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Modernizing the Transportation Ecosystem

Frank Menchaca, the founder and president of the Sustainable Mobility Solutions initiaitive at SAE International, discusses the work the transportation sector is doing to develop more sustainable technologies and operating models.

37 min read


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From electric bikes, cars and trucks to air travel and shipping, sustainability is influencing how people and things get from Point A to Point B. Frank Menchaca, the founder and president of the Sustainable Mobility Solutions initiaitive at SAE International, joins the show (18:42) to discuss the work the transportation sector is doing to develop more sustainable technologies and operating models.

Other segments

“Sustainable or Suspicious” – (2:04)
The Sustainability SmartPod team dissects the list of the 100 Most Sustainable Companies recently released by Corporate Knights.

“Headline Check” – (9:30)
Karen Kantor recaps interesting stories from SmartBrief on Sustainability.

“Here and There” – (13:33)
Jaan vanValkenburgh outlines innovative sustainability solutions being deployed in the United Arab Emirates.


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(Note: This transcript was created using artificial intelligence. It has not been edited verbatim)

Sean McMahon 00:09

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the very first episode of the sustainability smart pod. My name is Sean McMahon. And the mission of this podcast is to keep you up to date on the people, technologies and trends that are working to create a more sustainable future for all of us. To do that, we’ve assembled a team of smartbrief content experts to help keep you in the know. We’ve got Karen Kanter, Evan Milberg and Jaan vanValkenburg. So let’s take a brief moment so you can get to know some of the voices you’ll be hearing. Ken, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Karen Kantor 00:43

Hi, everyone, I’m editor for smart briefs covering energy, chemicals and sustainability. You may hear another voice that would be my dog, Lucy, who’s thinking it’s time to go for a walk.

Sean McMahon 00:54

And Evan, how about you?

Evan Milberg 00:56

Hey, folks, my name is Evan Milberg. I’ve been with smartbrief since mid 2018. And I’m our lead editor for construction engineering, architecture and manufacturing briefs. I have a three year old daughter who you may occasionally hear in the background, and I’m obsessed with all things basketball.

Sean McMahon 01:12

That sounds good. How about you yawn? Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jaan van Valkenburgh 01:15

Hello, my name is Jaan vanValkenburg. And I’m Associate Director of content for the infrastructure energy and financial services divisions here at smartbrief. As such, I’m an E newsletter editor, and I work with a variety of industry stakeholders. For the last year, I’ve been splitting my time between New York City which is home and where I’m sitting right now, Southern Delaware

Sean McMahon 01:42

Alrighty, Thanks, Jaan. Coming up later on this episode, we’re going to be joined by our guest, Frank Menchaca. Frank is the leader of the sustainable mobility solutions program at SAE International. So we’re gonna be talking to him about what sustainability looks like right now in the transportation sector, and what it might look like in the future. But before we chat with Frank, there are lots of other interesting topics related to sustainability that our team is eager to discuss. So let’s begin with one of the segments you’ll hear on every episode of this show. It’s one we call sustainable, or suspicious, or I guess is the cool kids these days would call it suss or sustainable. Each episode, our team will discuss one topic that is at the forefront of the sustainability conversation. And we’ll alway in as to whether we think that topic is an example of a person or organization simply talking the talk when it comes to sustainability, or walking the walk. And I think it’s safe to say we’re kicking things off today with a topic that definitely highlights organizations that are walking the walk. Corporate knights is a leading sustainable economy media and research company. And every year they put out a list of the top 100 most sustainable companies around the world. So today, we’re going to do a deep dive in that list. Each of us Evan, Karen Jaan and myself are going to identify one company from that list that catches our eye. We’re including a link to the list in today’s show notes. But just to set the table for you. The top five look like this Schnitzer steel is number one, followed by Vestas wind systems. Number three is brambles out of Sydney, Australia. Number four is Brookfield renewable partners. And number five is Autodesk. So Evan, why don’t you get us started? Which of these companies on the others caught your eye?

Evan Milberg 03:25

Yeah, Sean. So actually number five on the list Autodesk. One of the things that I do at smartbrief is search the web for Construction and Engineering News. And it’s hard to go a day without finding something that Autodesk is doing to promote sustainability in the built environment. One of the big things that Autodesk has been doing is making it easier for architects to visualize low carbon materials in various projects. There’s something called the embodied carbon data calculator, which is basically like a guide or a spreadsheet to everything you need to know about how much of a particular sustainable material is available, how much it contributes to global warming, potential savings, a whole bunch of things like that. So Autodesk creates software that’s known as building information modeling. And when you import data from this embodied construction calendar into building information modeling, you can get a better sense of what a project’s emissions are going to be upfront instead of finding out after the fact. There are a lot of tools that Autodesk has at its disposal to espouse the benefits of building information modeling and sustainability. One particular example, just recently, they did a blog post about the use of building information modeling to promote sustainability in the rehabilitation of Notre Dame.

Sean McMahon 04:59

in Paris. So the Cathedral in Paris?

Evan Milberg 05:01

Yeah. Oh, you can tell by the accent right? Yeah, no, no, no toilet, I’m Catholic. Well, if we’re going all the way there, it suffered significant damage from a fire in 2019. So they’re making sustainability a key component of the rebuild of Notre Dame.

Sean McMahon 05:22

Well, that’s fascinating. Karen, any companies on that list, the top 100 that caught your eye?

Karen Kantor 05:27

Actually, yes, McCormick is probably not a big surprise to you, because they involve a lot of plants as in the kind that grow from the ground. And they are really pushing hard, I think to improve sustainability in their agricultural practices.

Sean McMahon 05:41

So this is McCormick like the Spice Company,

Karen Kantor 05:44

McCormick, like the Spice Company. So it’s more than just those little recyclable canisters. They actually, you know, walk the walk out in the fields, their corporate responsibility is something they seem to be taking pretty seriously. And they have managed to score a B plus as a final grade on the corporate knights table here. And they’re in place number 22. Overall, not a bad showing.

Sean McMahon 06:09

Yeah, not at all. And I always like some of their their tacos, spices, tacos and gravy. I love it. Jaan, what companies are that this caught your eye?

Jaan van Valkenburgh 06:17

Well, I’ve been looking at water technologies I liked to see of aqua water technologies at number six. It’s a water treatment solutions firm based in Pittsburgh. And it treats industrial, municipal and recreational markets across 10 countries. It’s notable because it plans to recycle and reuse more water than it takes in at its facilities by 2035. It’s a way to show how their products work. Because that’s a lot of what they do, how to recycle and how to treat water. They’ve also been in the news recently, because they are being acquired by xylem, which is based in DC and is huge works in 150 countries. Now, if a vote was going to be able to keep the same culture, that’ll be something that will need to watch it has right now a diverse board and has net zero emissions goals for 2050. Like a lot of companies, but they also spell out that in the next couple of years. They’re going to use science based target initiatives methodology to evaluate its scope. One, two, and three admissions basically evoke well has been on this list before and is in the top 10 for a reason. It points to the question of Are there going to be more acquisitions in this field? And what happens when you have two companies in this field? Will their cultures combined? Well?

Sean McMahon 07:52

Yeah, you’re right. It’s something to keep an eye on. We’ll see where they rank next year. As far as what I see from my perspective as the editor of the renewable energy smartbrief. I keep my eye on a lot of things in that sector. And the number two company analyst is Vestas wind systems. That just makes the giant wind turbines you see either on land or offshore somewhere near you. So it’s not a surprise considering their their end product is a renewable energy product. It’s not a surprise to see them rank so highly on this list. In fact, sitting there number two right behind Schnitzer steel, I wouldn’t be surprised if they jumped to number one next year simply because shortly after these rankings were released, Vestas announced that it had come up with a solution for what to do with wind turbines after they’re decommissioned. Up to this point, you got these massive wind turbine blades? What are you gonna do with them, you recycle them, you throw them in the landfill, and they’re massive. And they’re created with resins and things like that, that don’t really break down that easily. And there’s also not really a simple second use for this massive blade. But like I said, shortly after this ranking was released, Vestas announced that they’d come up with a resin that they can use going forward, that will allow them to break down the blades and launch them into more of a circular economy rather than this, use them and then decommission them and chuck them into the landfill somewhere, they’ll be able to break down into reusable components. And so that’s a huge thing. And so like I said, I think that would probably or perhaps propel Vestas to the number one slot on this rankings next year. So lots of interesting information on that list, lots of companies that our listeners will probably know. So again, we encourage you to take a look at it. There’s a link in our show notes. For our next segment, we’re going to do a roundup of some of the most popular news from the world of sustainability. As Karen mentioned earlier, she’s the editor of the Daily smartbrief on sustainability newsletter. So for each episode of this show, she will offer a recap of the stories that are the most popular among readers of that newsletter. So Karen, what do you got for us?

Karen Kantor 09:51

One of the top stories the past week that has seen a lot of interest is about green hushing, as opposed to green washing. Companies don’t want to be accused of greenwashing. So instead of trumpeting their goals and possibly being scolded when they don’t make them, they’re just keeping everything on the down low. Adweek has a nice piece on this. One of the problems they are pointing out about that is that companies not trumpeting what they’re doing kind of give space for the competitors to not do much of anything at all. So while there is concern that companies may overstate what they’re doing, that little bit of competition is probably something that moves forward an entire industry.

Sean McMahon 10:32

So just because I feel like there’s been particularly around cup 26, you know, about a year and a half ago, at the end of 2021, all kinds of companies out there, like you said, trumpeting their initiatives and things like that. But in the interim, it seems like being held accountable for some of those promises made some of those companies wish they hadn’t made such bold promises in the first place. This seems to be kind of a turning point where actually promises are being kept track of, and I think that might be what’s driving some of this. What else is in the headlines in the smartbrief? Karen

Karen Kantor 11:00

Some of it is kind of interesting to those of us who are really into electric vehicles is battery fires happening more often in New York City, entire buildings and burned that have started with battery fires from E bikes.

Jaan van Valkenburgh 11:12

And I think if I could come in here, Karen, reading about that as well. And now they’re talking about creating standards for bike rooms to make them fireproof,

Karen Kantor 11:21

Yes. Maybe a bit overdue,

Sean McMahon 11:25

Are folks bringing the bikes right into their own apartments, they’re not down in some kind of structure in the garage, is that playing a role here?

Karen Kantor 11:30

I think the article that we linked to, in the brief was talking about a parking area that was in the bottom of the apartment building. But I don’t think there’s anybody to stop you. If you want to toss your bike in the elevator and take it up to your apartment, mentioned Seinfeld with an E bike on his wall catching fire, you can just picture Kramer zipping in.

Evan Milberg 11:54


Jaan van Valkenburgh 11:56

I think what I was reading about was there needs to be more awareness because you take the battery out of the bicycle. And if you put it on to say, a chair, the chair can catch fire.

Evan Milberg 12:11

You don’t say?

Sean McMahon 12:13

And you know, I hadlunch with a communications expert from the renewables field last week. And he actually said this is kind of causing problems in the battery sector because a lot of the experts who work with big batteries like building batteries and Tesla power walls and things like that. They feel like they’re getting caught up and thrown into these bad headlines when they’re like, hey, it’s not our batteries that are it’s not batteries for buildings that are catching on fire. It’s like some of the smaller ones. So it’s important to kind of, you know, segment those two things apart. Karen, anything else?

Karen Kantor 12:39

There is another one that’s also very interesting. And that is that geophysicists are finding huge pockets of hydrogen. We’ve been going absolutely bonkers trying to make hydrogen. When we’re doing all of these electrolyzers trying to produce hydrogen, that it turns out that there may be more hydrogen right under our feet than we realized

Evan Milberg 12:59

We might still need more hydrogen just because there’s there’s an untapped source doesn’t mean that the demand has gone down. It just means that there’s another outlet. Oh, absolutely.

Karen Kantor 13:10

Agreed. I just thought it was very interesting. If you’re interested in reading more about that there is a paper published in the International Journal of hydrogen energy, and stalking about usable natural deposits.

Sean McMahon 13:24

Thanks, Karen. That was a great roundup of stories. Now, the next segment of this podcast is called here and there. Before she joined smartbrief, Jaan spent a decent amount of time living in some pretty cool locations around the world. So for each episode, she’s going to cast a wide net in search of innovative sustainability solutions being deployed around the world. The idea being that hopefully what works in one place can be shared and copied elsewhere. So Jaan, what do you have for us today?

Jaan van Valkenburgh 13:59

Well, we could use some cues from all over the world, no matter where it comes, we can use it. We’ve got the historic drought in the West, and we have escalating food prices. There’s a connection between the two of them, and I think the source for our solution would surprise some people. So out in the west, you have the Mississippi, the Colorado and other bodies of water that are providing a lot of water to water dependent farming. And it’s difficult to know what the answer to that is you provide drinking water to millions in the city or you the water for the farms that feed millions. There’s really no good solution. Meanwhile, for a number of reasons you have escalating food prices, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN says that in 2021, food prices were up more than 28%. Now last year, they fell to half of that, but my father still by fewer eggs and grumbles every time he goes to the grocery

Sean McMahon 15:06

Eggs are in the headlines for sure.

Jaan van Valkenburgh 15:07

It is, you know the canary in the coal mine, isn’t it? And if you can get my father’s grumble about eggs, it’s a problem. So where can we look for some innovative solutions? I argue the UAE the United Arab Emirates, is used to and has been working on solutions for decades, water scarcity, and unlimited domestic agriculture at least at the commercial level. As far as water scarcity, UAE is a desert. It’s surrounded by saltwater and more desert. The agriculture is really not a sustainable food source at the moment. 90% of the nation’s food is imported. And I can tell you that makes for expensive groceries in the UAE. So in July of last year, and Dubai opened the world’s largest vertical farm. It sits right next to the airport, Al Maktoum International airport. And it’s growing three tons of produce per day, or at least it can. And it uses 95% less water than conventional agriculture. This is really massive hydroponics and climate control. Agriculture has been evolving in the UAE for quite some time. But this is a big landmark. This is 330,000 square feet, that is creating a million kilograms of leafy greens each year. And one of the reasons it’s able to do it is because it’s a joint venture between the buyer or the main buyer at least. And the technology company, the technology company is crop one that’s based in a little town, little place, Millis, Massachusetts. And the other half of the joint venture is Emirates flight catering, which is basically buying most of the greens and so forth from the company to feed people on their planes on Emirates Airlines.

Sean McMahon 17:22

I always see all the ads for Emirates across all the soccer stadiums, some of the big soccer fans, all the jerseys in the stadiums are emblazoned with Emirates, so it’s nice to know that they’re actually feeding the passengers on those planes with some sustainable greens.

Jaan van Valkenburgh 17:35

Yeah, the whole section next to the airport is warehouses and so forth. And I would argue that this is the type of thing that we should be looking at for more sustainable agriculture, less water use and so forth. It has unfortunately, I have to say, another side to it. With the vertical farming and hydroponics, you won’t find a lot of data on how much energy it uses, because it uses a lot. And so that is possibly the next round of innovation that needs to happen.

Sean McMahon 18:09

Gotcha. So we’ll keep our eye on what’s coming out of the UAE and how they’re tackling sustainability issues from all angles. Okay, so right now it’s time to hear from Frank Menchaca. Frank is the founder and president of the Sustainable Mobility Solutions initiative at SAE International. Evan and I caught up with Frank recently, and he shared his insights on where things are headed when it comes to sustainability and the transportation sector. We think you’ll find Frank’s perspective very interesting. Hello, everyone, and thank you for joining us today. Our guest is Frank Menchaca, the president of Sustainable Mobility Solutions. Frank, how you doing today?

Frank Menchaca 18:51

I’m great. Sean, how are you?

Sean McMahon 18:53

Doing great doing great. Evan and I are glad to have you join us here today. Let’s kind of set the table for our listeners. What is SAE International and more specifically, what is sustainable mobility solutions?

Frank Menchaca 19:03

Yeah, sure. So SAE International is the oldest and largest engineering organization for the aerospace, automotive and commercial vehicle industries. We were founded in 1904 by an upstart in industry by the name of Henry Ford. And we were combined with the Society of aeronautical engineers a few years later. And those two organizations together became what is now SAE International. The way I like to think about at Sean is that we got our start at the beginning of a new industry. And today we are working once again at the new new beginning of an industry which is Net Zero transportation.

Sean McMahon 19:44

So that Henry Ford guy in his startup, how did that work out for him?

Frank Menchaca 19:49

I think it worked out pretty well. You know, the story goes that he really wanted to create essay to really provide a forum for other people who were in this fledgling industry who could learn from each other, and create a network for each other, you know, 115 years plus later, we’re still doing exactly the same thing. We’re the platform that brings together engineers to solve problems for industry. So the way I like to think about it is that if you’ve ever put a child safety seat into a car, if you’ve ever entered or exited an airplane, and if you’ve ever gotten anything that was delivered on a truck, you’ve interacted with SAE International, in one form or another.

Sean McMahon 20:34

Okay, and this podcast is all about sustainability. So obviously, SAE international recently launched an initiative called Sustainable Mobility Solutions. So what are the specifics on that

Frank Menchaca 20:43

we’ve been involved in the development of electric vehicles for a long time we have been working away in standards are, we’re probably best known for the standard J 1772, which is the standard for the connector to the charging station. We’ve done a lot of work on the vehicle. What we haven’t done until recently, so much work in is the infrastructure. And so along about two years ago, I started to incubate a practice and sustainability that really started to think about how the vehicle interacts with the infrastructure, how the vehicle interacts with other systems, be they electrical systems, the grid, and so forth. And that turned out to be a pretty good thing to do. Because here we are, kind of at the beginning of the electric vehicle revolution, that became a full time job for me, I was running all of the commercial aspects of essay. But once we really started digging into sustainability, that became a full time job, and now it’s its own group within the organization. And our mission is to incubate, identify, develop and deliver any initiative that helps to support net zero emission transportation.

Sean McMahon 22:02

Okay, so within those areas of focus, you know, we’re primarily talking about electric vehicles and charging stations or what else.

Frank Menchaca 22:09

So electric vehicles, and charging stations are what’s happening right now. But that’s not by any means the only thing we’re focused on. Really, right now we’re focused on three key areas. One is reliability. So we are working on reliability within the electric vehicle infrastructure. And you know, something that a lot of people maybe don’t know is that electric vehicle chargers fail about 25% of the time. And so we’re working on ways to benchmark and solve that we’re working in workforce development across the entire industry, there is a critical need for people with the skills to work in this new environment of sustainability, which is really a very new set of industrial processes that have to be put in place. So we do a lot of work in that area. And then the third area is what I would call new industrial processes. And so as you start to contemplate how to create and design sustainable vehicles, you really have to know about the entire lifecycle of the vehicle and its parts. So right now, we’re working very, very heavily on the electric vehicle battery. So those are kind of the priorities that we’re doing. But, you know, we’re also involved in the development of hydrogen technologies, and, and so on. So it’s, it’s vehicle electrification is happening now. But it’s not by any means the only thing is happening.

Evan Milberg 23:37

That’s awesome. To hear, Frank, obviously, hydrogen is going to be a big factor for transportation moving forward, what are some of the other biggest trends you’re seeing in the transportation sector when it comes to net zero?

Frank Menchaca 23:48

So one of the things one of the hottest areas that we are working on is the sourcing of batteries. There is an enormous demand for batteries for electric vehicles, there’s, I think, some very interesting things that are being done in short distance e flight, as we like to put it. And there’s some really interesting developments that are happening in electric trucking, but it all revolves around batteries. And the thing that I like to say is, is you know, we probably don’t have enough students that are aspiring geologists, right. You know, if you have teenage children, you know, you might hear them say that they want to do certain kinds of professions, but geologists may not be one of them. So we’re really looking for ways to help to create training for a whole new generation of people who have to come into this industry and be able to do work in things like battery sourcing and mineral sourcing. So it goes back to that industrial process question. You know, there was a time where if you were an internal combustion engine engineer, you did didn’t really have to think about sourcing raw materials, you didn’t have to think about mining, you didn’t have to think about the reuse of those materials after the life of the vehicle. Now you have to, and that means that entirely new set of skills have to be created and trained to, and we probably don’t have enough people coming out of traditional backgrounds to do that. So we have to turn to a traditional means.

Sean McMahon 25:24

Okay, and I want to jump in there on the geologist Park, I have a couple of kids and you know, one of them kind of wants to be busy and sciences and things like that. But for years and years, it feels like the oil and gas sector and played a lot of geologists and things of that nature, are we reaching a point where large corporations say your your Googles, or your Amazon’s whatever, where they might be employing their own teams of geologists, just to help them may interact with precious metal trading companies and things like that? Or is it still going to be kind of a, they’ll just be kind of the buyer and not really diving in with their own teams of experts.

Frank Menchaca 25:56

So it was just announced recently that Ford is partnering with the largest battery manufacturer in China CATL to create a brand new giga factory in Michigan. And so for sure, the folks on both sides of that equation really need to understand the sourcing of minerals in order to be able to run that business. So I think it’s a combination, Sean of both going out and partnering to get that expertise. But I think a lot of the industry is understanding that they have to also home grow that expertise. And there really aren’t enough people who have those skills. And that’s a problem, we really are excited to try and tackle.

Evan Milberg 26:36

So with these new skills, does SAE partner with any academic partners to try to fosters those skills,

Frank Menchaca 26:45

We partner with all sorts of organizations to to foster those skills. So we have a training program. That is a competition called the collegiate Design Series, where students come together and build electric vehicles. And that is a great training ground for the next generation of students. And that that is done out of the University. Today. As a matter of fact, we were mentioned in a press release from the White House for a partnership that we have with a company called charger help. So charger help trains people to be electric vehicle charging station field technicians, they go out and they diagnose why those charges are failing. And the interesting thing about those folks is that they are sourcing those workers from parts of the population that are usually not represented in in clean tech jobs, like women, like people from disadvantaged areas, and they’re inventing an entirely new career path for those people. So they’re partners for us, too. So we work up and down the spectrum.

Evan Milberg 27:49

Excellent. So we’ve talked a lot about this idea of net zero. And it seems really lofty does SAE have any intermediate goals and route to that larger goal?

Frank Menchaca 28:00

Yeah, we are here to support this transition. So that means training up people to work on electric vehicle charging stations, and with the national electric vehicle infrastructure plan that’s being put in place, there is a very large, immediate need for those people. And that’s really part of the entire new ecosystem. That’s being birthed in sustainable mobility. It’s not just the form of propulsion, it’s how you service vehicle, it’s how the vehicles electricity is getting created, we really have to look at everything in order to be able to foster this transition. So net zero is the goal in order to get there, it’s it’s 101 moving parts that are happening now. It’s training, its technical processes, its standards. And that’s really the basis of the work that we do.

Evan Milberg 28:57

With regard to that, EV charging infrastructure, what are some of the other challenges in actually physically building that infrastructure? And how can they be overcome?

Frank Menchaca 29:06

So as you probably know, a lot of the funding that’s been committed in the bipartisan infrastructure act is to build that AV network about $7.5 billion. So there are many challenges there is access to to the land and there are sometimes at the local town level permitting, for building is handled in one way in one place. It’s handled in different way in another place. So there’s, there’s the permitting question, there is having enough electricians to come in and be able to install the charging station and then there is the question with the field technicians that I talked about. And then there’s the question you know, if you if you imagine for a minute the the electric vehicle charging station is kind of a a converging point of a lot of different systems because you have the charging provider, you have the util Linear provider, you have the vehicle owner, you have a credit card company, you have the vehicle manufacturer, all of those things are data streams that are flowing in and around that electric vehicle charging station. And so working out how all of those things can work in sync and function most of the time, the vast majority of the time, that’s a pretty big challenge in and of itself.

Sean McMahon 30:24

So where do things like concepts like the circular economy fit into this both for EVs, the vehicles or the batteries or the charging stations?

Frank Menchaca 30:32

It’s a great question, Sean. So, you know, there’s a study that says that, when you take a battery out of an electric vehicle, it still has about 80% of its charge. And so that battery can be reused as a storage device. And in order to be able to get the most out of that sourcing of raw materials, you know, the, the footprint of an electric vehicle, just because it doesn’t have any any tailpipe emissions doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a greenhouse gas footprint. The difference between an electric vehicle and an internal combustion engine vehicle is that for the Ice Vehicle, it’s greenhouse gas footprint is in its use for the electric vehicles in the manufacturing of its battery. So in order for us to really be able to get to net zero, and to live into this promise of a cleaner world, we have to learn how to use that battery over and over and over again. And so when you take that battery out, and it’s got 80% of its charge left, you have to be able to put it to work as a storage device. That’s a design problem that you have to think about all the way upstream, when you go to write specifications around that car around that battery. And that is a very big new industrial process that needs to be put in place. So I would say, Sean, that it’s a circular economy is a critical part of how we do business, how we design vehicles, how we design parts, and so on. So I think it’s going to become kind of knitted into the day to day life of engineers.

Sean McMahon 32:08

And I just wanna ask you to kind of expand on that, because I saw a blog post as a put out, I think, a couple of months ago, where they talked about thinking of sustainability, as, quote, a lifecycle mindset. So can you expand on that?

Frank Menchaca 32:19

Yeah, absolutely. So the idea is really to get away from this model of produce, consume and discard. If we are have any hope of really addressing global warming and climate change, we really have to consume less. Now that is a complicated thing to do. So let me kind of give you a little historical perspective. At the beginning of the 21st century, there were 1.6 billion people on the planet at the end of the 20th century, there were 6.1. And now I think we just passed the 8 billion person mark. So we are having to have more people utilizing a finite number of resources, right. So there’s, there’s only so much lithium that we’re going to be able to mine. And so we have to figure out how to reuse all of those things, because we have more people on the planet than we did 150 years ago. And those people have to make demands for transportation and energy. And the more mining we do the the less that we’re using that land for for the cultivation of food, the more we’re using water for mining instead of for other things. You have to think about that that’s kind of the beginning of a circular mindset, you have to look at the entire ecosystem and say, what resources Am I using to create this one thing? How does that take away from something else? Because inevitably, it does everything is a trade off. And so you have to then say, How do I if I’m going to use natural resources, we’re going to extract those out of the ground and use mining equipment and water. In that process, I have to do it as efficiently as possible, because there’s more people than ever that need to utilize that land. And so it’s really kind of looking at the entire system, and thinking about how to do more with less.

Evan Milberg 34:21

And in the vein of doing more with less. We’ve talked a lot so far about EVs and batteries, but obviously sustainability and transportation also encompasses freight, whether by road by air, by water, what other sectors within transportation other than just the EV sector. Do you see having an opportunity for things like alternative fuels and materials?

Frank Menchaca 34:45

Yeah, so there’s, I think really good work going on in sustainable aviation fuel or SAF in the aerospace industry. E flight is still kind of in its infancy, but that that is going on in very, very short distance. coverage. Another really interesting thing is that in places like for example, major ports, like Rotterdam, you have the port that is becoming kind of an energy hub. If you think about it, those giant, you know, cargo ships with those stacked high with shipping containers, they pull into a place like Rotterdam, they will power up with hydrogen, there’s some work being done in in hydrogen transportation for maritime. But what’s really interesting is, I think they’re starting to think about those ports as kind of energy hubs for all sorts of transportation. So it’s maritime. But that’s also integrated with electric vehicles. It’s also integrated with trucking, and it’s also integrated with micro mobility. And so I think we take a very broad holistic picture, you know, if if the goal is to to limit global warming, by reducing the greenhouse gas footprint, we want to look at all of the technologies, how you can use them in concert with each other, to get to that goal, because ultimately, I think that’s what it’s going to take.

Sean McMahon 36:11

And I love how you’re mentioning, you know, things going on in Rotterdam and other parts of the world because because I love hearing about how best practices when it comes to sustainability or kind of being shared or copied or ripped off, or whatever. So what role does the organization play in and sharing those best practices in among, among all these experts?

Frank Menchaca 36:27

It’s a great question, Sean. So we are by nature a convener remember, I gave you that example of Henry Ford. When he helped to found essay, which was then called the Society of Automotive Engineers, he was really looking for ways to bring people who were in the same business together to create industrial processes to create a new industry. And we’ve never really strayed from that we bring, we have over 800 technical committees, with engineers from around the world who come together to work on standards, we have something like 64,000 experts that are in our network that come together to volunteer their time, to create standards and to create best practices. So we’re a convener. I think our role, part of our role in sustainability is to bring disparate parties together to find shared solutions to common problems. And one example I’ll give you is back to to the circular economy question. In order to be able to recycle a battery or reuse it for storage, you need to know what’s in it, and you need to know where it came from. And you need to know what its ingredients are and what its processes are. So there’s something called the battery passport, that is happening in Europe. And we are right now putting together groups of companies and groups of individuals to figure out how to take that work and bridge it into the rest of the world. And that’s being done by groups of people working in collaboration with each other, which is fundamentally the thing that we do, we’re a platform for people to collaborate.

Sean McMahon 38:06

And just for folks who might not be familiar with that term, what is a battery passport.

Frank Menchaca 38:10

Battery passport is really just what it sounds like it is a digital identification of the things that have gone into that battery, where it was manufactured, what industrial processes were used. And that serves a bunch of different purposes. So I gave the example of that designer who needed to know about how to design those battery specifications. So that battery could be reused, that designer is going to need to know everything that he or she can know about that battery, in terms of its ingredients in terms of its industrial processes. Similarly, a battery passport is useful for safety purposes. So you know, you have electric vehicles, when they get into accidents could be prone to catching fire. And sometimes numerous times as different cells of the battery could become ignited. That’s super useful information if you’re a first responder so that you know that that that what’s in that battery can can help you to know how to deal with it. So so it’s critical really to have this kind of disclosure of ingredients and an industrial processes for safety for reusability recyclability and scale.

Sean McMahon 39:30

So as someone who’s been in this industry for years and years, and you know, now you’re you’re leading initiatives like Sustainable Mobility Solutions, so you’re in a position to see a lot of activity, a lot of cutting edge things going on. Do you have any bold predictions about say evey charging infrastructure in five years or 10 years or any other aspect of the things we’ve been talking about today?

Frank Menchaca 39:49

I like to say to people, I’m out of the predictions business, you know, because because inevitably, you’re either too optimistic or, you know, I work with a group of people Bullet MIT. And one of the things so we study innovation, we study how businesses can really look to the future. And we generally speaking, don’t have a great track record, you know, an industry of being able to predict stuff. You know, I think there’s a few things that are certain. One thing is that we have a limited amount of time to do something impactful for the next generation. In terms of global warming, one of my co conspirators at MIT put it this way, what we do in the next seven years, will help to determine the next 100. And that’s may not be my own particular lifetime, but that’s the lifetime of my children and if I ever have them grandchildren, so I don’t make predictions. But I know for sure that we have to operate with a sense of planful urgency, in this area of sustainability, we really have to act. Now, in order to be able to have any hope of safeguarding future generations from from really, really devastating climate change. You know, there’s lots of predictions, there’s lots of models that you can follow that say, you know, well, we’ll be at three degrees of warming by 2050, or four degrees of warming by 20 2050. I, I think there are many variables that go into that what I am certain of is that we have to be thorough and planful and urgent in order to help industry get through this transition now.

Evan Milberg 41:32

Excellent. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. Frank. I think that’s a perfect little bow on everything we’ve been talking about today from the state of EVs to air transportation to everything in between. So thank you very much.

Frank Menchaca 41:47

Thank you. Thanks for having me. It was a great pleasure.

Sean McMahon 41:56

All right. Well, that’s our show for today. The inaugural episode of the sustainability smart pod is in the books. We hope you enjoyed it. Be sure to like, follow or subscribe to this show on your favorite podcast platform. You can also follow us on Twitter, where our handle is @SustainabilitySmartPod. And if you want sustainability news delivered to your inbox every day. Click on the link in the show notes to subscribe to the Smartbrief on Sustainability newsletter. I’m Sean McMahon. And on behalf of Karen Evan and Jaan, thank you for listening to our show.