The California Air Resources Board (ARB) held a public meeting Thursday and Friday to consider a status report on California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Program. Members of the Expert Review Panel commissioned by ARB to examine ZEV technologies presented a summary of their report (earlier post), and ARB staff made preliminary recommendations regarding the potential for modifying the ARB program.
Broadly speaking, the nature of the modifications—if any—will reflect an altered assessment of the varying prospects for three principal technologies: full battery-electric vehicles; hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles; and plug-in hybrids. More specifically, the major questions on the table are whether or not to maintain the program’s current weighting toward hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and whether or not to extend the timeline for fuel-cell implementation.
Due to the fact that California is an extremely important auto market, the ZEV program has significant implications for the industry.
Background. The ARB first introduced the ZEV requirement as part of a low-emissions vehicle regulation in 1990, the goal being to push automakers to commercialize zero-emissions vehicles beginning in model year 1998. Due to the long-term, technology-forcing nature of the ZEV regulation, the Board periodically re-examines the progress of the program, the basic goal being to get zero-emissions vehicles on the roads in volume. The Board has amended the program several times in the past, with the most recent—and most controversial—change being in 2003.
The original ZEV program required that 10% of new vehicle sales by large manufacturers have zero emissions. Manufacturers originally planned to meet the ZEV requirements with battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). In 1996, because of cost and performance issues, ARB eliminated the early (1998) requirements to allow additional time for battery research and development. The result was a set of agreements with automakers to put roughly 1,800 battery electric vehicles into California between 1998 and 2000.
In 1998 and 2001, the Board modified the program to allow up to 60% of the ZEV requirement to be met with vehicles having extremely low emissions and specific attributes. (See table below.)
Vehicles meeting these varied standards are called “partial zero emission vehicles” (PZEV) and “advanced technology partial zero emission vehicles” (AT PZEV). ARB put the three types of vehicles—ZEVs, AT PZEVs and PZEVs—into three color-coded categories: Gold, Silver and Bronze. In 2009 up to 85% of the ZEV requirements may be met with the PZEV and AT-PZEV vehicles. This is called the “Base Path”.
|ZEV Program Requirements—2009 Model year Base Path|
|% of Total Vehicle Sales||Vehicle Type||Category||Technical Description|
|2.5%||<1%||Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV)||Gold||Zero tailpipe emissions, battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.|
|2.5%||5%||Advanced Technology (AT PZEV)||Silver||Vehicles certified to PZEV standards and employing ZEV-enabling technologies; e.g., hybrids or natural gas vehicles.|
|6%||30%||Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV)||Bronze||Conventional vehicles certified to the most stringent tailpipe emission standards, zero evaporative emissions, and extended warranty.|
|11%||Total ZEV Requirement|
Examples of a PZEV are the Ford Focus and BMW 325. An example of an AT PZEV is the Toyota Prius hybrid electric vehicle. Automakers are assigned credits in the ZEV program using a scale based on the type of vehicle sold. Credits can be banked and applied to future year compliance. Toyota and Ford, for example, have enough banked credits to carry them to 2010, according to ARB staff.
In 2003, the Board made its most recent amendments to the ZEV program, increasing the ZEV requirement to 16% in 2018. It also defined an alternative path for automaker compliance with the ZEV regulation that was solely designed to advance the commercialization of fuel-cell vehicles. (Table below.) Also, the credit system was adjusted so that one fuel cell vehicle garnered the same credits as 10 battery-electric vehicles.
|Alternative Fuel-Cell Path for ZEV Compliance|
|Phase||Model Years||Manufacturer’s Market Share of:|
|I||2005 to 2008||250 fuel-cell vehicles|
|II||2009 to 2011||2,500 fuel-cell vehicles|
|III||2012 to 2014||25,000 fuel-cell vehicles|
|IV||2015 to 2017||50,000 fuel-cell vehicles|
However, fuel-cell vehicle development has not proceeded as expected. Indeed, the report from the Expert Panel highlighted the still outstanding issues that push the commercialization of fuel-cell vehicles further into the future. Achieving the alternative path compliance goals as defined appears to be out of the question given the current state of affairs.
The Panel’s Findings. The Expert Panel spent much of 2006 gathering and assessing technical, cost, and market data pertaining to the different technologies, then developed an outlook regarding the prospects for successful commercialization of each. Very briefly, the Panel decided that:
While fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) face significant challenges, the past rate of success and the massive application of resources to the problem makes FCEVs a promising candidate for a future mass market true ZEV. The Panel projected the beginning of mass commercialization for FCEVs in 2025—eight years later than currently conceived in the structure of the alternative path in the ZEV program.
The Panel found that previous efforts to commercialize battery electric vehicles were unsuccessful due to cost and lack of mass market customer acceptance. They also found that in other countries, a few manufacturers are now developing smaller vehicles using lithium-based batteries. The Panel concluded that in California, full-sized battery electric vehicles are still not likely to be a mass market technology in the foreseeable future due to the high cost of the batteries, and limited customer acceptance. This conclusion was the focus of the sharpest rebuttal provided by individual testimony during the public meeting.
The Panel was very bullish about plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and determined that PHEVs are the most likely low-emission technology to most quickly reach large volume production.
The Panel found that most manufacturers are not very interested in the use of hydrogen internal combustion engines. Although implementation is far easier than for fuel-cell vehicles, issues regarding hydrogen storage and infrastructure are the same or worse than those facing fuel-cell vehicles.
The Panel found that AT PZEVs, particularly hybrids, help to develop pure ZEV technologies by accelerating the development and deployment of advanced ZEV technologies. In particular, key systems contained within the hybrid systems are directly comparable to key ZEV fuel-cell systems. These include efficient electric drive motors, high power electronics, and computer control systems which incorporate regenerative braking.
Research and development work on hybrid batteries by manufacturers, battery suppliers, and material developers worldwide, continues to improve the key characteristics of batteries used in hybrid applications. The Panel concluded that this in turn will improve the batteries needed in future pure ZEV technologies, including fuel-cell vehicles and battery-electric vehicles.
Although neighborhood electric vehicles have had some commercial success, the Panel concluded that the mature market potential for the technology is relatively small due to limited applicability.
ARB Staff Recommendations. With the results from the Expert Panel, a symposium held last year and other inputs, ARB staff made a series of recommendations to the Board for some modifications to the ZEV program. Recommendations affecting fuel-cell, battery and plug-in hybrid vehicles include:
To extend the timeline and loosen the requirements for fuel-cell vehicles on the Alternative Path to allow further demonstrations for continued progress towards the fuel cell stack life and cost goals. The staff believes that the Phase II volumes (2,500 over the three years 2009 through 2011) are appropriate, however Phase III volume or timing is not achievable. (See chart at right.)
Click to enlarge.
To treat BEVs and FCEVs more equally, for example, by offering equal credit before 2012. The ARB staff notes that by returning to technology neutrality and considering BEVs and fuel-cell vehicles similarly, the ARB might induce some manufacturers to choose to pursue battery-electric vehicle development instead of fuel-cell vehicle development. The outcome would be that overall ZEV production could be greater, with fewer fuel-cell vehicles produced.
While not recommending that PHEVs qualify for the ZEV Gold credits, the staff recommends an adjustment that would provide more incentives for PHEV production.
Public Testimony. At the public ARB Board meetings, anyone that would like can testify (for 3 minutes). For the ZEV meeting, testimony tended to fall into three categories that match the primary technologies under the regulatory microscope: fuel cells, PHEVs and BEVs.
Automakers spoke on the desirability of the modification of the fuel-cell Alternative Path.
Proponents for plug-in hybrids encouraged the Board to take action to more aggressively support the commercialization of PHEV technology.
The key is to stop making the perfect the enemy of the good. Today we are in a slow Pearl Harbor with climate change. How can California catalyze worldwide change? Build version 1.0 plug-in hybrids.—Felix Kramer, CalCars
The most vigorous public testimony came from proponents of full battery-electric vehicles. In addition to the dedicated EV drivers, EV manufacturers Tesla Motors and Phoenix Motorcars testified, both noting that the number of BEVs they are producing and selling will easily outnumber hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. The argument is that if the Board’s goal is to maximize ZEV vehicles on the road, it should modify the ZEV rule to further encourage the development of EV technology and the recharging infrastructure.
ARB, said Martin Eberhard, founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, is showing a bias toward hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, against the more efficient and less expensive battery-electric vehicles.
Tesla believes this bias is not justified by science...however, we sarcastically and enthusiastically encourage you to keep your hydrogen bias and keep our competitors in the quagmire.—Martin Eberhard
Battery maker Altair Nanotechnologies spoke forcefully on the potential of its lithium-ion battery technology, and AeroVironment testified that it has been testing and validating Altairnano and Phoenix Motorcar’s claim that the Altairnano battery can be recharged in less than 10 minutes without harm to the battery.
The demonstration is a major milestone for Altair Nano. AeroVironment is continuing to test at the module level to determine cycle life. (They charge for 10 minutes, and discharge in 2 hours. With 50 cycles run so far, the battery is still at 100% rated capability.)
Next steps. With the conclusion of the public meeting, the Board voted to broadly accept the staff’s recommendations. The intent is that the staff now formulate a formal proposal for changes to the ZEV rule, to be considered in the fall.
The Board specified two stipulations on accepting the recommendations: one, that there be no “backsliding” on the goals of the ZEV rule; and two, that the staff consider how to provide incentives for plug-ins that use a blended operating strategy as well as those that offer an all-electric strategy.