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A Journey there and back again – Can lessons be learnt and money made from the failures of the past?

Wed, 07 October 2015

Contributed by Dr Amrit S. Chandan, Technical Specialist at Cenex
Change is all around us! Fortunes are made and lost. What was once accepted as status quo is no longer a safe bet. For example, within the automotive field, Chrysler and General Motors both went bankrupt in 2009. On the other hand, it is exciting watching Tesla Motors who appear to be giving the automotive old-hands a run for their money. We’re living in uncertain times and it’s exhilarating. 

Opportunities for innovators and thinkers are rife and ready for the taking. The real questions are, can you spot the opportunity that others may have missed? Do you have what it takes to bring this opportunity to market?  
There is no doubt we’re beyond peak oil, thus we require smarter solutions within the automotive sector – which is worth ca. £7 billion to the UK economy (BIS Economics Paper No. 18, “Industrial Strategy: UK Sector Analysis”, September 2012). Companies must innovate to stay ahead of the curve. History is littered with people and companies that failed to recognise when they had an opportunity to change with the times. A good example is the introduction of steamship technology. In 1845, a sailing ship cost $16,500 and a steamship cost $117,000 (“Disruptive Innovations: the case for hydrogen fuel cells and battery electric vehicles”, 2013). At the time, steamships were vastly more expensive, had higher fuel costs and were slower than the incumbent technology. In the words of Napoleon:
"You would make a ship sail against the winds and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I have no time for such nonsense."

Yet, the steamship won out. Why was this the case? The steamship had added value over the incumbent sailing ship technology, namely, its larger size, higher carrying capacity and its independence of wind speed. Interestingly, these added values are not always anticipated and can often be emotional values, such as prestige and lifestyle values that the new technology offers. It could be said that the market is driving the innovation within companies. 
So how does this relate to modern technology? Well, there are several new technologies which could bring about this stepwise, disruptive change – for example fuel cells. Fuel cells are power generation devices that are currently more expensive, less reliable and less durable than incumbent engine technology. The key advantage they have is lower emissions and can often provide benefits aside from power generation. For instance, the fuel cell uses oxygen from air, thus the air coming out of the fuel cell is oxygen depleted – this is of great interest for datacentres. Not only can datacentres use fuel cells to generate clean uninterruptable power, they can prevent fires from starting by flooding their server rooms with oxygen depleted air, replacing the need for backup power and fire prevention systems (“Fuel cell added value for early market applications”, 2015). One must find the added value to find ways of entering the market!
The key message here for entrepreneurs looking at the wider mobility sector is to not be constrained in your idea generation, have a good think about the added value your idea has over incumbent technology and above all else to persevere with your idea! Good luck!
About Dr Amrit S. Chandan (Technical Specialist at Cenex)
Amrit is an engineer in the field of Hydrogen Fuel Cells, specialising in low temperature fuel cells. 
At Cenex, Amrit is working on hydrogen projects in his capacity as a Technical Specialist in Low Carbon Vehicles whilst also providing technical support to the range of Cenex programmes and low carbon vehicle demonstration trials.
Amrit completed his PhD in 2015 and prior to joining Cenex, ran his own bespoke market research consultancy and was named Business Quarterly’s Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 for the West Midlands region. Amrit was also part of the student team from the University of Birmingham that won joint first prize in the International Hydrogen Student Design Contest, which involved planning the deployment of hydrogen infrastructure across the East Coast of the USA.
You can follow Amrit on Twitter @Amrit_Chandan
Find out more about Cenex or follow them on Twitter.

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