undisclosed transport expert's Interview

undisclosed transport expert, Automotive company, Germany
Mini CV

The expert is a futurist working in the automotive industry. He was keen to contribute to the iKnow project but due to corporate privacy policy his/her name and institutional affiliation remain undisclosed.

Interview result

Can you envision major wild cards in the transport sector that may occur in the next 20 years?

Yes. First, some wild cards which do not directly originate from the transport sector, but which might have a great impact on transport and mobility if they emerge among other sectors. Such wild cards include:
o    War over resources in the Arctic
o    War between Iran and the USA
o    War between North Korea and the USA
o    Oil traded in Yuan instead of US dollars
o    CO as a traded source for producing goods 2
o    China holds back important resources like rare earth materials. Secondly I can suggest three essential wild cards, which originate from the transport sector. These wild cards include
o    Breakthrough in artificial photosynthesis - synthetic biofuels made from algae
o    Breakthrough in battery technology o    China kicks out Western cooperation partners after becoming
capable of producing needed technologies itself

What could be the man impacts of the wild card "Breakthrough in artificial photosynthesis"?

If this wild card emerged, there would be both winners and losers. Losers would be mainly automobile manufacturers, which currently focus on alternative propulsion technologies, such as electric drive or fuel cell technology. The economic production of effective synthetic bio fuels could lead to significant sunk costs at automotive R&D, focusing on electrification and fuel cell technologies. And it could lead to big losses for the oil industry. The major winners might be companies in the biochemical industry and hydrogen production companies. Finally, this wild card could lead to a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, as it enables CO2 neutral transport and might even lead to CO2 neutral energy production.

What are the weak signals that (if detected) could hint at a growing likelihood (or imminent realization) of the wild card "breakthrough in artificial photosynthesis"?

Today, large enterprises such as BP and Shell invest huge amounts of money on R&D in synthetic biofuels from algae. There is currently much venture capital flowing into this research area, particularly the breeding and treatment of different algae types. Additionally, the famous biochemist Craig Venter is active in financing projects aimed at creating algae. Another weak signal might be the National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap from the US Department of Energy. One the most important signals, might be that big airlines such as Lufthansa invest large amounts and experiment in the usage of synthetic biofuels from algae for aircraft propulsion. Thus a breakthrough in this technology might be first realized in aviation.

Can you identify any causal relationships between the wild cards and weak signals you mentioned above?

The objective of R&D on synthetic biofuels made from algae is to foster the transition into post-fossil-fuel mobility. This transition links the challenges of resource shortages (which can be expressed by the wild card "war on resources in the Arctic", among others) / peak oil and climate change.

Looking ahead to the future of European research - how and in which research area should the wild card "breakthrough in artificial photosynthesis" be addressed?

In general it could be addressed by holistic research on post-fossil- fuel mobility and in particular by research on genetically modified organisms. Along with this, approval procedures of GMO might have to be loosened in order to foster the usage of synthetic biofuels made by genetically modified algae in all areas of transport. Current approval procedures in the EU might be an enormous obstacle for the transition into post-fossil-fuel mobility based on effective synthetic biofuels

Interviewer (Institution)

Z_punkt is a consulting firm focusing on strategic future issues. We are experts in Corporate Foresight, i.e. in translating trend and future research into the real world of strategic management. We have been supporting the business community with Foresight Research and Foresight Consulting Services since 1997.

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