Clean vehicles too expensive because there are so few of them? “We’re going to make them cheaper so you can deploy more,” U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said as he prepared to tour the still-building Work Truck Show in Indianapolis after keynoting the NTEA-Calstart Green Truck Summit one week ago.
At the Summit he outlined plans to use increased computer power to model engines, aerodynamics, structures and tires to slash the time to design new vehicles by 50%. This should drive down the price premium over conventional vehicles, halving the payback time to two years. “We’re shifting [R&D] money to transportation from stationary sources,” the Secretary said.
Electric vehicles, hybrids, and the cost and weight of compressed natural gas fuel cylinders are three areas targeted for breakthrough technologies by the government.
Improvements to the internal combustion engine are also on the agenda, in a broad-based quest to improve fuel efficiencies by up to 30%.
$30 Million for Better CNG Tanks
DoE has allocated $30 million to research innovative CNG tanks, Chu said. “If we can solve this, then CNG will become an alternative,” for the automobile industry, he said – with benefits for the clean truck industry too.
Calstart president and CEO John Boesel noted that Chesapeake Energy and 3M said last month that they will team to develop next generation CNG tanks that are up to 20% lighter with 20% more capacity, at a lower cost than today’s vessels.
For electric vehicles, there must be better batteries, Chu said, noting that a Silicon Valley start-up unveiled a lithium ion battery cell with a world-beating power density of 400 watt hours per kilogram, that could bring down the price to $125 per kilowatt hour. DoE invested $4 million in that project.
(Testing of “next generation” lithium ion technology by Envia Systems was performed by the Electrochemical Power Systems Department at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Ind., Envia reported, under the sponsorship of ARPA-E. ARPA-E is DoE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy. It is offering to fund new natural gas research work under an initiative dubbed MOVE, for Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy; F&F, February 27).
Today’s best lithium-ion batteries cost more than $300 per kilowatt-hour. “Our goal is for $125 per kilowatt-hour by the end of the decade” Chu said.
DoE is aiming for electric vehicles to achieve cost of use and ownership of just 22 cents per mile by 2020, comparable with a conventional vehicle in 2010.
Freightliner Trucks vocational boss Richard Saward and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu examine the new CNG-fueled SD114, the manufacturer’s first to be offered with CNG option from its initial production run, at the Work Truck Show in Indianapolis.
Propane Versus CNG
Besides visiting the Freightliner and Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp displays, Chu stopped by the Calstart Clean Tech and Fuels Pavilion, Knapheide, Ford, BrandFX Body, the National Truck Equipment Association display, Clean Cities, and Altec Industries.
Clean transportation, Calstart’s Fred Silver told the Secretary, ‘is one area where the United States owns a technology advantage over the rest of the world.’
Tucker Perkins of CleanFuel USA gave Dr. Chu a crash course in CNG-versus-propane – talking up the latter – at FCCC’s stand, which featured the new dedicated-propane S2G chassis with 8.0-liter GM engine.
Ford’s Rob Stevens said he believed that the incremental price of a CNG vehicle would drop to about $8,000 given annual production runs of 5,000 to 10,000.
The Secretary’s walkabout was conducted primarily by NTEA government affairs chief Mike Kastner and outgoing association president Steve Sill.
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