Electric drive systems


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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.”

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IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced its membership in the EDISON research consortium, a Denmark-based collaborative aimed at developing an intelligent infrastructure that will make possible the large scale adoption of electric vehicles powered by sustainable energy.

The EDISON effort (Electric Vehicles in a Distributed and Integrated Market using Sustainable Energy and Open Networks) consists of IBM, Denmark’s largest energy company DONG Energy, the regional energy company of Oestkraft, Technical University of Denmark, Siemens, Eurisco and the Danish Energy Association. Due to the environmental benefits of the electric vehicle technologies, the research will be partly funded by the Danish government.

Market introduction and investment plans in Denmark will result in upwards of 10% of the country’s vehicles being all electric or hybrid electric during the coming years. In order to minimize CO2-emissions linked to electrified transport, global attention on vehicles and infrastructure that will maximize the use of renewable energy for mobility has increased. To achieve this on a large scale, electric vehicles require smart technologies to control charging and billing and to ensure the stability of the overall energy system.

“Denmark, the host of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change conference and the most energy efficient country in the EU, further underscores its ambitions here with the Edison project announcement,” said Guido Bartels, General Manager of IBM’s Global Energy & Utilities industry. “There is already broad consensus that both wind energy and electric vehicles have enormous potential for a sustainable energy future — bringing the two together promises to be a winning combination.”

The first step of the consortium is to develop smart technologies to be implemented on the Danish island of Bornholm, designed to function as a testbed. The island has 40,000 inhabitants and an energy infrastructure characterized by a large proportion of wind energy. Creating a testbed on the island will allow researchers to study how the energy system functions as the number of electric vehicles increases. The studies will be simulation-based and will not impact security of supply on the island.

Within the project, researchers from IBM Denmark and from IBM’s Zurich Research Laboratory will develop smart technologies that synchronize the charging of the electric vehicles with the availability of wind in the grid. IBM has also contributed a hardware platform to the Technical University of Denmark that will be used for large-scale real-time simulations of the energy system and the impact of electric vehicles. When completed, the project will contribute to reaching the political objective of increasing the share of renewable energy in overall energy consumption.

“Electric vehicles are one of the technologies we can use to incorporate renewable energy into transportation,” said Danish Minister of Climate and Energy Connie Hedegaard. “That is why we are making it possible for electric cars to enter the market in order to replace conventional fuel. Projects like Edison show how it’s possible to create sustainable solutions in real life.”

While various companies have announced initiatives in Denmark that will contribute to the overall adoption of an electric vehicle system, EDISON will address the entire end-to-end process to make the system possible — this includes ensuring overall grid stability and supporting the increased use of renewable energy. The smart technologies developed within EDISON may also be applied to the management of other types of decentralized batteries throughout the grid.

“Electric vehicles have enormous potential for creating a cleaner energy system as well as a cleaner transport system,” said Tim Mondorf, Nordic Business Development Executive, Energy & Environment at IBM. “We look forward to creating a working, intelligent management system first on the real-life test laboratory of the island of Bornholm, and in the longer term for Denmark as a whole.”

IBM is working with clients in nearly 50 Smart Grid engagements across emerging and mature markets. More about IBM’s vision to bring a new level of intelligence to how the world works — how every person, business, organization, government, natural system, and man-made system interacts, can be found here: http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/presskit/26094.wss

About IBM:

For more information on smart utilities at IBM visit: http://www-03.ibm.com/industries/utilities/us/index.html

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A coalition dedicated to paving the way for plug-in electric cars in communities launched on Tuesday, highlighting the technical and economic challenges to electric transportation.

Project Get Ready is spearheaded by think tank the Rocky Mountain Institute and includes a few municipalities, utilities, and nonprofits as members. It counts automakers, including General Motors, and technology companies as advisers.

The group’s goal is to accelerate plug-in electric car adoption by helping communities create multi-year plans for adoption. It will initially work with three communities–Raleigh, N.C.; Portland, Ore.; and Indianapolis, Ind.–and convene with over 20 communities later this year to share information.

Electric vehicles were a major theme at this year’s North American International Auto Show and there’s been a great deal of interest in electric cars, like the Chevy Volt, years before their release.

But communities need to actively prepare for the new technology in order to meet President Obama’s goal of getting 1 million plug-in electric cars on the road by 2015–one-half of one percent of the U.S. auto fleet.

Consumers need to get accustomed to daily charging and many areas, such as cities, will need to have public charging stations. Initially, plug-in electric cars will be more expensive than gas-only cars. Also, there is some concern over how much the additional load of plug-in electric cars will bring to the power grid.

“Our hypothesis is that the challenges can best be overcome by focusing on city and community readiness,” said Laura Schewel, project manager and consultant with the Rocky Mountain Institute. The plan is to create a “menu” of techniques for addressing common barriers, such as high upfront cost, and to demonstrate that there is consumer demand, she said.

Mayor Charles Meeker of Raleigh said that plug-in electric vehicles tie into the company’s economic development plans and goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce imports of oil.

The city has one plug-in electric vehicle and intends to increase that number to 15 or 20 within a year. It hopes to build eight charging stations in the downtown area, funded through parking fees and by partnering with utilities. It is also applying for federal government loans, according to city officials.

The Indianapolis area is eager to test plug-in electric vehicles because the region’s auto companies intend to manufacture batteries and components for electric vehicles, said Paul Mitchell, a representative with the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership.

“We believe this can create jobs and investments,” he said. “This is part of our stimulus strategy by taking advantage of this new paradigm.”

The region is working with two utilities to test smart-grid technology to control when and how quickly plug-in cars are charged so that they don’t stress the grid, Mitchell said. One of the challenges to adoption is developing a regulatory model that allows utilities to invest in smart-grid technology, he said.

Charging a plug-in electric vehicle takes about as much electricity as three plasma TVs and set-top boxes, according Joe Barra, director of customer energy resources at Portland General Electric. He said that since most vehicle charging will happen at night at off-peak times, the utility won’t need to substantially change its power generation.

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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

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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
ELECTROVAYA MAYA-300
• 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.

ZENN
• 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.

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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.

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