Join the Car Talk Community!

Discussion Rules

Welcome to the Car Talk Community!

Want to ask a question or join the discussion? Great! Join now.

Sign In Register

$300 million Prize

Today, John McCain announced plans for a $300 million prize for developing a workable electric car battery. This is the main problem G.M. is having with the Chevy Volt, their non-existent electric car. The battery is problematic..
<br/> Obama was speaking in Albuquerque today, less than 100 miles away from Los Alamos and Sandia National Labs that devote themselves to nuclear weapon design and development..What if these billion dollar think tanks devoted themselves to some of the tough problems associated with vehicle design, like a high-capacity storage battery, instead of developing new and better ways to destroy the planet? I think places like Los Alamos, Sandia, Lawrence-Livermore can serve our country better by helping with the energy crises than messing with atomic bombs. After all, their paychecks come from the Department Of Energy, and there are lots and lots of paychecks. Lets put them to work doing something PRODUCTIVE..


  • edited June 2008
    I have no dount that if we had the same national resolve to develop extremely efficient cars that we did to land on the moon we'd be able to do so. It may or may not end up being electric, it may be something completely beyond our current imaginations, it may be some materials evolution, it may be a solar/electric/hydrogen hybrid. But getting to the moon and back was a technical accomplishment beyond what any of us can possibly understand. I have no doubt we could accomplish it.

    But there's one fundamental problem: we don't have the national resolve. There's no cold war anymore. We won.
  • edited June 2008
    True. It was easy to make the impossible possible when Vladimir was breathing down our necks. Without that...

    It just doesn't seem that reducing dependence on oil is enough incentive, in and of itself, to make something like this happen quickly.
  • edited June 2008
    Forgive my cynicism, but I see it as just another piece of political grandstanding. The market potential for such a breakthrough would make that $300 million look like chump change.

    And from where will this prize money come? Just look in the mirror.
  • edited June 2008
    "What if these billion dollar think tanks devoted themselves to some of the tough problems associated with vehicle design..."

    How much would it cost to re-educate these scientists and engineers? They are not trained to work on batteries; most are physicists, not chemists. And it isn't basic research that is the problem with the GM battery, it's mass production of something that's been done only on a limited basis so far. The only large lithium ion batteries available are built for spacecraft, and they are expensive. Many small batteries could be joined together like the Tesla does, but that is very expensive as well. I read something recently that said it costs about $1000 per kilowatt-hour for lithium ion batteries, and GM needs a 16-kW unit. That's very expensive. Is anyone willing to pay $40,000 for a plug-in hybrid? It isn't just GM. Where's Toyota's plug-in hybrid? It's still in development because they can't do it, either. The Prius battery is a generation old; it doesn't have the charge density to work as a plug-in. If the government wanted to provide money, they should aid in development costs for GM's battery partner, A123.
  • edited June 2008
    You would be amazed at some of the stuff the DOE is working on. They need to get a phone call from the President: Hey, boys, I have a new job for you..Something productive instead of destructive..After all, it's our money. These people are our employees. They work for us. Lets put them to work doing something that could really make a difference..Get NASA in on it too. The manned space program is a waste of money. We have plenty of things right here on the ground that need that money and effort.
  • edited June 2008
    Portable laptops probably have done more to stimulate battery technology than anything. If it were easy to make a really good and durable battery, we would all be driving electric cars already. It's not a better motor we are waiting for, it's a battery capable of going more than 100 miles on a charge and holding up for more than 1000 charge/disharge cycles.
    Lead acid golf cart batteries will take you the distance of 18 holes or more and are generally at the end of their service life after about 400-500 charge/discharge cycles.
  • edited June 2008

    This brings a couple of thoughts to mind:

    *While a better battery for vehicle propulsion is an excellent idea, unless the infrastructure of the utility industry is vastly improved, recharging these new batteries would be a no-go. Yes, a better battery is an excellent idea, but it is only a part of the picture, and the
    total amount that would have to be spent on improving the generating capacity and the transmission lines of the electrical grid would be many times more expensive than just this incentive offered for an improved battery.

    *There was, in fact, a government-sponsored effort, back in the late '70s, to come up with solutions to our dependence on oil from the Middle East. That was the Synthetic Fuels Corporation, a Federal think-tank/research laboratory in the Southeastern US. Jimmy Carter, while rightfully criticized as being one of our least effective presidents, did have the foresight to establish this effort during his administration.

    However, the Reagan administration, in its zeal to eradicate all vestiges of the Carter administration, eliminated the budget line item that funded the Synthetic Fuels Corporation, and the labs were shut down after just a few years of existence.

    Had our energy problems disappeared at that time? No, but apparently the Reagan administration felt that we did not need to develop any alternatives to petroleum that, at that time, came chiefly from the Middle East.

    Researchers frequently take many years, perhaps decades, to come up with real solutions to a problem. Unfortunately, we will never know what the Synthetic Fuels Corporation could have produced, simply because the Reagan administration chose to end its work so quickly.
  • edited June 2008
    Had our energy problems disappeared at that time? No, but apparently the Reagan administration felt that we did not need to develop any alternatives to petroleum that, at that time, came chiefly from the Middle East.

    Reagan was more interested in selling Arms to Iraq/Hussain for oil. And 20 years later we had our brave young men killed by those weapons....WHAT A COUNTRY.
  • edited June 2008
    I agree that $300 million is a token (enough money to build 1/20 of a single nuclear power station), but I think the intent of these "x-prize" type contests is to get small companies to expend some R&D effort on these issues. I also agree that the main issue is the battery, but lots of people are already working on next generation battery technology. The existing national lab system probably does not have the skill set to work on this problem, and I would not use the word "innovative" to describe the DOE. The national labs do plenty of other work under various interagency agreements, but this is the kind of thing they probably wouldn't do in-house anyway.
  • edited June 2008
    And, let's not forget about the huge quantity of weapons and ammunition that good old Ronnie sent to the Muslim insurgents in Afghanistan who were fighting the Russian troops that had invaded their country. Those same Muslim insurgents of the '80s became the Al Qaeda fighters in later years, and aimed those same weapons at our brave young men, killing so many of them.

    When will we ever learn that "Nation Building" is something that frequently comes back to bite us in the worst ways?
This discussion has been closed.