Even more American electric cars in the pipeline

Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge are working to get electic cars to market.  It looks like Chevy is going to beat to the market with the Volt though.

These new entries are still “Concept Cars,” so I’m taking their “late 2010” release date with a chunk of salt.

Keep in mind that introducing a lot of plug in hybrids or pure electric cars into the market is either going to require new sources of power (home based cheap solar and industrial scale Nuclear for example) or some serious inovations in electrical grid management.

Cheaper solar cells

The MIT Tech Review has a story about an Atlanta, GA based start up named Suniva.

What makes Sunvia’s product interesting is that they have made the manufacturing process cheaper.  They are squeezing a little more efficiency out of their cells (20%, which is up from the industry standard of 17%), but the cost reduction is the big story.

With Sunvia’s process, electricity from solar power can be produced for 8 to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour.  That is a competative rate in the United States.   Lower costs will result in more solar power being used to generate electricity.   More use of solar power on a small scale will also help on a larger utility scale.

Cheaper electric solar panels will result in more individual homes adopting them.  The more homes that can power their A/C system from solar during the summer, the less demand there will be on the utility grid during peak hours.    Solar panels could be used to charge a set of batteries during the day that would then charge a plug in hybrid car during the night.

Hydrocarbon biofuels

The MIT Tech Review has a story about a new process for turning plant sugars into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

Another interesting aspect of this story that the byproducts of the process can be used to create other industrial chemicals and plastics.  This further reduces independence on fossil based oil products.

The process under development will “employ chemical reactions instead of microbial fermentation. They use catalysts at high temperatures to convert glucose into hydrocarbon biofuels. The process works thousands of times faster than microbes do because of the higher temperatures, so it requires smaller, cheaper reactors, Dumesic says. The catalysts and reformer systems that they use are similar to those used in oil refineries, which would also make the process simpler.”

Simple is good.

A breakthrough in more efficient solar cells?

It looks it could be.  12 year old William Yuan has a project entitled “A Highly-Efficient 3-Dimensional Nanotube Solar Cell for Visible and UV Light.” 

The kicker here is that his system harnesses UV light as well as visible light. Current solar cells only work off the visible light. 

The trick will be finding a partner who won’t screw him.

Home brewed fuel

This is a post I made back in June on another one of my blogs.

The Times of London has a story on a California based company that is working on bio-tech produced oil, that should be “carbon negative” to produce. 

These slightly modified industrial yeast cells take in biomass, such as wheat straw or wood chips, and “excrete a substance that is almost pump-ready.”

There are still issues on how this can scale up to industrial levels, but even a lot of small plants can produce fuel to allow a city to run its municipal vehicles (police cars, fire trucks, and other emergency vehicles) without worrying about the rising market price of foreign oil breaking their budget.

Just bringing a few of these plants online should cause the market price to respond in a downward manner. The start of construction of the plants would probably have that effect.

The fact that uses modified yeast lead me to thinking about home brewing. If this process can be made as simple as brewing beer, then home brewing gas can’t be far away. Say that you could brew 20 galleons of gas in your basement a month. That’s a tank of gas. So, imagine if 20 or 30 million car owners bought one less tank of gas a week. Call it 25 million, 20 galleons a pop, so that’s 500 million galleons of gas a month that isn’t be imported or pumped from an area that environmentalists don’t want oil drilling. At the current average pump price of $4.09 a galleon, that over $2 Billion that isn’t going to “Big Oil” or Middle East dictators.

Google’s Navy

Via slashdot comes this story about Google’s just-published application for a patent on the Water-Based Data Center.  The story says that water based data centers can use wave based energy and use the water for cooling.

Interesting and certainly will play well in many circles. There are also a couple of other interesting data points about the proposal.  One, having your data centers off shore, espcially if Internet commerce is involved, provides a possible tax haven.

There is also the issue of avoiding having governments demand access to your data by having it in International waters.  That is until a couple of warships show up and demand access in the interest of “national security.”

Update: The Times Online caught up with this story finally.  They provide some more detail, including that Google is looking at barges, not ships, to be anchored about 7 miles (11 Km) offshore.  The Times is also quick to pick up on the same tax angle as I did.  Being offshore means no property taxes. 

Taking a quick look at the Volt

Chevy is looking at an electric sedan that uses a gasoline motor to charge the car’s battery.

This is very different than existing hybrids and all electric cars like the Tesla roadster.

Current hybrids have two complete drivetrains, electric and gas powered.  The electric motor is only good for low speeds and has to be supplimented by the gas engine to drive at highway speeds.

The Volt has a single drivetrain.  The electric motor is the only one connected to it.  The gas engine is only used to charge the battery. The battery in the Volt is also smaller than that of the Tesla Roadster.  The Tesla range is limited by the ability to charge it.  Tesla claims a 200+ mile range, but it has to be plugged in to recharge.

The battery in the Volt is only designed for a 40 mile range.  After that, the gas engine is used to recharge the battery, even on the go.  Chevy claims that on a full tank (6-7 galleons of gas), the Volt has a 400 mile range.  Even at $4.00 a galleon, seven galleons will cost $28.   I’ve seen gas at $3.50 a galleon, so that cost drops to $24.5.  That’s a cost of $0.06 to $0.07 a mile.  Compare this to a four banger getting 30 miles to the galleon highway.  13.3 galleons to go 400 miles.  At $4 a galleon, that’s $53.20 in gas or $0.13 a mile.

Now the Volt won’t have the performance of a Tesla Roadster, but it won’t have its $100,000 price tag either. Chevy is looking at a  price between $30 to $40 thousand.   The Volt will be able to venture beyond it’s power cord was well, much like current hybrids.

It will be at least another year before the Volt hits the street.  So there probably will be some changes from the current planned release.