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Are Hydrogen-Powered Electric Vehicles The Future?

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California prides itself in having sustainable transportation. After all, companies like Tesla, along with plenty of other electric vehicle startups are headquartered in CA. Thus, it’s no surprise that California constantly innovates to find better alternatives for gasoline-powered vehicles.

Under the California Fuel Cell Partnership, the state government has partnered with private car manufacturers to lead such innovations. Specifically, the group has worked to foster the growth in a specialized electric vehicle market: hydrogen-powered vehicles.

How Do Hydrogen-Powered Cars Work?

Hydrogen-powered vehicles, unlike traditional ones, don’t require a battery to operate an electric motor. And instead of emitting hazardous air pollutants, hydrogen-powered vehicles’ only byproduct is water. This means the environment is free of carbon emissions coming from the vehicles.

So the only cause of concern is that hydrogen-powered vehicles require adequate refueling stations. Currently, there are only 39 locations where refueling stations exist. However, the California Fuel Cell Partnership plans to introduce 1000 stations by 2030.

Impact on the Economy

According to Andrew Martinez, a hydrogen program expert at the California Air Resources Board, “These [hydrogen-powered cars] are no longer vehicles where essentially every driver is hand-picked. These are vehicles that are getting to real customers on the real market.”

Martinez believes that the market for these cars exists for the average consumer and not just people with deep pockets.

In addition, Bill Elrick, an executive director at California Fuel Cell Partnership, mentioned: “We can achieve that vision of a self-sustaining market through the establishment of 1,000 hydrogen stations throughout the state to support up to, or even more than, 1 million fuel cell vehicles.”

In other words, Elrick believes that the market will jump-start itself with the addition of more fueling stations.

Future Plans for Hydrogen-Powered Vehicles

With the state currently dominated by battery-powered electric vehicles, people at fuel car companies hope that the market will expand and reach people once more fueling stations are built.

Currently, only 6,300 hydrogen-fueled cars operate within the state.

Although the two electric vehicle markets seem to be clashing, the steps towards achieving sustainability are growing even closer.

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Exclusive Interview with Tesla Co-Founder: Seeing The Potential of Electric Vehicles Over 15 Years Ago

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As electric vehicles continue to grow in popularity, Tesla has become a true leader, becoming the number 1 selling car in America. But Tesla’s impact extends far past the confines of its own business operations; it has inevitably motivated other companies like Rivian, NIO, and others looking to get a piece of the EV pie. What a lot of people don’t know about Tesla though is that although Elon is at the helm of Tesla today, he didn’t really found it; he was a Series A investor. Behind Tesla’s original vision Martin Eberhard, the founder and first CEO of Tesla.

Tesla: Humble Beginnings

Tesla’s beginnings, unlike its current market standing, wasn’t always glamorous. We have to remember that electric vehicles weren’t always a hit. A quick look at history tells us that General Motors had a stint at selling electric cars, but failed. By all means, the technology hadn’t caught up to the point where commercializing electric vehicles was feasible.

That’s why Tesla’s business is an interesting one. Starting out as a startup that didn’t want to create just another sedan, it’s managed to rise above its competition and climb to its position of the best-selling car company in the United States, as of September of 2018.

But to truly understand the roots of Tesla, the Tesla before Elon Musk, the Tesla before all the controversy, you’re going to have to hear it directly from Tesla’s first CEO, and co-founder, Martin Eberhard. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to chat with Martin over the phone to dive deeper into how Tesla got started, learn about the journey that he took since his college years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and how those formative years defined Tesla’s trajectory.

The Days Before Tesla

Steven: Your co-founder Marc Tarpenning didn’t attend UIUC. So how did you two meet?  

Martin: We met socially at a party put on by a mutual friend. We liked talking to each other and eventually worked together on a number of consulting projects, and liked each other well enough to do consulting projects (related to automobile stuff). We then started Nuvo Media, the first e-book, in 1996. It was a bit of a jump, but after Nuvo, we started Tesla.

Steven: Let’s go back to your college days. You went to UIUC and studied Computer and Electrical Engineering. What about your college experience compelled you to pursue a career in starting EV companies in the future?

Martin: It was a long progression, really. When I graduated my Masters, I did a lot of on-campus interviews, and I ended up choosing to work at a startup. I liked the company, I liked the people, and although in retrospect it wasn’t the best job offer, that experience got me interested in what startups were. After working at that startup for a while, I left to start my own company (Nuvo). Once we finished that, Marc and I wanted to do something that wasn’t just interesting; we wanted to do something impactful. Conscientious about the environment, we were definitely looking into electric cars – that ended up turning into Tesla.

How Tesla Stood Out

Steven: Back in the day, I think GM was trying to make electric cars as well but wasn’t so effective as far as commercializing. So how did Tesla stand out at the time?

Martin: Although some companies could technically manufacture these cars, there were no companies that were truly good at commercializing them. GM did have an attempt at selling electric cars, they weren’t very successful at it, and ended up dismissing electric cars from their portfolio of products.

Early Learnings at Tesla

Steven: What was your motivation to get started and continue to grow the company?

Martin: Well, at the time, it wasn’t that I really wanted to start a car company; I honestly just wanted a car for myself. When I started Tesla, I was really surprised that electric cars were the most efficient as well. Combining my conscientiousness about the environment with seeing a real opportunity, Marc and I thought that starting a car company, despite neither of us having previously started car companies or working at any, would be a good idea.

Steven: What were some of the early realizations you had being a first-time founder in the auto industry and how did that shape the trajectory of Tesla?

Martin: First, we considered ways to stand out. Firstly, we made Tesla the first car to use AC induction motor, other than the GM EV1. But at the same time, we were also aiming for a different kind of demographic. Not wanting it to just be “just another car,” we deliberately aimed for high quality and wanted to make our cars luxury products. Coupled with its performance, we thought we had carved out a unique niche that other companies, such as GM, didn’t figure out how to capitalize on before.

After Tesla

Steven: After Tesla, you went on to found another EV company, which later became a part of SF Motors. What problems did you see with EVs in your previous experiences that made you want to continue to tackle EVs?

Martin: After Tesla, I worked at Volkswagen for a couple of years. Mainly, I wanted to gain more experience and working at Volkswagen certainly had its benefits. At the same time, though, working at a car company is far different from starting one. Starting a company is nuts. After working at Volkswagen for a number of years, I started InEvit, a technology company. I took the problems that I noticed at Volkswagen and ended up capitalizing on them through InEvit. SF Motors eventually bought us out, and I joined their team soon after. But I was only at SF Motors for a short amount of time before I wanted to start something new again. Although I can’t talk too much about, I started a new company, Tiveni Inc., in this space, and that’s what I’m working on nowadays.

Conclusions

Tesla indisputably changed the automobile industry and opened doors for sustainability that was once believed to be commercially infeasible. Although it’s often interesting to read what Elon has to say on Twitter and of course, recognize his strong work ethic in growing Tesla to the $33.70 billion company that it is today, it’s arguably more interesting to learn how accurate Martin’s vision was over 15 years ago. Oh, and recognize the impeccable execution his team had in those early days.

Martin shows us that risk-taking entrepreneurs are the ones who eventually see their ventures turn into companies that change the world. And in a space as large as the EV market we know today too? He exemplifies that entrepreneurial spirit, dedication, and execution goes a long way

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How Has Tesla Been Keeping Up with Sustainability?

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Tesla has recently released its first-ever environmental impact report. The report highlights the positive changes the company has made towards sustainability. Tesla first delves into the product and operational impacts of their electric vehicles. Then, it discusses its supply chain and its responsible sourcing for materials.  

The Results

According to its product impact, Tesla has sold over 550,000 electric vehicles. That means, in aggregate, Tesla vehicles have driven nearly 10 billion miles. From these miles, Tesla claims that only 282,000 metric tons of CO2 have been emitted from its vehicles. This is an amazing figure, in perspective. For instance, traditional automakers like Ford have publicly stated millions of metric tons of CO2 have been released from their vehicles.

How Does Tesla Achieve Sustainability

Tesla always looks towards sustainable energy to power its facilities. They accomplish this by using solar energy systems and battery storages. But even still, Tesla has greater ambitions.

It announced, “As we continue to ramp production of Tesla products, we are committed to making significant progress towards…using 100% renewable energy.” Only time will tell what other feats Tesla will accomplish in the coming years.

Conclusions

Tesla is changing the way the auto industry works. Carbon emissions from cars seem to be a thing of the past with more and more electric vehicles. While Tesla spearheads the change from gasoline to electricity, other car manufacturers must also think of ways to get their own production lines to be greener.

It will be interesting to see what Tesla will do in the future in its push for sustainability.

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How India is Going Electric with Battery-Operated Vehicles

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India is making headlines with its goals for sustainability as it looks to battery-operated vehicles. Recently, the country has made strides to match their part of the Paris Climate Agreement by converting rickshaws from using gasoline to rechargeable batteries.

One of the major problems the country faces is their air pollution, which in 2017 killed nearly 1.2 million people. The government hopes that with the implementation of their three-year scheme to subsidize electric vehicles, India’s air quality can be improved.

India’s Problem

India has a unique problem in that most modes of transportation do not utilize cars. Unlike Europe and the United States, Indian residents utilize rickshaws, motorcycles, and buses to get around from place to place. Electric vehicles such as Tesla’s Model 3 are nowhere near affordable for the majority of residents.

To compromise, Chetan Maini, co-founder of SUN mobility, remarks, “When you separate the batteries, its cost [is] neutral in the immediate term and cheaper in the mid to long term.” SUN mobility plans to provide its batteries and charging services to bus, rickshaw, and other vehicle manufacturers.

How Battery Swapping Works

Electric vehicle owners make regular stops at charging stations where the battery swapping process occurs. Rickshaw driver Pankaj Kumar explains how he swaps batteries by replacing the used-up batteries that are located beside the driver’s seat with charged batteries located in one of the lockers in the station. Each battery is five inches wide by one foot long, weighing about 26 pounds. There are two such batteries that need to be replaced for the rickshaw.

How is It Helping the Environment?

With the conversion to battery-operated vehicles, India will soon be seeing big improvements to the air quality. In fact, transportation accounts for nearly 15% of India’s greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, as more people make the switch to electric vehicles, paying for gas will become a thing of the past.

Taking steps to transform its auto industry, India is starting to make a name for itself in curbing climate change.

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