Future Energy eNews   IntegrityResearchInstitute.org      Sept. 27, 2008       

1) Stirling Solar Energy Concentrator - Firm buys $100 million interest in Stirling Energy Systems
2) Wind Power Development Tutorial - Opportunity for potential wind project planners
3) World Energy Engineering Congress (WEEC) - Largest meeting of energy engineering leaders in DC
4) Power-Save Solar PV - California gives rebates so that a 1 kW system cost them only $1500.
5) Tom Valone on Climate, Energy and the Future  - Complete one hour video interview online, CM Network
6) Chinese are Building an Impossible Space Drive - British scientist designed a microwave blaster
7) Mean Machines Go Green - Born to Be Wired  - The best electric and plug-in hybrids to look forward to

1) Firm buys $100 million interest in Stirling Energy Systems

 An alternative-energy company in Ireland has agreed to pay $100 million for a controlling interest in Stirling Energy Systems Inc., a developing solar-energy company in Phoenix.

The deal could add 100 people to Stirling Energy's current staff of about 40 in Phoenix, said Ian Simington, group-development director for Dublin-based NTR plc.

"It will change things hugely for Stirling because now they have funding to accelerate every single aspect of what they are doing," Simington said.

The investment from NTR will help fund two massive solar-thermal power plants in Southern California that were announced in 2005 but are yet to open.

Stirling plans to begin building the first phase, a 300-megawatt solar farm next year near El Centro, Calif., and San Diego Gas & Electric has agreed to buy the power, Stirling Finance Director Doug Obal said Thursday.

Combined with another plant near Barstow, Calif., which has an agreement to sell power to Southern California Edison, Stirling could eventually generate more than 1,700 megawatts of electricity at the two sites, about as much as a large coal-fired power plant.

Stirling has offices on Camelback Road near 29th Street, but also keeps offices in California and conducts research at Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque.

"We are forming a joint venture, and (NTR) will have voting control," Obal said. "They will invest working capital for Stirling, much of which will be for our commercialization efforts and to prepare for high-volume manufacturing."

NTR employs 3,300 people and has operations in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and the United States that range from waste management, wind energy, recycling and biofuels to Internet service. It is privately held yet shares are traded over the counter by three Irish stock firms.

Stirling's plants will use tens of thousands 38-foot diameter mirror dishes that look like large satellite receivers.

During a Phoenix solar conference in January, Stirling Vice President Bob Liden described them as "giant, mechanical sunflowers" that track the sun across the sky.

Unlike other solar-thermal power plants, like two announced recently by Arizona utilities, Stirling's system doesn't use water. Instead, the mirrors concentrate heat on small engines, where hydrogen gas is warmed and converted to mechanical motion, pushing pistons and generating electricity.

Combined, the two California plants will require about 70,000 of the units. Simington said the company is exploring manufacturing facilities tied to the auto industry in the Midwest that could build the engine components, and manufacturers in the Southwest to build the mirror dishes.

Reach the reporter at ryan.randazzo@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4331

From the Independent (IRE):

...NTR yesterday confirmed it is to take a 51pc stake in Stirling Energy, which is planning to spend $2bn over the next four years to develop two massive solar energy fields in California that will be among the world's biggest when completed.

..."If these two projects work, as we believe they will, the scale of opportunity could be enormous," said Mr Walsh, who added that land options have already been secured for the solar sites and that the "big challenge" will be to commercialise the technology. He said project financing discussions are at an early stage, but foresees no obstacles given NTR's track record in relation to Airtricity. Typical large-scale power projects are about 80pc debt financed.

At the end of March, NTR had €750m of cash on its balance sheet. It recently finalised the sale of its 51pc-owned Airtricity business for €1.8bn, net of debt. NTR, which also owns the Greenstar recycling business, received about €900m for its stake in Airtricity....MORE

Important note: NTR is a closely held Irish Company whose stock is traded OTC in a grey market.

Davy Stockbrokers were the sole market maker until a few years ago when they were joined by Goodbody Stockbrokers and NCB.

2) Wind Power Development Tutorial

Power Marketers, Press Release, Sept. 10, 2008,
www.PowerMarketers.com • PO Box 2303 • Falls Church • VA • 22042

Wind Power Development Tutorial to be held in Chicago IL this October 22-24, 2008 

Click Here To Download A Complete Conference Brochure

Click Here For A Complete Listing Of Upcoming Conferences



Wind power continues on its exponential growth curve unabated, but new opportunities and challenges are emerging. The field is ever more crowded, with highly capitalized and highly experienced players, while the range of potential business models is expanding. Is your firm sufficiently nimble and skilled enough to carve a niche in this market? Is your pro forma solid enough to obtain financing from lenders in today’s tight credit environment? Is your place in the backlogged interconnection queue secure? And are you confident your project is structured for optimal valuation and has an effective exit strategy?

Infocast’s popular Wind Power Development Tutorial now comes for the first time to the Midwest, the hottest development area in the country. It will offer utilities, munis, co-op, land owners and independent developers the essential tools and strategic insights for success. The Tutorial will help existing developers bulletproof their plans and projects, while investors, partners and financiers will gain insight into the inner dynamics of wind business models so they can sharpen their due diligence, underwriting and valuation analysis.

  • Understand business models, RECS, RPS and hedging strategies
  • Develop strategies to deal with the possibility that the Production Tax credit may not be renewed
  • Learn the fundamentals that will help you validate and strengthen your wind farm development and financing plans
  • Understand the tactics and nuances of negotiating turbine financing and contracts
  • Learn how pro formas work for a typical 100mw project
  • Position projects for long-term success as an owner and get the maximum valuation of your project in a merger or buyout

Participating Companies

Alyra Renewable Energy Finance, LLC
Baker Botts LLP
Baker & McKenzie LLP
Chadbourne & Parke LLP
Foley & Lardner
Fortis Capital Corp.
Global Energy Concepts, LLC
Holland & Hart, LLP
Horizon Wind Energy LLC
Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy LLP
Morgan Stanley Global Capital Markets
Ortech Consulting Inc.
Padoma Wind Power, LLP /
NRG Energy, Inc.
Stoel Rives LLP
Windlogics Inc.
Xcel Energy

Don’t miss the Pre-Tutorial Workshop:

Dealing with Utility “Build-Transfer” Issues on Wind Projects

Get up-to-date on the latest business models, innovative financing vehicles, and the role of RECs and RPS:

  • Learn the fundamentals that will help you validate and strengthen your wind farm plans
  • Get a detailed analysis of cash flows in wind project » pro formas
  • Anticipate bottlenecks and gotchas before they happen: environmental permitting hurdles, turbine cost, backlogs, financing and contracts, gridaccess, and securing bankable PPAs
  • Is your project structured to get you the best equity and debt terms?
  • Learn how to position your project for success—maximizing long- term success, valuation, or proceeds in a buyout
  • Explore a Case Study on Wind Farm Development
For more information, contact Power Marketers at 201-871-0474


Association of Energy Engineers, Press Release, www.aeecenter.org 
National Harbor, MD (September 17, 2008) ---  Set against the political backdrop of the upcoming Presidential election and the future of energy policy, energy security and climate change initiatives, the 31st World Energy Engineering Congress (WEEC) is poised to be the largest gathering of energy efficiency and sustainable decision-makers in the region. 
Starting on Wednesday, October 1, 2008 the opening ceremonies will include keynote presenters featuring the Honorable Mark Pryor, U.S. Senator, Arkansas, who will provide an update on Energy Independence & the Security Act. Senator Prior will be joined by Michael MacCracken, Ph.D., Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs, Climate Institute who will present the latest findings on The Increasing Pace of Climate Change.  New Directions in Energy Policy will be explored by Washington insider Kateri Callahan, President, Alliance to Save Energy.  Joseph W. Craver III, Group President, Science Applications International Corporation will give welcoming remarks. For the big picture on the megatrends impacting the energy industry, the event will have noted author, Mark Gabriel, Executive Consultant and Principal, R.W. Beck, Inc. who will outline his findings in his latest best-selling book Visions for a Sustainable Energy Future. 

The event is presented by the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE), hosted by Science Applications International Corporation - SAIC (NYSE: SAI) and has support from the U.S. EPA Energy Star program as well as energy leaders General Accounting Office (GAO), Raytheon, GM (NYSE: GM), Ford (NYSE: F), U.S. DOE, Corning (NYSE: GLW), Heinz (NYSE: HNZ), Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC), Trane, Toyota (NYSE: TM), National Technical Information Service (NTIS),  Florida Power & Light (NYSE: FPL), and many more supporters. Held October 1-3, 2008 at the new Gaylord Resort & Convention Center, National Harbor, MD, this three (3) day event is the nation’s largest annual forum on energy efficiency, renewable energy, power and green facility trends.
On Friday, October 3rd, Andrew Singer, Senior Vice President, Constellation Energy - NewEnergy Power will give a keynote closing address on the Impacts and Opportunities in the New Energy World.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is sponsoring a special section of the exposition entitledGreenStreet. Here, corporate and government energy leaders can find solutions for making their organization more energy efficient, implement sustainable technologies & strategies, and be a green leader for economic growth.   In addition, the conference sessions contain a powerhouse line-up of industry speakers ready to share their knowledge base, success stories and strategies for the future with fellow industry professionals.
For more information on this exciting event, please go to, www.energycongress.com, or to register for the event, VIP Media Registration. For more information on the Association of Energy Engineers visit, www.aeecenter.org.
About the World Energy Engineering Congress (WEEC)
The World Energy Engineering Congress presented by the Association of Energy Engineers is the largest energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies event in the nation. The WEEC includes over 250 state-of-the-art presentations and a 100,000 square foot exposition. In addition to the conference and expo, the event includes a variety of technology tours, networking opportunities, legends in energy, technical seminars, and workshop options. More than 4,000 energy professionals from around the world are expected to attend.
Media Contact:
Patty Ardavin, Communications
Association of Energy Engineers
Patty@aeecenter.org, Direct: 678-778-8516, 770-447-5083, fax: 770-446-3969
# # #

Power-Save, Press Release, Sept. 21, 2008, http://www.power-save1200.com

An unsolicited test of the Power-Save 1200 by Atlanta's local CBS News affiliate revealed a significant reduction in kilowatt hours.

Greg and Michelle Mark of metro-Atlanta agreed to install a Power-Save 1200 on their home as part of a "CBS News 46 Investigates" report. After several months of tracking, the Mark's electric bill shows a decrease of 240 kilowatt hours used per month.

Although these results are impressive, we fully expect to see the savings increase dramatically during the hot Georgia spring and summer months when air conditioners and other appliances are working overtime.

We had absolutely no knowledge of this investigative report prior to its broadcast so thanks to CBS News 46 and the Mark family for putting Power-Save to the test. We look forward to helping more families across the southeast and beyond save significantly on their monthly electric bills! Read the entire story and watch the news broadcast.


"I am pleasantly surprised! I live in Baltimore county Maryland and BGE is my supplier. Well, my bill this Feb is almost 1000 kwh less than last year and has been running consistently between 500 and 1000 kwh less since the device was installed.Way to go Power Save!...Without the device I would be paying a lot more! Thanks!" - Leighton Evans

Click here to learn more or to receive free shipping on your Power-Save 1200 order


A Power-Save Solar 'California 1K System' was recently installed on Lucinda Johnson's Central Coast home. The installation took only six hours from start to finish and by the end of the day Lucinda's electric meter was spinning backwards!

The Power-Save Solar California 1K system includes 8 - 160 Watt PV Panels, 1030 AC Watts (UL Listed and CEC Listed); 2 - Flush Mount Roof Racking System (for composite roofs; not for tile or concrete roofing) and 1 - 1100 PV Powered High Efficiency Inverter (UL Listed and CEC Listed). With goverment incentives and rebates, California residents can own a 1K system for under $1,500.

The pictures above show the layout of our racking system, panel installation and the finished product including panels and inverter. As you can see, our solar systems mount in an extremely clean and efficient manner! For larger photos click here.

Click here to review comprensive information on all Power-Save Solar Systems including the California 1K  http://app.bronto.com/public/?q=ulink&fn=Link&ssid=5214&id=htovq04ks2orqbrseykt8atoeosog&id2=a63f1nfzltuavema1knzxgfz0kady


We have an ever-growing network of resellers successfully selling Power-Save products. If you are interested in adding a significant revenue stream to your business simply fill out the form here:


Power-Save Energy Co • 3940-7 Broad Street #200 • San Luis Obispo, CA 93401 • 1-888-457-2999

5) Tom Valone on Climate, Energy and the Future

Scott Meredith, Conscious Media Network, July 27, 2008, http://www.consciousmedianetwork.com/members/tvalone.htm

While a speaker at the Science and Consciousness conference in Sante Fe, NM, Dr. Tom Valone submitted to a one hour video interview on the state of the world, climate, energy, and near term solutions for alternative energy. Now the entire interview is available for public review online.

Thomas Valone, PhD is the President of Integrity Research Institute and Editor of the well respected Future Energy newsletter and Enews. He has authored 6 books and numerous scientific studies, articles and papers related to energy in all forms. He provides consultations on electrical product design/development, engineering testing, environmental/electromagnetic field/energy, expert testimony and opinion. He meets regularly with congressional and senate leaders and briefs them on the latest energy developments. His views regarding energy-related matters have been featured on national media including CNN.

In this interview at The Science and Consciousness Conference in Santa Fe, we ask Tom to explain what these alternative energies are and why they are not in the mainstream and available to the public.

The Executive Producer of the Conscious Media Network offers his opinion:

----- Original Message -----
From: "Conscious Media Network" <info@consciousmedianetwork.com>
To: "Thomas Valone" <iri@starpower.net>
Sent: Sunday, July 27, 2008 1:36 AM
Subject: Re: Tom's interview with Conscious Media Network

 Hi Thomas,
The embed code is for the preview of the interview, which will stay up  
on YouTube for as long as we exist!

We thought it was a great interview and have some nice comments about 
it - hopefully you are receiving increased traffic and a few direct 
emails as a result.

Please let us know if there is anything else we can do and do keep us 
up to date if anything interesting arises that we can link to from our 
Word section.

All the best,

Scott Meredith
Executive Producer
Conscious Media Network Inc.
PO Box 528
Loomis CA 95650-0528

Tel/Fax: +1 866-804-2252

6) Chinese Say They're Building 'Impossible' Space Drive

 David Hambling, September 24, 2008 | WIRED http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/09/chinese-buildin.html

Chinese researchers claim they've confirmed the theory behind an "impossible" space drive, and are proceeding to build a demonstration version. If they're right, this might transform the economics of satellites, open up new possibilities for space exploration –- and give the Chinese a decisive military advantage in space.

To say that the "Emdrive" (short for "electromagnetic drive") concept is controversial would be an understatement. According to Roger Shawyer, the British scientist who developed the concept, the drive converts electrical energy into thrust via microwaves, without violating any laws of physics. Many researchers believe otherwise. An article about the Emdrive in New Scientist magazine drew a massive volley of criticism. Scientists not only argued that Shawyer's work was blatantly impossible, and that his reasoning was flawed. They also said the article should never have been published.

"It is well known that Roger Shawyer's 'electromagnetic relativity drive' violates the law of conservation of momentum, making it simply the latest in a long line of 'perpetuum mobiles' that have been proposed and disproved for centuries," wrote John Costella, an Australian physicist. "His analysis is rubbish and his 'drive' impossible."

Shawyer stands by his theoretical work. His company, Satellite Propulsion Research (SPR), has constructed demonstration engines, which he says produce thrust using a tapering resonant cavity filled with microwaves. He is adamant that this is not a perpetual motion machine, and does not violate the law of conservation of momentum because different reference frames apply to the drive and the waves within it. Shawyer's big challenge, he says, has been getting people who will actually look into his claims rather than simply dismissing them.

Such extravagant claims are usually associated with self-taught, backyard inventors claiming Einstein got it all wrong. But Shawyer is a scientist who has worked with radar and communication systems and was a program manager at European space company EADS Astrium; his work rests entirely on Einstein being right. The thrust is the result of a relativistic effect and would not occur under simple Newtonian physics. Many have dismissed his work out of hand, and British government funding has ceased. He has had some interest from both the United States and China. Now the Chinese connection with the Northwestern Polytechnical University (NPU) in Xi'an seems to have paid off.

"NPU started their research program in June 2007, under the supervision of Professor Yang Juan. They have independently developed a mathematical simulation which shows unequivocally that a net force can be produced from a simple resonant tapered cavity," Shawyer tells Danger Room. "The thrust levels predicted by this simulation are similar to those resulting from the SPR design software, and the SPR test results."

What's more, Shawyer says, NPU is "currently manufacturing" a "thruster" based on this theoretical work.

"I could confirm that our mathematical simulation gives the results Dr. Roger Shawyer told you. Now we are submitting our result to a journal. It is now under the consideration of the editor," Professor Yang adds. "We also developed a tapered cavity and are preparing an experiment which will be completed at the end of this year."

Needless to say, independent confirmation is a big deal -- though many will want to see it published in a peer-reviewed journal. Even when it is, I doubt the controversy will subside. Prof. Yang has plenty of experience in this type of area, having previously done work on microwave plasma thrusters, which use a resonant cavity to accelerate a plasma jet for propulsion. While the theory behind the Emdrive is very different, the engineering principles of building the hardware are similar. The Chinese should be capable of determining whether the thruster really works or whether the apparent forces are caused by experimental errors.

The thrust produced is small, but significant. Shawyer compares a C-Band Emdrive with the existing NSTAR ion thruster used by NASA. The Emdrive produces 85 mN of thrust compared to 92 for the NSTAR (that's about one-third of an ounce), but the Emdrive only consumes a quarter of the amount of power and weighs less than 7 kilos, compared to over 30 kilos. The biggest difference is in propellant: NSTAR uses 10 grams per hour; the Emdrive uses none. As long as it has an electricity supply, the Emdrive will keep going.

The possibilities are phenomenal: Instead of going out of service when they run out of fuel, satellites would have greatly extended endurance and be able to move around at will. (We wouldn't have to shoot them down because of the risk from toxic fuel either.) Deep space probes could go further, faster –- and stop when they arrive. Shawyer calculates that a solar-powered Emdrive could take a manned mission to Mars in 41 days. Provided it works, of course.

What will China do with the technology? It may be relevant that professor Yang is not unknown in military circles, having published a paper called "Plasma Attack Against Low-Orbit Spy Satellites."

Meanwhile, what about the American interest? Shawyer told me that "the flight thruster program is on hold for the present. [O]nce the U.K. government had provided an export license for a U.S. military application, the major U.S. aerospace company we had been dealing with stopped talking to us. "

The company may have decided that the Emdrive could not work. If they're wrong, China has at least a year's head start in a technology that will dominate space and make previous satellites as obsolete as sailing ships in the age of steam.

7) Mean Machines go Green - Born to be Wired
Jim Giles,  New Scientist Print Edition.  17 September 2008
Look at a two minute video of the newest cars that are called "green machines": http://www.newscientist.com/video.ns?bctid=1810167793
 Tesla Roadster
Road to Salvation
Low-carbon cars
WE'RE crawling bumper-to-bumper down El Camino Real, a four-lane highway out of San Francisco, when a gap opens up in the traffic ahead. My driver, multimillionaire Elon Musk, seizes the opportunity and steps on the throttle. I'm instantly pinned to my seat, watching helpless as we surge with terrifying acceleration towards the rear end of a truck. Yet there's not even the faintest hint of the roar you'd expect from the nifty little sports car we're in. The engine barely makes a sound. That's because this is the Tesla Roadster, the first all-electric production sports car of the century. Musk brakes hard and once again we're crawling with the traffic, albeit a few cars further ahead.

Musk has a track record of successful technological leaps. He co-founded the online money-transfer company PayPal, and made his millions when it was sold to eBay in 2002. He is co-founder of the rocket company Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). Then in 2004 he decided to invest part of his new-found fortune in tackling what he considers to be one of the most important challenges of our age: cutting CO2 emissions from road transport. This sector is responsible for emitting one-fifth of global greenhouse gases. Musk weighed up the options and concluded that the most efficient way of cutting emissions was to build an electric car. He has become an evangelist for the technology. "In 30 years' time, the majority of cars in the US will be electric," he declares.

Time will tell whether Musk is right, but he has already achieved his first goal. A handful of Tesla Roadsters are now on the road, about 1000 have been ordered, and the model has already become a poster child for electric cars. With a top speed of 210 kilometres per hour (130 miles per hour), and an abilty to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in about 4 seconds, it has banished the pootling golf-cart image that dogged its predecessors.

What's more, it has maintained impressive green credentials. The Roadster produces no CO2 exhaust emissions, and even when you factor in the CO2 released in generating the electricity used to charge its batteries it produces less than half the amount of that emitted by the greenest gasoline cars on the market. Generating electricity from renewable sources would cut the Tesla's CO2 footprint still further. And it's cheaper to run than a gasoline-powered car - Tesla estimates it costs less than 2 cents per kilometre. One kilometre in a conventional car with a fuel consumption of 9 litres per 100 kilometres (26 miles per US gallon) - with gasoline at $3.60 per gallon - costs more than 8 cents.

However, at $109,000 apiece, Tesla Roadsters are aimed squarely at people with money to burn. It's designed to show that electric cars can be fun and sexy, not to be a practical runabout. Musk doesn't deny this. "I've no interest in the Roadster itself," he says. "It's a means to an end." Or, in other words, a proof of principle. The company's next car, which Musk predicts will be in production within three years, will be a family-sized sedan which he estimates will cost around $60,000. After that comes a compact version of the same car for $30,000.

It's a bold ambition. But are all-electric cars like these the best replacement for the gas guzzlers that dominate our roads? And if they are not, what is the best way to make a cheap low-emissions car without compromising on the comfort and performance consumers have come to demand?

The Tesla Roadster is certainly not the only design vying to knock conventional cars from pole position. With oil prices still far higher than we've been used to - and reducing CO2 emissions and cutting reliance on foreign oil at the top of the political agenda in the US and elsewhere - kicking the gasoline habit has become a priority for drivers and politicians alike. And with sales of gas guzzlers falling fast (see chart), mainstream car manufacturers are finally waking up to the message that lean, green cars are what people want.

The race is on to build the lowest-emissions vehicle, and car companies are hedging their bets with a spectrum of new technologies, each with its own pros and cons. In the past, the biggest fork in the road lay between all-electric cars on the one hand, and hydrogen-powered cars on the other. It may even be a hydrogen-electric hybrid that ultimately carries the day. But there are plenty of doubters with regard to both technologies.

Musk, for one, is adamant that hydrogen is a waste of time and will never match the capabilities of all-electric battery-powered cars (see "Whatever happened to hydrogen?"). Yet this July, Honda launched its first commercial car powered by hydrogen fuel cells - the Honda FCX Clarity - in Musk's home town of Los Angeles. Honda initially plans to lease 200 cars over three years, at a cost of $600 per month. BMW began a similar scheme last year, leasing 100 dual-fuel cars that can burn either hydrogen or petrol in their customised internal-combustion engines. Hydrogen still has a long way to go though, not least because the refuelling infrastructure is sorely lacking, with just 26 hydrogen refuelling stations across California to date, and only 150 worldwide.

Perhaps the biggest surprise announcement has come from General Motors, the company that brought us the ultimate gas guzzler, the Hummer, and only five years ago voluntarily destroyed its own fleet of low-emissions electric cars, dubbed the EV1 (see "The resurrection"). "We believe the ultimate solution is the electrification of the automobile - as soon as possible," said Jon Lauckner, a GM vice-president, at a green vehicles conference in San Jose, California, in July.

GM clearly has some catching up to do. In April this year, Toyota announced that it had sold its millionth Prius - its flagship low-emissions car. The success of the Prius has spurred GM to rework plans for a new plant in Mississippi. Instead of gas-guzzling SUVs, the plant will make cars that operate on a similar principle to the frugal Prius.

Unlike the Tesla, the Prius has a hybrid propulsion system that combines a gasoline-powered internal combustion engine with a battery-powered electric motor. At up to 25 km/h or so, the Prius runs near silently on its electric motor. Accelerate beyond that and a regular petrol engine kicks in, giving a combined fuel economy of about 5.1 l/100 km. Energy from the engine and energy recovered during braking tops up the battery so there is never any need to plug the car into the mains electricity grid.

The Prius uses nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries - a tried and tested battery technology common in portable radios and other gadgets, and one that GM briefly employed on the second generation of the EV1. A few design changes, such as larger conductors within the cell, allow the batteries to deliver the tens of kilowatts needed to drive a car. They are also about half the weight of the equivalent lead-acid batteries - the type used in the first EV1s. While these accounted for about one-fifth of the mass of the EV1, the Prius batteries can be made much lighter as they only back up the gasoline engine, rather than replacing it completely. NiMH cells also last much longer than lead-acid batteries: some are still running after 10 years of regular recharging, says Ahmad Pesaran, an engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

Demand for the Prius in the US is so high that the cars gain in value in their first year, as people pay over the odds to avoid the waiting list for a new one - something almost unheard of with mass-market cars. Together with hybrids from several other manufacturers, these vehicles are making a difference. Toyota calculates that the cars have already saved 4.5 million tonnes of CO2.

But that's just the start. Over the past decade, engineers have been tinkering with the design of an even more efficient type of battery. This is the lithium-ion (Li-ion) cell, the kind used in laptops and cellphones. The result is lithium-ion batteries that can dramatically outperform NiMH cells, carrying about twice the energy for the same mass (see "Powering the next generation"). Some pre-production units are now in the final stages of testing. Pesaran estimates that the Li-ion cells will withstand 5000 recharge cycles. NiMH cells can take about 3000.

Li-ion batteries are still expensive, but according to analysts at the investment bank Morgan Stanley a new generation of batteries will help reduce their price and thus lead to cheaper hybrids and drive worldwide annual demand for the cars to 3 million by 2020. Last year 347,000 hybrids were sold in the US (see graph).

Plug in, switch on, drive off

While the existing Prius needs to continually recharge its batteries using its engine and regenerative breaking, the next generation of hybrids is likely to have higher battery capacity and be chargeable directly from the electricity grid. These are the so-called "plug-in hybrids". Prius enthusiasts who can't wait for the car's next incarnation are already beefing up their Priuses with off-the-shelf systems (see "Pumped-up Prius"). Plug-ins are likely to be the easiest way to begin cutting transportation-derived greenhouse gas emissions without the need for a new refuelling infrastructure which, for example, hydrogen would require.

A study by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto, California, concluded that hybrid cars charged with electricity produced in fossil-fuel power stations would still produce less greenhouse gas emissions than conventional cars (see chart). Another study, led by Michael Kintner-Meyer at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, calculated that the existing US electricity-generating infrastructure has sufficient capacity to supply 70 per cent of all car journeys if they were made in electric vehicles, without adding any new power stations. That's assuming that most cars are driven for less than 42 kilometres per day. On paper, at least, the message seems clear: to save the planet, go electric.

Can it be done without us all driving around in golf carts? That's what Musk wants to demonstrate with his Roadster. Its batteries can deliver 185 kilowatts, or around 250 horsepower - about the same as a Porsche Boxster sports car. And the vehicle is wonderfully quiet: when I got behind the wheel and turned the key I was taken aback by the silence. Slinkiness aside, a single charge will take it 330 kilometres, which is more than most commuters travel in a week.

If Li-ion batteries perform so well, why not ditch petrol engines altogether? "The big question, the number one question, is cost," says Mark Duvall, an expert in electric vehicles at EPRI. A closer look at the Tesla explains why. The vehicle is not expensive by sports car standards, but the overall price conceals the cost of the 7000 or so Li-ion cells that make up the battery. Tesla will not comment on the cost of individual components, but Duvall estimates the battery alone would cost around $20,000 - as much as a conventional mid-range family car. Even so, Tesla's battery is cheap for its size because the company uses off-the-shelf cells already mass-produced for mobile devices. This presents another problem: wiring all these cells together creates a complex system that has multiple potential points of failure. Car manufacturers may baulk at the thought, preferring to keep things as simple as possible. So instead several are working on new designs consisting of about 10 cells. Unfortunately, kilogram-for-kilogram, these cells currently cost more than twice as much as existing off-the-shelf batteries.

Nevertheless, their greater simplicity and increased reliability are valuable factors. Tesla plans to adopt the technology in its next generation of electric cars. Using a smaller pack will also help keep costs down, giving their planned sedan a range of 250 kilometres between charges. But recharging will still be a problem. Recharging Tesla's existing Li-ion battery pack from the domestic supply, for example, takes about 3.5 hours.

Supporters of electric cars argue this shouldn't stop affordable ones finding their way onto the market because most people rarely need to drive long distances. In the US, for example, the average trip in a private car is less than 16 kilometres. Three-quarters of commuters in the UK drive less than 32 kilometres a day. These drivers could save hundreds of dollars a year if they switched to all-electric cars.

That's the thinking behind the Aptera, an electric two-seater car that looks like something out of The Jetsons and is due to go on sale in California later this year. Its radical design minimises air resistance, right down to little touches such as tucking the windscreen wipers below the airflow. As a result, the entire vehicle has a drag coefficient of just 0.15 - making its drag roughly the same as that caused by a single large wing mirror. It weighs only 680 kilograms, about the same as a Smart car. The Aptera's Li-ion battery may only hold 10 kilowatt-hours of electricity, but that's enough to give it a respectable 190-kilometre range and a top speed of 136 kilometres per hour. That is probably good enough for many commuters, especially if drivers are able top up their car batteries while they shop or eat.

On-street electric charging points are already being tested in San Jose and other US cities. In the Netherlands, electric utility company Essent and the start-up Electric Cars Europe, are also developing a plan for installing charge points across the country.

Perhaps the most ambitious recharging scheme comes from the Californian start-up Better Place. Launched in 2007, the company is collaborating with the Renault-Nissan Alliance in a bid to mass-produce Li-ion electric cars and build the recharging infrastructure needed to make the vehicles attractive to drivers. The company plans to launch the service in Israel and Denmark first - both ideal starting points as each country's major population centres are confined to an area around 150 kilometres across. In Israel, for example, Better Place aims to have the cars in showrooms and half a million charging stations installed by 2011. The stations will be in malls, parking lots and other public places. If a car runs out of juice, rather than wait for it to recharge at a charging point, the driver would pull in to a refuelling station where a machine automatically removes the battery and replaces it with a charged one, all in around the time it takes to fill the fuel tank on a conventional car.

If all that sounds like another quagmire where a lack of infrastructure will slam the brakes on development, GM says it has an interim solution. The firm's upcoming electric vehicle, the Chevy Volt, will use a Li-ion battery to propel the car from 0 to 100 km/h in under 9 seconds, and up to a maximum speed of 160 km/h. When the battery is running low, a petrol motor kicks in, but not to drive the wheels; the motor only charges the battery. That means the experience of driving will always be like driving an electric vehicle, but with the added benefit of being able to recharge on the go rather than having to plug in and wait for hours. GM claims this will push the range of the Volt up to a very useful 575 kilometres. When gasoline is being burned to charge the battery, it runs with a fuel efficiency of around 4.8 l/100 km. Because the Volt can be plugged into mains electricity for recharging, most short journeys will run on electricity alone. No wonder some people are hailing it as a "Prius killer".

Whether GM can deliver on its promise remains to be seen. The company wants to launch the car in 2010, but the cost of the Li-ion batteries may bump the price up to around $40,000, hampering its mass-market prospects. The company is not revealing much about its investment in the project, but says it has 700 staff working full-time on it. "This is definitely not a niche product," says Rob Peterson, a GM spokesman. "It's the number one priority for the company."

Back in the Tesla, a few kilometres down the road, a man on the sidewalk turns and stares as we cruise quietly past. Then his face lights up in recognition: "Hey! It's the Tesla!" It seems that, in this corner of California, Musk has already made electric cars sexy. Now it's just the rest of the world that needs to be convinced.

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Whatever happened to hydrogen?

If you followed the developments in hydrogen-fuelled cars in the 1990s, you probably remember car makers proclaiming they were "only 10 years away" from the mass market. Ask them now and you'll hear something eerily similar. Yet the technology has not stood still: every year new prototypes are unveiled. In the last two years BMW and Honda have each committed to manufacturing a couple of hundred cars that will be available through lease to a lucky few who will help showcase the technology.

It's a sound idea, in principle. Hydrogen is a great energy carrier. It can be burned in an internal combustion engine, as inside the BMW Hydrogen Series 7 car, or combined with oxygen in a fuel cell to produce electricity to power electric motors, as does the Honda FCX Clarity. And given that they can be refuelled in minutes, emit only water vapour and have a driving range that matches conventional cars, they would seem to be an excellent solution to the problem of car emissions. So why has no manufacturer announced plans to mass-produce a hydrogen car?

It turns out there is no shortage of reasons why hydrogen cars may remain "10 years away" for several decades yet. For a start, the technology is far from mature. Fuel cells cannot yet meet the reliability standards expected by modern car drivers. Storing hydrogen is also tricky. It has to be compressed or liquefied, which requires high pressures or on-board cryogenic systems. Other technologies that avoid this, such as storing hydrogen in solids like metal hydrides, are yet to emerge from the lab.

Even if these technological hurdles are overcome, one of the biggest obstacles is the cost of building the infrastructure to deliver hydrogen for transport. To date, there are only about 150 hydrogen refuelling stations worldwide. That's compared with about 10,000 petrol stations in the UK alone.

It's a Catch-22 situation. Without filling stations, consumers will not buy hydrogen cars, yet since there are no hydrogen cars on the road, energy companies have no incentive to invest in building the stations. That's one reason why the US National Research Council (NRC) reckons that the government would have to spend $55 billion over the next decade or so to make fuel-cell cars competitive with conventional cars by 2023.

The council, which published its findings last month, did not write hydrogen off, however. Battery power may have more immediate potential but hydrogen cars, by virtue of being able to travel long distances on a single tank, were declared a viable long-term solution. Massive investment combined with development of a portfolio of hydrogen and electric technologies would mean that by 2050 cars could be almost entirely free of reliance on oil, the NRC says.

Powering the next generation

They're in cellphones, laptops and now electric cars. Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are behind a quiet revolution in electronics. Though the technology is still relatively young - Sony sold the first commercial Li-ion batteries in 1991 - the batteries already dominate the portable device market. Their success is down to one key factor: they have a high energy density - and so are lighter per watt supplied - than all competing battery technologies.

While they have been a boon for portable electronic devices, Li-ion batteries have their drawbacks. Most notoriously, Sony recently had to recall more than a million laptop batteries because a handful had spontaneously caught fire.

Newer battery designs attempt to avoid that problem while boosting energy density still further. Yi Cui and his colleagues at Stanford University in California are pursuing one of the more promising options. Cui thinks that Li-ion cells would be able to pack more energy into the same space if the cathode, currently made from carbon, were made with silicon instead, as silicon can hold more charge than carbon. It has not been chosen in the past because it degrades during recharging: as lithium ions enter the silicon lattice, it expands, straining the electrode. Cycling the battery through many charge cycles eventually causes it to crack.

Cui's lab may have found a way around this problem. His electrodes are built from bunches of silicon wires, each one less than 100 nanometres in diameter. The small size reduces the strain that the electrode suffers when lithium ions flow in and out of the structure during charging and discharging, a process that causes the volume of the wires to change by a factor of 4 (Nature Nanotechnology, vol 3, p 31). Cui is also working with a new cathode material, which he declines to identify. In combination with his silicon, the electrodes could increase energy density fivefold, he claims.

Gerbrand Ceder, a materials scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is using computer simulations to evaluate the potential of about 20,000 new cathode materials. He reckons that doubling the energy density in Li-ion batteries is more realistic.


Benjamin Jones is a student at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. He owns a two-seater 1991 Honda CRX which, according the US Environmental Protection Agency, should burn 8.7 litres of fuel for every 100 kilometres driven. Yet earlier this year, while driving in rural Missouri, he averaged a fuel consumption only a shade over 2.9 l/100 km (80 miles per US gallon).

That is not an unusual tale amongst extreme fuel-efficiency drivers. In this obsessive world, car owners go to extraordinary lengths to boost the distance they can drive on a tank of fuel. Often they will improve a car's aerodynamics by adding smooth wheel covers or wheel skirts, for example, or partial grille blocks. Some remove seats to reduce their car's weight, while others go as far as altering the transmission system to give gear ratios that reduce their engine's revs at cruising speed. In the extreme, a handful of enthusiasts are converting their own cars into home-made electric-hybrid vehicles.

Jones runs an online community at ecomodder.com where drivers exchange tips and ideas to cut fuel consumption. The site keeps an unaudited log of the most fuel-efficient cars. At the time of writing, pole position was held by a 1976 Vanguard CitiCar at 1.7 l/100 km (140 miles per US gallon)

A lot can be done to cut fuel consumption without making any technical changes to your car. A simple gadget that plugs into the engine can give drivers a real-time read-out of their fuel efficiency, and once presented with that figure they soon learn how to drive more efficiently, says Jones - for example, by accelerating less dramatically, and avoiding routes with traffic lights to cut down stops and starts.

Pumped-up Prius

On a dusty street in an industrial area close to San Francisco, Pat's Garage looks like any other mechanic's shop. But over the last 18 months, Pat Cadam and colleague Nick Rothman have been performing some radical tinkering on a select few cars that have passed through their doors. They've supplemented 50 Toyota Priuses with 5-kilowatt lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries and modified them so they can be plugged in - rather than only charged using their petrol engine - and run purely on electricity at up to 55 kilometres per hour before the petrol engine kicks in to help out. In unmodified Priuses, the petrol engine kicks in at around 25 kilometres per hour.

This means that in trips around town, the gasoline engine in a modded Prius rarely turns on. That leads to significant fuel and emissions savings. When I drove a few blocks with Cadam, the reading on the dashboard was stuck at 99.9 miles per gallon - Toyota had not designed the instrumentation to display higher gas-mileage rates.

One of Cadam's most famous customers is based just a few miles away in Mountain View. Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the web-search giant, is spending $10 million on RechargeIT, a project aimed at helping to speed up the introduction of low-emissions electric cars. Google engineers have been testing four Priuses and two hybrid Ford Escape SUVs, all supplemented with Li-ion batteries. This Google fleet has been put through its paces on 38 different routes, devised using US Department of Transportation data and designed to cover the range of journey types made by Americans. Last month, the company announced that these Priuses averaged 2.5 l/100 km. On urban journeys, that improved to 2 l/100km. Even the converted Escape got close to 4.7 l/100 km, almost halving the consumption of the most efficient conventional SUV.

These figures don't include the energy used to charge the batteries when plugged in, so these vehicles actually use significantly more energy than these numbers suggest. Even so, electric motors are so much more efficient than gasoline engines that plug-in hybrids could still reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by millions of tonnes every year. And with gasoline prices looking likely to stay high, Li-ion hybrids come out on top even for those consumers who care about counting the pennies more than saving the environment. At 4.3 cents per kilometre, a journey in one of Google's cars costs at most half as much as in a conventional car.

The resurrection

Industry's first modern-day foray into the electric car market was a controversial one. In 1996, General Motors launched it's EV1 all-electric car (left). The EV1's development was triggered by Californian laws demanding that car makers in the state start producing zero-emission vehicles, but a legal challenge mounted by the manufacturers followed as quickly as the cars appeared. Critics allege that GM was never enthusiastic about the project. Only 800 EV1s ever hit the road, all of them leased rather than sold, and the company retained the right to withdraw them.

Many leaseholders loved the sleek, quiet EV1s and made overtures to GM to buy them. The car giant rebuffed most of these offers and in 2003 the vehicles were withdrawn and crushed.

In 2006, Sony Pictures released the film Who Killed the Electric Car? In it, GM was accused of conspiring with oil companies to sink electric-vehicle technology. In response, GM put a statement on its website which said in part: "When GM launched the EV1, gas was cheap, there wasn't a war in Iraq, and there was less discussion about global warming. There were far fewer reasons for people to make the trade-offs in their transportation lifestyle to make the EV1 work for them. The good news is that both the technology and the GM team who developed the EV1 live on. We didn't kill the electric car; electric vehicle technology is far from dead."

Provided as a courtesy from www.IntegrityResearchInstitute.org dedicated to public education in the areas of energy, propulsion and bioenergetics.