What it will take for biofuels to be the fuels of the future

What it will take for biofuels to be the fuels of the future

Running cars on ethanol made from palm oil, corn or soy is already a wide-spread reality. But the biofuel industry is still far from providing a truly sustainable and clean alternative to fossil fuels — unless it switches its gears.

The quest for alternatives to fossil fuels is not new. In fact, it’s been going on for as long as cars have existed. Originally, Henry Ford planned to fuel is famous Ford T (produced and sold from 1908 to 1927) with ethanol; other early cars were running on peanut oil. And in the years 2000, after decades of near-total hegemony of fossil fuels, the tide started to change again. A renewed enthusiasm for biofuels led the United States to implement the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005 and the Energy Independence and Security Act in 2007, according to which the transportation industry had to adopt biofuels on a large scale, by using them as supplements to traditional fossil fuels. “The beauty of biofuels is that they suck carbon dioxide out of the air as they grow. When we burn them in our automobiles, we release carbon dioxide, but it is the same carbon that the plants absorbed while growing. Just on that basis, biofuels appear to be zero net emitters”, writes professor of thermal sciences John Abraham in The Guardian. And they have the added advantage of being a renewable resource, contrary to fossil fuels.

In Europe, biofuels have had their advocates since the middle of the 2000 decade too. For the past 15 years, the “Fuels of the Future” have had their own international conference, at the initiative of German actors of the bio-based energy sector. Since 2017, the conference includes “renewable mobility” into its main points of focus: “In incorporating this additional content, the conference organisers underline the fundamental importance of all renewable options for decarbonisation of transport. Referring to the ambitious objective of the Paris Climate Agreement, the conference organisers emphasise that decarbonisation of transport cannot be achieved by 2050 unless all these options are deployed.”

Not-so-green crops

In that spirit, the U.S. started to massively grow corn, soybeans and milo to produce ethanol, while Brazil and other tropical countries resort mainly to sugarcane. In Europe, biodiesel (a fuel usually made from palm oil) is widely available. Today, explains Smithsonian Magazine, nearly 40 percent of the U.S.’s corn production is converted to fuel. “But it turns out that the environmental problems associated with growing those crops on an industrial scale—a crop that requires highly fertile land as well as copious irrigation, tillage, and tractor fuel to produce—outweigh the environmental benefits of burning corn-based biofuel.” Because the production process often relies on coal or natural gas — at least in the U.S. –, “biofuels don’t replace as much oil as they use,” explains National Geographic. That’s not all. Some warn that the harvest of sugarcane or palm oil for biofuel could be devastating for the rainforests. And then there’s the question of food: crops (like corn) that could feed people are used to power cars; land that could be used to grow food is requisitioned for biofuel-production purposes. “Agriculture is being challenged by increasing food demand, and changes to regional climate. On top of this, most plans to combat climate change rely on the agricultural sector to increase carbon storage in soils, and to produce raw materials for the large-scale production of biofuels and power,” Dr. John Field, from Colorado State University, sums up in The Guardian.

The right crop, at the right place, in the right way

That doesn’t mean that biofuels are not the way of the future; it means that the biofuels we are producing now are not it. John Abraham recalls co-conducting a study in 2009, whose conclusions were that “if non-commercial crops were grown, you could actually end up with fuel that was significantly cleaner than petroleum. The trick was finding clean crops that don’t need a lot of fertilizer, water, and other inputs. (…) Our conclusion in 2009 was straightforward. Don’t use good cropland for biofuels. Rather, use marginal croplands, with minimal water and fertilizer, to create plants that can be converted to biofuels.” These marginal croplands can be switchgrass (which allows to produce fuel containing more than 5 times as much energy than it takes to grow and refine it) or hemp (which Ford wanted to use for the T Model, and produces nearly four times as much oil per acre as soybeans). According to Smithsonian Magazine, algae, an exotic plant called carrizo cane and a tropical shrub called jatropha are also leads worth exploring.

Of course, each of these solutions have their own specific drawbacks, and the path is not free of hurdles. Dr. John Field and a team of scientists found in a 2018 study published in Nature that marginal croplands give lower yields, which means there are “competing issues of productivity and greenhouse gas reduction,” writes John Abraham. But they also found that farmers make decisions based on the price of biofuels and the cost of greenhouse gases: “Simply put, if we put a reasonable price on carbon pollution, farmers will be able to grow switchgrass, poplars, and other species, reduce greenhouse gases, and make money. But, if there is no cost to carbon pollution, farmers will be motivated to spend more money on fertilizer and that, in the end, will lead to more emissions.” Putting a price on carbon may be the best way to make biofuels the stuff of the future.

Stopped in the city where bikes outnumber cars

Stopped in the city where bikes outnumber cars

From Tuesday 18 September until Wednesday 19 September, the winners of the European Startup Prize attended the ITS Congress 2018 organised by our proud partner ERTICO in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Once again our startups had an exciting and busy schedule that started with a workshop on Tuesday morning on the Danish and Scandinavian startup and mobility ecosystem. Jacob Bangsgaard (CEO of ERTICO-ITS Europe) did a great introduction. Denmark has for sure a very attractive environment to offer to startups and the discussions between the Prize winners and the speakers were quite animated.

Speakers included:
Christian Bering Pedersen, Technology and Data Lead at Autonomous Mobility
Alexander Frederiksen, cofounder of Donkey Republic
Yan Yang, Head of Investment at Copenhagen Capacity, organisation for investment promotion and economic development in Greater Copenhagen
Carlien Roodink, Smart Urban Mobility for DG Move/European Commission
Mikael von Dorrien, Senior Innovation Advisor at Nordic innovation
In the afternoon our startups: Cargonexx, Klaxit, Whim by Maas, AddSeat, Appyparking, Atsukè, Tracefy and Voltia had  the opportunity to pitch at the ITS Forum in front of potential investors and decision makers, an exercise that they now all master perfectly!
After a fun and relaxing evening in a  traditional  Danish restaurant our startups were back to the ITS Congress bright and early on the next day to be at  their demonstrating booths and present their solutions to potential clients and partners.
They entered into two pitch sessions in the afternoon in the area C, the part of the ITS Congress dedicated to startups, where they pitched in front of an international crowd.


Time literally flied by in “Hyggely” Copenhagen and it is yet another successful stop of the European Startup Prize for Mobility that comes to an end.
Next stop : Autonomy in Paris on 18 -19 October, come and meet us!

EUSP tour : good vibes at IFA Berlin 🇩🇪🇪🇺

EUSP tour : good vibes at IFA Berlin 🇩🇪🇪🇺

On Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th September, the European Startups Prize for Mobility (EUSP) winners were in Berlin for the second stop of their European tour to attend IFA Next, one of the major European digital events.

During these two days, EUSP startups had the opportunity to present their projects and to become familiar with the German ecosystem, including local decision-makers and investors. First, startups have pitched at IFA Next and we are very proud of Atsukè who won the « Best Pitch Award » of the show that day. A great recognition for their work for a sustainable and digital mobility. #EUSP startups are making their way into European tech!

The day after, our finalists met a high-level panel at our workshop like Dirk 0. Evenson, Director of New Mobility World, Tanja Kufner, Partner at MHP – A Porsche Company or Urs Rahne, Partner at BCG Digital Ventures.

Conclusion of this successful morning : Venture capital investments in Germany increased substantially in the last 5 years. Especially in mobility: infrastructure, e-commerce, sharing, collective transportation, hardware and software. And new funds recently hired mobility experts ! A very good timing for mobility ! After a beautiful stage in Berlin, a new one is coming up already : we will be in Copenhagen on September 18 & 19 for ITS World Congress. Stay tuned!

Prize winners make a stop in Berlin !

Prize winners make a stop in Berlin !

Between Monday 3 and Tuesday 4 September, the 10 European Startups Prize for Mobility (EUSP) champions will travel to Berlin for the second stop of their European tour. This event follows the ceremony that awarded the 10 most promising European mobility startups on 22 February 2018 in Brussels.

During their stay, our 10 winners – including the German startup Cargonexx – will be hosted at IFA Next, which is one of the major European digital events. They will have the opportunity to pitch their projects and become familiar with the German ecosystem, including local decision-makers and investors, through roundtables or pitches.

Created at the initiative of Karima Delli, Member of the European Parliament, Ecologist and Chairwoman of Committee on Transport and Tourism at the European Parliament, the EUSP is dedicated to European startups whose activity is focused on sustainable, clean and connected mobility. It aims to help those startups to scale up to another level and become European leaders for tomorrow’s mobility. The prize was launched in December 2017 under the high patronage of the European Commission, the European Parliament and several economic stakeholders such as BCG, Via ID, Blablacar, SNCF, Europcar,… It received more than 500 applications for its first edition.

The 2019 edition is in the pipeline…

Karima Delli, will be present at IFA next Monday and Tuesday. She will also speak at the inaugural Shift AUTOMOTIVE convention to address the regulatory challenges of autonomous driving and the future of mobility in Europe.

The goal is simple: to create the European silicon valley for mobility.  #EuropeIsYourPlayground

You will find attached the complete program of the European Startups Prize’s activities in Berlin. You can meet EUSP’s team at IFA Next here.


On February 22, a jury of experts announced the four winners of the prize. The winners of this first edition, Cargonexx, Cocolis, Klaxit and MaaS Global will benefit from tailor-made support designed by The Boston Consulting Group, Via ID, Parallel Lawyers and Grimaldi Studio, to accelerate their development. For the finalists, the adventure continues with the European tour UESP which will take them to several major European capitals and give them high visibility at major Tech events in Europe (Barcelona, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen & Tallin). The jury also rewarded three very promising mobility start up, Drivy, Stuart and Txfy, with a special mention from the jury, as well as Switzerland’s BestMile. 

Focus on Cargonexx, Cocolis, Klaxit, and MaaS Global which stood out and won the first edition of the European Startup Prize for mobility.

Cargonexx – Germany
Cargonexx reduces empty runs in truck transport through artificial intelligence. Since its start last year, the German startup is building Europe’s largest network of truck capacities with already more than 60.000 trucks. Shippers can order truck loads with just a mouse click. The orders are forwarded automatically to the truck that best suits the tour. Self-learning neural networks predict peak loads and send the trucks to where they are needed in advance. A win-win-win-win situation: the shippers save money, the transporters earn more and we all have less trucks on the roads.

Cocolis – France
Cocolis is a platform that connects people who need to send something with drivers who travel with an empty trunk. Shipping costs can be very expensive, especially for heavy or bulky items. With Cocolis everyone wins: senders pay up to 80% cheaper and bringers save money on the road while helping. A deal with MAIF allows us to insure all items on the road up to 2000€. Cocolis operates in France and in the nearby countries of Europe.

Klaxit – France
Klaxit is a carpooling specialist, focused on commuting. It is the French leader, thanks to its 100,000 daily trip o ers and its 700 client sites. Klaxit has developed a unique methodology to help companies develop dense carpooling networks, increasing the accessibility of their site, the purchasing power and the well-being of their employees. Klaxit counts several mobility specialists as stakeholders, whether as investors, business partners or clients, proving their trust in its solutions.

MaaS Global – Finland
Imagine if all your daily travel needs would be covered with one simple app and payment – directly from your mobile. Travel as much as you like with a flat fee, or pay-as-you-go, with public transport, taxis, cars, bikes and more. MaaS Global Ltd is bringing into reality the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS), by building the world’s first mobility ecosystem. Our revolutionary mobile app, Whim, brings all means of travel together and liberates people from the high costs of owning a car.


The rise of the flying cars: is the future finally here

The rise of the flying cars: is the future finally here

“We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” For a while, this 2013 quote by Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, seemed to never get old — except now we have 280 characters. But five years later, it finally looks like we are on our way to have Twitter AND flying cars.

2017 was a busy year for flying cars. Two German start-ups, Lilium and Volocopter, carried out the maiden flights of their electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles: Lilium in Munich in April 2017, and Volocopter in Dubai City in September 2017. The former, in particular, looks like the closest thing we can imagine to the machines that crowd the sky of Metropolis or Blade Runner. Both companies assure they are developing the future of mobility, a future in which they imagine their flying cars as a taxi service as ubiquitous as Uber. Uber, as it happens, is also working on their own machine, the UberAIR, as part of the project Elevate: the first demonstrator flights are set to start in 2020, and the commercial operations in 2023 in three launch cities (Dallas and Los Angeles have been confirmed, and Uber is now searching for the third one).

Major constructors are also in the starting-blocks. In March 2017, Airbus and a subsidiary of Volkswagen-Audi demonstrated their Pop.Up concept in Geneva: an autonomous capsule that can be attached to a four-wheeled vehicle or dock on a sort of giant drone that carries it to its destination. Around the same time, Google founder Larry Page launched his own version of the flying car: Kittyhawk — which initially was the subject of mockeries. In a segment of his Late Show in April 2017, Stephen Colbert joked: “This is it, the thing we’ve been promised, the thing we’ve been dreaming about our entire lives. (…) It looks like a mini-trampoline had sex with a wiener mobile.” The title of the video was no less eloquent: “Flying Cars Are Finally Here And They Suuuuck”. Today, the company is developing Cora, an “everyday air taxi”, and Flyer, for a personal flying experience — or, as Colbert put its, the thing that “is going to revolutionise how rich people travel across a lake.”

Safety issues and the march of progress

The arguable reason why everyone wants in on the flying car game is that we are starting to run out of options to make city traffic bearable again. Major cities all face problems with congestion and air pollution. And the rise of ridesharing services has, among other things, highlighted the fact that a lot of people would rather ride a taxi than bike, walk or use public transportation. In short, one car replaces another. So if we are to keep living with taxis and chauffeur-driven cars, they might as well be electric, silent and able to fly above traffic.

Before they become commonplace, though, there are quite a lot of hurdles to overcome. Some, like engineer, architect and MIT teacher Carlo Ratti, don’t even believe in the technology. In Le Monde, he argues that these vehicles will still be too noisy for city-dwellers to bear their presence in massive numbers. He also writes: “the multitude of vehicles required to transport a large number of people above our heads would pose serious threats to our safety. (…) A battery failure or a rotor blade breaking could make a heavy vehicle fall on a highly-populated area.” There’s also the reglementary framework to consider: would only taxi services be allowed to fly in the city, or could anyone with a flying car? Who would regulate aerial traffic, and how? How will we ensure that the system stays out of reach of malevolent hackers or terrorists?

As relevant as these questions are, one thing the history of progress has taught us is that if something is physically possible, there will be people to develop it. So much money and so many interests are already on the line that it seems highly unlikely the flying cars will be abandoned before they even try to roam the city skies. We just have to ensure they really are what we have been promised all along: a sci-fi utopia that will make our cities more livable.