Auto Show Hearing Highlights U.S. Innovation, Emerging Technologies

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today chaired a full committee field hearing at the Washington Auto Show to discuss the innovation, research, and development of advanced vehicle technologies and their impacts on our energy security and infrastructure.

“This truly is an exciting time for the automotive sector, with a host of new technologies emerging in recent years,” Murkowski said. “Lightweight materials like carbon fiber, titanium, aluminum, and composites are increasing vehicle efficiency while boosting performance. And at the same time, advanced manufacturing technologies, such as 3D printing, are decreasing the time and cost of bringing new concepts to market. This has increased the productivity of our automotive suppliers, allowing U.S. manufacturers to thrive in a hyper-competitive global market.”

Murkowski noted that while consumers in many regions, including Alaska, are increasingly purchasing electric and hydrogen vehicles, it is important to account for the impacts that their widespread adoption will have on current energy systems.   

“We have a burgeoning electric vehicle market in Juneau,” Murkowski said. “The local utility provides nearly 100 percent renewable power to its customers from five hydroelectric plants, and has engaged in a successful demand response program to incentivize charging at specific times of the day. These efforts are cutting costs and emissions, and the result is an average of one new EV registration per week.”

“Charging stations will be needed. Other infrastructure for progressing hydrogen will be needed, but a lot of these depend really on electricity either from the main grid or from a microgrid. I think the big thing that we really need is to make sure our electrical grid is resilient and reliable through the introduction of things like microgrids and also energy storage in various ways,” Oak Ridge National Laboratory Associate Lab Director of Energy and Environmental Sciences Directorate Dr. Mohammad Khaleel said.

“When we think about the burden that it’ll have on the grid, to reinforce it, microgrids are very essential, and we need to start trialing those in various areas. We also need to look at grid balance and the appropriate positioning of where we put those charging stations,” Center for Automotive Research President and CEO Carla Bailo said.

Participants also discussed our nation’s significant reliance on foreign countries for the minerals needed to manufacture advanced technology vehicles, such as lithium and cobalt.

“A lot of these materials are also not just in automotive in our batteries, but also across all of our electronics, laptops, cell phones and so on. So it isn’t just us tugging on these resources,” General Motors Director of Advanced Vehicle Commercialization Britta Gross said. “But also what comes back to us is the cost of these materials. More recently there has been an issue with cobalt - prices increasing…And that’s a problem for the price that we can offer these vehicles to the consumer…What we are doing is trying to streamline our use of those materials and in many cases trying to reduce the amount of lithium or the amount of cobalt in these systems so they still operate, they’re safe, they’re durable and dependable, but that we can reduce the cost by peeling out and improving either the engineering process, the architecture of the system, or also the manufacturing process itself in how we apply the materials. We get more and more effective and that’s part of a learning process of developing and innovating.”    

Murkowski is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. An archived video of today’s hearing is available on the committee’s website. Click here to view Murkowski’s questions for the hearing witnesses.

Related Issues: Energy