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.
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
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