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May 2012

May 31, 2012

PNNL small solid oxide fuel cell achieves record efficiency; microchannels, external steam reforming and recycling

Power system configuration diagram. Powell et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report on a highly efficient, small-scale solid oxide fuel cell system featuring PNNL-developed microchannel technology in combination with adiabatic, external steam reforming and anode gas recirculation. The heat and water required for the endothermic reforming reaction are provided by the recirculated anode gas emerging from the SOFC stack. They refer to this as adiabatic steam reforming because external heat sources, such as a combustor or an electric-resistance heater, are not necessary to support the reaction.

The new fuel cell system achieves up to 57% efficiency—significantly higher than the 30 to 50% efficiencies previously reported for other solid oxide fuel cell systems of its size—according to a study published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Power Sources. The pilot system generates about 2 kW of electricity; the PNNL team designed it to be scaleable to produce between 100 and 250 kW.

Solid oxide fuels cells are a promising technology for providing clean, efficient energy. But, until now, most people have focused on larger systems that produce 1 megawatt of power or more and can replace traditional power plants. However, this research shows that smaller solid oxide fuel cells that generate between 1 and 100 kilowatts of power are a viable option for highly efficient, localized power generation.

—Vincent Sprenkle, a co-author on the paper and chief engineer of PNNL’s solid oxide fuel cell development program

PNNL’s system includes fuel cell stacks developed earlier with the support of DOE’s Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance and uses methane as its foundation fuel. The PNNL uses external steam reforming to convert the methane to a syngas (CO and H2) which then react with oxygen at the fuel cell’s anode, generating electricity as well as the byproducts steam and carbon dioxide.

“A critical distinction between fuel cell technologies and other energy conversion devices, such as internal combustion engines, is that fuel cell efficiency is not Carnot-limited and fuel cells can achieve relatively high conversion efficiencies at smaller scale operation. Of the available fuel cell technologies, solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) offers the highest electrical conversion efficiencies.”
—Powell et al.

Steam reforming has been used with fuel cells before, but the approach requires heat that, when directly exposed to the fuel cell, causes uneven temperatures on the ceramic layers that can potentially weaken and break the fuel cell. So the PNNL team opted for external steam reforming, which completes the initial reactions between steam and the fuel outside of the fuel cell.

The external steam reforming process requires a heat exchanger. On one side of the wall is the hot exhaust that is expelled as a byproduct of the reaction inside the fuel cell. On the other side is a cooler gas that is heading toward the fuel cell. Heat moves from the hot gas, through the wall and into the cool incoming gas, warming it to the temperatures needed for the reaction to take place inside the fuel cell.

Microchannel heat exchanger and photochemically etched shim. Source: PNNL. Click to enlarge.

The key to the efficiency of this small SOFC system is the use of a PNNL-developed microchannel technology in the system’s multiple heat exchangers. Instead of having just one wall that separates the two gases, PNNL’s microchannel heat exchangers have multiple walls created by a series of tiny looping channels that are narrower than a paper clip. This increases the surface area, allowing more heat to be transferred and making the system more efficient. PNNL’s microchannel heat exchanger was designed so that very little additional pressure is needed to move the gas through the turns and curves of the looping channels.

The second unique aspect of the system is that it recycles. Specifically, the system uses the exhaust, made up of steam and heat byproducts, coming from the anode to maintain the steam reforming process—i.e., the system doesn’t need an electric device that heats water to create steam. Reusing the steam, which is mixed with fuel, also means the system is able to use up some of the leftover fuel it wasn’t able to consume when the fuel first moved through the fuel cell.

The combination of external steam reforming and steam recycling with the PNNL-developed microchannel heat exchangers made the team’s small SOFC system extremely efficient. Together, these characteristics help the system use as little energy as possible and allows more net electricity to be produced in the end. Lab tests showed the system’s net efficiency ranged from 48.2% at 2.2 kW to a high of 56.6% at 1.7 kW. Although the single-pass fuel utilization is only about 55%, because of the anode gas recirculation the overall fuel utilization is up to 93%.

The team calculates they could raise the system’s efficiency to 60% with a few more adjustments.

The PNNL team would like to see their research translated into an SOFC power system that’s used by individual homeowners or utilities. The research was supported by DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy.


  • M Powell, K Meinhardt, V Sprenkle, L Chick and G McVay (2012) Demonstration of a highly efficient solid oxide fuel cell power system using adiabatic steam reforming and anode gas recirculation. Journal of Power Sources, Volume 205, Pages 377-384 doi: 10.1016/j.jpowsour.2012.01.098

May 31, 2012 in Fuel Cells | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Proton OnSite achieves hydrogen gas production at 5,000 psi without a compressor

Proton OnSite’s latest project with the US Department of Energy (DOE) has yielded a proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzer stack that can produce hydrogen gas at the pressure required to fuel a vehicle, without the need for a compressor.

A high-differential pressure PEM stack can now safely generate hydrogen gas at 5,000 psi (344 bar) without the need for a compressor, while releasing the outgoing oxygen gas at atmospheric pressure. Proton OnSite began collaborating with the DOE in February 2010 on Phase I of the project. With this achievement, Proton OnSite will successfully end Phase II in August 2012.

Currently, fuel cell buses and some passenger cars require hydrogen gas at 5,000 psi, which is attained by attaching a compressor to the refueler. Attaining this level without a compressor brings refueling stations a step closer to forgoing this capital- and maintenance-intensive piece of equipment. This would allow stations to pass these savings onto drivers of fuel cell vehicles through lower fuel costs.

PEM electrolyzers work by running a current through a solid polymer electrolyte, which through electrolysis draws a hydrogen ion (proton) from deionized water and through the membrane. These ions combine at the other end of the membrane to produce hydrogen gas, leaving oxygen on the other side. Manufacturers who are currently developing fuel cells for automobiles are using this same PEM technology in reverse.

May 31, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Northrop Grumman, L-3 MAS to develop Polar Hawk drone for Canadian Arctic

Northrop Grumman Corporation and L-3 MAS will join forces on a variant of the Northrop Grumman-produced Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft system (UAS) for Canada to maintain continuous surveillance of its Arctic territories.

Rendering of Polar Hawk system. Click to enlarge.

Dubbed “Polar Hawk,” the system will be designed to stay aloft for long periods of time in harsh weather conditions over vast expanses of the Earth‘s surface monitoring land, ice, littoral and open water environments throughout the Arctic.

Flying at 60,000 feet, well above challenging weather and all commercial air traffic, Polar Hawk can range over 22,000 kilometers and stay airborne for more than 33 hours, day or night in all weather conditions.

In addition to its surveillance payloads, Polar Hawk has the power to support and can be equipped with a wide range of instrumentation for conducting science and environmental missions, as demonstrated by NASA using earlier versions of the Global Hawk UAS as far as 85 degrees north latitude. It can also be deployed to support humanitarian missions and provide surveillance over Canada’s vast territory stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific territorial waters and coasts.

L-3 MAS, a division of L-3's Integrated Systems Group, is among Canada’s leading providers of aircraft life-cycle extension services, aircraft in-service support services and aerostructures to government and commercial customers.

May 31, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Lexus introduces 2013 ES 350 and first ES 300h hybrid

2013 Lexus ES 300h. Click to enlarge.

Lexus has introduced the 2013 ES 350—the sixth generation of Lexus’ luxury sedan since its introduction more than 20 years ago—and the first hybrid version of the ES, the ES 300h. Lexus had unveiled the ES 350 and 300h earlier this year at the New York International Auto Show. (Earlier post.)

Featuring the Lexus Hybrid Drive with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine (2AR-FXE), the ES 300h is expected to earn EPA fuel economy ratings of approximately 40 mpg city, 39 mpg highway and 39 mpg combined (5.88, 6.03 and 6.03 L/100km, respectively).

The new, low-friction engine utilizes an advanced power management system and high compression ratio (12.5:1) to increase overall efficiency. The fuel system uses electronically controlled sequential fuel injection (SFI) with regular 87 octane unleaded gasoline. Bore and stroke are 3.54" and 3.86".

Equipped with an electric water pump, electric power steering, and an integrated hybrid electric motor/generator, this engine does not require any accessory belts. The beltless design helps improve fuel economy and overall reliability.

Engine-only power output is 156 hp (116 kW) @ 5,700 rpm, with 156 lb-ft (212 N·m) @ 4,500 rpm. The ES 300h generates 200 total system horsepower (149 kW).

The ES 350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine with Dual VVT-i that delivers 268 hp (200 kW) at 6,200 rpm and 248 lb-ft (336 N·m) of peak torque at 4,700. The six-speed sequential-shift automatic Electronically Controlled Transmission with intelligence (ECT-i) provides enhanced driving performance, fuel efficiency and smooth shifts. Low friction materials further improve efficiency and help with the ES 350’s EPA-fuel economy estimates of 21 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined (11.2, 7.59 and 9.80 L/100km, respectively).

Both the ES 350 and ES 300h feature a Drive Mode selector. Normal mode provides a blend of performance and efficiency that is suited to everyday driving, while Eco mode favors fuel economy. Sport mode increases powertrain and steering responsiveness, and for the ES 300h, the IP changes from the hybrid power monitor to a tachometer. The ES 300h adds an EV mode which allows short distance drives, at reduced speed, using only the power from the hybrid battery pack.

The wheelbase of the new ES has been lengthened by 1.8 inches, while the overall length of the vehicle has grown by one inch, resulting in shorter overhangs and a more spacious interior. Suspension changes, a stiffer body and a quicker steering gear ratio deliver more precise handling in the new 2013 Lexus ES.

The front suspension employs opposite-wound coil springs to help enhance straight-line stability. Revised rear suspension geometry and improved shock absorber damping characteristics enhance ride comfort. The steering gear ratio has been reduced from 16.1:1 to 14.8:1 to help deliver a more responsive and direct steering feel. Increased body rigidity is achieved through lightweight, high tensile strength steel, added bracing and more spot welds. Airflow is smoothed beneath the vehicle, improving stability and fuel economy, and reducing drag.

Warranty. All new Lexus vehicles come with a 48-month/50,000 mile basic limited warranty with roadside assistance for 48 months/unlimited miles. Powertrain and restraint system coverage is provided for 72 months/70,000 miles. Corrosion perforation protection is covered for 72 months, regardless of mileage. Hybrid-related components, including the HV battery, battery-control module, hybrid control module and inverter with converter, are covered for eight years/100,000 miles.

May 31, 2012 in Hybrids | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Aqua America to transition portions of fleet to CNG

Aqua America, Inc., one of the largest US-based, publicly-traded water utilities, is going to transition portions of its larger vehicle fleet to compressed natural gas (CNG). Chairman and CEO Nicholas DeBenedict made the announcement before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s Alternative Fuel Vehicles forum held at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

As both a former DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] and Economic Development Secretary for the Commonwealth, I believe that the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania will become the biggest economic driver in the state since days of coal and steel. Pennsylvania has always been an energy-rich state with natural gas being its latest form. CNG makes sense economically because of it is less expensive than fossil fuels and environmentally because it is a clean-burning fuel and thereby reduces carbon emissions.

—Nicholas DeBenedictis

Aqua Pennsylvania, Inc., the company’s largest subsidiary, has been piloting CNG vehicles for more than a year and has already planned for a slow-fill station at its Springfield Operations Center in Delaware County. Slow-fill stations fuel vehicles over a longer time period, which the company can accommodate because many vehicles are housed at the facility overnight and have longer periods of inactivity during which they can be refueled.

Aqua Pennsylvania plans to begin the transition with its 20 dump trucks and 60 vans initially, as there are not many passenger vehicle opportunities available currently. However, as it begins to turn over its vehicles, those that have original equipment manufacturer (OEM) CNG alternatives, will be transitioned to CNG vehicles.

Aqua America serves almost 3 million residents in Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey, Indiana, Florida, Virginia, and Georgia.

May 31, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Quantum and Dow Kokam deliver first Plug-In Hybrid Electric F-150

Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide, Inc. has delivered the first pilot version of its plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) F-150 pickup truck to Florida Power & Light Company (FPL), in association with Dow Kokam, the lithium-ion battery system supplier for the PHEV F-150. (Earlier post.)

FPL is an early adopter of both PHEVs and EVs (Electric Vehicle), and operates one of the largest green fleets of any investor-owned utility in the country.

The PHEV F-150 is powered by Quantum’s “F-Drive” parallel plug-in-hybrid electric drive system. The “F-Drive” allows the truck to run the first 35 miles on electric drive and then switch to hybrid drive mode, achieving 100+ mpg depending on the drive cycle and charging frequency. The PHEV F-150 incorporates a 20 kWh lithium-ion energy storage system from Dow Kokam.

Current Dow Kokam cells use nickel metal cobalt (NMC) technology, and feature an energy density of 143 mAh/g, with a high cycle life of 2,000 cycles at 80% discharge.

Established in 2009, Dow Kokam is owned by The Dow Chemical Company, TK Advanced Battery LLC and Groupe Industriel Marcel Dassault (Dassault).

May 31, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Freescale introduces three reference designs for wireless charging for mobile devices

Freescale Semiconductor has introduced three reference designs for wireless charging for high-capacity, single- and multi-cell battery packs. Target applications include power tools, handheld radios and various industrial applications.

Freescale has partnered with Fulton Innovation, a developer of wireless power and inductive charging technology. Fulton developed eCoupled technology to bring wireless power capabilities to virtually any electronic power system, and has built a portfolio of more than 700 patents in the field.

IMS Research projects that shipments of devices with wireless power will surpass 100 million in 2015, and the wireless power market will grow to nearly $5 billion by 2016. Electronics manufacturers are studying ways to implement wireless charging technology and the associated infrastructure necessary in locations including automobiles, coffee houses, airports and other public areas to support today’s computing-intensive mobile devices, such as smart phones, tablets, portable medical devices, gaming and audio accessories, and much more.

Though wireless power is still in its infancy, there is massive potential for use in consumer applications. The availability of specialized components for wireless power is a critical step in the evolution of this market by making the technology easier to implement while also driving down cost.

—Jason dePreaux, research manager at IMS Research

Reference design for tablets. Freescale is introducing an integrated wireless charging platform to address consumer and industrial tablet applications, as well as portable healthcare devices. The reference design consists of two main components: a transmitter mat and a receiver embedded inside the back cover of the tablet.

This reference design leverages Freescale’s Smart Application Blueprint for Rapid Engineering (SABRE) platform for tablets with an i.MX53 applications processor; however, it can be scaled to most tablet designs. The receiver seamlessly interfaces with the input power of the tablet’s power management sub-system. Tablets that use Freescale wireless charging technology benefit from the ability to create an intelligent software-based charging system, charging efficiencies that match conventional technologies and convenience to the consumer.

Reference design for smart phones. Freescale is introducing a wireless charging reference design to address the needs of the smart phone market. For the technology to become truly pervasive, an industry standard that will scale across all platforms is necessary. Freescale supports the Qi standard, developed by the Wireless Power Consortium.

Freescale’s reference design for smart phones consists of a Qi-based transmitter with an embedded coil array to allow for maximum positioning freedom. The transmitter has been designed to optimize the bill of materials and lower overall system cost, creating more value for product designers. The Qi receiver is designed to support all types of smart phones and offers a true five-volt output to the phone’s power management sub-system.

Reference designs for multi-cell battery packs. Freescale is introducing a wireless charging reference design for high-capacity, single- and multi-cell battery packs. Target applications include power tools, handheld radios and various industrial applications. The reference design charges four Li-Ion battery packs simultaneously to deliver a total of 120 watts of power. The reference design consists of two main components: a transmitter mat and a receiver embedded into the battery packs.

The receiver manages and converts the incoming power and then transfers the power to the battery by implementing a charging algorithm. Each transmitter channel adjusts its energy transfer independently by responding to commands from the receiver embedded in the battery pack. This intelligent charging method is software-controlled and has the ability to dynamically adjust the power transfer. Benefits of this type of charging system for battery packs include the elimination of environmental impact due to exposed electrical contacts, intelligent charge management via software control and the ability to charge various types of batteries and associated chemistries on a common platform.

May 31, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Alberta approves Cenovus Narrows Lake oil sands project with demo and phase-in of solvent aided process to improve steam-oil ratio and production rate

The Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) has given approval to Cenovus Energy Inc. to proceed with its Narrows Lake oil sands project, with an ultimate gross production capacity of 130,000 barrels per day. The company plans to demonstrate solvent aided process (SAP) on 25% of the wells there and eventually phase in SAP across the entire Narrows Lake operation. SAP combines steam injection with solvents, such as butane, to help bring the oil to the surface. (Earlier post.)

Solvent-aided process. Source: Cenovus. Click to enlarge.

This would be the industry’s first use of SAP with butane on a commercial scale. Based on test results at other locations, Cenovus anticipates SAP may improve the steam to oil ratio (SOR) and oil production rate by as much as 30% when compared to SAGD alone. Cenovus also anticipates that SAP may increase total oil recovery by as much as 15%.

The company expects the quality of the reservoir, combined with improvements it has made to technology and processes, will enable the Narrows Lake project to achieve industry-leading SORs as low as 1.6 with the full addition of SAP. SOR is a measure of efficiency for in-situ oil sands operations, with a low SOR meaning less water is needed and less natural gas is required, resulting in fewer emissions.

Project approval from Cenovus and its partner, ConocoPhillips, is expected by the end of this year. First production at Narrows Lake is anticipated in 2017, with the possibility of production starting in 2016, depending on industry activity and the associated demand for labor and materials. The Narrows Lake project has an expected life of four decades.

Narrows Lake is just north of Cenovus’s currently operating Christina Lake facility, near Conklin in northern Alberta. The project will be developed in three phases. Ground work for the initial phase of 45,000 bbls/d is expected to begin this fall.

Compared to SAGD focused projects, Cenovus anticipates its SAP projects will have 10% to 20% higher initial capital costs. The company also anticipates higher capital costs for Narrows Lake since it is a new project with no existing infrastructure in place. The additional capital costs are expected to be offset by increased production volumes, increased oil recovery and lower operating costs due to SAP.

Preparations for the Narrows Lake development are already well under way with a Cenovus team in place, initial equipment ordered and engineering work in progress. More than 200 stratigraphic test wells have been drilled at the project in support of the regulatory application and development plan. As the company gets further into its detailed engineering later this year, it plans to provide more detailed cost estimates for the project.

The company’s 2011 independent contingent resources evaluation estimated the gross best estimate bitumen economic contingent resources for Narrows Lake at 888 million barrels (444 million barrels net to Cenovus). Sanctioning of Narrows Lake phase A by Cenovus and the project partner, ConocoPhillips, is expected to lead to the conversion of a portion of the contingent resource to proved reserves in the independent reserves evaluation to be prepared for year-end 2012.

Narrows Lake will be the third in-situ oil sands project operated by Cenovus. The Foster Creek operation is now producing about 120,000 bbls/d gross and Christina Lake is producing about 58,000 bbls/d gross with expansions continuing at both of those projects. Cenovus has a 50% ownership of the Narrows Lake, Foster Creek and Christina Lake projects with its partner ConocoPhillips.

In addition, regulatory applications are under review for the Grand Rapids and Telephone Lake oil sands projects. Both of those projects are 100% owned by Cenovus and have planned production capacities of 180,000 bbls/d and 90,000 bbls/d respectively. Cenovus continues to assess other oil sands opportunities within its portfolio for future development. In addition to the 178,000 bbls/d gross of oil sands capacity already built at Foster Creek and Christina Lake, Cenovus now has 435,000 bbls/d of gross oil sands production capacity under construction or with regulatory approval.

May 31, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A123 Systems 8K filing says substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern; status of grants and incentives

In its most recent 8K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Li-ion battery maker A123 Systems said a number of circumstances have raised “substantial doubt on [its] ability to continue as a going concern.”

On 26 March, A123 launched a field campaign estimated to cost US$51.6 million to replace battery modules and packs that may contain defective prismatic cells produced at A123’s Livonia, Michigan manufacturing facility. The defect could have resulted in premature failure of the battery module or pack, including a decrease in performance and reduced battery life. (Earlier post.)

In addition, the company recorded an inventory charge of approximately US$15.2 million related to inventory produced at its Michigan facilities that may be defective.

As a result of this field campaign and the charge for existing prismatic cell inventory, A123 must begin to rebuild its inventory and manage its backlog for existing customer orders while simultaneously replacing the defective customer modules and packs, it noted in the filing. As a result, it expects to continue to incur significant net losses and negative operating cash flows over the next several quarters.

On 11 May, A123 amended its revolving credit facility with its lead bank, eliminating the borrowing facility and providing for up to $15.0 million as security for letters of credit. All outstanding letters of credit are required to be cash collateralized at 105% of their face amount.

The above circumstances, along with the Company’s history and near term forecast of incurring significant net losses and negative operating cash flows, raise substantial doubt on the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern. Management is taking actions to raise additional capital to fund cash requirements and evaluating other strategic alternatives. The Company is actively engaged in discussions with strategic partners for substantial investments in the Company. In addition, the Company is evaluating various options to raise cash in the capital markets.

Management also continues to seek to reduce cash used in operating and investing activities, including by improving the Company’s gross margins, reducing operating expenses, and reducing working capital. Although the Company’s intent is to improve its operating efficiencies and to obtain additional financing, there is no assurance that the Company will be able to obtain such financing on favorable terms, if at all, or to successfully further reduce costs in such a way that would continue to allow the Company to operate its business.

—A123 Systems Form 8K 30 May 2012

A123 Systems has been the recipient of a number of state and federal grants and tax incentives. Their status, as outlined in the filings, is:

  • US Department of Energy Battery Initiative. In December 2009, A123 entered into an agreement establishing the terms and conditions of a $249.1-million grant awarded under the US Department of Energy (DOE) Battery Initiative to support manufacturing expansion of new lithium-ion battery manufacturing facilities in Michigan. Under the agreement, the DOE will provide cost reimbursement for 50% of qualified expenditures incurred from 1 December 2009 to 30 November 2012. The agreement also provides for reimbursement of pre-award costs incurred from 1 June 2009 to 30 November 2009.

    There are no substantive conditions attached to this award that would require repayment of amounts received if such conditions were not met.

    Through 31 December 2011, A123 incurred $216.9 million in capital expenditures and $38.6 million in operating expenses, for a total of $255.5 million in qualified expenses, of which 50%, or $127.8 million, are allowable costs for reimbursement. Nearly all of the allowable costs have been reimbursed. As of 31 December 2010 and 2011, the Company recorded $2.1 million and $0.8 million, respectively, as receivables in prepaid expenses and other current assets in the consolidated balance sheets.

  • State of Michigan Center of Energy and Excellence Grant. In February 2009, the State of Michigan awarded the Company a $10.0-million Center of Energy and Excellence grant. Under the agreement, the State of Michigan is to provide cost reimbursement for 100% of qualified expenditures based on the achievement of certain milestones by March 2012. There are no substantive conditions attached to this award that would require repayment of amounts received if such conditions were not met.

    A123 received $3.0 million of this grant in March 2009 and $6.0 million of this grant in July 2010, with additional payments to be made based on the achievement of certain milestones in the facility development. Through 31 December 2011, the company used $8.3 million of these funds, of which $7.9 million and $0.4 million was recorded as an offset to property, plant and equipment and operating expenses, respectively.

    For the years ended December 31, 2009, 2010 and 2011, $0.1 million, $0.3 million and $0.1 million was recorded as an offset to operating expenses in the consolidated statements of operations, respectively. As of December 31, 2010 and 2011, $0.8 million and $0.7 million of these funds are recorded in short-term restricted cash and other current liabilities on the consolidated balance sheets, respectively.

  • Michigan Economic Growth Authority. In April 2009, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority (MEGA) offered A123 certain tax incentives, which can be used to offset the Michigan Business Tax owed in a tax year, carried forward for the number of years specified by the agreement, or be paid to the Company in cash at the time claimed to the extent the Company does not owe a tax. The terms and conditions of the High-Tech Credit were established in October 2009 and the Cell Manufacturing Credit in November 2009.

    The High-Tech Credit agreement provides the Company with a 15-year tax credit, based on qualified wages and benefits multiplied by the Michigan personal income tax rate beginning with payments made for the 2011 fiscal year. The proceeds to be received by A123 are based on the number of jobs created, qualified wages paid and tax rates in effect over the 15-year period. The tax credit is subject to a repayment provision in the event the Company relocates a substantial portion of the jobs outside the state of Michigan on or before 31 December 2026.

    As of 31 December 2011, $1.0 million was recorded as an undiscounted receivable in long-term grant receivable with an offsetting balance in other long-term liabilities in the consolidated balance sheet. No receivable was recorded as of 31 December 2010. The balance will be recognized in the statements of operations over the term that the Company is required to maintain the required number of jobs in Michigan.

    The Cell Manufacturing Credit agreement authorizes a tax credit or cash for the Company equal to 50% of capital investment expenses related to the construction of the Company’s integrated battery cell manufacturing facilities in Michigan, commencing with costs incurred from 1 January 2009, up to a maximum of $100.0 million over a four-year period. The tax credit is not to exceed $25.0 million per year and can be submitted for reimbursement beginning in tax year 2012. A123 is required to create 300 jobs no later than 31 December 2016 for the tax credit to be non-refundable. The tax credit is subject to a repayment provision in the event the company relocates 51% or more of the 300 jobs outside of the state of Michigan within three years after the last year the tax credit is received.

    Through 31 December 2011, A123 incurred $200.0 million in qualified expenses related to the construction of the Livonia and Romulus facilities. When the company meets the filing requirements for the tax year ending 31 December 2012, it expects to begin receiving $100.0 million in proceeds related to these expenses.

  • Michigan Economic Growth Authority Loan. The State of Michigan also granted A123 a low-interest forgivable loan of up to $4.0 million effective August 2009 with the objective of conducting advance vehicle technology operations to promote and enhance job creation within the State of Michigan. To receive advances under the loan, A123 was required to achieve certain key milestones related to the development of the manufacturing facility.

  • Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. In December 2009, the State of Michigan awarded A123 $2.0 million to assist in funding its smart grid stabilization project, the purpose of which is to develop and improve the quality of application of energy efficient technologies and to create or expand the market for such technologies. A123 received an advance of $0.9 million in December 2009 and another $0.9 million in February 2011. Through 31 December 2011, the Company incurred $1.6 million in allowable costs, which was recorded as an offset to operating expenses. During the year ended, 31 December 2011, the remaining $0.4 million in funding was cancelled.

  • Massachusetts Clean Energy Technology Center. In October 2010, the Company entered into a forgivable loan agreement with Massachusetts Clean Energy Technology Center for $5.0 million for the purpose of funding working capital, capital expenses, and leasehold improvements for its new corporate headquarters and primary research and development center in Waltham, Massachusetts and Energy Solution Group engineering and manufacturing facilities in Westborough, Massachusetts.

    Amounts borrowed under this agreement accrue interest of 6% from the date of the advance and mature in October 2017. The loan is collateralized by certain designated equipment and a subordinated lien on certain other assets of the Company. Under the agreement, if A123 creates 263 new jobs in Massachusetts between 1 January 2010 and 31 December 2014 and maintains at least 513 jobs in Massachusetts from January 1, 2015 to the maturity date, $2.5 million of the outstanding principal and accrued interest on the loan will be forgiven.

    In addition, if A123 spends, or commits to spend, at least $12.5 million in capital expenses or leasehold improvements within one year from closing the loan, $2.5 million of the outstanding principal and accrued interest on the loan will be forgiven.

    As A123 is not reasonably assured that it will comply with the conditions of the grant for the forgiveness related to the creation of new jobs in Massachusetts, the remaining $2.5 million is recorded in long-term debt.

May 31, 2012 in Batteries | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

May 30, 2012

Details on Nissan’s I3 1.2L supercharged direct-injection gasoline engine

In 2011, Nissan launched a version of the Micra city car equipped with a new supercharged gasoline direct-injection engine (HR12DDR). The 1.2-liter, inline three-cylinder Direct Injection Gasoline-Supercharger (DIG-S) engine, assisted with a stop-start system, produces 72 kW (97 hp) and 142 N·m (105 lb-ft), while CO2 emissions are 95 g/km for the manual version (115 g/km for the CVT version). (Earlier post.)

Nissan recently published an SAE paper outlining the development of the new engine, which was developed as a new concept for achieving low levels of CO2 emissions. In the engine, the use of a high compression ratio (13:1) with a boosting system, a lower surface/volume ratio piston, and high tumble intake port optimize direct injection combustion. A supercharger with a magnetic clutch compensates for the disadvantage of the small displacement engine with the Miller cycle without sacrificing fuel economy.

The HR12DDR is based on the HR12DE, and betters that engine in terms of power output and torque, as well as fuel consumption and CO2emissions.

Nissan engine specifications
Bore (mm) 66 73 78 78
Stroke (mm) 68 82.8 83.6 83.6
Displacement (cc) 930 1386 1198 1198
Comp. ratio 7.7 9.8 13 10.7
Max power (kW/rpm) 81/6400 72/5600 72/5200 58/6000
Max torque (N·m/rpm) 130/4800 137/3200 142/4400 106/4400
Aspiration super and turbocharger natural supercharger natural
Injection port port direct port
CO2 (g/km) Euro Jpn only 154 95 115

Maximizing thermal efficiency with a CR of 13:1. While a higher compression ratio improves thermal efficiency, it also substantially induces knock due to the in-cylinder temperature rise at the end of compression. Adding a boosting system to a high CR ratio engine makes it more difficult to address that issue.

Partly to address that issue, Nissan adopted the direct injection system and additional cooling items such as a piston oil jet and high thermal conductivity piston ring.

Generally, Nissan noted, a valve recess on the piston surface is required to enhance volumetric efficiency under high load conditions. For the HR12DDE engine, this role can be taken over by supercharging, thereby minimizing valve recess and achieving a minimum piston S/V ratio. As a result, the piston retains its low S/V even with a compression ratio of 13, leading to higher thermal efficiency under partial load conditions. This piston enables Nissan to reach the same level of thermal efficiency at a CR of 13 as a conventional piston with a compression ratio of 14.

To maximize the effect of direct injection (DI), Nissan engineers adopted a 6-hole injector, and determined its spray pattern using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations, considering the oil dilution issue in small bore engines.

While DI offers a number of well-known benefits (knock suppression through using the latent heat of evaporation to lower the temperature and the end of compression, better homogeneous combustion stability), it can also result in a non-homogeneous mixture in the cylinder, resulting in slower combustion, formation of hydrocarbon emissions (HC), and knock. A strong gas flow is required as a countermeasure to improve the homogeneity of the mixture at intake and compression, Nissan said.

Because the new engine has a supercharging system, the intake port could be designed for tumble flow specifically, allocating the air charging function on the supercharger. A sharp edge on the intake port brings on a shredding of the port lower side air flow and increased tumble.

Minimizing pumping loss. The main concept for reducing pumping loss is the late intake valve closing (LIVC) Miller cycle with high compression ratio. This enables a high expansion ratio even in LIVC state. In the HR12DDR, intake valve closing (IVC) is retarded until 100 ° after bottom dead center (ABDC)—corresponding to an effective CR of about 7:1. To reduce the rest of the pumping loss on un-boosted partial load, Nissan combined internal EGR with exhaust continuously variable valve timing (CVTC) and external EGR.

However, this concept causes “a severe combustion state”—inert burned gas and low effective CR. Further, combining Miller and a high CR attenuates the gas flow.

To strengthen gas turbulence at ignition, Nissan adopted a swirl control valve on the intake port; the swirl flow contribues to combustion stability even with heavy EGR.

The Miller cycle with internal EGR is realized using intake and exhaust CVTC; with this engine, Nissan is adopting for the first time an intake retard CVTC system. Nissan says that the system can satisfy both engine stability and LIVC Miller operation for fuel economy.

Reducing mechanical friction. Nissan adopted various friction-reducing technologies on the HR12DDR in addition to the piston oil jet, including H-free Diamond Like Carbon (DLC) coated piston rings—a first.

Although piston ring tension was increased to suppress oil consumption caused by increased thermal load in a high output boosted engine, the piston friction remained the same due to the DLC-coated ring.

A new decouple damper pulley and supercharger electromagnetic clutch and auto tensioner resulted in lower belt tension and reduced the friction by 20% compared to a conventional system.

In spite of the use of supercharging boosting, direct injection, and oil-dependent devices such as exhaust VTC, Nissan achieved a 10% reduction in engine friction with the HR12DDR compared to the HR12DE.

Optimized boosting system. Because the engine is a small displacement Miller engine, it has relatively less exhaust gas volume and energy, Nissan noted, citing that as the reason why the boosting system does not rely on the exhaust gas energy.

Nissan used an Eaton Roots-type supercharger with twin 4-lobe rotors, with a revolution of 2.4:1 compared to engine revolution. Although the supercharger already has low-rotating friction under a non-boosting condition, Nissan adopted the electromagnetic clutch—driven directly by the ECU—for further friction reduction. For boost pressure control, the engine uses a bypass valve upstream of the throttle valve.

An air-cooled intercooler is downstream of the supercharger; Nissan said that this is important to maintain knock quality using Miller cycle on the boost condition. It alo makes it easy to control the charged air volume along with recirculation under partial boost conditions.


  • Atsushi Kobayashi, Takeshi Satou, Hiroshi Isaji, Sho Takahashi and Takeshi Miyamoto (2012) Development of New I3 1.2L Supercharged Gasoline Engine (SAE 2012-01-0415)

May 30, 2012 in Engines, Fuel Efficiency | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

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