Congratulations to Shai Agassi for recognizing that successful development of electric cars requires technical and business solutions. I first came across Agassi three years ago when he was a rising star at SAP, the giant software company. Now he’s heading an entrepreneurial effort based in California to promote use of electric cars. His idea is to market electric cars the way cell phones are marketed. The hardware itself (in this case the car) is subsidized. Users have a contract and pay monthly fees based on projected usage. New batteries developed by Agassi’s company, called Project Better Place, provide lithium-ion batteries that can go 124 miles per charge.
“Project Better Place solution framework looks to convert an entire country into electric cars, powered by batteries, that get their energy from green sustainable electricity sources, through a smart electric recharge grid that covers the entire country,” says Agassi in his blog. Israel, where gasoline costs more than $6 a gallon, is now putting some muscle behind the idea. Israeli users of the electric car will receive tax incentives. Plus Israel is investing $200 million to build recharging facilities, also supplied by Agassi’s company. Drivers don’t have to wait for a recharge. Batteries are swapped out. Call it “a battery fill up”. The other partner in the collaboration is Renault-Nissan , which will provide the cars. For the moment, no huge re-engineering of the cars (a la Chevy Volt) is planned. Processors for the cars electric components are still under development. Separately, Renault and Nissan expect to manufacture a hybrid by 2010 and an all-electric car by 2012.
The money behind Agassi’s company comes from Israeli businessman Idan Ofer, who hopes to expand the concept to New York, Singapore, China, and London, where electric cars get special treatment on downtown streets (such as free parking). A pilot will start later this year in Tel Aviv. A few hundred cars are expected to be on the road next year
This strategy is an interesting contrast to the approach taken by GM in the last dozen years, which has been well chronicled by my outstanding colleague, Chuck Murray. GM has consistently gone for the technical home run, staring with the EV, and continuing today with the Chevy Volt, which includes breakthrough ideas in materials technology. Meanwhile, Toyota got the lead with a less ambitious idea, the hybrid Prius. And now comes Agassi’s very exciting concept.
A recent report sponsored by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) focuses on emerging gasification technologies for converting waste into energy and fuel on a large scale and saving it from the landfill. Some of that waste includes non-recycled plastic.
Capping a 30-year quest, GE Aviation has broken ground on the first high-volume factory for producing commercial jet engine components from ceramic matrix composites. The plant will produce high-pressure turbine shrouds for the LEAP Turbofan engine.
Seismic shifts in 3D printing materials include an optimization method that reduces the material needed to print an object by 85 percent, research designed to create new, stronger materials, and a new ASTM standard for their mechanical properties.
A recent study finds that 3D printing is both cheaper and greener than traditional factory-based mass manufacturing and distribution. At least, it's true for making consumer plastic products on open-source, low-cost RepRap printers.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.