More & Better Electric Vehicles For US Auto Industry: Your Taxpayer Dollars At Work

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Electric vehicles in, gasmobiles and CNG vehicles on the way out. That’s the takeaway from the keynote speech delivered at the Washington Auto Show earlier this month by Undersecretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes. He gave a nice shoutout to the US natural gas industry but concentrated on production and sales opportunities in the export market, not the domestic transportation sector. As for petroleum fuels, they got barely so much as a whisper.

Energy storage is part of a big push for electric vehicles by the US Department of Energy. Photo by Argonne National Laboratory (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Taxpayer Firepower Behind Electric Vehicles

Menezes delivered his EV-friendly speech on January 23, and he used the platform to take a veiled but stinging slap at the cost of fossil-based transportation.

“Today, transportation is the second highest expense for American households, after housing itself, and it requires nearly 30 percent of the energy we use as a country,” he said midway through the speech.

That was the bad news. The good news, as Menezes noted with reference to electric scooters, is that a big shift is under way.

With that in mind, Menezes talked up three new Energy Department funding opportunities totaling almost $300 million.

So, group hug for taxpayers.

The pie includes a $133 million slice for advanced EV batteries, electrification, and related technologies. Another $64 million will go to scaling up hydrogen production, with a focus on bringing down the cost of renewable hydrogen. Part of that slice involves using hydrogen in fuel cell electric vehicles, and it dovetails with state-based policies in support of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

The remaining $100 million slice doesn’t particularly help electric vehicles but it does give the cooties to fossil CNG (compressed natural gas), gasoline, and petroleum. Here’s the recap from Menezes:

“And finally the Bioenergy Technologies Office will issue a multi-topic funding opportunity for up to $100 million. These topic areas within this FOA support the U.S. bioeconomy by reducing the price of drop-in biofuels, lowering the cost of biopower, and enabling high-value products from biomass or waste resources.”

More & Bigger Bucks For Electric Vehicles

But wait, there’s more. After drawing attention to electric scooters, Menezes segued into a discussion of the Energy Department’s Nobel-winning lithium-ion battery research. He also reminded the audience that the agency dedicated more than $140 million to energy storage R&D last year, and it just launched a major new energy storage initiative earlier this month.

“Our goal is to accelerate the development, commercialization and utilization of next-generation energy storage technologies, as well as to sustain America’s global leadership in energy storage,” he said.

That energy storage angle pretty much slams the door shut on fossil fuels for power generation, in addition to throwing a wet blanket over fossil-based transportation.

In addition, Menezes noted that the Energy Department’s cutting edge research funding office, ARPA-E, has steered $443 million in funding to 173 transportation technologies “over the course of its existence.”

For the record, ARPA-E was created by a 2006 Act of Congress signed into law in 2007, during the Bush administration. It was not funded, though,  until 2009, when Obama took office. ARPA-E has continued to dedicate more dollars to advanced EV technology, throughout the Trump* administration, so go figure.

It looks like ARPA-E is going to continue its course of existence in the direction of electric vehicles. Menezes noted that “transportation and related storage technologies make up about 20 percent of ARPA-E’s active program funding.”

He also highlighted energy efficiency technology funded through the office’s EV-centric NEXTCAR initiative, which kicked off in 2016 during the Obama administration. According to Menezes, GM, Cummins, Toyota, and Hyundai are among the major auto manufacturers evaluating software developed through NEXTCAR.

The Great Electric Vehicle Conspiracy

Aside from raw dollars and public-private technology exchange opportunities, the Energy Department is also strategizing on vehicle electrification with power generation stakeholders, as Menezes explained:

“…as electrification plays a greater role in our transportation system, closer coordination with utilities will be essential. That’s why today I’m also pleased to announce a Memorandum of Understanding with the Electric Power Research Institute.

This MOU will join our expertise and capabilities with EPRI’s research and development in electric vehicle and infrastructure technologies in order to further accelerate the development and deployment of innovative electronic transportation systems.”

So. There.

As Menezes highlighted in his speech, the new agreement extends the agency’s existing collaboration with EPRI and another collaboration spearheaded by the Energy Department, called U.S. DRIVE.

The U.S. DRIVE partnership is especially interesting because it may signal a more concerted effort to shift US oil and gas stakeholders into biofuels, renewable hydrogen, and other more sustainable fuels.

Part of the U.S. DRIVE mission is to increase fuel efficiency, and its oil and gas partners include BP America, Chevron Corporation, Phillips 66 Company, ExxonMobil Corporation, and Shell Oil Products US.

On the other hand, the collaborative goals also include electric drive and power electronics, electrochemical energy storage, fuel cells, lightweight materials, hydrogen, “low carbon fuels for future high-efficiency engines,” and other “sustainable mobility fuel.”

The US auto industry is itching to transition into electric vehicles, and in that regard the Partnership includes the U.S. Council for Automotive Research, a collaboration between Ford and GM. It also includes the utility stakeholders DTE Energy Company, Southern California Edison Company, American Electric Power, and Duke Energy along with EPRI.

Amazon, IKEA, DHL, AT&T and other leading US businesses are also pushing the EV envelope with a new push for fleet electrification, so there’s that.

Looks like there’s going to be a fight! CleanTechnica is reaching out to EPRI to see if the oil and gas partners have been tweaking their business models even the teeny tiniest bit, in line with all of the collaborative goals of U.S. Drive (spoiler alert: watch BP for renewable energy and EV charging, Shell for EV charging, and ExxonMobil for algae biofuel … whenever).

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*Developing story.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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