Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.Nancy Gioia is the director of global electrification for Ford Motor Co.
As California gas prices creep toward $5 a gallon and researchers pronounce that just a modest global rise in temperature could melt the Greenland ice sheet, engineers and transportation designers are busy creating a fossil fuel-free future – or at least one in which fossil fuels are used a lot less.
As California Watch reported last month, a team of engineers at Stanford University has designed a prototype of a highway system that would allow electric cars to wirelessly charge as they travel the interstate system.
But an engineer at Ford Motor Co. says that while such projects are exciting to think and talk about, the future of low-emission vehicles is already here.
California Watch recently interviewed Nancy Gioia, Ford's director of global electrification, and here's what she had to say:
California Watch: A few weeks ago, I wrote a story about a project happening at Stanford University. The engineers have built a prototype wireless charger that could, in theory, charge an electric fleet of cars as they drive. How realistic is this scenario?
Nancy Gioia: As we go forward, I think you’ll see that electrified vehicles and plug-in hybrids are full battery electrics as far as Ford is concerned. That's because you can launch and propel them and drive up to urban speeds without displacing liquid fuel.
Help us do more.
We’re looking at consumer behavior in the near term, midterm and long term. How do they recharge or refuel batteries of different sizes? Right now, consumers love hybrids because they don’t have to do anything different. But we can work with that, and step in and coach hybrid owners to drive even more efficiently. It’s at this machine-human interface where I see an enormous evolution in the next 10 years.
Wireless charging will be a part of that. Other ideas include a charging pad in the driveway or garage that you drive onto and it recharges the car. But there are a lot of questions about this technology, too. Is it safe? What about the electromagnetic field? What are the health implications?
We’re really just at the beginning. There are lots of great ideas and great scientists working on really cool innovations. They are looking for affordable solutions that can be implemented in ways that society uses.
California Watch: As we move away from combustion engines and technology that requires fossil fuels to power our vehicles, what kinds of other natural resources are we going to need? Won’t we just find ourselves in 10, 20 or 50 years realizing we’ve exhausted that resource, too?
Gioia: When we talk about fuel diversity, for light-duty transportation, we know that internal combustion energy is going to be here for awhile. But the liquid fuels don’t necessarily have to be fossil fuels. There are cellulosic and synthetic fuels that researchers are looking into and using right now.
I think we’ll see regional patterns of fuel use, where we take advantage of local and regional natural resources.
Electrification is one of those fuels. We definitely see it as part of that fuel diversity. But electricity is produced in a variety of different ways around the world, too. For instance, coal produces electricity, and there, we will have to see how clean it is. A lot of plants can be converted into natural gas, and that is a nice solution.
Liquid natural gas may displace coal for electricity production. There is also nuclear, hydroelectric and thermal energy, which can all produce electricity as well.
With clean air standards, and with the utilities so highly regulated in the U.S., Canada and Europe, improving or reducing the emissions of how energy is produced will be of incredible importance.
Look at the vehicles on the road right now: Half of the vehicles traveling in North America could go electric. And if we timed your charging so that recharging happened at off-peak grid times, right away, half of those greenhouse gas-emitting miles on the road could be displaced. It just has to be time-based.
Ford and the utility providers look at cloud data management as a way to help enable time-based charging so we can use the energy created in the most efficient way.
California Watch: Ford Motors must be thinking in the long term about cars and the highways of the future. What is your vision right now? And how has that changed from just 10 years ago?
Gioia: If you haven’t had the chance, you should check out the talk given by (Ford Executive Chairman) Bill Ford in Barcelona at the (Mobile) World Congress, or his speech at TED last year. He lays out a lot of the vision of what we see going forward.
There will be the immense continued evolution of light-duty transportation. As urban density increases and you get more people per square mile and the number of megacities – with 12 million or more people – are growing, we can see huge population shifts going on. How do you prevent gridlock in these centers? What kind of transportation and communication has to be there? How do you control vehicles to control accidents?
We think cars will become more autonomous. We will look at the size and safety of these vehicles and look at how they are recharged. We’ll continue to see a synergy between information technology and the vehicle and the fuel that is used. And all of those are going to come together for some pretty interesting mobility solutions in the future.
At Ford, we have a roadmap, and we’re leading in some of the connectivity solutions. When you’re in your vehicles, we can coach people about how to get the most out of it with solutions that deliver fuel efficiency.
It’s really about: 1) engaging the customer; 2) energy management and 3) being part of a new integrated system.
California Watch: Wouldn’t one solution to reduce greenhouse gases, smog and traffic congestion just be to increase people's access to public transportation and reduce the number of cars on our streets and highways?
Gioia: Public transportation plays an important part in different regions, in different parts of the world, in different ways. In the U.S., the average daily trip chains are the longest in the world. When you leave work, you might stop at the grocery store, pick your kids up, do some errands. Europeans have less of a trip chain, and Asia, even shorter. You are going to see optimized public transportation in different parts of the world.
There will also be connectivity solutions that we can use to reduce the number of miles you have to travel, just like we are doing right now. We didn’t have to travel to talk to one another. We are talking over the phone, not speaking face to face.
We can do significant work by having remote collaborations and reduce the number of miles each individual has to travel for work, school, vacation and holidays.
California Watch: What is the most innovative and exciting project that you have seen or worked on in the past 10 years?
Gioia: Oh man, there isn’t just one! It’s probably all the solutions we have come up with.
When I think about our plug-in hybrids and battery electrics and the technology we’ve brought to reduce the cost from 2005 to 2009 by 30 percent – increasing fuel efficiency and system integration at a level that is arguably the best in the world – that’s pretty exciting.
Our coaching device, our development in the human-machine interface, new ways to talk to customers and provide a thousand solutions for things that both work for our customers and allow them to have fun with it … I think that is the beauty behind automotives.
I’m not a car geek; I never have been and I never will. But I love the innovation around manufacturing. I love our products and our fuels – I guess it’s limitless.
I guess I’m excited about doing this every day.