Technology StocksThe Electric Car, or MPG "what me worry?"

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From: Eric2/21/2012 1:42:42 PM
   of 5374
Taking a Spin in an Electric BMW

Bradley Berman for The New York Times

THE SILENCE OF THE AMPS: The first all-electric BMW, the ActiveE is an eerily quiet sporty coupe.
More Photos »
Published: February 17, 20

FALLING trees may not make a sound when nobody is there to hear — but the sound not coming from the BMW ActiveE poses an equally profound riddle. Even in full sprint, the rear-drive coupe has absolutely no exhaust note.

That’s because the car doesn’t have a tailpipe — or an engine, for that matter. It’s the first 100 percent electric Bimmer, offered to 700 Americans who will help BMW evaluate its electric technology.

I recently spent a week driving one of the first production units around the San Francisco Bay Area, and never stopped marveling at the muted whir, like a jet turbine’s, from the 125-kilowatt electric motor. Which poses the question: Is a BMW any less of an ultimate driving machine if it is silent?

The limited-production ActiveE — only 1,100 will be produced globally — weighs a hefty 4,000 pounds, some 800 pounds more than the BMW 1 Series on which it is based. But the ActiveE carries its bulk with near-gymnastic dexterity. I thoroughly enjoyed tossing the two-ton Teutonic subcompact between the lanes of the Bay Area’s bridges, up and down San Francisco’s steeply pitched streets and along the winding roads of Berkeley’s hills.

Acceleration from a stop to 60 miles per hour comes in an unremarkable 8.5 seconds, but the feel behind the wheel — especially the swift and smooth-as-silk surges from 0 to 30 m.p.h., and from 50 to 80 — was blissful. The steering response is everything you would expect from a BMW.

A well-calibrated suspension helps to counter the extra weight. Dave Buchko, a BMW spokesman, said, “Our engineers are really good at selecting shocks and spring rates that provide well-controlled jounce and rebound.”

Removing the engine and related parts lightened the 1 Series donor car, but installing a 32 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack added back 992 pounds. The 192 battery cells are crammed all over the place: under the raised “power dome” hood, along the driveshaft tunnel and where the fuel tank used to be.

The added bulk takes a toll on driving range. Yet I managed at least 80 miles of charge every day, even when flogging the system. Driving with more restraint took me closer to 90 miles.

One evening I took a two-hour highway spin, averaging 49 m.p.h. Using the Ecopro setting — which dials back the throttle response, but not to a compromising degree — I went 101 miles with 9 percent of the battery charge remaining, according to the dashboard monitor. Plugged into a 240-volt circuit, the on-board 7.7-kilowatt charger provides an empty-to-full charge in about four hours.

The interior is quintessential BMW, with tasteful materials, austere but useful displays for information like the battery state-of-charge and attention to detail that extends to each meticulous stitch in the leather upholstery.

“It’s a step up from the Mini E,” said Rich Steinberg, BMW’s manager of electric vehicle operations and strategy in the United States. “It’s got leather. It’s got navi. It’s got cruise. It’s got heated seats. It’s got satellite. All the things you’d expect from BMW.”

Mr. Steinberg was referring to the all-electric version of the Mini, the previous test platform, since discontinued, in BMW’s electric-car program. The Mini E was a relatively spartan car with a rough ride and batteries where the backseat might have been. The ActiveE is more refined in all respects, and it uses the same battery, motor and electric drivetrain — developed by BMW in partnership with Bosch and SB LiMotive — that will end up in the company’s full-production electric car, the i3, which is to start trickling into the market late next year.

In the ActiveE, BMW added a liquid-based thermal management system to keep the batteries from becoming too cold or too hot. This helps to prevent the loss of driving range — as much as 40 percent — experienced by Mini E drivers in extremely cold weather.

The most remarkable feature carried over from the Mini E to the ActiveE is the very assertive regenerative braking, which applies strong deceleration as soon as you lift your foot off the accelerator. I drove the ActiveE down Marin Avenue, the steepest street in the Berkeley hills. Without my touching either pedal, the ActiveE slowly glided down the incline to 20 m.p.h. and eased to a crawl — as if in an ultralow “granny gear.” Imagine that same sub-first-gear feel applied on flat roads as soon as you lift your foot, bringing the car from 40 m.p.h. to a stop in about four seconds.

“One-pedal drive is something we’re proud of,” Mr. Steinberg said. “We’re continuing to exploit it not only for the energy reasons, but also because of the driving experience.” BMW estimates that one-pedal driving increases by 20 percent the amount of energy reclaimed when the electric drive motor switches into generator mode and pumps juice into the battery pack.

It took me only a few stops to figure out how to approach a stoplight — lifting my foot off the accelerator at the right time to reach a complete stop at the right spot without touching the brake pedal. On highways or surface roads, I learned how to gently move the accelerator pedal slightly up and down, never taking my foot off, to produce the desired speed — or to find the sweet spot where the car glides along as if coasting.

E.V.’s like the Tesla Roadster have used the single pedal approach, but BMW’s one-pedal E.V. driving will become, I believe, the model for electric car engineering. I’m a convert to the single pedal, and wish the Nissan Leaf — my usual car for daily commutes — drove the same way.

Most E.V. makers aim to give their electric vehicles a driving and braking experience as familiar as possible to drivers of conventional gas-powered cars. The Leaf, even with its impressive quickness, has a wispy feel, whereas the ActiveE operates like a maglev train, hurtling forward, hugging corners and engaging the road (while not burning a drop of petroleum, I might add).

I had ample opportunity to switch back and forth between the ActiveE and my own Leaf. My week with the ActiveE coincided with the week I was to drive my daughter’s car pool to high school. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in my latest effort to convince my daughter that her electric-Bimmer-driving dad is cool. The driver seat, slid all the way back to make room for my 6-foot-4 frame, touched the rear cushion, leaving insufficient room in the back seat for her schoolmates.

The batteries in back also trim the trunk space to a barely usable 7 cubic feet. The Leaf, on the other hand, can handle five people along with some gear under the hatch.

So the four students piled into the Leaf each morning. As soon as my parental duties were completed, I rushed back to park and plug in the Nissan and jump into the ActiveE — transforming myself from dad-nerd to electronaut, the name BMW invented for the 700 consumers in a few Northeast and West Coast cities who are putting down $2,250 and paying $499 a month for a two-year lease. The ActiveE is not available for purchase.

The car is a “technology shakedown,” according to Mr. Steinberg, letting BMW gain feedback as it continues development of the i3. That purpose-built electric four-seater — not a conversion — is to go on sale in a few markets by late next year, followed by wider release in 2014.

The company hasn’t officially announced prices or sales goals for the i3, but a year ago Ian Robertson, BMW’s head of global sales and marketing, told Automotive News that the company hoped to sell 30,000 of the futuristic cars in 2014.

Given that the ActiveE is a test platform, it was perhaps not surprising that I encountered a few glitches. Several times, a warning screen told me the shifter couldn’t be moved to “P” — and to take the car to a service center. Another time, a more emphatic “drivetrain malfunction” screen warned, “Stop carefully and turn off vehicle.” I knew from online forums to ignore these as false alarms.

There were also small hiccups in ultra-low-speed driving when various conditions that were hard to identify or replicate — maybe high torque on wet roads or braking-software miscommunications — produced momentary wheel shake. This happened three times during my week of driving; BMW said fixes were expected within days.

As engaging as I found the ActiveE, it is just a step toward the i3, which will have a body mostly of lightweight carbon fiber. The i3 will have more legroom, four doors and subfloor packaging of the batteries — and most important, weigh some 1,300 pounds less than the ActiveE. This will let BMW reduce the size of the battery pack to about 20 kilowatt-hours, from 32, while still providing 100 miles of range. Using the ActiveE’s drivetrain and 170-horsepower motor, the much lighter i3 is likely to be a startling performer.

BMW’s electric efforts won’t end with the i3. “To one degree or another, you’ll see plugs cascade throughout the entire BMW line,” said Mr. Steinberg, the company’s electric vehicle manager.

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From: Eric2/22/2012 3:22:20 PM
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The Universal Transformer as EV Fast Charger

EPRI’s new cheaper, more efficient fast charger could be a first grid application for solid state transformer technology.

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To: Eric who wrote (1960)2/23/2012 3:20:25 PM
From: John Koligman
   of 5374
Germany to cut solar subsidies faster than expected

By Erik Kirschbaum and Christoph Steitz

BERLIN/FRANKFURT | Thu Feb 23, 2012 11:18am EST

BERLIN/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germany plans to bring forward cuts in solar power subsidies of up to 30 percent by almost a month to March 9, spelling further trouble for companies selling solar panels in the world's No.2 market.

Government sources had told Reuters on Wednesday the cuts of 20 to 30 percent would be moved forward to April 1, news that sent share prices tumbling. On Thursday Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen and Economy Minister Philipp said the cuts would be moved forward even more, to March 9, to thwart any last-minute boom in projects, a further blow to producers.

Shares in European solar companies plunged further on Thursday, with sector bellwethers SolarWorld, SMA Solar, Q-Cells, Renewable Energy Corp (REC) and Centrotherm down by between 3.2 and 12.8 percent by 1540 GMT.

U.S.-based First Solar and China's Suntech were down 5.64 and 4.9 percent in early Wall Street trading.

Roettgen told a news conference on Thursday the acceleration and deepening of the incentive cuts are designed to slow the rapid growth in solar power in Germany, where more than 7,500 megawatts was installed last year,

Roettgen, who designed the reduction with Roesler, dismissed fears raised by solar power manufacturers and installers that the change would endanger thousands of jobs in the booming sector that employs over 100,000 workers.

"We've had an enormous reduction in the incentives in the past few years but the incentives were still too high," Roettgen told reporters. "Solar is a success story made in Germany. We want it to be an acceptable technology not only in the future but right now. The cost factor has to be at acceptable levels."

Installations of solar panels have boomed in Germany over the last two years due to feed-in tariffs, generous subsidies utilities are forced to pay by the government to those who generate their own solar power that is pumped into the grid.

Eventually power companies pass on the costs to their customers, and the government wants to limit the ultimate impact of soaring prices on energy consumers.

Germany's adding of a record 7,500 megawatts of solar capacity in 2011 brought its total to 25,000 megawatts, which is nearly as much as the rest of the world combined. Germany is the world's leader in installed solar power capacity with about 25,000 MW. But in terms of new annual installations, it was overtaken by Italy last year.

The Berlin government wants to add only between 2,500 and 3,500 megawatts capacity each year and that is why the incentives are being cut so aggressively this time, Roettgen said. It has a goal of 66,000 MW of solar capacity by 2030.


The incentives will fall to 19.5 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) for small plants up to 10 kilowatt (KW), to 16.5 cents for plants up to 1,000 KW and to 13.5 cents for plants of up to 10 megawatts (MW). After that there will be further monthly cuts of 0.15 cents per kWh.

German retail electricity prices are 21 to 24 cents per kWh.

The incentives were already cut by 15 percent on January 1 to 24.43 cents for small plants up to 30 h. Over the last three years they have been cut in half. They were set to be reduced by 15 percent on July 1.

Despite the steep cuts in the past, yields for investors remained attractive as equipment prices fell. But manufacturers and investors fear the next accelerated reduction could spoil returns and lead to a major contraction of demand, putting jobs and investment in jeopardy.

"They're putting thousands of jobs in the solar sector at risk," said Carsten Koernig, head of the BSW solar lobby. "These plans can be described as a 'solar-exit law'."

"The radical cuts have an existential impact on the solar industry in Germany," said Pierre-Pascal Urbon, chief executive of SMA Solar, Germany's top solar company that produces inverters sold around the world has 5,000 workers.

David Wortmann, a manager at First Solar, said: "This is a slap in the face."

"This could choke off the German market," said Frank Asbeck, chief executive of SolarWorld, a world leader.

Germany gets 20 percent of its electricity from renewable energy and nearly 4 percent from 1 million photovoltaic producers, who generate power from rooftop solar panels.

"All German solar stocks are likely to suffer," Silvia Quandt analyst Sebastian Zank said. "We only recommend selected companies which have chances to defend business volumes due to their already existing or future international footprints."

Roettgen said the cabinet would receive the draft for the cuts next week and that the March 9 target was not yet fixed, adding it could still be April 1 depending on how quickly it passes through the cabinet and parliament.

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To: John Koligman who wrote (1961)2/23/2012 4:04:59 PM
From: Eric
   of 5374

Well actually I'm glad they cut the subsidies. This will make it cheaper to install more PV there as the cost of PV generated electrons goes below grid parity.

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From: Eric2/27/2012 7:35:07 AM
1 Recommendation   of 5374
A battery breakthrough that could bring electric cars to the masses

A startup working on battery technology says it’s developed a key breakthrough that could one day lead to an electric car that has a 300-mile range and could cost around $25,000 to $30,000. Envia Systems, backed by venture capitalists, General Motors, and the Department of Energy, plans to announce on Monday at the ARPA-E conference that the company has created a lithium ion battery that has an energy density of 400 watt-hours per kilogram, which Envia CEO Atul Kapadia told me in an interview could be the tipping point for bringing electric cars to mainstream car owner.

The secret sauce

Energy density is how much energy a battery can store and provide for the car with a given battery size — the more energy dense the battery, the less volume and weight is needed. For electric cars it is particularly important to have a high energy dense battery because electric cars need to be as light weight as possible (any extra weight just drains the battery faster), and batteries that are smaller and use less materials can also be lower in cost.

Kapadia tells me that current lithium ion batteries deliver an energy density of around 100 to 150 watt-hours
per kilogram, while Envia’s

battery can deliver 2.5 times that energy with about the same weight as the current electric cars that have hit the market. To build a 300-mile range electric car with standard lithium ion batteries, it would cost around $40,000 just for the batteries alone, says Kapadia.

Envia says with an energy density of 400 watt-hours per kilogram, its battery cell costs could be at $125 per kWh. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said recently that he sees battery cells dropping in price to below $200 per kWh in the coming years. Current electric cars like the Volt have been reported to be closer to $500 to $600 per kWh, and the Nissan LEAF at $375 per kWh.

Envia, founded in 2007 in the Palo Alto public library, began its business by developing technology for a low-cost cathode. A battery is made up of an anode on one side and a cathode on the other, with an electrolyte in between. For a lithium ion battery, lithium ions travel from the anode to the cathode through the electrolyte,
creating a chemical

reaction that allows electrons to be harvested along the way. After Envia developed its cathode technology, it started working on a silicon carbon anode, and then paired these two innovations together, with a high-voltage electroloyte.

Kapadia says the innovation is also important because many scientists have thought that the lithium ion battery had certain limits on how efficient and cheap it could get: “The rumors of the demise of lithium ion batteries are greatly exaggerated.”

Kapadia also says: “Gone are the days of relying on ancient consumer batteries for automobiles and stifling this revolution by making expensive electric cars.” And in case you didn’t get this reference, Tesla Motors uses small format standard lithium ion batteries like the ones found in laptops for its cars.

Getting the battery into cars

Charging up the Volt

Envia is announcing at the ARPA-E conference that it has reached this 400 watt-hours per kilogram milestone in tests, but the company is still in the prototype stage, and an Envia battery will probably take about three years to move into the commercial auto market. Envia plans to work with battery and auto partners, potentially licensing or creating joint ventures to get the batteries manufactured. Kapadia tells me that Envia plans to avoid the capital intensive model of trying to be a startup that does all its own manufacturing.

General Motors is one of Envia’s high profile investors, and invested $7 million into Envia about a year ago. GM has said that Envia will provide battery technology for future generations of GM’s Volt electric car. Other investors in Envia include Japanese giant Asahi Kasei, Pangaea Ventures, and Redpoint Ventures.

Envia received a $4 million grant from the DOE’s ARPA-E program to attempt to hit the 400 watt-hour per kilogram milestone. Expect Envia to be touted throughout the ARPA-E event, as proof that its program is working to develop green innovation in the U.S.

Images courtesy of Envia Systems.

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From: Eric2/27/2012 11:58:16 AM
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Tesla Says Blogger’s Battery Post Sparked ‘Irrational’ Fear

Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA), the maker of electric cars run by entrepreneur Elon Musk, said a blog post asserting Roadster batteries are at risk of failing if owners don’t keep the cars plugged in stoked an “irrational” fear.

“A single blogger is spreading a rumor about electric vehicles becoming inoperable,” a condition referred to as“bricking,” the Palo Alto, California-based company said today on its website. “‘Bricking’ is an irrational fear based on limited information and a misunderstanding of Tesla’s battery system.”

Tesla was responding to a Feb. 21 post on a blog called the Understatement, which said if the battery in the Roadster electric car “is ever totally discharged, the owner is left with what Tesla describes as a ‘brick’: a completely immobile vehicle that cannot be started or even pushed down the street.”At that point, a $40,000 battery pack replacement may be required, according to the Understatement, which cited no one.

Scrutiny of Tesla’s technology comes as the carmaker prepares to sell its first wholly U.S.-built vehicle, the electric Model S sedan, starting in July. The company, named for inventor Nikola Tesla, this month also showed a prototype of the Model X, an electric crossover vehicle that arrives in 2013.

Tesla fell 2.3 percent to $33.75 at the close in New York. The shares gained 18 percent this year.

Instructions to Owners

“You’d really have to not use the vehicle for an extended period for this to be an issue.” said David Friedman, a senior engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental advocacy group. In such cases, “it raises the question: Why did you buy an electric vehicle if you aren’t going to use it?” he said.

Tesla owners should keep Roadsters plugged in, both to recharge the pack for driving range and to keep “key systems within the car functioning properly,” the company said today. The vehicle warns owners when the car’s state of charge is falling too low.

Software in newer Roadster models is designed to contact the company, which in turn alerts owners who discharge the batteries too deeply, Tesla said. The oldest Roadsters, on the road since 2008, take more than two months to fully discharge if not plugged in, the company said.

Nissan, Toyota

“A Model S battery parked with 50 percent charge would approach full discharge only after about 12 months,” the company said today.

Nissan Motor Co. (7201), seller of all-electric Leaf hatchbacks, said in a statement the lithium-ion battery pack it uses “will never discharge completely, thanks to an advanced battery management system designed to protect the battery from damage.”

The Leaf’s warranty booklet cautions owners against“leaving your vehicle for over 14 days where the lithium-ion battery reaches a zero or near zero state of charge,” Katherine Zachary, a company spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.

Toyota Motor Corp. (7203), which this year is to sell electric RAV4 crossovers using Tesla-supplied batteries and motors, said that model will “feature multiple safeguards to avoid full battery depletion,” said Jana Hartline, a company spokeswoman.

Both Hartline and John Hanson, a Toyota spokesman, declined to elaborate on those steps. Toyota is an investor in Tesla.

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From: Eric2/28/2012 9:23:18 AM
1 Recommendation   of 5374

Motiv Power’s Electric Drive Kit Could Electrify U.S. Truck Fleet And beat the cost of diesel by 50 percent.

Herman K. Trabish: February 28, 2012

A $1.16 million California Energy Commission grant will allow Motiv Power Systems to create a prototype assembly line for the installation of its Electric Powertrain Control System (ePCS) on four Detroit Chassis truck frames. Proving the plug-and-play concept’s viability, said Motiv CEO Jim Castelaz, will “de-risk” the conversion of heavy duty vehicle fleets to battery power.

“Detroit Chassis has the capability and skill to assemble traditional diesel trucks and they are interested in moving to electric options,” Castelaz said. “We provide an easy way for them to do that.”

Making it easy for diesel truck makers to go electric is Motiv Power’s goal, Castelaz said. “We make the building of an electric truck from their perspective look a lot more like building a diesel truck.”

“We take the batteries and motors from off-the-shelf vendors and put them together with our controllers,” Castelaz said. “We package that into a power train kit and send it to Detroit Chassis and they install it.”

The Motiv system is a “mix of hardware and software” that “controls the electric power train.” Truck builders like Detroit Chassis “don’t have to worry about integrating electronics or embedded software or programing the electric power train,” Castelaz said. “All they have to do is the physical mechanical integration of the Motiv Power kit of components onto the chassis.”

The Motiv kit can used with almost any new truck maker’s chassis or for an older truck retrofit. This will take the experimentation done on such systems by GE Global Research into the marketplace. It could expand the options for heavy duty vehicle buyers far beyond companies like Balquon Corp. that are building electric trucks from the ground up.

The CEC grant funds the pilot assembly line and the production of four vehicles. It “is really just Detroit Chassis’ traditional diesel truck assembly line,” Castelaz said, “but instead of dropping in traditional diesel engines, transmissions and power trains, they’re putting in this electric power train kit.”

By making the process easy and familiar, Castelaz said, “we’re trying to de-risk the electric truck for fleets.” The Motiv concept also allows traditional diesel truck makers to “use the supply chain they’re familiar with and the service chain they’re familiar with.”

The goal, he explained, “is to use this great infrastructure we have, especially in the Midwest, for building diesel trucks, to leverage existing economies of scale and use and repurpose that infrastructure for building electric trucks with as little manufacturing and process redesign overhead as possible.”

“Once the initial four vehicles are produced, Castelaz added, “Motiv will have the capacity to start filling orders right away.”

The flexibility in Motiv’s concept means it is ready and able “to work with any diesel truck builder out there that is looking for an electric option,” he said. They can add an electric option to their line without the need “to replace their diesel assembly line with an electric assembly line.”

Because Castelaz knows this is a flexibility truck makers are used to having, his system is designed “to make electric power trains plug-and-play with the traditional power train industry.”

The first four vehicles will come off the pilot assembly line as “stripped chassis,” just “frame rails with the power train and the front cabin installed.” They will have lithium-ion batteries and a 100 mile range. “We’re working with a couple of different prominent off-the-shelf lithium ion battery suppliers,” Castelaz said.

Three of the stripped chassis will have shuttle bus bodies built on them and be shipped from Detroit to the San Francisco Bay Area for use by Bauer’s Transportation. The fourth will have a work truck dump bed body built on it and sent to the City of Bakersfield for routine gardening and maintenance work.

“The applications were specified in the grant,” Castelaz said. “We wanted to show that an electric truck built on a traditional diesel assembly line, built as a stripped chassis, could be used for multiple and different applications. Shuttle bus and work truck, we thought, were pretty different.”

The flexibility of Motiv Power’s system extends to battery choice. “We can put more batteries on the vehicle and get more electric range,” Castelaz said. “It’s a cost tradeoff. It’s up to the fleets. We help them look at which routes are best for electrification and how much range do we need on the vehicles to do those routes.”

“Right truck, right route,” Castelaz said, is a trucking industry expression he is hearing more as fuel prices go up.

“An eighteen wheeler would not be a great application in the short term for our technology,” Castelaz said. But “some applications and routes, like Bauer’s employee shuttles that typically go 50 or 60 miles per day are perfect.”

The calculation that the Motiv Power system is 50 percent less expensive over an eight year life span, Castelaz said “would be for the right route, a route that doesn’t exceed a hundred miles.” Also, he added, “larger trucks that would be better applications would be things like a refuse truck or a heavier local delivery vehicle.”

Fleet purchasers “can specify exactly what they want out of their electric truck,” Castelaz said. “We’re compatible with pretty much any battery and motor that exists in the market today. And as new batteries, which are such a large part of the cost of the truck, come along, we will be compatible.”

The goal, Castelaz said, “is to get diesel truck makers this cleaner, newer technology and de-risk it as much as possible.” And, he added, to reduce for truck users “the risks associated with the volatility of the price of oil.”

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From: Eric2/28/2012 2:34:39 PM
   of 5374
Enlisting Nanoparticles to Help Replace Oil


The world has a lot of natural gas and not nearly enough crude oil. To address the imbalance, some companies have tried to convert the gas into a liquid that can substitute for refined oil products like gasoline and diesel, but the idea has not taken off in this country. It may be simpler to convert vehicles instead and have them burn natural gas instead of gasoline or diesel.

Jean ParsonsTanks made of carbon fiber composite materials, incorporating nano-materials to make them lighter and stronger.

This logic has become stronger as the price of oil has risen on the global market and the price of American natural gas has declined. Lately oil has been trading at around $100 a barrel, but the same amount of energy can be bought for about $15 as natural gas when that fuel is trading in the range of $2.50 per million B.T.U.’s, as it has recently. (An average barrel is 5.8 million B.T.U.’s.)

Few car drivers will buy a natural gas vehicle, however, because it is hard to find places to fill it. One of the most successful natural gas cars, from a technical standpoint, was the Ford Crown Victoria, which had a trunk so large that even with natural gas tanks squeezed in, there was still space for two bags of golf clubs. Ford started selling it in 1996, but it gave it up as unprofitable in 2004. Converting vehicles to natural gas is expensive.

The fleet market, though, is much stronger, with buses, trash trucks and medium- and heavy-duty trucks using the fuel.

Now, 3M is planning to introduce a new product that it says will make the conversions easier and allow the natural gas to be squeezed into a smaller space. Natural gas on vehicles is usually stored at a pressure of 3,500 pounds, and the tank is the most expensive single component of the conversion, which can run $8,000 or more over all. But by using a new material, 3M says it can allow storage at higher pressures in a lighter tank (which takes less energy to haul around), at a lower cost.

The company uses carbon composites, which are carbon fibers woven into a cloth-like mat, interspersed with an epoxy that holds them together. That technology is fairly standard.

The innovation is that 3M is putting nanoparticles into the epoxy. These sit between the fibers and increase their stiffness and the strength of the composite over all. Carbon fibers have always had very good tensile strength, meaning that if something pulls on either end, they cannot be pulled apart. But if they are creased, the layers can come apart and the structure is weakened. By adding stiffness, the nanoparticles reduce that damage.

The company also lines the inside of the tank with an impermeable plastic. Its longer-term idea is that the tank technology will have other uses. “We think we’ve got a winning solution for hydrogen, which is much higher pressure,’’ said Rick Maveus, the company’s global business manager for advanced composites. The hydrogen would be used in fuel cells.

3M has an agreement with Chesapeake Energy, a natural gas company that converts vehicles and builds fueling stations, that calls for Chesapeake to pay $10 million for design and certification work. (The new product cannot be sold until it is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, which 3M says will take most of the rest of this year.)

It is 3M’s hope that better onboard storage will improve market acceptance of natural gas trucks and buses. “If you can address the issue of range and capacity, we would place our bets on compressed natural gas,” Mr. Maveus said.

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From: Eric3/1/2012 2:07:02 PM
   of 5374
A123 Systems Rises After Tata Battery Agreement: Boston Mover

A123 Systems Inc. (AONE) rose the most in seven weeks after the maker of batteries for electric cars and trucks said it will supply packs for Tata Motors Ltd. (TTMT)’s commercial vehicles.

The shares climbed 10 percent to $1.99 at 9:56 a.m. in New York, after gaining as much as 14 percent for the biggest intraday advance since Jan. 11. They rose 12 percent this year before today, after falling 83 percent in 2011.

Tata, India’s largest automaker, will use the lithium-ion battery packs on hybrid diesel-electric city transit buses in the second half of the year, Waltham, Massachusetts-based A123 said in a statement. Terms weren’t disclosed.

“The addition of Tata Motors to our growing portfolio of blue-chip customers reinforces our position as the leading provider of lithium-ion battery technology for the truck and bus segment,” Jason Forcier, vice president of A123’s automotive group, said in the statement.

A123 supplies batteries for automakers such as Fisker Automotive Inc., General Motors Co. (GM) and Daimler AG. Fisker, A123’s largest customer, said Feb. 6 that it stopped working on its Wilmington, Delaware, plant after the U.S. Energy Department blocked access to a federal loan, citing unmet milestones.

Fisker said Feb. 28 it hired Tom LaSorda, a past president of the predecessor of Chrysler Group LLC, as chief executive officer. Fisker also said it may look for private investors to revive the Delaware factory, where it planned to begin making its second model, the Nina sedan, by next year.

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To: Eric who wrote (1967)3/2/2012 5:43:06 PM
From: John Koligman
   of 5374
I checked one of these out at the Chicago auto show. Sticker was 45k, but the interior looker cheaper and more plasticky than a 18k Chevy Cruze.... I guess they spent the bucks on the battery tech....

Chevrolet's Volt Sales Running Low, GM Idles the Line

Published: Friday, 2 Mar 2012 | 5:02 PM ET
By: Phil LeBeau
CNBC Correspondent

Chevy's electric car, the Volt, is running on empty. With sales lagging and inventories building, GM has decided to idle production of the Chevy Volt for five weeks. During that time, about 1,300 workers will temporarily be laid off.


GM executives can not be happy that this move will once again raise questions about the viability and long term prospects for the Volt.

But in reality, they had no choice.

Volt sales have been so slow this year, the company needs to adjust production to demand. And so far, Volt demand has fallen well short of original expectations.

Back when GM launched the Volt, it boldly targeted sales of 10,000 in 2011 and 60,000 in 2012. Last year, GM sold 7,671 Volts and just 1,626 this year.

Why have sales been slow?

Some of it is due to the slow ramp up in sales last year. While the entire country saw ads for the Volt, the car was sold most of the year in select markets. Then the controversy and investigation into Volt battery fires left a cloud hanging over the electric car.

But the biggest factor may be the price of the Volt. At $33,500, the Volt is not cheap. Yes, for that price owners can get impressive mileage and pay a fraction what others are paying for gas. Still, with 22 models for sale offering at least 40 MPG, a lot of buyers looking for fuel efficiency are content to buy a hybrid or gas powered car for well under $30,000.

Ironically, this shut down comes as gas prices are soaring. This is exactly the time when an electric car should be an easy sell. That's clearly not the case with the Chevy Volt.

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