by Tina Casey
With the Chevy Volt highlighting its successes so far, the US Department of Energy announced yesterday a new round of $50 million in funding for new projects to bump the US auto industry up to more energy efficient and petroleum-independent technologies, including advanced batteries and other EV-related goodies.
The new $50 million funding package consists of 13 “interest areas.” That includes a nice chunk of change in support of the Obama Administration’s ongoing EV Everywhere Challenge, which we’ve been covering along with our sister site Gas2.org since it launched in March 2012 (here, here and here for example).
Evidently President Obama is determined not to let the auto industry drift off-track the way it did at the turn of the last century (we’re talking 1890′s), when the early promise of EV technology collapsed under easy access to petroleum.
The Chevy Volt And The Future Of The US Auto Industry
Now the tables have turned. Global petroleum reserves are becoming more difficult and risky to access and transportation risks are piling on (like this one) (and this one), while clean, cheap energy in the form of solar and wind power is right at our fingertips, and that ‘s just for starters. Biomass, hydrokinetic, geothermal, and ocean power are all coming into play, offering vast potential for low risk, distributed energy sources.
But we digress. When Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced the new funding package, he also released a progress report on EV Everywhere and turned a spotlight on GM’s Chevy Volt. The Volt has a gas tank to back up its EV battery but it always runs on electric drive no matter what fuel mode it’s in, and this is the result as reported by the Department of Energy:
The Kelley Blue Book 5-Year Cost to Own Awards ranked the 2013 Chevrolet Volt as #6 on its list of vehicles that have the lowest total cost of ownership for five years after the purchase of a new car. Only compact and subcompact cars cost less over this same period.
The Chevy Volt is something else we’ve been following since GM introduced it with a cross-country promotional tour in 2010, so we can also tell you that Edmunds has a nifty little true cost of ownership calculator that has Volt owners cheering all over the place.
Volt caught our eye because it embraces transformational change while keeping a close eye on reality, which is that liquid fuels are going continue to play a big role in personal mobility for the foreseeable future.
With a commitment to both electric and liquid (petroleum, biomass or other), GM is highly motivated to seek improvements in both advanced EV tech and liquid fuel efficiency improvements.
The Volt also recognizes the substantial role that the human factor plays. It enables EV-wary car buyers to dive into the EV market, with that gas tank for a psychological cushion.
$50 Million More for US Auto Industry
As for the new $50 million package, that comes through the Energy Department’s Vehicle Technologies Office.
You can read the 142-page FOA (Funding Opportunity Announcement) or you can take our word for it, there are some nice goodies out there for qualified applicants.
The aforementioned 13 areas of interest include seven that dovetail with EV Everywhere, such as the development of low-cost, high strength aluminum sheet and carbon fiber composites for lightweight vehicles, next generation lithium-ion batteries, and the commercialization of power electronics based on wide band gap semiconductors (looks like John Deere already has a head start on that).
In that group are a few that may be funded and managed in collaboration with the US Army, which is no surprise. The Department of Defense already has a keen interest in replacing non-combat vehicles with EVs, as evidenced by a new solar-enabled EV pilot project at LA Air Force Base.
Other areas of the FOA are aimed specifically at reducing petroleum consumption through fuel efficiency improvements, through the development of low temperature catalysts for exhaust after-treatment, dual-fuel technologies enabled by improvements in ignition performance, powertrain improvements to reduce friction and wear (that’s another potential collaboration with the US Army), advanced powertrains for light duty vehicles, and a group of strategies aimed at rapid commercialization of fuel efficiency systems (Army again).
If you’re wondering why the Army is so deeply involved in all this, it looks like the Energy Department is hedging its bets.
The new budget bill contains a nice lift for DOE, but given the Republican Party’s history of trying to do away with the whole agency, you never know what’s going to happen with funding on down the line.
With the US Army on hand to chip in there is a much more secure funding stream, and aside from the so-called budget sequester it doesn’t look like the party of “Support Our Troops” is ready to take a hacksaw to the Defense Department any time soon.
About the Author
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+