Smart Grids and Electric Vehicles

By John Addison (1/28/08). In the future, utilities will pay you to plug-in your vehicle. Millions will plug-in their electric vehicles (EV), plug-in hybrids (PHEV) and fuel cell vehicles (FCV) at night when electricity is cheap, then plug-in during the day when energy is expensive and sell those extra electrons at a profit. Vehicle to Grid (V2G) technology is a bi-directional electric grid interface that allows a plug-in to take energy from the grid or put it back on the grid. V2G helps solve the major problem that demand for electricity is high during the day when everything from industrial plants to air conditioning is running full blast and then excess electricity is wasted at night.

Several early models of passenger vehicles have enough energy stored in advanced batteries to power several homes for hours. Hybrid electric buses and heavy trucks could power many homes or a school or a hospital in an emergency. Recent announcements demonstrate that electric utilities and some auto makers want to make V2G a reality.

The Smart Grid Consortium, established in December 2007 by Xcel Energy, will select a community of approximately 100,000 residents to become a Smart Grid City using V2G. Potential benefits include lower utility bills for residents, smarter energy management, better grid reliability, improved energy efficiency, and support for EVs and PHEVs.

Current consortium members include Accenture, Current Group, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Ventyx. Smart Grid City will use a realtime high-speed two-way communication throughout the distribution grid. Smart meters and substations will be integral. Installation will be made of thousands of in-home control devices and the necessary systems to fully automate home energy use.

The current electrical grid is poorly designed for distributed generation of power. Individuals and businesses lose months and connect fees when they add solar and other forms of renewable energy to the grid. Smart Grid City will easily support up to 1,000 easily dispatched distributed generation technologies including PHEVs, distributed batteries, solar and wind.

In addition to Smart Grid City, another major EV/V2G initiative is unfolding.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance and Project Better Place have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create a mass-market for electric vehicles in Israel which is an excellent target market: it has a sales tax exceeding 60% for gasoline vehicles, gasoline costs over $6 per gallon, most driving fits the range of electric vehicles, and the government strongly supports energy independence.

Project Better Place plans to deploy a massive network of battery charging spots. Driving range will no longer be an obstacle, because customers will be able to plug their cars into charging units in any of the 500,000 charging spots in Israel. An on-board computer system will indicate to the driver the remaining power supply and the nearest charging spot. Nissan, through its joint venture with NEC, has created a battery pack that meets the requirements of the electric vehicle and will produce it in mass volume. The entire framework will go through a series of tests starting this year.

The Israeli model is different than the rapid battery swap model that Better Place has promoted as better than “dangerous” fast charging. For the future, Renault is working on development of exchangeable batteries for continuous mobility.

As part of the solution framework, the Israeli government will provide tax incentives to customers, Renault will supply the electric vehicles, and Project Better Place will construct and operate an Electric Recharge Grid across the entire country. Electric vehicles will be available for customers in 2011.

Just as wireless service providers offer smartphones at discounted prices, Project Better Place will offer discounted electric vehicles with usage pricing plans. Pre-paid 600 kilometer cards are one approach that is suggested. A free car on a four-year plan in France is another idea mentioned by Shai Agassi, CEO of Project Better Place. Annual use of an EV should be less than the average cost of $8,000 per year for using a gasoline in many countries including the USA.

Shai Agassi predicts that Israel will have over 100,000 electric vehicles in use by 2010. This will be five percent of the nation’s vehicle population. The number represents a significant step towards energy independence.

Project Better Place has already received over $200 million of venture capital investment. Shai Agassi presented their new business model at Davos. Mr. Agassi was an executive at SAP that lead the software company to being the enterprise software leader ahead of Oracle, IBM, and all others. Agassi’s Davos Insights

Success with V2G would be a double win for electric utilities. Millions of EVs and PHEVs would expand the sale of electricity as an alternative to oil. Utilities could avoid building more dirty peaking power plants. Instead they could buy back electricity at peak hours from vehicle drivers. Clean Fleet Article It would be a financial win-win for all.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report with archives of over 60 articles and reports about electric vehicles, V2G, biofuels, fleet success and more.

The Micro Fuel Cell Promise

Earlier this year I did a Cleantech Blog article called Micro Fuel Cell Killer talking about the challenges that undermined the promise of micro fuel cells.

Well, now we are looking at the other side of the story. One of my friends, Peng Lim, who is the CEO of Mechanical Technology Inc. (Nasdaq:MKTY), parent company to leading micro fuel cell developer MTI Micro, graciously consented to an interview on what they have done and the general state of play. In other words, what is the current micro fuel cell promise.

Peng, can you give our audience a little of your background prior to MTI? What made you choose MTI? And can you share some of your expectations from that time, and how they have panned out?

Prior to joining MTI, I spent the last 20 years in the consumer handheld electronics market starting with notebook computers in the early 1990’s and then moving into wireless computing in the mid 1990’s. At the time I joined, both markets were very young. You didn’t see many people with portable computers, or the hot spots that wirelessly connect them to the internet. I was fortunate to be part of the growth experienced by both portable computing as well as wireless computing. Each one of those industries grew because of the intrinsic need for people to be mobile. Allowing people to work any time, any place is something that they want; hence, both industries took off.

From there, in the late 1990s, I moved into the PDA market where I lead the worldwide product development for Palm, and was responsible for the Palm devices, OS and Application Software. At that time, the challenge was to take mobility to the next level. We devised a product that had the capabilities of a computer, but that could fit in your pocket; there would be no need to worry about the device. When needed, it is there and when it is not, it is stored in your pocket. Again the concept took off. At Palm, we captured 65% of the worldwide PDA market share and 75% handheld OS market share.

I left Pam in 2001 to start my own company focusing on handheld multimedia and gaming. The company was sold in 2005.

The reason why I joined MTI is two fold: 1) the technology has the potential to exponentially increase the energy density over that of lithium-Ion batteries, and 2) because of mobility. Mobile devices are not truly mobile yet. There is one last wire that attaches them to a wall – a charging wire.

Micro fuel cells promise to cut the last wire and provide customers with real mobility where they can use their devices at anytime and anywhere without having to be tethered to the wall for charging.

Besides MTI, I am currently on the board of advisors for Inventec Appliances, a multibillion dollar manufacturing company based in Taiwan.

Can you talk a little about the Mobion chip and your recent advances in it? What does that mean in the context of getting a product to market?

In June, MTI Micro demonstrated its integrated fuel cell chip used as the heart of its fuel cell systems for consumer product applications. The Mobion chip is based on 100% methanol feed, passive, direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) technology. Passive water management applied to DMFC technology is the catalyst for reducing size and simplifying fuel logistics. MTI Micro has reduced the size of the Mobion chip by over 40% to 9cc (small enough to fit in the palm of a hand), and has reduced the parts-count of the chip to one molded piece. The Mobion chip is capable of operating at 0 to 40 degrees Celsius and at any level of humidity. This is an industry standard requirement for many OEMs who want to use fuel cells with their products.

MTI Micro’s Mobion chip architecture significantly reduces the complexity of a fuel cell system’s internal construction, thereby reducing manufacturing costs, increasing performance and enabling further system miniaturization – factors that are critical for the successful launch of fuel cell products in the consumer market. We believe the Mobion chip is the first micro fuel cell technology designed with the performance and manufacturability necessary to make a significant impact on the consumer portable electronics markets.

If you had to pick your 3 top early adopter products for micro fuel cells, what would they be? And for each one, what are the power to weight, power to size, and lifetime targets you feel each will require.

We see a lot of opportunity for the early adoption of micro fuel cells, particularly in handheld consumer electronics. Applications including cellular phones PDAs, MP3 Players, digital cameras, game players are very attractive to us. As far as power, size and energy goes, it certainly would depend on every application and also on what requirements OEMs may have; at the same time, there may be some trade-offs between size and energy, etc..

If you had to tell a consumer customer what to expect from a microfuel cell product – what would you tell them?

Most importantly longer device run-time – a feature that customers deeply care for. MTI Micro’s Mobion technology will also allow users to be free from tethering their devices to an electrical outlet, eliminating the need for carrying multiple bulky chargers and converters.

Also, since refueling would be as simple as just replacing a cartridge, there is no down-time required for a recharge. “Hot-swappable” cartridges would instantaneously allow the user to continue to use their device.

Micro fuel cells are also considered a green technology. On the other hand, some rechargeable battery technologies such as NiCad are toxic to the environment.

What’s different about micro fuel cells now as opposed to 4 or 5 years ago that gives you confidence?

1) Technical improvements including size, energy density and power density have improved.
2) The worldwide energy source for the consumer portable electronic market continues to grow (approximately $12 billion this year and is expected to grow to over $20 billion in 2012).
3) The infrastructure and supply chain are starting to come together – especially around methanol solutions like our Mobion Technology.
4) Methanol has been approved by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to be carried inside commercial planes.

The DOT announcement on carrying methanol and fuel cells on planes is obviously huge – exactly why has it been so long in coming, and what put it over the line?

Direct methanol fuel cells and fuel refills can be transported safely, provided appropriate precautions are taken in design and packaging. However, meticulous considerations are given to any new products for approval in commercial transport. Having been approved by ICAO and now waiting for implementation by the U.S. Department of Transportation is an important and necessary step towards the commercialization of Mobion.

What exactly are the terms of the Samsung collaboration, and how does it affect MTI Micro’s plans for commercializing a micro fuel cell product?

MTI Micro first entered into a relationship with Samsung Electronics, our Korean partner and a leading producer of mobile phones, in May of 2006. Under the terms of MTI Micro’s initial Alliance Agreement, our Mobion technology was chosen to power a series of prototypes designed for mobile cell phone and cell phone accessories. In a short period of time, we delivered two rounds of these prototypes to Samsung for evaluation, and each prototype demonstrated significant size reductions and performance improvements from the previous. The latest and most advanced prototype contains the Mobion chip. This agreement expired on its own terms on July 31st of this year. However, on October 25th, MTI Micro announced its continued collaboration with its Korean partner, extending until the end of 2009, or six months after MTI Micro’s first commercial product launch should our commercialization timeline become accelerated – whichever comes earlier.

With this alliance in place, we feel very confident about MTI Micro’s strong momentum and ability to bring Mobion MFC technology to a high-revenue category within the worldwide consumer device market. Under this non-exclusive collaboration, MTI Micro will continue to refine the Mobion baseline product design for mobile phone applications. Until the design freeze date projected for December of 2008, our Korean partner may request product specification changes, and may also purchase commercial DMFC samples from MTI Micro as soon as they are readily available. Throughout this time we will also continue to share development updates with our Korean partner, as well as loan them prototypes for evaluation. With a production decision anticipated at the start of the third quarter of 2009, MTI Micro will thus prepare for the manufacturing of the Mobion baseline product starting in the third quarter of 2008, through the second quarter of 2009. To assist with evaluating potential manufacturing partners, and more importantly – to work as part of MTI Micro’s business development team to establish business relationships with new OEMs and maintain anticipated day-to-day, on-going customer relationships in Asia – we have added Korea-based Daehong Technew Corporation as a new representative, which we announced in late October.

On the financial side, can you share when you expect to reach breakeven, and your cash vs. financial burn forecasts, and your feeling on when or if the company will need to raise more cash?

As of November 8, 2007 the company has $12.6 million in cash and cash equivalents. Our burn rate is approximately $0.9 million per month. We have a number of resources for funding including the positive cash flow from our MTI Instruments subsidiary, sale of Plug Power stock, government funding and the capital markets.

Thank you Peng, always a pleasure. I will keep my fingers crossed for you guys.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, and a blogger for the CNET Cleantech Blog.

Let in the Sun Shine

(11/28/07 by John Addison) Gene Coan does not worry about the price of gasoline, nor is he concerned with his gas and electric bill. Gene powers his home and car with solar photovoltaics (PV) and also uses solar hot water heating. With his Zenn electric-vehicle (EV) Gene rides on sunlight.

Gene is following his beliefs. He is a Senior Advisor to the Executive Director of the Sierra Club. From PV to EV, Gene is living zero-emissions from energy source to wheels.

The Zenn is a stylish three-door hatchback, which makes it handy for hauling stuff from stores. It is fully enclosed. It is a light electric vehicle with a curb weight of only 1,200 pounds because of its aluminum frame and ABS plastic body panels. It has a range of 35 miles and a legal speed limit of 25 miles per hour.

There are over 25,000 battery-electric vehicles on the road in California. Most are the $9,000 to $12,000 light electric vehicles (LEV) such as Gene’s Zenn. These electric vehicles are often referred to as neighborhood electric vehicles (NEV). LEVs are popular in university towns, such as Palo Alto, California, where Gene lives. There are over 100 in use at nearby Stanford University. Many silently zip around the campus carrying the people, goods, and equipment necessary to keep the university running.

New Year’s resolutions are easy to make, but often not kept, especially when the price tag is $45,000. In January 2002, Michael Mora convinced his wife that they should buy a Toyota RAV4 electric vehicle for $45,000. Michael had to practically beg the dealer to sell his last one. Today, Michael could sell his RAV4 as a used-vehicle for $20,000 more than he paid for it. After a showdown with the California Air Resources Board, all major auto makers including Toyota stopped selling their EVs. Freeway speed EVs are in hot demand. Now Michael could pocket a handsome twenty grand after driving the vehicle for almost six years.

Michael is not selling. He powers his RAV4 with the solar power installed on his roof. The daily cost to drive the vehicle is zero. Because the RAV4 has NiMH batteries, he can achieve up to 100 mile range. Freeway speeds are a piece of cake.Hundreds of individuals are lining-up to order freeway-speed electric vehicles from Tesla, Miles Motors, AC Propulsion, and others. Price tags of up to $100,000 do not faze these electric vehicle enthusiasts.

Electric vehicles are equally popular with individuals and with fleets. The U.S. Marine Corps is vitally concerned about the nation’s energy security. At Camp Pendleton, in Oceanside, California, the Marines use 320 LEV’s for routine maintenance, goods hauling, and transportation on the vast base. The LEV’s 25-mile per hour speed matches the use. The vehicles are recharged at an eight-station solar carport. Just as two-car families may have one electric vehicle and a heavier vehicle for range, the Marines use different vehicles for different purposes. At Camp Pendleton, five million gallons of B20 biodiesel is used annually, powering heavy duty and long distance vehicles.

The City of Santa Monica is rapidly installing solar power on roofs throughout the city. It intends to be the nation’s first Net-Zero City. The city uses many electric vehicles including EVs: 24 RAV EVs, a GEM electric truck for the popular Third Street Promenade, a demo electric scooter, and even a Segway.

National Renewable Energy Labs turned to Envision Solar to cover part of its parking lot with solar shaded vehicle charging. Envision CEO Robert Noble is an award-winning LEED architect. His solar design follows the metaphor of trees and groves that convert ugly “heat island” parking lots into beautifully landscape. A pre-fab version for homeowners will be showcased as the vehicle charger of choice at the EVS conference. Envision is in partnership with Kyocera (KYO).

Why not just cover a car with solar panels and skip the separate solar charging station? Each year teams build demonstration solar cars that do. This year, 38 vehicles covered with solar panels crossed 3,000 kilometers of Australia in the Panasonic Solar World Challenge. This year’s winner, Nuon Solar Team from the Netherlands, accomplished the feat in 33 hours and 17 minutes.

Big auto makers are demonstrating concept vehicles with integrated solar roofs. VW’s (VOW) “Space Up! Blue” includes 150W solar roofing to help charge the vehicle’s 12 lithium-ion batteries. This vehicle is designed to travel 65 miles in electric-only mode and only then use added electricity from an on-board fuel cell to achieve a 220 mile range.

The new Mitsubishi iMiEV Sport also includes solar roofing for the next major automaker commercially sold battery-electric vehicle. By 2010, we may be seeing these sleek freeway-speed electric vehicles being sold for well under $30,000 by Mitsubishi (7211:JP).

Over 40 million electric vehicles are in use globally, often silently whisking by without attracting our attention. Increasingly those driving will experience the added joy of riding on sunlight.

This article is Copyright © John Addison and will be part of his upcoming book, Save Gas, Save the Planet. Permission is granted to reproduce this article with the preservation of this copyright notice.

All Electric ATV – No myth to bust on this one

I had a chance to visit with the founders of a new San Francisco Bay Area cleantech startup called barefoot motors, which is building an all electric ATV. I think is a great idea for an untapped electric vehicle product. Think about it, of all the potential electric vehicles out there ? ATVs suck down a comparably large amount gasoline a lot of gasoline per mile and are used primarily for short range transport (range is a longtime achilles heel of electric vehicles). And riders have a serious problem with the noise and the noxious exhaust fumes. Add to that the fact that ATV riders want a combination between acceleration and power that electric drive systems are particularly good at doing, and you should be able to get a really great product from an electric all terrain vehicle. According to barefoot, Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters fame agrees. He had a big hand in the prototype.

I have followed the barefoot story for some time, but this week one of the cofounders, Melissa Brandao who was formerly with the electric vehicle company Zap, spared a few minutes on the record to give Cleantech Blog the rundown.

So Melissa, give us the story.

barefoot motors is proud to be the first company to offer Earth Utility Vehicles. Our first vehicle is called the Model One, it’s an all electric, heavy duty ATV for primarily agricultural and industrial applications. It has all the power and speed of a conventional heavy duty ATV with the added benefits of being eco-friendly lower cost of ownership driven by fuel savings, quieter and more comfortable to ride, along with those expected perks like rebates and other incentives that are likely to be instituted in the coming years to help reduce air quality issues faster. As far as air quality goes, replacing ONE conventional ATV with the Model One is like taking FOUR cars off the road. There are 1.6 million of these ATVs running around California. But because they are not in plain site they are often overlooked and forgotten by all of those that do not encounter them regularly. ATVs, unlike cars, are not highly regulated, and it will take years to change that.

Why Electric ATVs? What is better about them than electric cars?

Electric ATVs are not better than EVs they’re just different, as off-road vehicles are different than on-road vehicles. The premise at barefoot was to build a comparable vehicle to the heavy duty ATVs that were currently available knowing that the one area that we would have to address is range. What we discovered is that the principal application for our vehicle did not require an 80 mile range to fit their needs. They simply need a good, reliable, heavy duty work horse that will work around their property throughout the day. That is the Model One’s sweet spot.

What exactly is your Electric ATV going to look like?

That is under discussion as we speak but fundamentally it will look like an ATV with some design changes based on innovation as well as the distribution of weight and space, in essence there’s less stuff on the Model One so there is more space to work with.

Melissa, you told me Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters fame had a big hand in the prototype?

Yes, I met him at Maker Faire two years back and we have stayed in touch since then. When I introduced him to the idea of collaborating with barefoot motors, a green utility vehicle company, he was keenly interested for two reasons. One, he has been an advocate of alternative fueled vehicles for a long time. He even rides an electric bicycle back and forth to work. Two, Jamie was raised on a farm and he rode his grandfather’s 3 wheel ATV on the property, so he understands the importance of a good utility vehicle for agriculture. In essence, this project hit home. As a prototype builder Jamie can create elegant solutions that are simple and functional, he is the holder of several patents and he has a deep knowledge of electronics, robotics and rapid development. In building the Model One, Jamie has been the driver behind the choice of technologies and packaging. He has kept us focused on that same principle of simple but elegant design. The proof of concept, Model One, achieves our initial performance requirements, in fact, it has exceeded expectations and it’s so fun to ride, as you can see from the video of Jamie riding it. When are we going to get you on it?? (Soon Melissa, very soon).

Will it have more or less pulling power than a conventional one?

In towing capacity we can handle 1,000 lbs. That is our baseline performance which is on par with a conventional heavy duty ATV.

What about range?

Our prototype is getting about 30 to 40 miles on a charge. The BIG difference when you talk range is that an ATV encounters many variations in the off road terrain, mud, sand, gravel, dirt, steeper slopes which can skew the range figures more than it would on a standard car that drives almost entirely on asphalt.

Is there a list I can get on to buy one?

First, check out the video clip. Then yes, please contact if you are interested in purchasing one, we are building about 150 next year. We are asking for deposits of roughly 10 percent which we will apply to the price of the vehicle. It is fully refundable at any time.

Are your battery needs much different than from cars?

Our choice is lithium ion batteries we feel the density and efficiency you gain is significant enough that it only makes sense in this application.

Are we going to have a naming contest for your Electric ATV? Do we need a new acronym? EATV sounds dull. How about Electric Warthog?

Sorry, we got the name already, but I like the idea of customer interaction so you will see some clever ideas from barefoot in the coming months!

Thanks Melissa, great story. And we will put them video clip of the electric ATV up on the blog as well.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

The Wright Way to the Electric Car

As with most things, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about electric vehicles. Last Friday Ian Wright and I spent a couple of hours around my conference table discussing our philosophies on electric cars. Ian knows something about this topic, as he was formerly an executive at EV startup Tesla Motors, and is now the founder and CEO of Wrightspeed, a Silicon Valley based startup whose first car is going to be a high performance electric supercar, price tag just shy of $200K. And as it’s electric, Ian expects it should outstart, outrun, outturn, and generally outperform anything in its class.

While it has been a hot topic recently in the cleantech sector, I am known among my friends as being a real skeptic when it comes to EVs, but behind Ian’s business plan he got my attention with two ideas that are worth repeating: payback and plug-ins.

First, Ian doesn’t care about gas mileage per se – he cares about performance, power, and most importantly, payback. Focus on the vehicles actually burning the most gas, irrespective of fuel efficiency. That is, instead of making tiny, compact, fuel efficient target cars more efficient with EV and hybrid technology – focus on the gas guzzlers. Ian’s point is well taken. A small, fuel efficient car that gets 35 mpg and drives a typical 12,500 miles per year only uses about 350 gallons per year. A large pickup truck that gets 12 miles to the gallon uses over 1,000 gallons for the same mileage – nearly 3x as much. And if that truck is a work truck driven 25,000 miles per year, it would use over 2,000 gallons of fuel per year, nearly 6x the little car. That truck owner may spend upwards of $50K in fuel over its life, where the commuter car owner may spend a small fraction of that.

When I asked him for comments on my example Ian added: “The special case of congested city driving might be worth mentioning, since everyone thinks a lot of fuel is wasted there. But if you drive a Prius 10 hours/week in congested city traffic, it’s only about 150 gallons/year! Not much point in trying to improve on the Prius for that use. (The arithmetic: congested traffic is defined as 12mph average; 10 hours/week would be 120 miles/ week, or 6240 miles/year. The Prius shines in this application, getting maybe 40mpg, so 156 gallons/year.)”

Putting expensive hybrid and EV technology in the small car not only has a worse financial payback – compounding the perennial problem of EVs being too costly, but the same 20% efficiency improvement does very little to reduce overall fuel consumption for society compared to the same efficiency gains in a big truck that drives a heck of lot of miles.

So Ian asks, if we want to both find a way to save car owners money, AND save the world – wouldn’t we focus on applying technology to where the problem is the worst and the returns are the best?

When Ian looked at the automotive landscape and asked the question, where is the most fuel being burned, and how do we reduce that with technology? The answer? Performance cars and big work trucks. Not surprisingly, these are his target markets.

And why are high performance vehicles like sports cars and Ford F350s so fuel inefficient anyway? Take this as an example answer. If you need a big truck to have lots of power for short periods of time (for instance, in towing), then the truck engine and systems have to be sized to deliver the maximum power. But anytime you’re not using all that power (ie, most of the time), the truck is usually running well below its optimum – and burning lots of fuel for no extra gain. It’s the same rationale for a sports car designed to run optimally at 90 mph, which performs worse at the average driver’s speed of 50- 60 mph.

Ian’s more detailed explanation to me put it very elegantly: “Roughly speaking gasoline engines are most efficient at wide open throttle and the rpm that gives max torque. If you try to operate a supercar at wide open throttle, it will be doing 200mph, and of course you’ll be losing most of the energy to aero drag. The ENGINE will be operating efficiently… but if you operate the car down where aero drag is reasonable – 50mph – then the engine will be operating at a few percent of rated power, and very inefficient. Why is it inefficient? The simple answer is that since the throttle is almost closed, there is almost a vacuum in the intake manifold, and the EFFECTIVE compression ratio is very low. You are trying to compress a vacuum. Engine efficiency is very dependent on compression ratio.

80 years ago, there were cars that could transport a family of 4 at 50mpg. The Austin 7 comes to mind. Engine technology has improved dramatically since the 30s, yet the best modern cars don’t do any better than the Austin 7. Why is that? One big reason is that the Austin 7 had, well, 7 horsepower (actually about 10hp – the “7” was “RAC hp”). So it was working hard most of the time. The family car that my wife drives makes 250 hp, and that’s just an average family car these days.S o if you displace the Prius with an EV, you can get maybe a 2x efficiency gain. But if you displace a high performance vehicle that operates most of the time at low power settings, you can get a 10x efficiency gain. That’s the main reason that 18 wheelers aren’t a good target. They have powerful engines, but their power/weight ratio is very low (when fully loaded) and the engines work pretty hard. So in fuel per lb mile, they are pretty good already.”

To deal with this issue, Ian isn’t all about the all electric. He’s pushing plug-in electric hybrids. Electric motors powered off of batteries charged from the wall or with an onboard diesel generator. The generator also acts as a booster for those times when extra power is required. Hybrids are really good at solving these power vs. efficiency problems, since you can essentially design a system that can optimize for either performance or efficiency much easier than a straight gas or electric engine could.

Ian’s vision also addresses one of the long running achilles’ heels of electric cars – the lack of fueling infrastructure. Regardless of your feelings on the matter, it’s generally bad business to try and bet on an expensive infrastructure rollout. And if it means slower and lower uptake of fuel efficient vehicles, then calling for infrastructure change that’s not going to happen is bad for the environment, too.

That’s why I’ve been such a big fan of plug-in hybrids. We can have our cake and eat it too. It’s all about payback and plug-ins. And it’s good to see electric car gurus finally getting this message.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, and a blogger for CNET’s Green tech blog.

PG&E’s Clean Fleet and Visionary Future

By John Addison (8/21/07). Years ago, you only had one choice for your telephone service – AT&T. Now you have a variety of choices from landline, wireless, cable, and Internet providers. Years ago, gasoline was your only fuel choice. Now you have a number of fuel and electric choices. In the future, your favorite provider may be your electric and gas utility.

PG&E – Pacific Gas and Electric – (NYSE: PCG) provides electricity and natural gas to over 5 million customers in California. With revenues exceeding $12 billion, PG&E has an opportunity to increase its services as we continue the shift from vehicles with gasoline engines to vehicles using electric propulsion and alternate fuels.

When I met with a number of PG&E managers, Sven Thesen traveled from his Palo Alto home via bicycle and train, leaving his personal plug-in hybrid at home. Another traveled from his Alameda home via bicycle and ferry. Others used low-emission CNG and hybrid vehicles. The people managing PG&E’s clean transportation programs practice what they preach.

This article looks how PG&E runs a clean fleet, new programs for customers, and the exciting future potential of vehicle-to-grid (V2G).

Largest CNG Fleet in USA

As part of its larger environmental leadership strategy, PG&E owns and operates a clean fuel fleet of hybrid-electric and fuel cell vehicles, and more than 1,300 natural gas vehicles — the largest of its kind in the United States. PG&E’s clean fuel fleet consists of service and crew trucks, meter reader vehicles and pool cars that run either entirely on compressed natural gas or have bi-fuel capabilities. PG&E also has the largest fleet of Honda (HMC) Civic GX CNG cars.

Over the last 15 years, PG&E’s clean fuel fleet has displaced more than 3.4 million gallons of gasoline and diesel, and helped to avoid 6,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

For any utility, Class 6/7 service trucks often need to idle their large diesel engines for hours in order to run heavy lifts and other equipment. As new lines are installed, customers complain of the vehicle noise keeping them awake at night. The maintenance crew is often forced to stop and start the engine so that they can shout between the ground person and the one in the air. The hybrid truck is especially valuable in neighborhoods with noise restriction laws.

Last week, I reviewed PG&E’s new hybrid service truck which already had over 6,000 miles of operation. Efrain Ornelas demonstrated the heavy lift and other accessories operating electrically with the engine off. In service, the vehicle is reducing diesel fuel use a dramatic 55% through regenerative braking on road, and engine-off electric operation during stationary work. The vehicle even included both 110 and 208V outlets for power tools.

At $3.00 per gallon for fuel, the potential savings ranges from $4,500 to $5,500 a year per vehicle. Each hybrid truck reduces greenhouse gas emissions an estimated two tons per year.

In addition to the dramatic diesel fuel savings, PG&E further reduces petroleum use and emissions by using B20 biodiesel. PG&E is increasing using B20 biodiesel with its entire diesel fleet.

“Hybrid-electric trucks are promising because of their potential to significantly reduce the use of petroleum-based fuel and help keep California’s air clean,” said Jill Egbert, manager, clean air transportation, PG&E. “We hope our involvement will lead to the accelerated development and mainstream acceptance of hybrids in our industry.”

PG&E is one of 14 utilities in the nation participating in the pilot truck program, sponsored by WestStart’s Hybrid Truck Users Forum (HTUF), a hybrid commercialization project bringing together truck fleet users, truck makers, technology companies, and the U.S. military, to field-test utility trucks with an integrated hybrid power-train solution.

This new Class 6/7 hybrid truck is built by International incorporating the Eaton (ETN) hybrid drive system with a 44kW electric motor. Eaton has produced more than 220 drive systems for medium and heavy hybrid-powered vehicles. Vehicle configurations include package delivery vans, medium-duty delivery trucks, beverage haulers, city buses and utility repair trucks – each of which has generated significant fuel economy gains and emission reductions.

PG&E sees a similar opportunity to save with its Class 5 trouble trucks. For this truck, PG&E partnered with the Electric Power Research Institute and other utilities to conduct a plug-in hybrid pilot project for a Ford F550 Super Duty Field Response Truck. PG&E currently has 350 Field Response Trucks on the road.

Cleaner Electricity

Some people are concerned that a shift to electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles will not reduce global warming. These people point to coal power plants producing electricity that goes into the vehicles. Because electric drive systems are typically 300% more efficient than gasoline engines, major emission reductions are achieved even from coal generated electricity.

PG&E provides much greater benefit, because it is eliminating coal power from its power mix. As a customer, my latest PG&E bill showed a reduction of coal from 38 to 2% of the power mix. In 2007, energy from RPS-eligible renewables is increasing to 12% of the delivered power mix, from 5% in 2005. Natural gas is 43%, nuclear 23%, and large hydroelectric is 17%.

By 2010, 20% of PG&E delivered electricity will be from clean renewable energy. A big part of the increase will be 553 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) from a new Solel project. When fully operational in 2011, the Mojave Solar Park plant will cover up to 6,000 acres, or nine square miles in the Mojave Desert. The project will rely on 1.2 million mirrors and 317 miles of vacuum tubing to capture the desert sun’s heat. It will be the largest CSP project in the world.

PG&E is also expanding its use of wind, geothermal, large solar PV, and biomass energy.

Natural Gas and Hydrogen Stations

PG&E owns and operates 34 compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations, for its own fleet and more than 200 commercial and private fleets. This includes transit districts, private refuse haulers, school districts, municipalities, air/seaports, and other miscellaneous operators including taxi, package delivery, military, and private fleets. PG&E Clean Air Transportation Program

In addition, construction of a hydrogen fueling station in San Carlos, California is scheduled to begin. GTI will serve as a partner on the project, providing a mobile hydrogen unit (MHU) that uses GTI’s patented reformer technology. This self-contained unit will produce hydrogen from natural gas.

PG&E makes daily use of three Mercedes hydrogen fuel cell (F-Cell) vehicles. A variety of PG&E employees drive the vehicles including, fleet mechanics, inspectors, service planning representatives, project managers and officers.


A compelling idea for the future is to charge electric vehicles at night when electricity is cheap, and then buy the electricity from vehicles during peak hours. Some electric vehicles store enough electricity to power 50 homes. Sven Thesen at PG&E demonstrated spinning the meter backwards with their plug-in hybrid Prius with V2G. The Prius included a 9kWh plug-in kit from EnergyCS using Li-Ion batteries. A Sonny Boy power inverter, common in solar power installations, was used.

Today, utilities are powering vehicles with electricity, natural gas and hydrogen. In a few years, electric vehicles will also power homes with vehicle-to-home (V2H). Large batteries and fuel cells provide many times the electricity demand of a home. In a few more years, smart grids and intelligent power management will allow peak electricity demands to be met by utilities buying power from vehicles with vehicle-to-grid (V2G). U.C. Davis and PG&E have demonstrated V2H and V2G already.

With smart grid technology, customers could simply plug-in their vehicles to 110 volt outlets. At idle low-cost hours the vehicle would be timed to recharge. At peak hours, customers could agree to let the utility buy electricity at premium rates. In the future, expensive and polluting stand-by peaking generators could be eliminated with smart grid technology and V2G.

Leading the way to clean electricity and cleaner transportation are corporations like PG&E. In their own fleet they are proving that alt-fuels and electric drive systems can save money and emissions. As the technologies are proven, PG&E gives customers new ways to secure clean fuels and electric power.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. Permission is granted to reproduce this article.

Muggles Perform Magic in California

By John Addison (7/30/07) Everyone is mesmerized with Harry Potter and the fate of the world. My niece proudly wears a wrist band proving that she waited seven hours to buy book seven. My brother, reported that 30% of passengers on his business flight were reading the book. Harry and his fellow wizards have access to all sorts of magical transportation – flying broomsticks, flying carpets, magical flying creatures, portkeys, floo powder and floo networks, metamorphosing, apparition and disapparation Muggles, we regular human non-wizards, are also capable of a bit of magic. In California, millions have been transported with zero emissions. Not with Knight Buses, but with zero-emission buses, light-rail, cable cars, and zero-emission cars.

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) adopted the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Regulation in 1990 to reduce the emissions from light-duty vehicles and accelerate development of zero emission vehicles. Over the years, the regulation has been modified to deal with objections and lawsuits from the automotive industry that contend that battery-electric and fuel-cell vehicles are not ready for prime time.

The regulation has made California the leader in clean vehicles and cleantech. Estimates are that by the end of 2005, the following quantities of these vehicles had been placed in California: 130 fuel cell, 4,400 battery-electric, 26,000 25-mile per hour speed battery-electric, 70,000 AT-PZEV vehicles such as the Prius, and 500,000 PZEV vehicles.

There are currently twenty-one auto manufacturers subject to the ZEV regulation. Six are defined as large volume manufacturers: Toyota (market leader), General Motors, Ford, Honda, DaimlerChrysler and Nissan. The remaining 15 are intermediate volume manufacturers. Intermediate manufacturers can meet the regulation entirely with PZEVs.

ARB staff recommends that “the Board examine more even treatment of BEVs in the regulation as compared to FCEVs. For example, BEVs and FCEVs could be offered equal credit before 2012. By returning to technology neutrality and considering BEVs and fuel cell vehicles similarly, the ARB might induce some manufacturers to choose to pursue battery electric vehicle development instead of fuel cell vehicle development. The outcome would be that overall ZEV production could be greater, but fewer fuel cell vehicles may be produced.”

ARB has been holding public hearings and getting an earful. The latest public workshop was on July 24. Leading environmental groups such as NRDC, UCS, and the American Lung Society do not want reductions in the fuel cell vehicle requirements.

The proposal to ARB which generated the most interest was from A123, a leading supplier for advanced lithium batteries. A123 has also purchased Hymotion to be the leading plug-in hybrid (PHEV) system integrator, winning important contracts from the State of New York and South Coast Air Quality Management District. A123 stated that they have been selected for GM VEU and Volt vehicle programs and are being considered by future PHEV programs from makers such as Volvo.

An A123 kit will fit in spare tire space of most hybrids including the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, and Ford Escape Hybrid. Kits and authorized installers are expected in 2008. The A123 presenter, for his own converted Prius has used only 9 gallons of gasoline to travel 1,200 miles. He achieves up to 177 miles per gallon.

There are now over 40 million light electric vehicles now in use worldwide. Demand is exploding in Asia. ARB is considering increasing its modest credit for 25-mile per hour neighborhood electric vehicles (NEV).

Because plug-in hybrids and light electric vehicles are in the regulation, California should have no need to relax other requirements. Rapid advancements have been made in both high-performance and low-cost battery electric vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCV) have demonstrated ranges of 300 miles, 24 stations are in operation, and there are enthusiastic responses from those who drive these FCV on a daily basis. Next year, over 40 PHEV will be on California’s roads.

Permission is granted to reproduce this article which is copyright John Addison. The complete article with links to the ZEV program is at John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. He is currently inviting literary representation and a publisher for his new book Save Gas, Save the Planet.

Fuel Cell 2007 Conference Highlights

By John Addison (6/19/07). Several hundred engineers, researchers, and managers shared fuel cell technology, trends, and market success at the Fuel Cell 2007 Conference. In some areas, fuel cells generate millions in revenues from commercial deployment; in other areas, fuel cells are early in research and development. A number of commercial products involve hydrogen PEM fuel cells. Business is steady for molten carbonate and phosphoric acid fuel cells. There was optimism about solid oxide fuel cells using a variety of fuels including landfill methane, natural gas, diesel, JP-8, and biomass.

In 2006, Ballard (BLDP) shipped 147 PEM fuel cells to replace lead-acid batteries in fork lifts. In large distribution and manufacturing environments, every minute counts. Fuel cells are cost justified in improving the productivity of moving goods. Fuel cells are more heat and cold tolerant, providing competitive advantage in many distribution centers.

Plug Power (PLUG) is aggressively pursuing the fork lift business. Plug recently acquired General Hydrogen, an early leader in Class 1 and 2 forklifts. Plug also acquired Celex, a leader in Class 3 forklifts. Contrary to concerns of some investors, it appears that Plug’s acquisitions may help Ballard who supplies fuel cell stacks to the acquired companies. Plug Power’s business model appears to be migrating towards integrated products and services for specific markets and applications. Ballard is a leader, in supplying fuel cell stacks; a field of growing and intensifying competition.

Toyota is also active in the hydrogen PEM forklift business since its acquisition of Raymond, a long-time provider of forklifts and material handling systems. Hydrogenics (HYGS) continues to see traction in fork lifts. Fuel cell forklift solutions are hybrid, also involving batteries for regenerative braking. Presentations forecasted 5,000 fuel cell sales in 2009 for forklifts and 20,000 in 2010.

Thanks to the sponsorship of Intelligent Energy, I was at the conference presenting One Million Hydrogen Riders in California by 2020 – An Optimistic Scenario. Free Report.

Hydrogen fuel cells are making progress in cars and heavy-vehicles. Several auto makers will be adding more vehicles in demonstration fleets this year. Several have ranges of 250-miles and more. General Motors recently demonstrated a 300-mile range with its Sequel. GM is rumored to also start demonstrating vehicles running hydrogen in internal combustion machines (HICE). GM was to speak at the conference, but cancelled at the last minute. The reason, perhaps, was a GM reorganization.

General Motors thinks its hydrogen fuel cell is ready to move out of the research lab. GM is shifting responsibility for the work from its research labs to engineering groups that develop engines and vehicles for commercial production. 500 people are being reassigned.

The shift is a sign of GM’s increasing determination to have a fuel cell vehicle on the market by around 2011. “We’re transitioning from science and research to developing real propulsion systems,” Larry Burns, GM vice president for research and strategic planning, said in an interview.

Another area of hydrogen fuel cell success is providing remote stand-by power for the telecommunications industry. Batteries in temperature-sensitive areas have failed to often. The financial stakes are too high in telecommunications to continue depending on unreliable batteries. Telecoms such as Verizon and Sprint are buying from PlugPower and ReliOn. The Western States Alliance is buying from Altergy and Hydrogenics for stand-by back-up.

Big and hot fuel cells have a growing pipeline in the 250kW to multi-MW space. FuelCell Energy (FCEL) and Fuji offer molten carbonate energy solutions with by-product heat. Projects are using natural gas, propane, biogas, and anaerobic digester (AD) gas. POSCO, a Korean steel manufacturer, ordered a 7.5MW from FCEL to reduce their heavy use of 28 cents/kWh grid electricity. Linde will distribute FuelCell Energy for water treatment.

Long-term, molten carbonate growth may be threatened by solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFC). Keenly aware of this, FuelCell Energy finalized terms with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for a $36.2 million Phase I award to develop a coal-based, multi-megawatt solid oxide fuel cell-based hybrid system.

Six industry teams have successfully completed tests of the first solid oxide fuel cell prototypes that can be manufactured at costs approaching those of conventional stationary power-generation technology. Part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) program, these results reflect progress towards commercially-viable solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) systems.

The six industry teams, led by Acumentrics, Cummins Power Generation, Delphi Automotive Systems, FuelCell Energy, General Electric, and Siemens Power Generation, designed and manufactured SOFC electrical power generators in the 3-10 kilowatt range. The industry teams’ prototypes surpassed the Department of Energy (DOE) Phase I targets. The prototypes demonstrated:

  • Average efficiency of 38.5 percent and a high of 41 percent, exceeding the DOE target of 35 percent.
  • Average steady-stage power degradation of 2 percent per 1,000 hours, besting the DOE target of 4 percent per 1,000 hours.
  • System availabilities averaging 97 percent, topping the 90 percent DOE target across the board.
  • Projected system costs ranging from $724 to $775 per kilowatt, which eclipsed the DOE intermediate target for an annual production of 250 megawatts and positions the teams to meet the 2010 target of $400 per kilowatt target.

For home stationary power applications, it will require combined heat and power (CHP) to financially justify fuel cell installations. Adaptation is predicted in markets where utility-delivered costs are high for heat and electricity, such as in Japan and Korea. Ballard will be delivering a higher temperature PEM to address the CHP market.

In the long-run, conference attendees showed more enthusiasm for SOFCs which can use existing fuels, such as kerosene in Japan and natural gas in other markets. For example, Ceres Power (CWR.L) is developing low cost and robust fuel cells that will be combined into stacks capable of generating between 1kWe and 25kWe. EDF Energy Networks, the UK’s largest electricity distributor, will be offering Ceres for home CHP.

SOFC may be the fuel cell of choice for auxiliary power on trucks and military vehicles. Delphi Automotive Systems has SOFCs in development for on vehicle use of diesel and JP-8. Cost effective removal of sulfur is a major issue, especially for the DOD’s JP-8.

Surprisingly, there was little discussion of micro fuel cells. Major Japanese consumer electronic companies were at the conference, but no products were presented. Continued reduction in power demand plus advancements in batteries and ultracapacitors may obviate micro fuel cell adoption.

The Fuel Cell 2008 Conference is planned to be in Long Beach, California, in June 2008.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report which tracks clean transportation in California. His articles have appeared in print and electronic magazines with over one million readers: Yahoo Finance, The Auto Blog, The Auto Channel, EV World, Cleantech, Green Post, Seeking Alpha, Hydrogen Nation and others. Mr. Addison is a popular speaker, conducting over 1,000 workshops in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Micro Fuel Cell Killer – What’s Next?

About 4 or 5 years ago micro fuel cells were quite a hot topic in cleantech. They were going to power our laptops, cell phones, PDAs, blackberries, hand held multimedia devices, etc.

The story ran like this:

The digital age and increasing customer demand for more power hungry features like bandwidth, multimedia, et al on mobile devices like laptops, PDAs and cellphones mean the increase in power requirements are outstripping the pace of technology of lithium ion battery – therefore the only solutions will be micro fuel cells. And since battery manufacturers are a plodding, unimaginative lot, silicon valley and smart scientists can build a company to leapfrog them.

We saw major players like Motorola, Toshiba, Intel, and others taking a look, and startups like Smart Fuel Cells, Medis and MTI Micro seeking to make their name on a fuel cell the size of a credit card (or thereabouts) .

Today, still no micro fuel cell powered devices are on the market, many of the larger players have gone quiet, and all the startups are talking up battery charger (not device power pack) products – especially for the military and first responders.

What happened? What killed the micro fuel cells? Can they come back? And is something similar lurking around the corner for solar, electric vehicles, biofuels, next generation batteries or one of today’s other darlings of the cleantech sector that we can learn from?

Well . . . let’s see:

The technology is actually hard – Micro fuel cell technology proved a harder nut to crack than everyone thought (at least at anywhere near the same cost point) – and the product development issues given the state of the technology proved to be a real challenge.

Rational expectations – Market reaction to the underlying drivers has been aggressive. We’ve got global warming and high energy prices making people like Sun, Dell, and others hell bent on designing power saving devices – which the consumer is now interested in buying as a premium product. Once the electronic product companies actually put their minds to reducing power usage – well, it turned out that you actually CAN optimize a device to save power, and still pack enough features in to sell product.

The incumbent technology – Despite high profile thermal issues, the incumbent lithium ion technology turned out not to be so bad, and has continued to keep pace (as far as us lowly consumers can tell) – Bottom line: I now carry 2 very small 4 hour battery packs for my laptop – I can last a transocean plane flight without needing to plug in.

Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure – And yes, having to make infrastructure changes is very costly in anything energy-esque, whether its in fuel, entrenched distribution, or tooling. As usual, winning technologies in energy tend to be owned by businesses that find a way to work with existing infrastructure, not to try and replace it.

And in the end, the batteries (and the big battery makers) still rule the roost, for now.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Author for Inside Greentech, and a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks.

Big Utilities vs. Big Oil

By John Addison (4/17/07) Question: What could be more American than healthy competition? Answer: Healthy competition that reduces our dependency on foreign oil. By 2010 you may be filling your “tank” by plugging-in to your electric and natural gas utility. Today fleets turn to utilities to power everything from light electric vehicles to heavy natural gas and hydrogen vehicles.

At the recent Alternative Fuels and Vehicles Institute (AVFi) National Conference, major utilities were there with exciting presentations and demonstrations. Major California utilities included Sempra Energy (SRE), Southern California Edison (EIX), and PG&E (PCG). Major automotive and truck manufacturers showed their latest alt-fuel vehicles. Globally there are over 30 million electric vehicles and over 5 million natural gas vehicles.

Vehicles give utilities added markets for electricity and natural gas, the opportunity to use excess off-peak electricity that is now wasted, and long-term opportunities to capture electricity from vehicles (V2G) when electricity is in peak demand.

Southern California Edison provides electricity to over 13 million customers. Edison’s Gordon Smith presented the ability for 70% of U.S. vehicles to be powered with off-peak electricity. Edison provides electricity to customers with thousands of electric vehicles, forklifts, sweepers, scrubbers, airport equipment, truck stop electrification, ship port electrification, and plug-in hybrids. Over 300 of Edison’s own fleet are electric vehicles. Some of its 240 Toyota RAV-4 EVs have achieved a life of up to 150,000 miles. Edison Programs

Running a utility requires large fleets including vans and trucks. Edison is aggressively testing hybrids and plug-in hybrids. SCE now is testing a DaimlerChrysler (DCX) plug-in hybrid-electric Sprinter vans with a 20 to 30-mile all-electric range through a partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the South Coast Air Quality Management District and DaimlerChrysler.

SCE is partnering with EPRI, other utilities and Eaton Corporation (ETN) to establish a program for Class 5 plug-in hybrid troubleman trucks using the Ford (F) F550. They will offer the ability to drive in an all-electric mode, and to operate in a stationary mode (without idling). The electric mode is perfect for the hours that these trucks are used at work sites and when running hydraulic lifts. The electric mode eliminates emissions, fuel cost and noise.

SCE is also working with other fleet operators through the Hybrid Truck Users Forum to place prototype heavy-duty hybrid trucks in operation, with a goal of leading to production commitments and expanded purchases. Based on initial testing of the trucks at an independent facility, these vehicles are projected to cut air emissions by up to 50%, and use 40% to 60% less fuel, compared to similar diesel-powered trucks. These trucks are likely to become a standard Class 6 offering by International, using an Eaton hybrid drive system.

AVFi presented the “Industry Pioneer” award to the Southern California Gas Company, a Sempra utility. Sempra is the nation’s largest natural gas utility, serving 29 million customers. The Gas Company owns and operates a fleet of 1,100 natural gas vehicles. It operates 26 natural gas stations. It helped LAMTA create the world’s largest fleet of natural gas buses (over 2,200). LAMTA is also expanding into buses running on hydrogen blended with CNG and battery-electric buses.

PG&E provides electricity and natural gas to over 5 million customers in California. With revenues exceeding $12 billion, PG&E has an opportunity to increase revenues one billion dollars if there is a shift from vehicles with gasoline engines to vehicles using electric propulsion.

As part of its larger environmental leadership strategy, PG&E owns and operates a clean fuel fleet of electric and fuel cell vehicles, and more than 1,100 natural gas vehicles. PG&E’s clean fuel fleet consists of service and crew trucks, meter reader vehicles and pool cars that run either entirely on compressed natural gas or have bi-fuel capabilities. Over the last 15 years, PG&E’s clean fuel fleet has displaced over 2.7 million gallons of gasoline and diesel, and helped to avoid 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

PG&E is actively field testing both battery electric vehicles (BEV) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV).

PG&E has ordered four Phoenix Motorcars ( all-electric sport utility trucks (SUTs) for June delivery. PG&E has given Phoenix a conditional order to buy 200. The Phoenix trucks have an impressive 130 mile range using Altair Nano (OTCBB: ALTI) batteries with their unique lithium titanate spinel oxide (LTO) electrode materials. Both Phoenix and Altair were on display at the AFVi Conference. Altair has claimed a breakthrough in several areas: specific power, battery life of over 10,000 charge cycles, “zero explosions and safety issues” test results, and fast charge capability. Altair Nano Batteries:

“PG&E is firmly committed to reducing our carbon foot print by using innovative alternative-fuel technologies,” said Bob Howard, PG&E vice president of gas transmission and distribution. “By adding the Phoenix Motorcars SUTs to our leading clean fuel fleet, we are taking an important step in developing a proven and necessary electric vehicle market. Electric vehicles provide a practical solution to help us reduce our dependency on petroleum-based fuels, keep California’s air clean, and meet the challenges associated with climate change.” PG&E News

Along with Edison, PG&E’s fleet was one of 14 in the country chosen to test the plug-in hybrid pilot project for a Ford F550 Super Duty Field Response Truck. PG&E currently has 350 Field Response Trucks on the road. PG&E, partnering with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, also recently placed into service a prototype Plug-in Toyota Prius to demonstrate the benefits of light-duty plug-in hybrid vehicles.

PG&E owns and operates 34 compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations, through which they supply natural gas to more than 200 commercial and private fleets throughout the PG&E system. This includes transit districts, private refuse haulers, school districts, municipalities, air/seaports, and other miscellaneous operators including taxi, package delivery, military, and private fleets.

Construction of a hydrogen fueling station in San Carlos, California is also scheduled to begin this summer. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) was awarded a California Air Resources Board (CARB) grant for the project. GTI will serve as a partner on the project, providing a mobile hydrogen unit (MHU) that uses GTI’s patented reformer technology. This self-contained unit will produce hydrogen from natural gas and condition it to serve the on-site dispenser during the development of a hydrogen fueling network in California. The hydrogen fueling station will be co-located with a publicly accessible compressed natural gas station to allow for 24/7 availability. Once sufficient demand is established, the MHU can be replaced with permanent facilities, and the unit can then be relocated.

The relationship between big oil and big utilities are complex. Oil refineries are among the world’s largest users of electricity. Oil companies are transforming into integrated energy providers that sell large quantities of natural gas to major utilities, making the utility a distribution channel for the natural gas producer. Some energy giants are expanding into wind, solar and other renewable energy.

Edison and BP have a joint venture to build a large scale electric plant that will not run on coal, not on nuclear, not on natural gas. The Carson plant will run on hydrogen and output 500 MW of electricity. By products will include enough hydrogen to inexpensively fuel thousands of vehicles in Southern California. Another byproduct will be CO2 that will be sequestered as part of increasing oil production. Hydrogen power plant details:

Edison also has an existing hydrogen fueling station in partnership with Chevron.

Currently, fleets are taking the lead with electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids that are developed by system integrators and specialty companies. DaimlerChrysler was at the AVFI conference with its 25 mph GEM. 40,000 have been sold. Rumors are flying that in 2008 Toyota (NYSE:TM) will begin fleet tests of its new plug-in hybrid using lithium batteries. Consumer sales may start in 2009. By 2010, Mitsubishi (MSBHY) will start selling an EV to consumers in Japan. Drivers will increasingly use electric power.

Today, utilities are powering vehicles with electricity, natural gas and hydrogen. In a few years, electric vehicles will also power homes with vehicle-to-home (V2H). Large batteries and fuel cells provide many times the electricity demand of a home. In a few more years, smart grids and intelligent power management will allow peak electricity demands to be met by utilities buying power from vehicles with vehicle-to-grid (V2G). U.C. Davis and PG&E have demonstrated V2H and V2G already.

Healthy competition is leading America to cleaner electricity and cleaner vehicles. Innovative utilities are taking an important role in the transition.

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet and publishes the Clean Fleet Report http:// This article is copyright John Addison with permission to publish or excerpt with attribution. John owns stock in ALTI.

AQMD Orders 30 more PHEV

By John Addison (3/19/07) South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) is ordering 30 more plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) that are likely to achieve over 100 mpg. Ten will be Toyota (TM) Priuses converted to PHEV by Hymotion using A123 5kWh lithium nanophosphate polymer batteries. 20 will be Ford (F) Escapes converted to PHEV by Quantum (QTWW) using Advanced Lithium Power batteries.

Total investment in the 30 vehicles and charging stations will be $3,777,843. AQMD will contribute most of the money. The vehicles will be placed with cities and commercial fleets that will pay the normal price of the hybrid vehicles. The recent contract award gives AQMD participants the opportunity to make additional purchases of the awarded vehicles. The winning vendors will also participate in cost sharing.

If you drive 10,000 miles per year, then you average about 27 miles per day. 80% of the time, a U.S. driver does not exceed 50 vehicle miles in one day. Since most U.S. households have two vehicles, millions could have one be an electric vehicle with a range of greater than 50 miles. The gasoline powered vehicle could take care of the occasional distance trips. Yet, families and friends resist the idea of sharing cars. Many also insist that each car be ready to go hundreds of miles on a moments notice.

Southern California is home to thousands of battery electric vehicles (BEV). Most are specialized utility vehicles limited in range and in speeds of 25 mph. New EVs with greater range and freeway speeds are coming from companies like Phoenix Motorcars and Tesla Motors.

The plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) may be ideal for people who like the green benefits of running on electricity, but require extended range. PHEVs can potentially handle most trips in electric-only mode. The Priuses ordered by AQMD only run in electric mode at least than 35 miles per hour. PHEVs can be plugged into garage outlets for evening recharging. PHEVs can plug into other charging stations, although there is a lack of industry standards.

AQMD has been achieving over 100 mpg in its test of a Toyota Priuses modified to be a PHEV using Valence batteries. AQMD has also seen success with two PHEV DaimlerChrysler Sprinter Vans. One uses NiMH batteries. The other Saft li-ion batteries. Five more PHEV Sprinter Vans are planned for carrying passengers. Major Southern California electric utilities and the City of Santa Monica have also been early owners of PHEVs.

The idea of plugging-in is not new. We are in the habit of recharging our mobile phone every night. Soon, we may also be recharging our vehicle every night. Hymotion is planning on making PHEV conversion kits available to consumers later in 2007. Hymotion is targeting a price of $9,500 installed for the Prius. PHEV enthusiasts are likely to convert. Since the conversions normally void Toyota and Ford factory warranties, many consumers will wait for the OEMs to make their own offerings. Fleet conversion kits are now offered. Green Car Congress Article

PHEV awards are being made in increasing quantities. These financial awards and the successful implementation of the vehicles will encourage major automotive OEMs to start selling their own PHEVs. Toyota and GM have formally announced PHEV development. GM owns about 15% of Quantum, which in turn owns 19.9% of Advanced Lithium Power. No OEM has committed to a specific timeframe for PHEV commercial sales. Mitsubishi will start selling a commercial EV in 2010 in Japan; target price is under $20,000.

This article is copyright John Addison with permission to excerpt, reproduce and publish. This article appears in full at the Clean Fleet Report.

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet. John is looking for added stories about how people are using their EVs, PHEVs, couples who share one car, and people who live car-free. If you have a story that you are willing to share in the book, please contact John at

Could Solvent-Free Manufacturing Technology Help Make Lithium Polymer Batteries a Reality?

I had a chance to chat with Dr. Klaus Brandt, EVP of Lithium Technology Corporation (Ticker symbol LTHU.PK). LTC has been in the business of Lion battery development for over 10 years. They are focused on large energy content / high power applications, primarily using lithium polymer technologies.

The Company was formed 4 years ago through a merger of a German battery startup called and LTC. Dr. Brandt is the Executive Vice President of LTC and Managing Director of their GAIA GmbH subsidiary, joining GAIA in April, 2005. A 25 year battery industry veteran, Gaia is his 5th battery company. He previously worked for Duracell (US) and VARTA (Germany), Moli Energy & Ionity. He holds a PhD, Physics from Tech Inst of Munich.

They haven’t disclosed much on their customers, but are focused on the military markets (especially for unmanned vehicles, like UAVs, they have one announced participation with Phoenix), and in niche industrial markets like robotics. The holy grail opportunity, of course is the EV, HEV and Plug-in hybrid automotive markets, where LiOn technology has an opportunity to displace NiMh, if it can drive costs down far enough. So far LTC has been working on early demonstrator projects in this area, but doesn’t appear to have hit the big one yet.

A quote from a recent press release on some of LTC’s activities in the plug-in hybrid sector.

“LTC has powered a project in conjunction with Innosys Engineering in which a four passenger Daihatsu Cuore was converted into an electric car using the lithium-ion batteries and a three-phase asynchronous electric motor. The battery, built with cells manufactured by LTC subsidiary GAIA, has a capacity of 25 kWh and an approximate highway range of 180-200km (100-125 miles) at 90-100km/hr (56-60 mph). These results are similar to the expected performance of the recently announced Volt slated to be made available by General Motors in 2010. “The technology is here today. LTC has it, and we’ve demonstrated it,” says Dr. Brandt. “Price is the biggest factor holding back the production of these more environmentally friendly, fuel efficient vehicles. By committing to work together, the auto manufactures and battery companies can bring the cost down and make cars like the Volt an affordable reality for the consumer.” LTC’s technology was recently highlighted in a video produced by Plug-In Partners, a national grass-roots initiative to demonstrate to automakers that a market for flexible-fuel PHEVs exists today. The full video discussing the economic and environmental benefits of PHEVs can be viewed on the Plug-In Partners website.

The piece featured a project in which LTC provided cells to the University of California, Davis Hybrid Electric Vehicle Group for the conversion of a Chevy Equinox to a PHEV as part of the Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility engineering competition. The lithium-ion battery has the same capacity as the original metal hydride battery but with half the weight. The battery can be charged by either the internal combustion engine (ICE) or a standard AC household electrical socket and can drive over 40 miles on the overnight electrical charge. The converted vehicle has a fuel economy of 36 mpg in the city, and 38 mpg on the highway, as compared to the original Chevy Equinox range of 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.”

As a result of the merger with Gaia, Arch Hill Ventures, NV, the venture capital firm behind Gaia, now has a dominant stake in the company. I couldn’t find much information on Arch easily available, though.

The company trades over the counter in the US, and has struggled financially (revenues are around $2 mm/year), and it loses money, and the stock price for the last several years has reflected this. Of course, it doesn’t help that the company doesn’t seem to have filed a 10-K or 10-Q since May of 2006. In December the company earned a reprieve raised $3 mm in a Series C Preferred Stock at a valuation on the order of $23 mm, and converted about $2.4 mm in debt.

In Germany the company is manufacturing cylindrical cells, and packaging them into batteries, and doing some prod development, along with EU sales. In the US Dr. Bradnt says they do a limited production of flat cells, the US sales and marketing, as well engineering and assembly of batteries for American customers.

But aside from all that, I asked Dr. Brandt to give me a summary walk through of the technology, what makes it neat, and what the cost and performance advantages are.

The brief from their website:

“LTC’s unique technology allows for the production of very large cells with a high capacity and high power capability.

LTC’s wholly owed affiliate GAIA Akkumulatorenwerke in Nordhausen, Germany employs a unique patented extrusion process for producing electrodes for lithium ion cells. This process is environmentally friendly (no solvent) and eliminates the need for expensive explosion proof coating and solvent recovery equipment. Using high speed winding and a unique assembly technology, large cylindrical cells are manufactured. In our Plymouth Meeting facility, we have the capability to build large footprint flat cells and stack them to form large batteries. Our proprietary technology includes critical composition, processing, and packaging aspects of the battery. Our coating, lamination and extrusion know-how enables us to achieve uniformity and consistency through a range of application techniques. Batteries for the consumer, transportation, and industrial markets require different electro-chemical systems that we believe can be easily accommodated by our extrusion process.”

According to my conversation with Dr. Brandt, LTC has two core technologies. The first is this extrusion process for a part of the cell manufacturing for either LiOn or Lithium Polymer batteries. The uniqueness is a way to avoid the use of large amounts of solvents in the process of manufacturing electrodes from electrode powders.

Normally, you make electrodes by a coating process. Taking electrode powders and mixing them in an organic solvent with has a binder and any additives dissolved in it. This results in a fairly viscous slurry with typically more than half organic solvents . Then battery manufacturers typically use a coating process (usually a printing type roller process or some sort of foil through narrow slit, controlling deposition quality mechanically) to coat the slurry onto a current collector, usually a thin metal foil, and in a post process step heat the electrode to evaporate the solvent, which by volume is often greater than the active material.
Typically the make-up of the solvents used is key intellectual property for the battery manufacturer, but most are highly volatile and toxic chemicals, and need to be recycled in some sort of a closed loop system that is generally equipment and energy intensive (read costly, and not very green).

The LTC process is different. LTC runs an extrusion process as follows – make the electrode powders into mixture of powder materials directly with a special polymer binder, which flows under some pressure and temperature, and extrude the mixture into a film sheet. The process runs in the range from 200-300F up to 350-400F, and uses off the shelf plastic extrusion equipment. As second step, LTC then laminates the film to the foil. The lamination allows good control of all kinds of properties. The whole thing is roughly similar to low temperature polymer membrane construction process.

The trick is the mix of the polymers. If mix isn’t right you can’t keep mechanical consistency or can’t control thickness of the film and uniform distribution of the components. The polymer mix also affects the binding properties.

They claim the process does not really affect the cell manufacturing or the electrolyte relative to other processes. And Dr. Brandt says it has applicability for lithium ion as well as lithium polymer.

The advantage – no solvent extraction, cleaning, and recycling process equipment, and reduced energy use. Basically a more efficient, greener, cleaner process. LTC estimates their process can reduce a cost structure on the order of 5-10% improvement over conventional technology, a big improvement in battery manufacturing techniques.

The main challenges are those similar to all lithium ion and lithium polymer battery manufacturers. In the area of automotive and HEVs, they need to address cost. Scale of production is obviously a main cost down concern for LTC at this point, but materials costs are a close second. Like all lithium polymer technologies, the materials in general are still quite high.

On the performance side, Dr. Brandt walked through another interesting technology development.

They are able to build relatively large systems at a similar power density and power rate to smaller systems compared to other manufacturers, especially useful in areas like submarine and UAV batteries.

They also get high power and excellent charge/discharge rates – on some cell types up to 80% of the energy in 2 – 3 minutes.

The trick here is LTC’s technology to manage the thermal issues in the way they make the electrical connections between electrodes and terminals in the wound cells. LTC essentially makes electrical connections at every turn of a wound cell, directly connecting each cell to the terminal, using massive (relatively) terminals. They do it with a special trick they have developed to easily allow a large number of the multiple connections.

All in all, a fascinating story. One I will have to follow closely and see how well the company pulls through its recent financial straits.

Author Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is the founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, and a Contributing Editor to