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Jan 25

OnStar project promises renewable energy for recharging


As we’ve seen with the Volt and other green initiatives, GM is working to promote sustainability with perhaps its latest project being enablement of recharging from renewable energy.

On Monday, OnStar Communications contacted us and announced Volt owners “may soon be able to charge their vehicle using renewable energy.”

The actual time frame is “to be determined,” but the kinks are being worked out by OnStar and a company called PJM Interconnection with 17 Chevrolet Volts operated by Google’s Gfleet.


The way it generally works is OnStar-enabled technology receives a signal from PJM Interconnection showing the percentage of available renewable energy on the grid.

Data from this forecast is downloaded to the OnStar cloud, or Advanced Telematics Operating Management System (ATOMS). OnStar uses this signal to simultaneously manage the charging of many Volts and to match the renewable energy availability.

OnStar says a mobile app could be used to alert customers when renewable energy is available.

Google’s Gfleet is based at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and as many of you know, Google is highly involved in other green projects and automotive experiments that include cars that drive themselves.

At the same time, Google is naturally willing to collaborate with real human drivers, as the species does not yet seem ready to go extinct.

This week, the OnStar-enabled fleet’s technology will be demonstrated at the 2012 DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition in San Antonio.

The public demo fits with an announcement by Nick Pudar, OnStar vice president of planning and business development, who said it is nearly ready for prime time.

“This demonstration shows that in the near future customers will have a real signal of demand for renewable energy,” said Pudar. “As customers configure their Volts to favor renewable energy for their charging cycle, this real demand signal will influence utilities to tap into renewable sources.”

Note that Pudar says demand will prompt utilities to increase (now limited) renewable energy supply.

We asked Adam Dennison, an OnStar Communications representative who sent the info, “How hopeful are you that this will have a measurable or significant influence that it will push utilities to adopt more renewable energy sources?”

In response, he said “We think that as EVs continue to penetrate the marketplace that customers will drive a variety of demands throughout different industries. Certainly we believe that the energy industry will be one of these. Based on the level of interest a number of utilities have expressed in OnStar’s Smart Grid solutions, we are pretty confident that that they’ll be willing to look to more renewable energy sources.”

At present, peak hours for renewable energy generation from wind is generally between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. according to PJM data.

OnStar says it would therefore be possible for customers to use Smart Grid solutions to further reduce their carbon footprint and – as is already possible regardless of energy source – “save money by charging during these off-peak times.”

“Solutions like this one will ultimately lead to increased renewable energy generation and allow Chevrolet Volt owners to be a key part of that energy transformation,” said Pudar.

If the renewable energy service goes into production, customers interested in using it would need to sign up. Dennison did not say if it would cost extra or be made available with existing OnStar service.

Once signed up, OnStar would regulate customers’ charging using the renewable energy signal.

This video is not directly about the current project, but OnStar says it highlights an app it did for Google’s Gfleet of Volts.

OnStar says this renewable energy technology is the latest addition to its suite of Smart Grid solutions.

For your review, OnStar says it has developed other “intelligent energy management technology solutions,” including:

Demand response – This solution connects utilities to companies that have intelligent energy management products. These companies can use OnStar to manage energy use for Volt customers who opt in for the service. This future service allows the customer to save money on energy costs while enabling more efficient use of the electric grid.
Time-of-Use (TOU) rates – OnStar can receive dynamic TOU pricing from utilities and notify Volt owners of the rate plan offers via email. Owners will be able to use OnStar to load the rate plans directly into their vehicle and access them to schedule charging during lower-rate periods.
Charging data – OnStar also sends and receives EV data that helps utility providers without having to interface with the vehicle’s electric vehicle supply equipment. This includes location-based EV data that identifies charging locations and determines potential load scenarios.


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Jan 18

GM and Powermat Studying Wireless Recharging of the Chevy Volt


Recently, GM announced a small investment in a company called Powermat.  That company makes wireless device charging systems.  Their current product allow users to place a receiver in the charge port of their device (cell phone, iPad, etc) and plug in the mat.  If the device is rested on the mat, it is wirelessly charged.

The first automotive application expected to result from this partnership is an option for the 2012 Chevy Volt that will become available next year.  It will be a wireless charging mat in the center of the console that drivers can rest their cellphones on while driving to have them wirelessly recharge.

The technology works through the use of induced magnetic fields:

Powermat uses magnetic induction to transfer energy.   Specifically, energy is transferred from a transmitter (which will be embedded in vehicle) to a receiver (which is connected to or embedded in the device) through a shared magnetic field.   Communication between the Mat (transmitter) and the Receiver (personal device) allows the mat to deliver an exact amount of power for the proper length of time so that the transfer of power is safe and efficient and no energy is ever wasted.  When a device reaches full charge, power is shut off to that device. This not only saves energy, but it also prevents overcharging of the device’s battery, which can shorten battery life.

This story begs the question as to whether this option could this be all the relationship is about?  After all, GM Ventures is a VC unit that invests in small companies that may have big automotive futures.

Over the years there has often been talk and theoretical discussions about wirelessly charging not only small devices, but whole electric cars themselves.

The concept would be to have a large wireless mat in one’s garage, simply park on top of it, and the battery will recharge automatically.

Powermat spokesperson Scott Eisenstein admits his company is looking at how to charge large electric car batteries.  “Yes, we are certainly looking into that,” he said.

Also according to Volt vehicle line executive Tony Posawazt, so is GM. “We are studying many exciting new technologies for the future, said Posawatz.  “This includes wireless, hands-free inductive charging of the high voltage battery.”



Aug 01

Innovative Lithium-Oxygen Battery Tech Could Significantly Increase EV Range


Any bets on whether this pans out?

By Tim Healey


A new lithium-oxygen battery is being touted as potentially able to provide much longer ranges between charges for EVs.

Also known as lithium-air, the tech has been in the news before with promise for five to 15-times more efficiency than standard lithium-ion batteries. However, it has been held back by a few issues such as loss of about a third of its energy as heat, not lasting long enough, but research continues, including a new study which has shown encouraging results.

SEE ALSO: GM Says Li-ion Battery Cells Down To $145/kWh and Still Falling

The study is led by Ju Li, professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Battelle Energy Alliance and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along with fellow MIT researcher Zhi Zhu and five other researchers. All of the researchers work for either MIT, Argonne National Laboratory, or Peking University, and their labor shows a new version of the technology could overcome obstacles.

SEE ALSO: Next-Gen Batteries Approaching Commercial Scale to Compete with Lithium-ion

The team is looking to have a prototype produced within a year and available to manufacturers within the next 18 months. The researchers have renewed the practical patent application and are now seeking investors. The tech, they said, can work with smartphones, too – and the idea of not having to charge a smartphone every day could be just as appealing to investors as the idea of not having to charge an EV as often.

Other promises made about battery tech have fizzled, but the details here suggest that maybe the challenges of lithium-air batteries have been surmounted.

The new tech, which was detailed in Nature, uses what’s called a nanolithia cathode battery. This type of battery offers more versatility and avoids some of the issues that held back previous lithium-oxygen batteries – issues like needing to be kept away from carbon dioxide and water.

Existing lithium-oxygen batteries work by drawing air in, which causes a chemical reaction – air is then later released to reverse the reaction, which then recharges the battery.

Of course, having an airflow that works both ways allows carbon dioxide and water to enter. So the researchers figured out a way to recharge without letting oxygen become a gas.

“Instead, the oxygen stays inside the solid and transforms directly between its three redox states, while bound in the form of three different solid chemical compounds, Li2O, Li2O2, and LiO2, which are mixed together in the form of a glass,” the researchers wrote. “This reduces the voltage loss by a factor of five, from 1.2 volts to 0.24 volts, so only eight per cent of the electrical energy is turned to heat.”

This leads to lower waste via heat, which leads to better efficiency and faster recharging. Not only that, but the batteries could have longer lives than current lithium-ion batteries, since this particular reaction doesn’t lead to overcharging.

“We have overcharged the battery for 15 days, to a hundred times its capacity, but there was no damage at all,” Li said.


This article appears also at


Jun 30

It’s Not The Feds Who are Pushing the Plug-in Vehicle Agenda


You might want to keep your eye out for automakers lobbying against CAFE just the same …


Frequently reports allude to “regulations” compelling automakers to build plug-in electrified vehicles (PEVs), and while that’s generally true, it’s less so for regulations set by the U.S. government.

Despite a “54.5” mpg average demanded by federal 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules, the slim percentage of PEVs sold today would barely need to be raised over the next nine years for manufacturers to make the grade, but California may not make it so easy.

That is, California and nine other states signed onto the Euro-style vision embraced by California’s Air Resources Board for zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) won’t let them off easy, and by 2018 the clamp is set to get tighter. In short, automakers who may now be reluctant to market PEVs outside of ZEV states will be less able to as a loophole closes.

Also supported by the ZEV rules are hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, but given their lack of infrastructure, cost, and technical impediments, plus the head start by plug-in vehicles, California rules are effectively driving PEV development and sales as well.

For this, plug-in advocates can all say thanks to California, though it has not been all rosy. Up till now, an arcane system of overlapping rules that only a bureaucrat could love enabled automakers to sell what PEV/ZEV advocates have pejoratively called “compliance cars.”

Under California rules, automakers could receive partial credit from hybrid and low-emission conventional vehicle sales to meet ZEV quotas, but in 2018 they will need to sell more real live plug-in vehicles to meet these ZEV quotas.

According to what is known as Section 177 of California’s rules, other states have also piggybacked onto the mandates, making a bloc of 28 percent of the U.S. auto market.

3.3 Million ZEVs by 2025

The history of a confederacy of states in sympathy with California’s mandates for cleaner air and less petroleum dependence goes back several years, and in October 2013 a significant pact was made to force automakers’ hands.

At that time, eight states signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) calling for 3.3 million ZEVs on these states’ roads by 2025.

Fuel cell vehicles have been heavily rewarded, some might say ironically because they refuel faster. It could be considered ironic because infrastructure is next to nothing at the moment. CARB rules favoring fast refueling are due to change in 2018, and automakers are in it for the long haul in a necessarily slow deployment. The ZEV rules otherwise are compelling automakers to build plug-in cars.

Fuel cell vehicles have been heavily rewarded, some might say ironically because they refuel faster. It could be considered ironic because infrastructure is next to nothing at the moment. CARB rules favoring fast refueling are due to change in 2018, and automakers are in it for the long haul in a necessarily slow deployment. The ZEV rules otherwise are compelling automakers to build plug-in cars.

To date, the entire U.S. is nearing a half million cumulative total PEVs since they first went on sale last decade. In California alone, ZEV mandates call for 15 percent, or one-in-seven PEVs by 2025. Today PEVs comprise about 3 percent of California’s new light-duty vehicle market, much more than the roughly 0.75 percent for the U.S. as a whole, but California and company are not content with where things stand.

The MOU was signed by the governors of California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.

“[A]cccelerating the ZEV market is a critical strategy for achieving our goals to reduce transportation-related air pollution, including criteria air pollutants, mobile source air toxics and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), enhance energy diversity, save consumers money, and promote economic growth,” said a memorandum of understanding (MOU) by the eight-state coalition, “and … our states are committed to reducing air pollution, including the emission of GHGs and other air pollutants from the mobile source sector.”

Provisions or the MOU call for consumer ZEV incentives including financial rebates, and permission of solo access to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane access, as well as commitment to charging (and hydrogen) infrastructure.


Also mandated is an attempt to give PEVs value-proposition parity with conventional cars, and the plan affecting public and private vehicle purchases calls for establishing vehicle recharging rates competitive with gasoline.

The word “hybrid” or “plug-in hybrid” was not mentioned in the MOU, but these are in other quarters considered part-time ZEVs, and talk of accountability toward the goal was made.

“On an annual basis, each Signatory State will report, within available capabilities, on the number of ZEVs registered in its jurisdiction, the number of electric/hydrogen fueling stations open to the public and available information regarding workplace fueling for ZEVs,” said the MOU.

Since this MOU was announced, while there have been developments to support it, there has not been a lot of news about it.

This week however Automotive News reported that despite the market outside California being “currently challenging” to the proliferation of PEVs/ZEVs, the handwriting is on the wall.

“As we are now closer to 2018, everyone is beginning to see that the mandate is not going away,” said Devin Lindsay, IHS Automotive’s principal analyst for North American powertrains to Automotive News speaking of California’s ZEV mandates.

An article outlines various measures in which automakers are engaging California, and they need to, because CAFE otherwise would never hold them to such account.

CAFE’s 1-3 Percent

In June 2013 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in charge of CAFE rule making for the U.S, Environmental Protection Agency said in so many words, it had engineered an escape valve for carmakers to avoid plug-in technologies.

The CAFE rules had been agreed upon the year prior and the disclosure by then-administrator for NHTSA David Strickland was at a Consumer Reports-sponsored panel in Yonkers, N.Y.


“Our analysis at NHTSA projects that the automakers can meet these standards largely through advantages in internal combustion engines,” said Strickland, “We project that the automakers will only need to produce about 1 to 3 percent of electric vehicles from plug-ins to meet the 2025 standards.”

Other estimates have put the number at 0-2 percent PEVs by 2025.

Strickland alluded to numerous technologies to reduce gas and diesel engine fuel consumption and to clean up emissions. These include, aside from non-plug-in hybridization, gasoline direct injection, downsized turbo engines, automatic transmissions with 8,9,10 speeds, stop-start tech, cylinder deactivation, 48-volt “micro hybrids,” and much more.

All of it is to incrementally make the vehicles passable under regulatory limits as they get increasingly tougher.

In short, Strickland said conventional vehicles can be made to pass higher fuel economy and emission targets now through 2025 under federal rules which erroneously may be reported as “54.5” mpg.

This number is a composite estimated average, and may vary as fleet assortments vary. It is also a deviation from the multiple tests used to determine window sticker values on new vehicles. In essence, 54.5 mpg equals somewhere just over 40 mpg on the sticker.

Rules for trucks, by the way, are not as strict as for lighter, smaller vehicles, so the actually flexible “54.5” could vary by 2025, potentially dipping downward if America continues buying record numbers of SUVs and trucks.

Regulations Remain

Aside from CAFE, automakers must contend with rules in all markets in which they do business which supports the opening statement to this article that regulations are driving carmakers.

To their credit, they’ve gotten an early jump on things, and signs are they will be able to meet their U.S. targets.

As we speak, the feds are preparing to hear from automakers on a so-called mid-term review to assess viability of 2022-2025 CAFE rules and make any adjustments if deemed necessary.


It’s been reported that automakers which have been known in the past to appeal rules calling for tougher standards are lobbying again as this next period is pending finalization, and it was enough to prompt Union of Concerned Scientists to write a blog post urging automakers to stay the course.

As it is, all automakers because of their global involvement, and as costs have come down faster than expected, and other factors on the supply and demand side besides, are making inroads to plug-in cars.

SEE ALSO: Automaker Alliance Seeking to Influence Midterm Evaluation of Federal Fuel Economy Rules

To be sure also, zero emission vehicles make a bigger dent in fleet fuel economy scores than 5 percent here, 10 percent there, 20 percent over there as is the case with conventional incremental tweaks.

The industry is increasing its plug-in electrification regardless, therefore, even if the U.S. government in 2012 said it did not really have to.

This article appears also at


Jun 20

Nikola Motor Bags $2.3 Billion in Pre-orders For Electrified Semi Truck


We’ll have a follow-up on this …

By Larry E. Hall


Perhaps there’s some magic when applying famous electrical engineer Nikola Tesla’s name to an electrified vehicle.

Salt Lake City-based startup, Nikola Motor, said in a press release it received 7,000 pre-orders last month for its Class 8 electric truck.

That translates to $10.5 million in reservation funds, and $2.3 billion in sales if all of the reservations go through.

Called “Nikola One,” the company says its electrified truck, which features a natural gas turbine range extender engine, is 10 to 15 years ahead of any other truck manufacturer in fuel efficiencies and emissions.

“We are the only OEM (original equipment manufacturer) to have a near zero emission truck and still outperform diesel trucks running at 80,000 pounds,” said Trevor Milton, founder and CEO.

To back up the company’s claims, on paper, the specifications are impressive.

The futuristic big-rig features a 2,000 horsepower turbine engine that sends power to a 320-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.

The truck’s battery never requires recharging because the turbine will charge it as the vehicle drives.

Six electric motors, one on each wheel, propel the semi.

The tractor features 3,700 pounds-feet of torque, and a range of 1,200 miles with a 150-gallon natural gas tank.

In addition to natural gas, the turbine engine can be configured to run on diesel or gasoline fuel.

SEE ALSO: Wrightspeed Combines Gas Turbine And Batteries For Big Fuel Savings

Beyond the powertrains’s technology, the Nikola One offers the trucking industry’s first-ever independent suspension, along with torque vectoring for better ride and handling.

The truck will retail for $375,000, which is nearly double the price for a standard diesel semi-trailer. A leasing program costs $4,000 to $5,000 per month, depending on which truck configuration and options.

Nikola Motor is offering the first 5,000 customers who put down $1,500 to reserve a truck 100,000 gallons of free natural gas.

The free fuel offsets the monthly lease payments.

The above photo is a 3-D rendering, but a working prototype of the semi-truck will be revealed in Salt Lake City on December 2, 2016.

In order to make the prototype a reality, Nikola Motor will need a ton of money. The company says that it has completed a seed round of investing, and it is working on a series A round worth $300 million to be completed by December.

Hopefully, the company can meet production schedules, unlike that other electric vehicle maker that also uses Nicola Tesla’s name.

Nikola Motor Company

This article appears also at


Feb 09

Chevy Dealer Says Sales Charged by Volts


By Tim Healey


The Chevrolet Volt is doing wonders for one particular Canadian Chevrolet dealership.

Bourgeois Chevrolet in Rawdon, Quebec specializes in electric vehicles, which is one reason that dealer principal Samuel Jeanson stocks as many new and used Volts on the lot as he can, even though they take longer to sell than conventional gas-powered cars.

Bourgeois Chevrolet sold almost 300 electric vehicles in 2015, with nearly 200 of them being new. Jeanson tells Automotive News that he figures the profit per vehicle is about the same as it for conventional gas-powered cars. Already, the dealership has pre-sold 43 2017 Volts and 33 Bolts, which haven’t gone on sale yet.

Jeanson sells high numbers of electric (or in the case of the Volt, extended-range electric) vehicles despite being in a small town located about 50 miles from the nearest big city (Montreal). He does this because he does business a bit differently than most dealers.

Dealerships are generally reluctant to stock too many EVs because of the higher cost of having them lounging on the lot. In addition, salespeople who work on commission might not want to spend more time presenting the features of an EV to customers – customers who have lots of questions when it comes to EVs, which in turn makes the process take longer. So Jeanson pays his salespeople a salary instead, to keep them from losing out on income while they work a deal involving an EV.

Salespeople also help walk consumers through the math involved in the cost of ownership of an EV – such as comparing the cost of the electricity needed for recharging versus the cost of gas. Sales staff help customers determine if it’s cheaper for them to commute every day with an electric vehicle or a conventional gas-powered vehicle.

There are several other key sales initiatives that Bourgeois uses – the central being that customers can take the vehicles home for extended test drives to see if they can/want to live with a Volt over the long term. Furthermore, many staffers own EVs, but all staffers are trained to become electric vehicle experts.

This business model could provide an example going forward for other dealerships that are looking to sell more EVs.

This article appears also at

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