About a year ago, I gathered all our employees for a meeting and proceeded to make one bold statement, and an even bolder prediction. I shared my deep conviction that we were at the forefront of a historic opportunity within the automotive, trucking, and transportation industry. My prediction: We were on the verge of experiencing near vertical technological innovations within our industry and the next 10 years would usher in dramatic change. So far, so good!
Change and the rapidity of change are hard to predict, but not so when we can turn to the evidence around us and identify well-defined trends and plausible technological pathways. Never before has society experienced such spectacular innovations within the transportation industry. Just in the past five years, the industry has spiritually ushered in battery powered roadsters, plug-in-hybrids, natural gas powered vehicles, fuel-sipping new engine technologies, and never-before seen intelligent electronics andeighting materials. It is hard to believe companies are actually testing vehicles that will drive by themselves. Unreal! And here is the best part – technological breakthroughs and industry advancements will become even more pronounced. The transportation industry is poised to experience Moore’s law of near vertical change. The foundation has been set. Everything can and will be challenged.
Traditional drivetrain technologies and fuels have quickly been put on notice. The internal combustion engine is being re-invented. Gasoline and diesel are no longer the only games in town. New powertrain technologies are multi-faceted and incorporate multiple energy sources. Transcending it all are alternative fuels such as natural gas, which is emerging as the smart choice to an environmentally conscious society, economically driven consumer, and job-creation minded country.
Natural gas vehicles will become as permanent as they will be fashionable. This is very predictable and exciting. Every macro-trend and technological advancement points to accelerated adoption of this cheaper, cleaner, and home-grown fuel to run our vehicles. A new generation of technology advancements enables radical growth and broad-scale adoption of natural gas vehicles – innovative direct-injection and engine technologies, ultra light-weight composite materials and advanced processes, unique adsorbent storage materials, and refueling methodologies never before seen or used. These innovations are setting the foundation for real change – a vertical change.
We can all let our imaginations run wild and dream about the future of automotive technology – but that future is now. We are in the midst of a historic transformation within this industry.
My company, Quantum Technologies, has been a leader in advancing alternative fuel storage technologies over the past two decades, hard at work innovating solutions to store compressed hydrogen at 10,000 psi for fuel cell vehicles or deploying high strength carbon composites for natural gas storage tanks. Case in point, we recently introduced the next generation fuel tanks (Q-Lite™) using ultra-lightweight and lower-cost materials. These advancements are impressive and enabling. While gaseous fuel storage technology has progressed steadily over the past 10 years, advancements over the next five years will be more remarkable. Dramatic change in any industry opens up an abundance of opportunities to shape the future.
The next generation compressed gas fuel storage systems will be defined by advances in materials, high precision manufacturing processes, and optimized topology with built-in diagnostics. Future compressed fuel tanks will be dematerialized, lighter in weight, and volumetrically efficient, storing gases in ways and pressures that were not possible five years ago.
My meeting with the employees was not overly long, but rather direct and pointed. Although they were keenly aware of our company’s contribution to these emerging technologies and took pride in reflecting on their own pioneering accomplishments, I finished with one last thought: Companies that are merely reactionary to the technological changes may not survive. Successful companies will need to anticipate the future of change, shape it, and lead it!
Brian Olson is CEO of Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide, a company specializing in the development and production of natural gas storage systems and the integration of advanced vehicle control systems and drivetrains.