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New Hands-Free Inductive Charging at Google

Google makes innovative use of electric vehicles and charging stations. For employees, Google took an early lead in converting Toyota Prii (yep that’s the official plural of Prius) to be plug-in hybrids. Then Google installed beautiful solar covered parking including charge stations so that electric cars can be charged with sunlight.

At its headquarters, Google is now showing us how to charge hands-free.  No plug. No cord. Using Evatran Plugless Power’s inductive charging system, one of Google’s maintenance short-range EVs parks in close proximity of the charger and charging begins. The Evatran unit is Level 2 (7.7 kW, 240V at 32A). The light EV was converted to use the inductive charging.

Google is also conducting other important pilots including testing the new Toyota Prius Plug-in, not a conversion, but the 2012 model from Toyota. Soon, Google will be testing the Honda Fit Electric and other plug-in cars. Several Google founders drive Tesla Roadsters. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are Stanford University grad student “drop-outs” as is Telsa CEO and Founder, Elon Musk.  None regret the decision to change the world a priority over getting their PhDs.

Google is even approved by FERC to be an electric utility. Cloud services will be at the heart of the smart grid and smart charging.  Early electric car drivers use Google Maps to find the nearest charging station. Will Google charge your electric cars?

How Inductive Electric Car Charging Works

Historically, inductive charging has been too inefficient, wasting valuable electricity and charging hours. Evatran thinks that they can get to 90 percent efficient; they’re not there yet. How does it work? A Plugless Power vehicle adapter is permanently mounted onto the vehicle. A fixed Plugless Power station, including both a floor-mounted parking block and a separate control tower, is installed in the garage or parking space.

Evatran states that its technology is safe. When the equipped vehicle pulls up to the parking space, the parking block automatically positions itself to align with the vehicle adapter and begins charging. With their electromagnetic induction, no actual flow of electricity occurs between the vehicle adapter and the parking block.

Will inductive charging catch-on? In the late 1990s, inductive charging competed with conductive. Multiple incompatible systems helped kill major electric car success. GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and all the automakers have devoted years working with utilities to have a common Level 2 J1772 smart charging standard. Now they are going thru the pain of trying to get consumers to install wall-mounted chargers, only to be frustrated with obsolete building codes, over worked city inspectors, and electric utility frontline employees who find reasons to say “No to EV charging.” Adding inductive charging would compound the issues.

General Motors puts Inductive Charging Inside

Automakers are interested in proximity charging inside the car when we fill the cars with collegues or kids with their iPhones, Droids, iPads, games, and other mobile electronics. Powermat is not only receiving a $5 million investment from GM Ventures, Powermat will be offered in many 2012 GM cars to give customers proximity charging of mobile devices inside the car.

What about America’s 14 million fleet vehicles? Inductive charging could be a winner. Fleets can install their own systems without needing a universal standard. Think about taxis that wait in queues. Consider millions of delivery vehicles. Light utility vehicles are popular on university, government, and corporate campuses. These are also good candidates for inductive charging, as Google is demonstrating.

Cleantech and the Future of GM

Jon Lauckner, President GM Ventures, said that GM now has a straightforward vision, “Design, build and sell the world’s best vehicles.” I took notes as he gave his keynote speech at the Clean Tech Investors Conference and asked him about GM’s investment priorities. To achieve GM’s vision, focus is now placed on four strategies: (1) a culture that is more aggressive and flexible, (2) customer focus, (3) Team GM, and (4) technology.

Mr. Lauckner is focused on investing in innovative and early stage companies. He has been busy since GM Ventures was established last June and he was promoted from head of GM global product planning. GM Ventures has invested in Bright Automotive, which has designed an advanced plug-in hybrid delivery van with much greater cargo space than Ford’s Transit Connect Electric. GM has invested in two advanced next generation biofuel corporations – Mascoma and Coskata. Given the success of the Amyris IPO, these investments could should a high return for GM.

GM has the potential to drive down lithium battery cost and weight with its strategic partner LG Chem, supplier for the Volt. The two corporations recently licensed cathode technology from Argonne National Lab that can lead to better energy density and make future cars like the Chevrolet Volt even more cost effective.

GM is also looking beyond today’s lithium technology. GM Ventures has invested in SAKTI3, which has developed a rechargeable solid-state battery with the potential to lower the cost of manufacturing batteries.

All of these innovators are creating offerings that could accelerate GM offering a wider range of vehicles, lower the carbon footprint of GM vehicles, and make electric cars less expensive than gasoline powered in this decade. So far, all of these innovators are U.S. based and already creating hundreds of new jobs. GM is open to investing globally and often partners with venture capitalists such as Khosla Ventures, corporate private equity such as Itochu Technology Ventures, and public economic development such as the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

The technology will not necessarily become a GM offering, but that is a potential value-added in partnering with GM Ventures. For example, Powermat is not only receiving a $5 million investment from GM Ventures, Powermat will be offered in many 2012 GM cars. Powermat solves that problem of trying to keep many mobile electronic devices charged. Forget using the cigarette lighter. Powermat’s technology allows electronic devices – smart phones, MP3 players and gaming devices – to be charged inductively by just placing them on the Powermat.

What will be the next General Motors investment? Speaking to over 400 executives at the Clean-Tech Investor Summit,  co-produced by International Business Forum and Clean Edge with CleantechBlog as a media sponsor, Jon Lauckner said that GM Ventures is looking for promising innovation in these areas:

Automotive Cleantech

  • EV
  • Fuel cell
  • Charging
  • Emission controls
  • Motors
  • Smart grid
  • Energy efficiency for vehicles
  • Biofuels

Infotainment

  • Vehicle HMI
  • Voice recognition technologies
  • In-vehicle advertising
  • Cloud services
  • Personal device integration

Smart Materials

  • Cost
  • Mass
  • Lightweight materials
  • Eco-friendly materials

Automotive-Related Technologies

  • Innovations for unmet consumer needs
  • Advanced sensors for autonomous driving
  • Safety features

Value Chain / Business Model

  • New automotive business models
  • Leverage GM technology and assets for upstream and downstream revenue

I asked Jon Lauckner about alternatives to rare earth elements. Currently, the motors in electric cars and hybrids are permanent magnet motors. To improve weight, efficiency and heat resistance, rare earth elements such as neodymium and dysprosium are used in these permanent magnets. Such rare earths are currently mined in China, but the big money is not in the mining, it is in the final products. China is restricting rare earth exports, and giving priority to using rare earths in its own manufacturing of turbines and motors for products ranging from military systems to high-speed rail to electric cars.

Toyota Motors is developing inductive car motors that do not use rare earths. Although Lauckner was carefully non-committal about whether GM is also working on inductive automotive electric motors, he did say that he would be “very interested” in such motors requiring no rare earths. Smart materials, nanotechnology, and advanced powertrain components are all strategic to the future of GM.

In one decade, transportation will be very different from today. With GM Ventures, General Motors is positioned to invest, integrate, and deliver to global customers better cars and services that include innovations in cleantech, infotainment, materials, autonomous driving, and new business models.

Toyota Prius PHV Fights Chevy Volt

By John Addison (from original post in the Clean Fleet Report 7/6/10)

As the world leader in hybrid cars, Toyota is fighting to extend that leadership in both plug-in hybrids and battery electric cars. In plug-in hybrids, GM plans on first mover advantage with the Chevy Volt. In electric cars, the Nissan LEAF has a sizable lead over the . But Toyota has more cars on the road with electric motors, advanced batteries, and electric drive systems than all competitors put together. Toyota does not like second place.

In talking today with Toyota’s Cindy Knight, she assures me that Toyota is on track on all fronts. A number of U.S. fleets are already driving the new 2010 Toyota Prius PHV including the following:

San Diego Gas and Electric
Zipcar Washington DC
Ports of New York and New Jersey
Silicon Valley Leadership Group
Portland State University
Qualcomm
Southern California Air Quality Management District

By year-end, 600 Prius PHV will be on the road including 150 in the United States. A number will be in 18 month lease programs. In one prefecture in Japan, the Prius PHV can be rented by the hour. Ten of the Prius PHV will be part of Xcel Energy’s SmartGridCity program in Boulder, CO. Boulder residents will participate in an interdisciplinary research project coordinated by the University of Colorado at Boulder Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI), a new joint venture between the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

During the test of 600 plug-in hybrids, Toyota will be receiving extensive wireless data from each vehicle, giving a near realtime profile of electric range, frequency and speed of charge, mileage, use, and reliability of the cars. Aggregated data will be posted on Toyota’s EQS Website

By 2012, Toyota will offer customers with a wide-range of vehicles with fuel efficient drive systems. The Prius will be the best seller, but the 2012 Toyota Prius PHV will be in demand from those who want to be greener with a 14 mile electric range. A compact hybrid will help the more price conscious buyers. The Toyota Camry Hybrid will continue to be offered. Lexus hybrids will continue to deliver at least 35 mpg along with their host of luxury appointments.
Ford will also offer customers a wide-range of fuel efficient and electric cars, starting with a Ford Focus that customers can buy as with ecoboost fuel economy, or as a hybrid, or as a plug-in hybrid, or as a pure battery electric. Ford will expand this range of offerings to other lines in the years past 2012.

Toyota’s Transition to Lithium Batteries

The 2010 Prius PHV has three lithium-ion battery packs, one main and two additional packs (pack one and pack two) with a combined weight of 330 pounds. In contrast, the Prius NiMH battery pack weighs 110 pounds. Each battery pack contains 96 individual 3.6 V cells wired in series with a nominal voltage of 345.6 V DC.

When the PHV is fully charged the two additional battery packs supply power to the electric motor. Pack one and pack two operate in tandem with main battery pack but only one at a time on the individual circuit. When pack one’s battery’s charge is depleted, it will disconnect from the circuit and pack two will engage and supply electrical energy to the drive line. When pack two has depleted it will disconnect from the circuit and the vehicle will operate like a regular hybrid. Pack one and pack two will not reengage in tandem with the main battery pack until the vehicle is plugged in and charged.

The Prius PHV’s larger HV battery assembly requires additional cooling. The vehicle is equipped with three battery-cooling blowers, one for each of the three battery packs. Each battery pack also has an exclusive intake air duct. One cooling blower cools the DC/DC converter.

Like all Toyota hybrids, the lithium-ion batteries are built to last for the life of the vehicle. Toyota is using lithium not NiMH batteries in its Auris hybrid. Mercedes, Nissan, Ford and others have announced hybrid plans using lithium. Will 2012 be the year that Toyota offers a hybrid Prius with lithium batteries? Toyota is not yet ready to say.

Toyota has a number of advanced battery R&D programs with nickel-metal, lithium-ion and “beyond lithium” for a wide variety of applications in conventional hybrids, PHVs, BEVs and FCHVs. Toyota uses Panasonic and Sanyo battery cells. When Panasonic acquired Sanyo, Toyota increased its ownership to over 80 percent in the Panasonic EV Energy Company which makes prismatic module nickel metal hydride and lithium-ion battery packs. Toyota also owns about 2 percent of Tesla, a major Panasonic partner.

an Urban Electric Car

In 2012, city drivers will have fun with the , a pure battery-electric car. Currently Smart car drivers are saving $20 per day squeezing into parking spaces too big for other cars. By 2012 Smart will have competition from the which is over 4.5 feet shorter than the Prius. For the microcompact space, Smart is introducing an electric version, as is Mitsubishi with the iMiEV. All these cars can squeeze in four people with skinny waists.

Toyota’s FT-EV is an electric vehicle with a 50-mile range and a maximum speed of 70 mpg. The lithium battery pack can be charged in 2.5 hours with a 220/240 volt charge and in less time if not fully discharged.

By John Addison. Publisher of the Clean Fleet Report and conference speaker.