Electric Battery



The future of the American auto industry is getting off to a slow start.

The Energy Department has $25 billion to make loans to hasten the arrival of the next generation of automotive technology — electric-powered cars. But no money has been allocated so far, even though the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan program, established in 2007, has received applications from 75 companies, including start-ups as well as the three Detroit automakers.

With General Motors and Chrysler making repeat visits to Washington to ask for bailout money to stave off insolvency, some members of Congress are starting to ask why the Energy Department money is not flowing yet. The loans also are intended to help fulfill President Obama’s campaign promise of putting one million electric cars on American roads by 2015.

“Politicians are breaking down the door asking why the money isn’t being sent out,” said Michael Carr, counsel to the Senate Energy Committee, which oversees the Energy Department.

It is a question that Lachlan W. Seward, director of the program, says he hears a lot these days. “We’re moving with a sense of urgency,” said Mr. Seward, who also oversaw the Chrysler Loan Guarantee Board from 1981 to 1984. “But at the same time we are trying to do this in a responsible way that reflects prudent credit policy and taxpayer protections.”

Energy Department staff members said they were still sifting through loan applications, dozens of which arrived on the filing deadline of Dec. 31. On top of that, another $2 billion is coming to the department from the $787 billion stimulus package. That money will be used to develop the advanced battery technology needed to power electric cars, batteries more durable, safer and cheaper than anything available today.

Until now, the program has gotten caught in the shifting priorities of two administrations. The program was not funded until September 2008. Then, the Bush administration considered using the Energy Department fund to help bail out G.M. and Chrysler, an idea that was later rejected. After that, President Obama had to name a new cabinet. As soon as Steven Chu took office as energy secretary, some members of Congress started applying pressure on the fund.

Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, wrote Secretary Chu on Jan. 23, two days after he was sworn in, to say the agency is “under an obligation to issue the loans as soon as possible.”

Senators Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, who have led a bipartisan effort to increase fuel-mileage standards, followed with a letter calling for an “aggressive timeline” in issuing loans.

In response, Dr. Chu announced last week that the first loans would be made by late April or early May, adding that the program’s paperwork would be simplified and more staff would be hired.

There are complicating factors. Money can be given only to companies and projects that are deemed “financially viable.” G.M. and Chrysler, which have applied for a combined $13 billion from the Energy Department, must wait until the end of March for the Obama administration to decide whether the companies’ restructuring plans would make them viable.

The program’s small staff — around a dozen part- and full-time employees — must also sort through complicated proposals, up to 1,000 pages long. Many of the applicants have lined up members of Congress to pressure the department. Meanwhile, smaller companies say they fear the bulk of the money will be directed to the Detroit automakers.

Still, with credit markets tight, the program represents a rare source of financing to develop electric-vehicle technology.

“No one else out there will take on this risk,” said Mr. Seward. “It reminds me of the time at the dawn of the auto age when you had hundreds of companies making hundreds of kinds of cars and then they all coalesced. We are back in that era of invention again.”

The Energy Department has whittled the initial 75 loan applications, which seek a total $38 billion, down to 25 for a second round of reviews. General Motors is requesting $8.3 billion, earmarking a portion for the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid. Ford Motor is asking for $5 billion for a variety of electric car retooling programs and Chrysler, a unit of Cerberus Capital Management, is asking for around $5 billion. Even Nissan said it has submitted an application for one of its American plants that meet the program’s criteria.

Other applications are coming from battery developers. A123 Systems has asked for $1.8 billion to build a next-generation battery plant in Detroit, and Ener1, a maker of lithium-ion batteries, is asking for $480 million.

“Failure is not an option,” said Charles Gassenheimer, chief executive of Ener1. “We are confident we would build batteries without government help. But government help is necessary to launching the business in a mass way in the United States.”

Japan, Korea and China are currently the leaders in producing the batteries used in cellphones, computers and other portable electronics.

Advanced Mechanical Products, a Cincinnati company that converts Saturn Sky sports cars into electric vehicles, has asked for a $20 million loan. Stephen Burns, the company’s chief executive, even dropped off his application by driving one of the all-electric cars to the agency and giving members of Congress a ride.

“Getting the money would be a big step for us,” said Mr. Burns. “We can function without it. But with it, we’d be on steroids.”


Earlier this month I attended a panel discussion on the future of the electric cars.

The panelists were universally bullish, but I emerged with some questions about how exactly driving around in a plug-in vehicle that has a range of only 100 or so miles would work in practice.

So I followed up last week by phone with Sven Thesen of Better Place, a start-up with grand plans to remake the way we drive.

Better Place aims to create networks of electric cars, which can be recharged at home or at work over the course of several hours. Much like cellphone subscription plans, drivers will be able to choose when and how much to recharge. When the battery is nearly drained and drivers have no time to wait for a recharge, they will be able to stop at a “battery exchange” station and, in a five-minute procedure, swap out the battery.

That all sounded promising, but I decided to ask Mr. Thesen about some of the potential pitfalls of this vision — like what if I need to go to the hospital in the middle of the night and my car battery is nearly drained?

“Of course your batteries won’t ever be drained down to zero,” said Mr. Thesen. People, he added, “will always have a certain amount of range” in their batteries.

Better Place sees a midsize city providing roughly “two to two-and-a-half charge spots per vehicle at the beginning,” Mr. Thesen said. “Obviously one at home or in the parking garage when you park your car.”

“For 99 percent of your driving, a battery exchange station is fine.”

— Sven Thesen,
Better Place

A city would also contain a couple of hundred battery exchange stations, Mr. Thesen said, and eventually those exchange stations would be sited perhaps every 20 miles or so along the major highways.

O.K., but what if my car battery is low and I get stuck in a big traffic jam, inching along and using a disproportionate amount of energy?

“That’s the fun thing about electricity and the electric motor,” Mr. Thesen said. “You don’t actually use a disproportionate amount of energy at low speeds.”

The electric car network seems potentially well suited to commuters, who travel short, predictable distances each day. For driving long distances, Mr. Thesen said that battery exchange stations would provide an opportunity to get out of the car and stretch the legs.

When I asked about the hassle of stopping every few hours to swap out the battery while driving from, say, New York City to Nashville, Mr. Thesen said, “Given that it’s such a huge distance, you might rent a car. But for 99 percent of your driving, a battery exchange station is fine.”

He also noted that there would be substantial economic incentive to drive electric cars, particularly if gasoline prices returned to last summer’s levels, because electricity would be significantly cheaper.

And what if there is a blackout?

“What happens if we had a major earthquake and all the pumps and the gasoline stations stopped working?” said Mr. Thesen, in pointing out that disasters can affect oil as well as the electricity system. “A long blackout is unlikely.”

So, what’s to stop people from turning in a faulty battery to the battery-exchange station?

“We’re the ones that own the battery, so we’re going to do our best to ensure its longevity,” said Mr. Thesen. If anything happens to the battery, he said, Better Place will know, and “we will alert you to that.”

And what about thieves?

“It’s 400 pounds,” said Mr. Thesen. “We’re going to have communication with it in the form of LoJack.”

The car batteries of the future will be made where the automobile was first perfected, right here in Metro Detroit.

State officials have approved tax incentives that will allow General Motors and Ford to develop and build lithium-ion batteries here in Metro Detroit. The two corporate behemoths will invest tens of millions of dollars and create hundreds of jobs thanks to $61.8 million in tax incentives.

Ford received $55 million in tax incentives to advanced battery and electrical vehicle development in Metro Detroit. Think hybrids, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and battery electric vehicles.

Ford plans to bring four new electric/hybrid vehicles to market by 2012. These include a full battery commercial Transit Connect van-type commercial vehicle in 2010, a full battery electric passenger car by 2011 and plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2012.

GM is considering buildings its lithium ion batteries for the Chevrolet Volt in southeast Michigan. The company would invest about $43 million and create 140 new jobs if and when it makes it happen. GM is still considering other locations, but the state hopes the $6.8 million in tax incentives will convince Mother Motors to stay close to home.

Source: Michigan Economic Development Corporation
Writer: Jon Zemke


Mississauga-based Electrovaya’s Maya-300, a low and medium-speed electric vehicle, is part of the Canadian International Auto Show’s GTA?in Motion display.

Mississauga-based Electrovaya’s Maya-300, a low and medium-speed electric vehicle, is part of the Canadian International Auto Show’s GTA?in Motion display.

Fitting right in line with the 2009 Canadian International Auto Show’s The New Era mission statement, one of the most interesting exhibits is the GTA in Motion: The Future is Electric display, which aims to educate both the media and consumers on all sorts of alternatives to traditional transportation.

“Every year, the auto show puts together an area that speaks to the future of the automobile industry,” said CIAS marketing services specialist Jaime Lea Foss. “One of the elements was to be able to showcase both pure-electric and hybrid vehicles. We have speakers able to discuss where and how electric cars are going to be a part of today’s ‘green’ focus.”

Foss assembled Canadian leaders in the battery electric vehicle market, while also challenging Humber College design students to create their own visions of transport solutions for the coming century.

The result is a fantastic mix of displays and booths all with the goal of educating the consumer about non-internal-combustion options. The top 12 student designs run the perimeter of the 1,000 sq-m exhibit, and an overall winner will be chosen after the CIAS runs its course later this month.

Foss said that having designs shown at the CIAS was wonderful because it would, “Get the consumer starting to talk about the need for these vehicles to be on the road.”

Perhaps the most promising vehicle on display comes from Mississauga-based Electrovaya, a world leader in lithium-ion batteries — the same kind used in cellphones, MP3 players and laptop computers. The company is featuring its brand-new Maya-300 low and medium-speed electric vehicle.

Gitanjali DasGupta, Electrovaya’s director of electric vehicles, said that the company is currently researching a range of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles for all applications through its Clean Transportation division, including a partnership with Purolator to replace the old, smoggy delivery vehicles with a zero-emission version.

Meanwhile, the Maya-300 has the best chance of changing public perception because it resembles a modern five-door hatchback, similar to what’s sold in any regular dealership.

“It’s designed as an urban vehicle, for city driving, commuting, fleet use,” DasGupta said.

“I’d love to see these kinds of cars driven by parking enforcement officers (because) internal combustion engines are terribly inefficient in stop-and-go driving.”

The main challenge facing Electrovaya are the current regulations in most of Canada outlawing low-speed electric vehicles on public roads.

Only Quebec is running a test program to give some hand-picked companies such as Electrovaya a shot at Canadian success by allowing them onto streets with speed limits of 60 km/h or lower. And while DasGupta feels that the Maya-300 would easily be able to qualify under Quebec’s regulations, Electrovaya sees the United States’ vehicle market as a more important nut to crack for now.

“It’s perfect if you need a car to drop the kids to school, or pick up groceries, or if you don’t want to buy your kid an old jalopy, especially since you don’t want them on the highway,” she said.

On display
• The latest in low-speed transportation courtesy of a Mississauga-based battery maker. Doesn’t look like an electric vehicle, and can be equipped with power windows, air conditioning and rear airbags.

• Toronto-based ZENN (Zero Emissions No Noise) features its two-seat urban runabout.

Editors Note: This is a guest post by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom on the city’s important first step toward creating the electric vehicle infrastructure of the future.


Imagine cars with no tailpipes and no direct carbon emissions into our atmosphere — powered by an electrical energy system getting cleaner by the year through Renewable Portfolio Standards in effect in California and across the nation — creating hundreds of thousands of new green jobs.

More than a decade ago, I was one of the original owners of the EV1, an electric vehicle produced by General Motors (GM). When GM discontinued the series and reclaimed all of the EV1s, it was a major setback for the American car industry. Instead of leading the charge to create a new generation of vehicles — America fell behind.

Last year we woke up. Four dollar a gallon gas was the catalyst. The price has gone down since the spike, but I think most Americans understand we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and one of the keys is more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Today, San Francisco took an important first step toward creating the electric vehicle infrastructure of the future. This morning I unveiled the installation of electric vehicle charging stations in front of San Francisco City Hall. These stations — called Smartlets — are on loan to the city from Coulomb Technologies.

Car-sharing companies Zipcar and City CarShare will use two of the charging stations — giving the public the opportunity to drive plug-in vehicles before they are mass produced. The third charging station will be used by a plug-in car in the City of San Francisco municipal fleet.

Our proactive residents are the country’s earliest adopters of green vehicles. We have the highest number of hybrid cars owners in the United States. Many believe that hybrid vehicles are the future — I believe that full battery electric vehicles are the quantum leap we need to make.

Last November, I joined Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed to announce a nine-step policy plan for transforming the Bay Area into the Electric Vehicle Capital of the United States. Our bold regional initiative has been recognized by Coulomb Technologies, Better Place, General Motors (GM), and other companies who have made the Bay Area a high priority in their EV investment programs. In November, Better Place said it would invest $1 billion to create networked electric mobility systems in the Bay Area. Last month GM announced it will roll out its plug-in Chevy Volt in San Francisco, and Nissan named the Bay Area a prime location for launching its battery powered car.

Commercial availability of EVs is targeted to begin in 2010. GM plans to begin selling its long awaited Volt in San Francisco next year. A number of other manufacturers have electric vehicles in development, including BMW, Ford, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen.

In the meantime, we are working on a plan to roll out charging stations across the Bay Area. Our city fleet manager is discussing the purchase of plug-in vehicles with other Bay Area cities and we are in talks with major auto companies about getting our hands on the limited first wave of EVs to integrate into our fleet. By making greener driving choices, San Franciscans and our Bay Area neighbors can set an example for people across the nation.

The time for dramatic change is here. In the United States, transportation accounts for about 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions; and in San Francisco, that figure is greater than 50 percent. Pollution is changing our climate, damaging the air we breathe and threatening our food and water supplies. Our dependence on foreign oil is costing us billions of dollars annually. Electric vehicles have the possibility to transform our economy, revive our car industry, and improve our environment. To make sure electric vehicles succeed this time around we need to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in battery technology and the infrastructure.

Electric Cars and a Smarter Grid

ZapcarPeter DaSilva for The New York TimesZapcar electric cars charging in Califorina. Analysts are sanguine about this kind of thing becoming more common — someday.

Electric cars and a smart electric grid have a bright future, according to panelists at a roundtable discussion on the subject that I attended last Friday in Boston.

“I would say that electricity is a vastly superior fuel for the light vehicle fleet,” said Willett Kempton, a professor and alternative energy specialist at the University of Delaware.

And in a true smart grid, electric cars will not only be able to draw on electricity to run their motors, they will also be able to do the reverse: send electricity stored in their batteries back into the grid when it is needed. In effect, cars would be acting like tiny power stations.

“Most days, most cars are going to have lots of extra battery capacity,” said Mr. Kempton, noting that on average, American automobiles get driven for just one hour each day. Electrifying the entire vehicle fleet would provide more than three times the U.S.’s power generation, he said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates interstate transmission of electricity, is on board with the idea.


“Vehicle-to-grid is, I believe, the salvation of the automotive industry in the United States,” declared Marc Spitzer, an agency commissioner who was also on the panel.

Sven Thesen, the communication and technology director for Better Place, a start-up that is gaining traction (see this recent New York Times article) in its effort to create a network for electric cars in various countries, likened the concept of electric cars to cellphones.

“Fifteen years ago, how many people had a cellphone?” he asked.

Now, people are used to cellphone subscription plans and plugging the phone into the wall at night, Mr. Thesen reasoned, so a switch to electric cars would also be manageable.

And where does Better Place fit in?

“We will own the battery. We will always own the batteries,” said Mr. Thesen. “You guys own the cars.”

He envisioned “hundreds of thousands” of charging spots, as well as a number of stations where drained batteries could be exchanged for fresh ones.

A key thing, he said, will be to recharge the batteries at an acceptable time for the electricity grid — to “make sure people aren’t charging at the very peak, peak time,” like late afternoon when the electricity grid is already weighted down by demands like air conditioning.

Battery recharging would typically take two to four hours, he said.

So far Israel, Denmark, Australia, Hawaii and California’s Bay Area have plans to implement the Better Place model. Mr. Thesen said that a factory in Turkey was being refurbished to be able to produce 100,000 electric vehicles a year.

But a large-scale system of electric cars and smart grids is unlikely to be ready soon.

Asked when there might be one million electric vehicles on the road that could also feed their battery capacity back into the grid in a two-way exchange, the panelists generally said between 2017 and 2020.

The sexy electric Roadster by Tesla Motors has been getting a lot of attention ever since the first photos came out a few years ago. Part of that attention comes from its looks, which were different from most electric cars that came before, but what’s under the hood is just as interesting.

Tesla Roadster Electric Car Photo


BYD is a huge Chinese battery maker who recently started making plug-in hybrids and electric cars. Despite delays some delays in introducing EVs to the US, it is on track to become a big player in the next few years. The electric E6 pictured here is BYD’s battery-powered crossover. There’s also the BYD F3DM and F6DM.

BYD E6 Electric Car photo
The XS500 by the Miles Automotive Group is expected to be a highway-capable electric car sold for $30,000-35,000 in the United States around 2009-2010.
Miles XS500 EV Electric Car photo
the i MiEV by Mitsubishi is a small battery electric car that has got a lot of press lately. Mitsubishi has announced that it would start producing it a year in advance (2009 instead of 2010), and 2,000 i MiEVs will be made in the production run.
Mitsubishi i MiEV electric car photo

The R1E is a small urban battery electric car by Subaru. It was recently tested around New York City.

Subaru r1e electric car photo
The EV1 is now almost a legend, partly because it was one of the first electric cars that the average person could actually drive, and partly because of GM’s campaign to destroy them (see Who Killed the Electric Car?). Recently an EV1 that avoided being crushed was sold for $465k.
GM EV1 Electric Car photo
The REVA (known as the G-Wiz i in the UK) is a small city electric car from India. It’s not the most high-tech EV, and at 745 kg (1,640 lb), it’s definitely not the biggest. But it’s been in production since 2001 and the new version features an improved range.
REVA electric car photo
The ZENN (Zero Emission, No Noise) is a 2-seater neighborhood battery electric car. It has a range of up to 40 miles (64 km) and does not exceed 25 mph (40 km/h). This green car has been in production since 2006.
ZENN EV Electric Car photo
The Tango is an ultra-narrow electric sports car built by Commuter Cars. It sells for an eye-popping $108,000 (you could get a Tesla Roadster for that kind of money), and it is better known as “that electric car that George Clooney drives“. It can do 0-60 mph in 4 seconds.
Tango Electric Car photo
The Aptera 2e (formerly the Typ-1e) is a super-efficient electric vehicle designed be Aptera motors, and it probably has the most avant-garde look of all electric cars featured here. The company also plans a plug-in hybrid version that would get about 300 MPG if plugged in every 120 miles. Google has invested money in the company. The all-electric model will sell for $27,000 and the series plug-in hybrid version will sell for $30,000.
Aptera Electric Car photo
The GM Volt is a “range-extended” electric car is scheduled for 2011. It should be able to drive 40 miles in all-electric mode before a gas engine kicks in to recharge the batteries. More information and photos about the Volt can be found here.
GM Volt plug in electric car photo
Like the GM Volt, the Fisker Karma is a “range-extended” electric car. Its all-electric range is 50 miles, and over that a gas engine kicks in to generate power and recharge the batteries. Fisker has recently opened an engineering center near Detroit
Fisker Karma plug in electric car photo

In the fall of 2008 Chrysler unveiled three electric car concepts, saying that it would produce one. The first is the Dodge EV, an electric sports car.

Dodge EV electric sports car photo

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