THE FUTURE IS NOW DEPARTMENT:  generic, Tesla and the Chevy VOLT...and the Coda (battery made in Connecticut)!
There is a use for fuel cells for several purposes, one of which is the Honda concept car above, left! 
The Honda FCX Clarity, powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, will be leased to retail customers next year (2008).
Someone say Tesla on the ropes?  Nope!

F U E L   C E L L S

REPRIEV-ED - WAIT - new owner of former UTC fuel cell business;  earlier bad fuel cell news 2014;  an unfortunate down note.  In Connecticut, State Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Policy and Demonstration Database:
And what about the lightbulb?  Thomas Edison's design is the best!
Cars in general v. mass transit

BUT WAIT...not yet law (120 page bill), here is sort of an encouraging story in June 2011 in CT!

IT IS NOW 2014...Rising from the dead, as it were, the HYDROGEN  CAR:

Story in full:

Former UTC fuel cell operation purchased by South Korean Co.

VIDEO | Tolland Company Provides “Free Juice” to Electric Vehicles
by Lon Seidman | Aug 18, 2013 2:07pm

When Tolland-based Juice Bar began readying their electric vehicle charging stations for the marketplace in 2010, there was not a single mass-produced plug-in electric vehicle yet on the market and only several hundred on the road.

But what a difference three years can make. Electric vehicle sales just recently crossed the 100,000 mark since mass produced plug-in cars appeared on the market in late 2010. And many parking lots and other facilities are looking for a way to woo electric car owners - many of whom have high incomes and favor parking at locations where they can plug in and top off their cars.

Juice Bar began as a spinoff of ProPark, a Hartford-based parking management company that has locations in 12 states plus the District of Columbia. The company found that after working on a green parking facility for the Denver International Airport, existing vehicle charging stations did not help promote a green facility’s brand. The chargers on the market were not very attractive and often hard to find within a parking garage.

Juice Bar managing partner David Schmid said they needed a “green garage oasis” and that meant developing an attractive product that was more than just an electrical appliance.

Watch the interview:

With that idea in mind, the company approached BMW Designworks, an industrial design consultancy owned by the automaker of the same name. Each of the large units comes with the ability to charge four vehicles simultaneously and has an attractive design with back-lit signage that just happens to be the same color as electricity.

Schmid said the company also sought the help of CTNext - a network of entrepreneurs who provide consultation and other support services to growing companies. Schmid said the CTNext involvement was helpful in narrowing their focus during product development.

“We maybe had too many ideas for the marketplace,” Schmid said, “They helped us lens in and focus in on the 3 or 4 or 5 areas that we needed to really understand.”

Juice Bars are typically installed at the entrances of facilities to catch attention, and have additional lighting and interior design enhancements. A Juice Bar location at the New Haven Omni Hotel has bright white race deck flooring and LED accent lighting to enhance its appeal.

Schmid is finding that once installed, electric vehicle owners tend to show up in droves. When the company finished its first installation at their 777 Main Street facility in Hartford, five vehicles showed up within days to charge. They are now adding additional charging infrastructure as demand grows.

“We like to call our juice bars hummingbird feeders,” Schmid said.

Bridgeport sees new era with fuel cell plant
By STEPHEN SINGER, AP Business Writer
Updated 11:14 am, Sunday, December 30, 2012

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A largely unused industrial site in Bridgeport is being prepared for construction of the largest fuel cell power plant in North America, giving a possible boost to the alternative fuel and economic development in Connecticut's largest city.

Connecticut has long boasted of its relationship with fuel cells, at times subsidizing its use, including the Bridgeport project. The alternative fuel makes electricity from chemical reactions involving hydrogen and oxygen, producing only water vapor as a product.

Until recently, Connecticut was home to two large fuel cell manufacturers. FuelCell Energy Inc. in Danbury will build, operate and maintain the Bridgeport plant under contract to Dominion Resources Inc.

UTC Power was the state's other large manufacturer, but parent company United Technologies Corp, looking to focus on aerospace businesses, sold its fuel cell subsidiary to an Oregon company.

The Bridgeport plant will produce 14.9 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 15,000 homes, using a process that converts natural gas into electricity. Power will be sold to Connecticut Light & Power, the state's largest utility, in a 15-year contract.

The project, valued at $70 million to $80 million, will be completed by late next year or early 2014.

"When compared with some other renewable or clean energy that's intermittent — wind or solar — you have clean energy that is reliable as a base load that also is cost-competitive," said James Eck, vice president of business development for the Richmond, Va.,-based Dominion.

The plant is part of a state program to increase renewable and clean energy projects. FuelCell Energy is receiving $5 million in loans to be repaid to the state Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority and a $1.5 million grant.

Fuel cells may eventually be more cost-effective and operate without subsidies, said analyst Andy Pusateri of Edward Jones.

"Right now it's more symbolic," he said. "I don't think it's cost-effective right now to run on a large scale." David Kooris

The project is the largest to be signed in the administration of Mayor Bill Finch, who was elected in 2007, said David Kooris, director of Bridgeport's office of planning and economic development.

The plant, which will be visible from busy Interstate 95, will give Bridgeport the chance to show itself off to millions of commuters as a fuel cell center even if the source of pride is no architectural gem. It will resemble an electric utility substation in a landscaped area ringed by trees, Kooris said.

"This will convey to people not only what we're trying to achieve, but what we are achieving," he said.

CL&P agreed to buy power from the plant for 15 years at $89 a megawatt hour, Eck said. The price was competitively bid, said Al Lara, a spokesman for CL&P parent company Northeast Utilities.

The price for power is higher than for conventional fossil fuel sources, said Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Policy. The cost difference will be paid by utility ratepayers, he said.

The benefits are a new and reliable in-state supply of energy and job creation in the fuel cell industry, he said.

The fuel cell plant is a good project for Dominion, but shareholders will not likely see it as a big deal, Pusateri said.

"I don't think it can hurt the company," he said. "It looks good; they're working toward sustainability. From shareholders' perspective, it won't make a big difference," he said.

The plant represents a small share of what Dominion does. Its 15 megawatts is a fraction of the 30,000 megawatts Dominion plants generate, Pusateri said. And the investment of up to $80 million compares with $4.5 billion in capital spending a year, he said.

Shares of FuelCell Energy jumped 7.5 percent, to 94 cents, on the news of FuelCell's sale to Dominion on Dec. 14.

FuelCell Energy did not return a call seeking comment.

Eck said the attraction for Dominion of the Bridgeport plant is that it expands the company's fuel diversity. And it gives the company experience with fuel cells, he said.

"Fuel cell technology is poised for growth in the U.S.," Eck said.

Eastwood Sparks Fire As Hired Gun For Chrysler In Super Bowl Ad
Hartford Courant
9:03 AM EST, February 7, 2012

Before he emerged in a controversial Super Bowl ad as the gravelly voice of Chrysler's resurgence, Clint Eastwood was a critic of the government bailout that saved the U.S. automaker.

"We shouldn't be bailing out the banks and car companies," actor, director and Academy Award winner Eastwood told the Los Angeles Times in November 2011. "If a CEO can't figure out how to make his company profitable, then he shouldn't be the CEO."

The two-minute Chrysler ad "Halftime in America" won attention for its focus on American resilience, but raised eyebrows for the way critics said it echoed one of the central themes of President Barack Obama's reelection bid.

Eastwood, a longtime Republican who now describes himself as a libertarian, told Fox News on Monday he was "certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama."

The ad was meant as a message "about job growth and the spirit of America. I think all politicians will agree with it," Eastwood said, according to a transcript on

"If Obama or any other politician wants to run with the spirit of that ad, go for it," the actor added.

The White House, which said it was not involved in making the ad, did say that the message highlighted the "simple fact" that Obama had rescued the U.S. auto industry.

"He was not willing to allow - did not believe it was necessary to allow - the American automobile industry to collapse and disappear," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

Eastwood's manager Leonard Hirshan said the actor has not changed his views on the auto bailout.

"He did a commercial that had nothing to do with politics," Hirshan said. "What he did was talk about America. If anything, this was a pro American commercial not a Chrysler commercial. Chrysler just sponsored what he had to say."

Chrysler has not said how much the Super Bowl ad cost or how much Eastwood was paid. A 30-second spot in this year's game televised by NBC cost $3.5 million.

In the ad, which aired during Sunday's Super Bowl football game, Eastwood, 81, gave what amounted to a pep talk to an America still mired in hard times. The ad pointed to Detroit's resurgence since the taxpayer-funded bankruptcy restructuring of both Chrysler Group LLC and General Motors Co in 2009.

"Detroit's showing us it can be done," Eastwood said. "And, what's true about them is true about all of us."

In an interview with Detroit radio station WJR, Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne emphasized the TV spot was not meant to be seen as a political statement. Rather, the ad was intended to showcase "the resilience of America."

"It has zero political content," Marchionne said Monday. "We are as apolitical as you can make us."

But veteran Republican strategist Karl Rove said he was "offended" by the ad, which comes about 10 months before the November presidential election.

"It is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics and the president of the United States and his political minions are in essence using tax dollars to buy corporate advertising," Rove said on Fox News.

The bailout was initiated by President George W Bush in the waning days of his administration and continued under President Obama. Since then, both GM and Chrysler have begun to mend. Chrysler, now majority-owned by Italian automaker Fiat SpA , forecast its annual operating profit would rise 50 percent to $3 billion in 2012.

It was the second straight year Chrysler ran a two-minute spot during the most-expensive advertising slot in American television. Last year's spot featured Detroit-raised rapper Eminem and launched the slogan "Imported from Detroit."

This year's advertisement was filmed over two weeks in January with scenes shot in New Orleans and California. Footage from Detroit was used from Chrysler's "Born of Fire" ad from 2011's Super Bowl. It was directed by David Gordon Green, who also directed the 2008 stoner comedy Pineapple Express.

Traffic on Twitter showed overwhelmingly positive comments for the advertisement, which was the last one shown before the start of the second half of Sunday's game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.

But the ad "fell flat" with consumers, said, citing an analysis of traffic on its website. Chrysler page views increased 13 percent in the hour after the ad was aired. But Hyundai Motor Co's page views rose 134 percent and Honda Motor Co's Acura page views jumped 110 percent. Interest in Fiat shot up more than 2,000 percent after the Fiat 500 Abarth ad aired.

"The ad tried to capture the same mood that made last year's commercial so effective, but America's state of mind right now is different from where it was last year," Vice Chairman Jeremy Anwyl said. "Using the same formula, Chrysler didn't elicit the same emotional response."

Microgrids offer potential for greater energy reliability
Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT MIRROR
January 30, 2012

Easy to miss in the flurry around the Two Storms Panel report earlier this month was an idea called microgrids.

A jargony techno-term, a microgrid is a small electric grid with its own generation source. It normally operates linked to the main electric grid, but when that suffers widespread interruptions, as Connecticut's did during Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm, a microgrid can automatically isolate itself and keep running.

"All the pieces have been tried that we need to put together," said Dan Esty, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. "Just not at the scale we're talking about." The department has been ordered by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to explore how the state would create microgrids to be better prepared in an emergency.

The scale the administration wants is to keep obvious critical facilities -- hospitals, police and fire stations, water and waste water systems and prisons -- running. But it also wants microgrids to address other problems that were acutely apparent in both storms. Folks without power often had nowhere to go to replace rotten food, buy water, fill their cars with gas or get additional medication because commercial areas also went dark. And businesses, especially manufacturers, who were forced to shut lost thousands of dollars.

Pilot project plans are at their earliest stages, but Esty said the state already has identified about 300 sites -- 120 critical facilities and about 180 town centers and commercial hubs. He expects to have several projects in place in 2013, if not earlier.

"I have already had a half a dozen mayors call and say that they'd like to be microgrid guinea pigs," Esty said.

Bristol Mayor Arthur Ward, whose city of 61,000 got "slammed," in Ward's words, in both storms was among them. "I'd love to," he said. "Absolutely. I think it's something that everybody should take a clear look at."

Aside from keeping the juice flowing during the next Irene, there are multiple layers of benefits state officials think microgrids can achieve, though there are also multiple challenges.

On the benefits side, the way Esty and many others envision it, a microgrid could finally make that link officials have long sought between cleaner, more sustainable energy and Connecticut's key stationary fuel cell builders -- Fuel Cell Energy in Danbury and UTC Power in South Windsor. Fuel cells are considered low emission, typically using non-renewable natural gas to create the hydrogen needed to produce power.

While there are many fuel cells scattered around the state powering schools, manufacturing and commercial facilities and government buildings, more than 90 percent of both companies' business is not just out of state, but out of the country, often in huge grid generation fuel cell plants in places like South Korea.

Esty and the experts he is drawing on from the University of Connecticut School of Engineering and the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology think fuel cells and/or natural gas turbines would be ideal for microgrids in the state. They are reliable -- unlike solar that only operates during the day. And their relatively small physical footprints are suited to a crowded state like Connecticut.

Both generation options offer the economic bonuses of design and construction jobs. Fuel cells also mean massive production ramp-ups that would result in more tax revenue as business grows.

Many questions to resolve

But there are many unknowns, starting with the question, who pays?

Bonding is one way, though not the top choice among Malloy administration budget hawks. Municipalities might have to kick in some money. There is an energy improvement district option in which those who benefit from the facility in effect tax themselves to pay for it. And there are private investment models. All of the above is possible in various configurations, along with federal tax credits and grants from other sources.

There are governance issues -- who runs the microgrids and how do they dovetail financially with the main grid?

"The main issue is that there is no policy," said Peter Asmus, a microgrid expert and senior analyst at Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research. "There are no microgrid laws; no regulations anywhere in the U.S. governing microgrids."

Pike estimates there are 270 microgrids worldwide. In the U.S. Asmus points to University of California at San Diego -- a microgrid that can generate 42 megawatts with a mixture of natural gas turbines, solar, a 2.8 megawatt fuel cell manufactured by Fuel Cell Energy and other sources. (Rule of thumb is that one megawatt powers 1,000 average homes.)

There are a few templates around Connecticut that may provide clues as to how microgrids could work. Yale University in essence has two microgrids, two duel-fuel (natural gas or oil) cogeneration facilities (meaning they make electricity and steam for heat and hot water). One handles the central campus; the other, the medical school.

"We might need to do load-shedding to meet the convenience needs of campus, but we certainly can meet emergency needs," said John Bollier, associate vice president for facilities. "In an emergency we are far, far better off."

Late last year Central Connecticut State University in New Britain added a 1.4 megawatt fuel cell from Fuel Cell Energy to its existing 2.5 megawatt cogeneration plant, a couple of months too late, however, for the snowstorm. "If we had the fuel cell, it would have pretty much operated the whole campus," said plant facilities engineer Rob Gagne.

Perhaps more instructive, however, is how CCSU funded the fuel cell. A roughly $9 million project, it is owned by Greenwood Energy, which financed what is officially known as New Britain Renewable Energy LLC mainly with equity capital, some funding from the Connecticut Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority, plus about a 30 percent federal tax credit. Greenwood has a 10-year contract to sell power to CCSU.

Project stalled in Stamford

Those are the sorts of financial models the state is banking on, literally, to gird the microgrid concept. On the municipal level, however, they've had a rocky start.

As mayor of Stamford, Gov. Malloy instituted an energy improvement district with the intention of developing a microgrid to service the Government Center initially. Washington, D.C.-based microgrid developer Pareto Energy was hired to own the generation facilities and sell the power to Stamford, but the change in city administration has left that project slowed, if not stalled.

Neither did another potential Pareto project in Ansonia come to fruition, though Shalom Flank, Pareto's chief technology officer and microgrid architect, said since the storms, a number of Connecticut municipalities have contacted Pareto.

"What's really missing is the high-profile demonstration project which we thought Stamford was going to be," Flank said.

Fuel Cell Energy President and CEO Arthur "Chip" Bottone said that during a recent visit from Esty, he told the commissioner the timing was right to attract private capital for microgrid projects.

"Technically and practically it's not challenging as long as you pick the right projects to do," he said. "That's the secret sauce here."

But there are hurdles -- namely the availability of adequate natural gas mains, not always a given in a state that is highly oil-dependent.

"Careful planning will be needed," said Mike Glynn, marketing and communications director of UTC Power, which is working on a project to power part of UConn. "This will be leapfrogging us into being one of the most green states in country."

In concept, microgrids are easy to suggest, said Joel Rinebold, director of energy initiatives at the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology. "In reality it's certainly challenging because you have to both balance generation with a load that wasn't intended to be served by that particular generation," he said. "But the challenges are not large enough to use as an excuse not to investigate this."

He and others also noted the high cost for fuel cells in particular and expressed hope that increased purchases for microgrid projects would help push those prices lower.

Esty, for his part, admitted there would be a price difference, but said to think of it as an insurance premium -- what you're paying to not go down when there's a crisis.

"Then the economics look better," he said. "And it's not a very big premium you have to factor in to begin to see the microgrid option as cost-effective."

Energy Official: 'Micro-Grids' Could Power Crucial Services During Blackouts
The Hartford Courant
5:16 PM EST, December 7, 2011

HARTFORD — Although burying all utility lines and protecting the entire electrical grid from severe weather is far too costly, building "micro-grids" to provide power to critical services such as sewage treatment plants and public safety hubs in emergencies makes sense, said the commissioner of the state's energy department.

Daniel C. Esty, who oversees the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, outlined his vision of such micro-grids — small-scale power sources independent of the main electricity distribution system — during lengthy testimony Wednesday before the governor's Two Storm Panel. The panel is examining the response to Tropical Storm Irene and the devastating October nor'easter, both of which resulted in prolonged and widespread power failures.

The micro-grids would be powered by fuel cells or natural-gas-fired turbines, the commissioner said. They would provide an uninterrupted source of locally generated electricity to hospitals, warming stations, prisons, wastewater treatment facilities, and town centers...full story here.

Weston school board OKs fuel cell installation
Weston FORUM
Written by Kimberly Donnelly
Thursday, 30 June 2011 00:00

A Weston fuel cell project that appeared to have fizzled has been jolted back to life thanks to the state’s recently passed energy bill.

Now that the state will allow “virtual net metering” of electricity, Westonite Don Gary, who has championed a plan for nearly two years to install a 400-kW fuel cell on the school campus, told the school board last week that the project once again makes economic sense.

Net metering allows the town to treat the electricity usage at the middle school and the high school as if they are “behind one meter,” even though they are not physically connected to the same meter, Mr. Gary explained. That means any energy produced by a fuel cell will be able to be applied to electricity usage at both schools, not just one.

 After much discussion — mainly focused on aesthetics, who is responsible for overseeing the building project, and what, exactly the school would be responsible for after it is built — the school board, with a few contingencies, voted unanimously to allow a fuel cell to be installed on school property.

The project is part of a deal worked out with UTC, which has received a $1-million grant from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund to build, install, and maintain the fuel cell, an electrochemical device that combines hydrogen fuel with oxygen from the air to produce electricity, heat and hot water.

Mr. Gary explained the risks associated with a fuel cell are “non existent.” The hydrogen is immediately converted into heat; there are no flammable materials stored at the fuel cell site, he said.

It is estimated the fuel cell would provide 95% of the electricity needed for both Weston High School and Weston Middle School, all of the heat for the pool at the middle school, a significant amount of the heat and hot water for the middle school, and all of the air conditioning for the middle school.

All of the costs for building the fuel cell are being absorbed by UTC, which is also entirely responsible for monitoring and maintenance costs for 15 years. UTC will get the tax credits associated with building the fuel cell, but the schools will get the renewable energy credits (RECs), which they can trade and sell. “I think that’s going to be a significant upside,” Mr. Gary said.

Mr. Gary said once the governor signs the energy bill that allows net metering — something Gov. Dannel Malloy said he definitely plans to do — the project is essentially ready to go. The grant from CCEF has been earmarked for it and all the paperwork has been submitted.

The project requires approvals from the school board — which it gave last week — the Board of Selectmen, a P&Z 8-24 referral, finance board approval, and then it must go to a Town Meeting for final approval.

UTC will build the 30-foot by eight-foot by eight-foot fuel cell behind the middle school. The town will lease it from UTC for 15 years. After that, the town will have the option to renew the lease, buy the fuel cell, or have UTC remove it at UTC’s expense.

“It’s a deal I think is very worth going into. It’s going to provide a fixed cost on electricity for the next 15 years,” Mr. Gary said.

The school board deliberated not so much on the fuel cell itself — they all seemed in agreement on the value of the concept — but rather on some of the contractual details.

Board member Denise Harvey said she was uneasy about approving the installation without knowing the terms and conditions of the final lease agreement.

Lewis Brey, the schools director of human resources, explained the board was being asked at this time only to give its permission to put something on school grounds. Negotiating and executing the contract would be up to the town.

Interim Superintendent John Reed added that Jo-Ann Keating, director of finance for the schools, and Dan Clarke, facilities director, have both been very involved with and fully vetted contract negotiations to date.

Ms. Harvey was still not comfortable with approving the siting of the fuel cell without knowing the terms of the installation contract, mainly because of a concern that the school board might end up with responsibilities relating to the fuel cell.

Ultimately, a contingency was added to the board’s motion to approve the installation of the cell that states “any terms and conditions for the project that relate to any potential role by the Weston Board of Education” must be satisfactory to the board. The school board’s approval is also contingent upon the governor signing the law allowiong net metering, and UTC receiving the $1 million grant for the project.

Board member Dana Levin expressed her concern about what, exactly, the unit is going to look like. Mr. Gary did not have any drawings or photos, but eventually found one on his laptop.

The unit will look similar to a rectangular storage container, and it will be surrounded by chain link fencing.

Ellen Uzenoff, school board vice chairman, said the schools would be involved with any decisions relating to the exterior appearance.

Phil Schaefer, school board chairman, asked about noise. Mr. Gary said it is minimal, “less than a home air conditioning unit.”

The Board of Selectmen will likely discuss the fuel cell installation at its next meeting on Thursday, July 7.

Electric car backers focus on conquering 'range anxiety'
Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT MIRROR
April 25, 2011

Frank Calder remembers the 38-mile drive from Karl Chevrolet in New Canaan to his home in Oxford just before Christmas last year in his new electric car - a Chevrolet Volt, the first one sold in Connecticut.

"Coming home on the Merritt Parkway, it was bumper-to-bumper," Calder said. It was also cold and he knew both factors would diminish the car's driving range. "By time I got to Shelton, the battery ran out."

The car automatically switched to the backup gasoline engine, and he drove the final nine miles home that way.  The incident, though painless, is a reminder of why electric cars, as environmentally and energy friendly as they might be, can be a difficult sell. The industry even has a name for it: range anxiety.  That in a nutshell is why the General Assembly is considering a bill this session that would develop a roadmap for an electric vehicle infrastructure in the state.

"The whole notion here is to take away the fear, take away the anxiety of whether can get from here to there and back again," said Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, co-chair of the Energy and Technology committee and a supporter of the legislation. "You need to know you can go somewhere and get a quick charge."

The idea is that an infrastructure-a cohesive array of charging locations--would help the sales of electric vehicles, or EVs, and add jobs and revenue in related industries, all the while promoting better air quality and a more efficient use of electricity.

But this is new territory. A half-dozen mainly western states and District of Columbia participating in a $230 million federal Department of Energy backed EV infrastructure program are only about a year into the project. Last week the DOE unveiled a $5 million EV infrastructure program through its Clean Cities Initiative that will provide states with funding for public charging systems and partner with Google Maps to keep track of them.

There's no real blueprint for how to do this, and a few thorny issues regularly come up, mainly of the chicken-and-egg variety: How much infrastructure do you build to cure range anxiety so people will buy the cars, without going overboard on a system that still has few users.

"We can't wait too long or we'll shortchange the grassroots demand," said Leo Karl III, the third generation owner of the dealership that bears the family name.

Volts began trickling into the state in November. Karl has delivered 10 and has about six months worth of orders. Nissan LEAFS, with larger-range batteries, but no backup engine, are still nearly a year away from delivery here.

"I can tell you without equivocation that we will not miss this window here in Connecticut," said Fonfara, who has scheduled a forum on EVs and infrastructure for Tuesday to solicit recommendations for the legislation. The existing bill is broadly based on last year's final report of the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Council created by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

The bill calls for the Office of Policy and Management to develop and implement a plan that would include deployment of high-speed chargers, often referred to as level 3 chargers. It also establishes a funding mechanism and recommends waiving sales tax on EVs.

Rep. Sean Williams, R-Oakville, a member of the energy committee, was the lone vote against the bill - but not because he objected to the idea. "I don't want to put cart before the horse," he said.

An essential first step, he believes, is development of a time-of-use metering system that charges people lower rates for electricity in off-peak hours - mainly overnight when most people would be charging EVs. He also prefers a tax credit incentive for EV purchase. EVs presently get up to a $7,500 Federal tax credit, but nothing from the state.

The type of chargers is also is a point of disagreement. Fonfara believes that level 3 chargers, also known as DC fast chargers, which can charge a car in as little as 20 minutes, are crucial. Others argue not only are they expensive -- around $50,000--but they also run on 440 volts DC, which requires special wiring and use a lot of electricity.

Level 1 chargers use a standard wall plug, but take eight hours or more.

Level 2 chargers, which take four to six hours and run on 220 volts, are emerging as the industry standard. Prices run from under $500 to nearly $4,000, depending on sophistication, though many are being provided free as part of EV ramp-up programs. They're considered ideal for locations where people can leave cars for a while: shopping areas, train stations and commuter lots, office buildings, casinos, as well as homes.

Control Module Industries, a fleet management company in Enfield, is among dozens of companies that have jumped into the charger game in the last two years. CMI is trying to reduce the need for expensive re-wiring in homes and has developed one device that shares power with an existing dryer, stove or water heater. When the appliance is on, the charger turns off.

Charger manufacturing now takes up 44,000 square feet at CMI with plans for up to 30,000 more in the next year. Employment is up to 80 from 50, and stands to rise again.

GE's level 2 WattStation was developed in Plainville, though is manufactured in North Carolina and will be available later this year.

EV infrastructure efforts are taking shape around the state even without legislation in place. Utility companies are gathering data to determine their roles. The interstate service plaza reconstruction project underway includes conduit for chargers.

Level 2 charging stations have popped up in New Haven, Norwalk and elsewhere. Westport is securing funding from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund for a $330,000 solar charging system at the train station to charge 20 EVs during the day.

"The only reason that this makes sense during the day is it's an alternative electric source," said Stephen Smith, who runs the town's building department. He came up with the idea and believes EV charging should stay true to it's energy efficiency roots. The town also plans to install one downtown charging station, free for its first year.

For his part, Frank Calder said he'd like to see a charging station somewhere, like a grocery store or Costco. "I can make it down OK, but I won't have enough juice to get back," he said.

But sticking close to home to run errands for the last few months hasn't exactly left him complaining. "I've only bought 2 gallons of gasoline," he said. "So I'm averaging 250 miles per gallon."

My next car.

GE opens solar-powered car charging port in Connecticut

New London DAY
Associated Press
Article published May 26, 2011

PLAINVILLE, Conn. (AP) — General Electric Co. has built a new solar-powered carport for charging electric vehicles in the parking lot of its facility in Plainville.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy planned to help open the charging stations on Thursday morning.

The 216-by-40-foot, carport includes four hook-ups for plugging in electric cars, and all the power will come from an array of solar panels.

Workers at the G.E. Consumer and Industrial plant research and make electric equipment and supplies.

The company hopes to eventually build similar carports across the country.

Norwalk first in Fairfield County to have electric car charging stations
David Hennessey,
Published: 11:09 a.m., Tuesday, February 1, 2011

City of Norwalk officials hope that "if they build it, they will come."

In this case, the "they" would be an influx of electric cars.

The Norwalk Parking Authority (NPA) and Car Charging Group, Inc., provider of electric vehicle charging services, celebrated the unveiling of the first municipal electric vehicle charging station in Fairfield County at the South Norwalk Train Station Monday afternoon.

A Chevy Volt was on hand for a demonstration.

Car Charging Group has presided over the installation of six electric vehicle charging stations in the city -- two at the SoNo station, two at the Maritime Garage and two at the Yankee Doodle Garage.

"We are proud that we have got this done quickly in advance of the rollout of the electric vehicles," said Kathryn Hebert, NPA executive director.

Hebert said seven months ago Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia approached her about investigating the installation of EV chargers preceding the 2011 release of vehicles like the Volt and the Nissan Leaf.

"[People] needed a place to actually charge them," she said.

Car Charging Group is installing the Coulomb Technologies-manufactured Level II ChargePoint Networked Charging Stations at no cost to the city. The dual output stations can deliver a 7.2 kW charge via fixed 18-foot cable and a secondary, 2 kW charge. Both outputs can deliver energy simultaneously.

"We're all in this together, as far as conserving energy," Moccia said. "We are at the forefront, installing six in total. This installation is a part of keeping Norwalk on the move and moving toward a greener city. We hope it's a classic case of `If you build it, they will come.'"

Other recent green initiatives by the NPA include the installation of solar powered pay stations, environmentally friendly lighting at all Norwalk Parking Authority garages and the use of a T3 scooter for security at the South Norwalk railroad station, which costs only 10 cents per day with little or no maintenance compared to using a gas truck.

Moccia thanked Car Charging Group for its efforts, and added that he hopes one in five vehicles on the road in 10 years will be electric cars.

According to Car Charging Group CEO Michael Farkas Connecticut was chosen as one of the seven markets where Chevy is launching its electric vehicle, the Volt. In addition, Nissan announced more than 20,000 nationwide reservations for the Leaf and Ford just announced an all-electric Focus to be released later this year. Car Charging Group provides EV charging stations at no charge to property owners/managers while retaining ownership, thus allowing drivers access to convenient locations and partners to realize a percentage of the charging revenue generated.

Farkas said the company's mission is to build a nationwide infrastructure of EV charging stations so travelers won't have to suffer from anxiety about whether their electric vehicles will be supplied for long trips.

"The way that Americans drive is about to undergo a radical evolution," he said. "All of these [electric] cars have one thing in common: They need to be recharged."

Farkas cited estimates that peg 40 million electric vehicles on the road by the year 2030.

And, he added, "The car charging stations will also serve as a draw for businesses."

EV drivers will have the ability to locate and navigate to the nearest station using a smart phone or Google maps. The ChargePoint Network also facilitates trip mapping, driver billing, 24/7 driver assistance, and greenhouse gas and energy savings measurements.

"The core of our mission is to meet the parking needs of businesses, residents and visitors," said NPA Chairman John Federici in a release.

"With the arrival of these EV charging stations, the NPA is preparing to meet their evolving needs, while requiring no capital outlay from the NPA or City of Norwalk."

Gas-Free Cars Cruising Toward Connecticut Roads
Manufacturers Say Plug-In Electric Vehicles Will Arrive In 2011, 2012

4:57 PM EDT, October 3, 2010


Plug-in electric vehicles are coming to Connecticut soon, and despite a lot of questions about what shape the electric future might hold, the state is preparing for a warm welcome.

In recent announcements, Chevrolet promised that its highly anticipated, electric-powered Volt will be here in early 2011.  Nissan and BMW said their versions won't be far behind. Ford, Mitsubishi, Toyota and others are expected to introduce models in 2012.  Environmentalists across the country envision plug-in electric vehicles, or EVs, as a key phase in a technological revolution that will eventually end the era of the gasoline engine.

President Barack Obama has declared that to begin reducing dependence on petroleum and cutting carbon emissions, the nation needs to replace a million regular cars with plug-in hybrids in the next five years.

But even in Connecticut, a state that has tried to place itself near the front edge of the green energy wave, any revolution looks to be at least a generation away.  There are a few thousand gas-electric hybrids on state roads, and fewer than 50 plug-in cars. They represent about one-tenth of a percent of the 3 million gas- or diesel-fueled vehicles here.

"The nation is in love with the automobile — we're hopeful that passion will start to extend to EVs," Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a major proponent, said last week at an event promoting the introduction of Nissan's all-electric LEAF.

Rell's office earlier this year considered setting a goal that by 2020, Connecticut would be home to 50,000 EVs. Even if that goal were met, it would represent less than 2 percent of all vehicles in the state. A study panel this summer concluded that 25,000 EVs is a more realistic target.

"There are going to be early adopters, people who will buy these right away," said Watson Collins, clean air transportation manager at Northeast Utilities. "They could be people who care about carbon emissions, or people who are interested in the most advanced technology."

Just a couple of decades ago, the public widely dismissed the notion of electric cars as impossibly futuristic. Late-night comedians joked that mileage might be great, but the extension cords would have to be 100 miles long.  And until now, that restriction hasn't been far off the mark: Hybrids like the Toyota Prius can't get far on battery power alone, and run mostly on gas. All-electric plug-in cars, meanwhile, have been designer or collector models, usually with short ranges, limited practicality, little pep and no chance of mass production.

But Nissan's soon-to-be-released LEAF is an all-electric sedan that the company promotes as a head-to-head competitor against gas-fueled rivals. Nissan says the LEAF can go up to 100 miles without recharging and can hit 90 mph, making it a realistic option for many commuters, even those frequently using highways.

Chevy says the Volt, a plug-in hybrid, can run 40 miles on electric power alone, but includes a gas engine that can recharge the batteries for a range of hundreds of miles.

The EV category covers two types of cars: All-electric vehicles that have no internal combustion engine, and plug-in hybrids that carry a gas engine as a backup. Familiar hybrids like the Toyota Prius are not included, because they primarily use a gas engine with battery power as a secondary source. Plug-ins produce substantially less pollution, and Toyota recently began testing a plug-in version of its popular Prius.

Connecticut has had a panel of experts trying to remove the obstacles to broad-market adoption of such cars.

The biggest challenge — the need for recharging — can be accomplished with a network of strategically placed public charging stations to supplement the main charging system in each owner's garage or home, NU's Collins said.

Connecticut Light & Power is working with Connecticut public utility officials on such questions as how to ensure that home-based chargers comply with building and fire codes, how to train and license electricians to do the installations, and where to install public charging stations. The public stations will cost about $7,500 apiece, and CL&P is deploying a small number of them to test.  Developing an electric-car infrastructure is part of a campaign to entice carmakers to choose Connecticut as one of their early-rollout states for the new EVs.

Chevrolet selected the state as one of a half-dozen states where buyers can get the Volt this winter. Dealers in other states probably won't see them until the second half of 2011.  BMW next summer is using Connecticut along with New York, California and Massachusetts as early markets for leasing its ActiveE prototypes. Mass-production models are to go on sale in 2013.  Even for states committed to the EV business, there will be years of refinements and trial-and-error in setting up a system that accommodates gas-free vehicles easily and reliably.

Connecticut planners, for instance, still have to determine how to recoup the costs of electricity dispensed at the public charging stations.

Installing credit card-style billing systems would be expensive and perhaps unprofitable, Collins said. At current rates, fully recharging an EV battery would cost about $1.20, so communities might be better off not even billing, Collins said. An alternative might be old-fashioned parking meters at the charging site, since a full charge would take several hours, he said. Another possibility is encouraging malls to provide the stations free as a way to draw customers, he said.

The state, itself, plans to try out at least one EV in the next year or so. The University of Connecticut campus at Storrs is the likely spot for testing an electric car in fleet service, possibly assigning it to the catering division or to a university department head, said Donna Micklus, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administrative Services. The state owns a fleet of about 2,100 passenger cars, including 325 Priuses.

The federal government is offering tax credits of up to $7,500 to EV buyers. The list price is $41,000 for the Volt and $33,000 for the LEAF, and dealer discounts are unlikely in the initial years when supplies are limited.  To promote private purchase of EVs, the state is considering waiving sales taxes, offering parking incentives and allowing EVs to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes at any time.

Those expenses and lost revenue might affect Connecticut's budget, but EV numbers will be so light in the next few years that it's not a concern, according to the governor's budget office.

"This is still nascent technology," said John Mengacci, undersecretary for policy development and planning. "This isn't something that will bring wholesale change soon."

ClearEdge Power Said To Be Seeking Bankruptcy, Sent Workers Home Early
The Hartford Courant
5:01 PM EDT, April 24, 2014

Amid word of broad corporate restructuring, workers at ClearEdge Power in South Windsor were sent home Thursday, uncertain about what the future holds for their company or their jobs.

Briefed by the company Thursday afternoon, Town Manager Matthew B. Gallagan said the fuel cell manufacturer will seek some form of bankruptcy protection.

"They are going to restructure. It's some form of bankruptcy" Gallagan said.

Nancy Flagg, president of the Machinist union local that represents nearly a hundred workers at the plant, said her members were sent home early Thursday, told they would be paid through the week, and were not given any more information.

She said she was not given notice of the action by the company, and had no further comment on the situation.

Steve Gerbsman, a crisis manager for ClearEdge, said the company has no comment on the situation.

Other calls to company spokeswomen by The Courant have not been returned, neither have calls to members of ClearEdge Power's board of directors.

Flagg said her members reported seeing salaried workers packing up their belongings as well.

ClearEdge Power, headquartered in Oregon and founded in 2003, bought the South Windsor facility from United Technologies Corp. in early 2013 as part of its strategy to focus more on aerospace and building systems. Months later, ClearEdge cut about 170 out of 300 employees.

The company sold its first fuel cell unit in 2008, and it has one location in Oregon and two in California.

In January, the State Bond Commission approved $1.4 million in subsidized loans for ClearEdge and a $100,000 grant for training new staff. Almost half of the loan would be forgiven by the state if the company retained 17 jobs and created 80 new jobs.

A spokesman for the state Department of Ecnomic and Community Development, which manages the State Manfuacturing Assistance Program that the aid would be through, was not available for comment.

Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant

Connecticut's fuel cell industry braces for potential change

Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT MIRROR
July 2, 2012

Before the clean energy world knew about fuel cells, United Technologies knew about them. UTC pioneered the modern fuel cell for NASA beginning with the Apollo space program in the 1960s through the end of the shuttle program last year.

But UTC's love affair with fuel cells could be about to end. In the last several weeks UTC's CEO and CFO have made statements indicating that the sale of its storied fuel cell unit, UTC Power, is under consideration to raise capital for its purchase of Goodrich.

While UTC has declined to comment further on the subject, the situation has given rise to more than a parlor game of "will-they-or-won't-they." It magnifies issues related to the U.S. fuel cell industry as a whole. It also poses potentially serious questions for Connecticut, where the largest fuel cell supply chain in the world has grown up anchored by UTC Power based in South Windsor and FuelCell Energy with headquarters in Danbury and manufacturing in Torrington.

"What we've tried to do is not to help a particular company, but to build an industry," said Joel Rinebold, director of energy initiatives at the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology. He said there are nearly 600 companies in Connecticut with ties to the fuel cell industry accounting for more than 2,500 jobs and nearly $500 million in total revenue. "When you build an industry companies will come to you and I believe that's happened."

The question is, will they stay?

Mini power plants

Fuel cells use hydrogen and oxygen to make energy in a noncombustion process that also produces byproducts of water and steam that can be used for hot water and heat. This makes them extremely efficient. While they are considered "clean" energy, they are not "renewable" energy, because in most cases the hydrogen is produced using natural gas.

UTC Power and other companies have developed fuel cells for automotive applications, but Connecticut's fuel cell industry is largely stationary fuel cells: essentially mini power plants that run and heat large industrial facilities, college campuses and other structures.

UTC and Fuel Cell Energy make the largest units in the world, 400 and 300 kilowatts, respectively. Several can be stacked to supply power to the electric grid, a practice that has garnered far more interest outside the U.S., though Connecticut may be close to sanctioning its first such facility.

It's by no means certain that UTC Power will be sold or that if it is, new owners would leave the state or even the country. But the situation is a reminder that without broad nurturing, the U.S. fuel cell industry could suffer the same fate as the solar industry and be snatched up by another nation that better recognizes its potential.

Countries like South Korea have policies that embrace for fuel cells, and it's become a huge market for UTC Power and Fuel Cell Energy, which has partnered with the Korean energy giant POSCO for several years. Just last week, Fuel Cell Energy finalized a joint venture with Fraunhofer IKTS in Germany, one of several European countries that support fuel cell use and development.

While 80 percent of UTC Power's business has been in the United States, the other 20 percent is in Korea. FuelCell Energy said its business has been evenly split in and out of the U.S. But its entire backlog, its largest since the company was founded in 1969, according to Vice President Frank Wolak, is overseas.

"Ideally we'd like to develop federal policy to advance the fuel cell industry as whole as Korea has," he said.

The worry is that as markets develop offshore, it will be more efficient and cheaper to locate fuel cell manufacturing closer to them. And that a player of UTC Power's size -- just over 400 employees, though down from recent years and now smaller than FuelCell Energy, which has more than 500 employees -- would fuel an exodus were it to leave the state.

"I think we've created a pretty good ecosystem here in Connecticut for development of fuel cells," said Trent Molter, a 28-year industry veteran and founder five years ago of fuel cell-related Sustainable Innovations. "But anytime you have a disruption in the ecosystem, there's going to be ripples. What those ripples will be -- hard to say."

A global viewpoint

Kerry-Ann Adamson, a fuel cell expert and analyst for Colorado-based Pike Research, said that for a potential sale of UTC Power to be "sending shock waves around Connecticut is premature."

She said her home base -- Edinburgh, Scotland -- gave her a unique global view of the fuel cell industry. "In the end of the day this is an industry for the entire U.S. to lose," she said, calling concerns about the fuel cell industry within Connecticut's borders "small-thinking."

"Looking at the size of the fuel cell industry," she said, "there is a solid base of fuel cell companies in the U.S. that could be global leaders. And I don't say that lightly."

Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, a longtime fuel cell champion and founder of the House Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Caucus in 2004, was equally worried that despite a visit from U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu to UTC Power last year, inconsistent federal support for the fuel cell industry could let it slip away.

"It IS America's to lose," he said. "I am very concerned about that."

He said he had not talked with UTC about a potential sale but indicated, as did others, that while the fuel cell industry in the U.S. is growing, it may not be at quite the pace companies had hoped.

"I have always admired UTC for carrying fuel cell technology at a loss for a number of years," he said.

"(Former chairman and CEO) George David would often remind me, as would (current CEO and chairman) Louis Chenevert, 'We believe in their science and innovation,' " Larson said.

Connecticut a 'prime' state

At the moment in Connecticut, fuel cells are being eyed as centerpieces for microgrid projects and small-scale applications after getting something of a public relations boost after Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm when schools powered by fuel cells were able to function as shelters. The microgrid effort has brought a flurry of interest from non-Connecticut companies looking to do business here, though not necessarily establishing a manufacturing presence.

California-based Bloom Energy, while declining an interview request, has filed with the secretary of the state in Connecticut to do business here, and other company leaders said Bloom's representatives have been visible at meetings. But Bloom's East Coast facility will be in Delaware.

ClearEdge Power, based in Oregon, began seeking business here at the beginning of the year, looking to position its 100 kilowatt and 5 kilowatt fuel cells for microgrids and as backup generation. A 5 kilowatt fuel cell, which can run a large home or small business, costs about $55,000.

"We see Connecticut as really one of the prime states favorable towards stationary fuel cell technology in our size and range," said Neal Starling, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

Starling said ClearEdge is also discussing microgrid possibilities with several communities, though he declined to name them.

In the meantime, many industry observers worry that a state vs. state fuel cell competition with the top players -- Connecticut, Ohio, New York, South Carolina and Virginia, as well as Vancouver in Canada -- vying for companies instead of working together will also hurt the industry.

"I think what's good, Connecticut typically gets the phone call because of the supply chain." said Robert Friedland, president of Proton OnSite, a Wallingford-based fuel cell-related hydrogen company he founded in 1996.

But he was also among many fuel cell company leaders who said they constantly get calls from other states asking them to move there.

"It's a waste of our time fighting between Connecticut and New Jersey or Connecticut and Massachusetts," he said. "You miss the bigger picture."

High hopes, low support for growing the fuel cell industry
Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT MIRROR
September 20, 2010

In the last decade, fuel cells--those extremely efficient electro-chemical devices that make power from hydrogen and oxygen--have been seen as Connecticut's ticket to the alternative energy ball.

The state remains a hub of the fuel cell industry, but it is a glass half full and half empty.

Half full, it has created jobs and increased business despite an economic downturn that all but killed financing for multi-million-dollar fuel cell projects, even as improved technology has made them cheaper.

Half empty, gains have been small, with projects mainly overseas or in California. Connecticut's own fuel cell plans have languished, undermining a strategy to become home to fuel cell demonstration projects that would spur business.

State funding and incentives are nearly nonexistent and companies headquartered here say if they weren't already in the state, they would have no reason to come and expect other fuel cell manufacturers won't.

"I get calls regularly from a handful of states and a couple of countries: 'What can I do to get you to come here?'" said Mike Brown vice president for government affairs and general counsel at UTC Power in South Windsor, a division of United Technologies. UTC Power has supplied fuel cells to NASA for every manned space flight since 1966 - a relationship that ended in April.

UTC Power has doubled employment in the last five years, has had a steady stream of clients and can boast nearly 300 systems in 19 countries. But Brown and others say Connecticut's hold on the fuel cell industry is tenuous.

"If you're going to have an energy industry in the state, the first thing you better do is figure out what energy means to that state and I don't think we've done that," said Brown, who advocates creation of a cabinet-level energy position in state government. "Connecticut has its head in the sand on lot of this energy stuff."

Nowhere near as imposing as wind turbines or sleek as solar panels, fuel cells sit in industrial-looking boxes or motor vehicle engine compartments. Their only waste products - water and heat - are often put to use as well.

While UTC Power developed the one fuel cell bus in use in Hartford since 2007 -- four more are finally scheduled for delivery to CT Transit in the next six months - the core of Connecticut's fuel cell industry is stationary fuel cells, essentially mini power plants. They can serve specific sites, like the Cabela's in East Hartford and a new state-of-the-art high-rise apartment building in New Haven, or they can be connected to the power grid. Plans to use fuel cells to generate grid power in Connecticut through the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund's Project 150 have stalled, with eight projects still in need of financing.

In Connecticut, according to a preliminary white paper by the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technologies, there are about 80 companies, organizations, and governmental and academic entities related to fuel cells - a number that has not changed since about 2006. In that time the related jobs have increased from around 2,100 to more than 2,900. Revenues remain flat at about $340 million.

The state still boasts the most widely renowned academic center for fuel cells at the University of Connecticut, though recently many other universities have created or enlarged similar programs.

A 10-year projection three years ago anticipated 120,000 fuel cell related jobs in Connecticut and $18.6 billion in revenue. Many insist it's still possible, though admit the state no longer has attractive enough incentives to win the lion's share of the industry's growth.

"If the market does develop, will Connecticut catch this market?" asked Joel Rinebold, the director of energy initiatives at CCAT. "That's a big question."

Money is part of the problem. Federal investment tax credits typically cover about one-third of fuel cell costs, but the upfront expense is often too steep without assistance. The Clean Energy Fund's 2011-2012 comprehensive plan, still awaiting approval by the Department of Public Utility Control, earmarks $8 million in federal stimulus funds for fuel cells, but is effectively already allocated to projects in the pipeline. The Fund's Best in Class program, which would include money for fuel cells, is out of money and awaiting approval for more. A $5 million pilot project for fuel cells in state buildings was included in an energy bill that passed the legislature last session but was vetoed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Most parties also suggest policies such as carbon taxes, a federal standard for renewable energy and innovations like a smart grid instead of the large centralized electrical grid throughout the U.S. now would help push fuel cells into greater use.

"It is a jigsaw puzzle and you have to put all the pieces together," Rinebold said. "But you have to put them together in the right way."

For companies like Proton Energy Systems of Wallingford, which as a hydrogen generation company does about 35 percent of its business for fuel cells, even one piece of that puzzle would be welcome.

"Connecticut, despite being a hub, does a very poor job," said Mark Schiller, vice president for business development, who said Proton hasn't received a dime from Connecticut for demonstration projects since 2004. Next month, it's opening the state's first public hydrogen fueling station - funded on its own. (Toyota is supplying fuel cell cars as part of a nationwide promotion.)

"Quite honestly," Schiller said, "I think Connecticut is at risk of losing some of its technological know-how to other parts of the country."

Such sentiment frustrates Rep. John Larson, D-1st District and founder of the Congressional Fuel Cell Caucus in 2004. He advocates a mandate to convert new state buildings to green technology, including fuel cells, and lays part of the blame on a Wall Street mentality that looks for short-term profits. Connecticut's failure to step up to the plate is at its own peril, he said.

"Someone else is going to make the investment because they get it and they're going to bet on patient capital and bet on the long term result," Larson said.

While not a focus of the current governor's race, Democratic candidate Dan Malloy has criticized Rell for not using more stimulus funds for fuel cells.

"The state either demonstrates the desire to retain this industry, and I mean the manufacturing not just the research," he said, "or we lose it."

Republican candidate Tom Foley is more cautious. "I don't think it's an appropriate role for government to pick technological winners and losers and invest an awful lot in a particular technology," he said.

Fuel Cell Energy in Danbury, the state's only other fuel cell manufacturer has never turned a profit. The company's stock is hovering slightly over a dollar a share 10 years after it was more than $50 and stock analysts tend to rate it a hold. Its fuel cells are the ones stalled in Project 150 and recent business relies on a partnership with the South Korean power company POSCO (which owns 10 percent of its stock) and projects in California.

Vice President Frank Wolak is also frustrated, but optimistic. The state, he said, is squandering an opportunity to build on the export economy Fuel Cell Energy and UTC Power created. "The industry has continued in sort of a struggling way to keep moving forward while external pieces remain disjointed," he said, but added that there is a "real potential for erosion."

"Connecticut had the right framework and right leadership in place," he said. "What's gotten lost is the willingness to move forward in a really aggressive way. This is a good industry. Let's find a way to let this grow."

We'd almost bet he had his head down - never heard it coming.

Bicyclist in Critical Condition After Accident
6:48 AM EDT, September 10, 2010


– A bicyclist struck by a car on West Road Thursday is in critical condition today, state police said.

The accident happened about 6:42 p.m. in front of the entrance to Johnny Appleseed Apartments.

The bicyclist, 49-year-old Brendan Mcgee of Ellington, rode into the path of a 2010 Toyota Prius and was struck, police said. Mcgee was thrown from the bicycle and landed in the roadway, state police said.

The driver and passenger of the Toyota were not injured. Mcgee was flown by helicopter to Hartford Hospital.

Copyright © 2010, The Hartford Courant

Looks good to me! 
Only around $10,000 more than most people think it is worth, however.
The Volt’s computer keeps track of energy usage and energy efficiency. Using a small gasoline engine when the battery is depleted, Norm Bodine’s care has averaged 245 mpg “lifetime,” in this case a total of about 5,000 miles driven.

Volt lover revolted by publicity
South Whidbey
Jim Larsen / The Record editor
May 4, 2012 · Updated 3:48 PM

With a Ph.D in physics and a long career with a Detroit auto supply business
behind him, Norm Bodine of Clinton knows his cars. And he’s revolted that a futuristic car he purchased new last fall came with a questionable reputation after a faulty report on FOX News and various other media outlets.

In response, Bodine wrote to the FOX reporter who made the misinformed report as well as its popular commentator Bill O’Reilly, complaining about the erroneous “facts” regarding a fire and the Volt’s mileage. He didn’t get a response, so instead set out on a one-man crusade to sing the praises of the Chevrolet Volt.

The Volt isn’t an all-electric car, as it depends on a small gas generator when the lithium battery’s charge falls below a certain point. Bodine sees that as a good thing.

“There’s no anxiety,” he said, comparing the Volt to the all-electric Nissan Leaf. If an all-electric car like the Leaf loses its charge, he said, “You call a tow truck and wait for an hour.”

He described the Volt’s battery as “a large array of the same batteries you use in cell phones.” It’s light and recharges in about 5 1/2 hours on 110 household current or 2 1/2 hours at one of the 240 volt charging stations which are starting to pop up around the island. But it can be driven any time on its gasoline engine, supported by a 5 1/2 gallon fuel tank.

The Volt, unlike the Prius, boasts an all-electric drive train, but even using the gas engine it costs only 2.5 cents per mile to run. “I pay one-quarter the cost for gas,” he said, comparing the Volt to his pickup truck.

But it’s the electricity that makes all the difference in the mileage. After 5,000 miles of driving, Bodine’s Volt has averaged 246 miles per gallon according to its onboard computer.

Bodine drove his Volt into a Coupeville parking lot recently and pulled up next to a BMW 3 series vehicle. The Volt cost $42,000 but came with a $7,500 government rebate, making the two vehicles similar in sticker price. In terms of handling, braking, appearance and features, the two cars are comparable, he said. He lauded how the Volt handles on the road and he can relax in his heated leather seat while listening to the Bose sound system. Having owned a gas-electric hybrid Prius, he said it doesn’t approach the capabilities of the Volt.

“There’s a pretty dramatic difference,” he said. “It doesn’t handle well at high speeds. This handles like a BMW 3 series.”

He drove 24.5 miles all-electric from his Maxwelton area home to reach Coupeville, and the computer display reported he had 12 miles of battery usage left. It wouldn’t get him back home, but the gas engine would with, as Bodine frequently says, “No anxiety.” On a warmer day, the car can run for 50 miles or more on battery power.

Bodine has a head for numbers but not everyone does, and he says that’s frustrating. “I get a lot of questions but it’s hard for them to understand,” he said of inquiring people. “Electric cars are the car of the future except for the ‘anxiety’ problem. This is a practical car.” He’s confident enough in its dependability to say it would be suitable for a family with just one car. The battery, which comes with a five year warranty, is built in behind the front seat, dividing the two back seats, so seating is limited to four people.

The Volt got off to a shaky start when FOX and other news outlets emphasized a battery fire it experienced during federal safety tests. Bodine said the test was extreme. “They ran a spear through the battery, rolled the car twice and let it sit. Two day later it burned,” he said. “A normal car would have burned instantly. In a crash in a Volt, there’s no immediate problem.”

He noted the Volt eventually achieved the highest 5 star federal safety rating, but by then the damage had already been done. “It’s a press problem,” he said. Chevrolet offered a recall for all Volt owners to reinforce the box protecting the battery, but Bodine calls the safety fix only “marginally necessary.” He might take his Volt to the Anacortes dealer he purchased it from when he has time.

Bodine said the Volt is a new concept in electric vehicles because of the lithium batteries, electric drive train and small gas motor which soundlessly kicks in when the battery is low. “What’s new is the combination of everything,” he said. “But marketing is hard. It’s hard to tell the customer what he’s got.”

Despite the poor publicity, Chevrolet has sold about 30,000 Volts. There is one other on Whidbey that Bodine knows of, owned by a man in Greenbank. The federal $7,500 rebate is good on the first 200,000 cars sold.

“It puts the American car industry back at number one after 30 years,” Bodine said. “I’d recommend it to anyone, and I have no stock in GM.”

Owner as Regulator, Like Oil and Water
January 13, 2012

Let’s say you’re the biggest owner of a global auto company. You take the company’s flagship new vehicle, twist it, crash it, poke it and leave it outside in the elements for weeks until its battery catches fire. Then you generate a storm of publicity and watch the share price and the value of your ownership stake decline.

This, essentially, is what the United States has done to General Motors and its signature new vehicle, the Chevy Volt.

If it wasn’t already obvious, at least one reason the government shouldn’t own controlling stakes in major companies is that ownership and regulation are inherently incompatible. This week, the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney defended his tenure as head of the private equity firm Bain Capital by comparing Bain’s role in troubled companies to the government’s rescue of G.M.

Rest assured that if Bain Capital owned G.M., it would not be subjecting the Volt to severe safety tests and trumpeting the negative results.

More than a year after G.M.’s return to public ownership, the government still owns just less than 30 percent of the company, or about 500 million shares. Of course, the government must hold G.M. to the same strict safety standards it applies to all auto manufacturers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or N.H.T.S.A., said in late November that it would assess the risk of fire in Volts after two incidents of fires following crash tests.

But some Republican congressmen questioned whether the Obama administration had concealed the results. And conspiracy theorists and others have taken to the Internet to argue that the agency has been too soft on G.M. and has a motive to soft-pedal or even distort the results because of the government’s ownership stake.

Safety Research and Strategies, a Massachusetts consulting firm, claimed the government’s Volt crash report was little more than a “sales pitch” for the plug-in hybrid vehicle.

Others have suggested that the agency was too tough, even if subliminally, in an effort to forestall any perception of a conflict, and that the danger of a Volt catching fire was remote.

Car and Driver magazine noted that the Volt’s batteries caught fire three weeks and one week after the crash tests, and said that “if you ask us, even just one day is plenty of time to safely exit a vehicle that’s in peril of burning.” The magazine noted that no Volts had caught fire in the real world and that only three safety complaints showed up in the government’s database for all of 2010 and 2011, none involving fire hazards. “No vehicle is completely and infallibly safe,” the magazine said. The risk of fire following a crash in an electric car also appears to be vastly less than in a conventional gas-powered vehicle.

Tim Massad, assistant Treasury secretary for financial stability, told me this week that Treasury, which oversees the government’s investment, “is not G.M. or Chrysler’s regulator and has no involvement with N.H.T.S.A.” I haven’t seen any evidence that the agency acted in anything but a professional and independent manner with respect to the Volt, but the controversy illustrates why even appearances of a conflict need to be avoided.

How much has the Volt controversy cost G.M.? One measure of the new G.M. is its aggressive, albeit expensive, response. The old G.M. might have dug in and fought the government. It could have appealed and stalled for years while losing the public relations war. This time, G.M. immediately offered a loaner vehicle to any existing Volt owner concerned about the vehicle’s safety. Since then, G.M. has announced that it will make structural enhancements and install a sensor to warn of any battery fluid leak.

Of course, what choice did G.M. have, given that its regulator is also its biggest owner?

Consumers seem to be reacting positively. N.H.T.S.A. has now awarded the Volt five stars, the top ranking, in its crash test results (a ranking that is also suspect to conspiracy theorists). G.M. said December was the best sales month ever for the Volt, but it’s still selling in small numbers, and it’s impossible to know how many potential customers were discouraged by the bad publicity. And the damage to G.M.’s image is also hard to quantify, but surely considerable. The Volt was expected to deliver a halo effect to all of G.M.’s brands and bolster its overall reputation, much as the Prius did for Toyota until the company ran into its own safety and quality issues. That effort has suffered at least a temporary setback. (A G.M. spokeswoman declined to comment.)

And it’s not just safety issues where the government’s interests conflict. Along with other bailout recipients who remain under government oversight, G.M. is subject to executive pay restrictions. No private equity owner would agree to such limitations on its ability to attract and keep management talent. The pay constraints apply to the top five executive offices and extend deep into the ranks to include the 20 most highly compensated employees.

At this week’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford was showing off Lincoln’s new design director, Max Wolff, who took to the stage to unveil the boldly redesigned Lincoln MKZ. Ford poached Mr. Wolff from G.M.’s Cadillac division in 2010, and design directors are some of the most highly paid people in the industry. The G.M. spokeswoman wouldn’t comment on whether G.M. could match or top Ford’s offer, but said that the company continued to attract top talent because of its “iconic” status and because people wanted to be part of “an incredible comeback story.” Still, G.M.’s chief executive, Dan Akerson, has said he’d like to see pay restrictions eased.

(G.M. got approval to pay Mr. Akerson $9 million for 2011, which was in the lower quarter of chief executive pay at the nation’s largest companies, the automaker said.)

“The pay issue is a legitimate concern,” Adam Jonas, a Morgan Stanley auto analyst, told me this week just after returning from the auto show in Detroit. “There’s a race for talent. Management has to attract and retain people outside Detroit, design talent and engineering talent. I’m concerned about that.”

Mr. Massad of Treasury noted that the pay restrictions are embedded in the bailout legislation and could only be removed by Congress. Otherwise, “We’re not in any way involved in the day-to-day management of the company,” he said, which was confirmed by G.M. officials I spoke to.

The Obama administration also has a political agenda that often conflicts with ownership interests. It wants to keep unions happy, promote the environment and lift employment, among other goals, which may conflict with maximizing returns to taxpayers. Anything having to do with G.M. is likely to be a hot-button issue during an election year.

The Bush and Obama administrations can rightly hail their rescue of the auto industry as a success — a rejuvenated G.M. has spent $5 billion in capital investment and added 15,000 jobs, and the Treasury estimates the rescue saved more than a million jobs in the United States, including those in the supply chain. G.M. has hit many impressive milestones on the road to recovery, including its November 2010 public offering and seven consecutive profitable quarters.

But continued government ownership has not bolstered the stock price. Auto company shares have been battered by many factors beyond the control of the Obama administration, including the debt crisis in Europe and the Japanese tsunami. But G.M. went public at $33 a share, and after trading as high as $39, this week shares were barely above $24. With benefit of hindsight, the government could have gotten out at a much higher price.

A problem should the government decide to sell now is that many analysts believe G.M. is undervalued. Its price-to-earnings ratio, a popular valuation measure, was a mere 5.4 this week, compared with an average for the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index of nearly 15. “In terms of straight valuation, I’d advise the government not to sell,” Mr. Jonas said. “I tell clients the same thing. The stock is worth $45 in our view. It’s one of our top picks. You have to be patient, and it may be a jagged journey, but it’s very undervalued.”

But one of the reasons it may be undervalued is that the government owns so much of it, and the longer that continues, the worse G.M.’s competitive position is likely to become.

Mr. Massad said: “The government should not generally be in the business of owning shares in private companies. At the same time, we have to balance that with the goal of maximizing returns to taxpayers. We’re prepared to be patient.”

The administration has not unveiled any exit strategy, but in my view, it needs one. The Treasury Department is no Bain Capital, nor should it try to be a private equity investor. So far, the Treasury’s sense of market timing doesn’t seem any more successful than that of most money managers. It’s been more than three years since the Bush administration stepped in to save the auto industry. It’s time to declare victory and liberate G.M. from the onus of continuing government ownership.

General Motors Scheduled To Investigate Chevrolet Volt's Role in Fire At Barkhamsted Home
The Hartford Courant
2:16 p.m. EDT, April 18, 2011

A fire apparently reignited inside the battery of a new Chevrolet Volt car early Monday, less than five days after the Volt, an electric hybrid, was involved in a blaze that destroyed a Barkhamsted garage where it had been plugged in for recharging.

Local authorities have been investigating whether Thursday's blaze was sparked by the Volt, but had not yet determined a cause when the fire rekindled.

"The rekindle this morning really adds to the mystery," Barkhamsted Fire Marshal Bill Baldwin said today.

Representatives from General Motors, the vehicle's manufacturer plan, are scheduled to arrive in Barkhamsted this evening to examine the car, Baldwin said.

The hybrid electric car was not plugged in this morning when the fire rekindled, Baldwin said.

The first fire, which occurred last Thursday about 5 a.m., destroyed the attached garage, the Chevrolet Volt and a Suzuki vehicle that had been converted so that it too ran on electricity. The homeowners had apparently plugged both vehicles in for recharging when Thursday's fire broke out.

G.M. Puts $41,000 Price Tag on the Volt
July 27, 2010

DETROIT — The Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in car capable of driving about 40 miles at a time on battery power without using any gasoline, will have a sticker price of $41,000 before a $7,500 federal tax credit, General Motors said Tuesday.

G.M. will also lease the Volt for $350 a month in the hopes of attracting consumers who want lower monthly payments or would hesitate to buy the vehicle until they are more comfortable with its technology.

The carmaker has begun taking orders for the Volt, using the Web site to direct consumers to a participating dealer. Dealers in selected states, including California, New York and Michigan, are scheduled to begin receiving the vehicle in November.

G.M. had kept the Volt’s price a secret since unveiling the model as a concept more than three years ago, though executives had hinted that it would cost about $40,000. The price is considerably more than the Nissan Leaf, a pure electric car that goes on sale for $32,780 in December, but G.M. insists the Volt is a better value.

“You can drive it cross country, and our competition can’t do that,” Joel Ewanick, G.M.’s vice president for United States marketing, said. Nissan’s Leaf is expected to have a range of about 100 miles on a battery charge. The Volt has a small gasoline engine — which will require premium fuel, G.M. said Tuesday — that will give the car a total range of about 340 miles and allow drivers to fill up at a gas station if they cannot immediately charge the battery.

Both G.M. and Nissan are counting on the government’s $7,500 tax credit for plug-in cars to go a long way toward making their vehicles more affordable. The credit, which buyers must claim when filing their tax return, begins to phase out after the manufacturer produces 200,000 qualifying vehicles.

In the case of leases, the leasing company is eligible to claim the credit. Nissan plans to lease the base model of the Leaf for $349 a month for three years with $1,999 because of delivery. The Volt’s $350-a-month lease is also for three years, with $2,500 due at delivery.

At those rates, lessees would pay $14,563 over three years for the Leaf and $15,100 for the Volt.

G.M. plans to build 10,000 Volts by the end of 2011 and 30,000 in 2012. The company has said it does not expect to earn a profit from early generations of the vehicle.

Instead, G.M. hopes the Volt will improve its reputation among environmentally conscious consumers and demonstrate the capabilities of battery-powered vehicles, eventually generating earnings after the technology becomes less expensive.

Only 600 Chevrolet dealers in G.M.’s so-called launch markets will be able to sell the Volt at first. People who live outside the areas where it will initially go on sale can buy the vehicle if they travel to a participating dealer, but they would not be allowed to lease it until sales are expanded nationwide by 2012, G.M. said.

As of Tuesday, 52,464 people in all 50 states and 97 countries had joined an unofficial waiting list at the Web site, which is not affiliated with G.M. The average price the waitlist members said they were willing to pay for the vehicle is $31,437.88, more than $2,000 below the amount it will cost after the tax credit.

G.M. limited the Volt’s introduction to six states and Washington, D.C., so that it can train dealership personnel to properly educate buyers and to service the Volt. “This vehicle comes with the highest degree of training requirements of any vehicle launched in the history of General Motors,” Mr. Ewanick said.

The Volt uses a standard 120-volt cord to charge its 400-pound battery. G.M. said each charge would cost owners from $1 to $1.50, depending on electricity costs. The battery is covered under warranty for eight years or 100,000 miles, three years longer than G.M. guarantees its gasoline engines.

G.M. said the Volt will come with a built-in navigation system, hands-free telephone capabilities and other features not normally offered as standard equipment. A fully loaded Volt will cost $3,600 above the base price.

NYC opens 1st public electric car charging station
MARC BEJA, Associated Press Writer
Published: 10:26 a.m., Thursday, July 15, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) -- In an effort to encourage New York City residents to choose environmentally friendly ways to travel, the city unveiled its first electric car charging station on Wednesday and says more will be placed throughout the city.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, joined by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, demonstrated how to use the public car charging station installed on a Manhattan parking lot.

"The electric vehicle is not just a pipe dream or a scene from the Jetsons," Bloomberg said. "It is here and it is here right now."

He said 100 similar charging stations will be installed throughout the city by September 2011. The city already uses 10 electric cars to check for potholes and other street problems, and plans to buy about 40 more to be used by the parks and transportation departments.

Charging an electric car is similar to pumping gas. After tapping a special payment card on the front of the machine, simply insert a pump into the car.

Coulumb Technologies, based in Campbell, Calif., received $15 million of federal economic stimulus money to make the chargers.

Richard Lowenthal, the company's CEO, said 4,600 chargers will be installed across the country by September 2011.

A car with a fully drained battery can be charged in less than four hours, Lowenthal said. The cost to charge a car would be determined by the company that maintains the station, he said. The first charging station in Manhattan's far West side will be free for a month.

There are different kinds of electric cars. Some, like Nissan's Leaf, are purely electric, using just a rechargeable battery for power. The Chevrolet Volt by General Motors also has a battery but includes a small gas-powered engine that creates electricity when the battery charge runs out after 40 miles. Other models are plug-in hybrids with engines that get power from both batteries and gas. But the common feature is that the vehicles can be recharged using a power cord and a plug.

Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with IHS automotive, said electric cars may not be good for everyone because they cannot be driven long distances.

"Some people are really uncomfortable with the idea that you're only going to be able to go 100 miles round trip," Lindland said. "The typical car has a 300-mile range. That's what people are used to."

Donovan said spending money to build electric cars will help create new jobs and allow the country to keep up with competitors outside the U.S.

He said stimulus funds are not just for supporting jobs in existing industries, "but also about catalyzing the new jobs in new industries that our nation needs to compete in the 21st century."

The White House plans to promote its work to develop electric cars this week, dispatching administration officials across the nation to discuss advanced batteries and new vehicles powered by electricity.

President Barack Obama, who is pushing clean energy, has vowed to bring 1 million plug-in hybrid vehicles to U.S. highways by 2015, and his administration has set aside billions of stimulus dollars to bolster U.S. battery manufacturers.

Administration releases new fuel efficiency rules
By KEN THOMAS, Associated Press Writer
1 April 2010

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration set tougher gas mileage standards for new cars and trucks Thursday, spurring the next generation of fuel-sipping gas-electric hybrids, efficient engines and electric cars.

The heads of the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency signed final rules setting fuel efficiency standards for model years 2012-2016, with a goal of achieving by 2016 the equivalent of 35.5 miles per gallon combined for cars and trucks, an increase of nearly 10 mpg over current standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The EPA set a tailpipe emissions standard of 250 grams (8.75 ounces) of carbon dioxide per mile for vehicles sold in 2016, equal to what would be emitted by vehicles meeting the mileage standard. The EPA issued its first rules ever on vehicle greenhouse gas emissions following a 2007 Supreme Court decision.

"These historic new standards set ambitious, but achievable, fuel economy requirements for the automotive industry that will also encourage new and emerging technologies," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "We will be helping American motorists save money at the pump, while putting less pollution in the air."

Each auto company will have a different fuel-efficiency target, based on its mix of vehicles. Automakers that build more small cars will have a higher target than car companies that manufacture a broad range of cars and trucks. The standard could be as low as 34.1 mpg by 2016 because automakers are expected to receive credits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in other ways, including preventing the leaking of coolant from air conditioners.

"This is a significant step towards cleaner air and energy efficiency, and an important example of how our economic and environmental priorities go hand-in-hand," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a statement.

Dave McCurdy, a former congressman from Oklahoma who leads the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing 11 automakers, said the industry supports a single national standard for future vehicles, saying the program "makes sense for consumers, for government policymakers and for automakers."

LaHood and Jackson said the new requirements will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program. The new standards move up goals set in a 2007 energy law, which required the auto industry to meet a 35 mpg average by 2020.

The rules should add costs to new cars and trucks. The government said the requirements would add an estimated $434 per vehicle in the 2012 model year and $926 per vehicle by 2016 but would save more than $3,000 over the life of the vehicle through better gas mileage.

EPA and the Transportation Department said the requirements would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 960 million metric tons over the lifetime of the vehicles regulated, or the equivalent of taking 50 million cars and light trucks off the road in 2030.

Environmental groups have sought curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, blamed for global warming, and challenged the Bush administration for blocking a waiver request from California to pursue more stringent air pollution rules than required by the federal government. The request was granted by the Obama administration last year.

"The standards forthcoming under the 'clean car peace treaty' are a good deal for consumers, for companies, for the country and for the planet," said David Doniger, climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Automakers have been working on an assortment of fuel-efficient technologies, including hybrids, electric cars and technologies that shut off an engine's cylinders when full power isn't needed.

Nissan is releasing its electric car, the Leaf, later this year, while General Motors is introducing the Chevrolet Volt, which can go 40 miles on battery power before an engine kicks in to generate power. Ford is bringing its "EcoBoost" line of direct-injection turbocharged engines, which provide a 20 percent increase in fuel efficiency, to 90 percent of its models by 2013.

3 Tesla workers die when plane hits N. Calif. home
By BROOKE DONALD and SUDHIN THANAWALA, Associated Press Writer
Feb. 17, 2010

EAST PALO ALTO, Calif. – A twin-engine plane carrying three employees of electric car maker Tesla Motors struck a set of power lines after takeoff Wednesday and crashed into a fog-shrouded residential neighborhood, raining fiery debris over homes, sending residents running for safety and killing everyone aboard.

But the crash somehow caused no injuries or deaths on the ground despite a wing slamming into a home where a day care center operated. The seven people inside the house, including an infant, all escaped moments before the home went up in flames.

Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said the Cessna 310 either struck a 100-foot electrical tower or clipped its power transmission lines and broke apart, dropping debris throughout the working-class Silicon Valley neighborhood.

Federal aviation investigators said they were looking whether foggy weather played a role in the crash.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators will be at the crash site for several days and a preliminary report will be available by next week, said Josh Kawthra, an NTSB investigator.

The city of Palo Alto said most of the city and surrounding area — about 28,000 customers — had no electricity for most of the day because of the crash.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. officials said most homes and businesses would have their electricity restored by Wednesday evening.

A spokeswoman for Palo Alto-based Facebook Inc. said its offices were without power but the outage was not affecting the Web site. Hewlett-Packard Co.'s corporate headquarters also were dark, and employees were asked to find other places to work Wednesday, a spokeswoman said.

The crash rattled Tesla Motors, one of only a few companies producing and selling purely electric cars. The identities of the employees were not released. The plane was owned by Doug Bourn of Santa Clara, identified by a Tesla spokesman as a senior electrical engineer at the company.

"Tesla is a small, tightly knit company, and this is a tragic day for us," Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a statement.

The Cessna crashed around 7:55 a.m. shortly after takeoff from the Palo Alto Airport and was bound for Hawthorne Municipal Airport in Southern California, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The crash site is a mile northwest of the airport, near Tesla's headquarters in San Carlos.

A wing fell onto the house where a children's day care operated, and the rest of the plane struck the front retaining wall of another house down the street before landing on two vehicles on the street, Schapelhouman said. Debris also struck two neighboring houses, he said.

Pamela Houston, an employee of the day care, said she was feeding an infant when she heard a loud boom that she initially thought was an earthquake until she "saw a big ball of fire hit the side of the house."

Houston said she screamed to the others in the house — the owner, the owner's husband and their three children — and the group safely escaped before the home went up in flames.

"There are not even words to describe what it felt like," she said. "I am very thankful to God that he allowed us to get out."

The occupants of the homes have been accounted for, although authorities can't be completely sure of the fatality count until crews begin clearing the wreckage, Schapelhouman said.

"Either by luck or the skill of the pilot, the plane hit the street and not the homes on either side," he added. "That saved people in this community."

Kate McClellan, 57, said she was walking her dog when she saw a plane descend from the foggy sky and strike the tower, causing power lines to swing wildly in the air.

"It burst into flames, and then it kept flying for bit before it hit some houses and exploded," McClellan said.

The crash comes at a difficult time for Tesla, which employs 515 people worldwide and just three weeks ago disclosed plans to hold an initial public offering of stock. In its filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said its future business is dependent on the successful rollout of new vehicles.

The two-door Roadster sports car is the only product that the money-losing company currently sells, retailing for $109,000. It has sold about 1,000 since its inception, and its next vehicle — the Model S sedan — is due in showrooms in 2012. It has a base price of $57,400, although a federal tax credit could reduce the cost to less than $50,000.

Tesla has not said when specifically it plans to go public, nor has it said how much it intends to raise.

So what is a fuel cell?

CL&P charges are big factor in Weston's fuel cell project
Weston FORUM
Written by Kimberly Donnelly
Wednesday, 08 December 2010 11:39

The town is still plugging along in its quest to install a fuel cell to power Weston Middle School and Weston High School. But excessive charges for transmission and distribution (T&D) from Connecticut Light and Power (CL&P) are holding up the process.

Weston has asked United Technologies Company (UTC) to build and install a 400-kW fuel cell at the middle school. The fuel cell, which will be paid for entirely with a state grant, is an electrochemical device that combines hydrogen fuel with oxygen from the air to produce electricity, heat and hot water.

Since the fuel is converted directly to electricity, a fuel cell can operate at much higher efficiencies than internal combustion engines, extracting more electricity from the same amount of fuel. It also would eliminate about 900 tons of carbon dioxide being released into the air each year.

It is estimated the fuel cell would provide 95% of the electricity needed for both Weston High School and Weston Middle School, all of the heat for the pool at the middle school, a significant amount of the heat and hot water for the middle school, and all of the air conditioning for the middle school.

At a recent Board of Selectmen’s meeting, Don Gary, a member of the town’s Building Committee who has been shepherding the fuel cell project for several years, said no matter what, the town will save money using the fuel cell.

The question at this point is how much money — and that depends on several things. The biggest factor is whether the town can get CL&P to re-examine the way in which it calculates its T&D charges.

Mr. Gary explained that for commercial accounts — and the school project would be considered commercial rather than residential — CL&P calculates T&D charges based on the 15-minute period in a given year when usage (or “capacity”) is at its highest.

CL&P has agreed to allow the town to aggregate electric consumption at the high school and middle school and to apply that net amount against electricity generated by the fuel cell. But, CL&P wants to calculate T&D charges for both schools.

“They want to charge us full capacity for the high school” even though that school would be hooked to the fuel cell — in essence creating its own electricity, Mr. Gary said. That T&D charge will cost the town an additional $160,000, he said.

Mr. Gary has argued to the Department of Public Utlity Control (DPUC) that CL&P is “double dipping” by charging Weston for T&D and then selling that electricity Weston is putting back onto the grid to other customers. The DPUC is considering the argument, but has not yet ruled, he said.

Mr. Gary said the town has several options when it comes to calculating how much money it will save over time using the fuel cell.

The most conservative calculation, Mr. Gary said, shows a savings of about $1.8 million. “That’s a worst case scenario” without CL&P changing its T&D calculations and using a tiered approach to leasing the fuel cell from UTC, Mr. Gary said.

A revised scenario, calculated by UTC and based on actual capacity, shows a savings over the same 15-year period of about $2.4 million.

In either instance, “There is virtually no cost at all to the town,” Mr. Gary said, and really no chance the town would ever lose money.

Mr. Gary wanted the selectmen to authorize the first selectman to sign a contract with UTC once it is worked out. First Selectman Gayle Weinstein, however, said she is not comfortable asking the other selectmen to do that until a contract is closer to being negotiated, and so no vote was taken.

The project still needs to go before the Board of Education for approval since it is on school property, said Ms. Weinstein.

This is big news...but not final yet! 
Fuel cell project at Weston schools gets jump start from DPUC

E-Weston FORUM
Written by Kimberly Donnelly

Wednesday, 10 February 2010 11:40 (we assume it is a front page story on Thursday's AWARD-WINNING FRONT PAGE)

Weston has leapt another hurdle in its quest to build a fuel cell to power some of the town’s schools.

The state Department of Public Utilty Control (DPUC) on Monday issued a draft of a declaratory ruling allowing the town to aggregate electric consumption at the high school and middle school and to apply that net amount against electricity generated by a fuel cell the town wants to install at the middle school.

The project had been delayed because the electric company, CL&P, said it would offer credit based on power delivered to the town through only one meter. To physically connect both the middle school and the high school to one electric meter would cost an estimated $900,000.

The town argued it can “totalize” the two meters by simple accounting — and it looks, at least preliminarily, as if the DPUC agrees.

The DPUC’s draft declaratory ruling states in part: “Conn. Gen. Stat. §16-243h provides simply that a customer shall receive a credit if the customer ‘supplies more electricity to the electric distribution system than the electric distribution company or electric supplier delivers to the customer-generator.’ The express language of the statute does not place any limitations or restrictions on the location or arrangement of the electricity that is delivered to the customer-generator.”

First Selectman Gayle Weinstein was thrilled when word from the DPUC finally reached her desk Monday afternoon. “I am incredibly pleased with the DPUC’s draft declaratory ruling. Not only will this decision bring us one huge step closer to making this fuel cell project a reality, it will save the town close to a million dollars in the process,” Ms. Weinstein said.

Don Gary of the town’s Building Committee and the Alternative Energy Committee came to the town with the fuel cell proposal in April 2009. In December, Mr. Gary reported the fuel cell project is eligible for the maximum state grant of $1 million.

A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that combines hydrogen fuel with oxygen from the air to produce electricity, heat and hot water.

Since the fuel is converted directly to electricity, a fuel cell can operate at much higher efficiencies than internal combustion engines, extracting more electricity from the same amount of fuel.

Weston has asked United Technologies to build and install a fuel cell — a PureCell Model 400 Power Plant, a factory-assembled, self-contained fuel cell power plant — at or near the middle school.

It is estimated the 400-kW fuel cell would provide 95% of the electricity needed for both Weston High School and Weston Middle School, all of the heat for the pool at the middle school, a significant amount of the heat and hot water for the middle school, and all of the air conditioning for the middle school.

It would also eliminate approximately 900 tons of carbon dioxide from being released per year.

A fuel cell operates on natural gas, but is considered renewable because it doesn’t burn anything.

When the natural gas gets to the fuel cell, it pulls out the hydrogen and forces it through a stack. Electrons from the hydrogen move from an anode to a cathode and create an electrical current.

The by-product from this process is hot water, which, ideally, could be used in the schools and to heat the middle school pool.

“This is truly a green alternative,” Mr. Gary said.

A step further

Ms. Weinstein pointed out the DPUC “actually went one step further than we asked” by stating the town could also include electricity delivered to other town buildings in calculating how much electricity is used.

“The town may use the total aggregated amount of electricity received at the high school and middle school or any other properties or facilities owned by the town, regardless of their physical proximity to one another or their proximity” to the fuel cell “power plant,” the draft declaratory ruling states.

While the draft decision is undoubtedly welcome news for town leaders, there is still a way to go before the fuel cell project becomes a reality.

Many parties now have the opportunity to file arguments with the DPUC about the decision. Only after hearing and considering those arguments will the DPUC offer its final conclusion.

“The final decision may differ from the proposed decision,” the DPUC’s draft ruling states.

DPUC delays project’s fuel cell decision
New Haven Register
By Mary E. O’Leary, Register Topics Editor
Thursday, December 25, 2008 6:39 AM EST

NEW BRITAIN — The final decision by the state Department of Utility Control on regulatory issues around use of a fuel cell to power a large residential project in New Haven has been put off for a month.

John Betkoski, vice chairman of the DPUC, Wednesday said the commission felt it needed more time to review the complex legal questions around metering at 360 State St. for the mixed-use retail and residential complex that hopes to be the “greenest” building of its kind in the state.

“There is still some final review that has to take place by our legal staff,” said Betkoski, who is the lead commissioner on the Becker proposal.

There has been concern that the regulatory apparatus in the state has not kept up with the energy goals and emphasis on the use of new technology set by the governor’s office and development agencies in Connecticut.

“I think it is safe to say, based upon the Becker application, the way regulations and statutes are interpreted at this time, will be revisited to make sure there is consistency between funding agencies, such as the (Connecticut) Clean Energy Fund ran and regulatory agencies, such as ours,” Betkowski said.

The issue will be heard at the commission’s first meeting of the new year Jan. 7.

In a preliminary ruling, staff concluded that the commission’s present regulations would not allow master metering for the building and submetering of the individual 500 apartments, but the developer, Becker and Becker of Fairfield, has submitted briefs countering that argument.

The 32-story $180 million residential/retail project is the first to come before the DPUC, but Connecticut Clean Energy Fund officials said it hopefully won’t be the last, as the state encourages the use of alternative energy sources, particularly fuel cells, which are produced by UTC Power of South Windsor.

Becker’s 32-story building, at the former Shartenberg site in New Haven, may be the largest residence in the state and he is aiming to acheive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

That won’t be the case if rates for the energy produced by the 400-kilowatt natural gas fuel cell don’t cover his investment, as well as operation and maintenance of this new technology.

The clean energy fund has approved a grant for close to half of the $2 million fuel cell. Becker is asking that a master meter monitor overall energy use, with excess energy sold back to United Illuminating, while the utility would provide energy to the building when needed at peak summer useage.

Becker’s proposal is to charge each tenant for individual use, at the same rate used by U.I., while he would collect the $86,000 in service charges that the utility would normally earn.

A project he developed in New York approved the use of a fuel cell there with a similar arrangement.

U.I. has objected, arguing that the state cannot approve a private utility company, which it does not have the ability to regulate, while the DPUC was concerned with the resale of electricity for profit.

Use of the fuel cell is in line with the state’s energy policy, while the individual submetering of apartments is expected to encourage conservation.

Becker has said he is willing to accept whatever regulatory arrangements the DPUC wants and advocates hope an interim solution can be worked out until new regulations are instituted.

His lawyers argue the regulation which allows submetering at marinas and campgrounds and “any location as approved by the (department,)” gives the DPUC the flexibility it needs to approve his project.

Connecticut Lawmakers To Consider Tesla Direct Sales
Hartford Courant
Mara Lee
Jan.13, 2015, 6:17pm

HARTFORD – Lobbying from a fellow legislator convinced Antonio Guerrera, co-chairman of the legislature's Transportation Committee, to have a public hearing on whether Tesla should be allowed to sell its cars in Connecticut.

Sen. Art Linares, R-33rd District, had to drive to Westchester County to buy a Tesla, and he told Guerrera he wanted to change Connecticut law so that Tesla can sell in the state. About 500 people in Connecticut own Teslas...story in full:

And here is an interesting look at what Tesla has up its sleeve...turns out the South African owner of the company has a different organizational model for the 21st century

Tesla upbeat on Japan business, opens showroom
By YURI KAGEYAMA, AP Business Writer Yuri Kageyama, Ap Business Writer Mon Oct 25, 10:39 am ET

TOKYO – Tesla, the U.S. maker of electric sportscars, opened its first Asian showroom Monday in a fashionable Tokyo neighborhood, hoping to woo rich buyers before eventually widening its appeal with cheaper models.

The Palo Alto, California-based Tesla Motors Inc. has globally sold only 1,400 of the electric cars — which start at $101,500 in the U.S. (and 1.5 times that in Japan). Its electric vehicles are currently more akin to gadgets than mass-produced cars.

And while the price for electronic vehicles is likely to come down, a major drawback remains the lack of recharging stations, which make them risky for long treks.

But Tesla has important connections in Japan. Toyota Motor Corp. is a shareholder in the American company, recently investing $50 million in Tesla stock, and signing a $60 million contract to have Tesla help develop an electric version of Toyota's RAV4 crossover vehicle. Prices have not been announced.

Japanese electronics maker Panasonic Corp. also supplies the cars' batteries.

"We think the Japanese market is a fantastic market," Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said in a videotaped message relayed in the showroom, displaying the snazzy cars.

Yasuaki Iwamoto, auto analyst at Okasan Securities Co. in Tokyo, says Tesla could influence Toyota in a positive way because Tesla's approach is so different from Toyota's. The Japanese automaker is known for its affordable, reliable, if unflashy, cars that are mass-produced in old-style plants.

"In the era of electric vehicles, automakers have to change their way of thinking," Iwamoto told The Associated Press. "Toyota is intrigued by something as alien to its legacy as Tesla."

In Japan, electric vehicles are tax-free and eligible for government incentive cash payments that can reduce the price tag by a quarter of the retail price.

Tesla's ecological government-backed rebate in Japan is a hefty 3.2 million yen ($40,000).

More affordable electric vehicles are on the market already, such as the iMiEV from Mitsubishi Motors Corp., although sales at about 4,000 vehicles, mostly in Japan, still make a tiny fraction of overall auto sales.

Already showing wider appeal is Nissan Motor Co.'s Leaf electric car, set for delivery in December. Its price in Japan is about 3 million yen ($37,000) with incentives, and about $25,000 in the U.S. with federal tax credits. Nissan has received 20,000 orders for the Leaf in the U.S., and 6,000 in Japan.

Takao Ozawa, 38, an entrepreneur, who drives Japan's first Tesla electric car, loves the quick, gear-less and silent acceleration of his Tesla, but acknowledges that he only uses it for his office commute and relies on a regular gas engine Citroen to go on trips.

"It's a great car," said Ozawa, who used to drive a Ferrari. "I don't have to feel guilty driving it either."

Chris Paine, who made the 2006 film, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" is making a new film that documents the success of Tesla, Leaf and other electric vehicles.

"Times have changed. The carmakers can see they can make some money on this, and they don't want to be the last to jump on," he said from Culver City, California. "The electric car promised to make the car sexy again."

Electric carmaker Tesla plugs into Wall Street
by Germain Moyon
29 June 2010

NEW YORK (AFP) – US electric automaker Tesla Motors went public on Tuesday, betting that interest in its battery-powered cars will offset its string of losses.

The Palo Alto, California-based carmaker, which is being traded on the Nasdaq under the symbol "TSLA," offered 13.3 million shares in the fledgling company priced at 17 dollars per share.  Tesla shares rose sharply after being listed around mid-day and were trading 7.24 percent higher at 18.23 dollars.  At 17 dollars per share, the initial public offering would raise 226.1 million dollars with 202 million dollars going to Tesla itself.

"It gives them some cash that they desperately need," said John O'Dell, senior editor at Edmunds

Tesla's IPO is a "bit of referendum on the future of the electric car," he said.

But "it's more a vote of confidence in Tesla and in (founder Elon Musk) personally than an overall vote of confidence in the ability of startups in general to compete in the automaking arena," he said.

Founded in 2003 by Musk, a co-founder of online payments giant PayPal and SpaceX, whose Falcon 9 rocket blasted off on its maiden voyage this month, Tesla specializes in environmentally friendly electric cars. 
The Tesla Roadster, a high-performance sports car, costs more than 100,000 dollars and can go nearly 250 miles (400 kilometers) on a single charge.

Tesla is also making a "Model S" five-passenger sedan powered by lithium-ion battery packs capable of between 160 and 300 miles (257 and 482 kilometers) per charge.  In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for its initial public offering, Tesla said it had sold 1,063 Tesla Roadsters to customers in 22 countries as of March 31.

The Model S, expected in 2012, has an anticipated base price of around 50,000 dollars.  According to the documents filed with the SEC, Tesla has generated total revenue of 147.6 million dollars since it was founded and has accumulated a deficit of 290.2 million dollars.  The company said it had a net loss of 55.7 million dollars last year.

Musk, in an interview with CNBC television on Tuesday, said "people need to appreciate that if we were just making the Roadster, we would be profitable as a company but we are in massive expansion mode.

"We are increasing our volume by 30 to 40 fold, so it is just impossible for a company to be profitable given that level of growth," Musk said.

Analyst Douglas McIntyre of was downbeat on Tesla's prospects saying it could go the way of the DeLorean.

"Most large global car companies are within a year or two of launching their own electric models," he said. "Almost all major vehicle manufacturers have 'green' hybrid cars that are aimed at the same segment of environmentally conscious drivers.

"The Telsa is too 'niche' a vehicle to be successful," he said. "Even with its IPO proceeds it can only build a few thousand cars."

Japan's Toyota has already agreed to take a 50-million-dollar stake in Tesla, purchasing 3.33 million shares in the company.  German luxury carmaker Daimler took a 10-percent stake in Tesla in May of last year and sold 40 percent of its stake in July to Aabar Investments group of the United Arab Emirates.

Last year, Tesla received a 465-million-dollar loan from the US Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program to help it build the Model S.

Tesla is the first US auto company to go public since Ford in 1956.

FROM TIMES LIVE "Wheel Deal" blog, Johannesburg, Feb. 2, 2010
"Here’s some shocking news for fans of the electric car: Tesla  is planning to kill off its revolutionary Roadster  in 2011 due to foreseeable issues with one of their suppliers. This revelation was discovered after Autopia – Wired Magazine’s online motoring blog – came across the following tidbit of information while flipping through papers filed by Tesla to the Securities and Exchange commission for its IPO: “We do not plan to sell our current generation Tesla Roadster after 2011 due to planned tooling changes at a supplier for the Tesla Roadster.” Now being built by Lotus at their factory in Hethel, England, what this basically means is that both the Lotus Exige and Elise – the cars upon which the Roadster is currently based – are going to be replaced around this time. That means that the tooling used in the manufacture of these machines will no longer be available; ultimately culminating in the death knell of one of the most significant electric vehicles to ever roll off a production line. Tesla has hinted that a new Roadster will be available sometime in 2013 after their upcoming Model S sedan debuts in 2012."

GM Volt, left. - link to car design that used batteries here.  Car-show example of EV1 electric (1997), right.

GM to make its own electric motors in 2013
January 26, 2010

DETROIT – General Motors Corp. is back in the electric motor business.

The automaker said Tuesday that starting in 2013, it plans to build its own electric motors for hybrid and electric vehicles. GM has been getting electric motors for those vehicles from suppliers, but wants to make the motors in-house in order to lower costs and improve quality and reliability.

"We need to not only buy the parts, we need to really understand them," said Pete Savagian, engineering director for hybrids and electric motors, in a conference call with reporters ahead of Tuesday's announcement.

GM wouldn't say where it will build the electric motors, but it scheduled a news conference Tuesday afternoon at its Baltimore Transmission plant in White Marsh, Md. The plant currently makes hybrid transmissions. GM said it will invest more than $246 million to build the electric motors. It wouldn't say how many motors it will build.

This isn't the first time GM has built electric motors. It built them for its EV1 electric car in the mid-1990s, and some of the engineers of that car worked on the new motors, Savagian said. Savagian said GM has been quietly developing a new electric motor since 2003, and will be the first U.S.-based automaker to manufacture its own.

GM-designed and built electric motors will debut in 2013 on rear-wheel-drive, two-mode hybrid vehicles, but eventually they could be placed in all-electric and fuel-cell cars.

Two-mode hybrids use a motor alongside a conventional engine to boost power and improve fuel-efficiency. Electric vehicles are powered solely by batteries and electric motors, while in fuel-cell vehicles, an electric motor is powered by a reaction between oxygen and hydrogen.

On traditional vehicles, gas fuels the engine and transmission, which power the wheels. On electric vehicles, batteries replace fuel and electric motors replace the engine and transmission.

Tom Stephens, GM's vice chairman of global product operations, said using energy from the electric grid is the best way to cut emissions and reliance on oil in the short term.

"We do need to have the electrification of the automobile," he said.

FuelCell finalizes deal with Posco
By Michael C. Juliano, STAFF WRITER
Updated: 11/02/2009 08:44:04 PM EST

Danbury-based FuelCell Energy Inc. last week closed a licensing agreement with Posco Power to allow the South Korean energy company to make fuel-cell stack modules from components provided by FuelCell Energy.

"This is an opportunity for a good company here in Connecticut to export clean technology on a global basis and grow jobs locally here in Connecticut," said R. Daniel Brdar, FuelCell Energy's chief executive officer.

The fuel-cell modules will be combined with parts manufactured in South Korea to complete electricity-producing fuel-cell power plants for sale in South Korea.

The agreement also includes an upfront license fee of $10 million for FuelCell, which was paid at signing, and an ongoing royalty initially set at 4.1 percent of the revenues from Posco Power's sale of the modules. Posco Power also closed on a previously announced purchase of $25 million in FuelCell Energy common stock at $3.59 per share, agreed to in June 2009.

"This really solidifies the relationship, and I expect more sizeable orders going forward in the future," said Michael Lew, a FuelCell Energy analyst with ThinkPanmure LLC in New York City.

Posco Power has ordered more than 68 megawatts of FuelCell Energy's units to date and built a facility to manufacture the complete systems in South Korea. About 23 megawatts of FuelCell Energy power plants are installed in South Korea, including six DFC3000 megawatt-class power plants.

"Posco Power is excited to enter into a new stage of partnership with FuelCell Energy," Posco Power President Soung-Sik Cho said in a statement. "We view the partnership with FuelCell Energy as critical to accomplishing our goal to make South Korea a world leader in clean-energy technology."

South Korea is pursuing the passage of an $85.8 billion renewable energy plan mandating 11 percent clean energy by 2030.

FuelCell Energy, which was founded in 1969 as Energy Research Corp., owns and operates a 65,000-square-foot Torrington plant with about 250 workers.

The company posted a net loss of $15.7 million for this year's third quarter, compared with a net loss of $26.8 million for the same period last year. Revenues were $23 million, compared with $27.9 million.

The company's stock, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange as FCEL, declined 26 cents to close at $3.33.

Former Energy Sec'y Chu deep in thought - and we are sure it is a good one, too.

98 Percent ‘Discouraged’ in Energy Quest
NYTIMES dotearth
By Andrew C. Revkin
August 3, 2009, 6:54 am

President Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu have both called for an  energy revolution, including a big push to deploy known non-polluting energy technology and a sustained effort to build a generation of edge-pushing scientists and engineers seeking big energy breakthroughs to provide energy to a world heading toward nine billion people without overheating the planet.

But the Department of Energy had to send out letters last week discouraging all but a handful of the 3,500 research teams and individuals seeking some of the $150 million available this year for pursuit of “ transformational” energy technologies.

One such rejection letter is posted above ( a pdf of the letter is here). The name of the rejected scientist is obscured. He sent it to me, he said, not because he was angry about being denied a shot at funding, but because the letter notes that “less than 2 percent” of such proposals are seen as likely to get support. It’s still early days, of course. But does this look like an  energy quest* to you?
* = This speaks for itself...

Killer graphic!

What Would an Energy ‘Moon Shot’ Look Like? - Dot Earth Blog
New York Times

The space race was accompanied by a huge burst of federal research — the yellow band. What would an energy quest look like? ( American Association for the Advancement of Science ) exploring what it would take for a president to pursue meaningful climate and energy policy in a multitasked world.

Energy Dept. To Lend $8B to Ford, Nissan, Tesla
Filed at 1:04 p.m. ET
June 23, 2009

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- The Energy Department said Tuesday it would lend $5.9 billion to Ford Motor Co. and provide about $2.1 billion in loans to Nissan Motor Co. and Tesla Motors Inc., making the three automakers the first beneficiaries of a $25 billion fund to develop fuel-efficient vehicles.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the loan recipients at Ford's Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn. The loans to Ford will help the company upgrade factories in five Midwest states to produce 13 fuel-efficient vehicles.

Nissan was receiving $1.6 billion to retool its plant in Smyrna, Tenn., to build advanced vehicles and build a battery manufacturing facility. Tesla would get $465 million in loans to build electric vehicles and electric drive powertrains in California.

The loans were designed to help auto manufacturers meet new fuel-efficiency standards of at least 35 mpg by 2020, a 40 percent increase over current standards.

''These loans will help the auto industry meet and even exceed the president's tough fuel standards,'' Chu said. ''This is part of President Obama's commitment to a new energy strategy for America. ... This means the most fuel-efficient cars in the world must be made right here in America.''

Dozens of auto companies, suppliers and battery makers have sought a total of $38 billion from the loan program, which was created last year to provide low-interest loans to car companies and suppliers retool their facilities to develop green vehicles and components such as advanced batteries.

Ford had been seeking about $5 billion in loans by 2011 and a total of $11 billion from the program to invest $14 billion in advanced technologies over the next seven years. The company said it will transform plants in Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally said in an interview with The Associated Press that the department approved the company's entire proposal through 2011 and it would help Ford meet the new fuel efficiency standards.

''This is a tremendous development,'' Mulally said.

He said the loans would help Ford further its strategy to build a wide range of fuel-efficient cars.

''We want to be in every market segment in the U.S.,'' Mulally said. ''Every year forever we want to continue to improve fuel efficiency.''

Ford expects to begin repaying the loans in 2012, with an interest rate based on the current U.S. Treasury rate hovering between 3 and 4 percent, said Ford spokesman Mike Moran.

''If it were at market rates it would be in the double digits,'' he said. ''That's a huge thing for us.''

Ford can draw from the loan for work done to retool its plants going back to late last year, Moran said. The plants must build cars that improve fuel efficiency by 25 percent.

General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Group LLC have received billions of dollars in federal loans to restructure their companies through government-led filings for bankruptcy protection, but Ford avoided seeking emergency aid by mortgaging all of its assets in 2006 to borrow about $25 billion.

Mulally said the loans Ford would receive from the Energy Department were part of a government-industry partnership and ''had nothing to do with the emergency loans to keep General Motors and Chrysler in business.''

Ford has said it intends to bring several battery-electric vehicles to market. The automaker has discussed plans to produce a battery-electric vehicle van in 2010 for commercial use, a small battery-electric sedan developed with Magna International by 2011 and a plug-in hybrid vehicle by 2012.

General Motors has requested $10.3 billion in loans from the energy program, while Chrysler has asked for $6 billion in loans. Energy officials have said the loans could only go to ''financially viable'' companies, preventing GM and Chrysler to qualify for the first round of the loans.

Elizabeth Lowery, GM's vice president of environment, energy and safety policy, said GM still must pass the Energy Department's financial viability test before it can receive loan funding and the company hoped to get the money shortly after it emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Chu said the Energy Department has started discussing details of the loans with Chrysler and has begun reviewing the ''technical side'' of the loan requirements with GM.

Nissan said the $1.6 billion loan would be used to modify its Smyrna, Tenn., plant to produce zero-emissions vehicles and lithium-ion battery packs to power them. The Japanese company has previously outlined plans to develop an all-electric car with 100 miles of pure battery range for release in late 2010.

''This loan is an investment in America. It will help us put high-quality, affordable zero-emissions vehicles on our roads,'' said Dominique Thormann, Nissan North America's senior vice president for administration and finance.

Tesla, based in San Carlos, Calif., will use $365 million for production engineering and the assembly of the Model S sedan, an all-electric vehicle that is expected to travel up to 300 miles per charge and go on sale in 2011. It will use $100 million for a powertrain manufacturing plant expected to employ 650 workers.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the automaker would use the loan ''precisely the way that Congress intended -- as the capital needed to build sustainable transport.''

Hydrogen fuel story

So the administration chose electric car over fuel cell auto!  But endorsing the fuel cell for stationary uses, such as power supply for buildings...

How's that again?  For power supply but not automobiles?
Yardney, Calif. Firm, Pitch Plan For Electric Car 
By Patricia Daddona 
Published on 6/9/2009

Yardney Technical Products Inc. of Pawcatuck and a California firm are applying for a federal stimulus grant that could help the firms make and sell lithium-ion battery-powered systems for an electric car.

If approved by the U.S. Department of Energy, the proposal sought on May 19 by Yardney and Coda Automotive of Santa Monica, Calif., could result in a Coda battery manufacturing facility in Enfield that would employ about 600 workers, the two companies said in a joint statement.

U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, and Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, offered their support for the project in a June 3 letter to DOE.

A natural fit

Coda Automotive makes and distributes all-electric vehicles capable of highway driving. Its all-electric, mid-size Coda sedan is scheduled for delivery to the California market by the fall of 2010, said Kevin Czinger, Coda Automotive's president and chief executive officer.

The company is currently testing its all-electric, zero-emissions highway sedan for the mass market.

”The partnership was a natural fit,” Czinger said in a statement. “We are eager to apply our respective strengths to facilitate the rapid advancement of an electric vehicle industry built on the vast skills and traditions of U.S. workers.”

According to Vince Yevoli, Yardney president, the Pawcatuck firm has been working on new technology for hybrid and electric vehicle uses for years. Yardney has been providing batteries for the U.S. military since 1944.

“We never normally chased this market, because it's not developing without a lot of capital infusion, but that's what the government's doing,” Yevoli added in a phone interview.

Dodd and Courtney said in the letter to Dr. Steven Chu, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, that the grant proposal encompasses “the true intent of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” by creating new jobs and supporting cutting-edge technology and manufacturing.

Coda Automotive expects Lishen, its battery partner in China, to participate in the joint venture, the firm said.

The DOE could make a decision on the proposal by late July, Yevoli said. He would not say how much in stimulus funding the two partners are seeking.  

U.S. Drops Research Into Fuel Cells for Cars

May 8, 2009

WASHINGTON — Cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells, once hailed by President George W. Bush as a pollution-free solution for reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, will not be practical over the next 10 to 20 years, the energy secretary said Thursday, and the government will cut off funds for the vehicles’ development.

Developing those cells and coming up with a way to transport the hydrogen is a big challenge, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in releasing energy-related details of the administration’s budget for the year beginning Oct. 1. Dr. Chu said the government preferred to focus on projects that would bear fruit more quickly.

The retreat from cars powered by fuel cells counters Mr. Bush’s prediction in 2003 that “the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free.” The Energy Department will continue to pay for research into stationary fuel cells, which Dr. Chu said could be used like batteries on the power grid and do not require compact storage of hydrogen.

The Obama administration will also establish eight “energy innovation hubs,” small centers for basic research that Dr. Chu referred to as “Bell Lablettes.” These will be financed for five years at a time to lure more scientists into the energy area.

“We’re very devoted to delivering solutions — not just science papers, but solutions — but it will require some basic science,” Dr. Chu, who won a Nobel Prize for his work in physics, said at a news conference.

He said he would probably reverse another Bush administration decision and restore funds for FutureGen, a program to build a power plant prototype. The plant would turn coal into gas, separate out the carbon dioxide — a major contributor to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming — and pump it underground. Then it would burn the hydrogen, which is nearly pollution-free.

An international partnership had selected a site in Mattoon, Ill., for construction of the plant, but the Bush administration decided that the costs were too high and that the money should be spread among more projects.

The Obama administration will also drop spending for research on the exploration of oil and gas deposits because the industry itself has ample resources for that, Dr. Chu said.

While the budget request for the Energy Department is $26.4 billion, an increase of less than 1 percent, actual spending will actually be far higher because some projects will be financed by the economic stimulus package, said Steve Isakowitz, the department’s chief financial officer.

While Dr. Chu emphasized the allocations for research, a former Energy Department official, Robert Alvarez, pointed out that the budget still includes $6.4 billion for nuclear weapons and $4.4 billion for naval reactors, nuclear nonproliferation activity and safe storage of surplus plutonium. “Weapons still make up the largest single expenditure,” he said.

Page last updated at 11:09 GMT, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 12:09 UK

Harrabin's Notes: Electric promise
Roger Harrabin reports on the Chinese car maker BYD, which is about to release a vehicle capable of revolutionising the world of motoring, if its claims prove correct.


A look at a battery-powered car that can travel 400km on one charge

BYD says that its new E6 electric car due out before the end of the year will do 250 miles (400km) on a single charge.

This is a very big number. The Tesla electric sports car does almost as much, but has little room for anything else in the car but the battery.

The E6 is roomy with space for five passengers and a good-sized boot. The battery tucks under the back seat.

It needs 7-8 hours with a domestic plug to charge the car but BYD - it stands for Build Your Dreams - says a specially developed fast charging point with a lead the diameter of a fire hose will fill up the car in just one hour.

You can get half a charge in only 10 minutes.

If these claims are accurate and if BYD can persuade either the Chinese government or a Chinese city to install a network of the fast chargers, then this large hatchback could be the vehicle that makes the breakthrough for electric cars.

Extraordinary step?

Let us look at the accuracy of the claim first. BYD is already the world's number two in rechargeable batteries, and for the E6 it is using a ferrous battery it has developed itself.

There is a reputational risk in exaggerating the claims of a product. And that could be translated into a legal risk if people buy shares in the publicly quoted company as a result of misleading information.
BYD charger
For the E6 to succeed, the company will need a network of fast chargers

The green group WWF has just appointed the Chinese energy expert Dr Yang Fuqiang as its head of global solutions. He told BBC News that he would reserve judgment on BYD's claims.

"If they are true, this is an extraordinary step which will prove highly significant," he said.

So what about the other question about support for a network of charging stations?

The Chinese government has spent more than any other on its green fiscal stimulus and there is supposed to be support for electric cars.

But BYD's Rebecca Wang said that although BYD hoped for co-operation, none was yet forthcoming.

The E6 will sell for £30,000 and is aimed initially at the eco-conscious California market. When the price comes down with mass production, it'll be rolled out properly in China.

Whether the claims are accurate to the letter or not, the E6 is a marker that China expects to dominate energy storage technologies - which could become much more important if the world makes a significant shift towards renewable power.

Even if they are run on coal-fired power, electric cars still produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a petrol car because they are inherently more efficient, according to the UK's chief energy scientist David MacKay.

This efficiency is increased if you can run an automobile fleet on either off-peak electricity at night or on intermittent power from, say, wind farms.

Power play

I chanced to share lunch recently with the CEO of a major European car manufacturer. He told me that China intended to become the world leader in battery technology. "And if that's what [China] wants, it will happen," he said. Simple as that.

But the question remains if China has the cars to match its batteries.

As a car maker, BYD is very much at the "functional" end of the Chinese market - a farmer's car, my Beijing producer Jasmin called it.

There may be a risk that BYD's batteries could be undone by poor build quality.  

BYD's chief executive Wang Chuan-Fu is certainly ambitious, and money is certainly not a limitation.

Following a huge investment by Warren Buffet, he has just made it to the top of the Forbes Rich list for China. He is joined at the top table by another green billionaire, Shi Zhengrong who made a fortune from the Suntech solar PV firm in just four years.

There is such a buzz about the Clean tech gold rush in China at the moment that some analysts warn of the possibility of a bubble.

The Climate Group is an international non-profit organisation that works with governments and businesses with the aim of building a low carbon economy.

It is keen to dispel such pessimism. Yu Jie, its head of research in Beijing, told BBC News that if the bubble popped, it would only deflate slightly.

"Everybody wants to get into clean energy at the moment," she said.

"It can only be for the good. And the ability to attract top entrepreneurs into this field can only be good for China, which has often depended on other people's technology in the past."

When we arrived at the BYD plant, the workers were on holiday so there was no activity to film. And the E6 itself was nowhere to be seen.

But we eventually managed to persuade our hosts that, having travelled all the way from the UK, we deserved a sneak preview, and the E6 itself was unveiled.

My cameraman Al implied this negotiation might have been part of the company's publicity strategy. We will see.

NU seeks help in building charging stations for electric cars 
By Patricia Daddona 
Published on 4/7/2009
Northeast Utilities is looking for federal funding to help launch New England's first network of charging stations for plug-in electric cars in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The company announced today that it is developing the initiative to comply with regional and national policies on greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce reliance on oil-based resources.

NU, which is based in Berlin, has applied for $693,750 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, about the half the amount needed to build a network of 575 charging stations over the next two years. The plan calls for a "geographically diverse combination of home-based, workplace and publicly-accessible sites" in the existing service territories of the Connecticut Light & Powr Co. and Western Massachusetts Electric Co.

“We see extraordinary potential in electric transportation as one of the tools to help meet the environmental and energy policy objectives of our regional and national leaders,” James B. Robb, NU senior vice president of enterprise planning and development, said in a statement. “As the next generation of vehicles gets introduced, likely late in 2010, we want to be sure that New England is among the first markets.”

Fuel-Cell Powered Devices Getting Closer
Filed at 7:20 a.m. ET
December 1, 2008

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- Laptop, cell phone and iPod owners tired of having their devices run out of charge after a few hours have been patiently waiting for the next portable power source to arrive.

Tiny fuel cells, powered by combustible liquids or gasses, have long been touted as the eventual solution. Potentially, they could power a laptop for days between refills.  But fuel cells have perennially remained a year or two away from reaching the market as companies have worked on making them small, cheap and long-lasting, while making sure they don't overheat.

The U.S. government removed a key roadblock this year when the Department of Transportation amended its hazardous materials regulations to allow cells with methanol, butane or formic acid to be carried on airplanes. Methanol and butane are flammable, and formic acid is corrosive.

''That was one of the largest challenges to this market, to overcome that regulation issue,'' said Sara Bradford, an energy and power systems consultant for Frost & Sullivan.

Fuel cells, in which a tiny amount of fuel flows into a small chip to generate electricity without combustion, would allow users to skip the wall plug and simply swap out a fuel cartridge to continue listening to music or check e-mail.  Bradford thinks products are now truly a year or two away, as electronics manufacturers show more interest and fuel cell makers move beyond trade-show prototypes.

''We are closer, much closer, than even two years ago in terms of the companies' internal designs, how they've met their milestones and just the amount of testing and evaluation that's going on right now,'' Bradford said.

Lilliputian Systems Inc., a Wilmington, Mass., firm founded by former Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, plans to introduce a portable fuel cell late next year for any device that can be charged via a USB port.

The cigarette-pack-size charger will use a canister of butane, the same fuel used in cigarette lighters, to juice up an iPod, BlackBerry, GPS device or digital camera, said Mouli Ramani, Lilliputian's vice president of business development.  Each teaspoon of the fuel can provide 20 times the run time of a battery of the same size. The charging system would likely sell for $100 to $150 with refill cartridges retailing for $1 to $3, he said.  MTI MicroFuel Cells Inc. has been working on fuel cell technology since 2000. In 2002, was showing a prototype it planned to bring to market by 2004.

Peng Lim, the Albany-based company's chairman and chief executive, said MTI has been making significant progress recently. It's current methanol fuel cell can produce about three times the energy of a lithium ion battery, common in cell phones. With further improvements, the cell could one day last ten times longer than lithium, he said.

MTI plans to introduce an external charger by late 2009 as it works with electronics manufacturers on building fuel cells into devices.  Lim said MTI has signed partnerships with the mobile phone division of Samsung Electronics Co. of Korea, a Japan-based digital camera company and Neo Solar Co. Ltd., which makes computers that are smaller than laptops.

Lilliputian also plans to transition to embedding fuel cells in gadgets. Ramani said the company has signed commercialization agreements with three large, multinational entities he cannot yet name.

Panasonic is promising a fuel cell that can power a laptop for 20 hours on a cup of methanol, but the company says it won't hit stores until 2012.

Medis Technologies Ltd. has come out with a 1-watt liquid borohydride fuel cell recharger that can provide 30 hours of cell phone talk time. The 24-7 Power Pack is slightly larger than a deck of cards and can't be refueled, so it has to be recycled once it's exhausted.  Not all manufacturers are sold on fuel cells, at least not in the near term.

Matt Kohut, competitive analyst for Lenovo Group Ltd., the world's No. 4 PC maker, said fuel cells will eventually power laptops but he doesn't see commercialization for at least five years.  The industry needs to unite to standardize the technology, he believes, and the DOT's limiting of fuel cartridges to smaller than 7 ounces might not provide adequate power for early devices, Kohut said.  Consumers are used to getting a free battery charge from any electrical outlet, so refill cartridges would have to be ''as ubiquitous as cigarettes and bottles of Coke in every 7-Eleven'' in order for fuel cells to take off, Kohut said.

Lenovo is moving toward silver-zinc batteries, which have 20 to 30 percent higher capacity than lithium ion batteries and don't wear out as fast, Kohut said.

Toshiba, which has demonstrated fuel cell prototypes at the Consumer Electronic Show during the past few years, continues to develop the technology but doesn't have any firm dates for commercial use, said Duc Dang, group manager for product development for Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. Next year, the company hopes to begin shipping lithium batteries that charge faster.  Ramani said he understands the skepticism about fuel cells, since they've been ''the technology of tomorrow'' for a few years.

''We're not around the corner,'' Ramani said. ''We're still 12 months to 15 months away from having this in consumers hands.''

Latest Honda Runs on Hydrogen, Not Petroleum
Published: June 17, 2008

TAKANEZAWA, Japan — It looks like an ordinary family sedan, costs more to build than a Ferrari and may have just moved the world one step closer to a future free of petroleum.

“This is a must-have technology for the future of the earth,” Takeo Fukui, left, Honda’s president, said of the FCX Clarity.

The FCX Clarity on a test drive after an introduction ceremony in Japan on Monday.

On Monday, Honda Motor celebrated the start of production of its FCX Clarity, the world’s first hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle intended for mass production. In a ceremony at a factory an hour north of Tokyo, the first assembly-line FCX Clarity rolled out to the applause of hundreds of Honda employees wearing white jump suits.

Honda will make just 200 of the futuristic vehicles over the next three years, but said it eventually planned to increase production volumes, especially as hydrogen filling stations became more common. On Monday, Honda announced its first five customers, who included the actress Jamie Lee Curtis.

Honda said even the small initial production run represented progress toward a clean-burning technology that many rejected as too exotic and too expensive to gain wide acceptance.

“Basically, we can mass produce these now,” said Kazuaki Umezu, head of Honda’s Automobile New Model Center, where the FCX Clarity is built. “We are waiting for the infrastructure to catch up.”

Fuel-cell vehicles have been a sort of holy grail of the auto industry, offering the promise of driving without emitting air-polluting exhaust. Fuel cells work by combining hydrogen and oxygen from ordinary air to make electricity, in a process whose only byproducts are water and heat. They have drawn renewed attention in an era of climate change, $140 a barrel oil, and rising competition for dwindling fossil fuels.

“This is a must-have technology for the future of the earth,” said Takeo Fukui, Honda’s president. “Honda will work hard to mainstream fuel-cell cars.”

Fuel cells have an advantage over electric cars, whose batteries take hours to recharge and use electricity, which, in the case of the United States, China and many other countries, is often produced by coal-burning power plants.

Honda says its FCX Clarity can be filled easily at a pump, can drive 280 miles on a tank, almost as far as a gasoline car. It also gets higher fuel efficiency than a gasoline car or hybrid, the equivalent of 74 miles a gallon of gas, according to the company.

But the technology has faced many hurdles, not the least of which has been the prohibitive cost of the fuel cells themselves. Honda says it has found ways to mass produce them, which promises to drive down costs through economies of scale. On Monday, it showed reporters its fuel-cell production line, which resembled a semiconductor factory more than an auto plant with its humming automated machinery and white smocked workers in dust-free rooms.

Mr. Fukui said the cars cost several hundred thousand dollars each to produce, though he said that should drop below $100,000 in less than a decade as production volumes increase. In the meantime, the car company will be effectively subsidizing its customers, who will lease the vehicles for $600 a month. That is not much more than the leasing price of one of Honda’s top Acura line of luxury cars.

At Monday’s ceremony, Mr. Fukui presented an oversize key to the first FCX Clarity customer, a film producer from Los Angeles on hand for the occasion. Honda said it would offer the car in Southern California first because the state has been a leader in building hydrogen filling stations.

Honda said the five had been chosen after the company got a wave of queries from American consumers when it publicized the car last year. On Monday, Honda also announced three dealerships near Los Angeles that will be the first to start leasing FCX Claritys.

Fuel-cell vehicles have been a big gamble for Honda, which has spent the last 16 years and millions of dollars — the company will not say exactly how much — developing them. For a time, the company was criticized for pouring money into unproven technologies while refusing to follow the rest of the industry into large sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

Now, with gas prices soaring, Honda is in an enviable position of not being burdened with large inventories of gas-guzzling full-frame trucks that require hefty incentives to sell, or the factories that build them. Analysts have said Honda and the rival Japanese carmaker Toyota have seized a commanding lead in more efficient, green technologies like hybrids as well as fuel cells.

Honda says one big breakthrough was shrinking the size of its fuel cells. In the FCX Clarity, they fit in a box-shaped unit the size of a desktop PC that weighs about 150 pounds, less than half of their size a decade ago.

The FCX Clarity’s fuel-cell unit can generate up to 100 kilowatts of electricity, enough to accelerate the car from zero to 60 miles an hour in less than nine seconds, and give it top speeds of 100 miles an hour, Honda says. Even at high speed, the FCX Clarity, a four-door sedan that looks like a sleeker version of the Accord, drives with the hushed whine of a golf cart.

Honda said a big remaining hurdle to true mass production is the lack of filling stations that sell hydrogen. Even in California, where the state government has led a push to build hydrogen stations, there are still very few public stations, Honda said. That will make it hard to drive the car far from home, limiting its appeal, the company said.

For now, the first batch of customers seem drawn by the car’s novelty as much as anything else. The first owner, the film producer Ron Yerxa, said he did not plan to drive it far, just to work and to eat out — far enough to draw the admiration of passers-by.

“When I drive it to breakfast, people will ask about it,” Mr. Yerxa said. “They’ll want one, too.”

Times Topic: Alternative Fuel Vehicles
Living the Hydrogen Life

Published: December 9, 2007

IN July 2005, Jon Spallino; his wife, Sandy; and their two daughters became minor celebrities — at least in California, and mostly in their hometown of Redondo Beach. They were the first family to enter into a two-year, $500-a-month lease of a Honda FCX fuel-cell car.

Driving the FCX meant being behind the wheel of one of the company’s priciest ventures in alternative fuels. The neighbors just thought the car was weird.

Honda will release the next-generation FCX in about six months and will make a limited number available to more customers. While the company said that many improvements would be made in performance, fuel economy and looks, the thought is likely to remain: people are driving something weird. So who better to describe living la vida fuel cell than the Spallino family?

No strangers to alternative fuel, the Spallinos brought home the FCX, which the company said was worth $1 million, when they already had a natural-gas Honda Civic in the driveway. However, the hydrogen car came with a special challenge.

“Fueling, period,” said Mr. Spallino, 42, the chief financial officer of a construction and engineering company. He commutes to the office in the FCX a couple of times a week, a round trip of 75 miles. The Spallinos also drive it around their community.

They still have the Civic and also have a 2007 Lexus ES 350 for extended trips.

“The frustration has been in getting fueling stations online,” he said. “But the silver lining is that a few have come online very recently that have made a lot of that problem go away for me. For the general public, it would still be a big issue.”

He expected another fueling site to open along his route within the next 90 days, which he said would allow him to drive the FCX more. As it stands, he fills up once or twice a week and averages 170 miles on a tank. Honda pays for his fuel.

The Spallinos live with that inconvenience because they want to contribute to the bigger picture, which Mr. Spallino sees as “trying to advance the technology that I think can help our country and planet, and, frankly, help get us off the fossil-fuel drug.” If that means acting as an impromptu spokesman for fuel cells while buying groceries, so be it. “I am always asked one of two questions: ‘Where did you get that?’ or ‘Can I get one?’ ”

Occasionally, people ask about the safety of all that hydrogen in the car, “but that’s more, I assume, out of curiosity than real fear,” Mr. Spallino said. He said he was not nervous. “No, I’m really not, because somebody’s got to do it, and why not me?”

His auto insurance company would provide only liability and bodily-injury coverage. Honda pays the collision insurance, “because they’re going to take the risk of the million-dollar crunch,” he said.

But it’s the valet-parking guys who are most stumped by the FCX; they can never tell whether the engine is running. “I say, ‘It’s on; just look at the dashboard and you’ll see a little indicator saying, ready to drive,’ ” Mr. Spallino said, laughing.

His children, Adrianna, 13, and Anna, 11, have a different approach to the fuel-cell lifestyle. “They’re more interested in the attention it gets,” Mr. Spallino said. “Their first interest is, ‘Wow, Dad, let’s take the fuel-cell car because my friends think it’s cool and people on the street wave at us.’ ”

Their time in the FCX has been so educational and satisfying that the Spallinos said they would lease a new one. Honda said that “they have been a great customer, and we intend to continue existing relationships, but the delivery plan has not yet been finalized.”

The Spallinos said they didn’t mind the wait. They renewed their current FCX lease for another year.

L.A. Auto Show: Driving Honda’s Fuel-Cell FCX
By Norman Mayersohn

November 24, 2007,  9:41 am

LOS ANGELES — Before hustling off to LAX for my flight home from the auto show last Sunday, I spent a morning driving what may be the most advanced road vehicle on the planet: the Honda FCX Clarity. This fuel-cell powered car, unveiled in production-ready form at the convention center earlier in the week, will be built in small numbers and leased to retail customers next summer for their everyday use.

The FCX is an astonishing accomplishment on many levels, some of which we’ll soon be reporting on in the newspaper. Not the least of its praiseworthy qualities is the degree of refinement it exhibits. Forget for a moment about the technology of its compact new Honda-developed fuel cell stack and the cleverness of its experimental home refueling system. What really impressed me was how polished it was: on the road it was totally glitchless, and under the hood it looked no different from the plastic-swathed engine bays of dozens of current cars.

This was no escapee from the R&D lab, no geeky engineering student’s senior project. It’s the real thing, fully qualified for showroom duty and its eventual trip to the motor vehicles department for license plates. Anyone who has driven a Toyota Prius will find the controls completely familiar.

Honda will only be leasing the FCXs to hand-picked customers; to qualify they will need to have access to hydrogen refueling. So, sure, the infrastructure is not ready, but the car certainly is. Silent in operation except for a turbinelike whir under acceleration (and the occasional hum of a pump) it asks no special consideration in return for its zero-emissions, carbon-free operation. Driving up into the blackened canyons above Mailbu, it lacked nothing in roadworthiness; on top of that, it is handsome and smartly outfitted.

As a design study, the FCX had been seen at previous auto shows, of course (and an earlier version was reviewed here) so perhaps it wasn’t the brightest star at the L.A. Auto Show. But even with the debuts of significant production and concept vehicles from several automakers, over all the show made fewer headlines than expected.

But no one could complain about the setting. As I drove in from the airport on a warm Tuesday evening before the media previews opened, the final glimmers of a golden sunset reflected off the cluster of buildings that comprise downtown Los Angeles. The thin crescent of a waxing moon hung low in the brilliantly clear sky, the mountains that rim the city’s basin providing an ideal backdrop for the revitalized downtown. The city where I once lived — but where I rarely encountered any areas that felt remotely citylike — was ready for its closeup.

Exiting the tangle of freeways that were either built since I lived here or were known by different names, the scene was back-East familiar: a bustling district of relatively narrow streets lined by mostly older buildings, the sidewalks crowded with people heading home from work. Downtown, while small by New York standards, has a real vitality — and it has some ways to go. A few hours later, after settling into my hotel room, I ventured out for dinner, only to find empty streets and a closed-for-the-night feeling.  Without late-night bistros or 24-hour bodegas, this part of the Southern California living experience is not yet big-city livable.
Likewise, the show had a not-quite-mature feel to it. Chrysler, introducing its first hybrids, the Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango, put on a presentation that was so rough compared with Detroit’s theatrical productions as to seem like community theater. But more than anything, there was little feeling of urgency. Perhaps here the press scrum was just too comfortable to reveal the all-elbows competitiveness we’re used to suffering in Detroit.

It may be, too, that the layout of the Los Angeles Convention Center is not an ideal location for an auto show. Sprawling like the city itself, it does not enforce an intimacy like that of the older exhibit spaces on the show circuit. A friend who is a devout New Yorker was many years ago transferred to Los Angeles for his job; he told me that he frequently flew to San Francisco for short stays “just for the compression” of the tall buildings, narrow streets and crowded sidewalks.
But if the L.A. Auto Show suffers low compression — like, say, a Daewoo with a broken timing belt — it still has grown in prominence in recent years and it does offer some measures of compensation. Auto journalists leaving here get a breather until mid-January, when the North American International Auto Show convenes in Detroit. Long-range forecasts are iffy, but it’s doubtful that the Michigan weather will be as pleasant as it was here the past few days.

Honda FCX: It's easier being green
By Ron Amadon, MarketWatch
Last Update: 9:00 AM ET May 19, 2007

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- At days end, we had circled a neat little road course set up in the parking lot of the stadium that is home to Washington's major league baseball team. We did it without using one drop of gasoline.
We were behind the wheel of Honda's latest green machine, the hydrogen-electric powered FCX. All that hydrogen must be good for baseball. The Nationals, predicted to be one of the worst teams ever, racked up a winning streak right after the event. As of this writing, they had won four in a row. George Steinbrenner might soon drive an FCX around Yankee Stadium.
The hydrogen-electric powered FCX is a huge step forward ... it looks and drives like a real world car. 
To clarify, this is the second generation FCX. An earlier model was more of a subcompact box. This latest iteration is all space age styling inside and out -- to the degree that it would catch one's eye from thousands of feet away. (See slide show.)

So, what is it like to drive? Sitting still, you hear literally nothing, just as you would in an electric hybrid car. Punch the accelerator and you hear the whine of an electric motor, and that's it. We think that if the audio system were on you would not notice any motor noise at all.

Acceleration was adequate and handling very good, given the large size of this version of the FCX.
"You are not to squeal the tires," said the blue-shirted Honda official who saw us off. Maximum speed of the FCX is 100 miles per hour. We hit 67 on the backstretch of the course, with virtually no wind or road noise.
"It is now comparable to the performance of current Honda four-cylinder engines, with superior low end torque," said Sachito Fujimoto, senior chief engineer.
Fellow auto writers at the event raved about the "real world" feel of this $1 million plus concept car. There was more than enough room for four full-sized adults front and rear. In fact, there was more rear seat room than we have seen lately in other gasoline-powered cars.

(The cost of producing the cars in such small numbers is very high, along with the high inherent costs of some of the materials used.)

While there are significant obstacles to bringing the FCX to the marketplace, Honda claims it will start leasing the cars to customers sometime in 2008. They must be near a hydrogen refueling station, and that probably means the first leases will take place in California -- the current home of $4 a gallon gasoline.
The lease cost will be about $500 a month.

A zero emission vehicle

They will be clean. "A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is a zero emission vehicle," said Steve Ellis, manager of fuel cell marketing for American Honda.
"The only thing that comes out of the tailpipe is water ... and it is so clean you can drink it," he told us. We passed up the opportunity to try that out. "The other advantage is that we are relying on a fuel that is domestically produced and can be made in a variety of ways, so that we are not dependent on oil."

One Honda official said an early consumer evaluator said he did not like the water drops on his garage floor. Asked why, he said, "You don't like water on your kitchen floor, do you?"

The hydrogen fuel tank in the FCX resides between the rear wheels. Hydrogen is fed to a fuel cell stack, located between the seats. The stack makes the electricity that powers the electric motor -- that moves the car forward. "We are literally reinventing the wheel here," said Ellis.
By working to improve water drainage, the FCX will start in colder weather than earlier models -- down to -22 Fahrenheit.
"A more energy efficient power plant and increased hydrogen tank capacity combine to provide the FCX with a range of some 270 miles," Fujimoto said. That is about a 30% improvement over earlier models.
Of course, one of the main obstacles to bringing the hydrogen car to market is the availability of the gas itself. Honda officials say that is something that they are working on with some of the major oil companies, such as Shell.  Just when hydrogen will be available nationwide is not clear. Honda is also working on a system, now in its second generation, that would allow consumers to refuel the car at home.
We came away impressed with the huge move forward that Honda has made in hydrogen-electric technology. Again, this drove and looked like a real world car that you should be able to take home today -- not a prototype.
Will you be able to bop into your Honda dealer and buy an eye-catching FCX one day? Well, there was an event years ago where we rode around downtown Washington in a terrible test of something called satellite radio.  It constantly lost signal, and backers of the early system were sweating and constantly fiddling with the device and probably cursing under their breath. Yet today, millions of people tune in to a bird way up in space.

Honda's vision of the future -- a car powered by hydrogen

Michael Taylor, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

(11-15) 04:00 PST Monterey -- The future of driving, if Honda has anything to say about it, came to a Monterey County race track Tuesday in the form of a dark red sedan that is slated to be the first fuel cell car on the planet to come off a production line.

The Honda FCX looks like a slightly futuristic version of a blend of cars, especially those made by Honda Motor Co. But by one particular yardstick, the car is special -- it doesn't run on fossil fuel. Instead, a fuel cell car uses hydrogen.

"This is the first purpose-built fuel cell vehicle to be put on the road in the hands of retail customers," said Stephen Ellis, fuel cell marketing manager for American Honda Motor Co. "It's not a car that is remade from some other platform."

Fuel cell cars have been made by several of the world's biggest carmakers, but by and large they were cobbled together from an existing gas- or electric-powered vehicle. Honda itself earlier made a homely looking fuel cell car, one of which has been in use by a Los Angeles family for more than a year.

Honda says that within two years it plans to produce and lease to the public an untold number of cars based on the concept car the company put on display Tuesday. Tentative plans call for leasing the car for perhaps $600 or $700 a month. Automakers typically lease experimental cars to the public rather than sell them outright as a way of retaining control of them.

On Tuesday, Honda rented Laguna Seca Raceway to show off the only two FCX cars the company says exist in the world. Reporters were allowed to take the cars -- each is worth as much as $2 million, according to industry insiders -- around a portion of the race track, past signs encouraging "acceleration," "braking" and other exhortations.

The car performed like any moderately sporty sedan. It is quiet, it has a low center of gravity, and it's relatively fast.

What makes the car unlike any other sedan is its fuel cell stack, a sandwich of plates that generate electricity through an electro-chemical process using a combination of hydrogen and oxygen. The front wheels are driven by an electric motor. The only emission is water vapor.

The hydrogen can be refined from a number of sources, including coal, natural gas and methane.

Being a concept car, the FCX at the race track was far from the finished product. Every time a driver mentioned a possible problem, the reply was that it's a concept car and the problem will be fixed when it's in regular production.

A fuel cell car in regular production? Honda knows it faces enormous barriers as it tries to introduce a completely new way to propel a car.

The biggest problem is where to fuel it. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's long-touted "hydrogen highway" is behind schedule, said Honda's FCX product planner, Christine Ra.

Still, a few stations accommodate fuel cell cars, and more are planned, said Catherine Dun- woody, executive director of the California Fuel Cell Partnership, a group of companies that promotes the technology.

"There are 23 in California, mostly in Southern California," Dunwoody said Tuesday, "and 14 more are on the way. Most fuel cell cars fuel at one or two stations, and we need to move to the point where any car can find a station."

UC Davis environmental science Professor Joan Ogden, who specializes in fuel cells, said a study she has seen says that in the next 10 years, there will be a "roll-out of hydrogen cars and stations" in California.

Others think it will take longer.

"Fuel cell cars have real promise to do double duty -- help the climate and end our oil addiction," said David Friedman, research director for vehicle programs at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C. "But that future is 20 to 30 years away. All the car companies are working really hard to make fuel cell vehicles a reality, and they deserve praise. Yet there are real hurdles to overcome."

Friedman cited problems of making a fuel cell system start in minus-40 degree weather and making the systems as durable as possible.

"We have to get a fuel cell vehicle that is durable and cheap enough," Friedman said, "and make sure the hydrogen is clean enough. No one will cheer if, at the end of the day, we make all our hydrogen from coal and melt the planet."

As for the economics, Honda Vice President Ben Knight said a fuel cell car can get the equivalent of a gasoline-powered car's 65 miles per gallon. An FCX filled with 8.8 pounds of hydrogen can go about 270 miles, he said.

One unknown is how much a hydrogen retailer -- probably one of the big oil companies -- would charge for hydrogen. Honda also is developing a home refueling station that draws natural gas from a home's utility supply and processes it for hydrogen use.

Then there is the real-world question of what a fuel cell car is like when you have one, day in and day out. Jon Spallino knows.

In June 2005, American Honda began leasing a 2005 Honda FCX to Spallino, a 41-year-old Redondo Beach businessman with a wife and two daughters. The Spallinos became what apparently is the only American family to use a fuel cell car every day, for such things, Spallino says, as "going to the shopping center, to the soccer field and to ballet lessons."

Asked what stood out, Spallino said, "the lack of trouble. I expected technical problems. All that happened was one flat tire."

He said he fills up the car about once a week at Honda's U.S. headquarters in Torrance, and otherwise it behaves like a normal car. Except that he does get a lot of attention, given that "Honda Fuel Cell Powered FCX" is written in giant letters on the side of the car.

"I finally ended up carrying a stack of brochures explaining the car," Spallino said. "All of that was part of the fun."

Fuel cells: electric power from hydrogen fuel

Fuel cells create electricity through an electrochemical process that combines hydrogen and oxygen. Vehicles running on fuel cells would need to be supplied with gaseous hydrogen extracted from a hydrocarbon fuel, such as coal, natural gas, or methane. Honda is developing a home refueling station that draws gas from the home's utility supply and processes it for hydrogen use.

How fuel cells work

Hydrogen fuel is fed into the anode of the fuel cell. Helped by a catalyst, hydrogen atoms are split into electrons and protons.

Electrons are channeled through a circuit to produce electricity.

Protons pass through the proton exchange membrane.

Oxygen enters the cathode and combines with the electrons and protons to form water.

Water vapor and heat are released as byproducts of the reaction.

Sources: Ballard Power Systems, Fuel Cells 2000,

Cities Looking To Mini-Energy Districts 

By Susan Haigh, Associated Press Writer  
Published on 4/2
Stamford — Leaders of this southwestern Connecticut city — home of corporate giants General Electric Capital Corp., Pitney Bowes Inc., Xerox Corp. and UBS Investment Bank, among others — still feel a chill when they recall last summer's heat wave.

Underground wires overheated and caught fire, overworked by the unrelenting power demand from cranked-up air conditioners. Connecticut Light & Power was forced to cut electricity to thousands of residents and businesses, closing many of Stamford's corporate headquarters and financial services companies.

“It was yet another huge power failure in Stamford, which we have grown accustomed to in the summer, quite frankly,” said a wry Mayor Dannel Malloy, whose city sits 30 miles east of New York. “I guess we're just kind of a Third World country here. We have to expect interruptions in our power on a seasonally adjusted basis.”

The same heat wave left tens of thousands without power for a week in Queens, N.Y. The blackout cost businesses tens of millions of dollars as stores were forced to throw out perished goods.

Like Malloy, mayors across the country fear aging and unreliable electric transmission systems, coupled with skyrocketing energy costs, are hurting efforts to recruit new business and keep existing ones in their cities. They are especially concerned about financial firms, such as hedge funds, where a loss of power can shut down transactions and equate to a loss of millions of dollars. Stamford is home to many financial firms, thanks to its proximity to Wall Street.

That's why some are considering creating new micro grid districts, in which neighboring companies band together to produce their own electric power. The concept is already popular among communities in Europe and a similar version of it is being used in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

“It's reached a point now where we have to be reactive to the private market. Honestly, we have huge competitive pressures for businesses to be located here,” said Stamford's economic development director, Michael Freimuth. “These big banks can be in Charlotte, or Atlanta or Austin. They're in international trading. They don't need to be in Stamford.”

Within these special zones, sometimes referred to as “energy independence districts,” businesses, government buildings and office buildings can design and create their own power source, such as a fuel cell or natural gas generator, using the electric grid only as a backup. They might also tap into underground aquifers and use that water for heating and cooling purposes, or even install solar panels to capture more energy.

The entities in the district would essentially plan an electrical system that uses the energy efficiently, based on their needs. For example, a hotel and office building might team up, with the hotel needing electricity more at night and the office building needing it more during the day.

“It's just trying to put in a district where businesses can voluntarily come together ... to better plan out energy — more affordably, more reliably and more environmentally sustainable,” said Guy Warner, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Pareto Energy. The energy consulting company organizes groups of energy users into micro-districts and provides the financing to come up with clean, reliable, small energy generation systems.

Such special districts also help relieve pressure on an overtaxed electric grid, Warner said.

In Stamford, Malloy is already planning to take the city's government building off the grid. Besides plans to install solar panels on the roof, his staff is looking to build its own electric generator for the nine-story site. Ultimately, he hopes the surrounding businesses, including the UBS trading floor, might join the city and form an energy district.

The concept isn't new. Thomas Edison, who invented the light bulb, loved the idea of “distributed generation,” where small, modular units could be installed nearby, making them more efficient and reliable. Edison, who died in 1931, also predicted the noise and pollution problems from traditional generators would eventually be solved, Warner said.

While no city has yet established an energy independence district per se, several communities have created similar special districts to provide innovative energy systems, Warner said. They include Sacramento, Calif.; Austin, Texas; Chicago; and Disney World in Orlando, Fla. Community-owned micro grids are already popular in Europe and the United Kingdom.

Last year in Austin, a municipal utility teamed up with a Kansas City engineering and construction consulting firm to install a microgrid that provides electricity, heating and cooling for the new Dell Children's Medical Center. The system uses exhaust heat from the natural-gas-fired combustion turbine for a heat recovery steam generator. That steam provides heat to the hospital and chilled water for cooling.

In Connecticut, Warner and Stamford officials are lobbying state lawmakers to pass legislation this session to allow micro grids. The concept was proposed last year, but was rolled into a massive energy reform bill that died in the final hours of the session. This year, there are two bills that would create such districts and allow them to finance an energy project by selling municipal tax-exempt bonds.

Proponents laud the micro districts as a way to improve electric reliability and combat skyrocketing prices in the wake of Connecticut's decision to deregulate its electric industry in 1998. They say it could also be a way to reduce the state's demand for electricity. Connecticut ratepayers currently face federally imposed surcharges because of the transmission bottleneck on the Northeast grid in southwestern Connecticut, including Stamford.

Those fees, estimated to total $800 million in Connecticut, are supposed provide a financial incentive for power generators to invest in new transmission lines and power plants to meet New England's growing energy needs.

State Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, the Commerce Committee co-chairman, said the micro grid legislation is a top priority for his committee.

“The energy produced fits the size of the project,” he said. “Obviously this would take a load off the grid. It would be cleaner. It would be energy efficient. It does a lot of good.”

Hybrids Gain Traction Locally As Gas Prices Soar 

By Patricia Daddona    
Published on 6/9/2008 

More consumers in southeastern Connecticut are trying to counteract the $4.27 statewide average price of gasoline - currently third-highest in the nation - by going green.  Their reward for driving a hybrid car? Increased fuel economy, reduced emissions, federal tax credits and sales tax exemptions that went into effect April 1 - but not necessarily huge savings over time, experts say.

”People only see a huge slap in the face they're getting at the pump, but you won't make up money in gas savings alone” by buying a hybrid instead of a small, fuel-efficient car, warned Mike Quincy, a content specialist for Consumer Reports' Connecticut Auto Testing Center.

Still, the demand for hybrids is high. In showrooms at Cardinal Honda in Groton and Girard Toyota in New London, and on the outdoor lots, there's not a hybrid to be seen.  That's because Japanese production can't keep up with demand. Waits are two to four weeks for a Civic Hybrid and three months or more for the Toyota Prius, company spokesmen said.

Customers have been offering Girard salesman Tony Arruda up to $5,000 above the base sticker price of $23,435 for a Prius. He asks them to put down a deposit and join the growing waiting list while manufacturers try to match demand.  Cardinal Honda is selling eight hybrids a month and Girard Toyota is selling 10, compared with five and six a month respectively last year, and spokesmen there say they would sell more if more cars were available.

”The demand is there, and they can't produce them fast enough,” Arruda said. “We have 10 to 12 people a day that want to buy them, and we can't take orders for them because we don't know how many we're going to get.”

Hybrid-electric vehicles combine the benefits of gasoline engines and electric motors, improve mileage, increase power and can add extra power for electronics and tools, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.  By 2015, sales of hybrid cars could more than triple and may comprise as much as 7 percent of the car market, up from less than 3 percent today, according to a forecast by J.D. Power and Associates, said spokesman John Tews.

In 2008, the firm estimates there will have been 422,000 sold in the United States, he said. The company is a market research firm with a strong focus on the automotive market.  In May, the Ford F150 pickup truck, long the best-selling vehicle in country, dropped from first place to fifth, said Cody Lusk, president of the American International Automobile Dealers Association.

His group represents some 11,000 international franchises, but not the Big Three - Ford, GM and Chrysler.  Now, more and more car buyers are seeking out high mileage vehicles and hybrids, he said.

”We're requesting as many as we can get,” said Rob Bonosconi, Cardinal Honda's new car sales manager. “If they dropped a truck off with 10 of them now, we'd probably deliver them all in a couple of days.”

The Ford Escape, a hybrid SUV made overseas, is also in short supply, said Whaling City Ford Vice President Charles Primus.

”We could sell all the hybrids Ford gives us, but Ford is not producing enough,” Primus said. “We're disappointed. We know Ford is working on it.”

In America, gas prices have been artificially low compared to the rest of the world, and only now are catching up, Lusk said. 

”Some of the industry saw this coming, but it's hard to convince people to buy fuel-efficient vehicles when gas is $2.50 a gallon,” he said.

Hybrid Owners of America, a trade group with more than 500 members, found in a survey that 44 percent of drivers said in January they would consider a hybrid if gasoline topped $4 a gallon, said spokeswoman Ailis Aaron Wolf.

”It wasn't that long ago that people thought hybrids were this pie-in-the-sky idea,” she said.

Despite the increased popularity, Quincy, of Consumer Reports, warns that the higher prices for a hybrid still can't be recovered just with savings on gas.

”The premium cost for a hybrid is going to take many, many years of driving to overcome the difference” in cost compared to a four-cylinder passenger car, Quincy said.

Small, fuel-efficient cars are making a huge comeback, and are cheaper than hybrids, he added. The Toyota Corolla, for instance, costs about $6,000 less than the Prius, and averages 32 mpg. The Prius averages 44 mpg but costs more to buy.  Analysts at warn that the lengthy waiting lists may discourage Prius and other hybrid buyers, but dealers like Arruda say the interest in them remains high.

”I think the U.S. is overdue to get in line with most of the world,” Quincy said. “I think above $3 and maybe $4 a gallon might be here to stay. And industry experts are saying this run on small cars, this is here to stay.”

Above, the way the market works

Shaky Battery Maker Claims a Breakthrough
June 11, 2012

DETROIT — Lauded during a visit by President Obama, A123 Systems was supposed to be a centerpiece of his administration’s effort to use $2 billion in government subsidies to jump-start production of sophisticated electric batteries in the United States.

Instead, the company, which makes lithium-ion batteries for electric cars, has stumbled along with the rest of the nascent industry and now threatens to give more ammunition to critics of the president’s heavy spending on new energy technologies.

A123 had to cut workers at its new factory in Livonia, Mich., financed in part with the promise of a $249 million government grant, after its battery for one new electric vehicle faltered and required an expensive recall. Completion of the factory has been delayed. The company is running short of money and has warned that unless it raises more cash from private investors, it might not be able to stay in business.

Yet as much as A123 represents the risks of the government’s battery technology program, it also represents its promise. On Tuesday, A123 Systems will unveil a new battery technology that the company says is a breakthrough in the industry.

The advance uses a new chemistry that could permit the creation of a simpler, lighter, longer-lasting battery pack that does not require a system to cool or heat it.

The success or failure of the new technology may well determine the fate of A123. It will also render an early verdict on Mr. Obama’s broader push to promote electric cars and build a domestic industry to develop and manufacture advanced batteries to run them.

The president’s prediction of a million electric cars on the road by 2015 seems unattainable, given the tepid demand for the first models on the market. So far this year, combined sales of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and Nissan Leaf electric car total less than 10,000 vehicles. The slow sales have already become a campaign issue, and the failure of the solar-panel company Solyndra has also drawn intense criticism of the administration’s clean-energy subsidies.

In response to the Solyndra bankruptcy, which cost taxpayers about half a billion dollars, the Department of Energy has tightened controls on loans related to electric cars and other fuel-saving technology. In the case of Fisker Automotive, which received the defective A123 batteries, the government froze its loans when the company missed production schedules.

Executives of A123, which is based in Waltham, Mass., say the company has gotten off to a slower start than anticipated because the market for electric cars has failed to grow. The company reported a loss of $125 million in the first quarter of this year, as revenues dropped 40 percent from the year earlier.

“It’s been softer than what we and everyone else expected,” said David Vieau, chief executive of A123.

Yet the major automakers remain committed to electric vehicles so far, and G.M. has given A123 the contract to supply batteries for the Chevrolet Spark, an all-electric minicar due next year.

The government, for its part, recently gave A123 an extra two years to meet production targets at its Michigan factory and earn the full $249 million grant, which is being disbursed in tranches. So far, only about half the money has been given to the company.

In addition to the factory grant, A123 has received about $14 million in Energy Department money for research and development.

The government may have financed the company because “these guys have some new chemistry, some new ideas,” rather than the ability to commercialize the product, said Professor Prashant N. Kumta, a materials science expert at the University of Pittsburgh, who began working on lithium-ion batteries in the 1990s.

He said that A123 had been “a bit of a disappointment” because it had not put much product into the market.

The Energy Department said it would not comment on the viability of individual companies.

But a spokeswoman, Jen Stutsman, said, “The market for electrified vehicles is expected to triple by 2017 — which is why automakers in every part of the world are racing to introduce new models of hybrid and electric vehicles.”

“The investments being made today will help ensure that the jobs that support this rapidly growing industry are created here in the United States,” she said.

Supporters of the energy programs say it is unrealistic to expect every government-backed company to thrive immediately.

“We should be willing to take on some of the risks for the new energy economy, even if some of these start-ups fail,” said Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that investigated Solyndra.

But Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican nominee for president and former governor of Massachusetts, has attacked subsidies to energy companies as a waste of taxpayer dollars. “When Mitt Romney is president, government will stop meddling in the marketplace,” a Romney spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, said on the campaign’s Web site.

A123 Systems is a prime example of how a promising venture can bog down in the harsh realities of the automotive marketplace. Founded in 2001, the company has been primarily focused on making lithium-ion battery packs specifically for cars, like the Fisker Karma and a forthcoming all-electric version of the Chevrolet Spark, a minicar made by General Motors.

But the company stumbled when it was forced to recall potentially defective batteries planned for use in the Fisker vehicle. And with the future market for electric cars in question, A123 might not survive solely on batteries for those models.

Instead, A123 is now hoping that the new technology it is unveiling Tuesday, called Nanophosphate EXT, will help it enter new markets. The company says the new electrolyte chemistry eliminates the need for heating and cooling in extreme temperatures. That would avoid the addition of costly and heavy temperature-management equipment and prolong the life of the battery.

The technology could be used to produce batteries for telecommunications equipment, military vehicles and hybrid gas-electric cars that employ start-and-stop engine systems. It also could yield batteries that could be used to replace the millions of ordinary lead-acid batteries in cars currently on the road.

“It’s a hedge against the market for electric vehicles,” Mr. Vieau said.

The company is hoping that the promise of the new technology will help persuade investors to back a $50 million convertible debt offering by the company.

One battery expert said the new technology’s extended life span could have an immediate impact on the luxury-car market.

“The car company can advertise that this lithium-ion battery is going to last the life of the vehicle, with no need for replacement,” said Ahmad A. Pesaran, an engineer at the government’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.

Potential automotive customers can test samples later this year, with production scheduled to begin in the first half of 2013.

Does America Need Manufacturing?
August 24, 2011

You can drive almost anywhere in the state of Michigan — pick a point at random and start moving — and you will soon come upon the wreckage of American industry. If you happen to be driving on the outer edge of Midland, you’ll also come upon a cavern of steel beams and ductwork, 400,000 square feet in all. When this plant, which is being constructed by Dow Kokam, a new venture partly owned by Dow Chemical, is up and running early next year, it will produce hundreds of thousands of advanced lithium-ion battery cells for hybrid and electric cars. Just as important, it will provide about 350 jobs in a state with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates.

Over the last two years, the federal government has doled out nearly $2.5 billion in stimulus dollars to roughly 30 companies involved in advanced battery technology. Many of these might seem less like viable businesses than scenery for political photo ops — places President Obama can repeatedly visit (as he did early this month) to demonstrate his efforts at job creation. But in fact, the battery start-ups are more legitimate, and also more controversial, than that. They represent “the far edge,” as one White House official put it, of where the president or Congress might go to create jobs.

For decades, the federal government has generally resisted throwing its weight —and its money — behind particular industries. If the market was killing manufacturing jobs, it was pointless to fight it. The government wasn’t in the business of picking winners. Many economic theorists have long held that countries inevitably pursue their natural or unique advantages. Some advantages might arise from fertile farmland or gifts of vast mineral resources; others might be rooted in the high education rates of their citizenry. As the former White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers put it, America’s role is to feed a global economy that’s increasingly based on knowledge and services rather than on making stuff. So even as governments in China and Japan offered aid to industries they deemed important, factories in the United States closed or moved abroad. The conviction in Washington was that manufacturing deserved no special dispensation. Even now, as unemployment ravages the country, so-called industrial policy remains politically toxic. Legislators will not debate it; most will not even speak its name.

By almost any account, the White House has fallen woefully short on job creation during the past two and a half years. But galvanized by the potential double payoff of skilled, blue-collar jobs and a dynamic clean-energy industry — the administration has tried to buck the tide with lithium-ion batteries. It had to start almost from scratch. In 2009, the U.S. made less than 2 percent of the world’s lithium-ion batteries. By 2015, the Department of Energy projects that, thanks mostly to the government’s recent largess, the United States will have the capacity to produce 40 percent of them. Whichever country figures out how to lead in the production of lithium-ion batteries will be well positioned to capture “a large piece of the world’s future economic prosperity,” says Arun Majumdar, the head of the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The batteries, he stressed, are essential to the future of the global-transportation business and to a variety of clean-energy industries.

We may marvel at the hardware and software of mobile phones and laptops, but batteries don’t get the credit they deserve. Without a lithium-ion battery, your iPad would be a kludge. The new Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf rely on big racks of lithium-ion battery cells to hold their electric charges, and a number of new models — including those from Ford and Toyota, which use similar battery technology — are on their way to showrooms within the next 18 months.

This flurry of activity comes against a dismal backdrop. In the last decade, the United States lost some five million manufacturing jobs, a contraction of about one-third. Added to the equally brutal decades that preceded it, this decline left large swaths of the country, the Great Lakes region in particular, without a clear economic future. As I drove through the hollowed-out cities and towns of Michigan earlier this year, it was hard to tell how some of these places could survive. Inside the handful of battery companies that I visited, though, the mood was starkly different. Many companies are working on battery-pack designs for dozens of car models. At the Johnson Controls factory in Holland, Mich., Ray Shemanski, who is in charge of the company’s lithium-ion operation, said, “We have orders that would fill this plant right now.” Every company I visited not only had plans to get their primary factories running full speed by 2012 or 2013 but also to build or expand others. Jennifer Granholm, Michigan’s former governor, has predicted that advanced batteries will create 62,000 jobs over the next decade.

It is tempting to see in this the stirrings of an industrial revolution. These days, confidence is itself a rare and precious fuel, and in Michigan’s nascent battery belt, there is no shortage of it. As the country’s jobless rate hovers above 9 percent, could this manufacturing revival be part of the answer to the jobs crisis? Or is it merely an expensive government bet on a lost cause?

About 30 minutes northwest of Detroit, just off the Interstate, in Livonia, sits the modern, red brick automotive headquarters of A123 Systems, a beneficiary of about $375 million in federal stimulus funds and matching state grants. A123 provides the cells for a new electric car called the Fisker Karma, as well as various electric bus and truck projects around the world. A123 is also the first large-scale lithium-ion manufacturer whose domestic operations are up and running, though its pedigree is international. Its battery technology was developed at M.I.T., and for the last several years, the company had been making its lithium-ion cells in factories in Korea and China. When I asked Jason Forcier, the head of A123’s automotive division, why the company went to Asia to make its products, Forcier said he had no choice. “That’s where the supply base was,” he said. “That’s where the know-how was — it was nonexistent in the U.S.”

Repatriating a high-tech manufacturing plant to the United States is not simply a matter of hiring the local talent. It requires good-old foreign know-how. “We call it ‘copy exact,’ ” Forcier said. “We bought a company in Korea that had the technology around this type of battery and had developed the manufacturing process there. We basically brought that here, copied it exactly and scaled it up.” A123 also brought a team of six Korean engineers to help transfer the technology to the U.S. and sent a team of Americans to Korea to learn.

I heard a similar story at LG Chem Power — a battery start-up and an American subsidiary of LG Chem, a Korean firm. LG Chem is building a factory in Holland, Mich., to make batteries for the Chevy Volt. Production depends on replicating the company’s lithium-ion plants abroad, down to the smallest detail. “In fact, we’re making it like a copy — cut and pasted from Korea to here,” Prabhakar Patil, the C.E.O. of LG Chem Power, said.

Neither Forcier nor Patil made any apologies. Each told me that the moves to Michigan provided them with a skilled work force and operating expenses that are largely competitive with factories abroad. (Only 5 to 10 percent of the cost of a battery cell, Patil told me, comes from labor; material accounts for the bulk of expenses.) Each also saw his company’s strategy of importing manufacturing technology to the United States as imperative. A state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery plant is as different from an automobile plant as a science lab is from a gymnasium. Cell-making — the automated administration of thin chemical coatings on the batteries’ inner components; the mechanized cutting and folding of metal parts; the workers in sanitary “bunny suits” overseeing conveyor belts that move pristine cells through sealed assembly chambers — is painstakingly precise. A stray hair or a drop of sweat can ruin a lithium-ion cell. “Don’t touch anything,” Forcier advised me as we began to walk through the factory at A123.

Lithium-ion cells like the ones made at A123 probably don’t look like any battery you’ve ever used. They are stiff, rectangular, metallic-colored envelopes, roughly the dimensions of a thin trade paperback, with two small tabs. Individually, the cells aren’t much use for a car; they must be stacked with others in modules or packs. The Chevy Volt, for instance, has a pack of 288 cells, wired together and running down the center of the car. The pack is the most expensive and sophisticated element of the car, much in the way the processor is the most important element of a computer. Everything about the cell pack — its interior chemistry, its unifying electronics, its cooling systems — is variable and made to order. “With G.M., we’ve been working for two years on their exact requirements for the next-generation Volt,” Michael Sinkula, a founder of a battery-component company called Envia Systems, explained. “They say: ‘We want it to perform this way. Is that possible?’ And then we tell them if it’s possible.”

The Volt is just one car, of course — one whose sales are unremarkable. Still, the global automobile market is so large that even modest gains in market share could spark tremendous growth for battery-makers. “If you look at the year 2016, and you say, ‘Only 5 percent of the market is electrified?’ Well, that’s a $14 billion market for lithium-ion batteries,” Forcier says. “To hit 5 percent is a huge number of vehicles. And the business around making lithium-ion batteries for 5 percent of the world’s cars is a huge, huge business.”

In the late ’80s, Patil, of LG Chem Power, was working at Ford, trying to build a pure electric-battery vehicle called the ETX and getting nowhere. He was using a more primitivelead-acid battery technology. Automotive engineers tend to use two distinct measures — power and energy — to evaluate battery chemistries. Power relates to acceleration; energy relates to how far a car can travel before it needs to be recharged. The ETX wasn’t good by either yardstick. “The car went 0 to 60 in 12 seconds,” Patil recalls. “Its range was 60 miles on a good day.” The lead-acid batteries were so heavy that the cars were nicknamed lead sleds. With a performance and range so inferior to a typical gasoline vehicle, how could you expect a consumer to pay a premium — what was then about $10,000 — for it?

Eventually, lead-acid batteries yielded to nickel-metal hydride, which was incorporated into the Toyota Prius and, later, a range of hybrid vehicles. At the same time, a more promising battery chemistry based on lithium — with far greater potential for both power and energy — was being developed by various scientists, notably John Goodenough at the University of Texas. Sony was the first company to broadly adapt the lithium technology at its factories in the early 1990s; the company consistently improved the product and began incorporating it into consumer-electronic devices. But automakers couldn’t figure out how to cost-effectively adapt the technology. Patil recalls a “chicken-and-egg problem” as he tried to build a Ford Escape hybrid in the late 1990s. “I used to get thrown out of C.E.O.’s’ battery offices regularly,” he said. “They said: ‘Show me the market. Otherwise, leave.’ ” Patil knew there could be no market in the United States without significant drops in the batteries’ price and significant increases in their performance. But it was a Catch-22. Improvements in price and performance were impossible unless companies became serious about manufacturing.

Federal agencies like the Department of Energy have long financed scientific research — through university grants, for instance — on technologies like lithium-ion batteries. But a basic feature of government policy is to allow corporations and entrepreneurs to pick through the results of that research, commercialize the promising ideas and let the market sort things out. In other countries, it often works differently. Governments are more willing to help companies pool information about a new industry or technology and (especially in Korea and China) assist with the early-stagecommercialization of products, including the construction of plants. While Patil was getting booted from executive offices at Ford, companies in Asia, in some cases with a boost from their governments, focused on streamlining the manufacturing process. Battery performance steadily improved, and costs dropped. By the mid-2000s, it was clear that if the lithium-ion battery continued to get better at the same rate, the product might soon be suited for automobiles.

In January 2009, two weeks before Barack Obama’s inauguration, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan sent a letter to Obama and his advisers — Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod and Lawrence Summers — about the promise of lithium-ion technology. “The country or region that controls and dominates the production of batteries will also ultimately control green-vehicle production,” Levin said in a speech he later gave to the Senate. Levin’s efforts effectively laid the groundwork for battery grants to be part of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“It was a calculated risk — a lot of money, to be sure, but given the stakes, I think it was a pretty thoughtful bet,” says Ron Bloom, who recently served as an assistant to President Obama for manufacturing policy. “If vehicle electrification really does take off, as many, many people think it will, and we’re not part of it, then we could lose our leadership of the global automobile industry.” Which would be catastrophic. By some estimates, as much as 20 percent of all manufacturing jobs are directly or indirectly related to the automobile industry. Bloom points out that the United States is not the only country betting on batteries; a number of Asian countries have done so as well.

On both sides of the world, the fundamental appeal of expanding manufacturing is jobs. It is a curiosity of modern life that information companies can create extraordinary social disruptions and vast shareholder wealth but relatively few jobs. Facebook has about 2,000 employees worldwide. Google has about 29,000. Even in its new, slimmed-down state, General Motors, a decidedly less valuable company, has about 200,000 employees. What’s more, that number represents only a fraction of the people behind the production of a G.M. car. “When you’re manufacturing anything, even if the work is done by robots and machines, there’s an incredible value chain involved,” Susan Hockfield, the president of M.I.T., says. “Manufacturing is simply this huge engine of job creation.” For batteries, that value chain would include scientists researching improved materials to companies mining ores for metals; contractors building machines for factory work; and designers, engineers and machine operators doing the actual plant work. By some estimates, manufacturing employs about 65 percent of America’s scientists and engineers.

Hockfield recently assembled a commission at M.I.T. to investigate the state of American manufacturing and to offer a plan for its future. “It has been estimated that we need to create 17 to 20 million jobs in the coming decade to recover from the current downturn and meet upcoming job needs,” she said at a conference this past March. “It’s very hard to imagine where those jobs are going to come from unless we seriously get busy reinventing manufacturing.” This logic has been endorsed by Jeffrey Immelt, General Electric’s C.E.O.; Andy Grove, the former chairman of Intel; and Andrew Liveris, Dow Chemical’s C.E.O. A widely circulated 2009 Harvard Business Review article — “Restoring American Competitiveness,” by two Harvard professors, Gary Pisano and Willy Shih — has become one of the touchstones of the manufacturing debate. In the article, Pisano and Shih maintain that U.S. corporations, by offshoring so much manufacturing work over the past few decades, have eroded our ability to raise living standards and curtailed the development of new high-technology industries.

When I spoke with Pisano, he noted that industries like semiconductor chips — the heart of computers and consumer electronics — require the establishment of “an industrial commons,” the skills shared by a large, interlocking group of workers at universities and corporations and in government. The commons loses its vitality if crucial parts of it, like factories or materials suppliers, move abroad, as they mostly have in the case of semiconductors. At first the factories leave; the researchers and development engineers soon follow.

The most punishing effect, however, may be the one that can’t be measured — the technologies and jobs that aren’t created because the industrial ecosystem is degraded. The semiconductor industry, for example, led to the LED-lighting and solar-panel industries, both of which are mostly based in Asia now. “The battery is another fascinating example,” Pisano told me. “The center of gravity is Asia. But why?” If you go back to the 1960s, he says, the American consumer-electronics companies decided they were better off in Japan, and then Korea, where costs were lower. “And then you have to ask: Who had the incentives to make batteries smaller or more powerful or last longer? Not the car industry. The consumer-electronics industry did.” This explains why the U.S. is now playing catch-up with lithium-ion batteries. It also underscores the vulnerability of an economy with a shrinking manufacturing sector. “When one industry moves,” Pisano says, “there can be other industries in the future that follow it that you couldn’t even anticipate.”

Even in the battery industry, there are skeptics. Menahem Anderman, a California-based consultant, says that transforming 10 percent of the world’s automobiles into either plug-in hybrids or electric vehicles by 2020 is a pipe dream. His projection is for less than 2 percent. U.S.-based factories, he says, are at a disadvantage. The U.S. industry, he told me, “was not ready to take in $2 billion from the government and spend it wisely. And so now we will build a lot of plants, and we will create overcapacity, and a lot of the companies will fail.” He has no ideological objection to federal support, he adds, “but the status of the technology and the market were incompatible with the desire of the government to create manufacturing jobs.” For pure electric vehicles in particular, which will likely need an expensive battery replacement within 10 years, Anderman still sees the dilemma Patil faced at Ford in the ’90s, when he questioned whether consumers would pay $10,000 more for an inferior car. As Anderman puts it: “Has there ever been, in the modern history of capitalist countries, a new product for which the mainstream customer paid more for less?”

By his math, gas prices have to reach about $7 a gallon to make plug-in electric-hybrid vehicles attractive to consumers. To create demand for fully electric vehicles, gas prices would have to rise even higher. Which means generous government subsidies for purchases of these vehicles. Currently, Chevy Volt owners receive a tax break that brings the cost of the car down to about $33,500, from $41,000. In Washington, several people told me that unless there is consistent and increasing demand, taxpayers will have helped build an industry to nowhere. This fear is what turned so many politicians and policy makers against industrial policy in the first place. When government-backed ventures fail, taxpayers are left on the hook.

For now, battery makers think they can bring down costs quickly enough to be competitive. Improvements in the manufacturing process — spreading a better chemical coating on the sensitive elements inside the batteries, for instance, or raising the plant’s conveyor belt speed ever so slightly — will increase quality and efficiency. I also heard talk of start-ups in California working on new cost-effective chemistries. “We see prices over the next five years coming down 50 percent,” A123’s Forcier told me. “And it’s easy to say that, because we’re quoting 2014 business, and we know what the prices are.”

Whether this adds up to American jobs is less clear. The hope is that lithium-ion plants will seed a network of new chemical and equipment providers. To some extent, this has already happened. Some Japanese and Korean companies have set up shop in the United States, and local colleges are offering training courses for aspiring lithium-ion-battery factory workers. But it’s a fragile ecology. Job numbers are small relative to the huge plants of Detroit’s past. As the former labor secretary Robert Reich pointed out, high-tech manufacturing is increasingly automated. At capacity, the lithium-ion factories in Michigan will each employ between 300 and 400 people. Even the most optimistic forecasts — enough hybrid- and electric-car demand to necessitate several dozen factories — suggest the battery industry can’t significantly offset declines in American manufacturing.

Which doesn’t mean that it’s a bad investment. If nothing else, the Obama administration’s efforts in Michigan reawaken the conversation about industrial policy. To a large extent, this is an old war among Washington politicians. In the 1970s, it was fought over the federal bailouts of Lockheed and Chrysler — and a few years later during debates over whether the country needed to assist domestic companies in their efforts to gain ground on the Japanese in the semiconductor industry. By the time George H. W. Bush ascended to the presidency, the move away from industrial policy was clear.

“All you had to do in the 1980s was say, ‘That’s industrial policy,’ and it killed anything it was hurled at,” says Senator Levin, who along with Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio is now among the most vocal advocates of such a policy. “It was the kiss of death. And it set us back 10 to 20 years in terms of manufacturing in America.” What is different now, Levin argues, is that “our companies are not competing with those companies in Korea and Japan. They’re competing with those governments that are supporting them. It’s naïve to believe that we just have to let the markets work and we’ll have a strong manufacturing base in America.” In his view, the lithium-ion investments are tantamount to repairing a kind of market failure.

The battery executives I spoke to viewed the stimulus money as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. None seemed to think a federal windfall would come their way again. None saw their business endeavors as inherently political or ideological. And none seemed to believe they could survive if they didn’t drive battery costs down and demonstrate that they could compete with the best lithium-ion factories abroad. “My own feeling is this will happen just as the government incentives wear off,” Patil told me. “By then it has to become a self-sustaining business, and we actually see a line of sight to get there.”

If the battery stimulus ultimately succeeds, does it demonstrate that expanding the United States’ economy only through knowledge and services is no longer a viable strategy? “All of the great new American companies of the past few decades,” says Suzanne Berger, a chairwoman of M.I.T.’s panel on the future of American manufacturing, “have focused on research and development and product definition — Apple, Qualcomm, Cisco.” These were technology companies that could take full advantage of what she calls the “modularity” of the global economy. Their genius resided in the design of their gadgets and information systems; offshoring the industrial work did not leave them at a disadvantage. It did the opposite, greatly reducing costs and raising profits. “Now I think we’re at a really different moment,” Berger says. “We’re seeing a wave of new technologies, in energy, biotechnology, batteries, where there has to be a closer integration between research, development, design, product definition and production.”

One challenge to moving in this direction may be that our banks, hedge funds and venture capitalists are geared toward investing in financial instruments and software companies. In such endeavors, even modest investments can yield extraordinarily quick and large returns. Financing brick-and-mortar factories, by contrast, is expensive and painstaking and offers far less potential for speedy returns. Berger maintains that for the economy to get “full value” from our laboratories’ ideas in energy or biotech — not just new company headquarters but industrial jobs too — we must aspire to a different business model than the one we have come to admire.

Which is to say, companies that have a passing resemblance to A123 Systems in Livonia, Mich. Or to use a more familiar example, a business that looks less like Google and more like Ford.

The cord won't reach ... More roadside chargers needed for electric cars
By JOEL SCHECTMAN AP Business Writer
Article published Aug 1, 2010

The auto industry calls it range anxiety: Drivers want electric cars but worry they won't have enough juice to make long trips. After all, what good is going green if you get stranded with a dead battery?
It's a fear that automakers must overcome as they push to sell more battery-powered cars. So government and business are taking steps to reassure drivers by building up the nation's network of electric charging stations.

The hope is Americans will become more comfortable buying cars such as Nissan's all-electric Leaf, due out late this year, which can travel just 100 miles on a single charge. That's fine for a commute but potentially stressful for longer road trips.

"I think the Leaf is a beautifully designed vehicle, but 50 miles in one direction is just not enough," says Bob Shafron, a former electric car owner in California. "I think they are going to run into problems in markets like LA, where things are spread out."

While automakers and electric car advocates expect most charging to be done at home outlets, those plugs won't help drivers running low on power far from their garages or caught in traffic.

Only a few hundred public chargers exist now, but several government grants totaling more than $115 million will help add thousands more, including in San Diego, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Bellevue, Wash.
Electric vehicle advocates hope more will be built by private retailers and restaurants, using the charging stations to draw in customers the same way coffee shops offer wi-fi.

Public and privately funded chargers are going up in places like rest stops, hotels and McDonald's and Starbucks. Still, even the most optimistic estimates put the number of public charging stations at 16,000 by 2012, tiny compared with the 117,000 gas stations on American roads.

President Barack Obama wants 1 million electric cars on American roads by 2015, but experts say a chicken-and-egg problem is standing in the way. Before enough cars hit the road, private vendors may be reluctant to build many charging stations. And without many charging stations on the road, people may be reluctant to buy the cars.

Most public stations will take eight hours to juice up a car all the way, about the same as chargers in individual homes. These plugs could work for people who have chargers near their offices, but wouldn't work for quick refueling. Even a partial charge will take awhile - two-and-a-half hours to get 30 miles. A limited number of the chargers will be fast-chargers. If you can find one, it will still take 30 minutes for a full powerup.
In 1999, Shafron ran out of power as he was driving his EV1, the all-electric car that General Motors launched in the 1990s and later stopped making, from his beach home to Northridge, Calif. His range meter told him he had 20 miles left, but it quickly ran down to zero.

Difficulty in gauging remaining battery charge was a common issue with the EV1. Varying road conditions like hills and bad weather, which can take a toll on battery life, made the range of early electric cars tough to predict.

Carmakers say that new range meters in today's electric cars are much more accurate.  Whether or not the infrastructure is ready, many automakers will be putting out electric cars, with an estimated 146,000 on the road by the end of 2012.

Tesla, which just took itself public, has sold a little more than 1,000 high-end electric sports cars and plans to offer a lower-priced sedan in the next few years. Nissan has its Leaf, and Ford aims to enter the market with an all-electric Focus in 2012. General Motors Co. will soon sell its part-electric Volt.

The Volt is scheduled for limited release this fall and allows the driver to drive on battery alone for 40 miles before switching on a small gas engine that can take the vehicle up to 300 miles.
As one of the creators of General Motors' failed EV1, Andrew Farah knows the limits of the electric charging network.

"Show me an EV1 owner and I will show you someone who has broken down," said Farah, who cited a lack of a widespread charging network as one reason for the car's failure. Farah is the lead engineer on GM's Volt.

GM's Volt is partly a reaction to the lack of public chargers and the limited range that were factors in the EV1's demise.  As for the Leaf, Nissan said it fills a certain niche but isn't for everyone.

"I would not recommend this car for road trips," said Nissan spokeswoman Katherine Zachary. "We see this as a city car, a commuter car."

Nissan points out that most people drive well within the 100-mile range in a given day and that the Leaf will primarily serve those with regular driving routines. Government data backs that up, with about 78 percent of Americans driving 40 miles or fewer to and from work, according to the Department of Transportation.

But many Americans drive longer distances for family trips and vacations. Over Memorial Day weekend, vacationers had planned to travel an average of 626 miles both ways, with the vast majority of trips by car, AAA said.

Tom Moloughney, a 43-year-old New Jersey restaurant owner, is part of a test lease program for BMW's all-electric Mini-E. He said that electrics work well for two-car households, with the electric as the primary commuting vehicle and a gas car for longer trips and vacations.

Moloughney said that range anxiety is manageable - you just have to plan your trips carefully and know how far you're going.

"You are not gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles. You plan your trips and plan for how far you are going."

Duracell launches Smart Power initiative

Suite of rechargeable batteries debuts
By Michael C. Juliano, STAFF WRITER
Posted: 09/04/2009 10:51:20 PM EDT

Bethel-based Duracell Inc. recently debuted several rechargeable batteries through a new Smart Power initiative to meet the ever-increasing proliferation of phones, computers and other devices requiring a charge.

The latest offerings by the company known for copper-top alkaline batteries include myGrid, a charger that simultaneously energizes multiple devices, and the GoMobile and the GoEasy for recharging AA or AAA NiMH batteries in an hour. The products also include the Daylite LED Flashlight, which provides five times the battery life of conventional flashlights, and the Powerhouse Charger, Pocket Charger and the Instant Charger for cell phones.

"It just gives the consumer a sense of security and allows them to stay in touch," said Kurt Iverson, Duracell's external relations manager.

Rechargeable batteries is Duracell's fastest-growing product category, but alkaline batteries will remain its primary focus, Iverson said.

"Alkaline is still the biggest category, and we believe it still will be, because the rechargeable is still dependent on the grid," he said.

Nonetheless, Duracell has come out with rechargeable batteries that can energize a variety of devices, from cell phones to car batteries to an entire house and its appliances, Iverson said.

"In reality, we have a number of products that is not the (battery) cell," he said.

Suggested retail prices for the Smart Power initiative's suite of chargers are $79.99 for the myGrid, which includes a Power Clip adapter, $19.99 for the Pocket Charger, $29.99 for the Instant Charger and $49.99 for the Powerhouse Charger. The GoEasy and GoMobile chargers, which are available at major retailers, have recommended prices of $12.99 and $29.99, respectively, while the Daylite flashlights range from $14.99 to $34.99.

Duracell expects to continue to develop newer and better alkaline and rechargeable batteries under its Smart Power initiative in response to the needs of consumers, said Patrick Fellon, brand manager for Duracell North America.

"We are always trying to learn from the consumer," he said.

Duracell is owned by Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, the world's largest producer of household goods, whose name-brand portfolio includes Pampers, Head & Shoulders and Tide.

Procter & Gamble reported earnings of nearly $2.5 billion in the fourth quarter, ended June 30, down from $3 billion a year ago. Revenue fell 11 percent, to $18.7 billion, as sales fell across the company's broad portfolio. For its fiscal year, P&G reported profits rose 11 percent, to $13.4 billion, with a boost from the sale of its Folgers coffee business, while sales fell 3 percent to $79 billion.

The growing number of rechargeable batteries on the market will not pose an environmental risk as long as they are disposed of properly, said Paul Nonnemacher, director of public affairs for the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority in Hartford.

"I believe most people want to do the right thing," he said. "They just need the right information, and it needs to be relatively easy to do."

G.M. Says Volt Will Get Triple-Digit City Mileage
August 12, 2009

WARREN, Mich. — General Motors said Tuesday that its Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle, scheduled for release in 2011, will achieve a fuel rating of 230 miles a gallon in city driving.

The rating is based on methodology drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency, and most other automakers have not revealed the mileage for the electric cars. Nissan, however, announced last week that its all-electric vehicle, the Leaf, which comes out in late 2010, would get 367 m.p.g., using the same E.P.A. standards.

Figures for highway driving and combined city and highway use have not been completed for the Volt, but G.M.’s chief executive, Fritz Henderson, told reporters and analysts at a briefing that the car is expected to get more than 100 miles a gallon in combined city and highway driving.

“Our Chevrolet Volt extended range electric vehicle will achieve unprecedented fuel economy,” Mr. Henderson said. “I’m confident that we will be in triple digits.”

The Volt can travel up to 40 miles on a single battery charge, at which point a small gasoline engine kicks in and powers the car and simultaneously recharges the battery. The battery can be charged in eight hours, at an off-peak cost of about 40 cents, Mr. Henderson said.

Nearly 8 of 10 Americans commute fewer than 40 miles a day, the company said in a statement, citing Department of Transportation data. The mileage calculation for the Volt essentially assumes that most drivers would stay within that range and not need the gasoline engine.

Mr. Henderson said the Volt would be a critical part of G.M.’s product strategy. “Having a car that gets triple-digit fuel economy will be a game changer for us,” he said. The car will go into production late next year.

But whether the Volt can live up to its billing has been a matter of debate. Some industry analysts note that General Motors has a poor track record of introducing green technology to the market.

G.M. is trying to persuade consumers to return to its showrooms after filing for bankruptcy on June 1 and emerging as a reorganized company with fewer brands, models and dealers.

Mr. Henderson and other G.M. executives met with groups of consumers on Monday to hear their thoughts on the company’s product lineup.

“We need to communicate what we have,” Mr. Henderson said. “The only way we’re going to make G.M. great again is to win in the market.”

The Volt is expected to be both a so-called halo car to draw consumers to the Chevrolet brand, and a technological foundation for future electric models.

The company has built about 30 Volts so far and is testing them in various conditions.

Interest has been building in the Volt since it was introduced at auto shows in recent years. But with G.M. now 60 percent government-owned, the car has become a symbol of the company’s rebirth after its 40-day trip through bankruptcy.

Mr. Henderson said most of G.M.’s new products would be either passenger cars or fuel-efficient crossover vehicles. While the company will still build trucks and large sport utilities, the bulk of its investments will go toward smaller vehicles.

“I think the fundamental premise of planning for higher fuel prices is the right premise,” he said.

From the wild Internet, this blog much for VOLT?
A Revolting Development   [Henry Payne]

Detroit, Mich. — GM’s announcement today that the plug-in Chevy Volt will achieve 230 mpg in city driving is the latest item in its ongoing PR campaign (last fall’s headline was a 100 mpg combined city/highway rating) to convince Americans that GM is not only worth their tax money but that GM is greener than Toyota.

The Volt is also a reminder that tax credits for auto sales are likely permanent in the age of Big Green Government.

As Brother Pollowitz notes here, the debate is on as to whether cash-for-clunkers rebates on vehicles getting at least 18 mpg should be set in stone. But such subsidies are already a fixture (since 2005) on hybrid and diesel vehicles. The credits are granted on a sliding mpg scale and run as high as $3,150 for the current mpg champ, theToyota Prius. And, like Cash for Clunkers, the money is finite — the Prius subsidy runs out on October 1.

But in order for vastly more expensive electric vehicles like the Volt to be competitive in the marketplace, the feds have approved a whopping $7,500 credit. When the Volt goes on sale late next year, GM expects a base price of $40,000. Thus, the credit will bring the boxy little Chevy’s sticker within rage of a fully loaded, 50 mpg, $31,000 Prius. (Whoops — except that’s before the Toyota hybrid’s $3,150 credit. And, not lying down to GM’s green challenge, Toyota expects to debut its own 100-mpg, $7,500 tax credit-eligible plug-in in 2010).

Already in the hole to GM for $70 billion then, taxpayers will cough up an extra $7,500 per Volt sold. That’s assuming they sell, of course.

In the current $2.50-a-gallon market, the hottest selling GM car is a long way from 100 mpg. It’s the ground-pawing 2010 Camaro with unsubsidized backorders numbering in the thousands.

08/11 05:15 PM

A Quest for Batteries to Alter the Energy Equation
July 28, 2009

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — In a gleaming white factory here, Bob Peters was gently feeding sheets of chemical-coated foil one afternoon recently into a whirring machine that cut them into precise rectangles. It was an early step in building a new kind of battery, one smaller than a cereal box but with almost as much energy as the kind in a conventional automobile.

The goal of Mr. Peters, 51, and his co-workers at International Battery, a high-tech start-up, is industrial revolution. Racing against other companies around the globe, they are on the front lines of an effort to build smaller, lighter, more powerful batteries that could help transform the American energy economy by replacing gasoline in cars and making windmills and solar cells easier to integrate into the power grid.

This summer the Obama administration plans to announce how it will distribute some $2 billion in stimulus grants to companies that make such advanced batteries for hybrid or all-electric vehicles and related components. International Battery is vying for a modest chunk of it.

The hope is that the grants will spur far higher levels of experimentation and production, pushing down the costs that have prevented these batteries from entering the mass market.

The batteries would not only replace the fuel tanks in millions of cars and trucks, but would also make windmills and solar cells more practical, by absorbing excess energy when their production jumps and giving it back when the wind suddenly dies or the sun goes behind a cloud.

But first, companies like International Battery will have to tweak the chemistry of their devices and improve the manufacturing process, bolstering the batteries’ capabilities. And prices will have to come down — a problem that is far more daunting when it comes to batteries for vehicles and the grid, because the packs are hundreds or thousands of times the size of those for handheld electronics.

Nearly all battery research now focuses on lithium ion batteries, which made their consumer debut in 1991 and have since replaced nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal-hydride technologies in many portable electronics.

Lithium is the third-lightest element on the periodic table, which allows for far greater energy density. A lithium ion battery that will move a car one mile weighs less than half as much as a nickel metal hydride and one-sixth as much as lead acid.

Advanced battery manufacturing is mostly based in Japan, China, Taiwan and South Korea, where laptop computers and similar devices are built.

International Battery bought machines from China that manufacture the components and has been tweaking them to make them run faster, use fewer materials and produce a better product. Each button on the control panels is labeled in Chinese characters, with English penciled in by hand underneath. Near Mr. Peters’s machine, a cardboard box awaiting unpacking bears hand lettering that says, “Glass Please Carefully.”

Other companies are also trying out new chemistries and materials, at the positive and negative terminals of the battery. As technicians try to improve battery assembly, the first requirement is a strikingly clean work environment. Mr. Peters, in goggles and spotless rubber gloves, declined to shake hands recently, just as a surgeon might on the way into the operator room.

The gloves protect him from the chemicals in the battery, which include nickel, cobalt and manganese, and shield the battery’s delicate tissues from the natural oils on his fingers.

“We don’t want any debris,” said Mr. Peters, who formerly worked at a nearby factory that made bulletproof glass. (International Battery’s pristine new showplace was previously an appliance repair shop.)

The engineers face a difficult challenge. The batteries have to store a lot of energy in a small, light package, scoring high in a quality known as energy density. They also have to absorb energy and give it back quickly, a factor called power density.

Think of a battery as a bottle for energy, and the power density as the size of the bottle’s neck. Good energy density means a shape like a peanut butter jar, easy to fill or empty; low power density is more like a wine jug with a narrow neck.

The batteries have to charge quickly and withstand thousands of cycles of charge and discharge. They have to dissipate heat without catching fire, a product problem that a giant like Apple Computer could survive but a start-up electric car company probably could not. The batteries must function in Maine winters and Texas summers.

Engineers have met almost all of these goals, but not simultaneously in one product. And they are still way off on price: the components remain far too costly. But they are trying, devoting more and more resources to meeting that goal.

A few yards away from Mr. Peters, workers were getting ready to tear out the cafeteria so new cubicles could be built for more engineers as International Battery’s production expands.

“The battery is an enabler” of electric vehicles and other technologies, said Ted J. Miller, a technical specialist at the Ford Motor Company, referring to the models being produced in Allentown and others relying on different chemistry.

Mr. Miller represents Ford at the Advanced Battery Consortium, an organization formed with federal encouragement in 1991 to coordinate research on technology. Ford, Chrysler and General Motors have contributed, often with research scientists and facilities, and the Energy Department has written checks.

Automakers need improvements in batteries “everywhere we can get it,” Mr. Miller said.

In 1991 the Advanced Battery Consortium was founded and set a near-term target for developing a battery that would cost $150 per kilowatt-hour of storage. (A kilowatt-hour sells for about a dime and will move a car three or four miles.)

Eighteen years later, prices are in the range of $750 to $1,000. By comparison, a lead-acid battery in a conventional car costs less than $100 for that much capacity, although it is much too heavy to build an electric car around and not durable enough.

Now the Energy Department has a new goal: $500 by 2012.

“We think we can make that,” said Patrick Davis, the program manager at the Energy Department’s vehicle technologies program.

One reason for the optimism is the infusion of money that Washington is preparing to get the job done. The $2 billion in new grants planned this summer includes $1.2 billion for companies manufacturing battery cells and complete battery packs, $350 million for electric drive component manufacturing and $25 million for battery recycling. The cell and battery- pack companies could get up to $150 million each. Companies have already applied for more than $6 billion in grants.

The Obama administration is also hoping to drum up market demand. In March, President Obama, visiting a testing center for electric vehicles run by Southern California Edison in Pomona, announced tax credits of up to $7,500 for consumers who buy plug-in hybrid vehicles. Such models get some of their energy from the power grid and some from gasoline.

“This investment will not only reduce our dependence on foreign oil, it will put Americans back to work,” Mr. Obama said. “It positions American manufacturers on the cutting edge of innovation and solving our energy challenges.”

Some industry experts say that simply getting electric cars to market will touch off a cycle of new research, investment and product improvement.

“If there is a demand for all-electric vehicles, as opposed to small hybrids, you’re going to have a monumental scale-up of the battery industry,” said Kevin Czinger, chief executive of Coda Automotive, which plans to offer a $45,000 four-door all-electric sedan in California next year.

But when it comes to a genuine mass market for an affordable plug-in hybrid or all-battery car, “we don’t quite know how to get there,” said Mr. Miller, of Ford.

Consumer Reports magazine detailed the price problem in its February issue, reviewing an after-market conversion of a Prius to a plug-in. For $10,875 the magazine had a five-kilowatt-hour battery installed by a Toyota dealership in Massachusetts. It got a 67 miles a gallon, a 35 percent improvement over the stock version.

“Our Prius’s conversion to plug-in power cost more than you could ever expect to recoup in gas savings,” the magazine said. Still, “as a sign of things to come, we found it encouraging.”

Carl A. Picconatto, a battery expert at Mitre, a technology consulting firm, and other scientists suggest that materials reduced to the nano scale are a promising avenue. Nano-materials have huge surface areas in small, light packages; batteries work through chemical reactions that unfold on surface structures.

In batteries, charged particles travel through electrolytes. Crawling through an electrolyte consumes energy that does not get delivered to the consumer. But pushing through a nano-material could be like “pushing your hand through sand, versus pushing your hand through a big pile of rocks,” Dr. Picconatto said.

Still, in some applications, nano-materials gum up the works, or break down after a few dozen charges and discharges, experts say. Solving that problem could allow a cheaper, lighter battery pack.

The plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt, due out in November 2010, will carry 16 kilowatt-hours and go up to 40 miles on a full charge; if estimates from Mr. Miller hold when it goes into mass production, the battery pack alone would run from $9,600 to $16,000. And that does not count related parts like the system that maintains the temperature of the cells within an acceptable range and manages the charging and discharging.

G.M. would not disclose the price of the battery pack but expressed optimism that it would fall.

“We believe electrification is the future if the industry,” said Bob Kruse, the company’s executive director for global vehicle engineering, hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries.

“The mastery of battery technology is key,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

G.E. Announces New York Battery Factory
By Kate Galbraith
May 12, 2009, 12:49 pm

Bloomberg News Jeffrey Immelt, the chairman and chief executive officer of General Electric, announced plans on Tuesday to open a battery factory in New York.
General Electric announced today a $100 million investment to build a new factory in upstate New York that will make batteries — a sector with huge potential, according to G.E.’s chairman and chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt.

“We think the business gets to about $500 million in annual revenue by 2015,” Mr. Immelt told Green Inc., referring to the battery business. It could become a “$1 billion business a few years after that,” he added.

The batteries to be built at the new factory are not lithium-ion, the type widely considered to be the future of hybrid and electric cars.

Instead, they are sodium-based batteries — which will help to power G.E.’s hybrid locomotives after those are commercialized in 2010. The rationale, explained Mark Little, the director of global research at G.E., is that the sodium batteries store “a heck of a lot more energy” than lithium-ion ones. (Think of the size difference between a locomotive and a Prius, Mr. Little said.)

The sodium batteries could also have applications for data centers and storage for intermittent types of renewable energy like wind power.

The investment marks the latest venture into batteries for G.E., which recently increased its investment in A123, a lithium-ion battery maker.

The battery industry, despite its high costs, has become a favorite of the venture capital industry.

G.E. also hopes that the federal government, with its green-energy push, will help with the financing.

The factory — expected to begin production in 2011 — will employ 350 people in manufacturing positions. A G.E. spokeswoman said in an e-mail message, “we are looking at a number of sites in the Capital region and a decision will be made this summer.”

New York Gov. David Paterson, who attended today’s announcement, welcomed the arrival of the green jobs, and noted that New York had lost about 200,000 manufacturing jobs over the past decade. When it comes to renewables and research, “we have a tremendous capacity to beat anybody else to this,” he told Green Inc.

“We are betting big on batteries,” the governor stated.

Batteries Buck Downward Investment Trend
By Jennifer Kho
April 15, 2009, 10:20 am

A123 Systems, a battery maker in Watertown, Mass., is among energy-storage companies seeing an uptick in venture capital.
There’s no question that clean-tech investments have plummeted, with research firms reporting a first-quarter drop of more than 40 percent from both the previous quarter and the year-ago quarter.

But a deeper look into the numbers also reveals at least one sign of recovery.

Energy storage, it seems, is leading a venture-capital rebound. That may come as a surprise, given that batteries and fuel cells have a history of being capital-intensive investments. It often takes years of research and development to bring new energy-storage products to the market, with far more examples of delays and failures than successes.

Still, advanced-battery and fuel-cell startups raked in $126 million in the first three months of this year, nearly quadruple the $34 million raised in the fourth quarter and 12.5 percent more than the $112 million invested in the first quarter of last year, according to the Cleantech Group.

News since then underlines the growth.

Earlier this month, Lilliputian Systems, a company in Wilmington, Mass. that develops fuel cells for consumer electronics, raised $28 million.

And this week, A123 Systems, a lithium-ion battery maker in Watertown, Mass, announced it had raised $69 million, with $15 million from General Electric and the rest from other unnamed investors.

A123 Systems didn’t specify how much money it has raised since its inception in 2001, but the new round must be at least its seventh, as it represents the seventh investment from G.E. The company has previously announced four rounds totaling $132 million, bringing its current capital to more than $200 million.

The stimulus package has likely helped to keep the cash flowing. While the bill, enacted in February, includes provisions for a broad swath of clean technologies, government agencies are still working out how to allocate most of the money. The batteries — and electric vehicles — sector has been one of the few that already has received government solicitations, and venture capitalists seem to be anteing-up in response.

The $2 billion set aside for batteries in the stimulus comes on top of up to $25 billion in direct loans that became available last year for advanced vehicles, including related energy-storage technologies.

Other sectors also could soon be seeing slightly increased venture activity as a result of the stimulus. A recent grant solicitation, for example, suggests that companies involved in transporting biomass for cellulosic biofuels may be next to see an uptick.

And from Ford...
Detroit Auto Show: G.M. to Make Batteries for Volt in Michigan

January 11, 2009


GENERAL MOTORS will announce Monday that it will make lithium-ion battery packs to power the 2011 Chevrolet Volt and other extended-range electric vehicles at a new facility in Michigan. With the announcement, to be made during press preview days for the North American International Auto Show by Rick Wagoner, the company’s chairman and chief executive, G.M. becomes the first major automaker with a commitment to producing the advanced battery packs in the United States.

G.M. is also is expected to announce the opening of a new advanced-battery test facility at its global electric-vehicle engineering center in Warren, Mich.

Lithium-battery technology, already common in consumer devices like cellphones and laptop computers, is still being developed for the more demanding operating conditions of automobiles. Numerous types of battery chemistries are under consideration, but lithium ion is widely considered the leading candidate to meet the range and performance requirements of the next generation of electric and hybrid vehicles, including many of the future concept and production cars on display here in Detroit.

G.M.’s decision to build the battery-pack plant is part of the automaker’s revitalization plan, shifting the company’s focus to higher-efficiency cars and trucks. The Volt, which G.M. says will be capable of driving up to 40 miles on battery power alone, uses an onboard generator driven by a 1.4-liter gasoline to extend its range when the battery pack’s charge has been depleted.

With the combined mileage of battery-only operation, which uses no gas, and the miles covered with the car powered by its generator, the four-seat Volt sedan is expected to earn a fuel economy rating of more than 100 miles a gallon from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Full details, including the battery-pack plant’s specific location, are not expected to be released in the Monday news conference. G.M.’s announcement comes three weeks after Michigan’s legislature approved tax incentives worth up to $335 million aimed at attracting advanced-battery manufacturers to the state. The credits will be apportioned depending on production volume and other factors. Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm is expected to sign the legislation.

“This is very important, and it’s beyond symbolic,” said Brett Smith, speaking of the plant’s significance. Mr. Smith, assistant director for manufacturing, engineering and technology at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., explained that it is critical for the Detroit Three automakers to create an infrastructure in the United States for volume production of batteries for electric, plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles.

He noted that while this country lacks a cohesive battery-development policy, Asian battery companies, supported by their national governments, dominate global production driven by demand from the consumer-electronics industry.

Makers like Panasonic of Japan, LG Chem of South Korea and BYD of China, with years of experience in this sector, have a significant lead in battery development and production. (Panasonic, whose hybrid-battery joint venture is owned primarily by Toyota, recently purchased Sanyo, a former rival.)   Critics charge that American automakers and defense contractors are effectively trading dependence on imported oil for dependence on imported batteries.

While numerous start-up companies have emerged to develop advanced auto batteries in the United States in recent years, few are engaged in actual production for the automotive market. Wisconsin-based Johnson Controls has a joint venture with Saft, a French battery specialist, but lithium-battery production — for Mercedes-Benz and BMW hybrids — currently is in France.

Last month several United States battery and advanced materials companies, with support from the Energy Department’s Argonne National Laboratory, formed the National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture. The organization aims to make lithium-based cells for transportation applications in the United States.  Argonne actively encouraged the alliance and will serve in an advisory role.

Creating viable base for lithium automotive battery production in the United States has been a chicken-and-egg situation, Mr. Smith of the auto research center said.

“Automakers cannot afford the batteries until they can be produced in a certain volume,” he said. “But they can’t be produced in volume until the companies make a big manufacturing investment. The timing of that investment becomes critical — if you jump in too early you could end up on the bleeding edge rather than the leading edge.”

The battery packs that G.M. will assemble in its new facility are complex electronic systems. They consist of 220 individual lithium “cells,” each rated at two to three volts and interconnected in groups called modules. A complete T-shaped pack is approximately 64 inches long and weighs nearly 400 pounds.  The packs feature their own computer controls to manage electric-power flow, and their own heating and cooling equipment. And because the packs are positioned within the Volt’s underbody structure, they are housed in extremely durable cases.

Assembling the Volt packs could be a stepping stone toward G.M.’s production of lithium battery cells in the United States, a move that would have even greater strategic impact for the domestic auto industry’s future, Mr. Smith said. G.M. now has two companies under contract to develop and test prototype lithium cells for the Volt: Massachusetts-based A123 Systems, which manufactures its cells in China, and Compact Power, Inc., which is owned by LG Chem.

“With pack assembly in Michigan as the first step for G.M., hopefully we’ll start to see a lot more activity on the cell manufacturing side as well,” Mr. Smith said.

Electric-Car Battery Makers Seek Federal Funds
By Claire Cain Miller
December 26, 2008, 7:15 am

In the race to make the lithium-ion batteries that will run the electric cars of the future, the United States is losing to Asian countries, and start-ups and big companies need to band together to build a lithium-ion battery industry in the United States, says Jim Greenberger.

Mr. Greenberger, a lawyer specializing in clean technology who organized a new alliance of lithium-ion battery makers made up of 14 big companies, like 3M, and start-ups, like ActaCell.

“The great age of automobiles lies ahead of us, not behind us,” said Mr. Greenberger, who heads the clean-tech practice at the law firm Reed Smith and advises clean-technology venture capital firms and start-ups.

The group, called the National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture, took a page from the chip industry’s playbook. It is modeled after Sematech, which in the 1980s raised $990 million in federal grants and private investment to keep semiconductor manufacturing in the United States.  The alliance plans to introduce a proposal in Congress in January to raise $1 billion to $2 billion for lithium-ion battery manufacturing in the United States.

The ultimate goal, according to Mr. Greenberger: “We’re going to start to be able to manufacture cars in the United States again, on a basis that’s competitive with the Asians.”

Lithium-ion batteries, besides eliminating the need for petroleum, are three times as efficient as internal combustion engines in typical cars, Mr. Greenberger said. Furthermore, they can be charged by alternative sources of energy like wind or solar.  Several large companies, including General Electric and Sanyo, which was just bought by Panasonic, have been working on lithium-ion batteries. Many start-up companies have recently emerged, too, including Imara, which we wrote about last week.

The future of these batteries will depend on start-ups “because it’s a start-up industry,” Mr. Greenberger said. “We are five years behind Asians in our ability to manufacture the cells.”

The United States has the technology to develop lithium-ion batteries, he said. The two biggest challenges the industry faces, though, are building prototypes to simulate new batteries and then building the factories required to manufacture the batteries.

“We’re really good on theory and basic science,” he said. “It’s putting that theory into production where we’re falling down.”

One reason is that United States auto manufacturers are not yet buying lithium-ion batteries for electric cars, so there is not enough money to build prototypes and factories.  Yet car manufacturing will eventually move where the batteries are made, he said. “If we’re dependent on Asia, transportation and even defense will gravitate there.”

The initiative will require United States companies to shift their individualistic way of thinking and could fail if certain companies try to strike out on their own and raise money from their state representatives instead of going after a pool of government money for all lithium-ion battery makers, Mr. Greenberger warned.

“We’re trying through the alliance to come up with a way and mechanism to work on an industry-wide basis rather than everyone off for themselves,” he said. Otherwise, each company “will be crushed in turn by the Panasonics of the world.”

C L E A N   C A R    C H A L L E N G E

McCain to Propose Prize For New Auto Battery
Wall Street Journal
Associated Press
June 23, 2008 12:51 p.m.

PHOENIX -- John McCain hopes to solve the country's energy crisis with cold hard cash.

The presumed Republican nominee is proposing a $300 million government prize to whoever can develop an automobile battery that far surpasses existing technology. The bounty would equate to $1 for every man, woman and child in the country, "a small price to pay for helping to break the back of our oil dependency," Mr. McCain said in remarks prepared for delivery Monday at Fresno State University in California.

Mr. McCain said such a device should deliver power at 30% of current costs and have "the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars."

The Arizona senator is also proposing stiffer fines for automakers who skirt existing fuel-efficiency standards, as well as incentives to increase use of domestic and foreign alcohol-based fuels such as ethanol.

In addition, a so-called Clean Car Challenge would provide U.S. automakers with a $5,000 tax credit for every zero-carbon emissions car they develop and sell.

The proposal comes as gasoline has reached a record cost of more than $4 a gallon. That has boosted the price of virtually all goods and services, sent commuters flocking to public transportation and increased tensions between the U.S. and its Middle Eastern oil suppliers.

Last week Mr. McCain suggested one way to ease supply concerns would be to lift a federal ban on offshore oil drilling if individual states want to allow it. His Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, opposes that idea, saying it would do nothing to address immediate price concerns.

On Sunday, Mr. Obama told a Washington audience he would strengthen government oversight of energy traders whose futures speculation he blames in large part for the skyrocketing price of oil.

In his latest speech, Mr. McCain expressed exasperation both with the federal government and the private sector. He said rising costs during a time of stagnant wages evokes the 1970s era of "stagflation."

Without blaming his fellow Republicans in the Bush administration directly, Mr. McCain said: "It feels the same today, because the unwise policies of our government have left America's energy future in the control of others."

The pork-barrel opponent also blasted "a hodgepodge of incentives" for the purchase of fuel-efficient cars.

"Different hybrids and natural-gas cars carry different incentives, ranging from a few hundreds dollars to four grand. They're the handiwork of lobbyists, with all the inconsistency and irrationality that involves," Mr. McCain said.

Following the speech, Mr. McCain was scheduled to attend fundraisers in Fresno and Santa Barbara, part of a money push that helped the senator raise a personal record of $21 million last month.

Copyright © 2008 Associated Press

Actually, this topic is upside down, and for regular use, lightbulbs now rip-offs, IMHO.

Residential electricity use in U.S. falling to 2001 levels; 
More efficient appliances, new bulbs help bring down nation's utility bills
Article published Jan 5, 2014

New York - The average amount of electricity consumed in U.S. homes has fallen to levels last seen more than a decade ago, back when the smartest device in people's pockets was a Palm pilot and anyone talking about a tablet was probably an archaeologist or a preacher.

Because of more energy-efficient housing, appliances and gadgets, power usage is on track to decline in 2013 for the third year in a row, to its lowest point since 2001, even though our lives are more electrified.

Here's a look at what has changed since the last time consumption was so low...article in full here (cross-fertilization of topics - link is to "power" page: )

Let There Be Light!
Editorial, National Review
December 17, 2011 7:00 A.M.

The 1,219-page, trillion-dollar omnibus spending bill that will fund the government through fiscal year 2012 appears to be the usual mix of compromise and compromised. But out of the mire of horse-trading and half-measures there is at least one bright light: bright light itself.

As we understand it, the omnibus contains a rider defunding Department of Energy efficiency standards that would have effectively killed the incandescent light bulb on January 1. The reprieve is temporary — instead of repealing the relevant regulations, it merely stalls their implementation through next September. But riders are sticky things, often renewed automatically, and this rider marks an important win for House Republicans, consumer choice, and Edison’s fine old filaments.

Breaking liberals’ usual rule about government not intruding in the bedroom, Stephen Chu’s DOE would have insinuated itself into your bedroom and into every other room of your domicile, casting the pale pall and dreary buzzing of compact fluorescence over every home in America.

And why? For our own good, Chu says, to “tak[e] away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money.” What a splendid mission statement for the DOE, and a pithy summation of the case for abolishing it. Call us old-fashioned, but we think that if government interventions into a market are ever justified, they are justified on the grounds of giving consumers more choice. Regulation undertaken in the name of Green piety inevitably offers less. One need look no further than the contemporaneous, and so far successful, move by the FDA to ban arguably the most effective asthma inhalers because they contain CFCs. In Bureaucraworld, Freon in the atmosphere trumps oxygen in the lungs.

In a way, the damage done by the promise of the incandescent ban is irreversible: GE closed its last U.S. factory making incandescent lights in 2010, as GE chair and Obama crony Jeffrey Immelt counted on a rush of new business for his more expensive fluorescent bulbs. And Democrats will no doubt claim a “compromise” in the rider, as they have apparently managed to insert language forcing the recipients of DOE grants in excess of $1 million to meet the mothballed standards in any event. But DOE grants are not exactly held in the highest esteem these days, and should themselves be continued targets for conservative cuts. The branches have been pruned; next up, the roots.

The obvious joke here is, “How many bureaucrats does it take to screw up the light bulb?” Thanks to this small victory, we’ll have to wait at least until September to hear the punch line.

Old-style light bulbs will keep burning, for now
By DOUG ALDEN, New Hampshire Union Leader
Published Dec 17, 2011 at 3:00 am (Updated Dec 16, 2011)

The light bulb is back — or at least not going away as previously planned.

A federal mandate expected to phase out 100-watt incandescent light bulbs in favor of more energy-efficient devices was switched off in Washington as members of Congress tussled over a spending deal.  While the so-called “bulb-ban” will remain on the books as of Jan. 1, the spending plan does not provide the Department of Energy with funds to enforce it.  U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., said the move is a small, albeit temporary, victory for consumers.

“We Americans are perfectly capable of deciding for ourselves what type of bulb is best for lighting our homes and offices,” Guinta said Friday in a statement to the New Hampshire Union Leader. “We don’t need a nanny government in Washington mandating which type we can use and which we can’t.”

Shopping at Home Depot on Friday, Arthur Hebert couldn’t agree more.

“I don’t like the new bulb; they don’t seem as bright,” said Hebert, a public works employee with the town of Bedford. He prefers incandescent bulbs, but said his choices are already limited. This past summer, he was forced to purchase a compact fluorescent when he bought a bug lamp.

Hebert said he plans to stock up on the incandescent bulbs before Jan. 1. He was at the right place. Inside the main entrance, Home Depot has a display filled with incandescents.  According to the Department of Energy, the new law doesn’t actually ban — as many believe — any particular bulbs. It just requires them to use about 25 percent less energy.  Although compact fluorescent lights are more efficient, opponents note they have their own drawbacks, namely in disposal because the bulbs contain mercury. Fluorescent bulbs also cost more to purchase.

“I know the price is going crazy,” said Shaun Mulholland, a New Boston resident who is a price analyst for the electronics industry.  He questioned what effect the phase-out will have on his household. Most of the bulbs inside his house are 75 watt or less.  And he said the phase-out of the incandescent bulbs will probably help consumers.

“Once people start shifting (to compact fluorescent) it drives prices down,” he said.

But to Guinta, the idea of being told what to buy — regardless of the product — does not go over well.

“Get the government out of the way and let the free market determine the right light bulb for our needs,” Guinta said.

The delay in Congress affects consumers much more than state government. New Hampshire state facilities have been replacing incandescent lights for years, according to Mike Connor, director of plant and property management for the state Department of Administrative Services.  Even the chandelier bulbs that light the Capitol building in Concord are fluorescent, Connor said Friday afternoon.