If the COVID-19 crisis is giving fossil energy stakeholders any kind of breather, it won’t be for long. A case in point is General Motors. The company has been busy pivoting into the medical supply area over the past several weeks, but GM has also been connecting the dots between electric vehicle ownership and rising demand for renewable energy.
GM Makes The Electric Vehicle Switch
GM has been kicking its commitment to EV technology into high gear, but it kicked off April with a move that may have puzzled some electric vehicle fans. The company inked a joint EV agreement with Honda, under which the two companies will jointly develop two new electric vehicles for Honda that deploy GM’s proprietary new Ultium EV batteries.
That arrangement may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, considering that both GM and Honda are vying for a share of what is still a tiny slice of the overall automotive market.
Dane Parker, the company’s newly minted chief sustainability officer, spoke with CleanTechnica last week and explained that the partnership is a key factor in the company’s strategy for bringing down the cost of electric vehicles. Working with Honda provides an opportunity to scale up EV battery manufacturing more quickly, leading to lower costs.
“The battery is the key element for an affordable and capable electric vehicle…and it’s going to be critical for our customers,” Parker said, noting that the Honda partnership is also a “ringing endorsement” for GM’s mobile energy storage technology.
Electric Vehicles & Clean Power
Parker also discussed the nexus of clean power and electric vehicle ownership. The grid is getting cleaner, but many EV owners still charge up in a grid mix that includes natural gas and coal. Automakers that help introduce more clean power into the grid have a golden opportunity to win hearts and minds.
“EV owners would be some of the first people who would like to see greener grids,” said Parker. “The zero emission promise is fulfilled on a greener grid.”
That brings up GM’s other big announcement in April. Last week the company inked a deal with Michigan utility DTE for 500,000 MWh in solar power. GM already has some PV in its pocket, having been an early adopter of rooftop solar. However, as with the Honda deal, the name of the game is scaling up and the DTE arrangement is intended to accelerate the clean power transition at grid scale.
“When we invest [in clean energy], we give them the confidence to invest, so it really advances the greening of the grid faster than rooftop solar,” Parker explained.
“For renewable energy to scale the way it needs to, at utility scale, then utilities need to do it,” he added. “We don’t want to become a utility, and we’re fortunate to have good partners like DTE.”
The solar deal is the second major clean power partnership between GM and DTE in two years. Last year the two companies entered into a wind energy buy for 300,000 MWh.
What Does The Sustainable Car Of The Future Look Like?
EV batteries and green grids are the two primary factors that will power the sustainable car of the future, but they are two slices of a bigger sustainability pie that includes zero waste, lighter materials, a more sustainable supply chain, and energy efficiency improvements in factories.
Parker mentioned that one area of particular focus for GM is plastics, and there have been some interesting developments on that score.
On the lightweighting side of things, GM has collaborated with the company Continental Structural Plastics on a pickup box made from a new award-winning, proprietary carbon fiber thermoplastic material. The new plastic is fully recyclable, saves 62 pounds (28 kg) in weight compared to steel, and saves another 40 pounds (18 kg) by eliminating the need for a bed liner.
On the recycling and waste management end, GM has been using recycled two-liter (0.53 gals.) bottles to make wheel liners. In 2017 the company also joined collaboration called NextWave, which aims at scaling up solutions to the ocean plastic crisis.
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Photo (cropped): 2020 Bolt EV via General Motors.
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