Sunday, April 09, 2006

Two New Prizes Aim at Spurring Automotive Innovation

Congressional Subcommittee Chairman Proposes an $100M Hydrogen 'H-Prize' to Spur Innovation Towards the Hydrogen Economy

South Carolina Congressman and Science Research Subcommittee Chairman Bob Inglis (R) introduced legislation called the 'H-Prize Act of 2006' [H.R. 5143, see 'Resources' below] last Thursday in the U.S. House of Representatives. The monetary H-Prize is intended to spur innovation by attracting the best and brightest minds to attack technological and commercial market obstacles in moving to a hydrogen economy.

Modeled after the successful $10-million Ansari X Prize awarded for entrepreneurial space flight, the three category H-Prize features a $100-million grand prize that would be awarded for commercial transformational technologies that changes hydrogen technology and brings the hydrogen car to driveways around the country, Green Car Congress reports.

According to GCC, the legislation was filed with 14 co-sponsors and outlines three major prize categories:

  • Technological advancements: Four $1-million prizes awarded annually in the categories of hydrogen production, storage, distribution and utilization.

  • Prototypes: One $4 million prize awarded every other year for the creation of a working hydrogen vehicle prototype.

  • Transformation technologies: A maximum $100 million prize—$10 million in cash and up to $90 million in matching funds for private capital—would be awarded for changes in hydrogen technologies that meet or exceed objective criteria in production and distribution to the consumer.

  • Under the legislation, the Secretary of Energy will contract with a private foundation or panel that will include experts in the field to establish criteria for the prizes, GCC reports.

    Inglis had this to say when introducing the bill:
    "America is treading water in a sea of rising demand for oil that includes China and India. The market is now in a position to reward those who will innovate our way to a hydrogen economy. Those innovators will create jobs, clean the air, and improve our national security."
    The Science Committee has scheduled a hearing on the bill for April 27.


    The X Prize Foundation Now Targets Automotive Innovation with its 'Automotive X-Prize'

    Separately, the X Prize Foundation, creators of the Ansari X Prize, announced that they are forming a new Automotive X Prize to focus on the creation of new fuel-efficient vehicles that far exceed anything available on the market today. Rules for the Automotive X Prize may be announced as early as 1 May.

    X Prize founder, Peter Diamandis, has said, "We're still using the internal combustion engine after 100 years, and getting 20 miles per gallon for the past 40 years. It's ripe for a major prize to break things open."

    The X-Prize site had this to say:
    Many people believe that the automotive industry has too much legacy to overcome and is too risk averse to move away from manufacturing and selling profitable low MPG automobiles. In this view, the problem is not a lack of technology, but high barriers to industry change: long-standing supplier relationships, national and local legislation and regulation, union rules, building costs, legacy costs (pension and other investment expenses) all conspire to maintain the status quo.
    The prize is not intended to create more exciting concept cars that will never make it to market but is rather focused on "putting hyper-efficient cars into the hands of consumers" which clearly "requires much more than a technical performance achievement – winners must deal with the realities of manufacturability and post-delivery service. They must also deal with federal and state regulations on emissions and safety."

    Additionally, while alternative fuels are quite promising, the X-Prize is focused on spurring innovation in gasoline or diesel engines. "Although biofuel, fuel-cell, and plug-in technologies are all promising, current consumer attitudes and the current transportation infrastructure favors solutions based on gasoline and diesel fuels," the Foundation said. "The Auto X-Prize will focus on the creation of new fuel efficient vehicles that far exceed anything available on the market today."

    The Foundation also offered the following initial guidelines:

  • The Prize will be focused on entrepreneurial innovation. That is not to say there won’t be significant technological innovation as a result but it is not the explicit purpose of the prize.

  • There will be a units sold metric included in the rules. This is about creating a product the individual consumer can support and purchase.

  • The goal is to maximize consumer involvement through television and the internet.

  • Over the few weeks we will be meeting with the brightest minds in the industry to map out the economic, environmental, geopolitical, and industrial landscape. In addition we will be looking for strategic partnerships, sponsors, and staff as well as potential competitors.

  • From this group. the final advisory board will be formed to approve final rules.

  • Rules may be announced as early as May 1, 2006, meaning we could begin registering teams by June 1, 2006. These dates are not set in stone but are a good estimate.

  • As this is a prize which is aimed at inspiring entrepreneurial innovation, XPF chose Mark Goodstein as director of this prize for entrepreneurial expertise. His experience building companies his given him an excellent working knowledge of all issues that encompass building a new product for delivery to the market. His ability to examine all sides of a problem to determine a cohesive solution will be vital in bringing together the various factions that now exist in the automotive industry.


  • [It seems like the developers of the 330 mpg diesel-hybrid Aptera should apply...]

    Resources:

  • H.R. 5143

  • Automotive X-Prize site

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