New battery breakthrough could power Chevrolet Volt

A123Systems of Watertown, Mass. says it has created a powerful, safe, long-lived hybrid vehicle battery.  The battery could be used in the Chevrolet Volt, the General Motors concept electric car.

The Volt was officially unveiled in Detroit in January with much fanfare.  It was billed as a concept car partly due to the fact that the Volt’s battery hadn’t been created yet.  A123Systems says its hybrid vehicle batteries deliver faster acceleration than any other batteries of the same size, and the chemical stability of the cathode material greatly improves safety as well as extending battery life.

GM is now considering awarding A123Systems a contract for the Volt concept car, to take advantage of the company’s remarkable new rechargeable lithium batteries.

The company’s founders and senior officers mix business acumen with a kind of millennial fervor: they sincerely believe that their rechargeable lithium batteries could reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

These plug-in hybrids “will cut gasoline demand over 70 percent for most drivers, and carbon emissions by 50 percent, which will have a significant effect on the environment.”

More info:  New York Times article

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2 Responses to “New battery breakthrough could power Chevrolet Volt”

  1. Matt Metcalf Says:

    I think it’s highly misleading to suggest that carbon emissions will be cut by 50 percent by implementing plug-in electric vehicles, though I suppose that depends on what area you live in. Here in Indiana, if I get electricity from the grid, that means a power plant is burning coal. Just because I’m using less gasoline does not mean that I’m reducing carbon emissions. Depending on the plant and the type of coal, I may actually be increasing carbon emissions.

  2. Michael LeBauer Says:

    Hello Matt:
    You’re correct that an electric vehicle is not truly a “zero emissions” vehicle, since the source power is generated in most cases from fossil fuels, especially coal.

    However, you’re not correct in suggesting that you could increase carbon emissions with an electric vehicle like th Volt concept, because:

    1. “Plant to pavement” efficiency is about 80% for an electric vehicle, meaning that the large scale electrical generating plants, grid transmission, and battery storage on the EV only loses about 20% of the original fuel BTUs available. By contrast, an internal combustion engine is highly wasteful, with “well to wheel” efficiency of only about 18% for gasoline, meaning that the original BTUs available from crude oil, refined into gasoline, delivered to your service station, and burned in your gasoline car loses 82% of the energy available. Diesels are somewhat better at about 26%, but still nothing like electricity. All that lost efficiency results in far greater carbon emissions, even if coal is the source of electric power.

    2. Electricity use is much higher during daytime than at night. However, utilities must size their capacity to cover peak loads. They do that by building base power plants plus smaller plants that operate less efficiently and more expensively on a per MWh basis. Still, the base power plants are underutilized at night. It would be most efficient to level the load, which would mean more electricity consumption at night. Since most vehicle miles are for normal daily commutes, plug-in hybrids would be plugged in at night, helping to achieve a more balanced electrical load for the utilities, and improving their efficiency.

    3. Electricity costs only about $0.25 / gallon equivalent of gasoline. With gas now heading toward $4 / gal, as soon as people figure out how much they can save on daily driving costs, which GM is sure to market heavily, many will overcome skepticism toward the new technology of a plug-in hybrid and give it a try. Mainstreaming such a product to people (most drivers, unfortunately) who don’t give a hoot about global warming but want to save money on their driving is the fastest way to achieve real environmental aims. The Prius doesn’t really save people money, it is mostly a status symbol for niche environmentalists. As such, parallel hybrid technology that is not pluggable will never go mainstream.

    With those factors in mind, I say GO GM GO! I’m getting a Volt as soon as it’s available.

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