Submitted by New Energy News Blog

Excitement about GM’s Chevrolet Volt is now tempered, as is all other excitement, by anxiety about what the current economic tempests will do to “change everything.” Just a few weeks ago, the Volt was going to save GM, and then the country, and then the world. Now GM’s cash flow problems are sparking rumors it might go bankrupt before it can bring the Volt to Market. Or it might merge with Chrysler. Or it might merge with Ford.

Never, someone recently observed, has the present become the past so fast.

But the easy rhyme belies the gravity of the moment. Yeats said it better: “All is changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born.”

It has never been so important before to just keep going forward.

A couple of small companies in Ohio, sustained by a previous round of financing, will continue to work at making a better battery for the Volt. When it does finally come to market, its battery is likely to be the key to its success.

The Volt will be a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). It will travel 40 miles (the distance of 78% of all round trips driven in the U.S.) powered by its lithium-ion battery and no liquid fuel. (Beyond 40 miles, the Volt will seamlessly be shifted to the power of its internal combustion engine (ICE). The ICE, powered by liquid fuel, will continuously charge battery so it can keep driving the vehicle’s electric engine.

The chemistry and physics of the Volt’s lithium-ion battery are state-of-the-art. The one area where engineers think it can be improved is its weight of about 400 pounds. Applied Sciences Inc and Pyrograf Products Inc. of Cedarville, Ohio, are trying to build a lithium-ion battery from carbon nanofibers. If they do, the battery will weigh a lot less. If it does, the Volt will go farther on a full charge and get better mileage when it is running on liquid fuel.

Considering the Volt is likely to face competition from PHEVs built by Toyota, Honda, some Chinese companies and a myriad of others by the time it gets to market, a better battery will certainly make Volt more likely to be the car for which the world will beat a path to GM’s door.

More on Carbon nanofibers.

If there is any way to make the Volt’s bulky T-shaped battery pack lighter and smaller, it would make a big difference to the engineering of the car. (click to enlarge)

Ohio companies work to boost electric car battery
October 12, 2008 (AP via Chicago Tribune)

General Motors Corp. (GM); Applied Sciences Inc.Pyrograf Products Inc.

Sister companies Applied Sciences and Pyrograf are working to perfect the lithium-ion battery for GM’s Volt.

Highly conductive carbon nanofibers could cut down on the battery’s bulk. (click to enlarge)

– The Volt is promised for showrooms in November 2010.
– Applied Sciences has been working for two years on the battery project.

The battery technology companies are across the street from one another in Cedarville, Ohio, 20 miles east of Dayton in Greene County.

– The battery technology companies are owned by the same company.
– Plans call for the Volt’s lithium ion battery to have a range of 40 miles/charge but Applied Sciences and Pyrograf want to double that.
– Applied Sciences Inc has $1 million in state funding and another $500,000 from GM on which to operate.
– Applied Sciences is working carbon fibers that could make the battery lighter and more efficient.
– The lithium-ion battery planned for the Volt weighs 400 pounds, about half the weight of the lead acid battery that weighed down GM’s 1990s electric car, the EV1.
– Carbon materials account for a significant portion of a battery’s weight. Carbon fibers can change that dramatically without reducing structural strength, making the car lighter so it could go father on each charge.
– Pyrograf the world’s third-largest producer of carbon nanofiber and would manufacture the materials for the Volt battery if Applied Sciences can perfect it.

MIT-spawned A123 Systems, the acknowledged leader in lithium-ion battery research, is also moving to nanomaterials. (click to enlarge)

– David Burton, R&D head, Applied Sciences: “It’s safe to say this is our No. 1 priority…”
– John Mackay, spokesman, Applied Sciences: “By making the carbon perform better, you can reduce the weight of that component in the battery…GM researchers say they have not seen any carbon materials that have performed as well as ours…”

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