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E-Biking to the Beach Office – The Future of Rare Earths?

In the midst of a global COVID-19 Pandemic, office workers have gone “cubicle-free” and the public has become more skeptical over how to safely commute using public transportation than ever before. After creating the new verb of the decade, companies like Uber (let’s “Uber” to the show) and Lyft are being used even less frequently now for standard public transit and most often for their food delivery services — Uber just recently purchased food delivery company Postmates for $2.65 Billion after losing out on an attempted merger with industry leader Grubhub. They are expected to double-down on a newer grocery store delivery service after purchasing the majority share in the company last year.

While these delivery and ride-share companies continue to evolve to stay afloat, one thing is still certain — people require an inexpensive, reliable, and safe way to get around.

Enter the electric bicycle. It may be a game-changer for REs. As both local and federal governments are encouraging social distancing around the world, many commuters are taking to the eBike to remain active while maintaining their distance from one another at the same time, which explains why multiple eBike vendors are reporting sales spikes upwards of almost 50% since February of this year.

Lectric eBikes cofounder Levi Conlow crystallized this new trend in a recent interview: “Our customers have been saying that e-bikes are a great option for the new coronavirus-era way of living. The dramatic increase in sales shows that nationally, people are looking to shift how they get around. It’s also a fantastic option for those looking to socially isolate while getting fresh air outside.

In an eBikesHQ article comparing over 450 ebikes, the largest share of the price bracket pie for a brand new eBike was in the $1000-2000 range.

Unlike electric cars however, one of the largest selling points of an eBike is that your standard bicycle can be easily converted into an eBike with just a few hundred dollars and some tools. Independent of which wheel the motor powers or the voltage of the battery, we compared just the top 50 most popular and most recommended eBike conversion kits around. Assuming those kits advertised as best selling actually are getting the most sales, it would seem like the average consumer is paying about $760 to turn their bicycle into an eBike, battery included!

With no end to the COVID-19 pandemic in sight, and with eBike popularity skyrocketing, eBike neo magnets could be asking for a larger share of the rare earth magnet pie very, very soon. Indeed, eBikes exceeded Hybrid and EV usage of neo magnets in 2015, and were projected to account for more than 70% of Hybrid and EV neo magnet usage in 2020, at 13,000 tpa. (Source: Steve Constantinides, “The Big Picture: Putting the Magnet Market Trends Together,” Brief at Magnetics 2018, Orlando, Florida, February 8, 2018, Slide 9). That share is indeed likely even larger than projected given the sharp drop in vehicle sales in 2020. Better line up now; do you have your order for an eBike ready?

#RareEarths #RareEarthMining #RareEarthMetals #TechnologyMetals #ElectricVehicles #ElectricVehicle #EV #ElectricCar #BusinessModels #Magnetics #Magnets #SupplyChainResearch #ElectricBike


Do you know where the Rare Earths in All your Gadgets come from?

Precious rare earths metals (REM; not the band) are in our computers; they’re in our cell phones, televisions, hospitals, and trains — and more and more, they’re in our electrified vehicles.

Rare earth permanent magnet (PM) applications have grown rapidly over the past few years, and are projected to keep doing so. As market demand continues to grow for electrified vehicles and electrical gadgets that run on specialized rare earth magnets, more and more light is being shed on where these rare earth metals are actually being mined, and where some of their most strategic customers want them to be mined.

Today, China is the most dominant supplier in the rare earth metals market. However, it was not always so: the US was lead supplier of rare earths and REM technology into the early 1980s. In a post-COVID-19 supply chain world, with every supply network being re-engineered for a new level of resilience, other countries (most notably the United States) have been increasing efforts to localize their rare earth mining and reduce dependence on foreign trade to acquire them.

As rare earths applications increase, it is only natural that the call for transparency about sourcing grows with it. Responsible Sourcing is an increasing priority among participants in the RE mining and metal production business – just like in any business. It is simply good for business to be able to show you operate fairly, treat your workers well and that you buy your materials from responsible suppliers.

However, Responsible Sourcing remains an opaque issue. Rare earth mineral mines are most common in just a handful of countries, which vary greatly in size, population, regulatory approach, governance and GDP. The truth about rare earth mining practices and actual application of mining regulations is hard to find. For example, a simple google search on the status of rare earth mining regulations and status of enforcement action re: same, produces information from a decade ago that is almost the exactly the same as in 2020, (paraphrasing): “There are many calls for reform, esp. in China, but there is little actual information about the status of reform measures.”

For example, China has been making statements about plans and attempts to crack down on illegal rare earth mining for nearly a decade now. When asked about their efforts just last year, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) claimed they were making it easier to subpoena rare-earth companies practicing illegal mining, increasing penalties for being caught, and that they were establishing a “traceability system” to stop illegal market buyers. This is nearly the same thing they were saying on the subject four years ago.

As demand for rare earths rise, so will the calls for improved transparency on sourcing. The illicit mining practices taking place in the Congo over cobalt, or in Nigeria over gold, suggests a few challenges ahead for rare earths sourced from non-transparent mining interests. Very soon, leading electric vehicle companies like Tesla, Chevy (Bolt), and Nissan (Leaf) will either prove that their rare earth magnets and batteries were responsibly sourced, or watch as some sort of large industry exposé forces them into a literal mine field of public scrutiny. We’ll keep you posted.

#RareEarths #RareEarthMining #RareEarthMetals #TechnologyMetals #ElectricVehicles #ElectricVehicle #EV #ElectricCar #BusinessModels #Magnetics #Magnets #SupplyChainResearch


The Burning Rare-Earth Questions of 2020

It is 2020.  In a time where a non-Chinese dominated rare-earth market is starting to show a hint of possibility, which companies will top this new marketplace is a question on everyone’s mind.  In 2019, US domestic production of Rare Earth mineral concentrates, all of which were exported [to be processed and refined], increased to 26,000 tons- that is a 44% increase up from 2018.

Synthesis Partners has been reaching out to companies and organizations within this market since November 2019, conducting interviews with key individuals while searching for an answer to this very question.  With a primary and secondary-source research scope including over 500 phone calls made and e-mails executed and over 2,000 electronic sources reviewed, Synthesis Partners has managed to maintain over 250 organizational contacts having relevant experience or information for this project.

China still dominates separation and refining of rare earth concentrates to produce oxides, metals, and alloys. However, in this new decade, it is becoming clear that more options are emerging within this field across North America.  Below are two select slides from our research report identifying a few key players starting to surface in the North American marketplace:

For more information as this project continues, send an email to for a full copy of the report.

#ElectricVehicles #ElectricVehicle #EV #ElectricCar #BusinessModeIssues

#SynthesisPartners #Gaps #RareEarthElements

New Rare Earth Extraction Technology Could be a Game Changer

Purdue University Researchers have been working on new technologies in the field of rare earth metal extraction. Scientists say that this new patented extraction (February 9, 2020) method uses a ligand assisted chromatography, and has been shown to remove and purify rare earth metals extremely efficiently and with virtually no negative environmental impact.

Right now, many companies across the world don’t even attempt to extract and recycle REEs due to damages caused by the acid-based separation and purification of these elements.

“About 60% of rare earth metals are used in magnets that are needed in almost everyone’s daily lives. These metals are used in electronics, aeroplanes, hybrid cars and even windmills,” Nien-Hwa Linda Wang, whose lab developed the technology, said in a media statement.

“We currently have one dominant foreign source for these metals and if the supply were to be limited for any reason, it would be devastating to people’s lives. It’s not that the resource isn’t available in the US (March 1, 2020), but that we need a better, cleaner way to process these rare earth metals.”

For more information, see’s article here (May 10, 2020).

#ElectricVehicles #ElectricVehicle #EV #ElectricCar #BusinessModeIssues

#SynthesisPartners #Gaps #RareEarthElements

North American Light Duty Electric Vehicle (LDEV) Charging Market and Supply Chain Assessment: Where are the Gaps and Opportunities?

Synthesis Partners LLC (SP) identified, characterized and ranked many gaps and issues in the North American Light Duty Electric Vehicle (LDEV) supply chain in 2019. In addition SP identified and characterized all key suppliers of EV charging equipment, their current status and plans in the North American supply chain. This work was sponsored by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO).

Selected examples of gap statements, starting with utility-related gap statements, follow:

  • Utilities need to make the grid edge autonomous and interactive – But this capital investment for grid-edge improvements is based on distributed energy resources (DER) assets that Utilities do not own.
    • “Utilities considering how to manage two-way power flow and variable distributed energy resources (DER) while maintaining the reliability, efficiency and security of their operations.  Roughly one of every five respondents say their utility plans to spend more than $200 million into modernization over the next three years. An additional 26 percent report they’ll devote $100 million to $200 million to that cause.  The key drivers of the investments that utilities are making in distribution system modernization stem, perhaps ironically, from assets that utilities often don’t own, namely DER such as rooftop solar arrays, electric vehicles and battery energy storage systems.”
  • Utilities Say that Market Conditions Do Not Currently Justify an Emphasis on the Away-From Home Charging Market.
    • “Our view is that although we are willing to fund the placement of chargers away from the home for the convenience of our EV customers, market conditions do not currently justify an emphasis on the away-from home charging market.  For example, ChargePoint continues to build a fee-based charging infrastructure, but they have to wait for the market to develop to the point where they will even start to recoup their investment and actually turn a profit.  In the meantime, they are relying on subsidies.  This is not a sustainable approach and we have to be careful regarding how many resources we devote to developing a charging infrastructure that the market isn’t ready to support. Residential-based charging should be the first focus, high-power, fast-charging should be the 2nd priority.”
  •  EVSE (EV Supplier Equipment) OEM Interactions with Utilities are Sometimes Difficult.
    • “Our engagement with utilities, especially in California, has been a bit difficult.  For example, Southern California Edison (SCE) has its own “Charge Ready” program which provides free/reduced charging equipment and charging services for EVs, including buses.  (  Programs such as this make it difficult for us to provide a competitive service.  For example, to offset the costs of its Charge Ready program, SCE has removed demand fees.  However, we expect that over the course of time the demand fees will be reinstated which will negate the cost benefits for fleet owners in the long term, but hurts companies such as ours in the near term by leading fleet owners to opt for the SCE program rather than ours.”
  •  Utility Demand Charges Appear to Be a Barrier to EVSE Market Growth.
    • “For a market that is just getting started, the demand charges are a barrier,” Nelder says. If the stations had utilization rates of 80 percent, they might be able to absorb the demand charges, but at 10 percent utilization, they become unprofitable, he said. Utilities put demand charges on large industrial and commercial users who place high demands upon the grid and are based on the customer’s peak use of electricity. In California, utilities have put demand charges on each of EVgo’s stations.  The result is that in some cases, these charges were responsible for more than 90 percent of a charging station’s electricity costs—as high as a $1.96 a kilowatt-hour at some stations during the summer months.  “Demand charges are especially challenging to new charging infrastructure that has not yet reached a sustainable utilization rate,” the study says. “This issue will be compounded by the deployment of next-generation fast-charging stations.”

Examples of EVSE-supplier related gap statements include:

  • Turnkey Mobile Energy Storage vs. Installing Permanent Chargers.
    • “The battery in FreeWire’s charging unit is constantly being charged which negates the necessity of the infrastructure required by permanently installed chargers and results in a reduction in the overall costs, including the purchase of land, electric infrastructure, etc.  Currently, our units are mainly used in workplace charging and applications such as food trucks where our product proves to be more cost-effective than food trucks’ traditional use of diesel generators and as on-demand emergency charging.  Each unit has 2 connectors and average the charging requirements of 6-8 vehicles/day.”
    • “Quiet, non-polluting power for facilities or remote sites, such as food trucks, music events, construction sites, emergency response, and backup power needs. Mobi EV Chargers are ideal for applications that require flexibility and when installing permanent infrastructure is not feasible; they deliver high-performance EV charging capabilities beyond the confines of fixed infrastructure.”
  •  EVSE OEMs Have Reason to Use Proprietary Systems.
    • “If there is a need to create interoperable networks, they will do so.  Competition is Healthy.  Should a company go out of business, often another charging company will take over their business and take the steps necessary to ensure the acquired companies charging equipment is compatible with existing networks.  This was the situation when both Eaton and Schneider left the market – the companies that acquired these firms took on the responsibility to ensure the interoperability of the acquired hardware and software with their own equipment. To the extent that it is in the interest of several companies to work together to improve their collective profitability, then it is in their interest to make their equipment interoperable.  For example, AddEnergie is working with ChargePoint to achieve this.  AddEnergie does advocate roaming interoperability, that is, the ability for an EV to charge in different networks.  In Canada, this has largely been achieved while the U.S. is still working toward this.”
  •  Primary Role of Level 2 Charging vs. High Cost of Fast Charging.
    • “Suncor (through subsidiary Petro Canada) has had Level 2 chargers in operation for over a year and this year we are starting to install prototype Level 3 chargers.  Our equipment supplier, the same supplier used by VW, has been fantastic.  However, as we move forward, we have found that the high cost of electricity at peak times is expensive and means it is highly unlikely that the Level 3 chargers will be profitable.  To address this, we are considering the addition of on-site energy storage units at our fast-charging locations, but this also presents an additional expense and some of our sites have limited space available for energy storage units.”
  •  [MD/HD] Fleet Charging Needs More Development
    • “More funding programs to help fleet owners bridge this financial gap are needed. … For example, if fleet owners want to use Trillium’s EV charging product, PowerUP, the approach that makes the most financial sense over the long term is to build an EV charging capability that will handle projected fleet size.  However, due to the initial expense of this approach where savings will only be realized over time, a more viable near-term solution is to take a scale-up approach where additional charging capability can be added over time as the fleet grows.  However, even with this approach, most of the incentives available to fleet owners to acquired EV capability is spent on pilot buses with little capital remaining for fleet expansion and charging station cost.”

For further information, please see North American Light Duty Electric Vehicle (LDEV) Charging Market and Supply Chain Report (2020).

North American Light Duty Electric Vehicle (LDEV) Charging Market and Supply Chain: Final Recommendations and Conclusions

The following recommendations address how VTO or other USG entities may improve the vitality of the EVSE marketplace – according to all of the information analyzed during this research.

In support of the following recommendations, Synthesis identified twenty-one (21) VTO feedback statements, which represent just 8% of the total number of gap statements received.   This data, along with all the other data collected, provides the basis for the following recommendations.

  • Of top interest among sources is the call for assistance from USG entities with setting of EVSE standards in NA. This comes across in many ways, across several gap categories, as outlined above.
  • The second category of most interest to sources – a topic that is directly related to the first – is a call for government support in facilitating coordination among municipals, states and federal agencies in the delivery of EV charging nationwide.  Notably, a call for government assistance in coordination with utilities is not far behind in the fourth spot.
  • A core conclusion is that the main challenge in the NA EVSE market is less about technology and more about the need for targeted, practical design-thinking and design improvements.  Improved design thinking is needed in order to deliver better, faster, cheaper outputs (charged vehicles) in a better, faster, cheaper way (that is, more efficiently, flexibly and cheaply for vehicle or fleet owners).  Easier said than done, but this a core conclusion.
    • Fully 67% of gap statements among the top six gap categories analyzed in the Gap Analysis section of this report are about the general need for improved design thinking.
  • The third VTO feedback item points to the fact that government assistance with funding of equipment or manufacturing is not a high priority at this time in the NA EVSE sector.  This point is supported by all the data that shows that the EVSE marketplace has high vitality, numerous players and is meeting current market needs – but does require improved system design thinking.  
    • Put another way, the need is not first and foremost for manufacturing or technology-specific support, but rather for the design thinking “around” technology that can help market participants to accelerate and implement more efficient and effective EV charging infrastructure systems.
  • Overall findings from the gap analysis show that the top gap category of gap statements are covered by Business Model Issues – reinforcing the call for increased collaboration, standards development and design thinking.   These issues are followed by Technology Hardware and then again, design-related issues such as Standards, Data Gaps, Network Systems, and Technical Coordination.
    • Business Model Issues [24% of total gap statements]
    • Technology Hardware Issues [14%]
    • Standards Issues [13%]
    • Data Gap Issues [13%]
    • Network Systems Engineering Issues [9%]
    • Technical Coordination [8%]
    • VTO Feedback Points [8%]
  • Technical Coordination gaps include concrete recommendations for projects that can deliver rapid-turnaround, technical learning and potentially significant design impacts through VTO sharing of independently developed, expert guided, technical recommendations.  Several examples follow:
    • V2G Infrastructure Pilot Projects and Assessments: “The focus of the pilots needs to be to demonstrate the economic viability of a vehicle-to-grid infrastructure.  In particular, the pilots need to test and ensure that charging transactions can be resolved, e.g., initiated and completed.”
    • Fleet Charging at Scale: “It would be beneficial to have research done on how the infrastructure will handle the charging of thousands of EVs at once.  This type of research would quantify the resources available/needed in relation to a given population of EVs and could help determine the ideal ratio of vehicles-to-grid.  Pilot projects have been done using hundreds of vehicles, but a larger pilot program is needed that would cover thousands of vehicles.”
    • Off-Board Bi-Directional Charging Pilots: “A small-scale V2G pilot project utilizing off-board bidirectional inverter/chargers was completed by the Los Angeles Air Force Base beginning in 2013, but was too small to demonstrate the commercial viability of V2G.  Now, a larger pilot program is needed to encourage broader support and engagement.”
  • More Engagement with Utilities, Especially with Regard to V2G: “It might be helpful for the VTO to initiate a pilot project that would assess the best means for communication between utilities, EVs, chargers and charging networks.  There are a variety of solutions currently available and an assessment needs to be done to determine which solution offers the means to serve the largest percentage of the market.”
  • This research effort identified clear support for the following concrete technology development recommendations for VTO’s consideration.  Though of course these technology specific endeavors are recommended within the context of the call for design thinking as underscored above.
  • Reduce Battery (Energy Storage) Costs:
    • “Batteries are extremely costly, so premature reductions in capacity with repeated cycling or deep discharges associated with V2B and V2G could lead to a bad consumer experience with automakers.”
  • Improve Battery Cycle Time and Capability:
    • “The objective is to match ICE vehicles in terms of the time it takes to charge.  This means we are looking to achieve a 7-minute charge time.  This means larger capacity batteries are needed and along with the larger capacity, more through-put is needed.  For the last 4-5 years, the focus has been on a 50kW standard, but this is already increasing as Electrify America is installing charging stations with a 50-350kW charging capacity.”
    • “EV batteries aren’t designed to receive a DC fast charge on a regular basis — the elevated temperatures will degrade a battery’s capacity if repeated too often. Supercharging is perfectly safe if it’s done on an occasional basis as intended, but supercharging an EV too frequently may eventually reduce range.”

  • Focus on V2G Technology Integration:
    • “The challenge now will be to get smart chargers (networked chargers) to operate as dependably as the “dumb” chargers (stand-alone, not networked) in operation.”

  • Reduce Costs: Commoditize Core EVSE Technology:
    • “Commoditizing charging station equipment [could] result in cost savings of up to 50%. The VTO may have a role here in funding the development of cost-efficient solutions to achieve savings at the systems level. For example, there is not much room for reducing costs in terms of wiring, conduit, labor, etc. incurred in the course of providing electricity to a charging station, but there is significant cost-reduction potential in determining what charging equipment is used.”
  • Deliver Lower Cost, More Effective On-Board Chargers:
    • “Need for a less expensive, more effective on-board charger that will allow EVs to accept faster chargers.  Currently, the limiting factor is not the lack of the high-power chargers, but vehicles that can accept high-power charging.  The main issue here is the need for chargers that can deal with the extra heat generated in a high-power charge.”

  • Accelerate Mobile Charger Scale and Technology Development:
    • “Traditional charging stations cost approximately $100,000 to install a Level 2 charger whereas the re-location of our stationary unit costs about $30,000-$40,000.  In addition, it only takes about 1 month to complete the installation of our stationary DC Fast Charger compared with the 6-month time frame for installing permanent chargers.”
  • Last, any technology development that accelerates the deliver of better V2G or V2H connectivity to faster chargers, at lower cost, where EV owners where spend the most of their time charging their vehicles (at home or at work) – is a topic for discussion.  At-home Level 2 units is a key focus among companies in the field even as this page is being written (examples below).  Certainly each of these units will benefit from increased V2G  and V2H capabilities.
    • October 1, 2019 – Electrify America announced Level 2 EV home chargers, available on Amazon for $499.  “The Electrify America Electric Vehicle Home Charger is compatible with all electric vehicles available in the North American market today. It features a charging power of up to 7.6kW – about 6 times faster than the typical Level 1 charger provided to some new EV owners, depending on vehicle make and model.”

North American (NA) Light Duty Electric Vehicle (LDEV) Supplier Equipment Market and Supply Chain Gap Report (2019)


Gap Analysis

Final Recommendations and Conclusions

North American Light Duty Electric Vehicle (LDEV) Charging Market and Supply Chain: Gap Analysis

This post highlights the gaps identified through in-depth primary source collection in the NA EVSE market place.  The gaps are defined by sources’ specific statements about the constraints or bottlenecks that these sources state that they encounter in their business operations in NA.  Synthesis assessed 251 specific gap statements from primary sources, as well as selected secondary and market research sources for these findings.  The gap statements are analyzed to produce guidance on the most important areas for potential new VTO R&D or other investments. 

All gap data is documented in the Synthesis EVSE Gap Database (August 2019), which is not made public to preserve confidentiality of sources.  The following information provides illustrative, selected examples of gap statements.

Gap Statement Categories

The 251 gap statements are broken down into the following 12 categories for purposes of analysis and characterization.  The following categories are listed in alphabetical order, not in order of priority.

  1. Business Model Issues
  2. Cybersecurity Issues
  3. Data Gap Issues (e.g., Requests for information about EVSE infrastructure developments.)
  4. Grid Infrastructure Issues
  5. Materials Supply Issues
  6. Metrology Issues (e.g., Statements about metering technology improvements that are needed.)
  7. Network Systems Engineering (wire-line and wireless) Issues
  8. Software Issues
  9. Standards Issues
  10. Technical Coordination & Analysis Issues (e.g., Statements about the lack of pilot projects, testing and data management services)
  11. Technology Hardware Issues (e.g., EVSE hardware, including battery, gap statements.)
  12.  VTO Feedback (Direct feedback re: USG funding actions.)

As depicted below, the prioritization of concerns by and among EVSE sources about the factors that limit market growth begins with business model issues, followed by technology hardware, standards and data gap issues.

Priority Gap Areas, by Frequency of Gap Statements

North American (NA) Light Duty Electric Vehicle (LDEV) Supplier Equipment Market and Supply Chain Gap Report (2019)


Gap Analysis

Final Recommendations and Conclusions

North American Light Duty Electric Vehicle (LDEV) Charging Market and Supply Chain: Introduction

Note: The full report is not yet public, however selected data is available for public release. This report covers work completed by Synthesis Partners, LLC (“Synthesis”) for the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office during fiscal year 2019.

This work assessed the supply chain for the North American (NA) Light Duty Electric Vehicle (LDEV) charging market, including an assessment of what sources state are key gaps and technology developments of interest to the VTO.  This effort included research on companies, technologies, suppliers, supplier relationships, business model issues and sources’ views on technology and related gaps.  VTO approved the work-plan that guided this work in December 2018.  The collection cut-off date was July 31, 2019. 

Synthesis initiated and executed integrated primary and secondary source research across thousands of English-language sources to develop a baseline and analyze quantitative and qualitative data, on:

  • Class 1 (AC lower power), Class 2 (AC higher power), Class 3 (DC Fast (100-200kW), Extreme and Supercharging (200+: 350-400kW) chargers.
  • SAE J1772 (physical connectors); SAE TIR J2954 (wireless charging); and Tesla Standard chargers.
  • Main NA EVSE players and their equipment, revenue, technology, plans or business model types.
  • Key barriers, gaps and trends with regard to issues of interest to sources, for example, power level issues; siting Issues; installation costs; electricity rates; technology bottlenecks and gaps.

This report provides a summary of information, which is the information that can be made publicly available from this work effort.

North American (NA) Light Duty Electric Vehicle (LDEV) Supplier Equipment Market and Supply Chain Gap Report (2019)


Gap Analysis

Final Recommendations and Conclusions

Autonomous and Connected Vehicles Report: Key Findings and Gap Scoring Methodology

The following are priority recommendations about R&D gap targets identified during the FY16 and FY17 research period.   These recommendations are based solely on Synthesis’ conclusions and do not reflect the viewpoints of the VTO or any particular source.  Anonymity of primary sources is maintained unless Synthesis receives specific approval to share this information by individual sources.

Results from FY16 Work

Synthesis ranked ten top-level R&D topics raised by primary sources (based on open-ended, in-depth interviews), intended to represent a broad range of interests and technical fields, based on four variables using a basic scoring system.  The four variables used for ranking are a) expected energy efficiency improvement; b) amount of scientific evidence provided by sources; c) relevance to fast-growing US industry sectors; and d) a Google Scholar activity index.

The top-ten R&D topics identified from Synthesis’ contact with 100s of sources are:

  1. Embedded software
  2. Variable compression ratio
  3. Motors
  4. Power electronics
  5. Car sharing
  6. Autonomous vehicles
  7. Vehicle embedded software
  8. Solid-state batteries
  9. Carbon fiber
  10. Advanced cylinder deactivation

In terms of highest-priority recommendations, Synthesis drilled down to identify the following three areas as both directly relevant to future automotive technology capabilities and among export categories in which the US shows unique, industrial strength:

  • #1: Automotive semiconductor manufacturing and manufacturing equipment.  This includes semiconductors designed for discrete and integrated circuits (ICs) for power management, electric traction drive power electronics (inverters and converters), as well as signals processing for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), and infotainment systems.

  • #2: Embedded software. This covers software written to execute a particular function in a particular hardware implementation, such as field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), to include functional capabilities that are increasingly important for “smart” vehicles and automotive electronics, such as:
    • Machine vision;
    • Image analysis;
    • Signals processing for self-driving cars;
    • Safety management;
    • Wireless updating;
    • Artificial intelligence;
    • Automotive cloud engineering; and
    • Software to drive a wide range of field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) that can be altered based on the application.

  • #3: Integration of power management and wireless baseband in application processors.  This covers system-on-chip (SoC) design, in which an IC integrates multiple components of a computer or other electronic system into a single chip.  It may contain digital, analog, mixed-signal, and often radio-frequency functions – all on a single chip substrate.  SoCs are very common in the mobile electronics market because of their low power consumption.  They are becoming the first choice for future embedded system developments – which are of increasing relevance in automotive applications – due to the increasing demand for higher performance, reliability and power density in autonomous applications.

It is notable that hybrid and electric vehicle manufacturing are driving vehicles toward computerization.  Microcontrollers, sensors and analog devices have led the growth of automotive semiconductors.  McKinsey analysts have noted that three areas will drive the next wave of growth: 1) further electrification of drivetrain; 2) ‘consumerization’ of auto electronics, and 3) vehicle intelligence (including active safety innovations and connectivity-enhanced driving).  The electrification of the drivetrain due to hybrid or fully electric vehicles may lead to the “largest expansion over the next ten years,” according to these analysts.  The drivetrain accounts for 30% of all semiconductor content in an automobile, and “developing a less expensive alternative to IGBTs would be one way to win the market share in this area.” [1]

Automotive power management is the third largest market for semiconductors, comprising about 8% of the total market in 2015, with a 10.8% growth rate compared to 5.5% for the total IC market.  In 2014, the automotive market for ICs totaled about $21.7 billion.  Amongst automotive power management applications, demand is strongest in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), which include Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Automotive Emergency Braking (AEB); and infotainment systems.

From a market perspective, the worldwide automotive semiconductors industry is more than a $24 billion business and has experienced one of the fastest growth rates of any large segment in the $300 billion worldwide chip market – averaging 8 percent annually between 2002 and 2012. The top-ranked companies involved in semiconductor equipment manufacturing are provided in the table below.  US headquartered firms in this sector accounted for 39.5% of the global market in 2015.  This demonstrates an apparent competitive strength of US firms, from which Synthesis is working to identify new R&D topics relevant to the VTO mission, with transition opportunities.

Top 10 Worldwide Semiconductor Manufacturing Equipment Vendors, By Revenue ($ Billions)

In the automotive semiconductor sector there are certain technical gaps that – if filled by US-based engineering R&D advances – present a concrete opportunity to expand US-based advantages in design and development of critical engineering systems and products for the automotive industry and beyond.  US-headquartered firms are among the top-ranked companies in the automotive semiconductor sector and accounted for 39.5% of the global market in 2015.  For this reason, research work in core R&D in this sector, including research on next-generation energy efficiency targets for automotive applications, has inherently strong transition opportunities.

Within the semiconductor space, Synthesis assessed in FY16 that the following technical and engineering fields are notable for further discussion regarding R&D gaps.

  • Functional chip-designs for automotive manufacturability.  For example, Jen-Hsun Huang, [then] chief executive of graphical chip maker Nvidia Corp., said [in 2016] that some of its’ processors were being strained as Tesla has increased its cars’ capabilities.
  • Instruments, methods and designs that ensure chip-design complexity keeps pace with, rather than outpaces, manufacturing productivity.  Put another way, the present challenge is that chip-design advances are outpacing manufacturability advances, and thus, for example, lithography presently appears to lag the growing need for complex designs executed on smaller surface areas at lower costs (see Synthesis’ FY16 extreme ultraviolet (EUV) case study).   One increasingly can design chips that are needed, but cannot be produced at a competitive cost – and this presents key research, development, engineering and testing gaps.
  • There is a continuous need for developmental work in multicore system-on-a-chip (SOC) architectures, to enable faster and “smarter,” increasingly functional, smaller, more power dense electronics.

Results from FY17 Work

At the beginning of FY17, VTO tasked Synthesis to further frame the opportunity for future R&D targets based on findings from FY16, and to focus in particular on the areas of autonomous drive, LiDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors and connected vehicles. 

Synthesis identified 37 R&D gaps in FY17, from the integrated primary and secondary source analysis, from February through August 2017.  Synthesis assessed numerous trends and technologies related to autonomous drive, sensors and connected vehicles.  Findings are derived from a structured, data-driven process intended to produce findings on plausible, high-value R&D targets for sustainable, US-based jobs.

Each R&D gap can be traced back to primary source interviews or secondary source documents.  A gap is based on specific needs stated by key sources, “in ongoing commercial R&D and product development activities,” which pertain to autonomous and connected vehicles that is:

  • Hardware-focused;
  • US-based, or have the potential to be US-based;
  • Could reach commercial vehicle markets in 5-10 years; and
  • Has the capability to reduce costs, ideally by a significant (>50%) amount.

The 37 R&D gaps are categorized and scored, with trace-back capability for each gap and score to Synthesis’ internal data sets.  The quantitative analysis of the gap topics is offered as an initial viewpoint. Synthesis welcomes discussion on additional perspectives to assess the nature of the gap intelligence obtained.  The following summarizes the findings, assesses the distribution of gaps across categories, and provides an analysis of the gaps based on quantitative scores.

Drill-Down on 37 R&D Gaps Identified in FY17
The 37 R&D gaps identified in FY17 are grouped into three categories developed by Synthesis to provide guidance on trends in findings, as follows:

  • Vehicle Sensors and Intelligence Materials: Hardware for low-cost, high-performance, energy dense on-vehicle data storage, processing and communication on the vehicle; includes LiDAR.
  • Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2X) Communications and Intelligence Networking: Hardware for low-cost, high-performance, energy dense, secure and reliable communications V2X, including sensors and sensor fusion.
  • Other R&D Collaboration Opportunities: Other opportunities to address R&D gaps in the autonomous vehicle and V2X

The three bins illustrate the range of R&D topics that Synthesis identified as gaps during this research.  These categories are not mutually exclusive and are certainly not the only categories that could be developed from the gaps.  Follow-on analyses that assess the relationships within and between smaller groups of gaps for the purpose of identifying (more efficient, multi-impact R&D topics in more detail can be done.

As just one example of such a drill-down on gap categories, and focusing only at a high level based on numerous conversations with sources, there is an apparent relationship between the individual gap categories used in this report and the level of interdisciplinary RDT&E (research, development, testing and evaluation) work that is needed to respond to each gap.   This view is reflected in the Figure 2 below.  As research moves away from addressing gaps in (e.g.) individual sensors or sensor materials, and toward (e.g.) V2X communications systems and complex systems, the work required – speaking in general, at a high-level – is increasingly of a multi-disciplinary nature, moving beyond hardware alone.  More research on the validity and implications of this finding is recommended.

Gap Scoring Methodology

A scoring system was developed to analyze the relevance of the 37 gaps identified in FY17 and to introduce initial rankings to address the work-plan objectives.  Additional scoring techniques are feasible and available for discussion (e.g., scores that apply to clusters of gaps or specific technology attributes of gaps).  To start the discussion, the following three scores are employed:

Score #1: Work-plan relevance:
For each attribute, which included (1) hardware-focus, (2) more than five-year relevance, and (3) private sector R&D investment gaps, the following scores were applied:
0 points assessed if the attribute does not apply;
5 points assessed if the attribute partially applies; and
10 points assessed if the attribute fully applies.
The maximum score on work-plan relevance is 30 points.

Score #2: Number of sources in agreement:
1 point for each company or individual expert source in agreement;
25 points if the gap is developed from an AVS 2017 consensus finding, (approximates the 25 experts, conservatively speaking, holding the consensus view).
The minimum score is one and the maximum is in increments above 25.

Score #3: Sum total:
Summation of Scores #1 and #2 above is used as the integrated Synthesis final score for final rankings.  (Again, this is just one way of ranking the gaps and additional scoring approaches are available for discussion.)

Levels of Hardware or Software, and Interdisciplinary RDT&E (Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation) Work, by Category

Distribution of Gaps Identified in FY17, by Category

The 37 gaps were analyzed and placed in one of three categories.  Of course, different categories could be developed depending on how detailed one is in assessing each gap, or group of gaps.

30%: Vehicle Sensors and Intelligence Materials
30%: V2X Communications and Intelligence Networking
40%: Other R&D Collaboration Opportunities

Autonomous and Connected Vehicles Report (2016-2018)


Gap Analysis

Final Recommendations and Conclusions