Battery and self-steering vehicle insights from across the Atlantic

Roschier’s Energy and Capital Markets Counsel Laura Huomo recently visited the University of Michigan Energy Institute and Battery Lab as well as the Mcity congress. These are her reflections on topical issues touched upon during her visit.

In the beginning of November, I attended a Business Finland delegation in Ann Arbor and Detroit in Michigan, USA to learn more about the University of Michigan’s Energy Institute as well as their Battery Lab. During the visit, we met many interesting contacts and businesses, such as Ann Arbor Spark, the Piston Group and OESA (Original Equipment Supplier Association), operating in the battery and renewables industries as well as in the field of electric and driverless car technology. We also visited the Mcity congress, which was located at the Mcity testing facility situated in the former Pfizer premises in Ann Arbor.

Energy Institute and Battery Lab

Our delegation’s visit began with a visit to the University of Michigan Energy Institute. The Institute is headed up by Professor Anna Stefanopoulou. We met professors, researchers and students, who shared their insights as to the latest battery technology and painted a picture of where the technology is heading in the future and what the biggest challenges are. It is clear to everyone on both sides of the Atlantic that there is a need for batteries as part of the energy transition, in the form of storage for excess electricity originating from wind or solar parks (while we wait for the technology to store that energy in the form of hydrogen blended in the gas flow in the current infrastructure on a mass scale) but also in the electrification of vehicles.

The Battery Lab within the Energy Institute is being utilized by the major car manufacturers which are mostly situated in the Detroit area (Ford, GM, Fiat-Chrysler) but also by battery developers from around the United States. The lab works on a non-profit basis and provides access to companies developing their IPR.

Mcity

A visit to Mcity was also an eye-opening event. Safety issues are a big topic both in the self-steering vehicle business as well as the battery business. Liability issues were discussed at great length by lawyers from Intel, State Farm and Ford. The panelists were able to discuss the liability issues from various angles and shed light on the differences and similarities between the US and European practices. The concept and ownership of data is a constantly changing definition within the driverless car industry and the liability and ownership issues certainly need constant attention from lawmakers, the industry and lawyers advising companies in this area. Liability issues were also discussed in terms of software being utilized and developed by various parties in vehicles serving the healthcare industry and in relation to robotics in general.

 

Author

Laura Huomo 
Energy & Capital Markets Counsel
Helsinki