DOE awards $30M for plug-in hybrid electric car research

One has to wonder if this news is too little too late already but, Ford, General Motors and General Electric will split $30 million to develop and demonstrate Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles research projects over the next three years.  

The Department of Energy said today the projects will hasten the development of vehicles capable of traveling up to 40 miles without recharging, which includes most daily roundtrip commutes and satisfies 70% of the average daily travel in the US.  The projects will also address critical barriers to achieving DOE’s goal of making such cars cost-competitive by 2014 and ready for commercialization by 2016. Of course by then gas could cost so much people will be happy to push their cars. 

The DOE did say this week that the average price for regular gasoline in the United States should peak at $4.15 per gallon in August and to average $3.78 per gallon for the year.  Diesel fuel prices are projected to remain near the June 2 price of $4.71 per gallon over the next few months, with an average price of $4.32 per gallon for the year.

 The DOE says PHEVs are hybrid vehicles that can be driven in electric-only or hybrid modes and recharged from a standard electric outlet.  They offer increased energy efficiency and decreased petroleum consumption by using electricity as the primary fuel for urban driving.  This is the first round of selections under DOE’s PHEV Technology Acceleration and Deployment Activity plan.  A second round of applications is due July 18, 2008.  

The three projects selected so far include: 

·          General Motors: The project aimed at enhancement of Lithium-Ion battery packs, charging systems, powertrain development, vehicle integration, and vehicle validation.  Following development, the PHEVs will be deployed over a three year period into a demonstration fleet in three regions of the U.S.  Other team members include Electric Power Research Institute, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

·          Ford Motor Company: Project looks to identify way to accelerate commercial mass-production of PHEVs.  The project will focus on development of battery systems and deployment of prototype PHEVs.  The project will test and demonstrate the propulsion system design, controls, and communications necessary to develop a viable PHEV production program.  Team members include Southern California Edison, Electric Power Research Institute, and Johnson Controls-Saft.

·          General Electric: Project looks to demo PHEVs that rely upon a dual-battery energy storage system capable of 40 miles accumulated electric driving range.  The project will focus on developing the dual-battery energy storage system in parallel with vehicle integration. GE is partnering with Chrysler for this project.  

The Government Accountability Office recently took issue with many of the DOE’s advanced energy plans. It noted that a key factor to any sustainable deployment of advanced energy technologies will be to make them cost competitive, while addressing technical and environmental challenges, so that the market can support a more diversified portfolio. Otherwise, without sustained higher energy prices or concerted, high-profile federal government leadership, US consumers are unlikely to change their energy-use patterns, and the U.S. energy use will not significantly change. 

Many technical, cost and environmental challenges must be overcome in developing and demonstrating advanced technologies before they can be deployed in the US with greater impact, the GAO said. 

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