The idea of wind-powered cars sparked a bit of humor in the presidential campaign earlier this week, but two powerful trends are converging to make it a reality. One is the strong growth in the U.S. wind power industry within the past couple of years. The other is the domestic auto industry’s increased attention to electric vehicle technology, as illustrated by Ford’s new Advanced Electrification Center.
Transitioning to an EV Future
GM has been grabbing lots of headlines with its top-rated Chevy Volt, but Ford promises to give it some stiff competition as the potential EV leader of tomorrow. To that end, Ford has repurposed its massive Advanced Engineering Center in Dearborn to focus on EV technology under the name Advanced Electrification Center.
According to Ford’s press materials, the 285,000-square-foot building already houses hundreds of engineers working on EV and hybrid R&D. Last year, the company also filled 60 new engineering positions on its electrification team and plans to hire several dozen more this year alone.
A lot of the new research focus is going into new EV battery technologies, and Ford plans to double its battery test beds by next year. In a related effort, the company has also been developing an EV battery recycling demonstration project at its Michigan Assembly Plant, which uses spent EV batteries to store renewable energy from a 500-kilowatt solar power installation.
Ford is also heavily engaged in developing new, lightweight materials that will help increase battery range, including bio-based materials such as a dandelion rubber substitute.
Electric Vehicles and Sustainable Transportation
Cranking out more and better EVs is all well and good, but it is not a standalone solution to the long-term management of greenhouse gas emissions related to transportation.
In Ford’s sustainability statement, executive chairman William Clay Ford describes a scenario in which progress on the vehicle manufacturing end is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new drivers entering the car market. According to Ford, the 1 billion vehicles currently on the road worldwide could expand to about 4 billion by mid-century.
To meet that challenge, EVs will need to be integrated into a broader transportation strategy. As Ford’s sustainability statement explains:
“We believe a truly sustainable long-term solution will require a global transportation network that enables wireless communication among vehicles and infrastructure…bringing all modes of travel into a single network that links together public and personal transportation. Pedestrian walkways, bicycles, buses, airplanes, trains, automobiles – in our vision of the future everything would be fully integrated to save time, conserve resources and lower emissions.”
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.