Archive for the ‘Research’ Category


Sep 21

GM Announces Partnership to Explore Opportunities to Reuse Chevrolet Volt Batteries


[ad#post_ad]General Motors has signed a memorandum of understanding with the ABB Group to explore opportunities for the reuse of Chevrolet Volt batteries packs after their vehicular lifetimes have ended.

The Chevrolet Volt’s 16 kwh lithium-ion battery pack has a warranty of 8 years/100,000 miles during which time 40 miles of EV driving range can be maintained.  This is the longest most comprehensive warranty of it’s kind in the automotive industry and is fully transferable between owners. The warranty includes all 161 part of the battery, 95% of which were designed and engineered by GM. It also includes the thermal management, charging system, and electric drive components

It is known that the Volt’s battery will still have very significant energy storage capacity after the warranty period has ended.  The new partnership with ABB is looking at ways to best  utilize that energy storage capacity. “The Volt’s battery will have significant capacity to store electrical energy, even after its automotive life,” said Micky Bly, GM Executive Director of Electrical Systems, Hybrids, Electric Vehicles and Batteries. “That’s why we’re joining forces with ABB to find ways to enable the Volt batteries to provide environmental benefits that stretch far beyond the highway.”

ABB is the world’s largest supplier of power grid systems and a leading power and automation technology provider. Their technologies allow utilities and industry to improve performance, while at the same time reducing their environmental impact. “Our relationship with ABB will help develop solutions that optimize the full lifecycle of the Volt battery,” said Bly.

“Future smart grids will incorporate a larger proportion of renewable energy sources and will need to supply a vast e-mobility infrastructure – both of which require a wide range of energy storage solutions,” said Bazmi Husain, head of ABB’s smart grids initiative. “We are excited to explore the possibility of employing electric car batteries in a second use that could help build needed storage capacity and provide far-reaching economic and environmental benefits.”

The joint venture will explore the utilization of used Volt packs in the following ways:

  • Renewable Energy Storage: Power generated by wind and the sun can be stored in Volt battery systems and used when demand warrants.
  • Grid Load Management: Utilities will be able to use the Volt batteries to store electricity generated during off-peak periods to supplement demand during high-peak operation. This will help utilities to better manage the grid, improving reliability and efficiency.
  • Back-up Power Supplies for Communities: Volt battery systems can store electricity that can be used by communities during power outages caused by storms or other natural disasters.
  • Time of Use Management: Industrial customers can store off-peak, lower-priced electrical power in Volt batteries for use during peak demand time of day for cost savings.

“Chevrolet and GM are committed to assuring that our vehicles minimize their impact on the environment,” Bly said. “Our focus on finding additional applications for the Volt’s batteries after their vehicle use extends our commitment to unprecedented levels.”


Source (GM)


Aug 29

Survey: Forty Percent of US Drivers Plan to Test Drive an EV, Seventy One Percent Express Range Anxiety


[ad#post_ad]The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) published the results of their new study called Electric Vehicles: The Future of Driving in which American adults were surveyed online about their opinion of pure electric cars.

The study revealed a full 40% of US adults planned to test drive an electric vehicle and are open to the idea of purchasing one. Forty-two percent said they are likely to follow news reports about electric cars. Almost one third (32%) said they were familiar or very familiar with hybrid cars, but only 25% said they were familiar with electric cars.

The chief reasons people cited for wanting to own an electric car were positive environmental impact and reduced operating costs. Over three-quarters (78%) said the ability of these cars to drive without gasoline was the major reason for wanting one, while 67% wanted them because they produce less pollution. Lack of need for oil changes and tune-ups was the top reason for 60% of those wanting to purchase an electric car.

“For a new product category, interest in electric vehicles is strong and likely to grow as more vehicles enter the market and consumers become more aware of them,” said Chris Ely, CEA’s manager of industry analysis. “Manufacturers, dealers and other sellers will need to emphasize mileage and battery-related specifications when promoting and selling electric vehicles.”

The study did reveal that people perceived significant disadvantages to owning an electric car. Chief among a them was fear of running out of electricity while driving, cited by 71% of respondents. About two thirds (66%) were concerned about lack of charging stations and/or not being able to recharge, and limited range was a concern for 59%.

Half the respondents (51%) said they would be less likely to purchase an electric car if specialized home charging equipment had to be installed.

“Environmental benefits, coupled with potential cost savings in fuel and tune-ups, will lead to increased interest for electric vehicles and potential floor traffic at dealerships,” said Ely. “But concerns regarding battery life, charging stations and limited mileage may keep some consumers away until a comprehensive infrastructure is in place.”

The study surveyed 950 people from the US between May 27th ad June 3rd 2010.  Familiarity with the term plugin in hybrid was not specifically asked, nor was the preference of a 40 mile EREV versus a 100 mile EV determined.

Source (CEA)


May 17

Major Study Predicts Electric Car Adoption Will be Low


[ad#post_ad]Deloitte is a large multinational consulting firm that has just released a new study analyzing electric car adoption, including a survey of 2000 would be consumers and extensive interviews with automotive industry experts. The full report can be accessed here, and is one of the most realistic I have seen.  It is called Gaining Traction: a customer view of electric vehicle mass adoption in the U.S. automotive market.

In the introduction they note a convergence of factors including government incentives are making electric cars “look good”, but warn there are considerable challenges to mass adoption.

Four areas were analyzed: market opportunity, target customers, barriers to adoption, and market forecast.

Market Opportunity
They note electric cars offer unprecedented opportunity for automakers, yet unprecedented threat as extensive, expensive restructuring has to take place.

Target Customers
The study builds a profile of who the early adopters will be noting they “will be a small number of buyers, nowhere near the volume needed for mass adoption.”  They are considered to be young high income (>200 k household) people, mostly centered in Southern California who already own one to two vehicles. The vast majority of the US population are expected to be non adopters.

The next wave that will enter the market immediately after the early adopters, are called the early majority. These people are generally 40 to 44 with a household income of 114K. Ninety percent will have garages and their weekly driving mileage will be about 100. This group consist of 1.3 million individuals.

Barriers to Adoption
The study notes the majority of the population would consider purchasing EVs but four barriers to adoption will hinder actual sales.

Familiarity: the research suggests though people have heard of electric cars, they are not familiar enough with the technology to be comfortable buying them. In their survey of 2000 people it was found the majority were familiar with the terms hybrid and plugin hybrid.  The least familiar term was “range extender,” even less than next up from the bottom “battery swapping stations.”

Brand: would-be consumers said they would be most likely to buy an electric car if it was from a brand they trusted. The study showed that 17% would prefer to buy and electric car from Toyota, 15% from Honda, and 12% from Ford.  The Chevrolet brand came in forth at 8%, and Nissan came in ninth at 4%.  Tesla came in at just 2%, and Fisker was zero.

Range: though most participants drove little enough that a 100 mile EV could satisfy their needs, range anxiety was determined to be “pervasive.” Seventy percent of respondents believed they needed a minimum of 300 miles of total range before they would feel comfortable purchasing an electric car.

Charging: 81% said they would want to charge at home, but 61% said they wouldn’t have the right  access for home charging. Only 17% said they would be willing to wait 8 hours to charge a car, and more than half said they wouldn’t buy an electric car until there were ample easy-to-find public fast charging stations.

Price: 69% said price is the most important issue in deciding to buy an electric car, and most felt the price should be less than $30,000. It was determined that lithium-ion batteries would have to drop 40% from their current value for EVs to be on par with ICE cars. 2014 was the projected year for this price point to be reached and thus will likely be the inflection point at which the early majority will enter the market.

Market Forecast
Based on the barriers to adoption and target customers as outlined above, the study concluded a rather conservative forecast of electric car sales. It was estimated that by 2020 electric cars of all types will account for only 3.1% of the US market, or approximately 465k units. If five different automakers are in the 2020 market, the forecast is that each company would only sell a total of 93,000 electric cars per year by then. These low levels of market acceptance, they conclude, would make it very difficult for the automakers to recover up-front investment costs.

Source (Deloitte, PDF)


May 14

Study Confirms Range Anxiety Will be a Major Hurdle to EV Adoption


[ad#post_ad]GM had gotten significant real world experience with its California-based EV-1 program in the late 90s.  Despite the acute PR backlash recalling and crushing the vehicles had on GM, the company did learn a lot about how people live with EVs.

It was this firsthand experience with and knowledge about range anxiety that prompted GM VP Jon Lauckner to adjust Bob Lutz’ pure EV Volt concept to having a lower range and a range extender.

We are in the first year mainstream retail EVs will finally hit the market, with the 100 mile range electric Nissan Leaf and 40 mile extended range Volt due out in the fall.  It is unknown how the market will accept these cars, but a new study adds to the growing body of evidence that range anxiety will turn out to be a significant issue. surveyed 1000 prospective buyers and found that 54% were very concerned about range anxiety they might have in pure electric cars like the Nissan LEAF or Mitsubishi iMiEV.  A robust 43% of respondents said they drove too much to even consider such cars.

These prospective customers also did not appear to be patient about charging. A total of 41% said they believed the cars needed to be able to be recharged in under 2 hours.

The study participants were randomly selected and the study was carefully designed so that the group would closely mirror the US population.

The study did not ask the group which they would choose between an EV or Volt, though as Bob Lutz has said, GM internal research revealed that number to be 83%.

In the beginning, early adopters with our varying motives will buy up all the Volts and Leafs that can be made.  Nissan is aiming for 25,000 pre-orders by launch, and now have already exceeded 8000.  Since GM will only build 8000 Volts from December 2010 to December 2011, they will all surely be sold as well.

It is really the next stage beginning in 2012 when GM and Nissan significantly ramp up production, and other major players like Ford and Toyota come in with plugin cars, that we will find out which vehicle type shall dominate.

It is most likely sales will include a healthy mixture of pure EVs, extended range EVs, and plug-in hybrids that cater to different subgroups within the greater population.  Pure EVs are likely to remain the smallest group.

Source (USA Today)


May 09

GM Admits to Working on Lithium Air Batteries


[ad#post_ad]Lithium-air is the holy grail technology of lithium-ion batteries.

In current lithium ion batteries, lithium ions move between anode and cathode within the cell. As they move in one direction the cell becomes charged, in the other direction it discharges or provides electron flow to do work external to the battery, such as powering an electric motor.

Critical factors about these lithium cells besides their cost is their energy and power density. Energy density refers to how much energy the cell can carry per unit weight. The LG Chem cells being used for the Volt, for example, are 150 watt-hours per kilogram. That means a fully charged 2.2 pound block of these cells could run a 150 watt light bulb for an hour. The 240 pounds of it in the 440 pound pack can propel the Chevy Volt for up to 40 miles.

Lithium air batteries skip incorporating metal as a cathode and use atmospheric oxygen molecules to bind directly to lithium. This allows them to be extraordinarily energy dense. Functioning cells have been produced in the laboratory and have a theoretical energy density of over 5000 watt-hours per kilogram. Most experts believe 10 fold energy density improvement is obtainable. Thus if the technology can be commercialized, the Volt could get by on less than 30 pounds of batteries!

A few hundred pounds of these cells would be adequate to electrify large trucks and give sedans many hundreds of miles if not a thousand miles of electric range.

“Lithium-air is where we’re going,” said Donald Hillebrand director of the Center for Transportation Research at Argonne National Laboratory . “You can’t foresee the future, but right now, that’s the place where I think we see the endpoint, the end solution for … the battery. The battery everybody’s looking for.”

GM has made a conscious decision not to joint venture with a battery maker or to produce their own cells in house.  They opted to contract suppliers instead, such as LG Chem.  This offers them the option of putting any vendor’s cells in their cars whenever they become available.

Supporting that strategy has been the development of their own recently expanding advanced battery testing lab.  The facility, which I’ve visited, receives specimens from all over the world for testing.

GM has already tested cells from over a hundred vendors and knows about literally hundreds of technologies from companies, universities, and laboratories worldwide.  Samples are tested regularly and specifically to determine if they are sufficient for automotive use.

Among the technologies GM is working on according to the New York Times, is lithium air:

GM said it’s working on lithium-air, next-generation lithium-ion, and other chemistries.

GM battery lab director Ronn Jamieson says the first step in evaluating a cell is confirming its science.  “Is it physically possible? Does it defy the laws of physics or thermodynamics or anything else?” says Jamieson.  Next the lab subjects cells to a rigorous and grueling battery of function and abuse testing for more than a year.  “Theoretically, if it can happen, you’ve got to at least assess and understand what will happen,” he said.

Experts vary in predicting how long it will take to commercialize this technology, but most estimates range between 10 and 20 years.

But when they do arrive, thanks to a nimble open door policy and an early foot in the door, GM could be the first to benefit.

Source (NY Times)


Apr 30

What is the Future of the Automobile?


[ad#post_ad]Technology marches inexorably to the future, ever changing and ever improving as the beat of human ingenuity propels it forward.

Just as the Volt represents a major paradigm shift for the automobile, so too one day even its technology and form factor will become outdated.

As much as we wait patiently for the Volt to roll into dealers lots and driveways across America, big thinkers sit pencil in hand dreaming up the next big thing. Not just about health and medicine, computers and technology, earth and space exploration but so too are people dreaming about the next generations of automobiles.

Chris Borroni-Bird is one such big thinker. Borroni is GM’s Director of Advanced Technology Vehicle Concepts and was in part responsible for the recently demonstrated EN-V concept.

The EN-V concept which stands for “electric networked vehicle” is a 2 person electric pod capable of autonomous driving via wireless networking to other pods. It is proposed for use in urban centers of the future.

Borroni along with GM’s former VP of R&D, Larry Burns who was responsible for the similar PUMA concept, and William Mitchell, Professor of Architecture and Media Arts and Sciences at MIT, co-wrote a new book called Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century.

The book takes the premise that today’s vehicles are fundamentally no different than the old Model T and that in the near future they should become “green, smart, connected, and fun to drive.” They argue the concept of cars with high power and speed to move multiple people along great distances is becoming outdated. Most of the world’s population is in densely crowded big cities, and a new form of low speed high efficiency electric transportation would be best suited for them.

Four central themes expected to revolutionize personal mobility are outlined and expanded upon in the book:

1.  Base the underlying design principles on electric-drive and wireless communications rather than the internal combustion engine and stand-alone operation
2.  Develop the Mobility Internet for sharing traffic and travel data
3.  Integrate electric-drive vehicles with smart electric grids that use clean, renewable energy sources
4.  Establish dynamically priced markets for electricity, road space, parking space, and shared-use vehicles

Are these leaders correct in envisioning the transition of the high horsepower two-ton chrome and steel roaring machines into the little self driving electric pod for two? I don’t know but you can tell them what you think or ask them what your want.  GM-Volt is fortunate enough to be hosting a live chat at 2PM Eastern Time with the three authors in the chat box below.  You can also order their newly published book by clicking the Amazon link below:


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