Friday, July 18, 2008

Plug in Partners

For more contemporary posts, please go to the national plug in partners blog.
This blog will remain as a historical record of the development of the plug in campaign.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Park and Plug

The Wall Street Journal ran quite a long story about Austin and its plug in hybrid campaign.

Here is the full text of the story.

In Quest for Cleaner Energy, Texas City Touts Plug-In Car

John J. Fialka
Wall Street Journal
March 26, 2007

AUSTIN, Texas -- Of all the plans cooked up by cities to combat pollution and global warming, the one hatched here is among the most ambitious -- and, some say, one of the more quixotic.
Mayor Will Wynn is pushing a new version of the electric car called the plug-in, which runs almost entirely on electricity and has a big rechargeable battery. But that's not all. Mayor Wynn envisions the parked electric cars plugging into a network operated by the city's utility, which would then use the powerful car batteries as a big storage system from which to draw power during peak demand.
Roger Duncan, deputy manager of Austin Energy, the city-owned electric utility, dreamed up the scheme three years ago after the mayor ordered him to get more electricity from "green" sources, especially from wind. Austin Energy already got 6% of its power from wind, but wind production peaked at night, when electricity demand was low. Mr. Duncan needed more clean power during hot days, when demand was high.

If there were enough plug-ins around Austin, Mr. Duncan figured, he could buy more wind-generated electricity, sell it to plug-in owners at night, then buy some of it back during the day from cars sitting in parking lots equipped with special sockets.

With concern about climate change on the rise, interest in renewable energy sources is moving from the fringe to the mainstream. Some utilities will buy extra power that their customers produce by home solar panels. These days, seemingly far-fetched plans like Austin's are drawing a level of support that would have been unlikely just a few years ago.

Austin, a city of 719,000 and the capital of Texas, is becoming one of the nation's biggest promoters of plug-ins. To give the market a push, it has launched a campaign -- called Plug-In Partners -- to line up people to buy the cars when they reach the market. Organizers say they've secured 8,000 pledges from individuals and organizations around the country to buy one when they're introduced.

The mayors of 50 major cities, several environmental groups and hundreds of utilities have endorsed the campaign, and many are intrigued by the power-storing concept. In California, the Bay Area Rapid Transit System, or BART, is looking into setting up a similar system for tapping into electric-car batteries in commuter parking lots, and several large utilities are studying the concept.

Although Mr. Duncan's 8,000 pledges are dwarfed by the 16 million vehicles sold annually in the U.S., both General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. have said in recent months that they plan to develop plug-ins and bring them to market. Their intention is to try to tap growing consumer demand for nongasoline-powered vehicles -- not to provide power storage for utilities. Other car makers also have expressed interest. GM spokesman Greg Martin says Mr. Duncan's effort played a part in the decision.

President Bush, in his last two State of the Union addresses, has cited plug-in cars as a promising alternative to gas-powered ones. Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would provide a tax credit to partially offset the cost of buying the vehicles when they become available.

Big hurdles remain. The cars require expensive lithium-ion batteries that haven't been perfected. Production of plug-ins is at least three to five years off, and experts say the cars could cost $50,000.

"Plug-ins will have a niche market," says Red Cavaney, president of the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil industry. "They're certainly not going to replace the family car."

Austin's plan to use the plug-in batteries as a power-storage network also requires additional work. Mr. Duncan will have to devise financial incentives, such as cheaper parking or discounted power, to induce car owners to allow Austin Energy to buy back extra power from their batteries. The city will have to install a computer-monitoring system to make sure the utility doesn't leave car owners without enough battery juice.

Mr. Duncan has found his most enthusiastic backers in the electric-utility business. Shifting some of the nation's vehicles from gasoline to electricity, these people say, would curb pollution and reduce reliance on imported oil -- and would make utilities more profitable and efficient.

The Electric Power Research Institute, an industry group, has spent years researching and touting plug-ins, and supports efforts to use their batteries to store extra power. Utilities, which use thousands of vehicles, would likely be the first big buyers of the vehicles, the group says.
The idea of tapping the electricity stored in car batteries -- called vehicle-to-grid power, or V2G -- originated with Willett Kempton, an electrical engineer and associate professor at the University of Delaware. He came up with the idea in the late 1990s after he learned that electric cars require large batteries and that most cars sit parked most of the day.
"I said to myself, 'Wait a minute, this is a big storage system,' " Dr. Kempton recalls. In a 1997 paper, he and economist Steven Letendre detailed how electric cars, using computer-controlled connections, could draw power from the electric grid at times and pump it back into the grid at other times. Much of the software and hardware needed to do this, Dr. Kempton discovered, already existed. But car makers thought the idea was crazy, he says.

In 2001, Dr. Kempton went to San Dimas, Calif., where AC Propulsion was developing one-of-a-kind prototypes for electric cars, including a roadster called the Tzero. He and Alan Cocconi, the founder of the company, conducted an experiment using a two-way charging system that Mr. Cocconi had developed. The car's special lithium-ion battery was drawing power from a wall socket. With a laptop computer, the two men directed the electricity to move the other way -- from the car into the power line. The car's powerful battery generated more than enough electricity to temporarily meet the modest needs of the small company.

Electric cars first appeared in the 1890s. But they were overshadowed within 20 years by gasoline-powered cars, which were cheaper and had unlimited range. In the 1990s, concerns about reliance on imported oil and about climate change rekindled interest. Hybrids such as the Toyota Prius, which married electric drive systems with small gasoline engines -- but don't have to be plugged in -- have come to market and proven popular. But GM canceled its $1 billion drive to market an electric car, the EV1, in 2003 after California dropped a regulation requiring auto makers to sell some.

Austin takes pride in both its environmental record and its quirkiness. Austin Energy's Mr. Duncan, 59 years old, once raised money for local antinuclear campaigns by producing concerts starring Willie Nelson and other local musicians. These days, Austin Energy is part owner of a nuclear plant, and Mr. Duncan considers such plants part of the solution to global warming because they don't generate the pollutants that coal-burning ones do.

The utility already uses more wind-generated power than any other major utility does, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. "This global-warming problem is so severe that we've got to use everything we have to fight it," he says.

Mr. Duncan concluded that plug-in vehicles would be especially useful in Texas, where wind-turbine "farms" in the western part of the state now supply the cheapest electricity. He figured he could sell the wind energy to plug-in owners at night, and during the day buy back extra power to help cool homes and office buildings.

To make the plan work, electric cars would have to plug in during the day at parking lots equipped with computer-monitored plugs. Dr. Kempton and other V2G devotees have written about existing technology that can track how much power utilities drain from each battery, so that too much isn't removed and car owners can be credited.

As Mr. Duncan saw it, the battery power could supplant dirtier energy generated by coal-fired plants and more expensive power from natural-gas-fueled facilities. The bottom line, he concluded, would be cleaner air for Austin and, assuming several thousand plug-in customers, $27 million more in annual electricity sales for Austin Energy.

But Mayor Wynn and Mr. Duncan quickly discovered that pushing plug-ins wasn't easy. Hardly anyone knew what they were talking about. At the moment, only a few hundred plug-in vehicles exist. Some are custom-made experimental cars; others are conventional hybrids like the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid that have been converted using kits, a process that car makers discourage.

Conventional hybrids, which average 40 to 60 miles a gallon, are propelled by both electric motors and small gasoline engines, which also keep the batteries charged. Plug-ins have much bigger batteries and are propelled solely by electric motors, with their smaller gasoline engines serving only to recharge batteries that run down on the road. Because they can run most or all of the day on electric power, they can travel more than 100 miles per gallon of gasoline.

In 2005, Austin's city council launched a public-awareness campaign about plug-ins. More than 11,000 residents signed petitions calling on auto makers to produce them, and local government agencies and businesses signed pledges to buy as many as 600.

Early on, Mr. Duncan met with some car-company officials in Washington to urge them to make plug-ins. "I didn't get a no, or anything. There was just plain silence," he recalls. "Finally, one of them asked me why was Austin doing this. I explained, and there was more silence."

In 2006, Austin's city council ponied up $1 million to mount a national campaign to drum up support. Mr. Duncan hit the road with a PowerPoint presentation, telling audiences that the cost of driving a plug-in car was comparable to paying 56 cents a gallon for gasoline.

Mayor Wynn, who headed the energy committee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, rounded up endorsements from fellow mayors in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. He lobbied the U.S. head of Toyota during a meeting in New York City. Mr. Duncan pitched farm groups, emphasizing that the plug-in's auxiliary motor could be made to run mainly on ethanol or biodiesel fuel.

Some environmental groups have been leery of the campaign, worried that utilities would want to use coal-fired plants, rather than clean energy sources, to power plug-ins.

Technical challenges need to be overcome. Developing the plug-in battery "is the biggest show stopper, if you want to call it that," says Ahmad Pesaran, a battery expert at the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Plug-ins need big lithium-ion batteries, 200- to 300-pound versions of the ones used in many laptop computers. The batteries have to store 100 times as much power as conventional car batteries and at least five times as much as batteries in current hybrids. Batteries for prototype plug-ins, Mr. Pesaran says, run $15,000 to $20,000 apiece. Plug-ins won't be commercially viable, he says, until the battery costs are cut by 75%.

A joint government-industry research program could help reduce the cost, as could economies of scale from mass production, he says. While plug-ins might reduce dependence on imported oil, they'd require imported copper, nickel and cobalt, and lithium-ion technology currently dominated by Japan, South Korea and China.

Optimists predict that plug-ins will be in showrooms within three to five years. It's likely to take longer for utilities to be able to tap the extra power stored in plug-in batteries.

Mr. Duncan says he's willing to wait. During a four-year stint on Austin's city council, he sometimes practiced a Tibetan form of Buddhism during fights between pro-environment and pro-business members. "He meditates a lot and remains a completely calm person," says Jim Marston, director of the Texas office of Environmental Defense, a New York-based nonprofit group. "I don't think I've ever seen him raise his voice."

The vehicle-to-grid technology that utilities would need is slowly taking shape. In California, utilities are introducing computer-driven "smart meters" that can be set to run appliances, such as washing machines, at night, when rates are lower. A plug-in family car sitting in the garage could be one of those appliances, says Sven Thesen, an engineer who is exploring electric-drive systems for PG&E Corp. in San Francisco.

This two-way process could be used on the nation's electric-power grid, according to a study released in January by the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The national grid has enough spare capacity at night to fuel as many as 180 million electric cars, which is equivalent to 84% of the nation's current automobile fleet, the study says. Fuel for cars powered by electricity would cost customers only about 30% as much as fuel for gasoline-powered cars, the study estimates.

Auto makers haven't said when plug-ins will reach market, but Mayor Wynn says Austin's City Council has already set aside $1 million to fund rebates for the first 1,000 residents to buy plug-ins. The city intends to change building codes to require plugs in municipal parking lots, with Internet connections to Austin Energy. After that, the mayor explains, "we'll be able to start harvesting parking garages."

Friday, December 22, 2006

Automakers Responding

For Immediate Release
December 7, 2006
Matt Watson 512-970-2043
Mayor Will Wynn’s office
Lisa Braithwaite 512-322-6210
Plug-In Partners Campaign

Automakers Responding to Push for Plug-In Hybrids

(Austin, TX) Less than one year after the launch of a nationwide grassroots campaign to promote the mass production of plug-in hybrid vehicles -- carmakers are responding. GM, Toyota and Nissan have all signaled their intentions to explore the production of plug-in hybrids with indications that prototype vehicles could possibly show up during January car shows.

Almost 500 entities have joined the Plug-In Partners National initiative, led by Austin, Texas. This includes a number of the nation’s largest cities including Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Memphis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. The campaign has also produced more than 8,000 "soft" fleet orders for plug-ins when they become available.

"Cities and local governments often see solutions more quickly and clearly," says Austin Mayor Will Wynn. "Plug-in hybrids represent an exciting near-term solution to America’s over dependence on foreign oil, and will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help Americans deal with volatile gasoline prices."

The Plug-In Partners campaign and a coalition of allied groups are now working with members of Congress and the Senate on plug-in hybrid legislation. Bills will be introduced in the new session of Congress early next year. The focus of the bills will be on demonstration projects, incentives for consumers, and battery research.

GM was the latest automaker to announce they are working on plug-in hybrids. They were also the first to name a specific model, saying they will build a plug-in version of their Saturn VUE SUV. No date was announced.

Mayor Wynn praised GM saying, "GM officials should be congratulated on their vision in moving towards plug-in hybrids. We hope that they will follow through and the vehicles will be for sale soon."

Also, Toyota North America president Jim Press told the Electric Drive Transportation Association last week: "The next frontier will be the plug-in hybrid." Press and other Toyota officials have previously said that Toyota is working on plug-in hybrids. Nissan has also announced that it will build a plug-in hybrid.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Woolsey in Austin

James Woolsey, Chelsea Sexton to Speak
at Plug-In Partners Event

James Woolsey, former head of the CIA, will be in Austin on June 29th to speak at an event sponsored by the City of Austin’s Plug-in Partners Initiative.

Woolsey headed the CIA during the Clinton administration and is a leading voice for American energy independence as well as a strong advocate for manufacture of plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Chelsea Sexton is a former electric car specialist with GM, current Executive Director of Plug-In America and is featured in the soon to be released movie Who Killed the Electric Car.

There will also be a status report on the Plug-In Partners Campaign.

Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) would allow vehicles to be charged in a standard electric socket and then can range from 20 to 60 all-electric miles.

Mass manufacture of such vehicles would:reduce dependence on imported oil; decrease greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles; lower fuel costs for consumers and businesses.

Attend the June 29 event to learn more about how the City of Austin is in the forefront of advancing this important new technology nationwide. An Austin produced video on PHEVs will also be shown at this event.

Woolsey and Sexton will also be available to the media June 29 at 3:00 pm in the City Hall press room, first floor.

Thursday, June 29
7:00 pm
Town Lake Center
1st Floor Assembly Room
721 Barton Springs Road

Friday, January 27, 2006

Wynn Makes National News

Austin Chronicle
January 26, 2006
Austin’s Plug-In Hybrid Campaign

Mayor Will Wynn was making national news Tuesday in Washington D.C. with the announcement that Austin's campaign to urge the accelerated production of plug-in hybrid vehicles is going nationwide.

The initiative hopes that city and individual enthusiasm, such as Austin's 600 "soft" fleet-vehicle orders and 11,000 citizen petitions, will entice automakers to mass produce the ultra-efficient vehicles, which use new, larger batteries that charge from a regular wall outlet to achieve a range of 25-35 miles of all-electric driving, as well as fuel economy in excess of 80 mpg.

A number of cities are already on board, with the goal of enlisting the 50 largest U.S. cities. The plug-ins are said to be a near-term solution to improve air quality, reduce foreign-oil dependence, and even tap unused electric utility capacity by charging the vehicles overnight, when few people demand energy.

The Travis Co. Green Party endorsed the plan, but with reservations. "Austin is the most congested mid-sized city in the country. We've got to move beyond roads and cars." They called for an end to the current "road building frenzy," and for more public transportation options as well as improved support for bicycling and walking.

For more info, see – Daniel Mottola

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

National Press Conference

National Press Club Promotes Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles
Renewable Energy News
January 23, 2006

This Tuesday, January 24 at 9:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. at the National Press Club, Holeman Lounge, 529 14th St. NW, Washington, DC, Austin Energy and the Plug-in Partners Coalition will host a press conference to launch a national campaign for plug-in hybrid vehicles.

Find out why cities and counties, national policy organizations, electric utilities, national security experts, and environmental groups are uniting behind the push for flexible-fuel plug-in hybrid vehicles (electric-gas vehicles that can be recharged by plugging them into standard sockets).

Hear how the Plug-in Partners campaign makes a compelling case for automakers to produce plug-ins.

Talk to some of the leading flexible-fuel plug-in hybrid vehicle experts in the country to understand the development of the next-generation of hybrid vehicles.

Speakers who will be available to address technical questions include

Austin Mayor Will Wynn;

Charles Fox,
Deputy Secretary for Energy and Environment for Governor George Pataki of New York;

Frank Gaffney,
President, Center for Security Policy;

James Woolsey,
Former CIA Director and currently with Booz Allen Hamilton;

Kateri Callahan,
President, Alliance to Save Energy;

Alan Richardson,
President & CEO, American Public Power Association;

Dr. Joe Romm, Executive Director, Center for Energy and Climate Solutions

Andy Frank,
Professor, University of California - Davis, widely regarded as the inventor of plug-in hybrids.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Smith hosts Briefing

Smith Shows Support for Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles
December 8, 2005
Washington, D.C.

Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX-21) hosted a congressional briefing on plug-in hybrid vehicles today with members of the House Science Subcommittee on Energy.

The group heard from Roger Duncan, Deputy General Manager of Austin Energy. His initiative seeks to demonstrate to automakers that a market exists for plug-in hybrids. “If this initiative is copied by other cities, people will save money on fuel, conserve energy and reduce harmful emissions,” explained Congressman Smith.

Conventional hybrids batteries are recharged by capturing the energy released during braking or through a generator attached to the combustion engine. Plug-in hybrids offer the additional option of recharging batteries by plugging the vehicle into an appropriate outlet. Recharged plug-in hybrids can be driven 20-60 miles without internal combustion engine power (all-electric, zero-emission).

This means less pollution and cleaner air.

The plug-in hybrid vehicle has the potential to reduce oil dependence on foreign oil imports,” said Smith. “Forty percent of the oil consumed in the U.S. is used to fuel cars and trucks, at a cost to consumers in 2004 of $250 billion. U.S. dependence on foreign oil is projected to rise to more than 60 percent by 2020,” Smith pointed out.

Under the direction of the Austin City Council, the City of Austin and Austin Energy are leading a national campaign to demonstrate to automakers that a market exists today for plug-in hybrids. They are trying to enlist other cities to do the same.

The so-called “50-City Plan” seeks support from utilities to develop $50-$100 million in incentives from utilities for plug-in hybrid procurement and fleet purchase commitments by government, private businesses and consumers.

Smith commented, “Austin is setting an example for the rest of America with this unique initiative.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Plug-In Consortium

Plug-In Hybrid Consortium Announces New Web Site
Source: Hybrid Consortium
Dec 10, 2005

The Plug-In Hybrid Development Consortium (the "Consortium") announced that the Consortium has published a Web site to inform and educate the public about the benefits and developments of Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs).

The Consortium is made up of hybrid component suppliers working together to accelerate the commercial production of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The Consortium plans to offer production-ready technology to automakers to integrate into their own hybrid development programs.

"The Web site will provide an important gathering place for information, coordination and education with other component suppliers and with the public," said David West, VP marketing, Raser Technologies Inc. (PCX: RZ), and a founding member of the Consortium. "Development of PHEVs will require cooperation among manufacturers, suppliers and other organizations.

Dual Fuel PHEVs may offer dramatic improvements in fuel economy because they can run on low-cost, rechargeable electric fuel for local daily driving unlike current hybrid cars that still rely primarily on the combustion engine."

The Consortium believes that the next generation of hybrid cars will rely more on the electric motor, especially for local driving, and less on the combustion engine to achieve dramatic improvements in fuel economy and reduced emissions.

PHEVs may offer the ability to drive all-electrically for the first 25 to 50 miles before turning on the combustion engine.

PHEVs are designed to drive farther on electric energy than current hybrids because they will use more powerful electric motors and supplement the electricity generated on-board with additional electricity recharged at night by simply "plugging-in."

Breakthroughs in ultra capacitors and lithium batteries, which are similar to the batteries used in laptop computers, help reduce the cost of PHEV batteries, especially in high volume. "The growing popularity for this kind of car with consumers is based on the fact that electricity is not only clean and renewable," said Brian Stokes, Manager Clean Air Transportation for Pacific Gas & Electric (NYSE: PCG) and co-founder of the Consortium, "but it costs about one-fourth the price of gasoline, and we can generate it right here in the U.S."

"With the advent of new advanced energy storage systems such as lithium ion polymer batteries, plug-in hybrid vehicles are bound to become a commercial reality," said Dr. Sankar Das Gupta, CEO, Electrovaya, (TSX: EFL) and a member of the Consortium. "We are excited to work with the Consortium to develop low-cost on-board energy storage solutions to help make plug-in hybrid vehicles a most compelling solution today."


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Plug-ins Increase Mileage

Here is a story from the local TV Station.

Plug-In Hybrid Kits To Increase Mileage to 100 MPG
Source: KVUE TV Austin
[Nov 25, 2005]

SYNOPSIS: But every time fuel prices rise, the idea of having to fill your gas tank just 10 times a year, may prove to be a real charge.

How many miles per gallon does your car get? Somewhere around 25 or 30? What would you do to get 100 -- or as much as 200 -- miles per gallon?

Some are working to making cars more fuel-efficient.

Some drivers already are, and you could too.

To find the godfather of high mileage, you have to come to the University of California-Davis where Professor Andy Frank and his students have been one-upping Detroit for 15 years.

Retrofitting assembly line cars -- even a SUV -- with a smaller gasoline engine, next to an electric motor and rechargeable batteries, creating a plug-in hybrid.

Capable of going 60 miles on a charge, since most people drive less than 40 miles a day, the gas engine is rarely used, near Los Angeles.

"It costs less than a dollar to fill it up overnight with electricity," Frank said.

Pete Nortman's small company has turned a 40 mile per gallon Toyota Prius-Hybrid into a 125 mile per gallon car, by replacing Toyota's less powerful batteries with 18 high-energy ones and a plug for overnight recharging.

"It feels great to be able to drive by the gas stations to refuel once a month instead of once a week," he said.

Nortman will soon begin selling Prius conversion kits - for around $10,000. It's pricey, but possibly the beginning of a movement, by people committed to driving with less expensive, lower-polluting energy from the power grid rather than with oil from the Middle East.

"But people pay extra all the time for features in their vehicles and we're selling the environmental feature," said Felix Kramer,

The auto makers have so far shown no interest in cars they consider unsellable.

"This is something they could do today, but they don't want to do anything that would change their business model today."

But every time fuel prices rise, the idea of having to fill your gas tank just 10 times a year, may prove to be a real charge.

Plug-in hybrids weigh a bit more than regular cars. Their batteries should last for at least 10 years.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Seatle Plugs Plug-ins

City plugs plug-in cars
Daily Journal of Commerce
November 15, 2005

Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis and Rich Feldman of the King County Labor Council helped demonstrate a prototype plug-in hybrid electric vehicle at City Hall yesterday.

The customized Toyota Prius includes extra batteries and a charger that enables the car to draw power from a standard electrical outlet. With the enhancement, the Prius can travel as much as 100 miles on a gallon of gas - about double its normal fuel efficiency.

The prototype was delivered to the city by the California Cars Initiative, a nonprofit group of entrepreneurs, engineers and environmentalists trying to drum up demand for such vehicles.

While the city has no immediate plans to purchase any plug-ins, Mayor Greg Nickels wants city departments to evaluate the technology and assess its cost-effectiveness.

The city's motor pool includes about 150 gas-electric hybrids. A conversion kit costs more than $3,000, but the operating costs of the plug-in cars are estimated to be about one-third the cost of an all-gasoline-powered vehicle.

Hybrids currently on the market, including the Toyota Prius and Mercury Mariner, are gasoline-fueled and use a small battery for power assistance and regenerative braking. Plug-ins replace the small battery with a more powerful battery, one big enough to provide the power to drive the first 20 to 60 miles each day.

The cost of electricity equivalent to a gallon of gas is about 80 cents, based on average national electricity rates.

The mayor will send a resolution to the City Council asking it to evaluate the technology.

"It's an intriguing concept," said City Light Superintendent Jorge Carrasco. "What if we had a big shift toward electrifying private vehicles? How would that affect our utility and the environment?

Those are some of the questions we'll be trying to answer."

Friday, November 04, 2005

Toyota Mulls Dramatic Reversal

Tokyo Auto Show

Toyota Mulls Dramatic Reversal,
May Be Developing Plug-In Hybrids
New Fuels and Vehicles
Friday, Nov. 4, 2005

After years of emphasizing its hybrid vehicles do not have to be plugged in, Toyota appears to be on the verge of a dramatic reversal and may be developing plug-in hybrids, auto industry sources tell Inside Fuels and Vehicles. But they also say the auto giant is still leery of the limitations battery technology places on the endeavor.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are enjoying new life as the poster child of security conscious neo-conservatives, because of their ability to substantially reduce oil demand. Plug-in hybrids have also been embraced by environmental activists, because of the technology’s ability to drastically reduce harmful tailpipe and greenhouse gas emissions, particularly if the vehicle is recharged with electric power from renewable sources. Currently, only German automaker DaimlerChrysler is actively developing the technology.

A recent Toyota presentation at the Tokyo auto show on hybrid vehicles extolling the environmental and practical virtues of plug-in hybrids seems to provide the intellectual underpinnings of the decision. The presentation, obtained by Inside Fuels and Vehicles, concludes that based on five criteria:

1. well-to-wheels carbon dioxide emissions;
2. emissions of criteria pollutants;
3. refueling infrastructure;
4. driving range; and
5. fuel diversity.

Under these criteria, plug-in hybrids would perform as well as or better than other motor vehicle technology -- including regular battery-electric hybrids, all-electric vehicles and even fuel cell vehicles (if the hydrogen is obtained from natural gas).

Ever since Toyota released its first hybrid vehicle, the Prius, it has sought to distance itself from its trying experience with electric vehicles (EVs). They had to be plugged in to recharge the batteries, which could take hours, and outside-of-the-home charging stations were often hard to find. The hybrid uses the internal combustion engine and regenerative braking to recharge the battery pack. In its ads for the Prius and its other hybrids, Toyota emphasizes that they do not need to be plugged in.


Technology challenges notwithstanding, observers, and even industry competitors, see the plug-in hybrid reversal in strategy as a brilliant move on several levels. On the societal level, it appeases environmental activists on one side and neo-conservatives on the other. From a business point of view, it puts domestic automakers and others without hybrids on the road further behind.

By developing plug-in hybrid technology Toyota, already challenging General Motors to be the world’s largest automaker and the acknowledged leader in hybrid vehicle technology, challenges others in the industry on a whole new level.

GM and DaimlerChrysler, who are jointly developing hybrids along with BMW, are at least two generations of hybrid technology behind, though both companies have adopted it in transit buses.

However, as one competitor said almost with relief, Toyota’s plug-in hybrid initiative would likely deflect government away from another technological mandate, avoiding what they see as the California zero emissions mandate fiasco.

Plug-in hybrids are a modified version of a traditional hybrid and battery-electric vehicle. Larger battery packs allow for the motorist to plug the vehicle in to recharge it. The vehicle presumably would also have the ability to drive in all-electric mode at the will of the driver, unlike today’s hybrids sold in the U.S. -- in Japan a button allows Prius drivers to operate in all-electric mode for short distances, less than a mile.

Plug-ins have several advantages, which are why they are touted by neocons and environmental activists alike. They can significantly reduce oil consumption since much of the power would be from battery packs recharged from the electrical grid, which is almost entirely independent of oil. Running on electric power means no harmful tailpipe emissions and no greenhouse gas emissions.

Ancillary benefits include the ability of the vehicles to serve as backup power for the grid. The power from one vehicle could run several homes. Owners could actually sell the power back to their utility during peak demand to help pay for off peak electricity used to charge the car’s batteries.

Auto industry sources say Toyota will follow a unique strategy in developing plug-ins. Informed sources say responsibility for the battery component would be born by California utility Pacific Gas and Electric. The sources also see this as a brilliant strategy. As one pointed out, automakers don’t produce gasoline, so a utility taking responsibility for the batteries isn’t too far a stretch.

Significant issues, including environmental ones, and barriers to success still remain. If the power used to recharge the batteries comes from coal or first generation natural gas-fired plants there is some question if the greenhouse gas and criteria emissions profile would still be better than for other vehicle technologies. The biggest technical barrier experts say is battery life. Another concern is the proclivity of what is currently the most promising battery technology, lithium ion, to overheat.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Air Support

The coalition and the growing consensus behind plug-in hybrids and electric fuels in general continues to grow.

Here, a consultant for the aviation industry recommends that the aviation industry put pressure on the automobile industry to move towards plug-ins and all-electrics.

Aviation urged to press fuel claim
Oct 12, 2005

The air transport industry must put pressure on automotive manufacturers to introduce fuel-efficient road vehicles to ensure security of fuel supply for air transport, says a report by consultancy Meridian International Research.

While the air transport industry is the most sensitive to rising oil prices, technology to allow it to drastically reduce fossil fuel consumption is not yet developed. However, fuel-efficient motor vehicle technologies are much more advanced, and in some cases are already being introduced.

“The air transport industry cannot easily reduce oil consumption – except by grounding aircraft. Air transport is too important to the functioning of the world to allow that,” says William Tahil, research director at Meridian, an independent strategy research and technology consultancy based in France.

The introduction of plug-in hybrid and battery-powered electric road vehicles would take the pressure off fossil-fuel supplies and allow time for biojet fuel to become a feasible option to replace part of the 230 billion litres of jet fuel that are burned worldwide each year, the report says.

Airlines need to take a holistic approach, and industry bodies like the International Air Transport Association should put pressure on motor manufacturing associations and manufacturers themselves to cut fuel consumption, according to Tahil: “Our economic future depends on oil prices coming down to reasonable levels – the air transport sector is vital to the smooth functioning of global industry.”

The coalition grows.

Meanwhile, the petition drive in Austin Texas is 60% towards its goal.

And the National Campaign is beginning to take shape.

Stay plugged in.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Lieberman Jumps On Plug-In Bandwagon

It is becoming increasingly obvious there is a growing momentum behind the call for flexible fuel, plug-in hybrids, the most recent endorsement coming from U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman in an address at George Washington University last week.

"I want to talk with you today about a different storm is forming right now off our coasts and in our country. It is forming as we speak over the steaming sands of the Mideast, the frozen tundra of Siberia, the equatorial east coast of Africa, and rain forests of South America and drying up oil reserves in the U.S.

"That storm is our dependence on foreign oil", the Connecticut Senator said.

To face the storm, Lieberman has proposed legislation that would mandate the mass production of flexible fuel vehicles capable of using "homegrown" biofuels made not just from corn but also "from American sugar, prairie grass and agricultural waste".

Here's the really interesting part.

"My bill mandates that within three years of passage, 10 percent of all new vehicles sold in America manufactured shall be alternative fuel automobiles, flexible fuel vehicles or electricity plug-in vehicles. And that mandate will increase to at least 50 percent four years after that".
I don't know about you, but it appears that the handwriting is on the wall and it says, "Flexible Fuel Plug-In Hybrids" are the future.

EV World
October 10. 05

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Here and Now

Here is a new article in today's CSM.

Plug-in hybrids: a here-and-now alternative
By Mark Clayton
The Christian Science Monitor

The solution to the nation's emerging oil crisis may be sitting quietly in Ron Gremban's garage. It gets 80 to 100 miles to the gallon, he says. And if you don't go too fast, driving that gallon's worth of distance could cost $1 or less.

Officially, it's called a "plug-in hybrid electric vehicle" or PHEV. But think of it as a Toyota Prius with an electrical cord.

By charging the car at night, Mr. Gremban, who lives in the San Francisco area, uses cheap off-peak power-plant capacity. That extra juice lets him tootle around town using the car's electric motor for 50 to 60 miles without requiring the hybrid's gasoline motor to turn itself on.

One auto critic who tested a plug-in Prius recently reported that in normal driving, not trying to go easy on the throttle, he would still have to fill up the tank just once in 5-1/2 months.

With gasoline hovering near $3 a gallon, several companies are beginning to back the idea of plugging cars into the electrical grid. The technology is also winning some surprising endorsements.

Energy hawks like R. James Woolsey, former director of central intelligence, touts the PHEV as a here-and-now technology to answer the nation's needs. So does Set America Free, another group of energy security experts.

Other companies and cities are also showing signs of interest. For example:

• In Austin, Texas, the city utility has an incentive program for consumers willing to plug in at night to absorb cheap off-peak wind power generated for a few cents per kilowatt hour.

"It's like having a second small fuel tank in your car," says Felix Kramer, founder of Cal-cars, a nonprofit tech group in the Bay Area. "You fill it at home by plugging it into the socket at night - and it gives you transportation around town for the equivalent of less than $1 a gallon."


Monday, September 19, 2005

Talking Points

Felix Kramer has come up with a nice set of talking points :

10 Talking Points for Plug-In Hybrids

We've been refining these for some time, and now we're ready for your comments/suggestions. In particular, it took us years to come up with a simple way to explain PHEVs and their benefit in one sentence -- now that's Point #2.

1. Today's hybrids are still 100% gasoline-fueled. They're more efficient than non-hybrids because they don't idle, they use smaller engines, and they recapture braking energy into a battery for use later. It's a great improvement. But tapping the full potential of hybrids can save much more gasoline along with many other benefits.

2. Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) simply add a second cleaner, cheaper, and domestic energy source for your car: electricity. It's like having a second small fuel tank that you always use first. You fill this one at home with electricity from an ordinary 120-volt socket, at a cost equivalent to less than $1/gallon. Assumptions:
* Toyota Prius: 260 Watt-hours per electric mile at "off-peak" (overnight) electricity rate (8.8 cents/kilowatt hour) equals a cost of 2.3 cents/mile. Multiply this by the 45 miles per gallon of a typical Prius and you get the equivalent of $1.03/gallon.
* Typical Non-Hybrid SUV: 400 Watt-hours per electric-mile at the off-peak rate of 8.8 cents/kilowatt hour equals a cost of 3.5 cents/mile. Multiply this by this less efficient vehicle's average of 18 miles/gallon and you get an even better $0.63/gallon. (SUVs get low mileage, so they can improve more!) Here's another way to think about it: At $3 for a gallon of gas, driving a non-hybrid car costs 8-20 cents a mile (depending on its miles/gallon). With a PHEV, all-electric local travel and commuting can drop to 2-4 cents a mile.

3. If your batteries have a longer range than your average daily commute, you'll rarely need gas. But if you forget to plug in or you have to go on a longer trip, you still have the same extended range you've always had from the gasoline engine -- and you're still driving a relatively clean and efficient hybrid.

4. Using electricity for your daily local travel improves "energy security." PHEVs have been endorsed by a "neo-con-green" alliance of environmentalists and national security conservatives who see it as the best way to rapidly reduce consumption of imported oil. They want car makers to add the "flex-fuel" feature (at a cost of $150) so PHEVs can run on biodiesel or cellulosic ethanol. This is how PHEVs can get 500 miles/gallon of gasoline (+ electricity + biofuels).

5. PHEVs can provide emergency backup power. Suitably equipped hybrids and PHEVs can serve as mobile electricity generators after natural disasters, providing low-emission 120-volt power for days to emergency centers and individual homes.

6. Electricity is cleaner than gasoline and addresses global warming. Even though over half of the nation's electricity is produced from coal, when you count all the emissions from the oil well or mine to the car's wheels, an electric vehicle produces about half the greenhouse gases of a gasoline car. These excellent numbers improve as laws increasingly require the power grid to get cleaner and more renewable. California's new law requires 30% greenhouse gas reductions in new vehicles within 10 years; PHEVs could double that goal starting in two years.

7. The troubled auto industry needs new solutions. American car makers missed the boat on hybrid technology and are playing catch up. PHEVs offer them the opportunity to leapfrog their competitors. Getting car buyers excited about clean, advanced technology cars could save one or more beleaguered car company. Component suppliers see the opportunity and have formed an Advanced Hybrid Vehicle Development Consortium to demonstrate performance and to speed an automaker's path to commercialization.

8. Mass-produced PHEVs can pay for themselves in higher fuel savings and reduced maintenance costs. Car makers could sell mass-produced PHEVs for $3,000 more than current hybrids, and $5,000 more for hybrid SUVs. Early adopter buyers will pay extra for this "feature," just as current car buyers pay for larger engines or leather seats without expecting a return. The bonus? Projections based on real-world experience from electric car fleets demonstrate that PHEVs have a lower lifetime cost of ownership than any other vehicle type.

9. PHEVs already exist. Dr. Andy Frank pioneered at UC Davis turning Ford and GM vehicles into PHEVs. The Electric Power Research Institute worked with DaimlerChrysler to design small numbers of PHEVs based on the Mercedes Sprinter (15-passenger commercial van), using lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride batteries. They'll be delivered by early 2006 to Federal Express, The New York Times and electric utility fleets. Last year, non-profit CalCars built the first PRIUS+ conversion. Then for-profit EnergyCS built a more advanced version, and launched EDrive Systems to sell installed conversions to Prius owners in 2006. CalCars is now looking at the Ford Escape and other hybrids to meet a fleet market demand we estimate at 10,000-100,000 vehicles.

10. Fleet buyers can lead the way; government can play a role. A local Plug-In Austin Campaign has launched and a national 50-City Plan for a large fleet buy is in the works. And, motivated by high battlefield fuel costs and attracted to the no-heat "footprint" of electric vehicles, the military may be the next big buyer. Former cabinet members and current Senators from both parties endorse PHEVs as the fastest way to significantly cut gasoline use. New hybrid tax credits (not deductions) help buy down extra costs. Some companies are starting to subsidize employee purchases of hybrids. Other legislative initiatives, including incentives to car makers and buyers, will come from all levels of government.

These points are by The California Cars Initiative, a non-profit group of engineers, environmentalists and entrepreneurs that combines technology development and advocacy. Our goal is to get car companies to build PHEVs. Want to know more -- or see links for topics mentioned? One place to start is at CalCars' Frequently Asked Questions. There you can find a 2-page printable flyer version of these Talking Points, and a "recommended packet" of articles about PHEVs and Calcars.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Austin on the plug-in hybrid scene

Austin Chronicle
August 26, 2005


Think of the city of Austin as the Green Godfather. In the coming months, Austin hopes to call together a mafia of 50 like-minded, large U.S. cities that are fed up with pollution and high fuel costs. They will then go to automakers and make them an offer they can't refuse: a call for the mass production of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles capable of triple-digit fuel economy and up to 35 miles of all-electric driving. Armed with commitments for fleet orders by government and business, plenty of cash (like Austin's $1 million in incentives) to buy the first round of vehicles, and tens of thousands of petitions from the public expressing demand for the vehicles, this mafia will tell automakers that the time for change is now.

Among a who's who of elected officials, business leaders, and environmental advocates in attendance Monday, the city officially kicked off its Plug-In Austin Campaign, which it hopes to expand coast to coast to become the Plug-in America Campaign. Based on today's hybrids, the plug-ins use larger batteries plus special hardware and systems that allow them to take on extra electric charge by plugging into a conventional wall outlet.

This allows the vehicle to provide an average day of petroleum-free driving, doubling the fuel economy of a conventional hybrid and more than tripling that of a nonhybrid vehicle. (The vehicle functions as a conventional hybrid when the extra charge runs out.) The city will begin testing the only prototype currently available, the DaimlerChrysler Sprinter van, in early 2006.

Plug-In Austin advocates uniting the transportation and utility sectors by electrifying the transportation grid. In Austin's case, that translates into using the abundant West Texas wind power available through Austin Energy's GreenChoice program to charge the plug-in hybrids at night when the wind blows hardest. At prevailing energy rates, an electric gallon of gas would cost about 70 to 80 cents.

The plug-in campaign has been on the drawing board at City Hall for almost a year. Last September, the City Council passed a resolution in support of plug-in hybrid development, in December council members approved a lease for the Sprinter prototype, and the council approved a financial incentive program for personal plug-in hybrid purchases in March.

In June, Mayor Will Wynn and Austin Energy's Roger Duncan detailed the plug-in hybrid campaign at the Conference of Mayors in Chicago, where Wynn signed the Kyoto Protocol-modeled U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement on global warming.

Since then, Duncan has been traveling the country to events like the Sundance Summit on Climate Change, where he addressed 45 mayors, building support for the plug-in campaign. "Everywhere I go around the country, people are very enthusiastic about the concept," he said.

Addressing the crowd Monday, Rep. Lloyd Doggett called the act of sating the U.S.'s insatiable desire for fossil fuels a national security issue, directly related to the "tragic and unfortunate foreign entanglements in which we find our young people around the world." According to city data, plug-in hybrids would cut annual gasoline consumption for many Americans by 70%, and could reduce the 50% of Texas' pollution that comes from refineries and vehicle emissions.

Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce President (and former Austin Mayor) Kirk Watson said, by plugging cars into Austin Energy's grid, we "keep transportation dollars in our communities rather than sending them to foreign countries." He also noted that the battery technology needed for plug-ins is being produced here in Austin by Valence Technology.

As one of two producers of the lightweight, large-format lithium ion batteries the plug-ins need, Valence is positioned for the hybrid market to come, and has partnered with EDrive Systems of California to retrofit existing Toyota Prius hybrids as plug-ins. The prototype they brought to Austin in June averaged more than 125 miles per gallon.

In the next few years, says Valence's Marc Kohler, the partners will sell aftermarket upgrade kits for all hybrid models on the market. Auto manufacturers will inevitably take over, he said, and spurring that process is what Plug-In Austin is all about. For more info or to sign the petition, visit

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Plug-in Petition

Please go to the main site to sign the petition.


I urge automakers to go beyond popular hybrid vehicles and manufacture "plug-in" electric hybrid vehicles that run on electric fuel as well as gasoline or other fuels.

A plug-in hybrid will provide me the option of plugging my vehicle into an ordinary electric outlet in order to recharge the battery, allowing me to drive on electric fuel for a much longer period reducing my need for ever more expensive gasoline and increasing my fuel effciency to over 100 MPG.

Because of these benefits, I pledge to strongly consider purchasing a plug-in electric hybrid vehicle once car manufacturers make them available, even if it costs more than other vehicles.

If you like, you may sign the petition in the comments of this post, just include your name and address.

And thanks for helping build a better, cleaner, and safer future.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A P Story Gets the Word Out

Here is the AP story that ran this weekend, and it has been
picked up all's resulted in a jump in traffic to CalCars from the
usual 400-1000 unique visitors per day to 13,000 on Sat. and 17,000 on

Tinkerers modify their hybrid cars
to get more mileage per gallon

Associated Press
Aug. 13, 2005

Politicians and automakers say a car that can both reduce greenhouse gases and free America from its reliance on foreign oil is years or even decades away.

Ron Gremban says such a car is parked in his garage.

It looks like a typical Toyota Prius hybrid, but in the trunk sits an 80-miles-per-gallon secret — a stack of 18 brick-sized batteries that boosts the car's high mileage with an extra electrical charge so it can burn even less fuel.

Gremban, an electrical engineer and committed environmentalist, spent several months and $3,000 tinkering with his car.

Like all hybrids, his Prius increases fuel efficiency by harnessing small amounts of electricity generated during braking and coasting. The extra batteries let him store extra power by plugging the car into a wall outlet at his home in this San Francisco suburb — all for about a quarter.

He's part of a small but growing movement. "Plug-in" hybrids aren't yet cost-efficient, but some of the dozen known experimental models have gotten up to 250 mpg.

They have support not only from environmentalists but also from conservative foreign policy hawks who insist Americans fuel terrorism through their gas guzzling.

And while the technology has existed for three decades, automakers are beginning to take notice, too.

So far, DaimlerChrysler AG is the only company that has committed to building its own plug-in hybrids, quietly pledging to make up to 40 vans for U.S. companies. But Toyota Motor Corp. officials who initially frowned on people altering their cars now say they may be able to learn from them.

"They're like the hot rodders of yesterday who did everything to soup up their cars. It was all about horsepower and bling-bling, lots of chrome and accessories," said Cindy Knight, a Toyota spokeswoman. "Maybe the hot rodders of tomorrow are the people who want to get in there and see what they can do about increasing fuel economy."


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Austin Kick Off

Dear Friend,

Please accept this invitation to join the Austin City Council and other community leaders like yourself on Monday, August 22, at 11:00 a.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall as we kick-off Austin’s Plug-in Hybrid Campaign. Together we will show a unity of purpose as Austin leads the way to a cleaner, brighter future.

Our future, as Austin’s leaders and numerous others across America believe, would benefit from the integration of the electric and transportation sectors. For economical, environmental, and strategic reasons we are encouraging automakers to go beyond their already popular hybrids and to develop and produce “plug-in” hybrid electric vehicles. Such vehicles would have a larger battery capacity; an all electric operating range of at least 35 miles; and the option of being plugged into a standard 120-volt outlet for recharging. Plug-in hybrids would achieve greater gas mileage at a much lower cost than current hybrids.

Some automakers have already announced their intention to produce a hybrid for all models by 2012. We want to demonstrate to automakers that a national market already exists for the plug-in hybrid, for reasons including:

Economic: Plug-in hybrids will benefit consumers through lower fuel costs – we estimate an “electric equivalent” of a gallon of gas will cost well below $1.00. Also, while the infrastructure for the “hydrogen economy” has not been built, the electrical delivery system already exists.

Environmental: Using plug-in hybrids will result in net lower emissions, especially if vehicles are recharged with renewable energy sources. We envision Austinites driving to work in plug-in hybrids charged overnight by energy from West Texas wind turbines.

Strategic: Political leaders, countless organizations, and innumerable individuals are seeking alternatives to increasingly expensive foreign oil; and this is a quick, near-term solution toward reaching the critical goal of energy independence.

For more information on this event, please contact Lisa Braithwaite at 512-322-6511. To find additional information about these vehicles and our local and national efforts, please access our website at

On August 22, please join us to kick-off the plug-in hybrid campaign and help Austin set the example for the nation. I look forward to working with you on this important endeavor.


Will Wynn
Austin Mayor
Chair, US Conference of Mayors Energy Committee

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Running on Empty

LA Times Magazine
By Dan Neil
July 17, 2005

How far can we stretch a gallon of gasoline? OK, maybe it isn't a question for the ages. But with oil setting new records at more than $60 per barrel, it seems like a good time to ask. And considering that the U.S. economy is hooked on oil imported from political nightmares such as Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, and that our petrodollars support regimes that indulge Islamic radicalism, and that global warming threatens to turn Orlando into beachfront property . . . well, maybe it is a question for the ages.

The answer: It depends. Last month at the Society of Automotive Engineers' Supermileage competition in Marshall, Mich., a team from Mater Dei High School in Evansville, Ind., got 1,836 miles per gallon. However, the winning vehicle carried only one passenger—a skinny kid—at just over 15 mph, and it looked like a body bag on wheels

Slightly more practical, DaimlerChrysler last month unveiled a concept vehicle called the Mercedes-Benz Bionic Car, a lightweight, streamlined four-seater whose biomorphic design is based on the tropical boxfish. Powered by a small diesel engine, the bait-shaped runabout gets 70 mpg (diesel fuel, it should be noted, has more energy content than gasoline and some emissions issues that gasoline doesn't have).

Among street-legal cars, the Honda Insight—another aerodynamic guppy and the first (1999) hybrid gas-electric vehicle sold in the United States—is the gas mileage champion, getting 60 mpg in the city and 66 mpg on the highway.

And then there's the car I'm driving: a Toyota Prius jury-rigged by a couple of wildcatting engineers in Monrovia. Equipped with an oversized battery, a home-built battery controller (and lots of home-built computer code) and a battery charger, it's a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or PHEV, a technology that might just represent one of the most dramatic advances in fuel stretching since the Pennsylvania oil fields.

And not a minute too soon.

The idea is that owners charge up the car overnight, plugging into their garage outlet for cheap, off-peak electricity, and the stored energy covers their short-range daily driving—on average, less than 30 miles. Except that, unlike electric-only vehicles, which can range only as far as a charge allows, PHEVs can fall back on a gas engine. Within its electrically boosted range, this car can get 100 mpg.Or more. A lot more, if you believe a growing chorus of PHEV partisans, some of whom are famously hard-nosed conservatives born again as energy evangelists.

PHEV technology has earned a rousing endorsement from the bipartisan Commission on National Energy Policy. Former Secretary of State George Shultz and former CIA director R. James Woolsey, co-chairs of a dire-sounding organization called The Committee on the Present Danger, wrote in a policy paper last year: "A plug-in hybrid averaging 125 mpg, if its fuel tank contains 85 per cent cellulosic ethanol, would be obtaining about 500 mpg [of gasoline]. If it were constructed from carbon composites the mileage could double. . . .

What are we waiting for?"

Read More

Friday, June 17, 2005

As Toyota Goes

New York Times
June 17, 2005

So I have a question: If I am rooting for General Motors to go bankrupt and be bought out by Toyota, does that make me a bad person?

It is not that I want any autoworker to lose his or her job, but I certainly would not put on a black tie if the entire management team at G.M. got sacked and was replaced by executives from Toyota. Indeed, I think the only hope for G.M.'s autoworkers, and maybe even our country, is with Toyota. Because let's face it, as Toyota goes, so goes America.

Having Toyota take over General Motors - which based its business strategy on building gas-guzzling cars, including the idiot Hummer, scoffing at hybrid technology and fighting Congressional efforts to impose higher mileage standards on U.S. automakers - would not only be in America's economic interest, it would also be in America's geopolitical interest.

Because Toyota has pioneered the very hybrid engine technology that can help rescue not only our economy from its oil addiction (how about 500 miles per gallon of gasoline?), but also our foreign policy from dependence on Middle Eastern oil autocrats.

Diffusing Toyota's hybrid technology is one of the keys to what I call "geo-green." Geo-greens seek to combine into a single political movement environmentalists who want to reduce fossil fuels that cause climate change, evangelicals who want to protect God's green earth and all his creations, and geo-strategists who want to reduce our dependence on crude oil because it fuels some of the worst regimes in the world.

The Bush team has been M.I.A. on energy since 9/11. Indeed, the utter indifference of the Bush team to developing a geo-green strategy - which would also strengthen the dollar, reduce our trade deficit, make America the world leader in combating climate change and stimulate U.S. companies to take the lead in producing the green technologies that the world will desperately need as China and India industrialize - is so irresponsible that it takes your breath away. This is especially true when you realize that the solutions to our problems are already here.

As Gal Luft, co-chairman of the Set America Free coalition, a bipartisan alliance of national security, labor, environmental and religious groups that believe reducing oil consumption is a national priority, points out: the majority of U.S. oil imports go to fueling the transport sector - primarily cars and trucks. Therefore, the key to reducing our dependence on foreign oil is powering our cars and trucks with less petroleum.

There are two ways we can do that. One is electricity. We don't import electricity. We generate all of our needs with coal, hydropower, nuclear power and natural gas. Toyota's hybrid cars, like the Prius, run on both gasoline and electricity that is generated by braking and then stored in a small battery. But, says Luft, if you had a hybrid that you could plug in at night, the battery could store up 20 miles of driving per day. So your first 20 miles would be covered by the battery. The gasoline would only kick in after that. Since 50 percent of Americans do not drive more than 20 miles a day, the battery power would cover all their driving. Even if they drove more than that, combining the battery power and the gasoline could give them 100 miles per gallon of gasoline used, Luft notes.

Right now Toyota does not sell plug-in hybrids. Some enthusiasts, though, are using kits to convert their hybrids to plug-ins, but that adds several thousand dollars - and you lose your Toyota warranty. Imagine, though, if the government encouraged, through tax policy and other incentives, every automaker to offer plug-in hybrids? We would quickly move down the innovation curve and end up with better and cheaper plug-ins for all.

Then add to that flexible-fuel cars, which have a special chip and fuel line that enable them to burn alcohol (ethanol or methanol), gasoline or any mixture of the two. Some four million U.S. cars already come equipped this way, including from G.M. It costs only about $100 a car to make it flex-fuel ready. Brazil hopes to have all its new cars flex-fuel ready by 2008. As Luft notes, if you combined a plug-in hybrid system with a flex-fuel system that burns 80 percent alcohol and 20 percent gasoline, you could end up stretching each gallon of gasoline up to 500 miles.

In short, we don't need to reinvent the wheel or wait for sci-fi hydrogen fuel cells. The technologies we need for a stronger, more energy independent America are already here. The only thing we have a shortage of now are leaders with the imagination and will to move the country onto a geo-green path.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Plug-In Hybrids and Wind Power

EV World
Monday, 23 May 2005
Edition 5.22

A couple years ago, I met a man who had tried to perfect a wind-powered car. The idea was to use the aerodynamic forces of the wind to help propel the car down the road. Anyone who has sailed can appreciate how this might work, especially when running on a reach perpendicular to the direction of the wind, which produces the fastest speed through the water.

Not surprisingly, the idea died with the wind.

But the idea of a wind-powered car isn't as far-fetched as you might think. Not long ago, Lester Brown endorsed the idea of plug-in hybrids charged by electricity generated from wind farms, a notion seconded by Roger Duncan at Austin Energy in an EV World interview not long ago. It turns out they may be on to something.

In doing some research into wind power over the weekend, I revisited an old browser bookmark I'd made sometime back on wind power in America. Digging a bit deeper into the 2003 study by Stanford University's Mark Jacobson and Cristina Archer, I discovered that when they looked at four-hour time blocks for wind power production on eight separate wind farms that were theoretically networked together, not only did the frequency of unproductive, low-speed winds decrease but more importantly, the maximum power output for the hypothetical network turned out to be between 8-11 PM and 12-3 AM.

Now most utilities have plenty of spare, off-peak capacity in the middle of the night, so adding more power from wind farms might seem counterproductive. But let's assume that some day in the future there are millions of plug-in hybrids -- both ICE and fuel cell-driven -- parked out there in owner garages that need recharging overnight.

Rather than having to add spare generating capacity in the future to recharge all those cars and trucks once overnight load demand began to strain the system, wind farms could be brought quickly online in a matter of just months, rather than the years it now takes to permit and build fossil fuel or nuclear power plants. And best of all, the Jacobson/Archer study suggests that wind power and plug-in hybrids may share a very symbiotic relationship, especially when those plug-ins have vehicle-to-grid (V2G) capabilities.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Hydrogen cars still decades off

Scripps Howard News Service
May 19, 2005

Critics of President Bush's energy policies are urging Congress to scale back his much-touted hydrogen-car research program in favor of existing technologies that can reduce U.S. energy dependence and cut global-warming pollution now.

Two years ago, Bush launched a five-year, $1.2 billion program to develop a commercially viable hydrogen fuel-cell car "so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen and pollution-free." He's now asking Congress to increase funding for the program by $500 million.

Congress is even more gung-ho on hydrogen. The House energy bill authorizes $4 billion over five years for hydrogen research and another $1.3 billion for a new-generation nuclear reactor that would produce hydrogen for cars as well as electricity. The Senate, which is at work on its version of the measure, allocates $3.8 billion to hydrogen.

However, many scientists and energy experts say it has become clear that it will take decades to overcome the significant technological and infrastructure hurdles facing commercialization of hydrogen cars - if they can be overcome at all.

"I think the hydrogen research should be cut radically and we should be spending the resources on encouraging the utilization of technologies that are either already developed or very near commercialization and production," former CIA Director James Woolsey said.

Hydrogen-powered cars are "a nice dream - it's worth spending a bit of money on as an R&D project - but as a principal focus for the next generation of vehicles, I think it was wrongheaded when it was adopted and I think it's wrongheaded now," Woolsey said.

Woolsey is part of a bipartisan coalition of former defense and other high-level administration officials, political leaders and environmentalists urging dramatic action to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Studies last year by the National Academy of Sciences and the American Physical Society concluded that commercially viable hydrogen cars would take considerably longer - about 20 to 30 years - and cost more to develop than had been anticipated.

"That sobered up a lot of people," said Joseph Romm, author of "The Hype About Hydrogen" and a former acting assistant secretary of energy in the Clinton administration. "When people look at this objectively I think they understand we're talking decades."

"If you are concerned about energy independence, if you are concerned about global warming, we can't wait that long," Romm said.

Similarly, researchers are about 20 years away from producing the kind of high-temperature nuclear reactors envisioned by the Department of Energy for the large-scale production of hydrogen - again assuming technical hurdles can be overcome.

The administration is still aiming for commercialization of hydrogen cars by 2020, Energy Department spokesman Tom Welch said.

"The main rationale for this hydrogen program is that eventually we're going to need a substitute for petroleum," Welch said. "We're envisioning a petroleum-free transportation sector, a hydrogen economy. Of course, while we see the hybrid cars as a logical mid-term solution to reducing petroleum consumption, eventually we're going to need to find a substitute."

Environmentalists say the pollution-free hydrogen fuel that the Bush administration envisions for future cars should come from sources that don't produce radioactive waste that remains toxic for generations or generate greenhouse gases.

However, the emphasis in the administration's hydrogen program has been on producing hydrogen from natural gas in the short term and nuclear power and coal in the long term. Among the unanswered questions are what to do with the nuclear waste and how to prevent carbon emissions from coal and natural gas.

Raising fuel-economy standards for today's cars, increasing incentives for hybrid-gas-electric cars, funding research to allow "plug in" hybrid cars powered primarily by electricity and promoting alternative fuels like ethanol and biodiesel would reduce foreign oil dependence faster, critics said.

"We don't object to using R&D to do either basic research or research into something that may be in the distance," said Dan Becker of the Sierra Club. "What we object to is failing to do something now and using the R&D as a shield against doing something responsible today."


Friday, April 15, 2005

Roger Duncan and EV World

Roger Duncan was interviewed by Bill Moore on April 6th.
You can read the entire interview or listen to it here.

Austin Strikes Up The Band for Plug-In Hybrids
By Bill Moore Austin
April 06, 2005

Several weeks ago, a newspaper story appeared that reported the City of Austin was prepared to offer substantial rebates for purchases of plug-in hybrids. EV World linked to and archived the story, which very quickly precipitated a hasty email from a reader at Austin Energy who asked us to remove the link because the story was not factually correct. We immediately responded, but the first question I wanted to ask Roger Duncan was what were the facts.

"Austin Energy is a public utility, and our mayor and city council... agreed that we wanted to put together an incentive package for plug-in hybrids. As part of that package, Austin Energy will pull together a package of rebates for the first plug-in hybrids that come into our service area. We have not determined the level of rebates or how many there would be.

"I gave an example during a talk recently that, for example, we may give a $1000 to each owner of a new plug-in hybrid for the first thousand vehicles that came into our service area; and that would be a $1 million set aside. That, unfortunately, was printed as fact, when I was using it as an example. But we have determined that we will be giving rebates in the future. We just have not yet determined the amount or the date", Duncan explained.

Austin Energy is the tenth largest public power utility in the United States. Overseen by the major and city council who sit on the utility board of directors, Austin Energy generates nearly all of its own electric power, nearly equally divided in thirds between coal, natural gas and nuclear power.

"We also sell a lot of renewable energy", he pointed out to me. "In fact, the last three years we have sold more renewable energy than any other utility in the country. Primarily, it's wind from west Texas that we transmit in. We have also been a very aggressive energy efficiency, energy conservation company for many years and are generally recognized in the field as a progressive utility".

While returning home from the Fuel Cell Forum in San Antonio last November, my wife and I drove past many of those wind turbines. Duncan said that Austin now purchases some 200 megawatts of power from those very same wind farms, as part of its goal to be known as the

"Clean Energy Capital of the World".

It's that ambitious goal that eventually led to the mayor and city council endorsing the plug-in hybrid concept.

"The mayor and council asked us what else we could do to really ramp it up", Duncan said.

"After looking at things, I came back and told council that we would continue to expand our renewables and conservation, but that we really were not doing anything in the transportation area more so than any other city, in my opinion. As we began to look into it further, I also told council that I thought that eventually there would be a unification of the transportation and electric sectors for a variety of reasons.

"So, the council passed a resolution July of last year (2004) asking us to look into unification of the transportation and electric sectors, and its impact on Austin Energy. And when we got into that, we became very excited over plug-in hybrids... We came back and told the council that we thought that the hybrids that are on the roads today were sort of the first step towards unifying with the electric sector, but plug-in hybrids would provide a cheaper cost for our customers, extra revenue for the utility, cleaner air for our city; and that eventually we thought that this was the way that the transportation sector had to go".

Interestingly, despite Texas' reputation as the world center for the oil and gas industry, Duncan observed that the state has more renewable energy resources from wind, solar and biomass than it has in its remaining fossil fuel reserves.


Okay, I know that's a mouthful of an acronym. It stands for "Flexible Fuel Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle". This is Austin Energy's dream machine -- and that of an increasing number of influential Washington, D.C. policy makers.

"By that we mean a vehicle that has a flexible fuel internal combustion engine that can burn either gasoline or E85 or other mixes and has the capability of being plugged into the electric grid to charge the battery. It's pretty much that simple," he explained. "We're not getting into detailed specs on the size of the battery or electric drive... We just want the basic concept that you can plug it in any electric grid and at the same time, you can drive it off an internal combustion engine and have that flexibility.

"The advantages that we saw were several", Duncan continued. "First, when we did calculations on the cost to our consumers if they were able to plug in a vehicle overnight, we found that they would get... the equivalent of about 56 cents a gallon of gasoline for driving in an all-electric operating range. So, that got us very excited".

"Then we looked at the emission characteristics and we recognized that as I mentioned earlier, we sell a lot of green power and our wind comes in primarily at night as opposed to a hot summer afternoon, which is Austin's peak loads. So, we were excited about the prospect that we could take in even more wind at night for our night-time base loads and charge the vehicles and essentially have wind-powered cars".

Duncan explained that shifting to plug-in hybrids offered the opportunity to also replace downtown auto exhaust emissions, where the city has difficulty meeting federal ozone standards with remote power plant smokestacks, whose emissions the utility could better control. And in the case of power generated by wind, solar and nuclear, there would be no emissions.

"We even did some preliminary calculations on our coal plant and we're optimistic that when others do the calculation there may even be some total emission offsets even from coal, if it's properly done".

What would Duncan like to see in the way of electric-only range in an electric plug-in hybrid? He responded that he thought a 40 mile electric-only range would be adequate to meet most Austin residents' driving needs. He also conceded that the concept of plugging in a hybrid car is really so new that most people in his community are still just getting familiar with the notion of gasoline-electric hybrids.

I asked Duncan what impact, if any, the eventual introduction of flexible fuel plug-in hybrids are likely to have on the local power grid; at what point does Austin Energy need to begin to add generating capacity and where will that power come from?

"The initial impact of plug-ins into the electric grid system is not going to have much impact because almost all utilities have unused capacity sitting at night," he replied, noting that other utilities, spearheaded by the Electric Power Research Institute have examined this issue closely.
"Initially, we don't see any capacity additions. Obviously, if there's significant penetration of the market with plug-ins, there will have to be power plant additions", he remarked, conceding that if and when that does happen, the utility will probably look at 'clean coal' if energy conservation and renewable energy alone can't cover the added load.

"I think the reality is, you're just adding electric load and it's going to vary on a regional basis as to what the power plants and utilities do to add the load".

Duncan said that he has also looked at the concept of vehicle-to-grid or V2G in which the passage of energy is bi-directional. A plug-in hybrid can accept charges from the grid, but can't share its stored energy with the home or the larger power grid. A V2G hybrid has built in circuitry and controls that permit the grid to pull some power out of the vehicle's battery or fuel cell to help during peak demand periods. The concept is worth more investigation in his view, but is also too immature to be considered seriously right now, unlike plug-ins hybrids.

It seems that nearly everyone in the know but carmakers are excited about the potential of plug-in hybrids. So, how do we bring them on board, I asked?

"Our approach is to simply is to create the market. The approach that we're taking here in Austin is that we want to demonstrate to carmakers that there are customers that want to buy them, in fact, there's a utility that wants to put up rebates. We want to then replicate that in the largest fifty cities in the United States".

Duncan sees utilities in those communities following Austin's lead in working with local government, industry, business and consumers to explain the benefits of the concept and stimulate demand for it. The goal is to have hundreds of thousands of people nationwide expressing interest in plug-in hybrids, as well as millions of dollars in utility rebates.

"At that point, I think that the automakers will see that there is a definite market there and will produce the automobiles".

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Giving Hybrids A Real Jolt

Business Week
APRIL 11, 2005

By John Carey in Washington

A plug-in gas-electric vehicle may be key in saving fuel and cutting pollution. Is there a car that can cut America's oil imports to a trickle, dramatically reduce pollution, and do it all with currently available technology?

Greg Hanssen thinks so. His company has already built one suchcar -- a converted Toyota Prius that gets 100 to 180 mpg in a typical commute.

Andrew A. Frank thinks so, too. The University of California atDavis professor has constructed a handful of such vehicles. His latest: a converted 325-horsepower Ford Explorer that goes 50 miles using no gas at all, then gets 30 mpg. "It goes like a rocket," he says. These vehicles are quickly becoming the darlings of strange bedfellows: both conservative hawks and environmentalists, who see such fuel efficiencyas key to ensuring national security and fighting climate change.

Reducing dependence on the turbulent Middle East "is a war issue," says former CIA Chief R. James Woolsey, who calls the cars' potential "phenomenal." What's the secret? It's as simple as adding more batteries and a plug to hybrids such as the Prius. That way, the batteries can be charged up at any electrical outlet -- letting this so-called plug-in hybrid travel 20 to 60miles under electric power alone.

Since most Americans drive fewer than 30miles a day, such a car could go months without visiting the filling station. "The only time you would have to gas up is when you go out of town," says Felix Kramer, who founded the nonprofit California CarsInitiative to promote plug-ins. Run the internal combustion engine on a blend of gasoline and biofuels like ethanol, and it would use almost no oil products at all.

"That changes the world," says Frank J. Gaffney Jr., president of the Center for Security Policy.


Professor Frank, 72, first began thinking about a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) years ago. "But now all the pieces are here," he says.Toyota Motor Corp. (TM ) has solved the big engineering problems with the Prius, so "it's a trivial matter to make a plug-in," says Joseph J. Romm, a former Energy Dept official. Greg Hanssen and his colleagues at Energy CS, for example, replaced the Prius' existing 1.3-kilowatt-hour nickel metalhydride battery with an advanced 9-kWh lithium ion battery pack. They hope to offer a conversion kit to Prius owners. The weight penalty? About 170pounds.

Car owners might not want to try this at home. Such a conversion will probably void Toyota's warranty. But big companies are building their own vehicles. In a project sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute(EPRI), several utilities, government agencies, and DaimlerChrysler (DCX ), the carmaker is building a fleet of up to 40 PHEV delivery vans. Four will be coming to U.S. cities for tests starting in June. Research at EPRI predicts that the plug-in vehicles, based on DaimlerChrysler's popularSprinter van, will get a gas mileage boost of at least 50% over conventional vans.

EPRI Program Manager Robert Graham is convinced that Toyota already has prototype plug-ins running. Toyota says no. "We keep looking at the concept, and at some point it might be feasible, but it isn't there yet,"says David Hermance, Toyota's executive engineer for environmental engineering.

For its part, DaimlerChrysler sees its van project "as a great opportunity to develop the vehicles we foresee in the future," says technology spokesman Nick Cappa. The company's first hybrid offerings will be conventional, but plug-ins might eventually be an option, he says. Auto makers' reluctance to plunge in quickly frustrates evangelists likeProfessor Frank. "If it is such a damn good idea, why are the car companies not adopting plug-ins?" he asks. "The simple answer is that they don't want to change what they are making."

But it's also not clear how much more people will pay for the cars. Hybrids are estimated to cost $2,000 to$5,000 more than conventional cars to make, and the larger batteries for plug-ins would add several thousands dollars more."


Proponents predict costs will drop with high-volume production. But making the investment to build hundreds of thousands of PHEVs is a giant risk, especially since there are competing approaches to higher fuel efficiency, such as advanced diesels or upgraded gasoline or hydrogen engines. Plus, no one knows if gas prices will rise enough to spur demand for high mileage cars. "All these technologies are great. But there is a tremendous amountof uncertainty," says David E. Cole, chairman of the Center for AutomotiveResearch.

That's why some plug-in advocates are striving to create a market for automakers. On Mar. 3, the city of Austin, Tex., passed a resolution calling for rebates for plug-in purchases and asking local businesses and governments to buy the vehicles.

"We can reduce costs [of driving] to consumers, improve the air quality, and increase revenues to the city,"says Roger Duncan, deputy general manager of city-owned Austin Energy. Ordinary hybrids such as the Prius are already popular. Moving to plug-ins is the next logical step -- and the idea is getting high-level endorsements.

Last December, the bipartisan National Commission on EnergyPolicy tapped plug-ins as a key part of its energy strategy. The Set America Free coalition, a group of conservatives and enviros, is pushing for $2 billion in incentives, pointing out that "if all cars on the roadare hybrids and half are plug-in hybrid vehicles, U.S. oil imports would drop by 8 million barrels per day."

Americans will be "gassing up" their cars with electrons, predicts Romm: "I would bet the mortgage on it."

But not quite the whole house.