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Plugging In to the Future

Wall Street Journal – August 6, 2007

Great article this morning in the Wall Street Journal on a plug-in add-on for the Toyota Prius. Evidently, with this aftermarket plug-in, the Prius can be plugged into the wall and then run about 40 miles with just electric power that was pulled from the grid.

There may be some safety problems with the current design (these are the types of batteries that Dell recently had trouble with) but the progress is very heartening! Most people in the US would probably have to change their lifestyle and commute to really make a hybrid worthwhile but it is a definite start.

I would really get excited if they would hook this technology up to a hydrogen or bio-diesel car! Then we would have a real solution to the portable liquid fuel issue. Ford appears to have a hydrogen car in the works so maybe this is a possibility.

The car was a Toyota Prius modified, by the addition of a 72.5 kilogram (160 pound) lithium-ion battery pack, into a so-called plug-in hybrid capable of operating for as many as 40 miles almost entirely on electric power alone. The battery pack is a product of Massachusetts-based A123 Systems (www.a123systems.com) and its recently acquired Hymotion Inc. subsidiary.


…But cruising was all-electric — and according to the Prius’s on board fuel consumption computer, I was cruising at 100 miles to the gallon. The only awareness I had of the power generation hand-offs between the gas engine and the lithium-ion batteries, or the lithium-ion batteries and the Prius’s factory-installed nickel-metal hydride battery system was the videogame display in the dashboard screen.


Lithium-ion battery technology can handle the cycles of charging and discharging required for a plug-in better than nickel-metal hydride batteries. It’s used now in small power tools and laptops. But lithium-ion battery also has what’s referred to as “heat management” issues. That means fire, Scarecrow. The recent spate of publicity about lithium-ion laptop batteries bursting into flame has only made resolving this issue more urgent.


Tony Posawatz, the vehicle line director for GM’s plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt and other vehicles using GM’s E-Flex electric-vehicle technology, says he expects to get battery packs by the end of this year from suppliers who believe they have what it takes to meet GM’s criteria for a safe, reliable and cost-effective plug-in hybrid. A123 is part of one group along with Continental AG. Another involves big Korean battery maker LG Chem.


Mr. Posawatz [GM] won’t say the Volt by 2010 is now a sure thing, but with a telephonic wink to the naysayers, he says developments such as the A123 Prius conversion system are “indicators telling you that from a technological perspective it’s not that far off.”

Read the rest of the article online here or go to the newsstand and buy today’s paper.

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