Su$tainable Mobility: The New US Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization
This bi-weekly newsletter aims to separate the signal from the noise for making money in sustainable transportation: Electrification, mode shift, active and public transit, and mobility aggregation, across both people and goods movement.
In this issue’s Deep Dive, we’re dissecting the “US National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization”, a joint roadmap from 4 federal agencies (Energy, Transportation, Environmental Protection, and Housing & Urban Development) that launched last week.
Also, I’ll be co-hosting a panel in Los Angeles later this week with the new Out in Climate group, a non-profit dedicated to building a community for LGBTQ+ professionals in the climate space. Join us!
STARTUP WATCH: Sustainable mobility startups (generally pre-seed or seed) to keep an eye on
Beans.ai (California, USA): Hyperlocal last-mile delivery optimization software
🛺 Citkar (Germany): Manufacturer of 3-wheeled micromobility for goods movement
🛺 GreenStreetEV (Ohio, USA): Manufacturer of 3-wheeled micromobility; former CEO of Workhorse Trucks
💻 Lanterne (United Kingdom): Software for micromobility fleet optimization
🩺 Sensai Analytics (Massachusetts, USA): Battery state of health analytics for commercial EVs
🌇 Spectra Cities (Puerto Rico, USA): Open-source urban planning software
🔄 Swap (Indonesia): Battery swap as a service for micromobility
🛺 Vayve Mobility (India): Manufacturer of 3-wheeled micromobility for urban dwellers
FUNDING: Capital raises from startups previously featured in Startup Watch
Mazi Mobility (Vol 7) secured a $100k grant from KfW DEG Impulse
Tyfast (Vol 26) secured a $2.8M grant from the US Dept. of Energy
QUICK HITS: Notable news from the last two weeks
🧾 Washington, D.C. and Atlanta are looking into point-of-sale e-bike rebate programs. In the D.C. proposal, as in many other cities, the bike would need to be purchased locally (i.e., not online) to maximize local economic gain from the rebate.
🏪 Just how quickly are warehouses multiplying in Southern California’s Inland Empire? The new Warehouse CITY data tool referenced in this article is a bookmark-worthy source to understand how logistics and warehouses impact cities and their exurbs.
🚲 Manhattan Borough President tweets his appreciation for e-cargo bike deliveries and promptly receives tweet backlash over blocked sidewalks. A good reminder of the work to be done on last-mile delivery and of the angry discourse on Twitter.
🆓 Uganda will give a free electric motorcycle to those who swap in their old gasoline-powered one. Although the financing mechanism is still unclear, this could end up with some very promising second-order effects, such as local demand response networks for energy systems, etc.
👏🏽 GM, Ford, Google, Sunrun, and others announced a partnership to establish software standards for virtual power plants (VPP). This broad alliance could help counter Tesla’s early lead in using EVs to send energy back to a building or the grid when needed.
👨🏽🏭 Chinese battery giant CATL is producing a battery pack fully integrated into an EV chassis. In short: safer, less expensive, and more efficient, but makes battery recycling significantly more challenging.
↘️ Tesla took a massive price cut in Europe and the US amid softening demand. The competitive environment for Tesla is getting much harder as incumbents like Hyundai/Kia and Ford figure out the EV game. In the US, Tesla’s brand perception fell over the last year among both Democrats and Republicans.
⚠️ We now have video footage of the incident where a Tesla in “Full Self-Driving” mode caused a 9-car pileup. Government investigations into the safety of Tesla’s driver assistance features continue.
👷🏽♀️ The US DOE predicts that by 2030, US battery production champions will be Michigan, Georgia, and Kentucky. There’s still a lot of work for the Upper Midwest to retain its manufacturing base in the EV era.
🌏 New research from consultancy Oliver Wyman ranks the 10 leading cities for public transit networks (page 12). The top 10 are all in Asia and Europe.
🤧 A new UCLA study reiterates the sustainability challenges with autonomous vehicles. On the people movement side, autonomy has to be coupled with multi-passenger shared rides to avoid increasing congestion.
🔟 MIT Technology Review shared its annual 10 breakthrough technologies, which include EVs and battery recycling. This is a first-time mention for both sustainable mobility technologies.
🛤️ Meta (aka Facebook) has abandoned its Dumbarton Rail Bridge program. A good example of where the private sector doesn’t lead particularly well.
🚗 UBS equity analysts assign a value to Apple’s automotive aspirations. 8% of company value from automotive seems reasonable, but still pencils out to about a $225 billion business, roughly Toyota’s market cap.
DEEP DIVE : Reading the tea leaves in the new US blueprint for transportation decarbonization
On January 10, the “US National Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization” was published as a joint roadmap from 4 federal agencies (Energy, Transportation, Environmental Protection, and Housing & Urban Development). Taking the cue from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, the blueprint is just as much an internal-facing document to help bureaucrats understand how to deploy funds as it is an external-facing document to help the private sector understand the implementation nuances behind the landmark bills.
There is little in the 84-page document that is a stunning new reveal; care was clearly taken to thread the needle by being future-looking without antagonizing certain interest groups. As such, this document is useful for what it quietly includes and what it casually leaves out. To save you an hour of reading, I’ll give you the 5” highlight below:
The most notable signals come from a table showing the applicability for vehicle decarbonization by underlying technology. In light-duty vehicles (which include passenger cars), hydrogen fuel cells are shown as a null set, which must be frustrating to certain Japanese car makers. Conversely, it’s a bit generous to label sustainable liquid fuels as “TBD” in passenger cars after decades of dubious subsidies for Iowa corn farmers to produce ethanol. Perhaps it’s a recognition that there really could be some wild technology breakthrough.
Hydrogen only shines as a fuel source in the long-haul heavy-duty truck sector, which leaves a lot of the hard work in other vehicle classes to sustainable liquid fuels. That’s a fairly big wild card. Sustainable fuels may indeed be our best path forward in long-haul aviation and maritime, but the history of sustainable fuels is littered with new solutions that seemed promising in theory, but then failed in the real world due to environmental damage, price competition with food stocks, etc.
The rest of the document is mostly known policy guidelines. Still, it’s interesting to see what does get mentioned, including:
the rise of the heavy SUV negating fuel efficiency gains.
the risk that autonomous vehicles will increase our vehicle-mile traveled (VMT) and therefore worsen congestion.
the need to prevent induced demand by not expanding existing roads.
the inclusion of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) in the mix of solutions to be embraced.
allusions to the 15” city, an urban planning concept where major needs (work, school, shopping, etc.) are all available within close proximity.
telework and its potential impact on our travel.
acknowledgment of demand levers like congestion pricing, curb management, and dynamic parking pricing.
e-cargo bike/smaller EV form factors (e.g., minimobility) for last-mile delivery.
It’s also interesting to see what gets excluded, minimal mention or vague support:
the desire to scale passenger rail is mentioned, but without any indication of how we might actually get there. Major higher-speed rail projects in California, Texas, and Florida go unmentioned.
bikes and e-bikes are mentioned frequently, but with little linkage to the need for domestic manufacturing or the potential benefit of rebates to reduce demand for passenger cars. Scooters get mentioned a few times, but more often in the shared application than as owned or leased assets that complement public transit and reduce demand for passenger cars.
despite allusions to certain vehicles becoming stranded assets with outdated powertrains, there’s no mention of EV retrofits for certain fleet vehicles (off-road, medium and heavy-duty, etc).
vehicle to grid (V2G) is mentioned only twice, despite the giant impact that it might create when vehicles are consistently sending excess energy back to the grid.
despite general nods to active transit, there’s no mention of the US outlier status on oversized SUVs and pedestrian deaths.
So there you have it: 84 pages of sustainable transportation policy guidance condensed into a 5-minute read. Enjoy your week ahead.