FreeWire – Driving sustainability through minimisation of EV infrastructure
FreeWire CEO Arcady Sosinov discusses FreeWire’s success as a developer of mobile EV charging solutions and how its technology circumvents the challenges of installing EV charging infrastructure...
As the uptake of electric vehicles continues to grow exponentially around the developed world, the question of infrastructure still looms large. For EVs to truly enter the mainstream, consumers need the peace of mind that they will find a charging point as easily as a petrol station, and that a low charge far from home is not cause for alarm. Installing a fixed infrastructure at the scale required throws up a number of challenge s which are ultimately unified under the common denominators of significant cost, time consumption, and even sheer impossibility in some locations.
FreeWire, based in San Leandro, California, has devised a particularly ingenious solution to these issues with its Mobi devices. The rolling charger units plug into wall sockets and incorporate integrated batteries as a buffer between the grid and EV, boosting the charge rate without causing a sudden spike in demand from the grid. The result is a product that is mobile, can be used practically anywhere with a power source, and offers faster charging than the trickle charge stations currently found in many inner cities. Arcady Sosinov, co-Founder and CEO of FreeWire, says that Mobi’s manoeuvrability is not in itself its biggest draw. “It’s unique, and it’s not simply mobile charging. It’s easy to look at a product and think mobile charging, that’s really the catch there, but it’s more than that. Everything we do is to minimise infrastructure, and that’s the thesis under which we work. The technology that’s inside that mobile charger is going to have an important place in the EV charging world, and that’s integrated charging and fast charging.”
Born around 80km outside Chernobyl a month and a half after the Soviet power plant’s explosion, Sosinov’s family moved to the US shortly after and he says that this personal history spurred an interest in energy and the ramifications of emergent energy needs from a young age. Leaving the world of finance to pursue a resolution to the EV infrastructure issue, Sosinov founded FreeWire alongside CIO Jawann Swislow and Director of Engineering, Rich Steele. In January 2018, FreeWire secured a US$5mn investment from BP Ventures, closing its $15mn Series A financing in December with both BP and Volvo, among others, behind them. “The biggest challenge, and the reason we raised this Series A round, is to go from pilot to programme,” Sosinov says. “A startup like ours, which worked previously at a very small scale, needs capital to build up internal operations, to build up our support structure. We’re growing from being that innovative, young, fast moving technology startup, and setting up the processes and operations internally to start supporting our major clients.”
In BP, FreeWire has a partner that offers a wealth of opportunities and symbiotic benefits. Where BP wants to deploy fast EV charging at its outlets, FreeWire has the potential to circumvent the need for infrastructure, the boosted wattage needed for fast charging, the necessity for new conduits, transformers, panels, power distribution units, and the exorbitant costs and labour that each of these require. BP offers FreeWire an entry point to an established, ubiquitous network of outlets around the world. “These guys have a lot of sites, a huge amount of reach, and if they want to distribute FreeWire technology it would be in dozens of countries instantly,” Sosinov explains. Last year, the partnership saw the release of two pilot Mobis at a BP outlet in Hammersmith, London for a hugely successful three-month trial that concluded in October. “We checked off all of our success metrics,” Sosinov says. “Everything worked out great and now we’re planning for future developments across all of Europe. The key thing that we wanted to show was that they can provide fast charging at a gas station without new infrastructure, and we did that. That was a big one.”
Chad Bown, Venture Principal at BP Ventures and Board Member at FreeWire, shares this positivity. “FreeWire units are very mobile. If you remove the wheels, you can pick the units up with a machine and move them about very quickly so that, as demand changes at certain sites, we can move very quickly to provide an offer nearby,” he says. “FreeWire units save you the time of getting regulations to dig up ground, and the costs of actually installing the copper. We’ve shown that EV charging at gas stations works. I think we’ve got the right flow, the logistics, the location, and enough real estate to fully integrate an EV capability and charging capability at our retail stations.” In tandem with an extremely positive response from consumers, the trial also successfully demonstrated the safety of the equipment itself in the setting of a BP outlet. Indeed, the firms seem exceptionally well matched. Consumers around the world know what to expect from a BP station, says Bown, and the firm wants to both leverage and continue this familiarity as motorists transition from petrol and diesel to electric vehicles. The challenge for BP, and for many others, is to establish the best commercial model for the provision of EV charging.
“You’ve got the cost of the input of electricity, and then the question of how you can effectively provide that to a customer in a manner that is economic and also timely,” Bown says, highlighting the challenge posed by consumers who want to be able to charge their EVs as quickly as they have historically refuelled their petrol or diesel vehicles. While the technology capable of such rapid speeds remains in the future, FreeWire itself has established a successful concierge platform that provides a means for customers to provide on-demand charging in myriad ways. “We sell customers the hardware and a subscription to our software platform, an app where users can drop a pin where they’re parked and schedule a charging session. The customer then operates the service themselves or hires a service company to operate it,” Sosinov explains. An example of this solution in action in the UK is with utility firm Centrica, who will be operating FreeWire units on the ground in London to provide on-demand charging services.
“On demand can mean a couple of different things. It could mean scheduled charges, so you live in Westminster and you need a charge every Thursday in the middle of the night. The system would roll around and charge your car and, when you wake up in the morning, you’re good to go for the next few days.” The potential for this mode of EV charging is matched by the potential benefits to employers whose workforce includes EV drivers. FreeWire’s website notes that EV drivers spend an average 30 minutes per day moving their vehicles to fixed charging ports and that this loss of productivity can amount to $1mn every year for workplaces with 200 EVs amongst its employees, or $5000 per head. In the context of vehicle-centric businesses moving towards fully-electric fleets, such as taxi firms and courier companies, the draw speaks for itself. The potential is not limited to employers who wish to provide this convenience to its employees or to firms with fleets of EVs at their disposal, but to companies who seize the opportunity to provide this service to the public. Utility firms, Sosinov says, are a great example of this in practice. Centrica, as previously mentioned, is an example of a firm utilising its labour force and expertise in mobile service operations to provide on demand EV charging as part of its business model. FreeWire’s technology is not only poised to answer one of the biggest questions posed by the EV future, but it has the capacity to open doors for a variety of industries and demographics. With the weight of BP and Volvo behind them at such an early stage in this emergent and competitive industry, FreeWire is certainly one to watch.
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture.
It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020.
Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.
While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.
Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.
"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.
“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.
Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.
Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."
McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:
- Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
- Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
- Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
- Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
- The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere