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Sep 16

Electric vehicle makers rest hopes on fleets to aid plug-in proliferation

 

What will it take to speed the process of plug-in vehicle proliferation?

Aside from consumer acceptance in the long run, it will require adoption by fleets in the near term, say electric vehicle industry stakeholders.

This was the gist of a recent Reuters report by Maria Gallucci of InsideClimateNews, in which a number of reasons were given for why fleets are diving into electrification while many consumers sit on the sidelines.


New York City recently made a sizable fleet purchase of Chevrolet Volts.

One major one is fleet operators will pay the extra upfront money required for plug-in vehicles because they focus on a vehicle’s overall operating costs and have the budget to do so.

“They’re interested in the total cost of ownership. That’s their number one priority,” said Sam Ori, policy director for the Electrification Coalition in Washington, D.C. “If you can show there is a value over six to seven years, you’ve got a foot in the door.”

In the course of a truck or car’s lifetime, savings on fuel and maintenance will be substantial, the report said.

The belief is that as plug-in vehicles are adopted, a cascade of benefits will follow.

“By fleets being first movers, they can help scale up the battery industry in a significant way in the early years of the electric vehicle industry,” Ori said.

Hopes are also riding on fleets “working out the kinks,” Reuters said, of yet-scarce recharging infrastructure, thus alleviating concerns held by all over range anxiety.

‘First Movers’

Readers of GM-Volt are familiar with the term “early adopters.” A synonym for their fleet counterpart is “first movers.”

One advantage first movers in charge of fleets have is the numbers to make a difference.

The Electrification Coalition said about 16 million government and corporate cars, trucks and vans in America are controlled by fleets. This is 6 percent of the nation’s 255 million light duty vehicles.

Fleet operators in charge of this sizable chunk are expected to buy more than 200,000 all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles between 2011 and 2015.

Many of these, further, will be trucks that cost much more per unit than a Chevy Volt, and in cases, more even than a Fisker Karma.

Bottom-line thinking by fleet operators will justify their purchases, as their fuel savings alone is especially great, said Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA).

On a cost-per-mile basis, “electricity is about a quarter of the cost of gas on today’s prices, and electricity prices can be pretty stable going forward,” Wynne said.


When is brown actually green? See the all-electric UPS truck above.

The EDTA estimates a plug-in car costs 2-3 cents per mile, versus five times this for a petrol vehicle.

What is more, industrial and commercial firms typically pay less for their electricity than do consumers in their homes, so their savings are further amplified

Another perk fleet buyers can demand that individual consumers cannot is vehicles custom tailored for their requirements.

For example, if a truck has a given route to drive, its battery pack can be specified to be just enough and thus less expensive – not overkill and thus more expensive.

In contrast, someone contemplating a $32,000 Nissan Leaf and only needing to drive 12 miles per day could not very well expect Nissan to deliver a one-off version with a quarter-sized battery – and demand a hefty discount besides.

But such advantages are possible for larger clients placing bulk orders, with promise of more purchases to follow.

And if this were not enough, an additional value EVs and hybrids present fleets is reduced maintenance. Electric drivetrains particularly cost much less to upkeep, having no engines or conventional transmissions.

This advantage is further multiplied by the number of vehicles a fleet owns and the fact that these vehicles normally undergo heavy wear and tear in their lifetime.

“Past 60 to 70,000 miles, maintenance costs go through the roof,” said Ori. “For companies like FedEx,” he added, “that’s a huge expenditure over a 10-year lifespan.”

Some first movers

There are hundreds if not thousands of potential fleet customers poised to take advantage of hybrid and electric vehicles, from utilities, to delivery services to the U.S., state and local government agencies.

Reuters observes that General Electric leads the list, as it has committed to buy 25,000 electric vehicles by 2015 for its global fleet management businesses comprised of around 65,000 customers.

By 2015, GE has said it will convert half of its 30,000-vehicle fleet to electric, and this year alone it will buy 12,000 GM electric vehicles, including the Volt.

Other lesser examples, among others, include FedEx and UPS.


Yesterday’s article mentioned battery makers receiving government funds. Johnson Controls’ Brownstown facility – in the same town LG Chem will build Volt batteries – will make batteries for this Azure Dynamics delivery truck. No direct cross pollination is known, but indirectly the success of one does depend on the success of the other.

As of August FedEx had 43 electric vans in four U.S. cities, plus London and Paris. Similarly UPS said last month it bought 100 all-electric vans to replace older diesels in California.

More examples could be given, but we will assume you get the point …

Consumer concerns persist

Lack of infrastructure is being overcome best in California, and here and there in the rest of the country thanks to public and private funding sources, but overall, range anxiety remains a worry.

Where possible, advocates have tried to minimize some of these concerns, stating they are essentially overblown.

“The average American drives 40 miles a day, therefore an electric vehicle that gets 100 miles of range should provide more than enough range,” Ori said. “Of course, consumers don’t buy vehicles that way. You want the vehicle to be able to meet your needs for all kinds of different things.”

The very fact that plug-in cars are a minority, and expected to remain so for years is proof that – right or wrong – many U.S. consumers remain unconvinced.

A common consumer objection is that plug-in vehicles are a step backwards compared to internally combusted vehicles. They cost more, and have limited range and slow recharging in a country where 170,000 gas stations and five-minute fill-ups are taken for granted.

Further, city dwellers, multi-unit apartment dwellers and people who otherwise do not have a garage to charge a plug-in vehicle naturally view their situation as a major impediment.

In contrast, fleets can get around these problems with ease, Reuters said. They typically have depots or parking areas where they install chargers and plug-in as long as it requires.

And since delivery trucks, for example, often traverse the same areas or routes daily, charging can be set up to accommodate them.

Jump starting the age of battery-powered vehicles

Fleets are being seen as the hopeful contender to augment creation of economies of scale.

Adding to the Reuters report, as we learned yesterday, battery companies are already poised to have excess production capacity.

But more will be needed, Reuters said.

Federal and state tax benefits for advanced manufacturing “will be critical to helping drive down the costs of technology,” said Simon Mui, a scientist with the National Resources Defense Council’s Air & Energy Program.

He also said federal incentives like tax credits or rebates must be included to sweeten the deal.

The Obama Administration has doled out $2.4 billion to 30 automakers, advanced battery manufacturers, as well as battery materials suppliers, and this is seen as at least helping.


FedEx electric truck.

Getting the nascent industry up to speed however will take more time, money, energy, and innovation.

Ori and the Electrification Coalition plus other advocates are in favor of more strategic government spending, including revisiting a set of bills tabled by Congress intended to further subsidize EVs in key markets. These are expected to be considered next session.

On toward progress

In sum, more private and government spending, new thinking, strategic alliances and innovation will be necessary if plug-in vehicles are to succeed, say some observers.

Individual consumers do represent the lion’s share of purchasing power, and they to will need to be catered to by automakers and stakeholders.

In the short term however, fleets are seen as lower hanging fruit, and better positioned to embrace the unique value proposition represented by plug-in vehicles.

Their money is expected to help enable growth by the electric vehicle industry in coming years as manufacturers clamor to make the deal clearly better for everyone else.

Reuters, InsideClimateNews
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Web Chat – Today from 2:30-3:30 p.m. EST
A little while ago I wrote a story about Kiplinger writer Jessica Anderson’s analysis of the Volt’s cost and sent a link to Volt Line Director Tony Posawatz. Yesterday the Volt team informed me that Tony and Jessica will conduct a live Web chat discussing this topic. They will focus on Jessica’s article called “Green Cars Make Cents.” in which she examines the cost to operate electric vehicles versus conventional gas-powered ones. As we know, the third party calculator estimating the Volt’s cost had to be corrected, but after Kiplinger fixed its formula, the Volt’s total five-year ownership cost was still shown to close the gap to only $1,575 more than a $22,000 Cruze – even though the Volt had been a $41,000 purchase. Feel free to sign up for an email reminder above or go to VoltAge.

 

Aug 25

Two American-owned automakers contemplate hybridization partnerships

 

An old English proverb says, “Adversity makes strange bedfellows,” and so it could be with both Ford and GM-owned Opel/Vauxhall, which are respectively eying alliances with others to more effectively tackle automobile electrification challenges.

In Ford’s case, this week it was reported it and Toyota have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to co-develop a hybrid light-duty truck powertrain this decade.

Fast on the heels of that news, yesterday Automotive News reported that Opel/Vauxhall is also looking for someone to team up with to share development costs for more gasoline-electric cars.


Opel Ampera.

The aforementioned “adversity” now compelling partnerships could be any or all factors adding up to high costs automakers must face as they attempt to prepare for challenging conditions.

What conditions are those? They could include altruistic intentions toward making the world a cleaner, less wasteful place, and helping humanity solve environmental and energy hurdles in light of waning petroleum and increased pollution.

Or, short of voluntary compliance with such noble ideals, the reality is they have to, regardless, as various legislative bodies are tightening the screws on automakers with efficiency mandates.

Yes, the writing is clearly on the wall pushing manufacturers to make expedient business decisions to stay ahead of the curve, if at all possible.

One specific looming incentive for the U.S Ford-Toyota deal is pending CAFE rules that by 2025 will mandate a “54.5 mpg” standard (equal to around 40 mpg on the window sticker).

Ford and Toyota

This week the two companies said they’d been talking for months since a chance meeting took place in an airport between Ford CEO Alan Mulally and Toyota President Akio Toyoda.

The exact airport and date wasn’t reported, but the story has it that they began discussing ideas, exchanged cards, and kept the dialogue going. Now, months later, the two companies are expected to announce a formal agreement next year.

The East-meets-West collaboration could very well see Ford putting something like a Prius drivetrain into its best-selling F-series pickups, and possibly other light-duty trucks. Toyota at the same time will hybridize its own Tundra and Sequoia-sized vehicles, and possibly others.


2012 Harley-Davidson Ford F-150. How would you like to see a hybrid version of this?

“We expect to create exciting and socially beneficial technologies with Ford, and we can do so because our two companies have enough experience to create a synergy effect in hybrid technology,” said Takeshi Uchiyamada, a Toyota executive vice president.

Note that his chosen words included two out of three of the proprietary words Toyota uses to describe its “Hybrid Synergy Drive.”

The timing for a formal Ford-Toyota agreement may be about when the Obama administration settles the details of its proposed doubling of current CAFE mandates.

As it stands, the CAFE plan calls for 5-percent annual increases that won’t immediately affect pickup trucks until 2019, unless a mid-year review to the plan in 2018 changes the mandates for those vehicles.

Whether the rules change mid-way or not, as tentative plans are now written, after 2019 annual efficiency increases would be required for pickups at a rate yet to be determined. By 2022, pickup trucks are expected to be mandated to achieve the same 5-percent annual increases as passenger vehicles will.

The CAFE rules also say light trucks other than full-sized pickups would have to make 3.5 percent increases in mileage standards in the 2017-21 model years and 5 percent annual increases in the 2022-25 model years.

In the months of talks prior to the rules being settled, the major thrust of objections by auto industry stakeholders to the Obama CAFE clamp being tightened was it would cost a fortune, and make their vehicles uncompetitive.

It was also said consumers would bypass potentially expensive-to-make vehicles in favor of what they wanted, further jeopardizing the profitability of automakers forced to improve efficiency for their vehicles.

Ford and Toyota appear to have found a way toward deflecting this threat by splitting development costs.

“By working together we will be able to serve our customers with the very best affordable, advanced powertrains, delivering even better fuel economy,” Ford CEO Alan Mulally said in a statement. “This is the kind of collaborative effort that is required to address the big global challenges of energy independence and environmental sustainability.”

While it is being said Ford F-Series pickups and possibly E-Series vans would be beneficiaries, Automotive News reported the companies did not release financial details or identify which specific vehicles will be involved.

What is known, according to Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s vice president of product development, is that product development teams from Ford and Toyota began meeting on the collaboration in April.

“This agreement brings together the capability of two global leaders in hybrid vehicles and hybrid technology to develop a better solution more quickly and affordably for our customers,” said Kuzak.

If it goes through, the deal looks like it could help Ford a lot, as Toyota knows how to squeak out efficiency. Its 2012 Camry Hybrid, for example, was just announced as gaining a 24-percent improvement in city driving efficiency, now pegged at 43 mpg. Not bad for a mid-size car. Merging that technology, combined with lessons yet to be learned in the next several years into a Ford truck might be just what the doctor ordered.

Incidentally, this will make the second hybrid/plug-in-tech collaboration for Toyota in recent news, as the company has also been working with Tesla in developing solutions, with a one $100 million contract already made, and reports of a $1 billion deal also having been discussed.

The dealings between Toyota – for now still the world’s largest automaker – have definitely been a leg-up for Tesla.

Opel/Vauxhall

There is less to report about this GM-controlled company as it is only now looking for a dance partner – but looking, it is.

“Hybrid technology is becoming increasingly more important. We are not holding any concrete talks but a cooperation would be certainly a good way to cut costs,” Opel CEO Karl-Friedrich Stracke told the national German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung yesterday.

In this company’s case, the motivation to partner is essentially the same as it is between Ford and Toyota, but on a different continent, and considering different legislated mandates.

Stracke said European law insists by 2020 carmakers’ offerings must emit no more than 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer.


Note he calls the Apera a “pure electric vehicle.” That’s a bit more bold than trying to call it an “extended-range electric vehicle.”

“We need hybrid technology starting with compact cars and upwards,” Stracke said.

Opel will begin selling the U.S.-made Ampera in November for a pre-grant price of 42,900 euros As we previously reported, the vehicle is already well on its way toward being pre-sold for 10,000 initial units, and the company would like GM to cut loose some more.

“Maybe we even hit 12,000 or more,” Stracke said.

One advantage Europeans have that facilitates acceptance for plug-in vehicles is that ordinary household electric current is 230 volts, instead of the 120 found in the U.S..

This means recharging with the included charger will replenish a Volt or Ampera’s 16-kwh battery in under three hours, according to Vauxhall (see video).

How well the Ampera (and European Volt) does sales-wise will determine whether the company moves forward to begin assembly in Europe.

“We need a business case for maybe 40,000, 50,000, 60,000 vehicles a year, then maybe it makes sense to locally manufacturer it on the Continent or even in the UK,” Stracke said.

In the mean time, Opel/Vauxhall is weighing all options, including doing a deal like Ford and Toyota are working toward and which appears well underway toward settling.

AutoNews, AutoNews, AutoNews.

 

Aug 23

Pike Research forecasts 2011-2017 light-duty electrified vehicle market

 

As of yet, perfectly omniscient crystal balls foretelling the future for light-duty plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles are unavailable, but $2,800 will buy you a single licensed copy of a report explaining why their worldwide cumulative sales will reach 5.2 million units annually by 2017.

The sales will represent a leap from just under 114,000 of these types of vehicles sold in 2011, says the report’s author, Pike Research. Also by 2017, cumulative sales of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) are projected to represent an additional 8.7 million vehicles. Combined, this will mean 13.9 million units in all electrified vehicle categories.

In the worldwide race toward electrification, Pike says the Asia Pacific region will lead, followed by Europe, then North America.


An American solution: The Volt and many more vehicles using electrification of various sorts are due to come along in far greater numbers.

The U.S. and Europe will miss many of the government-set targets for plug-in vehicle sales, Pike predicts, because of slower than expected roll outs.

“In the United States, President Obama’s goal for one million [plug-in electric vehicles] (PEVs) on the roads by 2015 appears to be well beyond what the actual vehicle market is likely to be,” Pike said. “Germany has set a goal of one million PEVs by 2020 – almost twice the 512,701 PEVs forecast to be on the roads in that country by 2017.”

Now before you roll your eyes and say what do they know?, our opening “crystal ball” remark was made because we know some readers do not trust reports making predictions like this. We do however think it significant that Pike commands enough money from industry stakeholders for its research to pay for 280 one-year subscriptions to Car & Driver.

Further, Pike said it left no stone unturned in interviewing all relevant industry players necessary for a proper and thorough report. For this and other reasons, we believe the forecast is worth at least taking a gander at.

To be fully forthcoming, we weren’t about to pony up $2,800 either, but we can give you the gleanings from the study’s executive report.

As a result of its research, Pike says growth for hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will far surpass that for traditional light-duty vehicles over the next half decade.

“Overall, the market for electrified vehicles will grow at a CAGR of 19.5 percent between 2011 and 2017,” Pike Research said of the Cumulative Annual Growth Average. “This compares to a CAGR of 3.7 percent for the vehicle market overall during the same period.”

Pike says the global PEV market – comprised of BEVs and PHEVs – will see exceptional growth of 48.4 percent CAGR because it is currently still in its infancy.

But how will the new kid on the block specifically be able to carve out more room for itself?

A number of variables are projected to brew up this new market soup, Pike says, including fuel prices, government influences (like subsidies), consumer attitudes and recharging infrastructure.

As for fuel prices, by 2017 Pike estimates Western Europe will be weighed down with the highest at $12.02 per gallon for gasoline and $10.04 per gallon for diesel. Pike is pegging the U.S. gasoline price at a bargain basement $6.10 per gallon in 2017, and in Asia Pacific, it is projected to be $7.98 per gallon.

Without even addressing whether these numbers are possibly right, we will say it is a rather sad commentary that many consumers will only do what’s best when pushed by the most blunt prodding possible. While increasing fuel prices are definitely a factor influencing decisions to buy plug-in cars, jacked-up fuel costs also threaten a host of unwanted economic consequences.

Often EV enthusiasts froth up the rhetoric over price of fuels as a promising motivator for greater acceptance of the types of vehicles they hold dear. We can empathize, but will say, be careful what you wish for. While enthusiasts may be right, it’s also true the world is still dominated by internal combustion power, and high fuel prices can lead to inflation for almost everything else.

A better solution would be (to the degree possible) better educating more would-be buyers so they can see the advantages without having to be beaten by the virtual ugly stick of pain at the fuel pump.

And speaking of consumer attitudes, Pike predicts regional fluctuations will occur for the acceptance of electrified vehicles.

“Specific geographic areas have different features and typical drive lengths (e.g., 5-mile vs. 25-mile commutes) that will make specific types of electric drives more attractive,” Pike said. “The growth of publicly available electric vehicle charging equipment (EVCE) will also help build confidence that BEVs and PHEVs will fit within consumers’ lifestyles.”

While North America is expected to trail in BEV proliferation, it is projected to lead with roll out of hybrids (HEVs) boasting 40 models available by end of 2012, versus 14 models in Asia Pacific.

One Chinese auto writer’s opinion was recently cited (by me) in HybridCars.com saying China is heavily subsidizing BEVs to expediently make it appear as though China’s auto market is progressing faster than it otherwise could. It was said China is effectively discouraging hybrids by not incentivizing them very much, while energetically encouraging BEVS with massive subsidies because they are far easier and less costly to manufacturer than sophisticated hybrids.

Not wading into the analysis as much in its summary report, Pike does verify China is leading the incentivizing of BEVs with more than $18,820 (RMB 120,000) available to underwrite purchases in selected regions.


A Chinese solution: Incentivizing its government-owned electric vehicle industry and buyers is expected to see EVs popping up in the People’s Republic faster than mushrooms after a spring rain.

If the U.S. government did that, a Nissan LEAF could be had for under $14,000 and a Mitsubishi i could be bought for under $10,000. Clearly China is pushing hard for BEVs whatever the fine points may be.

Pike is offering the study primarily to Automotive OEMs, component suppliers, motor, battery and EV charging equipment manufacturers, utilities, government agencies, industry associations, and investors.

Assuming the study does find its way into decision maker’s hands (who may value what will cost up to $4,200 for access to unlimited copies), whether perfectly prescient or not, the Pike report will likely influence their thinking. This is another reason we are publishing this as we believe just as “sentiment” in the stock market affects what happens, so does credibly presented research stand to alter the interplay between analysis and reality.

Pike Research

 

Jul 07

Settling level 2 charging solutions for the Chevrolet Volt

 

We received a few e-mails over the past couple days from GM-Volt forum member Captbently about his efforts to acquire a portable level 2 charger, and with his permission, are turning his account into a story for others to learn by, as well as offer their knowledge and opinions.

Captbently – whose first name is Kurt – lives in Connecticut, and has access to 240-volt outlets at his son’s house, a barn, and his office in New York. In choosing a solution, he had to tackle several issues.

Kurt leases Volt number 2161, he said, and has been interested in electric propulsion for 20 years since his dad first got an EZGO golf cart.


Charging is easy – if charging is available. Owning an electric car can require some resourcefulness too depending on how far you want to travel.

“I really believed the Volt was going to be something special and it has not disappointed,” Kurt said.

We have observed some of you have previously said you do not see as much need for 240 (aka 220)-volt charging for your Volt – at home, let alone on the road.

Since the car has gasoline power as well, it enables flexibility, and assuming drivers stay within all-electric range (AER), they can make due with the standard 110-volt home charger overnight.

This said, some drivers – like Kurt – may want more daily AER and ability to charge on the go.

“The Volt is about three times more efficient when operating on electricity from the grid (about 120 MPGe),” Kurt said, “rather than from the gasoline powered generator (40 MPG).”


As delivered Clipper Creek LCS-25. Note bare leads meant to be wired by an electrician. You can also install a plug and make it more versatile.

At issue is what charging resources or facilities you have access to – if any.

As we are still in the early days of electric vehicles, even in the middle of some cities or suburban areas it might as well be the boondocks for the lack of public EV charging stations.

This is changing as more facilities come online, but it is still a hit-or-miss proposition to find public charging, so being resourceful helps for EV drivers – and others in charge of implementing solutions too will need to make decisions for the future, but we will get to that …

Problem and solution

To charge Volt No. 2161 at home, Kurt installed an SPX level 2 in his garage. In seeking to order a portable level 2 charger from SPX, he was told it could not deliver in a timely manner, he said.

“About one month ago, I noticed on their Web site that the portable charger was showing a price of ‘not available,’” Kurt said, “I called thinking I would place an order, but they said it would take at least 60 days to receive and that they would be charging my credit card immediately.”

So, rather than being charged and made to wait, he contacted Clipper Creek and paid an extra $200 for one of its small home chargers ($995).


LCS-25 with plug installed for portable (or permanent) use.

“I ordered their LCS-25 and received it in about three days. While they don’t market it as a portable charger, it is about the same size as the level 1 charger that comes with the Volt, and it is in a NEMA-4 Outdoor enclosure,” Kurt said, “I simply put a plug on the end of the cord that came with the unit.”

Creativity

As mentioned, the LCS-25 is not designed for this application, but Kurt played MacGyver and re-tasked the simple, compact home charger – that is ordinarily meant to be hardwired – into one he could plug into a 240-volt outlet.

Which brings us to another twist Kurt had to overcome.

“Many of the ads for portable chargers state that they will plug into a standard 240-volt outlet. However, there is no such thing as one standard outlet. Clothes dryers typically use at least two different common 30 amp receptacles. A welder might use one of two different 50-amp receptacles,” Kurt said, “Shop equipment such as a table saw would again use different 15 and 20 amp receptacles. Marine and generators have their own types. Different amperages and voltages dictate the choices and there are both straight blade and twist lock versions for these applications.”


NEMA L6-30P plug.

Does this sound kind of complicated? Even if not, it is at least clear that standards vary, and the EV driver will have to wend his or her way through a plethora of choices if wanting to do something like Kurt did.

“I chose a 30 amp three wire (ground plus two feeds) twist lock plug as my personal standard. It is not too large and I think the twist lock makes sense. It is a NEMA L6-30P. The matching receptacle would be a L6-30R,” he said, “A matching female that would go on the end of a cord would be L6-30C. You might find them at Home Depot of Lowes, but if not, any electrical supply company that sells to electricians will have them. Expect to pay about $20 for the receptacle, $16 for the male plug, and $43 for the corded female end. My dealer in New Cannan, Conn. also chose these plugs for their chargers.”

Clipper Creek’s view

Just to check, we called Clipper Creek in Auburn, Calif., and spoke with Technical Customer Specialist, Will Barrett.

Kurt’s installation of a three-prong plug onto the wiring did not raise any red flags from a product liability or warranty standpoint, Barrett said, as long as he did not open the electronics’ housing.

The sturdy, simple, indoor-outdoor LCS-25 should work fine with a plug, he said, even though it is intended to be permanently installed at a fixed location.

Clipper Creek has been a dedicated EV charging station maker since 2007, Barrett said, and got started helping Tesla customers which require more powerful chargers. A Tesla can handle up to 70 amps at about 17 kW, far higher than the 15-16 amps or so of a Volt at 3.3 kW.

The Volt’s on-board charger, like the Nissan LEAF’s, is an effective bottleneck to quicker charging, but its battery is much smaller than the Tesla’s, so that is OK. The Ford Focus EV however will come with a faster 6.6 kW charger.

Adaptability

To make his home-grown solution work with a different configuration 240-volt receptacle, Kurt also created a patch cord to mate to his twist-lock connector.


Captbently’s home-made patch cord. One end plugs to welding receptacle, the other to charger. We told Clipper Creek about this, and Barrett said it sounded copacetic.

“If this is to be your only charger, then installation would be as simple as having a L6-30R receptacle installed in a convenient location for charging your car. Since I have a 50-amp welding receptacle in another building on my property, I made up a patch cord. It has the welder male plug on one end (about $54) and the L6-30C on the other end,” Kurt said, “I used two feet of 10 gauge (30 amp) extension cord, although 12 gauge would be fine. Adapter cords are easy to make up. The female would always be the same, but the plug would be for whatever receptacle would be used.”

Issues to consider

For our part, we believe Kurt’s thinking makes sense, and his resourcefulness helps maximize the AER from the Volt, which is the whole idea of an EV in the first place.

His initial experience has shown having access to 240-volts is useful, and he recommends it for public access in addition to the public charging stations being rolled out.

“If you are at a store for 45 minutes, you could expect the range on your Volt to increase by about 3.5 miles,” Kurt said of just plugging into 120-volts, “whereas a level 2 charger would increase your range about 8.5 miles. So my point here is that the cost differential to install a 240-volt outlet vs. a 120 volt outlet is minimal, while the cost to install commercial charging stations with a J1772 plugs is substantial and would be prohibitive in most cases.”

We have been hearing the industry is talking of standards. We think many more standards and issues will need to be sorted, and this is one of them.

Kurt said that not long ago he heard a local Whole Foods had installed charging stations. He was excited to try one for the first time, he said, and expected to see a J1772 plug connected to a charger in the parking lot. Unfortunately, what he found were 120 volt receptacles.

“Okay, this was better than nothing,” he said, “but not the Level 2 that I was expecting to find.”

What is needed are 240-volt receptacles for people with their own chargers, he said. There ought to be enough installed where people park EVs during the day.

And here is a question to ponder, Kurt raised:

“Why not shift some of the cost to the owners in the form of portable chargers? But, this only works if everyone is using the same 240-volt plug,” he said. “The industry needs to adapt the use of a one 220/240 volt plug that would become the standard for 30-amp level 2 portable chargers. Perhaps we can get the ball rolling here in this site.”

We would add if common 240-volt receptacles were available – such as already found at RV parks – even if someone did have a different plug, perhaps also patch cords like Kurt made could also add to the flexibility of the concept.

The question Kurt has, is what do you GM-Volt readers think?

“One suggestion that I have would be to get some consensus on a standard plug that would be used on portable chargers,” he said, “This could vastly reduce the cost for the commercial charging station installations.”

Brain storming

Would the EV-driving society we are working to create benefit from commonly available, public-access, 240-volt plugs?

Would this not be an expedient solution in addition to the rollout of more costly charging stations with J1772 connectors ready to go?

Should businesses charge for access?

At the very least, it looks convenient for Kurt, and others who have access to 240 volts at various locations in their regular orbit.


Looks great. Now, can we just get a few hundred thousand or more installed around the U.S. please? And additionally, how about thousands of 240-volt receptacles for the more independent folk?

To those of you technically-minded who may have a view, what plug standard would make sense for 240-volt receptacles into which drivers could plug their own portable level 2 charger?

Or is this not a good idea for any reason? … like theft and vandalism worries?

“One concern that I did not mention in my original email is protecting one’s $1,000 portable charger while in a public parking area,” Kurt said, “So here is a brand new business opportunity – make special locks for portable charging stations.”

That is one security solution. Surely there would be others that could work too – including installing fast chargers in the car.

In all, we like the idea of being more independent.

Thanks to Kurt for pioneering one solution. More constructive feedback is welcome.

 

Jun 27

Is ultra-fast EV charging fast approaching?

 

To speed widespread acceptance of battery electric vehicles, it is believed a few objections will have to be overcome, including the relatively lengthy time required to recharge them.

Other objections like “range anxiety” are met with the Chevrolet Volt, but as GM-Volt’s founder Lyle Dennis once described it, the car is an excellent “bridge” technology toward electric vehicles with no petrol-power assistance.

Another objection to BEVs is high perceived prices. Reducing battery production costs to help enable lower pricing is currently the highest priority for the industry, according to a spokesman for Proterra, the electric city bus company in which GM Ventures just invested $6 million.


The original case for the Volt was a majority of people drive under 40 miles per day and it can slowly recharge overnight using unspent capacity. It is a conservative approach do-able with existing tech.

As it is, we have heard several accounts of fast charging innovation, and – no – none of them are about anything named EEstor.

Credible examples of ultra-fast charging development include efforts by Opel in Europe, existing technology in Proterra’s buses, rumblings out of Germany from Kolibri, and a process in Japan that can recharge a Nissan LEAF in five minutes.

The challenge

At the rate technology is improving, there may be hope yet to induce 57 percent of Americans do what they said they never would: Buy an electric vehicle – or at least this is what a recent USA Today/Gallup Poll said.

While we tend to consider such surveys as only so good an indicator of anything in these rapidly changing times, we will say it at least shows some people still need to be convinced.

Sure, painfully expensive gasoline would help, but rather than beat them into submission, how about winning more flies with honey? For today, our definition of “honey” for seemingly recalcitrant, late-to-never EV adopters will be “fast charging.”

Rumblings

Last year Opel said it was able to recharge a lithium-ion battery the same size as found in the Volt – not overnight, not in four hours, but in under one hour.


Opel Meriva EV1, September 2010.

“We are testing charging at high currents in less than one hour, as well as the communication protocols between the vehicle and charging station,” said Opel Vice President of Engineering Rita Forst last September of its converted Meriva EV1.

At the time, GM was using 400 volts to charge it, as well as testing vehicle-to-grid capabilities. We have not heard much about this German project since.

However, another ultra-fast charging demonstration in Germany has happened more recently with DBM Energy. A couple months ago we were told it could charge a battery with six times the capacity of the Volt’s (or Opel Meriva’s) battery inside a scalding-quick six minutes.


DBM Energy’s battery was put through German government tests this year. Examples of it are already being used by forklifts in busy logistics centers.

This statement, and intentions to push toward commercial viability, came unequivocally from the company’s Chief Operating Officer, Markus Röser. This was not long after its battery had been shown by the German government to be able to deliver 300-plus mile all-electric range, and indications were it would be cost effective, safe, and was almost ready for EV production.

Here now

Promises aside, the electric bus company in which GM Ventures just invested is in production, and able to drive 300 miles per day thanks to a fast charging station that zaps it back to life in a few minutes between 30-40 mile trips.

Proterra’s FastFill™ system is comprised of software and hardware to rapidly charge the TerraVolt™ Energy Storage System from 0 percent to 95 percent with over 92 percent energy charge efficiency in as little as 6 minutes.


Proterra EcoRide™ BE35.

The way it works is massive current is fed through the roof via heavy cables supplying a robotically controlled apparatus to recharge the battery. Not only is it nearly fast as lightning, the batteries presently ranging as high as 72 kWh are estimated to have a life of 8,000 to 25,000 recharge cycles – substantially higher than automotive EVs.

The Altairnano lithium-titanate batteries in the bus are based on lithium-ion technology and have a titanium-oxide, nano-based coating on their anodes, said Proterra spokesman and engineer, Joshua Goldman. This enables reliable fast charging with less heat generation.

Goldman expressed doubt for the likelihood of this battery technology being adapted to automotive use anytime soon however.

For one, it is comparatively expensive for consumer applications, although part of this is only due to present low volumes. Secondly, it has half the energy density of the battery in the Volt – the Proterra’s water-proof, water-cooled battery pack occupies half the physical volume of a Volt, and weighs upwards of 5,000 pounds. The third downside is it is just too durable.

Yes, in this world of planned obsolescence, it would be undesirable if a battery were developed for an EV that could outlast the car by two-three decades, which is what you could wind up with if a battery is good for up to 25,000 charge cycles.


Thanks to Joshua Goldman who scrambled to post this personally produced video for GM-Volt readers to better understand Proterra’s system.

While we are not as impressed with the too-durable objection, we understand it, as we do the heavy, bulky and expensive impediments.

Goldman said the chief driver these days in EV battery development is cost. We have heard this priority several times from GM, and others.

Driving down costs is predicted to cure sticker shock presently causing some would-be consumers to shake like a leaf at the prospect of an EV that might go 80-100 miles on a charge, requiring hours to recharge, and costing as much as a nice Acura.

On the other hand, while the talk on these shores particularly is cutting costs, some engineers in Japan apparently did not get the memo that fast charging EVs was not a priority.


What if instead of this, charging could be done in five minutes? Would it change GM’s strategy as well?

This month it was reported a Japanese system was patented and will soon go on sale that can recharge the 24-kWh Nissan LEAF battery to 90-percent full in five minutes.

We have not learned of any downside, such as decreased battery life, although we have not heard battery life will not be adversely affected either.

As it is, Kanno Tomio and his team of engineers in Tochigi, Japan demonstrated a system using capacitors that dump current into the LEAF’s battery.

It is similar in concept to Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) used in Formula One racing.

The system can still take advantage of off-peak grid rates by charging the capacitors overnight, answering one possible objection to daytime fast charging.

Tomio and company expect to install its systems in homes and businesses in Japan by 2012, and not long after, offer them to Europe and North America.

We have not learned of proposed price or other specs as of yet.

More than one way to skin a cat

Reducing production costs and MSRP are indeed priorities, but also important is increasing all-electric range and (ultra-) fast charging – at least this is what some EV fence sitters say.

It takes economies of scale to enable any or all of these. Which one will come first?

Price is an obvious metric to try to improve, but it implicitly says a car’s performance, options or durability might be sacrificed for the sake of lower price.


Proterra battery electric bus.

We believe the USA Today/Gallup survey and other empirical evidence suggests most consumers want no cost or performance downside compared to ICE vehicles, if possible. Many would want clean electric cars and no perceived sacrifices.

And if so, this would mean it is not just price that is important. What if an EV could be recharged in five minutes? Or what if an EV could provide double, triple the AER of current designs? More people would pay current prices or higher for that, we believe.

As for today’s subject, ability to recharge as fast as a petrol vehicle could be one route to larger acceptance – and in turn could draw more innovative companies into the EV wading pool.

Ultra-fast charging also potentially means larger batteries could then be used without them needing 16-24 hours to recharge as would be the case now, which could solve the range anxiety problem at the same time.

Although we have not heard from DBM Energy lately, we suspect it knows this. It is already stuffing 60-100 kWh batteries in subcompacts, aiming to fix the range, charge time and cost objection in one shot.

At this point, the accounts of ultra-fast charging are noteworthy as they are a cut above mere urban legend status – and at least one prospect looks ready to go in Japan.

Time will tell what it will take to inspire 57 percent of Americans to change their mind about never buying an EV.

Reuters, Proterra, Gas 2.0.

 

Jun 14

Could ‘Cambridge Crude’ gel battery send fossil fuel toward extinction?

 

File this one under gee whiz, or – if it pans out – file it under in a few years we won’t be needing nearly as much gasoline to power motor vehicles anymore.

Stories of amazing tech possibilities come out all the time, but one reported last week with more than a little hope attached to it is about a lab-based experimental battery invented by MIT students based on a two-part liquid electrolyte called “Cambridge Crude.”

The battery is being developed for EVs and grid storage and reportedly could deliver more energy density than lithium-ion batteries while being more cost effective. Even more intriguing is it could overcome a common objection to present-tech batteries in that it can be “refueled” with the pump-able liquid as petrol cars do in minutes, thus promising to relegate long recharging times to distant memory.


Cambridge Crude. A new kind of black gold?

The project’s supervising professor, Yet-Ming Chiang – one of the founders of A123 Systems – said the team’s mission was no less than “to reinvent the rechargeable battery,” and he expects to have a fully operational prototype suitable for electric cars in the next 18 months.

The new battery, which you can read more about in a technical paper, has been licensed to 24M Technologies which is working on perfecting the recipe, as it were. This Massachusetts-based organization branched from A123 Systems – which itself branched from MIT – and is doing the research with $16 million in venture capital and U.S. Department of Defense funding.

According to MIT News, the battery employs an innovative architecture called a semi-solid flow cell. In it, charged particles float in a liquid carrier between two containers.

The battery’s electrically active components – the positive and negative electrodes, or cathodes and anodes – are composed of particles suspended in the liquid electrolyte.

These two different suspensions are intended to be stored in separate tanks in a vehicle, then slowly pumped through systems separated by a filter, such as a thin porous membrane. When they come in contact, they exchange ions and create electricity.

“[The] new kind of flow battery is fueled by semi-solid suspensions of high-energy-density lithium storage compounds that are electrically ‘wired’ by dilute percolating networks of nanoscale conductor particles,” MIT said in a summary statement.

The battery’s separation feature is in contrast to conventional batteries in which energy storage and discharge take place in the same structure. Chiang said batteries can be designed more efficiently by separating these functions.

To recharge, electricity is input to separate the particles that make up each electrode. A couple potential ways to quickly “refuel,” would be either pumping out the expended liquid slurry, and replacing with fresh, similar to gas or diesel (except the pumping out part). Or, a complete tank swap system could be designed such as Better Place now proposes with solid batteries.

Until now, flow battery technology has been known, but energy density was too low. Cambridge Crude is said to have 10 times more energy density than previous liquid flow battery electrolytes. It is actually a fairly dense gel-like liquid that need not circulate very quickly, and instead “kind of oozes,” Chiang said.


MIT’s “Cambridge Crude” flow battery.

The unique difference of the MIT design is that it utilizes proven lithium-ion chemistry broken into tiny particles merged into the liquid matrix.

The initial promise of Cambridge Crude’s has MIT researchers hoping that they may have invented a completely new family of viable batteries.

MIT News cited Yury Gogotsi, distinguished university professor at Drexel University and director of Drexel’s Nanotechnology Institute who offered validation for the research.

“The demonstration of a semi-solid lithium-ion battery is a major breakthrough that shows that slurry-type active materials can be used for storing electrical energy.” This advance, he says, “has tremendous importance for the future of energy production and storage.”

Gogotsi cautioned research is still required to find better cathode and anode materials and electrolytes, but added, “I don’t see fundamental problems that cannot be addressed – those are primarily engineering issues. Of course, developing working systems that can compete with currently available batteries in terms of cost and performance may take years.”

This time estimate is on the high side from Chiang’s year-and-a-half projection for a working prototype EV battery, so we shall see whether the optimists or pessimists win.

Source: The Atlantic Wire, MIT News, MIT Online Library