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Dec 31

(Holden) Volt does well compared to four other very different electrified vehicles


In an Australian comparison of five electrified cars the Holden Volt came out relatively well, and to think this is on the eve (of New Years) and possibly more importantly, the Volt reveal.


OK, the 2016 Volt reveal is Jan. 12 but it’s practically upon us, and in any case for fun brought together the BMW i8, Mitsu Outlander PHEV, Nissan Leaf, Volt and the least sophisticated of them all, said the review, a Toyota Prius.

Apparently they could not get a Tesla though deliveries did begin this month.

Of all the contenders to the Volt, the comparisons were drawn most closely between it and the Outlander. The Outlander offers all-wheel drive, larger cargo space, but smaller battery, and less AER.

In Australian numbers, Volt range is 87 km (54 miles), and Mitsu is 52 km (32 miles). Battery size for the Volt they was 16.5 (so were they using a 2014?), and Outlander has 12 kwh.

Price is $47,490 for the Outlander – appropriately named for where this comparo took place – and the Holden Volt is $59,990.

With federal tax credit factored in … Oh never mind, There is no federal tax credit …

The Volt was basically given the nod though it costs more.

“Unless you really need SUV space and a fifth seat, it’s clear the Holden Volt is the better option than the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV,” said the written review.

If you didn’t notice, cars cost more in Australia.

The i8 is $300,000, Prius is $33,990 and Leaf is $39,990.

We’d call this a comparison between rather dissimilar cars, but the common denominator is they all use electricity.

The i8 ran out of range real soon, but it appeared to be the model of choice for the reviewers not counting fuel economy, and factoring mainly fun.


All our electrified cars here have their flaws but they are the proof of how car manufacturers continue to work on automotive solutions that reduce our dependency on oil. If government’s such as Australia’s could be similarly progressive and offer greater incentives and better recharging infrastructures, electric vehicles may actually have a chance


Dec 02

Ghosn says Nissan has battery chemistry that could make for affordably priced 250-mile EVs


Back story – Yesterday I got an e-mail from Bertel Schmitt who’s now running a startup publication with Edward Niedermeyer. Bertel spends time in China and Japan. He was up late watching Nissan’s chief on a Japanese program and got an exclusive. Which he shared with me.

Here it is. What this could mean for the Volt, assuming it proves true is of course unknown. FYI, Leaf is rated on the ultra liberal JC08 cycle at 228 km (141 miles) (yeah right!) – and originally had been 200 km (124 miles). The main point is if they have the chemistry, upsizing to a true 200-250-plus mile BEV of Leaf proportions will be less cost and bulk than what Tesla has now.


Following an unintentional disclosure by CEO Carlos Ghosn, Nissan has confirmed it will “very soon take the issue of range off of the table.”

The company is otherwise still being vague, not ready to show what it has, but Ghosn suggested a near-ready battery to enable affordable electric cars good for as many 250 miles (400 km) depending on configuration, and how it’s tested.

The implication is furthermore that the new chemistry has more power per volume so increasing range to beyond Tesla proportions would just be a function of making a battery pack a bit bigger in volume, but it would presumably still be smaller than a Model S pack.

Whether the Nissan Leaf will get the battery, as is believed, or it and other Renault and Nissan vehicles will get it, as would be likely, is not being disclosed.

According to Bertel Schmitt of the Daily Kanban, who spoke with contacts at the company, Nissan appears slightly worried it could put a chill on present EV sales.

But, they won’t deny the story now that the boss let the cat out of the bag.

An online transcript of the interview is not available, reports the Daily Kanban.

An online transcript of the interview is not available, reports the Daily Kanban.

The revelation came on a late-night airing of Tokyo Business News Channel where Ghosn was pressed by the host on what Nissan is going to do.

Host: Is Nissan working on new batteries?

Ghosn: “Yes.”

Host: Can you tell us more?

Ghosn: “No.”

Host: Will the range double?

Ghosn: “Yes.”

Host: That means more than 400 kilometers?

Ghosn: “Yes.”

Ghosn’s one-word oblique answers could be interpreted a few different ways, but the implication and context suggest Nissan is putting the finishing touches on a commercially ready battery that could make the big-heavy, expensive pack in a Model S look old-tech.

Given that “400 km” is considered “double” range indicates the Japanese interview is contemplating cars as tested under Japanese government rules which tend to be optimistic next to U.S. EPA numbers. Nissan’s Leaf certainly does not now have a 124-mile range in the U.S., but given high energy density, ability to compete with “petrol” cars’ range is being considered.

Ghosn’s answers also dovetail with a report in May, where Nissan’s Andy Palmer said Nissan has high energy density “game changing technology” to push Leaf to at least 186 miles to combat fuel cell vehicles selling on just this issue – short range for the buck with present EVs.

SEE ALSO: ‘Game Changing’ Batteries To Enable Up To 186-Mile Range Nissan Leaf and New Infiniti EV

To gauge Ghosn’s comment, Schmitt followed up with Jeff Kuhlman, Nissan’s head spokesman, who added to the notion that this new battery chemistry is not some far-off science project.

“[w]e continue our R&D efforts because we believe that we can do more with battery electric, and very soon take the issue of range off of the table,” said Kuhlman. “In other words, cars with a comparable range to today’s petrol vehicles.”

Today’s “petrol vehicles” actually have more than 200-250 miles range but Kuhlman did not elaborate.

As it is, for those who say present range is too short – such as Toyota and car shoppers sitting on the sidelines – this objection may be answered not so long from now.

Even Toyota has quietly suggested EV range may soon be solved, and an unidentified Japanese engineer told the Daily Kanban “Commercial applications could be no more than one model cycle away.” Despite all its talk over fuel cells, Toyota is working on improving EV batteries, as we also have reported.

Actually many automakers are working on the next best thing – though most say a breakthrough is not on the near horizon – and in addition to the objection of sub-100 mile range for average priced EVs today, is also recharge times.

Tesla and others have been working on recharging faster than today’s Supercharger and DC fast chargers which replenish 80- percent charge in under 20-30 minutes. Different chemistries which can recharge faster have also shown promise.

So where does that leave Nissan? While Ghosn is not known to exaggerate in the extreme, and two officials suggest it’s just a matter of time, Nissan has yet to truly and unequivocally reveal its hand.

Daily Kanban


Jul 11

America’s Least Expensive Vehicles To Fuel


Depending on how you slice it – as in, in EV mode – the Volt could be on this list, but as you’ll see, other choices were made for good reason.

Hope everyone has a good weekend.


Are you tired of spending significant dollars at the fuel pump and interested in ways to save on your next car?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – which actually suggested this topic to us – the cheapest cars to “fuel” don’t take liquid fuel at all, but rather, are all-electric.

How cheap is cheap? A 23-mpg combined 2014 Chrysler 300 with 3.6-liter V6 is one car representing an average efficiency rating and costs $2,400 per year to fill up – or, $1,900 more than one of a few $500-per-year electric cars on our list.

The EPA’s annual fuel cost estimates assume: average fuel/electricity prices and 15,000 miles driven comprised of 55 percent city and 45 percent highway driving. Under each car’s rating, the EPA has a “personalize” link to estimate your actual costs.

EVs are rated by miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) and most get over 100 MPGe.

But can’t you do just as well with a high-mpg car or hybrid? Not necessarily. The Toyota Prius gets 50 mpg but its gasoline still costs $1,100 per year, more than double the best EVs’ annual energy costs.

Even at double the 12-cents per kilowatt-hour the EPA figures, a Nissan Leaf’s annual electricity bill on 24 cents per kwh juice would just equal the Prius at $1,100 annually.

SEE ALSO: Should You Buy an Electric Car?

Of course an EV involves acquiring a home charger, and accepting range limitations, but there’s a growing contingent of people who’ve jumped in and say the EV waters are fine – some having purchased, and others leasing to avoid long-term commitment.

Unfortunately however, some of the cars on our list are what are called “compliance cars” to meet California mandates. Only four cars are sold in all 50 states, some are sold in several states from east-to-west, and others are quite limited indeed.

SEE ALSO: Is Electricity a Clean Energy Source?

For those who “get it” now, EVs are also gratifyingly zero emissions vehicles, and even factoring in “dirty coal” as the energy source, they wind up being cleaner in most cases. And, no soldier or civilian has ever been killed over the right to electricity extraction from the Middle East, nor do we need to transport electricity by tanker across the sea. Nope, we make it here, in the U.S., and the grid is getting cleaner year by year.

EVs also qualify for up to a $7,500 federal tax credit and state credits where applicable.

So, without further ado, here’s the list ranked by annual energy cost or MPGe in descending order:

10. Toyota RAV4 EV – $800 Annually; MPGe – 78 city / 74 highway / 76 combined


A quintessential compliance car, with the lowest EPA rating, the $49,800 RAV4 is however the only electric SUV on the market until Tesla rolls out its Model X next year to the applause of EV fans everywhere.

Actually the RAV4 EV was jointly built under a partnership with Tesla as a follow-up to Toyota’s first RAV4 EV. Its powertrain is essentially by Tesla and has been called the cheapest way to get into a Tesla, albeit with Toyota body.

Certainly it’s less than the $79,900 85-kwh Tesla Model S which actually belongs in this #10 spot, but we’ll mention it along with number nine.

The electric RAV4 is available for sale or lease through select dealers in California’s regions of Los Angeles / Orange County, the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego and Sacramento.

And it’s due to be canceled after 2,600 units are sold as Toyota focuses on fuel cell vehicles which it has said are the more viable technology at the moment.

9. 60-kwh Tesla Model S – $650 Annually; MPGe – 94 city /97 highway / 95 combined


Tesla’s Model S with the 60-kwh battery ranks ninth and actually the 85-kwh Model S ranks tenth but we put the RAV4 EV in for perspective, and are mentioning both S Models anyway.

The 85-kwh version costs $700 annually to “fuel” according to the EPA, and MPGe is 88 city / 90 highway / 89 combined.

SEE ALSO: Tesla Model S Review

Nor does Tesla’s sedan need an introduction, having taken so many prizes, acknowledgements and awards they would have given it a Superbowl trophy if they could have figured a way to justify that.

Tesla, as you know, is exerting the EV agenda nationwide, and globally. Its 60-kwh cars however cost $69,000 to start when most consumers would rather pay less, but they’ll have to wait for its promised smaller sedan in the next couple of years or so.

The Model S delivers 208 miles range in 60-kwh form, or 265 miles in 85 kwh form.

8. Ford Focus Electric $600 Annually; MPGe – 110 city / 99 highway / 105 combined


An electrified version of the Focus hatchback, the electric version is available in close to half the country.

Ford also recently chopped the price by $4,000 to $35,200 a fair sum above a base $28,800 Nissan Leaf, but the modestly rated Ford does give liquid cooling to preserve its battery, and is worth a look if sold in your market.

7. smart fortwo electric drive coupe/cabriolet, $600 Annually; MPGe – 122 city / 93 highway / 107 combined


Owned by Mercedes-Benz, smart’s updated fortwo electric in both coupe and cabriolet form are evenly matched and available in selected markets across the country.

As electrified versions of the diminutive city car, prices start at
$12,490 for the coupe and $15,490 for the convertible with lease deals available, meaning while you may not be getting a lot of car, you’re not paying so much for it either.

6. Mitsubishi i-MiEV $550 Annually; MPGe – 126 city / 99 highway / 112 combined


The venerable Mitsu i-MiEV – pronounced “I-MEEV” – originated in 2009 as an electrified version of a Japanese “kei” tiny city car.

Badged under a few name plates, it has sold in the tens of thousands globally, and was better equipped for 2014 while its price was cut to $22,995, or a $6,130 price reduction from the previous generation.

DC quick charging is available for those who can use that to extend the EPA-rated range of 62 miles.

Hats off to Mitsubishi for making this vehicle 50-state available.

5. Nissan Leaf – $550 Annually; MPGe – 126 city / 101 highway / 114 combined


Also 50-state available, and the market leader is Nissan’s Leaf.

Launched in 2010 as a purpose-built EV, Nissan has also made it the global top seller, starting in the U.S. at $28,980, and low-priced lease deals have been offered.

Range is 84 miles, and DC quick charging is an option for recharging to 80 percent in under 30 minutes. Level 2 (240-volt) charging can take 4-7 hours depending on which on-board charger you get.

An overview is here and a full 2013 review with video is here.

4. Fiat 500e $500 Annually; MPGe – 122 city / 108 highway / 116 combined


Another “compliance car,” this one is an efficient little EV, but available in California only.

MSRP starts at $31,800 and a lease deal is available startiungf at $199 a month for 36 month with $999 due at signing.

We’re making it fourth place as it has slightly less MPGe than the next few cars, but it’s actually tied in the loosely rounded off to “$500″ figure.

3. Honda Fit EV $500 Annually, 132 city / 105 highway / 119 combined


Honda says it does not think the term “compliance car” is fair, as it takes the burden from its lease customers, includes a charger, and has engineered a first class EV conversion.

However, this is a limited-market lease-only EV – although it was made available to the East Coast – and its tenure is due to end soon.

SEE ALSO: Lease Price Slashed By One-Third For New And Existing Honda Fit EV Customers

Honda introduced the Fit EV with an announced volume of 1,100 units over two model year and the 2014 model year will end early this fall, marking the end of production of the Fit EV.

Its EPA rating is the same $500 as others, but is here ranked by combined MPGe.

It was nice while it lasted. Like Toyota, Honda is refocusing on fuel cell electric vehicles and in the next year or two ought to have a follow-up to its FCX Clarity.

2. Chevrolet Spark EV $500 Annually; MPGe – 128 city / 109 highway / 119 combined


The Spark EV is also rounded to $500 annual energy cost but its MPGe is incrementally better, and the EPA says it costs 84 cents per mile, a tad less than 87 cents per mile for the previous two estimated at $500 per year.

General Motors’ subcompact is a “compliance car” sold only in California and Oregon – but as of July 2014 we have noted rumors of central U.S. and East Coast dealers telling their customers it’s coming.

SEE ALSO: Spark EV Test Drive Review

GM flatly denies its nice little electric version of its subcompact Spark is due anywhere else, but you never know what news may come later.

Base MSRP is $27,495, it can come with optional DC quick charging, and interesting is the over-sized motor capable of a (traction controlled, so no burnouts possible) 400 pounds-feet to the front wheels.

1. BMW i3 – $500 Annually; MPGe – 138 city / 111 highway / 124 combined


America’s most efficient car is 50-state available, and it comes from Germany.

It is available as a pure EV – which gets the higher EPA rating – and with a small range extending engine, rated at $650 annual fuel cost, and 117 MPGe combined.

For some reason people have made comparisons with the i3 to Tesla’s Model S but the two could not be any less alike.

Unless one counts that both brands are electric and targeting upscale shoppers, the innovative city car from BMW tops the efficiency chart, whereas Tesla’s larger, heavier, more powerful and longer running cars are at the end of the line.

That did not stop Tesla’s designer from panning BMW’s electric city car as being to automobiles what “Ikea” is to furniture.

BMW’s pure electric version starts in the low 40s, with range of 81 miles. The purpose built EV is lightweight due in part to advanced materials including carbon fiber reinforced plastic.

More info on BMW’s new sustainable i series can be found here.


Jun 12

VIA launches eREV shuttle van at Edison Electric Institute Annual Conference


This Monday I talked with VIA’s David West who sent info over for the following story.

Essentially, the eREV maker is up and running. They’d not launch this or another vehicle without having their order pipeline sufficiently full of reservations.

Won’t share off the record info, but imagine other possibilities VIA could maybe also come up with …

Also, note they are using “opportunity charging.” Here the driver hops out and plugs in a J1772 to let a 24-kwh battery do 100-plus daily miles. I asked if they’d thought of wireless charging as they “right size” the battery and use the eREV as a BEV, keeping the extender off. Wound up introducing VIA and Momentum Dynamics. Generally West agreed this is the direction VIA is going, so we shall see whether the two companies do business.


Perhaps you’ve seen VIA Motors’ extended-range electric pickups and vans that are pending launch, and Monday the company announced it’s debuting a shuttle version of its van.

In an interview Monday, VIA’s Chief Marketing Officer David West said the Utah-based startup will announce the production van specially configured for airport/hotel duty at the ongoing Edison Electric Institute Annual Conference in Las Vegas Monday.

Featured speakers at the event include Warren Buffett and former U.S. Secretary of Defense, William Gates.

Standard GM bench seats are removed by VIA Motors, and replaced with these.


West said VIA is already providing free to-and-from trips for industry executives in its vans between the McCarran Airport and the convention, and these are much like shuttle vans used in January at the Sundance Film Festival.

Inside the vehicle are upgraded seats more suitable for the duty, and the vans can be equipped with other amenities as needed.

All-Electric, 100 Miles/Day

These vans, by the way, are demonstrating the ideal usage scenario VIA envisions which is all-electric. How does a 24-kwh VIA van drive over 100 miles a day, round the clock on pure electricity?

The buzzword is “opportunity charging.”

VIA has contracted with Clipper Creek which provides a strategically located 240-volt, 14.4-kilowatt, 60-amp level 2 charger that replenishes the shuttle buses in between trips.


This would normally be down time, waiting for the next load of passengers, with AC running in the 110-degree heat, and a big fuel waster for a conventional V8 vehicle.

In VIA’s case, the van stays in the e-zone, running AC and accessories from the battery while it’s recharging between runs.

While not naming specific customers, West said VIA has orders booked for its hotel/airport shuttle. The configuration is in line with the standard entry price of $79,000.

West noted California and five other states have incentives starting at $10,500 on the state level plus $7,500 on the federal level. Certain areas of California can go to as high as $18,000 in state incentives.


Jun 06

Phinergy’s range-extended battery committed to by Renault-Nissan


After midnight this morning my super expensive computer with SSD crashed, so it’s been a busy time this a.m. and I’m working on my backup after getting all the passwords, etc.

For those of you who say you are “from Missouri,” that is understandable, and more needs to be shown, but things look good at this point.

RE: the headline, I’ve received no confirmation from Renault-Nissan, but am going on what the head of the company said on video to the President of the United States, and Prime Minister of Israel – and what he confirmed in a phone interview late last night!


While details are yet scarce, yesterday Phinergy CEO and Founder, Aviv Tzidon confirmed talks with Renault-Nissan are tentatively set for a proposed series production electric car due in 2017 using its range-extending aluminum-air battery.

This was first revealed in a video-recorded semi-private talk with President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Nethanyaho (see video @4:29).

After we questioned further, Tzidon said this would be under ideal circumstances, and unforeseen delays on the the French automaker’s side could conceivably push it back to maybe 2018 or 2019, he conjectured, although 2017 was by all appearances the date that is “on the table.”

In in any case, Phinergy is ready for this customer and all others, and initially, Tzidon divulged, he did not even expect an automaker would be first to adopt aluminum-air. Phinergy is “patient” and in it for the long term, he said.

Thus, if things go according to plan, Phinergy hopes its aluminum-air battery may prove to be the greatest thing for transportation – and other industries – since sliced bread.

But unlike bread slices you would eat, the company has developed a carbon-neutral electric car battery which slowly consumes slices of aluminum and yields several-times more energy density than the best lithium-ion batteries.

Every start-up CEO’s dream come true – President Obama and Prime Minister Nethanyaho visit with Phinergy’s CEO Aviv Tzidon.

Based on work begun in Israel in 2008, the company is collaborating with Alcoa on this cost-effective and safe energy source. It’s being proposed as a range extender – not a primary propulsion battery – to automakers, including Renault-Nissan.

As for the “slice” of aluminum analogy, that’s an oversimplification, but it is more accurate than other reports that have said Phinergy’s 1,100-plus-mile range range-extended electric car runs merely on “air” or water.

Almost that amazing, Phinergy’s aluminum-air battery combines de-ionized (drinkable) water into an alkaline electrolyte solution and breathes in air to create a chemical reaction that dissolves aluminum plates to produce electricity.

Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust and Phinergy’s durable technology reliably extracts 8.1 kilowatt-hours of energy – half of which is electricity, and half byproduct heat – per kilogram.

The notion of aluminum-air and other metal-air batteries is not new, but Phinergy has worked out the bugs and is ready to put it into production – not just for cars, but consumer electronics, stationary energy storage, defense, industrial – all sorts of applications.

While aluminum is normally thought of as a structural material, it contains much electrical potential. A lot of electricity goes into its smelting process and is effectively stored. Phinergy’s controlled reaction releases the electricity in a process with the reverse effect of smelting. Plans in Montreal are to use sustainable hydroelectric power in the aluminum’s smelting.

Additional markets that can use Phinergy's aluminum-air and zinc-air tech.

Additional markets that can use Phinergy’s aluminum-air and zinc-air tech.

What’s more, after the aluminum-air battery chemically extracts stored electrical energy from the ever-diminishing aluminum plates, it leaves a recyclable byproduct in liquid that can be easily processed back into fresh aluminum.

Technically, consumers would only be buying the energy stored in aluminum, not so much the aluminum itself which merely dissolves to a different form and is taken away as a valuable byproduct.

A Little Bit Different

If any of this sounds unclear, we’ll explain how it works further below, but the takeaway is the company is past the “proof of concept” stage.

This was shown this week by the Phinergy/Alcoa EV converted from a formerly gas-burning Citreon C1. In Montreal this week it covered a several-hour-long demonstration drive without recharging – and actually the car can go 1,850-2,500 miles on 100 kg of aluminum.

We were told very little about the 2017 European Renault-Nissan mentioned in a video not widely disseminated, but will explain the concept behind Phinergy's vision.

We were told very little about the 2017 European Renault-Nissan mentioned in a video not widely disseminated, but will explain the concept behind Phinergy’s vision for its technology.

Compare that to the 750 kg battery in a Tesla Model S. While this is a radical improvement over a 265-mile Tesla, as mentioned, Phinergy envisions the best use for its tech as a range extender – or actually an on-board recharging system.

In other words, its C1-based test mule operates a lot like an extended-range electric Chevy Volt, albeit without gas engine.

In a Volt, the engine maintains the battery charge and provides propulsion energy. In Phinergy’s case, the aluminum-air battery charges the lithium-ion battery and gives off heat that can be shed, or captured by a heat exchanger to warm the cabin as needed.

Thus, Phinergy’s prototype car is primarily powered by a rather ordinary lithium-ion battery and motor and its aluminum-air pack can recharge it on the go.

As its aluminum “cartridges” or plates slowly whittle away over months to eventually nothing, the plan is they’ll be replaced by service personnel.

The exact composition of the aluminum is proprietary, and Alcoa’s alliance with Phinergy puts it in line to profit from the exclusive arrangement.

Aviv Tzidon.

Aviv Tzidon.

According to Alcoa Project Manager Hasso Wieland, the well-to-wheel analysis is actually better than carbon neutral because of valuable byproducts of the battery’s process of oxidizing aluminum.

As great as it sounds, this means Phinergy is not proposing its new technology replace lithium-ion, but rather, says Aviv Tzidon, it’s a complement.

Why? Tzidon, said Phinergy’s approach is “humble” enough to see the strengths and weaknesses of the aluminum-air battery. Its strength is vastly improved energy storage to make range limitations no longer a concern.
However, lithium-ion battery packs are useful to create powerful, quick cars that recharge from plugging into the grid or by regenerative braking.

“Our aluminum system cannot do that,” he conceded, but this is not a problem given how most people use their cars.
Citing statistics once used to make a case for the Chevy Volt, Tzidon said that a driver who travels 12,000 miles per year on average only drives 33 miles per day.

A 30-50 mile-range EV – more or less – would meet the daily need, but what about when the driver wants to go farther on the odd occasion? Here is where the driver could tap into the on-board aluminum in the supplemental aluminum-air battery system.

Unlike other batteries, aluminum can be stored for decades without degradation or needing maintenance charging.

Phinergy’s ideal scenario is the driver use the regular lithium-ion batteries day to day, and when needed expend some aluminum and water.

A typical usage scenario would see the cartridges expended maybe once a year, more or less. Costs – while still fuzzy at this stage – are projected to be cheaper than present solutions.

“Energy from aluminum is cheaper than gasoline and close to grid electricity price,” says the company in an executive summary. “Battery systems, pre industrial scale-up, are already cheaper than forecasted li-on in 2020.”

How It Works

In simplified terms, the cross-section of the battery shows where a chemical reaction takes place to release electrons and thus generate electricity.

The air cathode uses Teflon (like Gore Tex) to keep water in, and let air pass through as well. It also has a nanoporous silver inner layer, and current collector.

The air cathode uses Teflon (like Gore Tex) to keep water in, and let air pass through as well. It also has a nanoporous silver inner layer, and current collector.

The 10mm-thick aluminum plate is the battery’s anode, and the cathode is a semi-permeable membrane using the same technology as Gore Tex.

These plates can be added as needed, and each plate provides about enough energy for 20 miles. So, 50 plates – or aluminum-air battery cells – would offer 1,000 miles of extended-range driving.

In general terms, one kilogram of aluminum requires one kilogram of oxygen and one liter of water for the reaction to take place.

Sandwiched between the aluminum and air cathode is the water-based alkaline electrolyte containing potassium hydroxide.

Several technologies make this long-known lab concept commercially viable, and Phinergy and its PhD-laden staff has applied for or received over 22 patents.

The aluminum, as mentioned, is an alloy that oxidizes at a controlled rate. The fluid electrolyte in contact with it serves as a conductive layer, a solvent, and temperature evacuator as it extracts oxygen from the air cathode.

The air cathode uses a Teflon-based material that lets ambient air (thus oxygen) through from the environment, but it prevents the water-based electrode from seeping out.

On the cathode side, three elements laminated into a thin layer are used to make the cathode effective.

Immediately in contact with the electrolyte is a nanoporous silver structure patented by Phinergy, and based on work done at Bar Ilan University in Israel.

Laminated to the nanoporous layer is a current collector to gather electrons – electrical energy – liberated in the chemical reaction between the alkaline electrolyte and bare aluminum.

Laminated beyond that is the gore-tex like material sourced from a major manufacturer.

Cross-section aluminum-air battery. Air freely flows in, while aqueous alkaline electrolyte is retained despite pressure and heat.

Cross-section aluminum-air battery. Air freely flows in, while aqueous alkaline electrolyte is retained despite pressure and heat.

The chemical reaction involves oxidizing the bare aluminum which forms a layer of aluminum hydroxide – kind of like an aluminum rust.

The novelty of the system is it is all microprocessor controlled. The electrolyte bath can be flushed as needed by a pump, and in doing so, it wipes clean the oxidation exposing again a fresh surface of aluminum. Phinergy’s microcontroller and battery management system monitor temperature, chemical composition, and oxidation rate.

Here we see aluminum hydroxide (Al(OH)3 – oxidation – building on the aluminum's surface. OH- is also suspended in the electrolyte. Electricity is being produced as the aluminum undergoes this catalyzed reaction. Ambient air flows in freely, it is not pumped. It is like breathing.

Here we see aluminum hydroxide (Al(OH)3 – oxidation – building on the aluminum’s surface. OH- is also suspended in the electrolyte. Electricity is being produced as the aluminum undergoes this catalyzed reaction. Ambient air flows in freely, it is not pumped. It is like breathing.

The trick is to oxidize the aluminum enough that electricity is given off but no so badly that the entire reaction stops. So, the system can flush through the electrolyte solution as required at a rate that exposes aluminum just enough to repeat the oxidation, and not so aggressively as to prematurely erode the aluminum.

This incredible difficulty of this process – and contamination of the air cathode in previous experimental attempts by carbon dioxide – has been what relegated aluminum-air batteries to a lab experiment until now.

Here we see a fresh surface of aluminum exposed. The system's electrolyte bath flushes upwards taking away the oxidized surface and exposing new to repeat the process. This continues until the aluminum is gone, and the system is ready for a new cartridge.

Here we see a fresh surface of aluminum exposed. The system’s electrolyte bath flushes upwards taking away the oxidized surface and exposing new to repeat the process. This continues until the aluminum is gone, and the system is ready for a new cartridge.

The controlled whittling away of the aluminum is what makes the system viable, not to mention the recyclability of the electrolyte.

Maintenance would involve car owners needing to periodically refill the battery with tap water that’s been run through a simple de-ionizing process. This would be as required – perhaps every month or two depending on usage – and the electrolyte would enable the chemical reaction.

The aluminum plates that erode away would be swapped with new ones during a “quick operation” at a local service station.

Since releasing formerly confidential info last month, the company is gaining the attention of the public, as it has behind-the-scenes talks underway with European automakers.

The aluminum-air’s liquid has been tested for extreme temperatures. It freezes at -30 degrees C and boils at 130 degrees C.

President Obama asked Tzidon whether Phinergy was talking with American companies and Tzidon asked in turn with a smile whether the president had any connection with GM or Ford?

At this, Obama laughed, saying he thought he did, as Phinergy continues to work toward further proving its tech, and bringing it toward production.


May 23

Test Drive: 2014 Chevy Spark EV


I’d wanted to test this car a while back, but GM would not truck one to me from the New York area, nor would it let me trailer one back.

So, I jumped at the chance at Indianapolis.


The Chevrolet Spark EV is General Motors’ first all-electric car since the EV1 was discontinued in 1999, and more’s the pity it’s only available in California and Oregon.

In the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” GM was implicated, and if the Spark EV helps redeem it, one could still say GM has given birth to a new electric car, only to leave it confined under curfew.

If however you do reside in the two states where the zero-emission car has staked out a small claim on the electric car market, count yourself fortunate. It’s a fun little car that gets the job done, but GM is not as bold as Nissan with its 50-state Leaf, or even underdog Mitsubishi with its similarly-positioned i-MiEV also available nationwide.

For now, GM says only it is reviewing other markets, but has made no announcements for other states.

That said, we got a chance to briefly drive one in Indiana. The stint behind the wheel was offered in Indianapolis as part of a Ride, Drive & Charge event put on by the Electric Drive Transportation Association.


The subcompact five-door hatchback based on a gas-powered version is positioned as a city car, but this 82-mile range EV that starts at $27,495 including $810 destination fee – and before subsidies – could do just fine as a suburban commuter as well.



Despite GM’s present conservative stance, it’s apparent the company intends to build more electric cars. How do we know that? This little car that’s sized comparably to a Mitsubishi i-MiEV has an electric motor that could push a large sedan.

GM has equipped the single-speed Spark EV with a 140-horsepower, 402-pound-feet electric motor that propels it to 60 in an estimated 7.6 seconds and to a top speed of 90 mph.


Traction control keeps it from laying block-long strips of front-tire rubber but suffice to say, the under-worked powertrain is accruing usage data for GM to keep its future model options open.

The vehicle has both a default Normal Mode for maximum economy, or quicker response can be had via a Sport Mode.

Providing power for the Spark EV is a 21-kwh A123 Systems battery that is due to be replaced for 2015 with a 19-kwh battery constructed from 192 li-ion cells at GM’s Brownstown assembly plant.

The new battery sheds 86 pounds – and an untold degree of production costs – and GM says range, efficiency, and performance will be unchanged, in a case not of less is more, but rather, less is the same.


Unlike the mid-sized Nissan Leaf and subcompact Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Spark’s battery receives a liquid thermal management system. The battery is cooled or heated as needed to ensure long life. Before it was launched, GM proof tested it for 200,000 hours.

Aside from on-the-go regenerative braking which adds some juice back to the pack, full recharging is possible via 120 volt house current but owners will want the 240-volt charger which requires around 7 hours for a depleted battery.

A DC quick charge option is available. Here an SAE combo charger can zap 80 percent power back in 20 minutes from one of these public chargers.

Neater Than the Gas Version


Inside and out, the converted Spark EV resembles the regular gas-powered Spark, but adds touches rounded out by the best touch of all – the peppier electric drive.

Dimensions of the 2,989-pound car make it roomy enough in front – if not relatively tight in back-seat space – and its urban styling is functional and kind of cool.

Passenger volume is 86.3 cubic feet (2,444 l) and cargo space is 9.6 cubic feet (272 l).


The digital instrument and info displays are of course purposed for an electric car, while seats are suitably comfortable.

In the center stack is a seven-inch color touch-screen that displays MyLink infotainment.

Also in the center stack are audio and climate controls, heated seat controls, USB, power outlet, defogger button and StabiliTrak/traction control on/off button. Knobs are illuminated by LED to make finding them no worries after dark.


MyLink-equipped cars can use Siri in Eyes Free mode to do all sorts of connected functions, including voice-activated hands free iPhone calls, playing songs from iTunes, and more.

In the center console is an open storage area to stash small items.

The author, Jeff Cobb, is 6-feet-tall with 34-inch inseam, and squeezed in the back seat to demonstrate limited space. Front seat is adjusted to where he had it while driving.

The car is aerodynamic enough with a coefficient of drag of 0.326, and the electric version is set off by minor stylistic changes and functional exterior changes – some apparent, others hidden.

These are:

• Chrome upper two-tier grille, closed to reduce airflow
• Charge port door over the driver’s side front wheel well
• Underbody panels, tire air deflectors and aero-optimized exterior mirrors
• Rear diffusers optimize airflow under the vehicle
• 15-inch aluminum wheels and low rolling resistance tires
• Airflow is controlled through the lower intake opening via active shutter system
• Rockers are lower and wider, increasing tire coverage, improving aerodynamics
• Roof-extending rear spoiler.

Peppy, Fun, Quick


A lot has been said of the big torque and relative zippiness, and true enough the Spark EV is pretty feisty, but really, a Camry Hybrid will beat it in a sprint, so don’t mistake it as a shrunken Model S for those on a budget.

It actually feels quicker than it is because there’s no gear shifting for the one-speed reduction-gear drivetrain, and no grinding engine sound. Instead there’s a bit of electric whine and tire noise, and it just goes.


The low rolling resistance 15-inch tires will scuff on hard launch and the car builds speed to 60 in a way that most drivers will not feel like they are making a sacrifice to go electric.

Dipping deep into the juice on a regular basis will reduce range though, which could be OK assuming your charge and distance to travel are in line with one another.

The car feels poised well enough on its feet, making direction change and cornering a no issues affair. Being so small, parking is simplified, particularly in tighter confines.


We would have liked more time with it to test range, but reports say the Spark EV may provide a bit more real-world range than the Leaf.

Where it comes up short is in recharge time, as the Leaf can be equipped with a doubly fast 6.6-kw charger that fully replenishes the battery in around 4 hours at 240 volts.

The Leaf is also dimensionally larger, with more interior volume, but it costs around $2,500 more to start – and not with the quicker charger at that price.


Compared to a more closely matched competitor, the Mitsu i-MiEV, the Spark EV offers more range, comfort, styling and features, and its battery is larger, thermally managed, and not worked as hard, but the i-MiEV is priced cheap.

And next to the “minicompact” Fiat 500e, the limited market Fiat offers 5 miles more rated range and recharge time of four hours, but costs around $4,000 more.

Limited Market


Automakers do not particularly like the term “compliance car,” but Plug In America categorizes the Spark EV as a classic example given it’s available in only two states.

GM is deriving zero emission credits and probably just as importantly gathering data from a limited pool of drivers with which it will be better informed to produce more EVs later.


Meanwhile Nissan has been pushing EVs in 50 states for three years. Last year and this, it reported growing markets scattered around the country, not least of which being Atlanta which has at times out-purchased even California markets, but GM has yet to say whether it would offer the Spark EV there.


All this said, the Spark EV is well designed, does the job well-to-very-well in most key criteria.

If GM offers a test drive somewhere in your neck of the woods, we’d recommend trying it.

And, if you reside in California or Oregon where servicing dealers and solo HOV-lane access make it a viable option, its potentially sub-$18,000 price after federal and state subsidies or $199/ month lease could put it in the running as a best bang for the buck.

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