The Truth About Cars » Alternative Energy The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:45:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Alternative Energy US Energy Department Unveils Four-Year Strategy For Alternative Energy Tue, 15 Apr 2014 11:15:27 +0000 South_Point_Wind_Farm

The U.S. Department of Energy unveiled last week a four-year plan that would advance the goal of energy security by building upon as many alternative sources as possible, further reducing dependence on imported petroleum.

Autoblog Green reports the 27-page plan illustrates the proposed aims of the DOE to double the amount of energy produced by renewables, improve battery technology, usher in advances in biofuels and hydrogen fuel cells, and push further electrification of vehicles.

In addition, the DOE also has strategies ready for testing the nation’s nuclear deterrent for safety, security and overall effectiveness, as well as boosting the tools needed to bring improvements on the nation’s security infrastructure.

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DOT Sec’y Moniz: Revived ATVM Loan Program May Be Expanded to Suppliers Thu, 23 Jan 2014 11:23:52 +0000

Speaking at the Washington (D.C.) Auto Show, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said on Wednesday that part of reviving the dormant Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program may involve making suppliers as well as automakers eligible for the more than $15 billion allocated for the ATVM program that was never loaned out. The program stalled 2011 after the high profile failures of two loan recipients, Fisker Automotive and Vehicle Production Group. Of the other three recipients of ATVM loans, Tesla repaid its loan early and Ford and Nissan continue to pay down their debts on schedule.

“We are looking at what those options might be including the potential of looking at the supply chain with a loan program,” Moniz said . “Looking at the supply chain may be an important focus for a new program.”

When asked for a timetable for when the program would be revived and expanded, Moniz declined to be specific saying, “hopefully it’ll be soon”.

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Are Graphene Micro-Supercapacitors An EV Gamechanger? Mon, 25 Feb 2013 13:30:29 +0000 Micro-supercapacitor-prv UCLA Photo

Energy density isn’t the only reason why battery-powered cars have never caught on. As was highlighted in Tesla’s somewhat less than successful media road trip, the amount of time it takes to fill batteries with electrons can be as significant a factor in the practicality of EVs as the amount of electrons those batteries can hold.

That’s one of the reasons why high power capacitors, also known as supercapacitors or ultracapacitors, have held promise – caps can charge and discharge very quickly. That promise, though, has been held back by the old bugaboo of energy density. Capacitors unfortunately have limited capacity. Researchers at UCLA who had previously announced the almost accidental discovery of a simple and inexpensive method of creating graphene sheets, which have ideal properties for fabricating ultracapacitors, have now published the results of their further research, demonstrating a scalable process for fabricating flexible graphene micro-supercapacitors that have some of the highest energy densities achieved yet for such capacitors.


Click here to view the embedded video.

The team, led by Richard Kaner, is developing the devices out of one of those fortuitous discoveries that expands the frontiers of science, like penicillin or nylon. Maher El-Kady, of Kaner’s lab, had invented an elegantly simple and inexpensive method of making graphene, a single atom thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in that hexagonal latice that C loves so well. He poured out a layer of graphite oxide solution on a plastic substrate and then exposed it to laser light. The process wasn’t the most clever thing about El-Kaner’s discovery, it was the equipment that he used. El-Kaner’s substrates were DVDs and he used a standard consumer grade LightScribe DVD burner for the laser. Refining the process, the team has now figured out a way to embed electrodes into the graphene, which is formulated over a flexible film, and they claim energy density comparable to current thin-film lithium ion batteries.

Often “scalable” means scaling up, but Kaner and El-Kady discovered that scaling down has advantanges. Miniaturizing the devices enhances charge storage capacity and charge/discharge rate and it also allowed them to produce more than 100 micro-supercapacitors on a single disc in 30 min or less. The flexible substrate allows for packaging options and the size means that they can be mounted on the back of solar cells or other chips.

As is always the case with potential energy gamechangers, the research team is looking for partners to produce their invention in industrial quantities. While the initial applications will likely not be for transportation, any development concerning electrical storage that combines enhanced energy density, faster charge/discharge rates, and lightweight miniaturization is bound to attract attention from the EV crowd.

UCLA press release here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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GM Signs Natural Gas Development Deal, Light Duty Prototype Possible In 18 Months Tue, 28 Jun 2011 23:25:52 +0000

Smell that? It’s the gathering scent of a new industry trend towards natural gas. Honda’s expanded its pioneering Civic GX to 50 states, Sergio Marchionne wants to replicate his Italian CNG success at Chrysler (eventually), and now GM is jumping on the bandwagon while it’s still relatively uncrowded. The Winnepeg Free Press reports that GM has signed a development deal with Vancouver, B.C.-based Westport Innovations which could see a prototype light-duty natural gas-powered engine completed “within 18 months” if preliminary study proves promising. A Westport spokesman boasts

If both parties agree to move ahead with commercialization this would be one of the first pure OEM [natural gas-powered] products

You know, except the Civic GX which has been prowling American streets since 1998. Still, with Chrysler targeting CNG commercialization no earlier than 2017, GM could have a strong head-start on a fuel technology that promises to be a viable and promising gasoline alternative, especially if the NatGas Bill [PDF] passes, expanding $7,500 plug-in tax credits to natural gas vehicles. And GM’s got a strong partner in Westport, which has heavy-duty commercial deals with Cummins and Caterpillar. With Nissan all-in on EVs and years ahead of the competition in terms of global EV production capacity, look for other competitors to hedge their alt-energy bets… and natural gas is rapidly becoming the most popular alternative.

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Chrysler Goes CNG… By 2017 Wed, 13 Apr 2011 22:05:00 +0000

There’s been a recent groundswell of interest in natural gas as a fuel for cars in recent months, marked by Honda’s decision to sell a natural gas-powered 2012 Civic in 50 states, Edmunds CEO Jeremy Anwyl’s public paean to the fuel, and the EPA’s relaxation of natural gas conversion regulations. Honda alt-fuel manager Eric Rosenberg enthuses to WardsAuto

We’re the Saudi Arabia of natural gas… Demand [for the Civic GX] has tripled, and that’s actual retail demand. Traditionally, fleet has been about 50% to 55% of demand, but now it’s dropped; now 80% of demand is retail.

And since Chrysler’s new guardian, Fiat, has plenty of (well-subsidized) natural gas experience in Italy, it’s no surprise that Chrysler’s looking to get in on the action (Chrysler’s own experience with the stuff was brief). In fact, just last year Fiat-Chrysler was pushing the idea of natural gas cars as a stopgap until its first EV (the 500) arrives in 2012. Now, presumably because the desired government help wasn’t forthcoming, Bloomberg reports that Chrysler is only promising gassy goodness “by 2017.” Now there’s an interesting way to jump on a bandwagon.

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EPA Streamlines Alt-Fuel Conversion Regulations Wed, 06 Apr 2011 20:49:44 +0000

The NYT reports:

The Environmental Protection Agency has revised its alternative-fuel conversion regulations for light and heavy-duty vehicles, making it easier for manufacturers to sell conversions that are compliant with clean-air laws. The 186-page ruling provides an exemption from a Clean Air Act prohibition against tampering when converting an engine to run on alternative fuel.

In the past, a manufacturer of alternative-fuel conversion systems was required to certify its products in the same manner that a vehicle manufacturer certified its vehicles — an expensive and difficult process. The new regulations provide a way to comply with clean-air standards through streamlined testing.

In essence, the rule change creates a graded compliance structure, depending on the age of the converted vehicle, making it easier to retrofit older vehicles. Read all about it at the EPA’s website.

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A Dangerously Dispassionate Look At The EV Market Sat, 02 Apr 2011 16:50:39 +0000

One of the toughest challenges facing industry analysts right now involves determining what the market for electric vehicles actually looks like, what kind of volumes it will support and for how long. It’s a problem that I’ve hashed over at length with an old college buddy who now works at a cleantech investment firm, and let me be the first to say that it’s not an easy problem to pick apart. The number of unknown quantities and moving parts explains why opinions among money managers can vary so wildly even about relatively marginal firms like Tesla.

Luckily, Thilo Koslowski of Gartner Research [and celebrated coiner of the term "the trough of disappointment"] has dedicated himself more thoroughly to the problem, and has some startling findings to report. For example, despite the relentless pro-EV hype present in all levels of the media, Koslowski’s research shows that more consumers are actually considering buying a natural gas-powered vehicle. Looks like Edmunds’ Jeremy Anwyl was on to something when he called for an end to EV tax credits in favor of greater support for natural gas cars.

But even those raw consideration numbers don’t tell the whole story. Koslowski notes

EVs primarily face a market adoption problem, not an infrastructure challenge, to move from early adopters to mainstream buyers. The ideal EV does not exist yet in today’s automotive market and will likely require another technology generation before it arrives. Consumer sentiment regarding EVs is still positive, but is beginning to show areas of concerns for automotive manufacturers when compared to 2010. EVs must provide better cost-value ratios and convince consumers that no significant behavioral changes are needed before becoming a large-scale, consumer alternative for traditional internal-combustion engine (ICE) and hybrid powertrain technologies.

This is sobering news for even the “end-to-end” EV business model, as championed by Project Better Place. The infrastructure-based approach to EV marketing may help eliminate range and depreciation issues (which addresses the behavioral change issue), but the cost-value ratio that Koslowski highlights is still an issue for concern, thanks to high upfront costs. Not that Koslowski writes off infrastructure completely, saying

Infrastructure and service providers are likely the primary beneficiaries of the current EV evolution. Utility companies, in particular, have the opportunity to play a more dominant role in the emerging e-mobility future, because U.S. consumers prefer to have their utilities address their potential EV infrastructure needs.

But the research shows, the nascent EV market is extremely price sensitive. Though 21 percent of consumers say they are considering an EV (more than are considering a new diesel car), Koslowski’s data shows that

nearly one-third of U.S. drivers interested in EVs are not willing to pay a premium price for an electric car, and only 5 percent are willing to pay $10,000 more.

You hearing this Chrysler? As a result of this study,

Gartner maintains its 2009 prediction that in industrialized automotive markets, the number of battery-powered vehicles (plug-in full-electric and plug-in hybrid EVs) as a percentage of all vehicles sold using various types of propulsion technologies will range from 5 percent to 8 percent of all vehicle sales by 2020, and from 15 percent to 20 percent of all vehicle sales by 2030.

Which leads back to the lesson that we seem to be learning over and over again, namely that, a Koslowski puts it

EVs will become one of the design elements in addressing our future transportation needs. Future mobility concepts will consist of diverse powertrain choices and business models that will leverage technology to satisfy consumers’ transportation needs while challenging traditional car ownership


Governments will need to increase funding of consumer purchase programs in order to achieve substantial EV sales in the short term. If the goal is to reduce dependency on oil and address environmental issues, then governments must broaden their policies and funding to include other powertrain technologies that offer reduced energy consumption or consider encouraging the use of public transportation and alternative mobility solutions, such as car sharing.

In short, EVs are not a silver bullet. Koslowski seems to imply (though doesn’t explicitly say) that government investments in infrastructure could help in the long term, but he definitely seems to think Vs will need consumer-end subsidies in the short term. And this need for subsidies coming and going makes alternatives like hybrids and natural gas vehicles (not to mention public transportation and car sharing) more attractive.

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Pope Benedict XVI Shopping For Electric Popemobile Thu, 02 Dec 2010 04:00:21 +0000
According to Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, the Warlord of Vatican City, His Holiness “would certainly prefer an electric popemobile to a traditional, petroleum-powered one.” I suggest the 1976 Sebring-Vanguard Citicar!
Of course, Benedict VXI might be more of an old-school electric-car guy, in which case he’ll want something a little more classic than the Citicar. How about a B&Z Electric Car Electra King?

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Without EVs, Chrysler Gets Gassy. Will Washington? Wed, 30 Jun 2010 15:43:32 +0000

Today, natural gas is a rational alternative to gasoline that can provide a near-term environmental solution on the road to vehicle electrification. It is the most effective solution, in terms of costs and timing, to lessen this country’s reliance on oil

Chrysler/Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne tells the Detroit News that despite not having an electric vehicles in the works until 2012 (can you believe ENVI was just vapor), Chrysler can sell environmentally-friendly vehicles sooner than that. After all, Fiat sells a grip of natural gas-powered vehicles in Europe (130,000 last year), offering the alt-energy drivetrain on nearly every model. Of course, there’s a hitch. Or three.

Fiat’s European natural gas offerings are entirely the product of hefty subsidies, and in order to roll out the technology stateside, Chrysler’s going to need more government help. Go figure. And not just for consumer incentives (which have since ravaged the Italian market in particular), but in subsidized infrastructure. You know, like the kind of infrastructure that the US government is already subsidizing for electric cars. Sorry Chrysler, I like natural gas as much as the next windbag, but spending more government cash on an interim technology while numerous EV projects and subsidies are already underway just doesn’t make a ton of sense. Unless, as is the case in Italy, the entire program is designed to specifically help a domestic automaker… but then, Chrysler’s already had its bailout.

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Hyundai-Kia Jump On The Fuel Cell Bandwagon Sun, 06 Jun 2010 17:36:20 +0000

With Honda and Toyota suddenly taking hydrogen fuel cells seriously, Hyundai-Kia is jumping on the bandwagon. Byung Ki Ahn, general manager of Hyundai-Kia’s Fuel Cell Group tells Autocar

There are already agreements between car makers such as ourselves and legislators in Europe, North America and Japan to build up to the mass production of fuel cell cars by 2015. Hydrogen production capacity and refuelling infrastructure will be improved. Pilot-scale production of 1000 fuel cell cars a year will begin for us in two years. Our first cars won’t be fully commercialised [they will probably be leased , not bought outright] but they will allow us to make the final stages of development progress before we begin commercial production of around 10,000 hydrogen cars a year in 2015

And it should come as no surprise that Hyundai is targeting a lower price point than its Japanese competition:

Our fuel cell stack can run at ambient atmospheric pressure, so we don’t need an air compressor and it contains less platinum, making it cheaper. Since 2004 we’ve eliminated 90 per cent of its typical material cost. Toyota has a target to produce 50,000 fuel cell cars a year and expects to be able to price them at $50,000 [£35,000]. We’re confident we can beat it.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Yesterday’s Future Today Edition Tue, 30 Mar 2010 20:25:28 +0000

Well, Lear’s vapor turbine never ended up being built in the millions by 1975… but the prediction that electric cars would be best for taxis, delivery vehicles, or a family’s second car for commuting and shopping seems to be coming true. Oh, and we all know how the lead or no-lead fuel debate worked out. But with mass-market electric cars getting closer to reality every day, it’s fun to look back at where we once thought technology might be going. This copy of “Cars of the Future” certainly doesn’t fail to entertain on that count.

carsoffuture2 carsoffuture1 Yesterday's drama is today's belly laugh (courtesy: Flickr user zealtime) carsoffuture3 carsoffuture5 ]]> 28
Germany’s Vanishing Veggie Diesel Wed, 17 Feb 2010 12:52:24 +0000

Europe, and especially Germany, reports declining diesel dependency. From a nearly 50 percent share a few years ago, the share of diesel driven cars in Germany dropped to 31 percent in 2009.  Two reasons: The favorable taxation of the oil had been scrapped. And speaking of scrapped, the “Abwrackprämie, or cash for clunkers, had favored a trend towards low displacement gasoline burners. (In January, the diesel share climbed back to 40 percent in Deutschland.) Badly mauled were the manufacturers of bio (a.k.a. “veggie”) diesel.

Attracted by governmental largesse (the former red-green government promised to totally strike the tax on veggie diesel,) many companies started to produce the supposedly green oil. Now, reports Das Autohaus, [sub] around half of the 50 makers of biodiesel in Germany have gone bankrupt, or stopped the production of biodiesel.

Again, the tax man did it: Contrary to former promises, the tax for pure veggie diesel was raised to 18 cents per liter in 2009. In 2013, the allegedly environmentally friendly fuel will be taxed similarly to fossil fuel: Regular diesel carries a tax of 47 Euro cents per liter in Germany, veggie diesel will cost 45 Euro cents in contributions to the government. No wonder the makers of green fuel go into the reds.

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