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Sep 24, 2012

Lightweighting a Key To DOE’s EV Everywhere Grand Challenge


In March 2012 President Obama announced a “B-HAG” (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) for U.S. electric vehicle adoption: enable U.S. companies to produce plug-in electric vehicles that are as affordable and convenient as today’s gas-powered vehicles by 2022.

The EV Everywhere Grand Challenge was thus launched. In support of this initiative, the office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy hosted five workshops this summer to identify technology gaps and enablers to efficient EV design, covering such topics as power electronics, batteries, powertrains, auxiliary loads such as heating and air conditioning, and lightweighting.

The fifth and final (or “pent-ultimate,” as it was coined by Pat Davis, EERE’s program manager for vehicle technologies) workshop focused on two of the most important enablers of efficient electric vehicles: lightweight design and efficient heating and cooling. RMI, which has worked in both areas, joined fifty other specialists in Washington, D.C. last Thursday to weigh in.

Electric Vehicle

RMI has recently focused particular attention on the challenge of lightweight material adoption in the automotive industry—cars account for about half of all U.S. oil usage. Lightweight structure, enabled by advanced materials, improves the efficiency of any vehicle, regardless of powertrain, and allows cars to be cost-effectively electrified. It all amounts to helping pave the way to a completely emissions- and oil-free transportation era as envisioned in RMI’s Reinventing Fire.

DOE was seeking stakeholder input regarding the greatest challenges and the areas where it could be of the most help. Coming up with innovative manufacturing techniques and advanced material car designs is often easy for the industry. The hard part is scaling those techniques and marrying them up with designs amenable to low-cost production. The divide between research and commercialization presents such a daunting challenge in the automotive industry it’s been called the “valley of death.”

One key idea discussed at the workshop was the establishment of a collaborative, advanced manufacturing demonstration facility to help bridge this divide. Such a facility would be a testing ground for emerging manufacturing technology associated with advanced materials. It would leverage the creativity and drive of the academic community (something similar to DOE’s existing Graduate Automotive Technology Education program) but also involve the national labs, automakers, and tooling manufacturers to innovate new high-speed manufacturing techniques and test the resulting parts to validate performance.

A shared facility would potentially address another challenge: lack of material standards and high-fidelity analytical tools. As parts are subjected to tests and studied, engineers can learn about complex material behavior and continuously use the results to make better predictions. Testing is relatively expensive, so virtual design and analysis tools that can reliably predict behavior can ultimately help with affordable adoption of advanced materials.

Advanced vehicles will likely consist of a mixture of materials, including metals, plastics, and composites, but a question of practicality arose at the workshop. Would a shared facility focus on just one type of advanced material? If so, which one?

At RMI we asked ourselves a similar question late last year.

Where applicable, carbon fiber composite offers unparalleled potential to produce lightweight structure while maintaining or exceeding vehicle safety, robustness, and performance. Once available with reasonable economics, carbon fiber composites can help catalyze a transformative shift to ultralight, ultrastrong autobodies in the automotive industry, spuring homegrown innovation and allowing the U.S. to benefit from the breakthrough technology that often originates within its borders.

That’s why RMI is bringing together automakers, manufacturers, and industry experts in Detroit on November 7-9 to identify, enable, and evaluate part-specific, near-term pathways to market that can kickstart widespread adoption of automotive carbon fiber composites. If we can get the first rope across the chasm between pilot-scale and commercial adoption, it could lead to a full-fledged bridge—ultimately an expressway.  

Highlighted Resources

What Automakers Can Learn From Boeing's Culture of Weight Reduction

RF Infographic

Bells and Whistles Won't Unlock Cost-Effective Auto Efficiency

RF Infographic

Reinventing Fire:
 Transportation (Video)



Showing 1-6 of 6 comments

September 28, 2012


October 6, 2012

RMI is renowned for recognizing and promoting tunnels through cost-barriers. These tunnels, such as the window retrofit for the Empire State Building, deliver superior results at lower cost. In the world of EV’s, the best-result, least-cost solution is electric bicycles plus complete networks of cycle paths that are safe for all cyclists ages 7 to 70.

Why settle for addressing a few problems, when you can address more problems at lower cost?

Fire-powered cars create the following problems:
1. Direct and indirect costs of petroleum-based fuels, such as the military and economic cost of energy dependence, air pollution from exhaust, environmental degradation from extraction and transport, rising prices, etc.
2. Water pollution with runoff from spilled fuel and exhaust particulates
3. Resource use for construction, operation and recycling/disposal
4. Traffic fatalities (100 people per day in the US)
5. Lack of exercise. Note: Most Americans spend time each day commuting to work or school. If commuting time included moderate exercise from walking or cycling, then we would start each day more alert, while simultaneously mitigating the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and depression.
6. Frustrations with vehicular traffic. Note: Unlike car traffic, higher pedestrian traffic is an amenity because people feel safer, people-watching is fun, and retailers get more customers without the need for parking spaces. Similarly, higher cycle traffic gives retailers more customers with only a few parking spaces, since a bike corral in a single car-parking space serves up to 12 customers.
7. Urban land monopolized by cars (over 20%, as high as 60% in LA). Note: The vast majority of public urban land is dedicated to highway-grade vehicles. Neighbors who temporarily close a street to vehicles for a block party catch a brief glimpse of the wealth of public land that is monopolized by cars.
8. Air pollution from asbestos brake dust
9. Water pollution with runoff from lubricants
10. Water pollution with runoff from rubber from tires travelling at highway speeds

Electric cars address problems #1-2, while perpetuating the legacy of problems #3-10. A new ultralight EV car will partially address #3, but it will never be as resource-efficient as a bicycle.

Networks of cycle paths that are safe and convenient for all cyclists ages 7 to 70, combined with electric bikes to extend range and support new cyclists, address all 10 problems. In terms of new commuters supported per mile of new construction, the construction cost of cycling networks is astonishingly low, as shown here, http://blog.bikeleague.org/blog/2011/02/the-cost-effectiveness-of-active-transportation-investments/ compared to the cost of upgrading car-centric roads AND compared to the cost of conventional public transit. Most Americans are only willing to use cycle networks that are absolutely safe from cars, where each cycle path is physically separated from large, fast moving vehicles (regardless of whether those large, fast vehicles are powered by fire or by electricity), such as in some resort communities, recreational greenway trails, and northern European cities such as Copenhagen. Most American trips are within 2 miles of home, too far for walking but ideal for safe cycle networks. Portland, Oregon is developing a complete cycle network by converting low-traffic streets in the street grid to bike boulevards, where low-speed cars are allowed but bicycles have priority. While this is not an ideal solution for new development, it is a very practical and low-cost solution for existing cities.

In RMI’s quest for lightweight EV’s everywhere, please include a prominent position for the lightest weight EV’s: electric bikes on safe cycle path networks. This is a least-cost, best-outcome tunnel through the cost barrier. Thank you.

December 6, 2012

I hope RMI and others in the industry can help the mom and pop shops as well as the major manufacturers (who have been a part of the problem and are very slow to change). For a simple, lightweight composite electric vehicle see www.IndieGoGo.com/ZWheelz

Thank you for your efforts and showing the path for us to reinvent fire.

December 12, 2012

My wife and I have been driving "Ecotrikes" for over a year. These are 3 wheeled "motorcycle-cars" that use 1 kWhr of energy for 10 miles. The equivalent MPGe of these vehicles is 360 mpg. They have a 240 watt solar panel on the roof which can produce about 10 miles of energy per sunny day. The vehicles can go 50 miles on a Lithium battery pack of 5 kWhr at a maximum speed of 35 mph. They weigh about 400 lbs.
Alas I am now faced with the "valley of death" mentioned in your article. How to turn this hand-made vehicle ($6000 in parts) into a commercial product ? The other "valley of death and injury" is that most Americans still love to drive 200 hp vehicles at 70 mph on deathways - killing 100 fellow humans a day and injuring over 1 million each year. Changing the culture of high speed will be much harder than producing a commercial version of Ecotrike.
Ecotrikes will not replace full sized cars for long trips, but in urban areas for commuting and shopping, they could reduce air pollution, eliminate most fossil fuel costs (our home solar system provides most of the "fuel") and reduce parking requirements (Ecotrikes use only 1/3 of a parking space).
For a sustainable world, we need to broaden our discussion of solutions to our transportation system. More information: www.sunzeecar.com.

December 21, 2012

Gary, I checked the indiegogo site you suggested and it looks like a project just starting up.

I like Organic Transit since they are now funded and have a few proto types ready for a ride and drive.

There are problems with kit cars like insurance and service. It will be hard to beat the lowest price EV Smart-ED at $25K and then take off $7,500 as a FED tax incentive. Or hard to beat the new GM Spark EV at $32K -7,500 so it's around 25K with nationwide support for each, Liquid battery cooling for life of vehicle batteries. That is very hard to beat.

December 21, 2012

I look for early stage technology that's working, disruptive and above all appears to be economic. We found an electrical storage technology that knocks lithium out of the ballpark. Imagine the Tesla battery, $36,000, needs to be replaced after about 1,000 cycles, 53 kWh provides 190 miles range, charges in 6 - 8 hours.

The French physicist we know has about 10 prototypes which we've seen operate, and understanding what's going on, can replace that Tesla battery. This is what it would look like. At 10 times the energy density it can be the same size but have 530kWh capacity and a range of 1,900 miles, charge in 10 minutes, never need to be replaced and finally, cost the company only $10,000 to manufacture. My question is, admitting that the physicist is jealous of the 'secret' and accepting that the company have a long path to commercial, why is it so difficult to persuade folks EVEN to go and get the offered demonstration? It doesn't really matter because they are already in negotiations and its down to whoever can summon the curiosity and visit.

With this, and the onset of potentially very high efficiency, low cost PV, (PI Energy) by about 2017 at only 10 cents per Watt, we can match the storage and production for huge convenience for a home and EV. This is what I do and I know it seems too good to be true, and of course, it really isn't true just yet, but we are just around the corner from amazing things...

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