Finding Solutions for Sustainable Mobility

SAE created its SMS team to help industry rethink itself as part of the new industrial revolution and the EV transition within it.

The SMS team leverages SAE International’s proven tools – respected industry-wide convening, standardization, professional development – along with new assets such as data management and analytics.

SAE International has established a new, dedicated practice aimed at helping the transportation industry become truly sustainable, as OEMs and suppliers in automotive, aerospace and commercial vehicles work to meet net-zero climate goals. And the 118-year-old organization created its new group, SAE Sustainable Mobility Solutions (SMS), in a radical way.

“I resigned from my previous job — gave up my duties — then hired on as first employee of the new group,” explained SMS president Frank Menchaca, formerly SAE’s chief growth officer. An unconventional thinker with MIT training in sustainability and free-jazz guitarist and composer, Menchaca defines sustainability as “the convergence of many different systems — the vehicle, the entire manufacturing process, materials, the infrastructure, communications and regulations. We have to look at the constituent units of the entire industry in order to make it sustainable. And that goes beyond the electric vehicle.”

Sustainability, he asserted, “is helping industry to rethink itself as part of the next industrial revolution, which I firmly believe we’re in the midst of.”

A springboard for launching SMS was SAE’s decades-long work across the Electrification space. Creating the J1772 standard for ubiquitous EV charging expanded SAE’s involvement beyond the vehicle  into the critical areas of infrastructure and energy.

“We thought that it’s important for SAE to look at the bigger picture; in fact, we were being asked by our stakeholders to take a bigger role in this,” Menchaca noted. As the focus on, and funding of, global electrification efforts skyrocketed, “that catalyzed a lot of activity,” he said.

SMS was born with a mission to “germinate, incubate, develop and socialize” new initiatives — putting traction underneath them before they’re handed off to other organizations to fully augment. Within SAE, the nascent SMS group is considered an “innovation unit.” The motivated team leverages SAE’s proven tools — respected industry-wide convening, standardization, professional development — along with new assets such as data management and analytics.

“We bring those tools to bear on a very defined set of problems and challenges related to sustainability,” Menchaca explained. Think of SMS as a group that plugs in wherever there is a solution to be created.”

One of the ‘biggest opportunities’

Frank Menchaca leads SAE’s new SMS ‘innovation unit.’

Since its official launch in late 2022, SMS has put a string of collaborative initiatives, many focused on professional knowledge and technical training, into motion with industry partners and SAE affiliates. Practical deliverables that SMS is engaged on include contributing to a national electric vehicle charging experience consortium that’s being set up with the U.S. national labs and the joint office of the U.S. departments of Energy and Transportation (sidebar). Having endured the widely criticized, sketchy public charging network as an EV owner himself, Menchaca is an activist for an effective series of standards , now in development, related to improving charging reliability.

Professional Development for all facets of the EV ecosystem “is maybe one of the biggest opportunities, and challenges, we [industry] face in sustainability,” Menchaca asserted. “Finding, training and enabling people to do the new work of the industry is, I think, one of the biggest things in front of us.” He cited as an example the estimated 300,000 new jobs that experts believe will be needed to generate lithium-ion EV batteries in the U.S. “About 25 percent of those people can be retrained from ICE work; maybe another 10-15 percent can come from associated industries,” he noted. “The rest are going to have to be found and trained.”

It’s a significant opportunity for people who are interested in green-tech jobs, which are emerging faster than they can be filled. For employers desperately in need of training support in their “human infrastructure,” help is available from the SMS, Menchaca noted.

For example, the acute need for technicians in the EV-charging field prompted SMS and the SAE affiliate Probitas Authentication (part of SAE’s Industry Technologies Consortium-ITC) to create a certification program for technicians. Service techs who complete training courses at specialist firms such as ChargerHelp! then take the SAE exam. Those who complete it are certified by SAE as possessing the requisite skills and competencies required to do EVSE maintenance, operations and diagnostic work. In the future, SAE may develop its own professional-development courses in this growing area.

There will be long-term demand for filling the EV, battery and electric-grid technology jobs. It’s important, Menchaca said, to prepare not only the current generation of workers but also their successors. “We have to embed interest, enthusiasm, and an understanding of the opportunities at a much earlier age,” he said. “So, SMS fits beautifully with SAE’s long history of programs like A World in Motion [AWIM],” which teach the basics of movement and transportation to children as young as kindergarten age.

“I think we’re at an inflection point, as a culture and a country,” he observed. “We need the next generation of workers that are going to go into these roles to see STEM jobs as a reality for themselves. The way children see themselves, many of them don’t have a sense that they can actually go out and get these [green tech] jobs. Exposure to the importance of STEM-oriented work in secondary schools also is hugely important. SAE has been doing that for a long time and we need to continue doing it.”

Battery harmonization

Sustainability is an international initiative for SAE. In early April, the SMS team and SAE’s ITC engaged with the U.S. DoE and the European Commission to form a working group for contributing to the EU’s recently launched Battery Passport. Conceived by the Global Battery Alliance in 2019, Battery Passport is a multi-stakeholder collaboration across the battery value chain. It is aimed at establishing key sustainability performance indicators related to the battery carbon footprint and child labor and human rights due diligence, as set out in the Greenhouse Gas rulebook and the Child Labor and Human Rights indices. Sharing this data with OEMs will enable them “to make more informed purchasing decisions and drive sustainable sourcing, processing and manufacturing practices in the industry in the future,” the GBA said in a release.

“Because SAE is a neutral organization and we think on a global level, we’re looking for ways to harmonize that [the Battery Passport] with the rest of the world because countries and regions have different regulations and requirements,” he said. “Industry operates slightly differently. But that doesn’t mean we can’t leverage work that’s going on in other areas into the U.S. and into the rest of the world.”

Industry’s reaction to SAE’s new Sustainable Mobility Solutions venture has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Menchaca. “We have found industry willing and open to working with us in a collaborative way. For example, a dozen companies gave their time on a voluntary basis to work with us on the technical study of EV charging reliability. They are very much in tune with the directions we’re taking – we’re taking a lot of cues in that direction from industry. We’re in a constant dialogue.”

Menchaca’s vision for SMS in the near term includes mapping of new industrial processes aimed at making the transportation sector more sustainable. One is embedding the full battery lifecycle part into engineers’ design and development work. Another aspiration is the design and deployment of “a very reliable EV charging system” in the U.S. And Menchaca concedes that sustainability extends beyond the batteries-and-EVs realm. It includes emerging concerns such as water use in semiconductor manufacturing and lithium processing, and sourcing truly recyclable plastics in vehicles.

“We have to think holistically;. sustainability is not one process or sector,” he said. “I’d love to see sustainability embedded in every business unit within SAE, all pointed to one direction: to help the transportation industry on its journey to net-zero emissions.”