In a weekly column, alternately written by Maarten Steinbuch, Mary Fiers, Carlo van de Weijer, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will be like. The six columnists, occasionally supplemented by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that Tomorrow will be Good. This Sunday it’s Tessie Hartjes’ turn, about #realsolutions in electric transport. Here are all previous episodes.
This week, Lexus – part of Toyota – launched a campaign called “Diesel, thank you”. The message: it’s time for a new standard and Lexus saw the end of the diesel coming a long time ago. In the advertisement, the hybrid car is depicted as a car with which you can drive electrically “without a plug” and “without a restrictive radius of action”. This is because the battery is charged while braking.
It sounds like a kind of perpetual mobile; you drive, you brake, and tadaa… your battery is full again. Who does not want that? What is not explained, however, is that the braking energy that is recovered comes from the fuel engine, which started the car. No plug but also absolutely no electric car; you just remain dependent on the gas pump. If you ask me, the ad is greenwashing pur sang.
In addition, we at Lightyear were slightly outraged by Lexus’ claim that this technology marks ‘the start of a new era’. Toyota’s first hybrids date back to 1997, a year in which the advertisement would have been in place. Hybrids have made the step towards electric smaller and that has been enormously good for the acceptance of electric cars, of course, we recognise that. All hybrids together already have a commendable amount of electric kilometres, but in our view, it is and will remain just a temporary solution. That’s why, in response to this, we also placed an ad in the same week and called on the automotive industry to come up with #realsolutions.
Although with solar cars the debate is often about solar cells, most of the development at Lightyear focuses on making the electric car as energy efficient as possible. We announced this week that Lightyear One will have an air resistance coefficient lower than 0.20. With this it breaks the record of the most aerodynamic production car – the top ten values are now between 0.24 and 0.26.
Low energy consumption makes the solar cells much more effective; a large part of the annual kilometres can then be driven directly from to the sun. We see this as the solution for the future. At Lightyear, we are forced to start small and work on the edge of what is possible, which unfortunately means that this technology is not yet accessible to the masses. Making electric driving fully accessible is definitely our goal. Luckily we still have 21 years to reach the same point in time 😉
Just like hybrids, hydrogen-powered cars also appear to be a topic where the discussion is a little clouded. Although hydrogen can be an excellent green source of energy, it is only so when it is also made sustainable. Often this is not the case and it is produced from gas, and (sometimes) the CO2 is put underground. The latter is called ‘blue hydrogen’. If the hydrogen is produced purely from non-renewable sources, without CO2 storage, it is called grey hydrogen. The framing of blue, grey and green hydrogen is an understandable distinction but in my opinion, it also deserves the stamp ‘greenwashing’.
When it comes to whether hydrogen cars are a better solution than electric cars, my answer is simply ‘no’. The biggest objection is that hydrogen cars use 2 to 3 times more energy per kilometre than current electric cars. Solar cars can even achieve a factor of 5 to 6 per kilometre. Even if only green hydrogen were to be introduced, this would mean that we would lose the opportunity for a sustainable growth of a factor of 5-6, knowing that demand for mobility would globally only be growing further. If you do use renewable energy to produce hydrogen, then you can just as easily store this energy directly in your car’s battery and then immediately drive on this again electrically, skipping a number of steps where a lot of energy is now being lost. Not to mention the fact that you have to build – or convert – a completely new infrastructure to enable hydrogen-powered driving.
We will all have to keep this earth livable – before it is too late. That is quite a challenge, and in that light, I find the greenwashing of a company with so much strength particularly regrettable. We’ve got no time to lose… It’s time for #realsolutions.