Category Archives: transportation

EVs land in Antarctica

e-ride Industries' EXV2s. Image from NREL, photo by Dennis Schroeder.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has announced that McMurdo Station received two electric vehicles to help test whether the research station can move away from a dependence on diesel trucks. If the vehicles can handle the tough conditions at the remote station, they’ll help offset current fossil fuel use and pollution.

Transporting vehicle fuel to Antarctica is expensive, resource intensive, and requires a lot of planning, while both wind and solar (at least, for half the year) are plentiful on the ice. Moreover, McMurdo Station is considered a pristine research environment and anything that can be done to reduce pollution without jeopardizing operations would be helpful. Therefore, the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs is working with NREL and the Department of Energy to incorporate more renewable energy and efficiency practices into current facilities.

As part of that effort, NREL researched and tested e-ride Industries’ EXV2 electric utility vehicle. The units were chosen because the truck-like bed and larger utility-style tires more closely resembled the pick-up trucks currently being used. NREL subjected the vehicles to sub-zero temperatures and, after being assured they functioned as expected, outfitted them with insulation and battery heaters and sent them by boat and transport plane to McMurdo.

e-ride Industries' EXV2 lands on the ice in February 2011. Image from NREL, courtesy of Kent Colby with Raytheon Polar Services.

Since landing on the ice in February, the vehicles have been used on a daily basis, logging more than 70 hours and nearly 140 miles. The real test lies ahead, during Antarctica’s bad weather months. The vehicles will then be subjected to brutally cold conditions. “Empirical data on the capability of the vehicle batteries in such cold is critical,” NREL Senior Task Leader Ted Sears said. “As a result, we are trying to learn everything we can about how the vehicle systems operate and respond in the extreme cold. Despite the vehicles being equipped with battery warming devices, there are still going to be limitations on their capabilities.”

McMurdo isn’t the only facility looking at whether renewables can reduce fuel use. Remote locations the world over would benefit from similar vehicles. Currently these places have to ship fuel in at great cost.

Read more about the project on NREL’s website.

A new VW van for climate-conscious hippies

Original VW van. Image from Wikipedia

The iconic VW van, known and loved by hippies, college kids, and campers, has been updated for a new market of climate-conscious consumers. Volkswagen’s microbus, the Bulli, first debuted in 1950 and was produced through 1967. Other versions of the popular bus followed on the heels of the Bulli, but now the company has reincarnated the original in the hopes of bringing back the sense of freedom inspired by the original.

The all-electric Volkswagen Bulli

The new Bulli, a concept vehicle shown at the Geneva Auto Show, is all-electric, can go up to 186 miles on a single battery charge, and can reach speeds of 87 miles per hour. Jonathan Browning, president and CEO of Volkswagen of America, told Automobile Magazine that although the vehicle is just a concept, it was “number one on my unfunded projects list.” Still, experts don’t rate the chances as very high that the vehicle will go into production. We hope they’re wrong!

240-horse electric bike to race Pike’s Peak

Wired's photo of motorcycle racer Chip Yates

Wired is reporting that motorcycle racer Chip Yates and his team have developed a 240-horsepower electric “superbike” that is capable of producing a phenomenal 365 foot-pounds of torque. They plan to race it in the June 29 running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Although the bike weighs an ungainly 585 pounds, the amount of power it produces easily makes it a contender against gasoline-powered machines.

An earlier version of the bike, with 194 horsepower, managed to reach speeds of 158 mph and earned Yates a second- and third-place finish in the WERA Motorcycle Road Racing Heavyweight Twins races in Fontana, California. Wired reports Yates as saying, “I was surprised. I was thinking, optimistically, that I’d like to be fifth or sixth. I was over the moon. There’s no way we figured we’d get a podium.” While electric motorcycles have been racing for some time, none of them have challenged gasoline-powered machines in the way Yates’ bike has.

Wired's photo of Chip Yates racing his electric superbike

The Pikes Peak race will be a real challenge. It is one of hardest courses in motor sports, rising from 9,390 to 14,110 feet through 156 turns in just over 12 miles. The terrain includes dirt and gravel as well as pavement. In Yates’ favor will be the advantages of an electric bike: there is no performance loss due to elevation, as there is with gasoline-powered vehicles, and an electric bike doesn’t need to rev up in order to power forward. The bike’s 365 foot-pounds of torque is available the minute Yates twists the throttle.

We, along with a lot of others, are looking forward to seeing what this bike can do. Although Yates doesn’t plan on commercially developing the motorcycle, it’s this kind of innovation that will surely help transform the industry.

Wired has written several pieces on Yates and his bike. You can read them here, here, and here. Watch a video below:

Hydrogen fuel cell cabs arrive in London

Intelligent Energy's Fuel Cell Black Cab on Westminster Bridge, passing the Houses of Parliament

Intelligent Energy has announced that the first of their hydrogen fuel cell black cabs have taken to the streets of London. The zero emission cabs have a fuel cell and a battery that allows them to travel up to 250 miles, well within the confines of a conventional taxi.

At a March 22, 2011 event, one of the taxis traveled around London to some of the city’s iconic landmarks. Eventually, the project will deliver a fleet of vehicles by 2012. Mayor of London Boris Johnson said, “These prototype zero-emission taxis are a shining example of British ingenuity, combining revolutionary fuel cell technology with an iconic design classic. This marks an important milestone in my goal to create a cleaner cab fleet, firstly through introduction of the first ever age limits moving towards zero-emission vehicles as they come to market.”

The fuel cell black cabs were developed by a consortium of companies, led by Intelligent Energy and including Lotus Engineering, London Taxis International, and TRW Conekt, with partial funding from the UK’s Technology Strategy Board.

The Atlantic has posted a special report on energy

The Atlantic has been posting a variety of stories and videos in a wide-ranging special report called “The Future of Energy.” Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic and author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology, started the discussion each week by discussing an episode or question from the past that might help us frame our thoughts about what the future holds for our energy systems. Energy experts from a variety of disciplines were then invited to explore the topic and discuss the big ideas.

There are 3 topics posted in the collection: Part 1 – The Electric Car Solution, Part 2 – The New Nuclear Reality, and Part 3 – Big Solar vs. Environmentalists. The fantastic stories related to these topics offer a wide-ranging look at something that affects us all.

You can read the stories here.

2011: The Year of the Electric Car

It’s only March, but 2011 is shaping up to be the year that the electric car comes into its own.

German electric car, 1904, with the chauffeur ...

German electric car, 1904, with the chauffeur on top. Image via Wikipedia

Electric cars have been around since the late 1800s. Around the turn of the century, they were actually preferred over their gasoline-powered counterparts because they were quieter and cleaner. Advances in the internal combustion engine, however, soon tipped the scales in favor of gasoline; the batteries of electric cars just couldn’t provide the same range and power. By the 1920s, there were few electric cars left on the roads.

Tesla Roadster

Since the 1990s, electric cars have been making a comeback, with models like GM’s EV1, the Toyota RAV4 EV, and the Chrysler TEVan being introduced in response to California’s push towards lower emission vehicles. Most famously, the Tesla Roadster was introduced in the US in 2006. But so far, consumers interested in electric cars have only had a limited range of choices. Hybrid vehicles, like Toyota’s Prius, have fared a bit better, offering a wider range of cars.

2011, however, is seeing a major change in the number and types of electric vehicles manufacturers are offering. At the Detroit Auto Show in January, Tesla unveiled its most detailed look yet at the Model S, an electric sedan aimed at  the family market. Toyota and Lexus announced an additional 10 new hybrid models under development, including a Prius wagon, and they showcased the electric iQ EV prototype at the Geneva Auto Show. Meanwhile the Nissan Leaf began delivery of its mid-size hatchback last December and is expected to increase availability throughout 2011. The Chevy Volt (technically a plug-in hybrid) also began delivery in mid-December and is expected to increase availability by late summer. Not to be outdone, Rolls Royce has introduced the 102EX Phantom EE at the Geneva Auto Show, an experimental electric sedan aimed at the luxury market.

Rolls Royce 102EX Phantom EE experimental electric luxury sedan

In fact, everyone seems to be jumping on the electric wagon: Ford, BMW, Mercedes, BMW’s Mini Cooper division, Mitsubishi, Renault, Daimler’s Smart Car, and Subaru all have upcoming vehicles. In addition, ECOtality “Blink” DC Fast Charging stations will be available at 45 BP (and its subsidiary Arco) locations.

Despite these gains, battery power and life continue to be the Achilles’ heel of electric vehicles. Research is underway not only on improved batteries, but on alternative storage methods as well. We can expect to see much greater adoption of electric vehicles once they can offer a wider range and faster charging.

Around the world in 80 days… in an electric car

I have a confession to make: the car that I drive is not electric. It’s a practical, nice looking Toyota Matrix. Not entirely unexpected for a person who teaches matrix computations at university regularly, of course, but I do feel pangs of guilt occasionally when driving around town. Honest, my next car will be electric. Especially after hearing, whilst driving that same Matrix,  a wonderful NPR “The World” segment last week on the recently completed Zero Emissions Race.

The three finalist of the Zero Race, from http://www.zero-race.com

Imagine driving 27,000 kilometers through 17 countries in 80 days in an electric vehicle. Three teams from Australia, Germany and Switzerland managed. The Australian team drove a three-wheeler that was dubbed “TREV”, the Germans an electric scooter and the Swiss a sort of high-tech motorcycle.

The race was organized by Louis Palmer, who some of you may remember as the “Solar Taxi Guy”, who toured around the world in a solar car three years ago.

The participants stopped off at the World Climate Conference in Cancun, Mexico last December. They drove through Europe, Russia, China, Canada and the United States, and finished with a track through Morocco and Spain.

I loved this “race”. It was not without its share of problems. It was difficult at times for the teams to charge their vehicles, particularly in Russia and China, where sometimes they had to wire directly into the power supply. And naturally, the race was not entirely emissions free. In places, electricity used for the vehicle was generated by fossil-fueled power plants.  But overall, it was a challenging, exciting adventure that managed to put a bright positive light on electric cars. I also loved that the Trev was designed by students at the University of South Australia in Adelaide.

For all of you interested in participating in such a race, there is another chance: The Zero Emissions Race Europe from September 3rd to the 25th. Let me know if you put a team together. I’d be happy to be the supply van. Me and my Matrix, but guilt free as we’d be helping to advance this future mode of transport.