Old ideas painted new

Over the past few years I’ve been following the automotive industry, especially in relation to electric cars and efficiency improvements.  I have had a long time love of cars from an aesthetic/design perspective, probably rooted in the many drawings and lego vehicles I made when I was a kid.

Perhaps it was watching Who Killed the Electric Car, the talk of biofuels (and their positive and negative aspects) and hydrogen (with many questions relating to hype vs. reality) – I’m not sure which, but something clicked over the past few years that really opened my eyes to just how little innovation had actually been happening in the space, and I suppose piqued my interest from a sustainability perspective.  I also think that the industry is somewhat of a bellweather for the broader market shift to sustainable technologies.

I was interested to note that this week Lotus Engineering have unveiled a concept car design, based on the Toyota Venza, that achieved a 30% weight reduction – a critical component of efficiency – over the Toyota design.

2020 Toyota Venza concept by Lotus Engineering

GoAuto.com.au reports:

With a combination of lightweight materials and efficient design, Lotus claims to have achieved a 38 per cent reduction in vehicle mass, excluding the powertrain, for only a three per cent increase in component costs.

In other words, the Venza’s 1290kg mass was reduced to just 800kg on the Lotus-engineered 2020 concept.

… The company’s findings were released this week by the International Council on Clean Transportation and show how significant reductions in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions can be achieved for a regular mass-market vehicle through means other than the powertrain.

(egmCarTech has published an article of their own exploring the concept with further pictures.)

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading the excellent book Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawkins and Amory and L. Hunter Lovins.  In the chapter entitled Reinventing the Wheels the authors outline how lighter materials, better aerodynamics and alternative drive-trains (hybrid-electric) can radically improve the efficiency of cars.  They call this concept the “Hypercar”, and note:

Detroit has long focused on improving the efficiency of the drive-line – the fraction of the fuel’s energy that’s converted by the engine into torque and then transmitted by the drivetrain to the wheels.  But there is an even better approach.  The Hypercar concept attacks the problem from the other end, by reducing the amount of power that is needed at the wheels in the first place.

They go on to outline how efficient use of more expensive but lighter, stronger and more adaptable materials can reduce weight and manufacturing complexity with only mild increases in costs while at the same time reducing the resource intensity (how many resources are required in energy, labour and natural resources) of the car.  Lotus’s concept seems to be taking this approach directly:

Still committed to founder Colin Chapman’s ethos of “performance through light weight”, Lotus Engineering says the 2020 vehicle architecture uses a mix of stronger and lighter weight materials, a high degree of component integration and advanced joining and assembly techniques.

Whereas the benchmark Venza’s body-in-white contained more than 400 parts, the 2020 model reduced that number to 211.

Body materials in the Venza were 100 per cent steel, while the 2020 concept uses 37 per cent aluminium, 30 per cent magnesium, 21 per cent composites and seven per cent high-strength steel – which Lotus says reduces the structure mass by 42 per cent, from 382kg to 221kg.

This is great news, and fantastic that Lotus is taking the initiative.  It’s noteworthy, I think, that Lotus are heavily involved in Tesla Motors‘ development.  However, I can’t help but have a twinge of disappointment that it’s taken over 10 years since Natural Capitalism was written (it was first published in 1999) for these techniques to be seriously considered, for a 2017 horizon.

Perhaps the technology and costs are only just starting to catch up to the vision, but I suspect it has more to do with the recent spur of activity in the automotive industry around electric vehicles that have resulted in this approach being applied.

Hopefully more of the ideas in the book start to come to fruition in the same way soon…

SMEs and environmental management

I’ve just completed my first “official” assessment item for my uni course, and I wanted to share it here for my own future reference, and because it may have potential interest to readers as well. It’s called Opportunities and challenges related to SME implementation of EMSs (PDF 176 KB) – and fair warning, it’s not exactly bed-side reading 😉

The format of the assessment restricted the length to 3000 words, though I could have gone into a lot more detail on a number of the points raised in the paper.

In particular I’m disappointed I couldn’t go into more detail about some of the thoughts I had relating to the implications of the findings and their application to encouraging SME uptake of sustainability practices. That said, I’m sure there’ll be plenty more opportunities throughout the course to do so.

As this was my first assessment, I think I overdid it on the reading front which was reflected in the ridiculous length of the first draft! All the same I really enjoyed all that extra reading – it’s more that I need to balance that with actually getting the writing done. Lesson learnt for next time I suppose.

Anyways, I hope it’s of interest and use. Now onto the next one…

What’s going on?

So what has been going on? In short:

  • I’m about 6 months into a personal training program with Vision Personal Training at Stanmore. So far I’ve dropped from 98kg to 84kg and am feeling better than I’ve felt in a long time. I’ve found the hardest thing is managing my food – especially keeping my carbohydrate intake balanced. Surprisingly the exercise side of things has been pretty easy. I finish up in a month, so then will be on my own – hopefully I’ll be able to keep the good habits going…
  • I’ve moved into an office in Elizabeth street – sharing a space with the crews from Saasu and Datarati. We’re on Level 1, 111 Elizabeth Street in the city (CBD – between Market and King street). I’ve been enjoying riding into work and it’s great to be working in a more lively environment than the study alcove at home.
  • I’ve started uni, studying the Master of Sustainable Practice at RMIT. No, I’m not moving to Melbourne (although I’m really enjoying the place) – the course is structured with one intensive mode study day per month (usually a Saturday) so I’m flying down for that and doing the remainder remotely. Ironic in a sense to be flying for a sustainability course – but I offset both through Virgin Blue (to let them know I care about carbon reduction, but they use credits from forestry-based sequestration projects which I don’t believe are sufficient) and also Climate Friendly for good measure and to ensure that there is a real reduction in CO2 to offset the flights. So far the course has been going ok, though I am a little behind due to work commitments – I have my first official assignment due tomorrow – so reminding myself what that’s like.
  • I’ve joined the Executive Committee of our apartment complex strata plan as Secretary – and the experience has been, shall we say, challenging… Trying to implement measures to increase transparency and accountability into decision making processes, in part by using online tools like Basecamp, is part of my goal. But frankly, I’d just like for us to have consistent hot water! So small steps first…

That’s the “big ticket items” I can think of right now. The remainder of my time has been spent rebooting Zumio and with family & friends. Been a bit hectic on the work front – so looking forward to things settling down a tad over the coming weeks (and perhaps being a bit more vocal here…)

Long time, no write…

It’s been ages since I’ve written here. Combination of factors – partly because I’ve been busy with work and other things (more on that in a second), but also because I’ve not really had a clear idea what I wanted Synapse Chronicles to be.

A lot of my writing energy (and any spare time) has been going into the Zumio blog, particularly given the convergence of my personal and professional interests. Any small notes and pointers have ended up on my Delicious feed (and there have been issues with the Delicious re-publishing process I setup to get those on the blog) or Twitter. And with Fuzu now finished up, I’ve not really had much to talk about even on the music front.

Over the weekend, however, I realised that I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and exploring – especially about my career direction – but I’ve really missed the opportunity to talk about it. I’ve felt compelled to write about only fully formed thoughts on the Zumio blog, and that mentality has carried over to here.

So, I’ve updated the tagline now to read “Thoughts loading… Processing…” to reboot my own conception of what this blog is about in the hope that small conceptual shift will loosen the writing process and allow me the mental space I need to write a bit more freely about what’s going on.

I’m certainly not promising anything, but let’s see how that goes…