May 29, 2007

"Green Wheels Spinning For Venture Backers"

Matt Rosenberg

In a Puget Sound Business Journal op-ed titled "Green Wheels Are Spinning For Venture Backers," Cascadia Center Director Bruce Agnew and Senior Fellow Steve Marshall write that transportation's sizable contribution to carbon dioxide emissions necessitates more investment in green vehicle technology. They say such investment can yield further improvements in promising battery technology for low-emission electric and electric-biofuel hybrid cars; plus intelligent systems to integrate plug-in hybrids with the power grid and with intermittent renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Drawing on a presentation from Cascadia's "Jump Start To A Secure, Clean Energy Future" forum last month at Microsoft's Redmond campus, Agnew and Marshall write:

Tom Alberg, a managing director of Madrona Venture Group, of Seattle, said the venture capital community has awakened and will be a helpful ally in moving toward energy independence and green energy. He noted that promising areas include more efficient conversion of biomass to fuels; batteries and other improved storage devices for power; software networks that make the electric grid more efficient; and predictive technologies for automobiles, which can help drivers avoid fuel-wasting traffic congestion.

Marshall and Agnew continue:

......Investing in green transportation technologies has paid off this year in another part of the country. A venture capital-backed spinoff from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called A123 Systems has developed a new type of rechargeable lithium ion battery that is much more powerful and durable than current hybrid car batteries.

This month, A123 announced that its new technology will allow automakers to build PHEVs with a battery pack lasting more than 10 years or 150,000 miles. General Motors is looking at using A123 batteries in its plug-in Saturn Vue due in 2009, and its plug-in electric Chevy Volt due the following year. A123's battery announcement may well accelerate those rollouts and boost competition among major automakers to produce the first commercially available rechargeable vehicle.

Popular Mechanics has weighed in, with an article by Ben Hewitt titled, "Plug-in Hybrid Cars: How They'll Solve The Fuel Crunch." The magazine reports it has run the numbers on ethanol and hydrogen as potentially greener replacements for fossil fuels, and neither fares well, while according to a 2006 study by the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Labs, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 27 percent in the U.S., even if the electricity to power them comes from the traditional "dirty" coal production method. As PNNL researchers write on p. 12 of the above-linked study:

For the nation as a whole, the total greenhouse gases are expected to be reduced by 27% from the projected penetration of PHEVs. The key driver for this result is the overall improvement in efficiency along the electricity generation path compared to the entire conversion chain from crude oil to gasoline to the combustion process in the vehicle. Fundamental to this result is the assumption that a PHEV by itself would be more efficient than a conventional gasoline car because of the regenerative braking capability that stores the kinetic energy in the battery during deceleration and because the engine operates at near optimal conditions more of the time than in conventional vehicles.

For PHEVs to gain strong market share, Hewitt writes, incentives for off-peak recharging will be needed, along with solid plans to corral needed lithium from global repositories, to power PHEV batteries.


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