The bulk of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, nearly 60 percent, come from the 250 million passenger automobiles, with the 18-wheelers adding another 23 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Those same percentages — roughly — apply to Vermont. On a per capita basis we use a little more petroleum than the national average, largely because of our rural nature and lack of public transportation. Our long-term obligation is to reduce these emissions by using renewable energy for 10 percent of our transportation needs by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.

It’s a tough slog. As the price of oil drops, people drive more and the focus on fuel efficiency declines. People buy more trucks and SUVs. It’s also difficult to move people to electric vehicles for reasons of price, and inconvenience. Electric cars cost more, they have limited range and recharging times are manyfold the time it takes to fill up the car with gasoline.

But that’s about to change, perhaps much faster than anyone had anticipated, and minus some of the “changed behavior” that was being threatened. Researchers are now saying we can expect electric vehicles to cost about the same as the traditional combustion-engine cars by 2025, five short years from now. The batteries will be much safer, hold a much longer charge, and users will be able to recharge their car’s battery much faster. StoreDot, an Israeli company, is pushing to demonstrate by 2022 a battery in an electric vehicle that can be recharged within 10 minutes.

This is all happening because of the profound advantages that are being unlocked through artificial intelligence, the ability to navigate through enormous amounts of data stored in the cloud.

The traditional approach used, for example, to determine how a battery could be best be charged would require 500 days of charging and discharging. Using AI and a “trained algorithm” has reduced that time to 16 days, according to a Wall Street Journal article. It’s this increased speed, and its accompanying cost effectiveness that is producing the sorts of progress no one could have anticipated a decade ago.

These new batteries are not only going to be cheaper and more efficient, but they will be made in ways that require less of the expensive and environmentally challenging materials currently required to be extracted to make today’s batteries, like cobalt.

When this newly discovered potential is understood, it makes Vermont’s goal of having our transportation sector fueled by something other than fossil fuels appear realistic. It makes the task of dealing with climate change seems more reachable, which helps push us toward our goals.

The reason this is happening is not purely altruistic. It’s not something being driven by doing good [although there is that benefit.] It’s about demand and the reward that comes with it. Figuring out how to produce a car as convenient and as cheap as the traditional cars most of us drive today, is a game changer. Those same advantages can be applied in a multitude of different ways, with different products and different objectives. These include the heating of our homes, to storing the power generated from renewables, to our worlds of digital devices and beyond.

The global battery market was valued at $108 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at an annual growth rate of about 14 percent to the end of the decade. This explosion in investment is what engages our best minds to do what they do.

At a time when we see the world being ravaged by the effects of climate change, it’s encouraging to be given a little hope.

by Emerson Lynn

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