Reinventing The Wheel, Resurrecting Faraday Future, & Japan’s H2 Play (Cleantech Talk #49)

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Episode #49 of Cleantech Talk is here! In this episode, we talk about reinventing the wheel, a Faraday Future maybe-resurrection, and Japan’s logical hots for hydrogen.

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Jump into the show notes below for more goodies!

Before we begin, thanks again to Mypetcow and Ruben B., our latest iTunes reviewers! (Want to join them? Submit a review here!) Your encouragement is awesome, and we hope to improve the audio quality in coming weeks!

Moss — it’s not just for cracks in the pavement anymore! Source: Goodyear.

Reinventing the wheel

Tina Casey reported earlier this month on Goodyear’s proposal to reinvent the wheel for a carbon-constrained world, by integrating moss into the wheel well. Moss in wheels isn’t going to absorb that much CO2 each year — 4,000 tonnes spread over the 10,000,000 people in Metro Paris work out to 400 grams per person per year, a savings of about a pound of CO2 per person per year. Not huge, considering that North American and European carbon footprints are generally 10–25 tonnes of CO2, but hey, we should always celebrate the potential for progress!

I suspect the biggest value of mossy wheels would be to help cars blend more easily into the natural landscape, in much the way that many people think vertical forests (skyscrapers with integrated greenery) are more aesthetically pleasing than monolithic towers. If I was Goodyear, I’d target Subaru owners!

FF: Can’t Hold Us Down!

In the spirit of Zachary linking to Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” in Nicolas’s write-up of Faraday Future’s (temporary, at least) resurrection, this section title is a throwback to this old Christina Aguilera song:

Thanks to a timely cash infusion (let’s be honest, it’ll probably need more soon), Faraday Future has crawled its way out of the grave, paid down some debts (probably not that much, but it makes for good press) and announced plans for a California factory.

Japan sees H2 as the best way to decarbonize its energy imports. Source:

H2 vs. LNG, Not H2 vs. Electricity

Full upfront disclosure: Toyota paid my flight expenses to this conference, which features the world’s largest fuel cell expo, as well as large solar, wind, advanced battery, and biomass expositions — and even advanced combustion sessions! (When you’re as reliant on imported fossil fuels as Japan is, squeezing the last bit of efficiency out of your combustion is almost at the scale of a national interest, even as you try to pull in other sources of energy.)

Before getting into the conference contents, we talked a little bit about how cars and motorcycles are secondary modes of urban transport in Tokyo, with walking, cycling, and transit (trains) being dominant. Tokyo’s commuter train systems, with roughly 40 million gate crossings daily, works out to around 5 million round trips (assuming gate crossings at entrance and exit, 2 train segments per rider, with a trip to work and back). It would be a colossal malinvestment of funds to try to build the hundreds of levels of tunnels and dozens of levels of parking needed to put everyone in a personal vehicle.

Incredible as it may seem, while North and South Korea both use the same electrical frequency (60 Hz), eastern and western Japan don’t. Your power comes at 50 Hz in eastern Japan (e.g. Tokyo) and 60 Hz in western Japan (Osaka). It’s a crazy setup, but because Japanese electronics makers had to make their products compatible with 50 Hz and 60 Hz from day one, in a weird way, it could have helped them 30 to 40 years ago, when they were the dominant electronics exporting power.  

As crazy as their electrical grid is, it probably isn’t the reason for Japan’s determination to shift to a hydrogen economy. As I noted in the podcast, in 2015, a full 94% of Japan’s primary energy came from imported fossil fuels: coal, LNG, and oil. And they can’t rely on a continent-wide “super-grid” to soak up tremendous amounts of variable renewables. So, hydrogen is their best bet for decarbonizing their economy. In the near term, they can bleed ever-larger amounts into coal and natural gas power plants (which are already designed to handle some hydrogen content). In the longer term, they can use fuel cells for power and/or transport.

So, the best way to view Japan’s hydrogen hopes is to see that they’re not trying to replace electrification with hydrogen — they’re trying to replace LNG. And Japan’s extensive experience with LNG means that it’s not too big of a stretch for them to import huge amounts of another cryogenically-liquefied gas.  

As for this week’s map, here’s an annotated version of the super-grid the founder of SoftBank envisions, along with the grid frequencies of the countries involved!

Softbank’s utopian east Asian “super grid.” Adapted from: Nikkei.

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Matthew Klippenstein

Matthew Klippenstein is a renewable energy consultant in Vancouver, Canada. He has chronicled the Canadian electric car market for since 2013, and has provided commentary (in English and French) for print, television, radio, web and podcast media. An early guest on "The Energy Transition Show", his work has also been discussed on "The Energy Gang".

Matthew Klippenstein has 37 posts and counting. See all posts by Matthew Klippenstein