Tesla has remodeled the automotive business over the previous decade, with its wild success pushing all automotive producers to deal with sustainability and constructing a set of electrical automobiles.
But whereas Tesla has grow to be probably the most iconic electrical automotive maker, it’s not making one of the best or probably the most environmentally pleasant automobiles with the newest tech.
There is an entire suite of recent applied sciences which can be right this moment reshaping the automotive of tomorrow and leapfrogging the expertise of Tesla: from axial flux motors to battery passports and different supplies.
In the primary of our three-part sequence about the way forward for the automotive, we dig into the subsequent set of applied sciences that will likely be making automobiles extra sustainable past simply whacking an electrical motor on 4 wheels.
Here are three startups that present us the place sustainable automobiles are going subsequent — and much past the newest Tesla.
Yasa and Magnax: Motor designs that leapfrog Tesla
Want to make an electrical automotive that performs higher than a Tesla S3? You shouldn’t simply be fascinated with the sort of batteries that go in it, however the kind of motor it runs on.
Car producers have a chance to leapfrog Tesla by adopting a brand new motor design — generally known as the axial flux — which is simply beginning to grow to be mature sufficient for actual business use.
“There is a realisation that a motor is not a commodity.”
Proof that the expertise is able to be taken critically got here in July when Mercedes purchased Yasa, a British startup whose axial flux motors have began making their means into supercars akin to Ferrari. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed however Yasa was valued at £100m in its final funding spherical in 2019.
“There is a reaslisation that a motor is not a commodity,” says Chris Harris, chief govt of Yasa. “That was one of the reasons Mercedes wanted to bring this in-house.”
An axial flux motor is a sort of electromagnetic moor the place the magnets are organized in order that the magnetic flux runs parallel to the axis of rotation — a geometry that enables the motor to be made flatter and lighter than standard, radial flux motors.
A cutting-edge motor design may give an electrical automotive an extra 10-20% in vary, says Daan Moreels, co-founder of Magnax, a Belgian startup creating axial flux motors much like Yasa’s.
“It was always known as the most effective motor topology for power density and efficiency but the toughest to commercialise.”
Most electrical automobiles right this moment are constructed with radial flux-style motor topology, the design of which dates again to Nikola Tesla’s innovations within the Eighties. Naturally, it has been refined and improved quite a bit since then, however “that motor technology is approaching its limits,” says Moreels.
Axial flux motors have 3 increased energy density and decrease supplies utilization. They have been round in analysis labs for the reason that Seventies however it is just now that they’re overcoming the developmental obstacles — a extra complicated yokeless stator development, stator cooling and large-volume manufacturing — that had been stopping them from being commercialised.
“It was always known as the most effective motor topology for power density and efficiency but the toughest to commercialise,” says Moreels.
Proof of simply how a lot axial flux motors can do is beginning to trickle in. Every electrical automotive provider needs to measure themselves in opposition to Tesla, and right here the Magnax numbers look promising. Bench exams executed by the corporate present that the motors are 2-3 instances higher in power-to-weight than a Tesla S3 (radial flux) motor for energy density and torque. The firm is now gathering the proof it wants concerning the extension in vary.
“In the next few months we will have enough data to become a bit more bold in talking about this,” says Moreels. Even with out that proof he’s already taking numerous calls from carmakers.
“I feel like we are the guy selling shovels in the gold rush.”
“I feel like we are the guy selling shovels in the gold rush,” says Moreels.
Magnax’s motors will go into manufacturing in 2023, first going into high-end automobiles and shifting into large-volume automobiles in 2025. Aviation corporations, who’re keen to pay nicely to shave off a kilogram of weight off the motor, could possibly be clients as nicely.
The firm raised a €16m Series A spherical in 2020, led by Hirschvogel Ventures, the funding arm of Hirschvogel Automotive, a big producer of automotive elements, and it’s contemplating whether or not it’ll elevate a Series B spherical.
Other axial flux motor producers embody Saietta, a UK-based firm that floated on London’s Aim market in July with a valuation of £105m. Saietta at the moment makes motors primarily for lighter automobiles like motorbikes and scooters.
Texas-based Infinitum Electric, which additionally makes motors like these, raised a $40m Series C spherical earlier this yr, and has a growth take care of a serious US automotive producer. Emrax, a Slovenian motor producer additionally works on axial flux motors for automotive and aviation clients.
Circulor: passports for electrical batteries
Electric automobiles are serving to save the planet, proper? Except that, if all of us went out and acquired an electrical automotive tomorrow, making all the brand new batteries would find yourself materially hurting the setting, says Douglas Johnson-Poensgen, founder and chief govt at Circulor.
Turning uncooked supplies into electrical batteries is enormously energy-intensive and depends on an enormous world provide chain: lithium from the Atacama Desert in Chile, cobalt from the Congo, nickel from Australia, as an example, which then finds its means through a number of units of refining and processing in locations like China to automotive producers throughout Europe and the remainder of the world.
“So much of the public dialogue about electric vehicles is about the superficial aspects that electric vehicles are better for the planet,” says Johnson-Poensgen. But recycling batteries and making their provide chains extra sustainable are going to be important, too.
Circulor has raised round $20m from buyers like Volvo Cars Tech Fund and Jaguar LandRover’s InMovement Ventures.
This is the place corporations like Circulor, a four-year-old London-based startup that has raised about $20m over the previous 12 months, are available in.
While some startups are specializing in recycling current batteries, notably Li-Cycle in Canada, which has already lined up partnerships with 14 automotive and battery corporations, and Northvolt, which raised $2.75bn in fairness in June to broaden capability at its huge battery recycling manufacturing facility being constructed in northern Sweden, there’s a want to higher take into account how new batteries are made.
Circulor is working with the likes of Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover to assist them perceive the ecosystem of provide for his or her batteries and principal uncooked supplies, with a view to search for sustainably produced elements.
“So nickel that’s coming from a mine site in Western Australia that’s using a proportion of renewable energy and trying to put in solar power, as opposed to a place in Indonesia that might be using deep-sea tailings [pumping mining waste into the ocean] etc,” says Johnson-Poensgen, who provides that roughly 70% of the carbon footprint of an electrical car on the level at which you or I choose up the keys is the provision chain contribution inherited by the automotive producer, with precisely half of coming from the battery.
Johnson-Poensgen says that final yr they labored on some analysis with German automotive firm Daimler that confirmed that the identical battery, going into the identical automotive mannequin, month to month had as much as 4 instances the embedded carbon emissions in it, purely based mostly on midstream shopping for behaviour pushed by costs and availability of supplies.
“That’s because some manufacturers are operating more sustainably and closer to the next step in the supply chain, with some using renewable energy as opposed to coal-fired electricity and [being only] a train ride away, as opposed to in South Korea or Japan,” he says.
“There’s no point in having an energy transition to electric vehicles if you’re going to build batteries with coal-fired electricity.”
Until now, the carbon footprint of their provide chains has not been a serious concern for producers, past the influence on their backside line, however now it’s as a result of there’s no level in having an vitality transition to electrical automobiles in case you’re going to construct batteries with coal-fired electrical energy.
“If you are a car manufacture committing to a net-zero target, buying smarter is the first and arguably the easiest thing to do, before you spend millions on R&D or new battery chemistry, or all the other funky stuff that might help you further reduce your carbon footprint,” says Johnson-Poensgen.
The area of interest is rising quick. Two years in the past it was only a few pioneers, like Volvo. “We’re getting the fast followers now, and we’re working on two battery passport projects funded by European governments, looking to essentially create standard alongside the big industry players, effectively defining how battery passports should work, not just primary supply but the circular economy of batteries, and that’s what will make this mainstream,” he provides.
Circulor at the moment has 50 workers, however expects to triple that by this time subsequent yr, and is more likely to elevate funds once more by the top of this yr. “Not because we are running out but we recognise it’s a bit of a sustainability arms race,” says Johnson-Poensgen. “We’re a triple bottom line business; the greater the impact we have, the better it is for the planet, and that impact comes from more customers like car manufacturers working with us to help make their supply chains more sustainable.”
Karuun: different supplies for the sustainable automotive
Wood, plastic and leather-based have historically been used to brighten the within of luxurious automobiles. But now, cars are getting a sustainable makeover.
Mercedes-Benz included a number of recent supplies in its AVTR idea automotive which was launched in January 2020. Dinamica, a sueded cloth created from recycled plastic bottles and clothes fibers, was used to cowl seats, whereas Karuun – a wooden product created from rattan, a fast-growing palm tree from the rainforests of Southeast Asia – was used for flooring and dashboard trim.
The latter product is developed by Out for Space, a analysis and design firm based mostly within the city of Kißlegg in Southern Germany. Karuun is practical and aesthetically pleasing, in keeping with the corporate, as rattan’s capillary construction brings with it a “technical robustness, lightness and flexibility.”
It’s additionally a extra environmentally pleasant different to wooden for plenty of causes, says Karuun’s managing director Felix Wurster. For one factor, rattan grows abundantly – notably in Indonesia which is the most important exporter of rattan at 400-500m tons yearly. And, it may be sustainably harvested.
To produce 200m2 of karuun, solely 5 rattan vegetation are wanted, and it may be sustainably harvested.
“Rattan is easier to harvest than wood as it requires simpler tools and is much easier to transport,” says Wurster. “The harvest is done by hand with a machete, which has a far less damaging effect on the forest ecosystem than the use of large machines.”
To produce 200m2 of karuun, solely 5 rattan vegetation are wanted – and little or no waste is produced within the making of the fabric, he provides.
Out for Space at the moment has 4 merchandise created from karuun which every having completely different use instances for a lot of industries – together with the automotive and inexperienced mobility sectors. Karuun stripe, as an example, is a light-weight materials for synthetic surfaces, which was lately put in within the inside of the ET7 from the electrical automotive producer NIO.
Karuun may even be made translucent and used for interactive shows. It’s extremely mild, but sturdy concurrently. “Another of our products, Karuun shine, can be used to make functional, interactive surfaces – like the panels where you change the light and temperature in the car,” says Wurster. The materials is created from the top grain of the rattan which is lower at a sure angle to open its capillaries, enabling mild to shine by.
“We are developing this further with different OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) as there are opportunities for the material to be used in sound insulation, lighting design, as well as walls and floors in future vehicles.”
A brand new sort of automotive
Of course, Tesla isn’t standing nonetheless, and continues to push the tempo by itself motor and battery designs. This article from 2017, for instance, signifies that Tesla engineers are experimenting with different motor geometries and supplies.
There is zero room for complacency in a automotive business that has seen world gross sales falling since 2017. The race to offer sustainable automobiles is redrawing the principles of the sport, with many new challengers — not simply Tesla however new Chinese rivals, too.
“We’re aiming to give the rest of the car industry an opportunity to leapfrog Tesla.”
But European carmakers have one potential ace up their sleeve — a constellation of startups with breakthrough applied sciences that they will faucet into.
As Magnax cofounder Daan Moreels places it: “Tesla is one of those companies that does everything itself. We’re not interested in working with Tesla, we’re aiming to give the rest of the car industry an opportunity to leapfrog them.”
This is the primary of a three-part sequence about the way forward for the automotive business. In the second half we take a look at the linked automotive — what turns into doable when your automotive turns into, successfully, a smartphone on wheels.