Vehicular decarbonisation – two new technologies to watch

by Rud Istvan

This post addresses issues related to  ‘vehicular decarbonization’. It is  an energy storage insider’s narrative of how tough a slog developing some of the requisite applied science technologies has been over the past decades. It is a saga of research twists and turns, abject failures, near misses, and ‘before its time’ inventions.

Vehicular decarbonization

In the US (e.g. California ZEV credits) and Europe (e.g. hybrid incentives) there has been a push to electrify automobiles to reduce CO2 emissions. As an extreme example, Germany’s Bundesrat just passed a resolution that would eliminate all fossil fueled new cars by 2030. Whether or not Germany’s upper house has lost all sense of Mercedes/BMW/VW reality, the push to ‘decarbonize vehicles’ clearly exists independent of whether it is necessary for climate’s sake. Is it even practically feasible? Tesla’s Elon Musk thinks so, based on $4.5 billion of Tesla investment plus another $3.9 billion from Panasonic for his Gigafactory. But Teslas are expensive, slow charging (~4 hours at 240V), and range limited compared to ordinary cars. They are mainly a rich person’s virtue signalling toy. Tesla has consumed $8.4 billion of capital with no financial return in sight yet.

There are three vehicle electrification steps moving away from conventional internal combustion engines (ICEs): hybridization (e.g. the Prius), range extended electric vehicles (e.g. the Chevy Volt), and full EVs (e.g. Tesla or the new Chevy Bolt)

Full hybridization like the Toyota Prius works in several ways. Engine idle-off saves 5-8% depending on urban traffic. Regenerative braking saves 9-10%. The additional power of the electric motor enables two further major changes. First, the ICE can be downsized, saving both weight and fuel. Second, it can be converted from the Otto cycle to the Atkinson cycle. Atkinson cycle ICE saves about 15% in fuel economy, but with a significant torque loss. That doesn’t matter in a full hybrid; the electric motor provides missing torque. The 2016 Prius couples a 121 hp 1.8 liter Atkinson I4 with a 71 hp electric motor for 192 hp combined. Its new lithium ion battery (LIB) is just 0.75Kwh and weighs only 54#. Recharging is from the alternator or regenerative braking while driving. Prius comfortably seats 5 along with 24.6 cubic feet of cargo space (65 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down). Range is 633 miles from ~52 mpg. 2016 price is >$24,200. From launch in 2010 through yearend 2015 Toyota has unsurprisingly sold ~1,170,000 Prius hybrids.

The 2016 Chevy Volt is powered by two electric motors providing only 149 hp fed from a 18.4 Kwh LIB providing a marketed ~50 mile electric range, up from 40 in the previous version. The original all-electric range was chosen because about 2/3 of US urban trips are under 40 miles. With a 240 volt charger, Volt recharging takes 4.5 hours (with 120 volt charging, it takes 13 hours). The battery is warrantied for 8 years or 100,000 miles. The LIB battery weights 405# (189kg) and is a 5.5 foot long T shaped monster. The range extending gasoline engine is a 1.5 liter 101 hp I4 driving an onboard 54 Kw generator. With a full tank of gas and a fully charged battery, Volt range is ~408 miles. Seating is essentially only 4, and cargo capacity is only 10.6 cubic feet. For those middling vehicle values the price is >$33170. Unsurprisingly, Chevy has only sold about 117,000 Volts since 2010 (the same launch year as Prius, so a fair comparison).

The MY2017 Chevy Bolt is a pure EV. The marketed range is 238 miles from a 60Kwh LIB (actual is supposedly ~208). The battery weights 960# (435kg) and its 285 liter volume covers the entire floor of the car. Each hour of 240 volt charging provides 25 miles of range. The warranty is Volt-like. Bolt uses a single 200hp (150kw) electric motor. Seating is essentially 4 and cargo capacity is only 16.9 cubic feet. Price is >$37495.

The preceding examples illustrate three fundamental facts. (1) Full hybridization makes commercial sense, and sells well to fuel economy minded consumers. (2) The extra weight and cost of a conventional engine and generator to solve EV range anxiety is a poor Volt tradeoff. (3) The Bolt’s newest chemistry LIB is still insufficiently capable and too expensive to provide a competitive range at a competitive price.

This post identifies technical solutions to issues (2) and (3) that might also make commercial sense. A bit technical, but perhaps some important insights. Intentionally lots of google click bait for those wishing to learn more. Just the usual links/images for those who don’t.

Technology 1 for fact (2): FPLG

Free piston linear generators (FPLG) are not a new idea. The first patent was issued in 1934 as US2362151. The basic idea is simple. Remove unnecessary ICE connecting rods, crankshaft and bearings, at least some valves plus cams and/or rockers, the necessary connecting rod/crank/bearing/valve oil lube system, and the conventional rotating generator attached to the crank. Just have a magnetic piston in a combustion chamber energize a linear generator as it travels back and forth. Simple, small, light, cheap, and efficient.

But FPLG was not technically feasible until the development of powerful rare earth permanent magnets (for the piston component) beginning in 1966. A patented idea before its time. These permanent magnets still weren’t commercially viable until rare earth magnets improved in the 1990’s for portable electronics hard disk drive and speaker applications. The past decade has seen significant further price/performance improvement driven mainly by wind turbines and hybrid vehicles. FPLG are now conceptually commercially viable.

In the conventional ICE/Generator market, there is no need for FPLG. There is no size/weight/efficiency constraint on gensets that must run outdoors.

But for range extended EV’s like Chevy Volt, there definitely is—a new potential market for an old but only recently feasible technology. It is not surprising that among several entities now working on FPLG, Toyota already presented a working prototype in 2014.


Toyota’s prototype has a single fairly complex combustion chamber with a gas spring piston return. The 24” long by 8” wide prototype generates 10 Kw with 42% fuel efficiency. A typical vehicle ICE is 26-28% efficient, but with parasitic losses (e.g. transmission, oil pump, engine friction) only 15- 20% energy efficiency is delivered to the wheels.

Launched in 2014, Israeli startup Aquarius Engines has developed a simpler (than Toyota) single piston dual combustion chamber FPLG with ‘novel airflow for reduced emissions and enhanced cooling’.


The pictured Aquarius FPLG production prototype develops 35Kw from just 70kg at a demonstrated fuel efficiency of ~40%. Peugeot is planning several range extended EV prototypes using Aquarius FPLG for initial 2017 road testing.

FPLG works technically. The remaining automotive grade reliability, emissions, and control issues look more like engineering developments than further technology breakthroughs. FPLG might solve the fundamental size/weight/cost range extending genset problem evidenced by the Chevy Volt.

Technology 2 for fact (3): LIC

Lithium ion capacitors (LIC) are also not a new idea. In 2007 and 2008, Subaru presented (at the 17th-18th International Seminars on DLC and Hybrid Energy Storage Devices) working asymmetric prototypes combining features of supercapacitors and LIB into a single electrochemical device with very attractive hybrid properties.

Some simplified energy storage basics in the following two paragraphs for interested denizens, which otherwise can be skipped.

Capacitors store charge electrostatically. There are two basic technologies. The common one is an insulator sandwiched between two conducting plates. This is the basic technology of all electronic capacitors, with a technology lineage dating back to the Leyden jar in 1745. They are very fast, can be made very small and cheap, and can last trillions of cycles—but they only store tiny amounts of electricity. The other technology is supercapacitors (aka ultracapacitors or EDLCs) based on Helmholtz double layer capacitance, the electrostatic mechanism producing thunderstorm lightning. Supercaps can store thousands of Farads per cell, charge or discharge in ~1.5 seconds, and last over 1 million cycles. Energy stored is a function of voltage squared, and for reasons beyond the scope of this post aprotic supercaps are limited to about 2.8 V; LIB is ~3.5 V. The best current supercaps have about 20 times the power density of current LIB, but only about 1/50 the energy density. Their commercial advantage is very long cycle life at very high power density; the market is ~ $1 billion.

Batteries store electricity in Faradic electrochemical reactions. There are again two basic technologies. With pseudocapacitance there is no chemical species change; in true battery chemistries there is on at least one electrode (e.g. lead to lead sulfate and back in PbA). LiB is the most energy dense second type commercially available, but has an inherently limited life to at most a few thousand charge/discharge cycles (Chevy Volt is ~ 5000 cycles from 80% SoC to 35% SoC at a 1C rate).

Subaru was looking for a replacement to standard lead acid batteries (PbA) that would have a significantly enhanced cycle life and more energy density without excessive cost. Subaru’s motivation was an under hood battery for mild hybridization (just engine idle off and regen braking, for example the Valeo system) that did not also automatically kill battery life. They used a standard activated carbon for the cathode, lithiated graphite for the anode (with a very clever first charge lithiation scheme using lithium metal mesh), and standard LIB LiPF6 as the electrolyte salt. The result was a 3.8 volt device (better than LIB) with a demonstrated 20,000 cycles (95%SoC to 45%SoC at a 40C rate) at 80°C! But, Subaru then decided LIC enabled mild hybridization did not make commercial sense (added cost > ~15% fuel saving). So they licensed their LIC technology to JM Energy. The product is sold as the Ultimo and is used in specialty applications like heavy duty UPS (backup/reactive power/peak support in heavy manufacturing). A near miss despite Dr. Hatozaki’s R&D success.

The energy density limitation of supercapacitors that LIC seeks to overcome is directly related to the effective surface (per gram or cc) upon which the Helmholtz double layer can form, and to the voltage at which they can operate. Activated carbons have high total surface areas, but surprisingly low effective surfaces. (Full disclosure. My NanoCarbons invention cost effectively increases activated carbon effective surface about 50% using three patented tricks. And will likely be rendered much less valuable by what follows.)

Growth of vertically aligned closely spaced multiwall carbon nanotubes on a metal current collector via CVD provides very high effective surface (an MIT Ph.D thesis), but is difficult to scale and very expensive.


The 2009 MIT spinout company that attempted to develop this technology for EV’s has received tens of $millions in DARPA and DOE grants, but has struggled to get beyond very high priced very small niche specialty markets. It survives, barely, on continued government R&D support rather than product sales.

When Geims got the 2010 Nobel Prize for discovering graphene, it was surmised by many that graphene based structures could solve the effective surface problem more easily and cheaply than vertically aligned carbon nanotubes. Graphenes are essentially single atom sheets of carbon (like an ‘unrolled’ single wall nanotube, only with greater XY area). They are extremely strong, highly conductive, and fairly easy to make. Graphene Energy (spun out of Ruoff’s group at U. Texas Austin) investigated this energy storage possibility. Ruoff converted graphite oxide to graphene in an aqueous solution using acid. Their problem was that the resulting graphenes clump thanks to Van der Waals force, and the effective clump surface was no better than NanoCarbon but much more expensive. Graphene Energy failed and folded.



What this failed company’s research suggested was that some inexpensive way to make a robust unclumped graphene structure might be a path forward.

Given that background, imagine my shock (reading last week) that Henrick Fisker has just founded a new electric vehicle company plus a new ‘battery’ subsidiary, Fisker Nanotech, claiming >400 mile battery range plus very rapid charge time in a hybrid lithium battery/graphene capacitor device. The HOLY GRAIL according to MSM PR! For those denizens who do not know about him, Henrick Fisker is a famous supercar designer (Aston Martin DB8 of James Bond movie fame, amongst others). He started an electric supercar company before Tesla. Alas, the sourced batteries exploded over 100 times in his Karma cars (really bad karma). Then his LIB supplier A123 Systems (spun out of MIT) imploded into bankruptcy losing $250 million of US subsidies and grants plus $100 million for investors, after being sold to China for ~$200 million. Fisker Automotive quickly followed, whose investors lost an additional $1.4 billion.

Can there be any credence to Fisker’s newly announced phoenix like rise from his EV ashes? He has funding, so somebody believes. But then, many somebodies believe Elon Musk. The credibility question requires untangling a fascinating technology development web that leads to a new LIC technology. The patent application for Fisker’s PR’d low cost graphene ‘machine’ is not yet published (but when it does, it surely won’t be the linked MIT CVD approach that has already failed with vertically aligned carbon nanotubes—more below). The related predecessor graphene/MnO2 hybrid device providing the necessary Fisker clues just published as US20160148759. It provides very informative clues, but is of no direct vehicle significance because only a 2 volt system.

In what follows we deduce what Fisker is up to. There are several demonstrated subparts, producing a combined plausible breakthrough. Each is another self-contained energy storage R&D mini-saga.

Thread one is the invention of laser scribed graphene (LSG) in 2012. Then UCLA Ph.D student El-Kady in Prof. Kaner’s nanotech lab made the LSG breakthrough. He took ordinary graphite oxide, coated it onto an ordinary DVD disk using water, then ran the dried DVD disk through an ordinary commercial HP DVD Lightscribe. (Lightscribe used a 780nm (infrared) 5 mW LED laser to inscribe a DVD label/illustration onto a DVD surface coated with heat sensitive dye, each scribe track about 20 microns wide, total full disk pass for a full ‘label’ about 20 minutes. HP has since stopped selling the technology because it is monochromatic and not durable. A near miss.) The LSG process produces about 8μ thick 3D graphene structures in DVD sized sheets via simple laser heat reduction of graphite oxide to graphene. These graphene films are extremely mechanically robust because of 3D interlinking. He further showed that six passes of the Lightscribe laser (each ~20 minutes per dvd) improved conductivity many fold. He made a high effective surface, mechanically robust, highly conductive graphene structure for supercaps. Ph.D granted along with a major Nature paper. This was well reported and discussed at the ISDLC conference in 2012. We ‘experts’ discounted it 4 years ago, because the Nature paper showed the electrode thickness was only ~8 microns and the reported supercap energy density was nothing exceptional in the aqueous phosphoric acid electrolyte at maximum 1 V.

Thread two is the subsequent 2015 El Kady and Kaner development of an asymmetric hybrid device based on LSG. Their new hybrid combined LSG graphene carbon supercapacitance with (subsequently electrodeposited nanoparticle) MnO2 pseudocapacitance. Total voltage 2 V, up from 1 V. Still not a lot of stored energy, but perhaps interesting for specialized niche applications like transdermal drug delivery via electroporation according to the UCLA PR. Yawn.

Thread three is from recent LIB research. Lithium titanate has been an object of intense study for several years as a safer, energy denser alternative to traditional intercalating graphite for LIB anodes. There is a big problem. The material’s conductivity is very poor, so its power density is inadequate, and the charging time far too long, even for cell phones and laptops. Graphene is extremely conductive. So this research focused on somehow incorporating conductive graphene into the bulk of lithium titantate at a nano-level in order to improve anode conductivity. There have been two recent seminal research ‘breakthroughs’. Both use nanotechnology and the idea of graphite oxide plus chemical precursors to lithium titanate, with the final material mix formed in a single heat treatment synthesis. One paper used an aerosol process. The other paper used a sol gel process. [Guo et. al., Electrochemica Acta 109: 33-38 (2013), available outside paywall via google as an posting.] These newish papers present two different lithium titanate precursor mixes together with graphite oxide for simple subsequent heat synthesis.

Fisker Nanotech has not said anything specific about their ‘battery’ other than it uses graphene and lithium (their new patent applications are not yet published). My SME supposition is that they have a new hybrid asymmetric LIC. A mechanically robust LSG graphene cathode plus a mechanically robust hybrid graphene/lithium titanate anode synthesized in one step from triple precursors using an LSG analog process rather than the literature’s sol gel or aerosol. Much easier and cheaper than Subaru’s graphite lithiation. And likely still ~20000 cycle life at a 40C charge rate for much faster EV charging while still meeting vehicle life equivalent ‘battery’ life.

Fisker says they also have a patent pending machine to make 1000 Kg (/day?) of graphene electrode at $0.10/Kg. That may be a bit hyped, but is not implausible by simply ‘thought experiment’ reengineering of LSG in light of the two LIB lithium titanate anode papers already cited. The commercial Lightscribe 780nm 5mW laser has a track width of 20 microns. It took 6 20 minute disk spins to reach optimal graphene conductivity. Fine for simple lab proof of principle for a Ph.D thesis. Not fine for volume production. But there are cheap commercial solid-state diode 780nm lasers with up to 2 watts (2000 mW) power each. Rather than a lens concentrating the laser power as in the Lightscribe, it could be a lens dispersing 2000mW over a larger area with enough power for 1 pass heat treatment as in the sol gel and aerosol papers. Lightscribe hit 20 microns track width with 5mW 6 times for perhaps a millisecond each for an optimal graphene electrode; that is a total of 30mW on 20 microns for ~6 milliseconds. A 2000mW 780nm laser could hit a 1.3 millimeter stripe with the same total power at the same scan speed. Or an even wider track with a slower scan rate (as is likely for a bulk production machine).

Imagine a paper machine like system. The furnish box equivalent is continuously spreading a water based graphite oxide plus 2 lithium titanate precursors slurry onto a rapidly moving continuous plastic support belt equivalent to the dvd. First step beyond the furnish box, evaporate the furnish water with radiant heat and fans. Second step, IR heat nanosynthesis by powerful 2W spread focus 780nm lasers to convert GO to graphene and the lithium titanate precursors to interspersed lithium titanate nanocrystals. This finished material is still supported by the rapidly moving continuous plastic belt. Third step, peel off and spool up a finished continuous electrode sheet as wide and long as wished as the support belt turns under at the end of the machine for its return trip. Imagine a second identical machine making the graphene only electrode by simply leaving out the lithium titanate precursors. Big rolls, made very fast and very cheap. Spooling up very thin electrodes, but made continuously in bulk. Not aerosol or sol gel or CVD small batches.

Imagine assembly of Volt like prismatic pouch ‘battery’ cells. Cut the electrode materials to size before or after stacking as many layers as wanted; they are very conductive so simple contact likely suffices. No backing metal current collector is needed like for LIB and supercaps (a cost and weight saving). Attach a current collector to one end (the hybrid MnO2 patent application describes simple silver soldering at the connection point). Place a standard LIB separator. Now place as many of the other electrode layers as wanted. Attach another simple current collector. Encapsulate in pouch, fill with electrolyte, seal—just like Chevy Volt cells.

Form a battery pack similar to Volt/Bolt with interleaved aluminum heat extraction plates. Done except for the ‘battery’ control electronics.

The basic cell and battery production steps have already been developed by GM. Continuous sheet electrode production is analogous to conventional papermaking, just substituting purpose build evaporation/ LSG for the draining mesh belt/calendaring of papermachines. Every other needed technology element has been shown in the lab. Thanks to optics and LED infrared lasers, scale up appears to be a matter of straightforward engineering rather than more invention.

Concluding comments

The revolutionary new LIC supposed here and strongly hinted by Fisker last week does not have to enable a 400 mile EV range. Perhaps the disappointing Chevy Volt points to a different ‘best’ commercial path. Provide say a 100 or 150 mile EV only LIC range covering most trips. That minimizes battery cost, size, and recharging time. Use inexpensive, small, lightweight FPLG to provide extended range capability to 400 miles as with conventional car equivalents. All existing vehicle electrification tradeoffs would need to be fundamentally re-evaluated.

Fisker lost $1.4 billion on his Karma. The successful key to his new venture is probably not his new supercar design. That is the sizzle. It is likely a revolutionary new super ‘battery’ LIC. That is the steak. And every step of the way has already been successfully technically demonstrated.

Moderation note:  As with all guest posts, please keep your comments civil and relevant.

65 responses to “Vehicular decarbonisation – two new technologies to watch

  1. About the ban in Germany(which I think is insanity but that’s beside the point), I’m not sure it’s a done deal. It was my understanding that it’s a proposal that needs to get through several instances first and it has currently only passed the first. I could be wrong though.

    • Not only is it not a done deal, it is strongly opposed by some of Merkel’s ministers. One called it Verruekt (crazy).

      • This is the nut of the climate debate. There’s nothing “crazy” about banning fossil fueled vehicles, what’s crazy is thinking a legislature can force it to happen by setting a date and making a mandate. The minute people can abandon the gas pump, they will. Quickly, and the laws will be irrelevant. Just as they abandoned horse-drawn vehicles.
        I realize that you get this, I don’t think the warm get this.
        The warm’s political mistake is believing that I think it’s “crazy” and would opposed replacing them. I don’t. I oppose crazy magical thinking about legislation. There’s a difference.

      • I realize that you get this

        I do. And I’m a gearhead.
        But I also know enough tech to know that until we solve the energy problem petro is hard to beat.
        I also don’t like the lawyers divining tech that just doesn’t exist and then making us pay for it, like solar and wind.

      • ” The minute people can abandon the gas pump, they will. “


        I can put over 500 miles in my diesel Mercedes in 2-3 minutes.

        Until and unless I can do better than that while at a motorway service station, I’m sticking to it.

        Oh, and as an added bonus, it runs really well on vegetable oil that I can get for around half the price of diesel.

      • Don’t get lost in the weeds. The point is that if you can get 3-400 mile range and recharging that takes about the same amount of time as a normal gas station stop, you’ll abandon the ICE. Not one minute before, not one minute after and legislation won’t change that a bit.
        My diesel VW Rabbit had the same 500 mile range. In 1985. Loved that car.
        Personally, I think today’s electric car market has it backwards. Instead of trying to make a big heavy sedan work as an EV, make a really small cart at a very low price. I could actually see having a $5,000 street legal vehicle with a 20-30 mile range for running errands. I can’t see spending $50,000 for a big sedan that can’t make it to grandmas.
        If CO2 emissions were really the goal, you’d be better off sinking research dollars into replacing ICE engines on things without emission controls- lawn mowers, weed whackers, leaf blowers, small boats, and mopeds.

  2. The HOLY GRAIL link is wrong, should be

    Now put aside the electric car idea and look at what it could do for stationary energy storage for the grid. I’m talking about 1-20 minute stuff for handling transitions between CCGT and intermittents, not all-day storage.

    • AK, thanks for the link fix. As for grid LIC, need to know more about the new device rate capability/cyclelife. Supercaps are used in statcomms up to 4 MW mainly for reactive power compensation (removing voltage and frequency fluctuation). They last about 15 years in that application because of >1 million cycle life. The Subaru LIC ‘UPS’ is in industry, not the grid afaik. Much to look forward to as Fisker Nanotech reveals more.

  3. When there is a week-long period of low wind (less than 3 BFt) in all of Western Europe, more than 7 day storage is required. And if solar panel output should be made usable in winter, more than 6 months storage is required. Really big batteries.

    • Not going to get there with batteries, even flow batteries. See my guest post last year? on grid storage.

    • Think more like a couple weeks or more in the US, in winter; severe cold weather disaster.

      I’m a little concerned we are rely too much on NG (heat, baseload, and peaking). If we rely on NG for all three, will we be able create enough excess capacity for such a disaster (storage and excess pipeline capacity)?

      • In the US, where I live, there are gas wells all over, and now there is hundreds of years supply.

        But if we want high density power in 50 or 500 years, it will have to be nuclear.

  4. “But Teslas …are mainly a rich person’s virtue signaling toy. Tesla has consumed $8.4 billion of capital with no financial return in sight yet.”

    True, true, the productive are being tapped to pay for the weight of government’s thumb on the scale of commerce. And, using legacy power (e.g., electricity from Hoover Dam) and infrastructure (e.g., diamond lanes on busy freeways) to subsidize Tesla is like the government diverting scarce resources to fund the creation of new tulip bulbs or giving home loans to people who cannot afford the principle and interest.

  5. David L. Hagen

    Thanks Rud for an excellent review. A number of organizations are pursuing Roll to Roll Graphene production. Any comments on the prospects for such graphene for supercapacitors or batteries?

    • For supercaps, depends on cost/performance compared to Nanocarbon for ~150 micron thick electrode. So ~20 layers of the graphene sheets. We are ~140F/g and ~85F/g at ~$50/ kg.
      Don’t think in LIB, or Fisker would have gone there.

  6. Unsurprisingly, Chevy has only sold about 117,000 Volts since 2010 (the same launch year as Prius, so a fair comparison).

    According to Wikipedia, the Prius went son sale worldwide in 2004,
    The Prius first went on sale in Japan in 1997, and was available at all four Toyota Japan dealerships, making it the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle. It was subsequently introduced worldwide in 2000.

    • I bought a 2013 Volt and love it. In fact, for at least 3 years running the owners of Volts rated it the best GM car across all brands. Surprising since most Chevy salesmen know less about the Volt than their customers.

      • Did not mean to imply your Volt is a bad car, only economically not so good without EV subsidies. We drive a MY 2007 Ford Hybrid Escape AWD with class one tow hitch. Hybrid premium paid for itself Day 1 with the hybrid credit to my federal tax return that year. Proverbial no brainer. The entire SUV has been ‘free’ for years now. Not only the MPG savings (32 city 28 hwy versus the alternative V6 at a combined ~21), the Atkinson I4 uses regular gas. The comparable combined hp V6 Escape from 2007 used premium octane. Here in South Florida, the difference is about $1/gallon. Thats a lots of saved gallons and $1per.
        ‘Kermey’ ( we bought the ‘Kermit Green’ version advertized by Ford in Sci Am in 2007 using Kermit the Frog as pitchman) has ~70k miles with zero problems other than one replaced battery temp sensor, and no sign of battery degradation. There are equivalent NYC 2007 Escape 2WD taxies that have over 300k miles with no battery problems.
        Back story. Ford traded its European diesel car technology to Toyota in return for the Prius technology. Even swap, no money, no royalties. Kermey is just a Ford SUV version of the then Toyota Prius ( which was gen 2, the 2016 version discussed in the post is ~gen 5 5with smaller, lighter weight, more powerful electric machine (permanent magnet advances), cheaper smaller power electronics (semiconductor advances, especially SiC for high frequency without heat losses resulting in 1/4 the magnetics size/weight), and the switch to LIB from NiMH battery. Kermey is NiMH.

      • Thank Rud.
        Just to set the record straight. I bought my Volt off lease with 13k miles on it for less than $17k all in. I added a 1500 watt pure sine wave inverter which is hooked up to my critical loads circuit (refrigerator, computer, phones, router, LED lights). Since I bought it I have had 3 blackouts > 6 hours long so I feel it was money well spent. Total gas bought so far is less than 40 gallons, most of it taking a road trip to Mexico. One other detail is the charging time. There are two settings for 110 volt AC charging, 8 amps and 12 amps. Using the 12 amp setting I can get a full charge in about 6 hours. Since I bought the Volt I have used a total of 690 KWH of electricity in 14 months, 98% of it from my solar array.

      • Since I bought it I have had 3 blackouts > 6 hours long

        That’s a lot! But if you are in a remote sunny location where the grid isn’t or isn’t very good, Solar might well be worth the added cost of ownership.

      • Micro,
        Actually I live in the suburbs of Fort Worth TX. and every time there has been a significant black out it’s been weather related. My USP for my computer records every time it has to switch to backup mode and I have at least 1-2 minor power glitches a month. Most of them only a few seconds long on average.

    • rb, my language was wrong but the math was right. Prius first went on sale world wide in 2000. Since that year through April 2016 ~1,932,000 have been sold. I looked up the sales from 2010 through 2015–1.170 million. Volt launched 2h2010. The quoted sales of ~117,000 were through July 2016, so very close to a comparable sales period. Correct comparison wrapped in confusingly wrong language. My bad for working on this post while watching baseball and football.

      • A few years after the prius came out I figured out that you had to drive it about 250,000 without serious hybrid issues to get an roi out of the added hybrid cost.
        Changing a 18mpg truck to 22 with hybrid saves a lot more gas than changing a subcompact from 35 mpg to 45, roi was only about 100k.

  7. Ristvan
    Great article!! Thanks.

    What about hydrogen fueled fuel cells?

    Both vehicles and small power plants.

    BMW and others are working on them. Lots of advantages and big reductions in tailpipe emissions of real polutants. Will help big cities clean air and new techniques for separation in nanotubes and electrolysis can couple systems with desalination and even grid power production in distributed pwer cells. Technology will find a way out the of current mess./

    Keep the technical information coming. Much more interesting than politics.


    • Scott, see essay Hydrogen Hype in my ebook Blowing Smoke for a full run down on that.

    • Curious George

      Why hydrogen? Because of a simple chemistry. A fuel cell powered by hydrocarbons is the way to go – I hope someone is working on it.

      A combustion engine is horribly inefficient. Look at how much food a horse needs for a day. Imagine burning that food in a combustion engine – how far would it power a car?

      • Curious George wrote, “Look at how much food a horse needs for a day. Imagine burning that food in a combustion engine – how far would it power a car?”

        Among the diverse uses for energy, one is the production of mechanical energy by skeletal muscle to maintain posture and produce motion.
        [ … ]
        In general, the efficiency of muscles is rather low: only 18 to 26% of the energy available from respiration is converted into mechanical energy.

        There is also a lot of overhead in animals — energy used to feed the brain, maintain organ systems, digest food and stay warm. And you can’t turn the horse off when not in use.

      • Curious George

        Right on. Even with a dismally low efficiency of muscles, the horse still wins. Replace the horse’s digestive system with a fuel cell, and you have a real winner.

      • A methane fuel cel has been marketed by a company called Bloom Energy and it has turned out to be an incredable scandal and boondogle. This Heartland podcast offers the best summary I have seen heard:

      • There is a direct methanol PEM fuel cell, but its edficiency is only ~40% compared to 60% for H2.

      • Canman, Bloom is an SOFC type. What the Silicon Valley VCs behind Bloom did not apparently know is that in the 1990’s Europe spent several years and several billion € on SOFC. They finally gave up. I have a copy of the EU final report, plus a prototype developed afterwords using a novel perovskite four oxide ceramic requiring no further catalyst. Doesn’t solve the fundamental high temperature cycle life ‘cracking’ problem. There is a materials development out of U. Maryland that operates at a significantly lower temp. Still not out of lab scale, so they must have additional problems. Referenced in essay Hydrogen Hype.

      • Curious George

        Rud – is there a theoretical limit for a fuel cell efficiency? 60% for H2 or 40% for CH3OH is the state-of-the-art; how much further can it go?

      • CG, yes there is. Max PEM H2 using Gibbs free energy analysis is 83% at 298K or ~25 C. In practice PEM run hotter ~60C due to inefficiency.

    • I was at robotics conference about 7 or 8 years ago. The consensus there was that we’d end up with hybrid diesel with a combination of ulra-cap and battery (there seems to be a problem with discharge of at certain voltage/amp combinations, there can be a situation where the user would press on the accelerator and nothing would happen), having a battery would allow for holes in ultra-cap operation range.

      Anyway, some seemed to think hydrogen is an option because we can extract it from coal chemically on the cheap. ;)

      • Aarron, ‘hybrids’ just strapping supercaps onto LIB have been investigated by Argonne National Lab about 2010. The amperage mix is ~1/3 supercap and 2/3 LIB. The problem is that you have to add a Dc/Dc converter in the middle, else the battery voltag clamps the cap and the cap cannot discharge.

  8. Thanks, Rod. Social insanity is expressed in the push for vehicular decarbonisation.

    The US NAS (National Academy of Sciences) directed the campaign to hide reality from the public, as will become evident when Donald Trump starts to “drain the swamp” after 8 Nov 2016:

  9. “Keep the technical information coming. Much more interesting than politics”

    I second that. An excellent, very interesting article. Thank you, Rud Istvan.

  10. Thanks for another great energy post. Also, thanks for all your comments on energy, climate and the EXXON Mobil truthers.

  11. I live in northern Sweden and I can tell you that EV:s simply don’t cut it and won’t in 13 years. We have insanely long distances, almost 80% of the population is concentrated in the Stockholm-Gothenburh-Malmö triangle. 800+ km to the south and I’m not even in the northernmost part.

    In winter, well you can figure out what happens to the range.

    I hear people say: “Oh tech is advancing so we will have better batteries…”
    It’s simply not true. Moores law is an exception and not the norm when it comes to technology.

    EV:s might do a passable job if you live warmer climates (not too warm though) and if you’re in such a siuation that your driving habits are the same or almost the same every day. Up here we would need a ICE backup car.

    • Cold weather certainly has an effect on batteries, but how about supercapacitors? Lithium ion batteries need their own cooling system, but will supercapacitors? Of course, in cold weather you need more energy for heating the passenger compartment.

    • I am a happy owner of a Toyota Auris hybrid with 1.8 litre gasoline engine and a 60 kW electric motor working in tandem. Nevertheless I am eagerly waiting for a next version with a larger battery and grid charging capability.

      I agree with Du Vet Vem living in Sweden. Living in the capitol region in Finland and having a cottaged in central Finland and a weekend+ drive of almost 400 km an EV would not do. In addition wintertime would require a separate fuel based heater to make driving to some extent comfortable.

      The news of the new Israeli Aquarius motor with high efficiency and light weight together with grid chargeable battery would be an ideal solution to cover both shrot drives and longer distances.

  12. On the UK side of the pond, the high court has ruled that the governments plans on air pollution have been inadequate and have not met the requirements of the Supreme Court ruling of 2015. Net result being that those that followed the advice given by the government and bought diesel vehicles because they were more efficient and less polluting will now have to pay penalty charges for driving in city centers.

    • Rob

      It is small wonder that many people have little faith in govts or some of the scientists that advise them.

      Diesel was heavily promoted in the UK and now there has been a complete volte face.

      We see the same with everything from cholesterol to fat, eggs to chocolate . Wait long enough and the advice will change.

      The worst part with diesel is that there were a large body of sceptical advisers that tried to put over that, even twenty years ago, the harmful particulates in diesel were well known. I suppose the attitude was that in theory diesel had a lower carbon footprint than the equivalent petrol car, so that overruled common sense


      • tonyb
        Who would believe that volkswagon and BMW plus others would likely program the cars emissions to fool the gov testing programs. Just show the impacts of false restrictions. I am sure the carbon trading schemes have similar fraud attached. It is all so corrupt.

      • They also didn’t consider that oil is oil. Not much can be done to change the relative amount of gasoline and diesel that comes out of a barrel. If the UK uses diesel, someone else must use gas. So you end up with people using polluting diesel in high population density UK and gasoline being used in less dense countries where pollution doesn’t matter as much.

  13. Leading from behind …

    Advancing America’s 21st Century Transportation Network

    With the designation of the first alternative fuel corridors, FHWA is establishing a national network of alternative fueling and charging
    infrastructure along national highway system corridors.

    FHWA intends to support the expansion of this national network through a process that:

    o provides the initial opportunity for a formal corridor designation now and in the future on a rolling basis, without a cap on the number of corridors;

    o ensures that corridor designations are selected based on criteria that promote the “build out” of a national network;

    o develops national signage and branding to help catalyze applicant and public interest;

    o encourages multi-State and regional cooperation and collaboration;

    o brings together a consortium of stakeholders including state agencies, utilities, alternative fuel providers, and car manufacturers to promote and advance alternative fuel corridor designations in conjunction with the Department of Energy.

    The World’s Fastest Charging Station

    Superchargers are free connectors that charge Model S and Model X in minutes instead of hours. Stations are strategically placed to minimize stops during long distance travel and are conveniently located near restaurants, shopping centers, and WiFi hot spots. Each station contains multiple Superchargers to help you get back on the road quickly.

    734 Supercharger stations with 4,605 Superchargers

    • Superchargers deliver about 80% in 15-20 minutes depending on battery charge state and age. I can fill a tank of gas in less than 5. Not so super, the supercharger.

      • Improvements in battery chemistry will cut the time needed for quick charging but there are practical limits as to how electric power will be run through a cord that’s plugged in by a consumer.
        Getting down to 5 min charging for a 100 kWh pack will require at least 1.2 MW which isn’t practical. So I expect battery swap to make a comeback.
        If Tesla reaches their sales goals for 2020, they’re going to have quite a bit of congestion within just a couple years so let’s say the need for swap stations will be evident before 2025 at the latest.

      • Charging stations will need big parking lots.

  14. From WSJ …

    After seeing lackluster results with its pricey line of niche electric vehicles, BMW AG will take a more aggressive swipe at Tesla Motors Inc. by offering electrified versions of entire lineup of luxury vehicles.
    [ … ]
    Volkswagen AG and Daimler AG have also accelerated plans for EVs despite modest demand for them.
    [ … ]
    Cheap fuel, inadequate infrastructure and fears about battery range have tamped down demand for EVs.

  15. Thanks for the post Rud. I am in the market for a mid sized SUV or wagon with enough room in the back for the dogs. I care rats-t about greeness. For me it’s about comfort, range and economy. Sounds like hybrid could be a good alternative. Care to make some suggestions?

    BTW, just finished reading HUBRIS, by Michael Hart. This is an excellent work that I recommend to all.

    • Only real choice is a used Escape hybrid. I know someone in San Fransisco that just bought a used 2WD. Very pleased so far. Mine is AWD. Don’t know of any other hybrid SUV. Toyota or Lexus may have one. Ford and Tpyota are the only playees with decent full hybrids.

  16. I will be impressed when I see a supercapacitor with the energy density of LIB. What Fisker has is probably a tandem of supercap and LIB. That’s not the same thing

    • Pretty sure not. Covered simple tandems in the main post (Argonnne). The two problems are volumetric energy density (supercap side) and additional cost/complexity/reliability of the essential additional Dc/Dc converter. With SiC technology at ~40kHz to reduce magnetics, still ~$10/kw.

  17. The Aquarius free piston engine appears interesting in the photo, but it is a bit deceptive because the linear generators, as many as eight of them, appear to be external to the package shown and driven by the shafts at either end.

    In the US, EPA requirements dictating a reliable life of 100k miles of clean-running service have proven difficult for ported engines because of wear, lubrication and seal issues. This design appears to demand good shaft seals in the exhaust expansion expansion areas which might prove quite the challenge. I wish them good luck, but they might need it to crack the automotive market. Perhaps they might have more luck with the APU and portable generator market.

    • Quite so, sciguy54.

      it is not clear to me why, in this era of efficient gas turbine engines, anybody in their right mind would consider for a microsecond yet another design of reciprocating engine, with all the inefficiencies that the acceleration, deceleration and change of direction twice per cycle requires. The only reason we have stuck with reciprocating engines with all the complexity of valve gear, piston sealing problems, connecting rods etc. for as long as we have is because of their ability to produce useful torque over a very considerable proportion of their RPM range, something totally unnecessary for an electrical generator.

      Using modern ceramics and high strength magnets it should be possible to produce a very light, compact turbo-alternator setup, with technology similar to that used in the regenerators used on the Rover-BRM gas turbine car raced at Le Mans in 1965 to recover much of the waste heat from the turbine exhaust and thus greatly improve the efficiency of the gas turbine.

      • No argument with either view above.. Do not know cost tradeoffs turbines versus pistons. Point of post was to open minds to new technology that is potentially ‘real’ rather than clearly not..

      • To Ristvan:

        I tend to get lost in a train of thought, so I forgot to say thanks for a very thought provoking post. Whatever becomes of the climate debates, at some point engineers and manufacturers will be call upon to transform technology into products. It is always nice to have a glance at such work in progress.

  18. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #247 | Watts Up With That?

  19. Very interesting & informative but I’m flummoxed by the conclusion.
    After the list & litany of the failed innovations of so many serious researchers or the inability to scale up commercially of one project after another, we’re supposed to give the benefit of the doubt to Henrik Fisker???

    • I am actually skeptical also, but for a different reason. Like Tesla S, his supercar aims at the very affluent. Neither he nor Musk’s Tesla has shown they can do better than the Bolt, and the Bolt is a subsidized green niche product.
      OTH, the Fisker Nanotech LIC could be something important. Don’t see technical obstacles, and economics might prove tractable. As implied in the last paragraph of the post.