$300 million Prize


#1

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…



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…


#2

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.


#3

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.


#4

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.


#5

“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.


#6

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.


#7

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.


#8

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.


#9

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.


#10

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.


#11

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?


#12

I believe the lion’s share of the super battery research is currently taking place in Japan and China. Although the US-made Tesla uses the Lithium Ion batteries (over 6000 of them), most evelopment already for power tool and laptop applications are from Asia. So, leave it to the Japanese, Chinese and Koreans to come up with these batteries, which GM will gadly buy for the Volt car.

It’s nice of McCain to offer this money, but most US companies taking up the challenge will use Asian labs to quickly get it out to market.


#13

“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…”

I well might be amazed at what they do. But that does not account for the massive retraining required to address the new issues. The intimate knowledge required to start thinking creatively and evaluating those ideas within a given field will take several years. If the engineers and scientists chose to work on them.


#14

I agree with NYBo that this is basically nothing more than election year posturing and nothing will come of it. Just like most politicians, it’s real easy to promise somebody else’s money; a.k.a. the taxpayers.
Same thing with this bogus “gas tax holiday”.

Not all of the problems should be laid off on Reagan. Back in the 60s and 70s (Johnson, Nixon/Ford, and Jimmy Carter) arms and services were being provided to Iran and Iraq by every one of these guys.

At the local AFB here there was a huge program in place in which Iraqi and Iranian pilots were being trained here on U.S. soil. They started off in prop driven T-41s (military version of a Cessna 172) followed by the T-37 jet and culminating with the transition to the supersonic T-38 before being moved on to final training in the “heavy duty fast movers”.

So a number of those Iraqi and Iranian pilots shooting at us were trained right here under the watch of the pre-Reagan guys.
In a nutshell, all of the ex-Prezs are guilty.


#15

“I believe the lion’s share of the super battery research is currently taking place in Japan and China. Although the US-made Tesla uses the Lithium Ion batteries (over 6000 of them), most evelopment already for power tool and laptop applications are from Asia. So, leave it to the Japanese, Chinese and Koreans to come up with these batteries, which GM will gadly buy for the Volt car.”

GM has a partner already - A123 Systems of Watertown, MA. I’m sure they would like all the help they can get, but GM already has someone on the case.


#16

Glad to hear they are fast-tracking the project and using US-based partners. The actual manufacture might make more sense in China to keep the cost down.


#17

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.

Do battery chargers really use that much energy? I thought automotive battery chargers used about as much energy as a basic household appliance. Can’t our electrical grid handle a few million more household appliances?


#18

In regards to the Volt, awhile back GM was producing the EV-1 and it was popular. My parents were living in California at the time and were friends with a couple who had one and loved it. Others were clamoring to also be chosen by GM. It seemed at the time that GM was finally in an enviable position for a certain segment of the market and had something to go forward with. Then, for some reason, they dropped it. I don’t know what its limitations were and I haven’t seen “Who Killed the Electric Car” but heard enough in the news to know that drivers were furious when they were told to turn the cars back to GM–some picketed outside the facility that crushed the cars.

Now that segment of the market is buying hybrids but would have been likely customers of GM with a second generation EV-1. And now we have delays with GM bringing out the Volt. How hard would it have been for them to bring out something like an EV-2 a few years ago as a stopgap measure while they try to overcome the problems with the Volt? I think they’ve missed a few boats.


#19

OK:

What you say regarding US training of Iraqi and Iranian pilots is undoubtedly true. However, the fact remains that the Reagan administration was the one that chose to terminate funding for the Synthetic Fuels Corporation, despite the fact that its funding was a “drop in the bucket” in terms of the overall federal budget.

Many of us who lived through the preceding two gasoline shortages (whether genuine or “created”) believed at the time that it was extremely short-sighted of Reagan to cut this program, and now it is even more evident that the elimination of this program was not in the best interests of the US.

You really have to wonder about the motivation for elimination of research into this area of science. And, now we are paying the price, both literally and figuratively.


#20

Sandia internal engine research link:
http://www1.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/pdfs/28890yy.pdf

Oak Ridge technical evaluation of Prius:
http://www.ornl.gov/~webworks/cppr/y2001/rpt/121813.pdf

What do you do that’s “productive”?