Progress or Breakthroughs at California Symposium for Zero Emission Vehicles?

This year, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) got a new Chairman and is taking a fresh look at the big picture for "zero emissions vehicles" (ZEVs). California’s ZEV Mandate dates back to 1990. It’s devolved in many ways since its first ambitious version (that 2% of new cars sold in the state would be ZEV by 1998; 5% by 2001, 10% by 2003). That story has been told in many places, including in the movie, "Who Killed the Electric Car" and recently in detail by Steve Heckeroth.

From Sept. 25-27 at the ZEV Technology Symposium in Sacramento, an Expert Panel heard from the main players: technology developers, auto-makers, advocates and drivers. Auto-makers think we still need technology breakthroughs; we think the cars and components we have show we can get back on track now. We hope our report will help you judge for yourself!

For the benefit of those who weren’t there, we’ve highlighted presentations based on their significance and on how much information is available in the slides. (Often, the presentations provided only a fraction of the information delivered verbally.) You can view/download individual PDFs of 50 presentations. For the Green Car Congress’s Michael Millikin’s blog and comments, see "Plug-Ins Progress."

MAJOR THEMES (RANKED BY SIGNIFICANCE)

  • Reports on the current state of the art on batteries confirm what we’ve heard informally from automakers and experts at the Department of Energy: Batteries have already improved far more than they realized (or expected).
  • "Vehicle-to-grid" is evolving from a futuristic possibility to a solution that businesses and public institutions want now. Even a relatively small number of parked EVs and PHEVs could contribute to profitability and sustainability of both energy producers and wholesale customers — and benefit car owners.
  • Since the 1990s, the performance, range and cost of advanced all-electric vehicles (EVs) and (so far) plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) conversions have improved substantially — and now we’re seeing documented proof.
  • PHEVs and EVs do very well compared to ethanol, natural gas, hydrogen and other fuels in well-to-wheel comparative analyses of energy efficiency, greenhouse gas reductions and land use impacts.
  • Hydrogen is looking increasingly like only a long-term possibility, unlikely to contribute soon to California’s goals for zero emission vehicles. (We don’t highlight specific hydrogen/fuel cell presentations, because we didn’t attend the first "hydrogen day.")

BETTER BATTERIES

At a jam-packed session, two emerging battery companies, A123 and Altair, presented solutions — both characterized as using nano-technologies to increase performance and safety characteristics of lithium chemistries. While they have very different designs, both companies are well beyond the "promises" stage: Both have real, testable products in use in prototype vehicles. Both presented background and lab data showing favorable results for criteria that are often mutually exclusive: long cycle life after multiple deep discharges, high power/high energy, ability to charge and operate at wide temperature ranges, good safety characteristics and rapid recharging. Both companies made clear they are eager to work with automakers.

A123Systems: Andrew Chu presented for this Massachusetts-based private company, which has raised over $60M, most recently from investors including General Electric, and is the exclusive supplier to Black & Decker for DeWalt 36-volt power tools. A123 batteries have been installed in Prius retrofits by Hybrids-Plus of Colorado and Hymotion of Toronto (see "Where PHEVs Are").

Altair Nanosystems: Evan House presented for this Nevada-based public company (NASDAQ: ALTI). They are starting to deliver batteries for EVs to Phoenix Motors.

Johnson Controls: JC has a joint venture with SAFT for lithium-ion batteries (included in the DaimlerChrysler Sprinter PHEVs). Number 75 on the US Fortune 500, this is the company George Bush visited in Minneapolis and talked about PHEVs. Michael Andrew presented preliminary data showing encouraging results on cycle life, safety and other characteristics.

Mark Duvall of The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) presented results of cycle testing both NiMH and Li-Ion batteries (used in the PHEV Sprinter) in cycles designed to mimic worst-case PHEV use. Results after 1,500-2,000 cycles showed batteries going strong and likely to last for at least 3,000 cycles –as would be required for an expected 10-year vehicle lifetime.

VEHICLE-TO-GRID

Three presentations described the potential of vehicles parked up to 23 hours/day to "rent" their networked batteries for distributed energy storage. (For a report and comments, see Green Car Congress’s "The Plug-In and BEV Adoption Wild Card: Vehicle-to-Grid".)

Jasna Tomic from Calstart, co-authoring with Willit Kempton from the University of Delaware, introduced the concepts and benefits of V2G in providing regulatory services and load-levelling for utilities.

Willit Kempton with Cliff Murley from Sacramento Municipal Utility District surprised the audience by explaining how a substantial fleet of EVs and PHEVs could enable the utility to rapidly and cost-effectively increase its use of night-time wind power — even well beyond the industry-accepted norm of 25%. We felt brain cells lighting up as attendees heard how one of the nation’s largest renewable power producers needs V2G now!

Bay Area Rapid Transit System‘s Eugene Nishinaga described a creative win-win V2G scenario. To get power at low rates, BART predicts how much electricity it will use and buys it in advance. BART often misses high or low, which costs money. Even a few thousand EVs and PHEVs in BART parking lots plugged in during working hours would buffer the energy difference. Owners would get free charging; BART would save/make money!

PLUG-IN HYBRID VEHICLES

Many presenters referred to Prius after-market conversions as a development platform and source for data in discussions of other topics. They were also a principal focus on their own. EnergyCS‘s Pete Nortman outlined the company’s challenges and solutions. For EDrive, Greg Hanssen described the planned evolution to second-generation designs, with sales expected next year.

Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s Dwight MacCurdy analyzed the results of a series of test runs in which SMUD’s EnergyCS Prius was compared to a stock Prius. They found 40-140% improvements in MPG.

CalCars described the driving experiences of Ron Gremban and Felix Kramer, the world’s first two consumer owners of PHEV Priuses. We’ve previously posted the full text at CalCars-News and at our Blog. We explained a typical driving day: 50.8 miles of mixed-speed driving, at an average of 124.1 MPG plus 123 Wh/mile. We translated the catchy "100+MPG (plus electricity)" into 76-83 MPG gasoline equivalent. We talked about the importance of all-electric driving for short trips, how multiple factors influence the decision about when to plug in, and how electricity rate price signals and rooftop photovoltaics fit into the picture.

Argonne Labs’ Danilo Santini gave an overview of previous PHEV reports including one national lab study showing that a massive influx of PHEVs could reduce gasoline use by 31-43% while reducing carbon emissions by a similar amount without stressing grid capacity.

NREL’s Tony Markel showed encouraging results for PHEVs of a study based on 227 St Louis vehicles’ driving patterns. Markel and Duvall evaluated the tradeoffs for PHEVs that can operate in electric-only mode versus ones that operate mostly or only in "blended" mode.

Automotive consultant ASG Renaissance’s Max Kapadia, working with engineering services firm Ricardo, presented detailed data modelling mid-size sedan PHEV-20 production costs, retail price equivalents, fuel and maintenance savings. The projected additional first cost over a similar internal combustion vehicle, manufactured in mass-production quantities, came in well below the $10,000+ numbers currently cited by automakers — but above the $4,100-$6,000 projected in 2001-2002 by the HEV Working Group. Acknowledging that the data were preliminary, both the author and audience pointed to many factors that could be added to the study to further reduce cost. We found encouraging the simple fact that the study adopted the analytic approach used by automakers and showed PHEVs priced at 300,000/year volume levels with a less than three-year life cycle cost.

The Charles Clark Group’s Charles Clark showed preliminary data from a remarkable study undertaken for EPRI. We’ve seen many estimates of CO2 and power plant emissions for PHEVs, but for this complex problem, the assumptions used are critical, and findings have often diverged. This study used EPRI’s model of the whole U.S. power grid (with detailed characteristics of every generating plant), a worst-case 30%-peak/70%-off-peak charging regime, and scenarios for PHEV penetration, regulatory climate and other factors. National worst-case results: a PHEV-20 would have well-to-wheel CO2 emissions of 500 grams/kiloWatt-hour (decreasing in the future to 300 g/kWh). This compares to 850 g/kWh for a non-plugging hybrid and 1,200 g/kWh for a conventional gasoline car. The PHEV 20 reduces CO2 by about 40% compared to the conventional hybrid, and 60% compared to the gasoline car. In California, the PHEV would emit 375 grams per kWh, declining to 200 g/kWh. Even more dramatic reductions would result from PHEVs linked to wind or solar, or PHEV-30s through PHEV-60s.

ELECTRIC VEHICLES

AC Propulsion‘s Tom Gage, Tesla Motors‘ Martin Eberhard and Wrightspeed‘s Ian Wright demonstrated a compelling message about the new electric sportscars and ACP’s Scion conversions: All deliver more acceleration and fun than almost any internal combustion engine on the road. High-horsepower gasoline vehicles can dip below 10 MPG. To avoid the Faustian bargain, EVs offer power and efficiency at the same time. (Summaries and audio streams/podcasts of these three talks are at EVWorld.com.)

When Gage and Eberhard, along with that of Aerovironment’s Alec Brooks, compared well-to-wheel efficiencies of electricity/battery vs. hydrogen/fuel cell, batteries were 3-4 times more efficient. Brooks has presented this case many times to ARB in the past — but this time, it looks like the message is getting through. Argonne Labs’ Danilo Santini found similar results for natural gas.

Plug In America’s Paul Scott and Chelsea Sexton compiled an invaluable table itemizing by car type the 5,599 EVs leased/sold and the 1,380 remaining on the roads. The Electric Auto Association’s Ron Freund reported on a survey of 132 RAV4-EV drivers, including the surprising news that 48% use rooftop solar photovoltaics.

Miles Automotive‘s David Hirsch gave a preview of a future in which China could provide affordable EVs for the US market. And GEM‘s Larry Owald described the growing success of low-speed NEVs (neighborhood electric vehicles) at this company owned by DaimlerChrysler.

AUTO-MAKERS

Auto-makers repeated what they’ve said in the past about PHEVs and EVs (See "How Car-Makers are Responding to the PHEV Opportunity".) DaimlerChrysler did not go beyond describing the Sprinter program as "proof of concept." Honda called for government research on PHEVs. GM‘s spokesperson focused only on hydrogen cars — days after Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz had begun describing them as "electric-fuel cell vehicles" and touting PHEVs

We posted a transcription of Dave Hermance’s comments for Toyota at CalCars-News. Perhaps we will see if the advanced batteries described at the hearings match up to the "breakthrough in battery technology…for capacity, energy storage, durability and cost" that Hermance said is necessary for PHEVs to be "economically viable."

Meanwhile, we hope that additional developments in the coming months provide more food for thought for the Expert Panel. Stay tuned for their report in a few months — and for how an Air Resources Board that appears to be newly receptive to PHEVs responds in early 2007.

Felix is an entrepreneur with a life-long green streak. He enjoys communicating his enthusiasm about what is new, unique, and significant. He is the founder of CalCars.org, The California Cars Initiative, and has been promoting 100+ MPG plug-in hybrids full-time since 2001. He posts his own selection of significant developments for PHEVs at the CalCars News Archive. His first entry at Hybrid Cars, Car Owners Strap into the Drivers Seat, in August 2005, expressed his view that the industrial world is in the midst of a major change — hopefully, it is not too late!


  • jim

    Why can’t this trigger a rebate program to offset the additional costs for the PHEV vs standard ICE vehicle to encourage a more rapid deployment of the PHEV concept.

    This rebate program could be repaid over a 10 year payback thru an annual registration surcharge to maintain the programs growth. This liability would follow the vehicle not the owner, so any future buyer would assume future repayments as well as system’s benefits.

    The loss of current fuel tax revenues could be offset by using a sealed wattmeter (similar to a homes) that could be read at any gas station (manually or electronically) and paid at that station to be forwarded to the Board of Equalization along with other sales tax revenues collected at the station. This would not even usually require a special trip, being done whenever the vehicle’s regular fuel is purchased.

  • joshL1

    Thanks for this coverage. It gives a very good concise overview. I hope that whatever decisions come before the ARB board in the next year or so that they are able to see clearly, from what was presented to them, that there are proven battery technologies which are ready and increasingly available to help California accomplish its clean air goals.

  • priusmaniac

    Any topic talking about using a direct piston generator as on-board electricity source for a PHEV. Was someone from Pempek present?

  • Guest

    What are PHEV-20s and PHEV-30s through PHEV-60s? I missed the definition somewhere.
    Great coverage! Thanks for the update. This is exciting!

  • dkennington

    Bill the number after the – refers to the all electric range, 20, 30 or 60miles, not really accurate in the Prius convertions as the ICE is usually providing some help. More like the Renalt system where the ICE doesn’t run until the battery is dead.

  • jwishart

    I would just like to comment on the glib dismissal of hydrogen technology to long-term status even though Mr. Kramer did not even deign to attend the hydrogen day at the conference he is covering. This displays an obvious bias that calls his other conclusions into question.

    I agree that EVs and PHEVs are more likely to have an impact in the very near future. However, there is a certain irony in Mr. Kramer pointing out the auto industry’s ignorance of the state-of-the-art when it comes to batteries while he willfully ignores the advances in hydrogen technology and makes conclusions that are perhaps not fully informed.