International students go from “Pump to Plug” on green field trip to electric vehicle hub masterminded by Technion alum, Shai Agassi
Test-driving the electric car at Better Place’s Visitors Center
Technion’s International School of Engineering (ISE) brought a group of students to the Better Place Visitors Center for hands-on instruction in the electric car revolution. Several other international exchange students and FOCUS representatives joined the pilgrimage.
It’s a well-oiled operation. Visitors sign up, hand over their drivers’ licenses, and are led to the movie theater, located in a converted gas tank, and sit on adapted car seats. A hologrammed Shai Agassi, one-time Technion wunderkind and now the driving force behind the current electric vehicle initiative, introduces the concept of switching from “pump to plug,” thus weaning the economy off its oil dependence. Initially, Better Place is looking at the passenger vehicle market, but will later target public transport.
The case of hybrid vehicles, Agassi-on-film advises, is a case of “too little, too late,” with only a 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption. His alternative: Lithium-ion batteries, and no combustion engine. Global lithium reserves are sufficient to supply three million battery switch cars of the kind marketed by Better Place. These cars can run for around 160 km (100 miles) on a single charge. The batteries, owned by Better Place and costing around $12,000, are non-polluting and fully recyclable.
Electric vehicle juicing up on power
In addition, the Renault Fluence - built from the bottom-up as an electric car - is equipped with a “personalized driving system” and media center. Agassi recommends that drivers will be able to enjoy listening to music to the full, as the car itself is almost silent.
“Israel has great potential [for renewable energy],” Agassi continues. The Better Place concept, where customers are subscribers to the system, is labeled as better for people, for the planet, and for prosperity. The audience is told that they are at the dawn of a transformation like nothing they’ve seen before, and are asked if they are ready to make the switch.
Leaving the theater, the Technion visitors are ushered outside to where three electric vehicles are lined up at the docking/charging stations. They are then invited to test drive the cars. “It was very interesting and very different. The electric car is like PlayStation,” says South African Micael Zollmann. “Shai Agassi came from Technion. Maybe it’s possible for one of us to come up with an idea that’s as great.”
Indeed Agassi, who delivered the Yitzhak Modai Annual Lecture on Technology and Economics at the June 2010 Technion Board of Governors meeting, is focused on one of this century’s biggest challenges, moving the world from oil-based to sustainable transportation. He told the rapt audience that Technion students are granted an immense set of tools in the four years that they spend here, and that he has used all these tools over time. “What you get at Technion is the ability to look at a problem, dissect it into pieces, solve it, and put it back together,” he said. Better Place is the result of Agassi’s taking a gigantic engineering problem and solving it for peace in the Middle East and to make the world a better place.
Scott Mortman, Director of Global Business Development, Better Place, demonstrated the battery switch station to the Technion group. “It’s a high-tech carwash,” he jests, referring to the drive on-drive off infrastructure. The underside of the car is cleaned and the switched battery is locked in place ensuring safe travel, clocking up a mere 91 seconds of down time - less than the time it takes to fill a tank with gasoline.