Newly-inaugurated US President Joe Biden has kicked off his administration’s focus on clean energy with an ambitious plan to replace the entire federal fleet with electric vehicles.
Biden announced this week the US Government would look to transition its petrol-guzzling cars, trucks and SUVs to locally-made green machines in an exercise which some reports suggest could cost at least $26 billion.
The initiative would take into account approximately 645,000 owned and leased vehicles which includes some 245,000 civilian cars, 173,000 military, and 225,000 post office vehicles.
Of these, only about 3,200 are currently EVs and roughly 2,700 are gas or diesel hybrids and account for less than 2% of the fleet.
According to US General Services Administration figures, the total fleet covers around 7.2 billion kilometres a year and consumes 1.419 trillion litres of fuel along the way.
Climate and energy package
The plan to transition the US fleet is part of the Biden administration’s commitment to implementing a $2.6 trillion climate and energy package to address climate change and revitalise a pandemic-crippled US economy.
It is tied to a campaign promise to boost the nation’s automotive industry and create one million new jobs.
If successful, the changeover would ensure demand for US-made materials, components and vehicles while boosting job demand along the automotive supply chain.
It could provide a golden domestic opportunity for the likes of General Motors and Nissan which currently produce a range of EVs for the US market.
It remains to be seen if the news will be a win for market leader Tesla, which focuses primarily on luxury and performance vehicles.
The fleet changeover plan follows the signing of the “Buy American” executive order (an extension of the 1933 act bearing the same name) which seeks to reinvigorate the US economy by using the $600 billion federal procurement process to bolster local manufacturing.
The order will set in motion several changes to the laws requiring federal government agencies to procure materials and products domestically, and will change the rules that currently allow vehicles to be considered American-made even if they have parts made in other countries.
It will also attempt to reverse purchasing patterns of the former Trump administration, which saw the number of federal government contracts awarded directly to foreign companies increase by 30%.
Mr Biden said “Buy American” fulfils a campaign promise to reduce America’s reliance on foreign countries, and calls for a $400 billion investment in local procurements during his first term.
“The federal government owns an enormous fleet of vehicles, which we’re going to replace with clean electric vehicles made right here in America, by American workers,” he said.
“[Electrifying the fleet] will be the largest mobilisation of public investment and procurement, infrastructure and research and development since World War II.”
It is yet to be confirmed when the changeover will roll out and which EV models will be considered.
Norway’s record EV sales
Across the Atlantic, sales of new EVs in Norway have for the first time overtaken those of fossil-fuel vehicles, consuming a record 54.3% market share in 2020.
New data released by the Norwegian Road Federation showed the country’s EV sales figures last year eclipsed that of cars powered by petrol, diesel and hybrid engines, with German manufacturer Volkswagen replacing Tesla as the top producer.
The 54.3% market share was up from 42.4% in 2019 and from just 1% of the overall market a decade ago.
Volkswagen’s Audi brand topped the 2020 leaderboard with its e-tron sports utility and sportsback vehicles recording the highest sales for new passenger cars in Norway last year, while Tesla’s mid-sized Model 3, the 2019 winner, took second place.
Tesla’s mid-sized sports utility offering – the Model Y – is due to hit Norwegian shores this year, as are the first electric SUVs from Ford, BMW and Volkswagen.
Norway is seeking to become the first nation in the world to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2025.
It currently exempts full EVs from taxes imposed on vehicles using high-carbon fossil fuels.
Lithium-ion batteries capable of reaching full charge in five minutes have been produced in a China factory for the first time, marking a significant move towards charge time reductions for electric vehicles.
Developed by Israeli company StoreDot, the new products mirror the capabilities of the company’s existing line-up of “extreme fast-charging” batteries for phones, scooters and drones.
Existing lithium-ion batteries use graphite as one electrode into which the lithium-ions are pushed to store charge but when these are rapidly charged, the ions get congested and can turn into metal and short circuit the battery.
StoreDot’s battery replaces graphite with semi-conductor nanoparticles into which ions can pass more quickly and easily.
The nanoparticles are currently based on germanium which is water soluble and easier to handle in manufacturing, but StoreDot hopes to switch to the cheaper silicon option, with prototypes expected in late 2021.
StoreDot claims the new batteries could potentially deliver 160km of charge to a car battery in five minutes but would require much higher-powered chargers than those on the current market.
Chief executive officer Doron Myersdorf said a charge time reduction could help eliminate the “range anxiety” which continues to be one of the biggest barriers to EV adoption.
“You’re either afraid that you’re going to get stuck on the highway or you’re going to need to sit in a charging station for two hours,” he said.
“But if the experience of the driver is exactly like fuelling [a petrol car], this whole anxiety goes away.”
A sample batch of 1,000 batteries has been produced by Eve Energy in China on standard production lines for showcasing to carmakers and other potential end-users.