China's New Green Machine  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

Technology Review has an article on China's new F3DM plug-in hybrid car - China's New Green Machine.

While major automakers like GM and Toyota are preparing to build their first plug-in hybrid vehicles, a Chinese battery maker has beat them to it.

As of yesterday, Shenzen-based BYD Auto--a subsidiary of leading Chinese rechargeable-battery producer BYD Group--is selling the world's first mass-produced plug-in hybrid car, according to Bloomberg. This battery-loaded version of BYD's F3 sedan is said to travel up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) on stored grid power alone.

Many observers deride the car's styling as plain and derivative. But the BBC's global business correspondent Peter Day, who drove BYD's plug-in this weekend, says that they're missing the point: "Critics say this is a copycat car, but that is how the Japanese auto industry started."

Green Car Congress reports that the plug-in is dubbed the F3DM after its "dual-mode" hybrid system--misleadingly dubbed, that is, because the vehicle actually operates in three distinct modes:

* a battery-powered EV mode
* a series-hybrid mode whereby the gas engine recharges the batteries while the electric motors drive the wheels, and
* a parallel-hybrid mode whereby both motor and engine drive the wheels.

This marks a contrast with GM's Chevy Volt, due out two years from now, which dispatches with the parallel hybrid option.

BYD Auto's parent company is making lithium batteries for the car using lithium iron phosphate cathodes--a safer design than the lithium cobalt oxide cathodes used in cell-phone batteries. Boston-area battery developer A123 uses the same chemistry, and although A123 is thought to have lost out in the competition to supply the first-generation Chevy Volt, it is in the running for many other hybrids and electric vehicles in development.

BYD says that it will bring the F3DM to the U.S. market in 2011, but it must first pass U.S. crash tests and set up a dealer network. The company has a well-connected U.S. investor to help navigate the U.S. hurdles: billionaire investor Warren Buffet, whose Berkshire Hathaway investment group bought a one-tenth stake in BYD for $230 million in September.

Katie Fehrenbacher at GigaOm has a post on Intel's interest in building enewrgy storage devices for the electric vehicle market - Why Intel Could Rock the Electric Vehicle Battery Market.
Like any emerging industry, the cleantech world tends to accuse newcomers of being interlopers, and that’s probably the initial thought many had when news hit that former Intel chairman Andy Grove is advising the company to move into the electric vehicle battery market. Realistically, what could the world’s largest chip maker, which makes the bulk of its revenues on digital communication technology, do to help transform our beleaguered car industry into an electric wunderkind?

A lot, actually. While the move would be risky, it could have a monumental effect on the slow-moving electric vehicle battery industry, particularly in the United States. Intel has already moved closer to the EV battery market with some recent investments through its venture arm, Intel Capital. The investment group has funded battery, energy storage and alternative energy companies including the solid-state battery startup Cymbet, fuel-cell membrane company PolyFuel and Chinese flow-battery maker Net Power Technology. Intel Capital’s solar investments – like SpectraWatt, SulfurCell and Trony Solar — are also tied to batteries, as solar production needs to store energy overnight when the sun doesn’t shine.

“We certainly consider battery technology important,” Intel spokeswoman Christine Dotts told us. “Whether we will do anything more in this area we can’t say at this time. However, it should be noted that battery technology developments for computer uses and for automotive applications are not necessarily mutually exclusive.” That means if Intel does put significant efforts into battery development, the company believes it could use those innovations for computing, mobile technology and networks (all industries where Intel already has a significant presence), not just transportation.

Intel certainly has the balance sheet to make large R&D bets. For the fourth quarter, Intel is expecting revenue of $9 billion, and for 2007, Intel generated $38.33 billion in revenue. Last year Intel spent $5.76 billion, or a whopping 15.03 percent of revenues for the year, on R&D.

At the same time, the market itself is crying out for an aggressive, smart company to solve some of electric vehicles’ fundamental issues. The battery is one of the most expensive and technically difficult aspects of EVs, and it’s one of the biggest reasons there are so few electric vehicles on our roads. As Rob Enderle from the research firm Enderle Group says: “Battery technology has significantly lagged,” while other technologies have advanced. Most of the next-generation battery technology from startups like A123 Systems and Altair Nano, or energy storage devices like EEstor’s, are still years away from commercialization.

With the right bets, Intel has the ability to become one of the largest U.S. electric vehicle battery makers. The big companies that are currently moving to dominate the battery industry — like Sanyo, LG Chem and Panasonic — largely come from Asian countries. Electric-car makers like Tesla have complained that the cost of transporting batteries from international producers drives up manufacturing costs, and Tesla said it has actively (and so far unsuccessfully) looked for a U.S. manufacturer. Many of the large U.S. automakers slowly getting into electric vehicles could also be interested in domestically-made batteries. U.S. electric vehicle battery production could also be ripe for U.S. subsidies or benefit from Obama’s green stimulus.

For Intel, moving into electric vehicle batteries could help the company diversify beyond chips for computing, which it has so far largely been unable to do successfully yet. Other chip companies have succeeded in diversifying through green tech businesses: Applied Materials diversified its chip equipment business several years ago with a solar gear bet and now is seeing solar as one of its fastest growing areas. Chip maker STMicroelectronics is working with LG Chem on battery packs for hybrid and electric vehicles.

Intel's Andy Grove has a column in McKinsey Quarterly outlining a plan to " reduce America's dependence on oil imports [by converting] petroleum-driven miles to electric ones by retrofitting the SUVs and pick-ups now on the road with rechargeable batteries" - An electric plan for energy resilience.
Our aim should not be total independence from foreign sources of petroleum. That is neither practical nor necessary in a world of interdependent economies. Instead, the objective should be developing a sufficient degree of resilience against disruptions in imports. Think of resilience as the ability to absorb a significant disruption, bigger than what could be managed by drawing down the strategic oil reserve.

Our resilience can be strengthened by increasing diversity in the sources of our energy. Commercial, industrial, and home users of oil can already use other sources of energy. By contrast, transportation is totally dependent on petroleum. This is the root cause of our vulnerability.

Our goal should be to increase the diversity of energy sources in transportation. The best alternative to oil? Electricity. The means? Convert petroleum-driven miles to electric ones.

Electric miles do not necessarily mean relying on all-electric cars, which would require building an extensive and expensive infrastructure. They can be achieved by so-called plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). (Since many plug-in cars are modified hybrid automobiles, they are sometimes called PHEVs.) PEVs have both a gasoline-fueled engine and an electric motor. They first rely on the electricity stored onboard in a battery. When the battery is depleted, the vehicle continues to run on petroleum. The battery then can be charged when the vehicle is not in service.

The amount of gasoline a PEV consumes is dependent on the number of miles it is driven between the times when it is recharged. Let us explain this by simplifying the picture a bit. If the electric-only range is, say, 40 miles, and the number of miles driven between charges is less than 40, the vehicle uses no gas at all, so it’s not possible to calculate the miles per gallon. If the number of miles driven is greater than the electric range, the gas mileage starts out very high and then declines with the additional miles until the mileage approaches what an ordinary gasoline-powered vehicle would provide. Consequently, the fuel performance of the vehicle is defined by a curve (exhibit). The 40-mile mark was chosen because it is a good range to shoot for. More than 80 percent of the cars on US roads are driven less than that distance daily.

Several hundred prototypes of PEVs are currently on the road. So what would it take to build enough of them to make a significant dent in oil consumption? Revamping the fleet of automobiles already on the road through production of new automobiles would take far too long for comfort. If ten automobile manufacturers each introduced a new PEV now and increased its production as fast as Toyota did with its highly successful Prius, the vehicles would still account for less than 5 percent of the 250 million vehicles on US roads a decade from now.

We believe the United States should consider accelerating this movement by creating an industry of after-market retrofitters. What problems—technical and economic—would need to be solved in order to do that? With the help of a team of second-year graduate students in our Bass seminar at the Stanford Business School, we examined this question in the context of a proposed pilot program, whose aim would be to retrofit one million vehicles in three years. We felt that such a project would represent what in game theory is referred to as the “minimum winning game”: a significant step toward a long-term strategic objective (see sidebar, “Inside Andy’s real-world seminar”).

We estimate the price tag of such a pilot project to be around $10 billion, owing to the present high cost of batteries, which are around $10,000 each. One might expect such costs to drop as volume increases, but because this program is accelerated by design, we have to assume that batteries will remain expensive. Assuming an average gas price of $3 per gallon, the payback period to the owner of a retrofitted vehicle is at least ten years, not a strong economic incentive. But the benefits of this program—testing and validating a key approach to energy resilience—accrue to the well-being of the United States at large. As the general population is the predominant beneficiary, economic assistance flowing from everyone to vehicle owners, in the form of tax incentives, is justified. ...

We are approaching the inevitable decline of oil availability—the mother of all inflection points—which gives the United States the opportunity to move into a more desirable strategic position. Today, we compete with countries whose richer natural resources give them a strategic advantage. If we shift transportation towards electric miles, we gain an opportunity to employ our own resources: newly energized governmental leadership, a tradition of high-volume manufacturing, and a culture of technological innovation. These capabilities and skills have served the United States well in the past, and the drive toward electric miles may help revitalize them. That result is every bit as important as the electric miles themselves.

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