In testimony before the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources today, GM Vice President for Environment and Energy Beth Lowery urged the government to fund a major effort to strengthen domestic advanced battery capabilities—specifically lithium-ion batteries.
Her stance was echoed during the hearing by statements from other witnesses, including John German, Manager, Environmental and Energy Analyses from Honda and Dr. Menahem Anderman, President, Advanced Automotive Batteries.
In her testimony, Lowery argued for the development of a range of alternative sources of energy and propulsion, the better to mitigate many of the issues surrounding energy availability.
...the fact of the matter is that it is highly unlikely that oil alone is going to supply all of the world’s rapidly growing automotive energy requirements. For the global auto industry, this means that we must—as a business necessity—develop alternative sources of propulsion, based on alternative sources of energy in order to meet the world’s growing demand for our products. The key is energy diversity, which can help us displace substantial quantities of oil that are consumed by US vehicles today.
Lowery suggested five steps the government could take to help:
Fund domestic advanced battery capabilities. “Advanced lithium-ion batteries are a key enabler to a number of advanced vehicle technologies—including plug-in hybrids. Government funding should increase R&D in this area and develop new support for domestic manufacturing of advanced batteries.”
Expand biofuels production and infrastructure. “Government should continue incentives for: the manufacture of biofuel-capable flex fuel vehicles; increases in biofuels production; increases for R&D into cellulosic ethanol; and increased support for broad-based infrastructure conversion.”
Continue support for the development and demonstration of hydrogen and fuel cells. “Funding should continue for hydrogen and fuel cell R&D and demonstration activities at DOE. The government should also commit to early purchases by government fleets and support for early refueling infrastructure in targeted locals in the 2010-2015 timeframe.”
Set a purchasing example. “The government should continue to purchase flex fuel vehicles; demand maximum utilization of E85 in the government flex fuel fleets; use federal fueling to stimulate publicly accessible pumps; provide funding to permit purchase of electric, plug-in and fuel cell vehicles into federal fleets as soon as technology is available.”
Provide further incentives for advanced technology. “Consumer tax credits should be focused on technologies that have the greatest potential to actually reduce petroleum consumption and provide support for manufacturers/suppliers to build/convert facilities that provide advanced technologies.”
John German from Honda agreed on the need for diversity of solutions, and for more emphasis on advanced battery research and development.
By far the most important action the government can take is research into improved energy storage...With respect to hybrids and, especially, plug-in hybrids, the most important factor is to reduce the cost, size, and weight of the battery pack.
The success of electric drive technologies, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and fuel cells, depends on our ability to build less expensive, lighter and more robust energy storage devices.
However, German also reiterated Honda’s position on the benefit of performance-based incentives.
As Honda has previously announced, we believe it is time for the Federal government to take action to improve vehicle economy. Given the rapid changes in technology, performance-based incentives are the best way to move the ball forward. It is impossible to predict the pace of technology development and when breakthroughs will or will not occur. Accordingly, technology-specific mandates cannot get us where we need to go. In fact, previous attempts to mandate specific technologies have a poor track record, such as the attempts in the 1990s to promote methanol and the California electric vehicle mandate.
The primary effect of technology-specific mandates is to divert precious resources from other development programs that likely are much more promising. If there are to be mandates, they should be stated in terms of performance requirements, with incentives and supported by research and development.
One example would be to increase the CAFE standards. The NHTSA already has the authority to regulate vehicle efficiency and Honda has called upon the agency to increase the stringency of the fuel economy requirements and has supported efforts to reform the passenger car standards. At the same time, Congress should develop a program of broad, performance-based incentives to stimulate demand in the marketplace to purchase vehicles that meet the new requirements.