 2050, around 14 terawatt-hours (TWh) of EV batteries would be available to provide grid services, compared to 9 TWh of stationary batteries, according to the agency. One way or another, slowly and with difficulty, we are heading into a much more renewable energy future.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell vs Electric Cars: What You Need to Know


Let’s get the main question out of the way first. What is a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle? And how is it different to the host of battery-powered electric vehicles making their way onto the market by manufacturers from Jaguar and Audi to Nissan and Renault? 

Hydrogen fuel cell cars have batteries onboard which store hydrogen and oxygen and power the vehicle with chemical reactions between the two elements to create water and energy.

Sometimes known as fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), they have exhaust pipes but the only thing that escapes from them is water. The cars need refuelling, but with hydrogen rather than petrol or diesel fuel. For each fill of hydrogen, the car will gain 320-405km (200-250 miles) of range.

Meanwhile, conventional electric vehicles, often known as battery-operated electric vehicles (BEVs) are what we tend to think of as the most common fully electric cars. Like the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, and Teslas.

These cars are powered by batteries which store charge in a similar way to phones, though many electric cars do manage to give themselves a slight recharge when braking, by converting the heat produced into electricity.

However, they’ll still need recharging at a mains electricity point after every 160-240km (100-150 miles). And that’s the main bugbear for many considering a BEV. With a standard EV and charging point, it could take up to 12 hours to fully charge a battery. Though rapid charge points exist, it will still take up to half an hour to add 160km of range.

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That compares with just a few seconds refuelling a petrol or diesel car on the forecourt. It’s here where fuel cell cars come into their own as a zero emissions alternative that’s also quick to refuel. Refuelling with hydrogen will take a couple of minutes, similar to the current practice.

With the basics out of the way, we asked two experts for their take on this new tech and when, if ever, we’ll see it taking the automotive industry by storm.

Why haven’t most people heard of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles?

“Hydrogen car development has taken a back seat due to the fact that electric vehicles are more popular among the public,” Mark Barclay, e-commerce manager at GSF Car Parts, tells Euronews Living.

“But there are benefits to hydrogen that outweigh electric — sometimes literally, as hydrogen fuel cells are much lighter than powerful batteries. As you can top up a hydrogen car much quicker than charging your electric model, they’re perfect for public transport and businesses that can’t afford vehicle downtime.”

So, what are the pros and cons of fuel cell vs electric, hybrid or standard cars?

The decision to buy an electric or non-combustion engine car comes down to four key criteria:

  • Range
  • Performance
  • Convenience of recharging/refuelling
  • Price

That’s according to Jeremy Parkes, global business lead for electric vehicles at Norwegian renewable energy tech consultancy and classification society DNV GL, who researches buying habits and what the future will hold for the roads.

“In terms of range, current hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle models are slightly better than battery electric vehicles,” he says. “However, when looking at performance, the price point and the availability of recharging/refuelling, EVs are winning.”

What are the factors standing in the way of mass adoption of this tech?

“Although refuelling a FCEV is very similar in time to an internal combustion engine vehicle, the refuelling options are very limited and an expansion of the refuelling infrastructure is very expensive compared to the expansion of the EV charging infrastructure, mainly because there is already an electrical grid in place in most areas where cars typically need to be charged,” says Parkes.

“BEVs can already be conveniently charged at the passenger’s home, something that is not be possible for FCEVs. It should also be noted that the CO2 emissions from a BEV over its lifetime are not only significantly lower than an ICE vehicle but are also lower than FCEV, where the majority of hydrogen is generated using fossil fuels, through methane steam reforming.”

Honda planned to add hydrogen fuelling when it opened ‘Europe’s most advanced public electric vehicle charging station’ in 2017 Honda

The experts agree that a major factor preventing uptake at the moment is the prohibitive cost. Barclay adds: “Hydrogen fuel cells are very expensive, and there are very few places to refill in the UK, so the infrastructure just isn’t there to support the technology at the moment.

There are also safety concerns among the public around the production of hydrogen and storage facilities, as hydrogen gas is extremely flammable.”

How will prices compare in the long run?

“BEVs are already much cheaper, both the upfront and running costs for FCEVs are higher than for BEVs,” Parkes tells Euronews Living.

“Many new technologies struggle getting to scale which is crucial for the reduction of costs, since every time the production levels of a new technology increase the costs will decrease. For battery technology, we see a cost reduction of 19% for every doubling of the production levels.

Already we see the total number of BEVs being manufactured and sold globally in the millions, compared to hydrogen, which amount to just a few tens of thousands being sold to date.”

Who’s working on the tech and when will we see it?

“Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai already have hydrogen cars on the market and Europe is catching up,” says Barclay. But he still thinks hydrogen cars “clearly have some way to go before they take over the roads” to the extent electric and hybrid cars have.

“The industry still needs to adapt to these new technologies as investments continue to be made to improve the concept of hydrogen powered vehicles, mostly to reduce cost,” he says. “So, hydrogen cars should begin to threaten electric vehicles or even overtake them within the decade, and businesses should be prepared for that.”

A fleet of fuel cell Toyota Mirai cars have racked up more than a million miles on the streets of London.Toyota

Parkes disagrees. “Ultimately it comes down to two factors. The proven scalability, and hence the cost reductions of battery technology, and the poor charging infrastructure for fuel cell cars mean that BEVs are expected to dominate the passenger vehicle market in the coming decades.”

He adds: “There are still some expectations in the market that fuel cell technology might scale-up.

For instance, by the rise of producing hydrogen though electrolysis, driven by very low electricity prices due to excess renewable energy, which could form a business case for hydrogen production.

However, it should be highlighted that with current technology this is very inefficient, approximately three times as much energy needs to be put into the process compared to the energy available in the hydrogen produced.”

There have been allegations of unethical and unsustainable sourcing of raw materials for EV batteries. Are they true and should people be worried?

Critics have slammed reports of unsustainable sourcing for the lithium ion batteries that go into conventional electric vehicles. However, “they ignore the innovation push in the industry that will lead to major cost reductions, as well as alternative ecological battery solutions”, Parkes says.

“Not only are BEVs more ecological in the short term, but also more sustainable and responsible in the long term.

The industry is making rapid advances as we scale-up, developing new battery types for EVs such as the use of solid-state batteries, which can charge and discharge faster and have a higher energy density than li-ion batteries, as well as using less rare metals in its production process.”

So, that’s it. A beginners’ guide to the world of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and how they compare to the mainstream electrical vehicle. If you’ve got any more questions you’d like answered, let us know in the comments section below.

 

Outlook to 2030: the electric vehicle revolution


Times change. While the twentieth century saw the rise of the conventional, combustion engine vehicle, recent years of the opening decades of the twenty-first century have witnessed the emergence of a new breed of vehicle – the electric vehicle.

A symbol for much larger changes taking place in global energy, the electric vehicle is a true disruptive technology. And its future through the coming decade is going to a remarkable industrial journey – one in which batteries have a critical role to play.

Equal parts challenge and opportunity

The shift towards electric transportation is happening. It’s being driven largely by public opinion and policy geared towards reducing climate damaging emissions and pollution. Many stakeholder groups speculate over how fast the shift will unfold – forecasts for lesser and greater roll-out of EVs being a reflection of uncertainty over how the many determining factors will play out.

For instance, the IEA’s New Policies Scenario – based around the impact of already announced policy ambitions – predicts global EV sales would reach 23 million per year and the global fleet exceed 130 million by 2030.

More optimistically, under the EV30@30 Scenario, global sales reach 44 million vehicles per year by 2030 and the number on the road exceeds 250 million. In this future, EVs account for 30% of all vehicle sales in 2030 and almost half of all vehicles sold in 2030 in Europe. Of critical consequence, associated with this scenario is a reduction in oil demand estimated at 4.3 million barrels per day.

Of course, the reality is that we will see varying rates of EV adoption in different markets. Already in Norway, for instance, over 40% of new cars are electric – a figure well ahead of any other nation. Looking at the success in Norway reveals that it’s been had through a combination of many factors which impact adoption.

It’s clear, for example, that increasing adoption requires build-up in charging infrastructure to support EVs. This is no small matter, requiring proactive urban planning and considerable investment. Adding complexity, a wide mix of stakeholders will be required to collaborate and play their part in securing this future, including private industry, public bodies, and new actors in emerging transport supply chains.

The role of favorable national policy to encourage EV adoption is also significant. Customer acceptance is key too, and although helped by policy-based incentives and subsidies for EVs, this requires high-performance vehicles at competitive costs compared with combustion vehicles.

Altogether there’s a whole landscape of variables in play which will influence the growth of EVs. That said, three things are clear:

One: the shift has already begun and it’s only going to gain momentum

Two: the shift is in every way a revolutionary one

Three: batteries are front and center in this story as a key enabling technology

 

Gaining momentum

There can no longer be any question over if the shift to electric transportation is happening. In 2018, the global electric car fleet passed 5 million – up 2 million or 68% in just one year. Around one quarter of the world’s electric fleet is in Europe, where sales of electric cars rose 81% in the final quarter of 2019 and accounted for 4.4% of total new car sales in the period according to the automotive industry federation, ACEA.

Looking forward, the trend strengthens – upheld by stricter EU policy measures and plans of major automotive manufacturers who have outlined clear intentions to electrify the car and bus markets, beginning with no less than 92 fully EV models brought to market in 2021.

The question of what technology will enable the transition to cleaner transportation appears largely to have been answered: production plans for alternative drivetrains other than electric are “almost non-existent” according to European clean transport campaign group

Transport & Environment. The group report only 9,000 fuel cell cars in total are forecast to be produced by 2025 compared to 4 million electric cars, and production of compressed natural gas cars is set to decrease, accounting for less than 1% of vehicles produced in Europe by the mid-2020s.

To be sure, the forthcoming decade will be one in which electric goes mainstream in the automotive industry.

A revolution in every way

The electrification of transportation is in every way a revolutionary shift. While the twentieth century saw refinement of the internal combustion engine, that technology is now to be entirely replaced. Combustion engines and gearboxes are out, battery packs and electric powertrains are in. The EV revolution requires nothing short of retooling massive portions of vehicle manufacturing lines. It means going back to the drawing board on vehicle design.

In parallel, the rise of EVs carries indirect consequences for broader society and industry. It means adjusting habits, changing how we plan urban areas, it means building new infrastructure, and securing compensatory measures in electricity grids to handle the new requirements of EVs.

Going into the new decade, it is policy which is acting as a major driver for this change. While national policy is in play too, a central piece of EU policy is new regulation setting CO2 emission performance standards for new passenger cars and for new light commercial vehicles.

The new regulation, being phased in from 2020, means that from 2021 the EU fleet-wide average emission target for new cars is 95g CO2/km. To meet this, manufacturers will have to increase the share of alternative fuel vehicles they produce and put to market. If successful, the policy is expected to result in a 23% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from road transport in 2030 compared to 2005.

“This is a pivotal moment for Europe’s automotive industry,” commented Lucien Mathieu, analyst at Transport & Environment last year. “Carmakers are investing €145 billion in electrification, and battery making is finally coming to Europe. Success in this area is a top EU industrial priority. We need to send a clear signal to industry that there is no way back, and agree a phase-out of petrol and diesel car sales in cities, at national and EU level. The age of the combustion engine is coming to an end.”

A leading role for batteries

In the shift towards carbon-neutral transport, batteries are key. More specifically – battery chemistry, reduced cost and expanded production capacity.

Where gearbox and engine design determined vehicle performance, with EVs it is batteries that determine performance. This situation puts the battery industry in the dead center of the EV revolution and has prompted a dramatic escalation in planning new battery production for Europe, much of which will come online through the decade ahead.

For Europe’s automotive sector, this domestic battery production capacity brings not only security of supply but also the means to ensure they remain at the forefront of vehicle ingenuity. It is in Europe’s new battery R&D labs that EV driving range, performance and lifetimes will be determined – all of which is key to delivering compelling, desirable vehicles to market. Success in the European EV revolution in every way depends on success of Europe’s up and coming battery industry.

Going forward into this new decade we’re at the beginning of a great journey. Integrating batteries into desirable, high-performance EVs is no simple task. Success in the wider picture of electrification of transportation is harder and more complex still. But it’s all far from impossible. And with transport representing almost a quarter of Europe’s GHG emissions and the main source of urban air pollution, it’s absolutely necessary.

Article provided by NorthVolt

Nikola Motors unveils new electric pickup with battery/fuel-cell hybrid: 600-mile range, 0-60mph in 2.9s, and more … “The Badger”


Nikola Motors, better known for its electric fuel-cell semi-trucks, is today unveiling a concept for a new electric pickup with a battery/fuel-cell hybrid powertrain enabling 600 miles of range, 0-60 mph acceleration in 2.9 seconds, and more.

The Arizona-based company is planning to use battery packs in its larger hydrogen semi trucks and all-electric powertrains in its smaller and shorter-distance trucks.

After announcing their plans for trucks in 2015, the startup started expanding its portfolio with electric UTVs, watercraft, and more.

Now they are also expanding to electric pickup trucks and unveiled the Nikola Badger today.

Trevor Milton, CEO, Nikola Corporation, commented on the announcement:

Nikola has billions worth of technology in our semi-truck program, so why not build it into a pickup truck? I have been working on this pickup program for years and believe the market is now ready for something that can handle a full day’s worth of work without running out of energy. This electric truck can be used for work, weekend getaways, towing, off-roading or to hit the ski slopes without performance loss. No other electric pickup can operate in these temperatures and conditions.

They listed the following specs for the Nikola Badger

  • 600 miles on blended FCEV/BEV
  • 300 miles on BEV alone
  • Operates on blended FCEV/BEV or BEV only by touch of a button
  • 906HP peak
  • 455HP continuous
  • 980 ft. lbs. of torque
  • 160kWh, flooded module — lithium-ion battery
  • 120kW fuel cell
  • Advanced Supercapacitor Launch Assist that blends with lithium ion and fuel-cell
  • -20F operating environments without major performance or SOC losses
  • Towing capacity of over 8,000 pounds
  • Operating targets without motor stalls up to 50% grade
  • 15kW power export outlet
  • Compatible with industry standard charging for BEV mode
  • Five seats
  • Truck dimensions: 5,900mm long x 1,850mm tall x 2,160mm wide and a 1,560mm bed width

They claim a hybrid battery/fuel cell powertrain that can operate independently for 300 miles of battery-only range and 300 miles of fuel cell range.

While they are announcing specs, they are not unveiling a prototype just yet. They are only showing some concept images:

The company says that the vehicle will be fully unveiled at their Nikola World 2020 event in September. They will start to take reservations at that time.

The Key To The Electric Car Revolution? It’s The Batteries … It’s Always been about the Batteries


Toy Pan 1 download

It is hard to overstate the almost supernatural ability of Elon Musk to see the future and act on his instincts. Nearly a decade ago when electric cars first became a thing, Elon was already gearing up to make the batteries and install the charging network that would power the electric car revolution. Only now are others coming to the same realization Musk had a decade ago.

Panasonic & Toyota Form New Battery Partnership

Toy pan 2 https___s3-ap-northeast-1.amazonaws.com_psh-ex-ftnikkei-3937bb4_images_3_5_8_9_11259853-4-eng-GB_1214N_Toyota-Panasonic

So far as anyone can tell, Toyota has zero interest in manufacturing battery electric cars. It is all in on hybrids and plug-in hybrids and still dazzled by the promise of hydrogen fuel cells. In essence, it has chosen to sit on the sidelines because of a corporate-wide belief that current lithium-ion battery technology will soon be outmoded as new solid state technologies come along. Why hitch your wagon to a falling star?

Toyota and Panasonic announced this week they have formed a new partnership known as Planet Energy and Solutions. According to Forbes, it will work on prismatic batteries they intend to sell to other automakers. Prismatic batteries are square rather than cylindrical. The new business will initially employ more than 5,000 people and Toyota will own 51% of it while Panasonic will own the remaining 49%.

“Batteries — as solutions for providing energy for automobiles and other forms of mobility, and as solutions for various kinds of environmental issues — are expected to fulfill a central role in society going forward,” the companies said in a press release. The two companies have been cooperating on battery research since 1996.

The EU Is Ready To Take Battery Manufacturing Seriously

At the beginning of the modern electric car age, it was assumed auto manufacturers would make their own batteries. Then the thinking changed as the car companies realized what a massive and expensive challenge it was to make batteries, and then ceded the playing field to battery companies. But that led political leaders in Europe to worry that foreign companies would soon control the battery supply. They had good reason to be concerned, as CATL, LG Chem, BYD and others all announced plans to build European battery factories.

In response, the French and German governments announced last week a major new initiative to build European-owned battery factories in both countries, according to the Los Angeles Times. Germany and France “want to build the best and most sustainable batteries” in Europe, said Peter Altmaier, Germany’s Economy and Energy Minister, in a statement from Berlin on Friday. “I’m convinced that battery cells made in Kaiserslautern will set new standards in their CO2 footprint.”

Toy Pan 3 images

Kaiserslautern is where Groupe PSA-Opel and Total’s Saft Groupe will build a new battery factory at a cost of about €2 billion. To be known as the Automotive Cell Company, that factory is expected to begin production in 2024 and employ 2,000 workers.

Another factory will be constructed in the Hauts de France region in the northeast corner of the country near the border with Belgium. That facility will be known as the Automotive Cell Company and will cost about 2 billion euros. In an announcement about the new factory, French president Emmanuel Macron said, “We need to be able to produce our batteries; this is a matter of industrial sovereignty and the reduction of CO2 emissions,” according to Electrive.

The Europeans are getting a late start in the competition to build battery cells for electric cars, an industry that is expected to be worth as much as €25 billion a year by the middle of this decade. That means there will be a lot of money to be made for somebody and the Europeans want to make certain a significant portion of the profits remain in Europe.

This is all good news for the EV revolution, which will rely on a steady supply of reasonable priced batteries as the transition to electric transportation moves forward.

Rivian Preparing to Build EVs for Ford, Amazon, and Itself – New Partnerships Emerging


Tesla and Rivian are both modern automakers dedicated to producing only electric vehicles. Both bought mothballed conventional assembly plants to build their new vehicles. Both have reconfigured those facilities as they grapple with how to disrupt manufacturing as their vehicles have aimed to disrupt the auto industry.

One difference: While Tesla CEO Elon Musk spent nights in a sleeping bag at the end of the assembly line at the plant in Fremont, California, Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe has the good sense to sleep in his own bed while overseeing the developing manufacturing process at his company’s plant in Normal, Illinois.

Rivian bought the Normal plant from Mitsubishi in 2017 for $16 million and is preparing it to make an interesting assortment of vehicles. So far, all Rivian prototypes have been built at the Plymouth Engineering and Design Center, but pilot-build vehicles will go down the plant line in the third quarter, with full production of the Rivan R1T five-passenger electric pickup starting in December.

About three months later, the Rivian R1S electric SUV, which has more content and a third row of seats, will roll off the same line. Scaringe says he wishes he could pull production forward but is mindful of the complexity. Also to be added to the factory’s mix: an electric luxury SUV for Ford and a fleet of large electric commercial delivery vans for Amazon, to be branded Prime.

The factory will have one line dedicated to building a skateboard chassis that all three brands will share—skateboard EV chassis bundle the battery pack(s), suspension, electric motors, and other hardware in a vertically short package so that various bodies can be attached. There will be another line tasked with assembling the three different battery packs Rivian will offer, and it will feed those directly to the skateboard-chassis line.

The Ford And Amazon EVs

Ford is designing its own so-called “top hat”—an EV-specific term for the vehicle bodies that use the skateboard architecture—for its high-end electric SUV, but since it will ride on the common architecture, features such as the company’s unique infotainment system must be designed to run on Rivian’s electrical systems. Scaringe would not say when Ford production begins, but design and engineering are locked in and ready to roll. “It’s a very different product from our own SUV, but it’s still in the SUV space,” Scaringe says. While Rivian is going after the adventure market, Ford will pursue luxury buyers, which leads us to deduce it will be sold as a Lincoln. Scaringe would not confirm this supposition, as it’s Ford’s announcement to make, he said. He did say the Ford SUV is “an impressive product, to say the least.”

The Amazon Prime vans will have access to the same three battery packs, and use the same electrical architecture and some drivetrains, as well as share some engine control units. To finish vehicles so wildly different in mission, there will be two separate final trim-assembly lines at the Normal plant. One will be a high-content line handling the Rivian and Ford products, while a second, low-content line will finish the Prime vans, which are essentially big, empty boxes to be filled with parcels.

Musk has said he wants to revolutionize the way vehicles are manufactured. He raised eyebrows with experiments such as his self-admittedly ill-thought robot he called the “flufferbot,” which proved to be more of a hindrance than a leap of efficiency in its attempts to place fiberglass mats atop battery packs. His firm also started building the Model 3 in a tent in 2018 to increase production. But with those experiments behind Tesla, production has normalized, and the automaker delivered a record 112,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Rivian’s Plant Plans

Scaringe is not necessarily trying to reinvent car building, but he says he has spent a lot of time thinking about how assembly should be done to meet the unique needs of the varied vehicles his company will build. Out of necessity, he’s mapping out the way the former Mitsubishi small-car plant should be laid out to handle its new disparate needs.

The original Mitsubishi plant was 2.6 million square feet, and Rivian has added another 400,000 square feet. Some aspects of the plant are still usable, including some stamping presses, but they needed modifications to handle the steel and aluminum used in the bodies of the delivery vans and the mostly aluminum bodies of the R1T and R1S—the latter need to be picked up via suction cups, not magnets, for example. Presumably, the Ford SUV will feature an aluminum body, as well, given that the company has embraced that strategy with its pickups and large SUVs.

The partnership with Ford has been helpful in this regard, Scaringe says. Ford spent billions revamping its plants to switch the current generation of F-Series pickups and large SUVs to aluminum construction, and the Dearborn-based company now makes about 1 million aluminum-intensive vehicles a year. Ford employees have been generous with their time and expertise in helping Rivian.

The existing paint shop at the Rivian plant had to be scrapped; designed for littler cars, it was many sizes too small. Scaringe could probably sell tickets to watch the new e-coating process that dips vehicle bodies to prevent corrosion.

Like BMW does at its Spartanburg, South Carolina, plant, Scaringe wants vehicles to enter the tank and flip, end over end, four times, to prevent air bubbles that could lead to rust—picture that body ballet with a 30-foot-long delivery van. The plant ceilings aren’t high enough for this, though, so to solve the problem Rivian lowered the floor, digging an eight-foot pit with giant moorings to house dip tanks that stand about 33 feet tall. Scaringe thinks this makes it the world’s largest dip-process setup.

Rivian was founded in 2009 and has since grown to more than 1,800 employees. It could reach 2,500 or more by year’s end as hiring ramps up for the plant while the development team has continued to expand. The Plymouth headquarters is bursting at the seams. The cafeteria area is filled with desks until more office space on a mezzanine level is ready to house more workspace.

At the Normal plant, assembly will be on a single shift initially, but some areas, such as battery lines, will run a second shift.

The two Rivian models have 90 percent shared content—they are identical from the B-pillar forward—and were designed to have an identical build process for ease of assembly.

Normal has the capacity to make 264,000 vehicles a year. The Amazon contract is for 100,000, which Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said will be filled by 2024. The rest of the capacity is for Rivian and Ford vehicles. On the Rivian side, Scaringe thinks there will be greater demand for the pickup initially, but eventually, orders will be equal for the truck and SUV. And the Rivian lineup will expand.