Posted on November 26th, 2008 No comments
Hmmm, I wonder why moving the Michigan Representative out and the California Representative in would be bad for the car industry and great for alt vehicles?
Well, no I don’t.
Waxman Will Be Good for Cleantech, Industry Insiders Say
Written by Jennifer Kho
Cleantech industry insiders are hailing the selection of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee as a win for the environment.
In a secret ballot, the House of Representatives on Thursday voted 137-122 for Waxman to replace former chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.). It’s the latest event in a long-standing rivalry between the two men, according to the Associated Press.
“The champion of the environment has replaced the champion of the automotive industry,” Daniel Becker, an environmental lawyer and director of the Safe Climate Campaign in Washington, told Bloomberg.
It’s not hard to see why environmentalists would favor Waxman.
As the head of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Waxman has taken a strong stance in favor of global warming legislation. Under his leadership, the environment has clearly been at the top of the committee’s agenda, with only one out of 50 announcements released this year not directly related to an environmental issue – and that was a report in March that found that the Environmental Protection Agency had been unjustified in its closure of several libraries.
Among other things, Waxman has been leading an investigation into the EPA’s “faltering enforcement” of the Clean Water Act, as an August news release from the committee put it, and also has been front and center in the battle to convince the EPA to allow California to enforce stricter vehicle-emission standards.
The fight between the EPA and California began in 2002, when the state passed a law to cut vehicle emissions 30 percent by 2016. The federal Clean Air Act allows for the state to set its own standards – although it needs a waiver from the agency – and for other states to choose whether to follow the national standards or the Golden State’s.
As of December, 16 other states – together making up some 45 percent of U.S. auto sales – had been considering adopting California’s standard. But after a volley of lawsuits, the agency that month finally ruled on the waiver – and denied it.
In a letter opposing the decision, Waxman wrote: “Your decision appears to have ignored the evidence before the agency and the requirements of the Clean Air Act.” He followed up in January with a request to interview seven high-level EPA staffers to find out why the agency had denied the waiver, and in April subpoenaed documents involving the decision.
All this makes Waxman a likely champion for green transportation companies and advocates. Felix Kramer, founder of plug-in hybrid advocacy group CalCars.org, commended the House’s decision in a mass e-mail Friday. “Since 1981, whenever the Democrats have had a House majority, it’s been chaired by Rep. John Dingell, 82, the longest-serving member of Congress,” he wrote. “It’s hard to overstate the impact this will have on prospects for climate-change legislation.”
While Dingell was responsible for landmark health, labor, social welfare and environmental legislation, Kramer added, he has for decades “blocked most proposals that the auto industry opposed, including measures on fuel efficiency and climate change.”
Still, not everyone’s happy with the change. Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, told Bloomberg the win creates “about as hostile a climate as there could possibly be” for energy producers.
Posted on November 3rd, 2008 No comments
Neil Young on gas guzzlers: Long may you run
Al Saracevic, Chronicle Staff Writer
Leave it to Neil Young to make green technology cool.
The rock legend has created a company called Linc Volt Technology to promote the conversion of existing gas-guzzling cars into vehicles that run on alternative energy.
But we’re not talking about boxy little e-cars here. Young, who likes his cars old and big, is launching his effort by converting a 1959 Lincoln Continental to run on electricity and natural gas. He’ll be at Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce conference at Moscone Center this morning to show off his ride.
All 5,000 pounds of it.
For Young, the chance to promote car conversions is much more crusade than career. After 40 years of cranking out soulful ballads and raw classics, the Bay Area resident certainly isn’t in it for the money. His dream is to inspire people to repower or retrofit their existing cars, increasing fuel efficiency and reducing the world’s manufacturing footprint in the process.
His interest comes at a time when the whole world is looking at ways to reduce reliance on oil, for both economic reasons and as a means to combat global warming.
“All we’re doing is showing that you can run a car like this at 100 miles per gallon or more,” said Young, standing next to the cream-colored beauty at a South San Francisco auto shop. “Our main focus is on developing the technology. We can tell people how to do it. Or, we can do it for you.”
A car to write songs about
Young bought his Lincoln in the East Bay “about 15 years ago, after it had been in a domestic dispute. The guy’s wife had poured hydraulic fluid all over it.”
Ruined paint job and all, Young found himself behind the wheel of a 1959 Lincoln Continental Mark IV convertible. At 2 1/2 tons and 19 1/2 feet long, it was the longest car built in its era. And let’s just say its original gas mileage was best measured in feet rather than miles. But it is the kind of car you could write songs about. Long lines, sturdy carriage and flat-out huge.
The car’s conversion to a green machine started about a year ago when Young was feeling guilty about driving his oil-burning behemoth. He’d already converted two of his other cars, a Mercedes and a Hummer, to run on used vegetable oil. And that was his plan for the Lincoln.
He approached a Wichita, Kan., entrepreneur named Johnathan Goodwin and his company, H-Line Conversions, to do the job. But once he got to talking with Goodwin, he became convinced that there might be an even better solution.
H-Line had pioneered a new type of alternative-energy engine that makes a car run on a variety of fuel platforms. Here’s how it works in a nutshell: For short runs, a car can be plugged in, charged and then run strictly on electricity using a rotary engine and its batteries. For longer hauls, there’s also a generator in the car that runs on compressed natural gas. When electricity runs short, the generator kicks in and refuels the batteries. To make matters even more interesting, the car’s generator will actually feed electricity back into your home when it’s parked and plugged in in the garage.
“It’s a power generator,” Young said. “This thing can power up about a third of a city block. It’ll make your meter run backward.”
It didn’t take long for Young to commit to a full-scale conversion of his Lincoln using Goodwin’s methods. As the project progressed, Young decided to make a documentary about the project, and he and Goodwin decided to go into business together to get other folks involved.
The company’s first goal is to win the $10 million Automotive X Prize being offered by Progressive Insurance. To do so, they have to build a clean, production-capable vehicle that exceeds the alternative fuel equivalent of 100 miles per gallon of gas.
Stars lend support to cause
Goodwin, who is well known in the conversion game and had even converted one of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s trucks to electric, has nothing but good things to say about his new business partner.
“There’s always a benefit to having someone who is famous involved,” said Goodwin, whose refurbished cars cost drivers about 5 cents per mile to run as opposed to about 13 cents per mile for standard vehicles. “It always helps. It’s great to see these kinds of people stepping up to promote change.”
The two entrepreneurs will be taking the stage at the Dreamforce conference today to unveil the newly tricked-out Lincoln and preach the conversion message.
Salesforce.com Chief Executive Officer Marc Benioff, a friend of Young’s, has stepped in to support the project, offering the young company a raft of technology support, including a Web site that tracks the Lincoln’s mileage and whereabouts online via a wireless feed built into the car.
“I’m going to be their first customer,” said Benioff, whose company’s new software technology is handling business processes for Linc Volt. “I want to convert my Ford F-150. The boutique cars are fantastic, but I want a truck.”
A customer such as Benioff could expect to pay from $10,000 to upward of $100,000 for a conversion, depending on the car and the extent of the modification.
Young and Goodwin aren’t the only people championing the idea of conversions. Electric car retrofits have been around since the 1970s, and the idea is gaining ground in the current green business environment.
Last summer, at a plug-in car conference in San Jose, Andy Grove, former CEO of computer chipmaker Intel Corp., suggested a government program to retrofit existing trucks and sport utility vehicles with plug-in technology.
Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars.org, a nonprofit advocacy and technology demonstration group based in Palo Alto, is all ears.
“These are the only cars that get cleaner as they get older,” Kramer said.
Young has a simpler reason for loving the idea. His ’59 Lincoln is better than ever.
“It’s just a lot faster. A lot healthier,” said Young, staring at the refurbished classic. “It went from being a hog to being a swan.”
So you want to go green? Here are two sites that can help you get started.
Linc Volt – www.lincvolt.com
CalCars – www.calcars.org
E-mail Al Saracevic at email@example.com.
Posted on October 3rd, 2008 No comments
Gas Guzzlers: Crush ‘Em or Convert ‘Em?
By Felix Kramer & Ron Gremban
Economic analysis of proposal to convert large, gas-guzzlers to partial-electric drive
Introduction by Felix Kramer, CalCars Founder
Analysis by Ron Gremban, CalCars Technical Lead
CalCars and Andy Grove have been proposing a major focus on converting “PSVs” (large internal combustion engine gas guzzling Pickups, SUVs and Vans) so they run partially on electricity. http://www.calcars.org/ice-conversions.html Here we address some of the key non-economic issues in doing so. This analysis starts off pretty simply, and gets to some important numbers in the summary. If you get the first half, don’t worry if you decide to skip the technical details in the second half.
Many people agree it’s a good idea but are not sure it’s practical. They ask questions including, “Can there be a business case? Is it realistic to imagine converting millions of vehicles in less than five years? Can the retrofit infrastructure and component supply chain (batteries/motors) scale up rapidly enough?” Part of the answer to these questions involves whether we are operating with the same urgency and can muster the national will we had in 1943, when we stopped building cars and trucks to tanks and planes — and after auto industry leaders told FDR they couldn’t build 30,000 planes in one year, they built 120,000.
Many people also say — and we fully agree — that it’s important to get incentives and disincentives right. And we need new advertising messages, and short-term rental deals, so these large vehicles are purchased and used by people who really need them — not by those who own a big vehicle they use only occasionally to tow a boat, fill with gear, or go off-road.
When we explain that today’s PSVs stay on the road for several decades (10-15 years in US, another 10-20 when resold internationally) we often hear the suggestion, from those who see plug-in cars coming within the next five years, “why not just crush the gas-guzzlers and replace them with new large efficient PHEVs?”
Many states have “cash for clunkers” programs, but they are limited in scope. Significant expansion of these programs will have unintended consequences in distorting the resale market, nationally and internationally (as thoughtfully discussed at Freakonomics: http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/08/08/no-cash-for-clunkers/ .) Of course, we do want carmakers to mass-produce new PHEV PSVs. But many of the same scaling issues apply: can carmakers build enough of them fast enough to reduce petroleum use and thereby improve our prospects on energy security and climate change? That brings us back to our original idea: quickly start to retrofit the fleet, starting with many of the 80 million PSVs in the U.S.
Even if it were possible to crush and replace many of these cars, there is one important underlying question that we haven’t been able to answer until now. We haven’t known how much energy it takes to build a car, and how much you’re thereby throwing away when you crush an old car that operates perfectly well and could be converted into a PHEV PSV.
Now CalCars’ Technology Lead Ron Gremban has investigated that question and come up with some answers. We hope you will help distribute this message widely, and that some of you will continue the effort we’ve begun in developing this model, including the spreadsheet mentioned below that’s available at http://www.calcars.org/calcars-crush-or-convert-icevehicles-080930.xls .
NOTE: This document does NOT address economic costs and payback — only energy and CO2, which are entirely independent of economic incentives and other policy or business issues!
Posted on September 29th, 2008 No comments
Converted car not running on empty
The enhanced Toyota Prius gets nearly 140 mpg by combining multiple technologies.
By Duncan Adams
Stan Breakell logs the performance of the modified Toyota Prius outside his office Thursday in Roanoke. The car boasts average fuel efficiency of 137 mpg.
Stan Breakell motors by gas stations, smiles and keeps rolling.
His converted 2006 Toyota Prius totes components not found in the hybrid’s factory models. Added features include an electric plug-in cord in the trunk and a supplemental battery array in the spare tire well.
A performance log maintained by Breakell shows that his “plug-in hybrid electric vehicle” averages about 137 miles per gallon in around-town driving.
But won’t charging the Prius’ add-on batteries increase demand on the power grid and, ironically, create the potential for even more coal-fired power plants?
Breakell plugs in the vehicle after 8 p.m. when demand for power is lower. He has signed up for a time-of-day rate plan with Appalachian Power that should offer access to a lower, off-peak rate. He estimates he will be able to charge the vehicle overnight, providing a range of 12 to 15 miles of all-electric operation, for about 18 cents.
The Prius has been altered and doesn’t even know it, Breakell said.
“This non-invasive modification essentially adds a much larger battery in the spare tire well and a computer controller that monitors the Prius’ electrical system,” he said. “It will connect and disconnect the add-on battery as needed, up to the point where the add-on battery is depleted and needs to be recharged.”
All the Prius’ normal systems “operate exactly the same,” he said. The car will switch to gasoline power beyond a certain speed, with sudden acceleration or when the battery is depleted. The conversion allows the car to travel farther in all-electric mode.
Ultimately, even though others have converted hybrids into plug-in vehicles, Breakell’s altered Prius could serve as one production prototype for an emerging industry, said Glenn Skutt, president of Blacksburg-based VPT Energy Systems.
Breakell’s car was the guinea pig for research and development conducted by VPT Energy Systems, a spinoff of VPT, a power electronics firm that sells power supplies for the military/aerospace and space markets.
Skutt and Jack Lesko, vice president of the spinoff, plan to join Breakell at a press conference today in Roanoke to introduce the converted Prius.
In an e-mail, Skutt said the company first connected with Breakell through a listserv focused on PHEV conversions and related conversations soon followed.
“We are working with Stan so that someday he will be able to integrate products we are developing for vehicles and buildings into his business as he pushes the envelope of [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] and sustainable building technologies,” Skutt said.
Breakell, 55, is president of general contractor Breakell Inc. of Roanoke. His company renovated the State and City Building downtown, the city’s first LEED certified building.
He has emerged as one of the region’s leaders, as advocate and contractor, in supporting “green,” or environmentally friendly, building and business practices.
His company’s fleet includes six Prius hybrids and he offers employees a $1,000 bonus if they purchase for personal use a hybrid vehicle promising at least 42 mpg.
Monday’s press conference will offer “a demonstration of what the technology is and a view of what the future looks like,” he said.
The public is invited.
Skutt said he believes the converted Prius is unique.
“Technically, I think it is one of the cleanest conversions I have seen that is very close to a produce-able product,” he said.
Breakell said the conversion’s technologies have been based on work by CalCars, a nonprofit group based in Palo Alto, Calif., promoting plug-in hybrids.
In an e-mail, Felix Kramer, CalCars’ founder, complimented VPT Energy Systems and Breakell’s efforts.
“VPT [Energy Systems] and Breakell are pioneering,” Kramer wrote.
“When people see that both can be cleaner and cheaper to operate using today’s technology and no new infrastructure, they start saying, ‘Why can’t we do more of this?’”
What’s in it for VPT Energy Systems?
At some point, the company might take a stab at a business that sells conversions.
“It is not necessarily our immediate goal, but we are very interested in seeing this technology develop and are very much trying to understand the market for conversions in this area,” Skutt said.
Breakell’s commitment to green causes takes him away frequently from his business.
Certainly, Breakell Inc. reaps positive and free publicity when some of those efforts receive news coverage. But does his absence from the helm also hurt the business?
Breakell said no.
“I think it’s the future. If you are not thinking about reshaping your business in the world of carbon caps and trades, then good luck to you. This is one of those times of great opportunity.”
For more information about VPT Energy Systems, go to: www.vpt-es.com/about.php. For more information about CalCars, go to: www.calcars.org.
Posted on September 24th, 2008 1 comment
Senate OKs $18B in Tax Credits
The bill, which still needs approval from the House, will provide multiyear tax credits for solar developments and rebates for consumers to buy plug-in hybrid electric cars.
by: Ucilia Wang
The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved about $18 billion of renewable-energy tax credits after repeated failed attempts to do so this year.
The 93-2 vote cleared a major hurdle for extending a set of tax credits for businesses and residents investing in renewable energy, from building and operating power plants to installing small wind turbines on residential properties.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have tried and failed numerous times this year to extend the tax incentives, which are set to expire at the end of 2008. The two houses have mainly disagreed about how to pay for the incentives.
Solar, wind and other renewable-energy investors and executives have been anxiously waiting on Congress to extend a set of investment-tax credits that would offset 30 percent of the cost of a solar or wind-farm project.
Some solar companies have said they wouldn’t be able to build more U.S. power plants without the investment-tax credits (see No Tax Credit, No Solar Power and PG&E to Buy 800MW from Optisolar, SunPower).
The bill will amend a House bill passed and sent to the Senate in May. In June, the Senate voted to stop the House bill, HR 6049, from advancing to the floor for a vote (see Senate Blocks Renewable Incentives Bill).
Because the Senate bill will change the House’s version of the bill, it will have to be approved by the House – and soon. Both the House and the Senate will adjourn this Friday. The White House said earlier Tuesday that it would support the bill.
“We know with certainty that the extension of these credits sends out a green ripple effect: solar projects on hold can now move forward, America creates new green-collar jobs with over 214,000 in California alone, and businesses and homeowners can count on lower energy bills in a time of economic hardship,” said Barry Cinnamon, CEO of Akeena Solar, in a statement.
The Senate bill would extend the investment tax credits for solar developments for eight years. Unlike the current tax-credit regulation, the bill would allow utilities to take advantage of the incentives.
The Senate proposal also includes production-tax credits for renewable-energy power plants that are already producing electricity. The legislation extends the production-tax break by one year for wind and by two years for solar, biomass and hydropower.
The bill would allow for $800 million worth of bonds to pay for power plants using wind, biomass, geothermal, garbage and other sources. It also would set aside $1.5 billion in tax credits for carbon capture-and-storage projects.
Consumers would receive a $2,500 to $7,500 rebate for buying plug-in electric cars and trucks.
Consumers who want to install solar panels on their properties would benefit from the bill, which extends investment-tax credits for eight years and eliminates today’s $2,000 cap on the credits. It would also allow homeowners installing small-wind equipment and geothermal heat pumps to take advantage of the credits, but the amounts would be capped at $4,000 for wind and $2,000 for the heat pumps.
The tax credits would be paid for by several means, including delaying tax deductions for domestic oil and gas productions by American companies and boosting reporting requirements for stock sales by brokers.
The $7,500 tax credit for plug-in hybrids gave cheer to Felix Kramer, co-founder of CalCars.org, which promotes plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles.
“This will have an enormous impact,” he said. Given his estimates that automakers could make current hybrids into plug-in hybrids for an additional $3,000 to $5,000, the tax credits “could conceivably entirely remove the cost increment that carmakers say is the cause of their reluctance” to build plug-in hybrids.
Posted on August 12th, 2008 No comments
In recent years, the State of California has become the unofficial capital of plug-in hybrid technology. But proposed certification standards from the California Air Resource Board (CARB) could create an obstacle for small companies selling plug-in hybrid conversion kits. The kits—which allow owners of today’s hybrids to boost their fuel economy to as much as 100 mpg or higher—could have unintended negative consequences, according to CARB. Tests of some plug-in hybrid conversions at the Argonne National Laboratory revealed increased levels of air pollution. Apparently, changing a hybrid’s battery control system can also alter the vehicle’s electronic emissions system.
CARB officials want to see additional testing and to require consumer warranties for the kits—regardless of the cost. The agency currently requires that aftermarket parts affecting a vehicle’s emissions meet high standards, but no certification process has been established for plug-in hybrid conversion kits.
Consumer demand for plug-in hybrids is rapidly climbing. Major auto companies like GM, Ford, Daimler, and Toyota say their plug-ins are coming, but not for at least a couple of years. Plug-in conversions of today’s hybrids could fill the gap.
The proposed regulations (PDF) would require conversion companies to a follow a test regimen similar in scale to those followed by automakers for new vehicles. They would also force manufacturers of plug-in conversion equipment to provide warranties of seven to 10 years.
The work of plug-in cheerleaders and kit manufacturers has been a key factor in inspiring—or prodding, depending on your view—major car companies to pursue plug-in hybrids. But rules designed for the big car companies to bring a vehicle to a mass market may end up preventing these small conversion companies from putting the first wave of plug-in hybrids on the road.
“Let’s take this step by step and not shut down the small innovators,” said Ron Gremban, technical lead at CalCars, the most prominent plug-in hybrid advocacy group. “Conversions, when sold in significant quantities, will need to prove in some way that they do not increase criteria emissions. But in order to avoid a high cost of entry that would prevent small, innovative, shoestring-budget operations from starting out, there is high value in tolerating small quantities of conversions with lower-level oversight.” He argues that for small volumes—fewer than 1,000 units per year—the stringent criteria proposed by CARB should not be required.
“Why throw the baby out with the bathwater?” said Daniel Sherwood, president of 3Prong Power Inc., a plug-in hybrid conversion startup based in Berkeley, California. In an interview with HybridCars.com, Sherwood said, “A few hundred cars, even if not optimally designed to contain evaporative emissions, won’t have a measurable effect on air quality. Let’s not make California the only state in the nation where you can’t buy a plug-in car because of over-regulation.”
Two other points of contention with the CARB proposal are the standardization of a Yazaki charging coupler (PDF) and a maximum four-hour charging time. Plug-in advocates say the specification of one manufacturer is too narrow and does not allow for future developments, while the four-hour charging rule actually runs counter to the typical overnight charging plan for most plug-ins. In other words, it could keep plug-in hybrids from utilizing the simplest source of electricity—a standard wall outlet.
While these environmental and consumer protections may make sense in the long run, many plug-in advocates worry that the tough rules could kill an embryonic industry. Their push back was strong enough that CARB delayed consideration of the new rules from October to December of this year. In the meantime, anyone considering converting a Prius may have a limited window of opportunity to get the work done in California.
Posted on July 31st, 2008 No comments
Here is a cool map on Felix Kramer’s CalCars site. It maps out the location of all currently known plug-in cars (most of which are Prii). I’m impressed that they list over 100. Last I heard there were about twenty or thirty vehicles and that was not that long ago.
Cheers to Felix and his crew for putting this up. It’s cool.
Posted on July 26th, 2008 No comments
County looks to become electric car-friendly
Kurtis Alexander – Sentinel Staff Writer
Your stop for gas and a candy bar could soon give way to an occasional shot of electricity. At least that’s the thinking of a panel of county-appointed environmental leaders who see electric cars in our not-too-distant future.
Planning for a network of vehicle charging stations is one of the projects that the county Commission on the Environment is considering as part of its charge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“We know that the technology is coming forward. Let’s start supporting the infrastructure so we can be ready,” said commission chair Virginia Johnson.
Only about a dozen or so county residents own electric cars, and just a handful of public charging stations are in place locally. But with gas prices reaching record highs and auto companies pledging to have better electric models available soon, many think a new market is emerging.
“It’s going to happen,” said Felix Kramer, founder of Palo-Alto based Calcars.org, a group that’s promoting what many see as the most promising type of electric car yet — the plug-in hybrid.
Unlike electric cars that rely entirely on battery-power, the plug-in hybrid is similar to a Toyota Prius in that it has an internal combustion engine and can run on gasoline but also has additional battery power to run solely on electricity.
General Motors plans to introduce a plug-in hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt, in 2010, and other major automakers have indicated they plan to build similar cars.
These and older electric models can be charged overnight in an owner’s garage or, when driven farther from home, at private or public plug-in stations.
Santa Cruz County’s desire to become hospitable to the electric car comes after leaders with the county and city of Santa Cruz and UC Santa Cruz agreed last year to work collectively to reduce the region’s greenhouse gas emissions. A handful of other carbon-reducing projects are also on the table.
The three parties agree that a foray into the electric auto market is not only a good idea, but a relatively simple one.
“The technology is already there, and the infrastructure is not that costly,” said Ross Clark, global warming coordinator for the city of Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz already hosts two charging stations, in the Soquel Avenue parking garage and at City Hall, and promotes the use of electric vehicles by offering owners free parking downtown.
Ross says money to expand incentives, as well as the infrastructure for electric car, is available through grants.
The city, the county and UC Santa Cruz expect to decide in coming months whether to collaborate on a study and work with the community on designing charging stations.
Ken Adelman, a longtime electric car owner and member of the Commission on the Environment, acknowledges the challenges in developing an electric car infrastructure locally.
Some of the issues he speaks of: securing real estate for charge-in stations, figuring out how to get sufficient electricity to these sites and making sure the chargers are compatible with the evolving and different technologies.
The city of San Jose recently pushed through some of the obstacles, striking a deal with a Silicon Valley company to install vehicle chargers there.
“It’d be great to have this [in Santa Cruz, too] for people coming across the hill,” said Kramer.
Contact Kurtis Alexander at 706-3267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on July 22nd, 2008 No comments
I guess it is now if you count 2010 or later as “now” (which I don’t).
Future is nearly now for plug-in hybrids
By Matt Nauman
Checking out plug-in hybrids
When hundreds of experts gather in San Jose this week for the country’s first and biggest plug-in hybrid conference, the tone of the gathering will reveal a dramatic change.
Automakers, utility representatives and policy-makers will be talking when, not if, at Plug-in 2008.
Asked whether plug-in hybrids, also known as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, are inevitable as production vehicles, Mark Duvall of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto answered with cautious optimism that sounded more optimistic than guarded.
“I would never say 100 percent until I can kick the tires myself, but I’m as optimistic as I’ve even been in 15 or so years with this subject,” Duvall said.
Like traditional hybrids, a plug-in hybrid has both batteries and a gasoline engine, and can operate on either or both. Unlike traditional hybrids, plug-ins have larger battery packs and a plug that allows for household charging, meaning they can travel much farther on electricity. And while a hybrid such as the Prius can only go a few miles at low speeds solely on electricity, plug-in advocates envision vehicles with 20 to 40 miles of battery-only transportation range.
Duvall is one of the speakers at Plug-in 2008, which runs today through Thursday at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, and is organized by a host of supporters, including the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Pacific Gas & Electric and EPRI. The event isn’t open to the public but does include a public session Tuesday night.
Representatives from General Motors, Toyota and Ford will be on hand. So will officials from PG&E and Southern California Edison; battery-makers; government researchers; and plug-in advocates.
And former Intel Chief Executive and Chairman Andy Grove, who writes and speaks publicly about his fondness for plug-ins, which he calls dual-fuel cars, will give the keynote address Tuesday.
It’s an important topic in Silicon Valley, one of the largest markets for the Toyota Prius, the best-selling hybrid and a poster child for those embracing green living.
“We’re a very receptive market for new technologies that can make a substantial difference regarding climate change,” said Laura Stuchinsky, who also will speak at the conference. Until recently, she headed up the Silicon Valley Leadership Group push to promote production of plug-in hybrids. She’s now the sustainability officer for the city of San Jose’s transportation department.
At this point, the consensus is that GM and Toyota will be offering plug-in hybrids by late 2010 or early 2011. Other automakers are expected to follow.
Media reports suggest that GM will unveil a production version of its Chevrolet Volt, which it describes as a range-extended electric car, as soon as September. The Detroit automaker says the Volt will have a small gasoline engine to extend the range of the vehicle’s lithium-ion battery pack. It also says it can be charged via a 110-volt plug.
Meanwhile, Toyota is currently testing plug-in versions of the Prius in France, Japan and the United States. About a half-dozen of the cars are being evaluated at Toyota’s U.S. headquarters in Torrance as well as by researchers at the University of California campuses in Berkeley and Irvine, said Jaycie Chitwood, senior strategic planner for Toyota’s advanced technology vehicle group.
Those who have driven the car have had positive reactions, Chitwood said, although they question why the vehicle can only travel seven miles on electricity. The car’s next-generation battery will improve on that, she said.
“It’s very smooth, seamless,” Chitwood said. “You feel like you’re driving a Prius plus.”
But with the increasing hype about the potential of plug-ins, Toyota feels the need to reign in expectations a bit, she said. “We want to make sure people understand what plug-ins are, and what they aren’t,” she said. “We still believe that hybrids will be our core technology going forward.”
If Felix Kramer has anything to do with it, plug-ins will be a way of life. Kramer founded the California Car Initiative, better known for its Web URL, CalCars.org, to promote plug-in hybrids. Based in Palo Alto, Kramer drives a converted Prius emblazoned with “100+ MPG” on its sides. The movement toward the vehicles has reached “a consolidation moment,” Kramer said.
From 2010 to 2012, he expects to see an increasing number of plug-in hybrids from big car companies on the road. “The carmakers are in a race,” Kramer said.
“All the important constituents agree this is a good idea, and they’re trying to figure out how to make it happen on a large scale and rapidly.”
Contact Matt Nauman at email@example.com or (408) 920-5701.
Posted on July 19th, 2008 No comments
Can plug-in hybrids ride to America’s rescue?
The engineer behind many electric-car advances says oil’s days may be numbered.
By Mark Clayton | Staff Writer for The Christian Science Monitor
If the United States breaks its oil addiction, a measure of thanks will no doubt be due to Andy Frank, who some have dubbed the “father of the plug-in hybrid” car.
Laboring in near anonymity in his garage-style laboratory on a leafy byway of the University of California at Davis campus, Dr. Frank has for three decades focused on developing plug-in-hybrid technology. With his students, he has built nine plug-in vehicles since the 1990s, winning several vehicle contests sponsored by the Department of Energy and automotive companies.
Even so, Detroit showed little interest in the idea of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) – until recently. With $4-a-gallon gasoline killing SUV sales, big automakers like General Motors, Ford, and Toyota have begun to talk about a future with plug-in hybrids – or even futuristic fuel-cell cars – instead of SUVs.
Plug-in hybrids go much farther on a single charge than an ordinary hybrid. Some converted Toyota Prius plug-ins get the energy equivalent of 100 miles (or more) per gallon and travel nearly 40 miles on electricity alone before a gasoline engine kicks in for longer trips. With their hefty battery packs, such hybrids can be plugged into a socket in the evening for a charge.
Since 78 percent of American commuters drive 40 miles or less each day, a plug-in driver might need only to fill up his tank with gasoline a half-dozen times a year. It’s a game-changing concept that’s won over many energy-security hawks and even environmentalists who had been married to futuristic fuel-cell vehicles, but now see plug-ins as a here-and-now way to fight global warming as well as freeing the US from imported oil.
One of the main complaints about plug-in technology is that you’re just trading one form of pollution for another – tailpipe emissions for power-plant smokestack emissions. But a recent “well to wheels” life-cycle analysis by the Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that a shift by the US to plug-in vehicles would cut carbon emissions by as much as 500 million tons annually and 10 billion tons cumulatively by 2050. At the same time, other exhaust pollutants would decline.
They found that the US power grid could easily handle the load of three-quarters of Americans switching to plug-ins, which require only about 1 to 2 kilowatts – about the energy load of a dishwasher. The cost of that electricity for transportation would end up being about a 75-cents-per-gallon energy equivalent, according to the study.
“The heart of the matter is to begin to use electricity and to use it as quickly as possible to power a major share of our transportation and to break that 96-plus-percent monopoly oil has over our transportation systems,” former Central Intelligence Agency director James Woolsey told a Washington gathering on plug-in hybrids last month.
But to Frank, the future is about far more than saving a few bucks at the pump – it’s about changing the world – or maybe saving it.
“We want to emphasize that this plug-in vehicle is not really about fuel economy,” he says, his hand gliding along a silver-sized Chevrolet Equinox whose gas-guzzling engine was ripped out by his students and replaced with high-mileage, plug-in innards that make it go 40 miles on electricity alone before using gasoline. “This idea is all about displacing gasoline. If we can dispense with maybe 80 to 90 percent of the gasoline a conventional car uses, then we can begin to get our nation off of using fossil fuels. Then we can save the planet from global warming.”
For a kid who liked to cobble together hot rod cars in the 1950s but didn’t have enough money for gasoline, it was natural for Frank to wonder if you couldn’t get both – hot performance and high fuel economy. That’s why when the oil crisis of the 1970s struck, Frank – then an assistant professor of engineering who had worked on the Apollo moon mission and other aerospace projects – told his students they were going to make a vehicle that could get high mileage and go “like a rocket,” too.
Frank now admits that he was too far ahead of his time.
“I tried to build a hybrid car in 1972 that ran on gas and electricity,” he says. “But I found out quickly that we were missing key technology. We didn’t have electric motors that were very good or batteries that were worth anything…. We didn’t have computers cheap and powerful enough to be useful in a car.”
Still, he kept at it in the mid-1990s and early part of this decade, building on the fundamental idea that a vehicle that could largely replace oil with electricity – but also have an unlimited range – could be built.
Others were following similar paths. Tom Gage, president of AC Power, which now converts regular cars to all-electric, says Frank’s work was “influential and ahead of its time.” Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars, a nonprofit plug-in promotion group says Frank laid the groundwork for technology that may be America’s best chance to break its oil dependency.
“Andy is the person who’s been thinking and most consistently exploring plug-in technology since the ’70s,” says Mr. Kramer. “Others have tried, but he’s focused his work on plug-ins and just doesn’t let up.”
General Motors says it will build a plug-in by 2010 and Toyota, Ford, and other manufacturers say they’ll soon be plug-in producers, too. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have cited plug-in hybrids as key to their plans for energy-security and curbing global warming.
Now some measure of recognition has finally arrived with Frank often asked to speak about plug-in technology or fielding calls from reporters. A few years ago, he testified before Congress. Yet most of his career has been spent working without much recognition and with only marginal funding. Now the grants are rolling in and the university has opened a new plug-in hybrid center.
Even though he and his student teams produced several plug-in hybrid prototypes in the 1990s and offered the technology to US automakers, there was little interest – except from Japanese car companies. Ironically, General Motors and Ford contributed the vehicles that most of Frank’s students have retrofitted.
“I made this demonstration to the US car companies year in and out, and gave them an opportunity for them to jump ahead of Toyota if they would invest – or wait and become a follower to Toyota,” he says.
When the US companies wouldn’t look at it, they took the plug-in to Toyota in 2003, he recalls. “I felt bad that our American companies didn’t take us up on it,” he says.
He has been trying with little success to interest US automakers in his mechanical version of a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which he says is critical to plug-in development because it is much more efficient than other CVT systems and could greatly boost mileage.
Despite that snub, he’s circumspect about the future while posing for a photo beside an ordinary hybrid car he drives daily. The license plate, which he was given as a gift reads: “PHEV DAD.”
“We could be completely energy independent in this country,” he says. “We have the technology to do it.”
Then he smiles. “Of course,” he says, “everything is more affordable as the cost of oil gets higher.”
Posted on July 11th, 2008 No comments
In Gaza, electric cars offer a way around Israel’s blockade
Palestinian engineers say it only costs $1.50 per fill-up. Israel is also going electric with hundreds of charging stations to be installed nationwide.
By Rafael D. Frankel | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
GAZA CITY, GAZA
While gas prices of $4 per gallon may feel steep to Americans, Palestinian drivers in the Gaza Strip have faced highs of $50 per gallon.
“The people here cannot afford that kind of money, especially now,” says Waseem Khazendar, who along with Fayaz Anan has tackled the problem by building an electric car. Their prototype – a Peugeot that runs for 110 miles on a single charge from a standard electrical outlet – costs just $1.50 a charge, Mr. Anan says. “We are trying to help everyone here get through a difficult period.”
A year-long economic blockade by Israel has created shortages of everything from gasoline to food in Gaza.
Anan’s and Mr. Khazendar’s electric car is a 1994 Peugeot 205 without a standard gas engine. It’s been converted to run on 34 standard lead-acid car batteries. At 15 horsepower, it travels at speeds of up to 60 m.p.h., and produces no emissions. “In Gaza [a 25-mile-long, 7.5-mile-wide strip], it is very sufficient,” Anan says.
More than 400 people in Gaza have lined up to have their cars converted for the fee of $2,500, he says. But due to the blockade, the duo only have enough material to convert another 30 or 40 cars, Anan says.
If a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, which began June 20, holds, Israel says it will gradually allow in the kinds of additional materials that Anan says would drop the price of the conversion to $1,700.
But US experts say they are baffled by how the two are converting cars at that price. “With the cheapest components I can imagine, it would cost around three times as much over here,” says Ron Gremban, lead engineer at CalCars.org, a Palo Alto, Calif. nonprofit group promoting plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technology.
Khazendar and Anan are electrical engineers and dream of turning their little operation into a multimillion dollar business. Khazendar has talked with an Israeli firm that specializes in intellectual property law with the aim of obtaining a patent for their alternating current engine.
Anan says that he is happy to work with Israelis – for business.
“Why not? It’s no problem for me and my partners. It is business, it is not policy. Policy is one thing and business is something else.”
Electric cars are also moving into Israel with the Silicon Valley-based firm, Better Place, which recently announced plans to develop the world’s first electric car infrastructure there.
An Israeli subsidiary of Better Place is pouring more than $100 million into building thousands of electric car charging stations around the country, says Ziva Patir, who is in charge of standardization and compliance for the firm.
By the end of 2008, there should be hundreds of charging stations operational in Israel, and half a million charging stations operating by no later than 2015, Ms. Patir says.
“This is the biggest-ever trial that will be done in clean technology. We believe that cars running on oil will be in museums within 20 years,” she says.
So far, Better Place has teamed up with Nissan-Renault to build electric cars that will run on the Israeli grid, but the company is hoping other car manufacturers will also take part in the project.
Israel, Patir says, is “a good test case because we don’t drive long distances and … [Israelis] don’t drive to other countries.”
Asked about teaming up with Anan and Khazendar, Patir says she could not speak to company policy, but personally, “I believe that business creates peace, and any peace project is good for everybody.”
Back in Gaza City, leaning up against his proud invention, Anan seemed to agree: “Maybe we, Israelis and Palestinians, can save the world together.”
Posted on June 29th, 2008 2 comments
Backers of all-electric cars say they’re relieved a fire that destroyed a Toyota Prius prototype this month wasn’t caused by the battery.
A report from the Boulder, Colo., firm that built the Prius prototype said the blaze was instead caused by loose electrical connections that set fire to the vehicle’s upholstery, and not by the sophisticated lithium ion batteries it carried, The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.
The news came as a relief to electric car supporters because lithium battery technology has been under a cloud in recent years due of fires such batteries have caused in some laptop computers.
The modified Prius was one of 10 owned by a South Carolina electric cooperative and was built by Hybrids Plus of Boulder, the newspaper said. The company took a standard Prius and made it into an all-electric version, which isn’t expected from Toyota until 2010.
The chief executive of Hybrids Plus said the fire was caused by “an assembly problem.”
“I was worried that this would turn into a major incident, but actually most people seem to understand that this was an incident that didn’t involve the batteries,” Felix Kramer of CalCars.org, a California advocacy group, told the Times.