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GM Urges Feds to Fund Major Battery Research and Development Effort

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.




Detroit sucked in a $1Billion in tax payer money from the PNGV program, 1994-2001. Yet they delivered NOTHING!
Toyota & Honda were excluded from PNGV, but they delivered the first hybrid! Screw Detroit!

Rafael Seidl

DS -

not so fast. PNGV was set up to deliver a car with 80mpg fuel economy. At the time (mid-90s) the only technology that had any chance of getting close was diesel engines, which is what the project focussed on. Unfortunately, emissions standards were raised in the interim, to the point that the project had to be abandoned. The Bush administration folded its remnants into the Freedom Car project, which is supposed to deliver hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

If a greater fraction of those funds were redirected toward Li-ion research, the chances of getting high-MPG personal mobility anytime soon would be that much higher. Moreover, FCVs - if they ever make sense - would also benefit from hybridization, because it reduces the size of the required stack.

Moreover, note that Li-ion already dominates the consumer electronics and other mobile appliance markets (e.g. cordless power tools). Large Li-ion cells and/or packs can help load level solar and wind power as well as electricity distribution grids, including those used for light and heavy rail. There are probably plenty of other applications for large Li-ion beyond cars that haven't even been invented yet.

There is a reasonable argument that given such market potential, private investors will step up to the plate anyhow, so there is no need for government spending. In the present political climate (Pres. Bush calling for 20 in 10, Rep. Dingell D-Mich running the House Energy Subcommittee, the 2008 election cycle already in progess etc.) it is highly unlikely that any politician will show any fiscal restrain on any apparently green technology effort. So if public money is going to be used, better that it be used for something feasible.


PNGV was explicitly a "quid pro quo". In 1993, when Democrats controlled both Whitehouse & Congress , they agreed to the deal with the GOP that they would NOT raise CAFE in exchange Detroit would get funding via PNGV to deliver an 80 mpg car in 2004. Did Detroit deliver a 80 mpg car? A 70 mpg car? A 60 mpg car? A 50 mpg car? A 40 mpg car? How about a 30 mpg car? It's 2007 now and CAFE is still 27.5 mpg!
Euthanizing GM would be the best thing to happen to the US. At least some of it's functioning organs could be harvested.


The DOE matched Detroit funding for the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium. About $300 million was spent over a decade. Nothing seems to have been produced although the Consortium is highly satisfied with itself and will argue otherwise.

The offical Tesla motors web site scoffs at the USABC. But then the Tesla people seem to want to get something done, don't they.

Since 1992 there has been an Advanced Lead Acid Battery Consortium composed mostly of battery producers and the Detroit automakers. Despite the name it is not limited to lead-acid development and can try anything likely to improve electrical vehicles. As far as I know it had no government funding.

I have no objection to public funding for battery research. But exactly what will Detroit bring to the team? Would you hire them with your money?


This is promising. Very promising. Let's hope we get it right, the whole EV thing, because I feel that there won't be a "next" time.


The other big advantage for FCVs of hybridization is that not only would the stack be smaller, but its lifespan would be significantly improved by being used at a steady optimal state which reduces wear and tear on the membrane. Plug in Ultracap-battery-FC range extender hybrid anyone? As I see it the most useful thing the government can do is to make sure that research efforts are not hogged and definitely not suppressed. Even if that means buying out the patents with chunks of cash if need be.



PNGV was developing not just diesel car. It was diesel powered hybrid-electric. And yes, the program was wastly ineffective.

Some of the federal money spent on batteries research did not vanished in vein. Current A123 batteries are spin-off of MIT research, partially funded by feds.

My personal impression (and partially experience) is that SBIR is the most effective organization to manage federal R&D spending.


Honda has the right idea. Encourage performance based achievements, not specific technologies.


From a defense of our nation perspective, we need domestic production capability for Lithium Ion batteries. The A123 batteries are made in Asia, and we should not trade foreign dependance of one item (gas) for another (batteries).

And the other item is to establish a consumption based pricing structure for transportation fuel, where the more you above baseline, the more you pay, just like the pricing structure used for water and electricity.

Third, we need a committment to purchase Lithium Ion batteries, such that the R&D costs are covered, so that the price for vehicle energy storage systems is a low as production costs will allow.

Lastly, we need the Government to invoke National Security to bypass the legal knott the NIMBYs have used to keep us transferring and storing our spent nuclear fuel in a federal government owned, operated and defended monitored retrievable storage facility.

The question we must ask ourselves now, is why are waiting till the next terriorist attack to take effective action?


"How about a 30 mpg car?"

My 1996 Ford Escort got 31 mpg in all city driving faithfully. Sadly my Ford Focus falls short of that. Nicer more comfortable car but the gas mileage sucks. I guess they felt that since the SUV's suck in gas mileage the cars should too.


Beg my pardon, that would be DARPA.


You are certainly right. Currently the only one mass production rechargeable Li-ion battery factory (2 million cylindrical cells per year) in North America operates in BC, Canada:


E-One Moli Energy is Singapore company, utilizing battery technology developed in University of British Columbia.

Electro Energy (EEEI) in US is currently refurbishing formerly Energizer factory for production of different batteries, incloding advanced Li. EEEI is supplier of batteries for US AF


My 1996 Ford Escort got 31 mpg in all city driving faithfully

So why hasn't CAFE been raised pass 27.5 mpg, the level it's been since 1985? The answer is Detroit gets whatever it wants from Washington.


Tax gasoline & diesel at progressively higher rates, and federal funding for battery research will be superfluous.

Roger Pham

The direct end result of PNGV is the Prius and the upcoming version is rumored to deliver over 90mpg.
The results of Freedom Car is H2 carbon-fiber storage technology and ever-improving FC technology and perhaps also high-temp electrolysis of water with double the electrical efficiency.
If we now combine the fruits of these two programs together, we will have a 100-mpkg Prius, with a Quantum 4kg hydrogen tank costing under $2000 USD, capable of 400-mi range. The Prius engine can also benefit from Sandia lab's direct hydrogen injection research with multi-mode diesel-like operation that promises 45% thermal efficiency or higher.

I've discussed in previous postings that an integrated H2 gasification and high-temp electrolysis center coupled with a dispensing station all in one location can reduce any inefficiency involved with H2 transportation and distribution, such that 1kg of H2 can be produced from wind electricity at ~$2.50-$3.00 USD, or even less, from waste cellulosic biomass, at $2.00 USD! The neat thing is that the O2 released from the high-temp electrolysis can be fed directly into the gasifier in the biomass or coal gasification process, thus eliminating any cost associated with the acquisition and transporting of O2 from external sources! An urban center with population of 1 million having 10mi x 10mi areas (100 square miles) will only need one H2 station in the center, resulting in on average only a ~4-5 mile trip to the H2 filling station.

DOE data reveals that the total US yearly consumption of gasoline is 140 billion gallons, whereas waste biomass can be gasified to produce 66 billions of kg (gal. of gasoline equivalent) of H2. This means that the typical H2-HEV or H2-PHEV vehicles having over twice the energy efficiency as comparable gasoline cars will be able to meet all driving needs with waste biomass alone. H2 can also substitute for diesel fuel in diesel engines with some modification. Liquid H2 can also power future jetliners.

The fruit of the PNGV and Freedom Car programs in combination can result in petroleum independence and GHG-neutral transportation in the very near future if my above vision will be adopted.

Who can now dare say that Government research funding is a waste of money? Sure, the direct beneficiaries of gov. grants do not always produce the desirable results, but maybe their competitors will, and eventually, our knowledge base will increase, and many more future innovations can come out of the knowledge thus gained.


"tax credits should be focused on technologies that have the greatest potential to actually reduce petroleum consumption" + "Government should continue incentives for: the manufacture of biofuel-capable flex fuel vehicles" = Same old lie from Detroit...

"technology-specific mandates cannot get us where we need to go". = truth from Honda

Flex fuel CAFE loophole is the only thing holding Detroit above water... Corn>ethanol=sham/boondoggle.


One reason why the earlier effort failed is that fuel prices were very low then and it was more of an acedemic exercise. Also, customers were not very interested in MPG then.

The situation is different today with fuel prices high and no real prospect of falling due to the emergence of China and India.

Hence, now might be a good time to put some federal money into batteries (and Eu Money while you'r at it).


the ford focus fusion gets an average milage of 55-60mpg ...
here in europe.

Just rise the price of gasoline to 8$ and you will have a 80-100mpg car soon.


Different gasoline, different gallons, different test cycles.

In GB 2 liter Focus gets 28/50 mpg, EEC test cycle:


In US same 2 liter Focus (with lower compression ratio due to lower octane gasoline) gets 26/34 mpg, EPA test cycle.

And by the way, Focus and Fusion are different cars.



You are so right!!!!!!!

Sorry if a bit off topic but did anyone notice a press release from panasonic that they have just bumped the capcity of their 18650 cell from 2.9 Ah to 3.6?

Thats a 24% increase. Take one Telsa roadster @ 250mi by 1.24 and you get (Right now today) 310 mi of range.

What a nice cherry to give to your customers on the first deliveries.




Just rented "Who killed the electric car".
I don't think I will ever consider buying a GM car now.


One thing to remember is that alot of the s called feener gas fuels that were mandated to curb air pollurion also had the effect of drasticaly lowering fuel econ.
So we in general are talking about a fuel thats 20% less effiecent and a gallon thats much smaller ad a test thats completely different and gives higher milage scores across the board...

Add to this the fact that small engines never caufht on in the us mainly due to ifiots screwing up the freeway system in the name of stupidity incarnate and we have a rea; mess.

Soooo you have bad fuel combined with an engine that has to be 3x as powerfulbecause some witless wonder made the merge lane 2 feet long and the freeway 1/3rd capcity add to that traffic because the freeway is jammed and add a lovely sprinkle of traffic accidents again because the road is dangerous and overloaded...

Many cities were allowed to expand vastly beyond thier freewauy/roadway abilties to cope. Frankly I thik step one on battling co2 is to ban all expansions in every city unyil they have proven ability to jamndle the traffic generated and of course current traffic WITH NO TRAFFIC JAMS AT ALL.

In 1875 people drove low power cars because it was cheap on fuel and SAFE nd that was because the roads were designed for the traffic of the day. You could take 30 seconds to get to speed. Now even a freaking nascar raer would have trouble getting to speed in time.

tom deplume

If Detroit got everything they wanted from the feds then there would be a $30,000 tarriff on each imported car. Since Detroit doesn't get what it wants it has had to become an importer of both foreign cars and parts.
As for the PNGV they produced a car that was bigger than the Prius and got 50% better mileage. But this was when gas was $1 gal so there was no incentive to pay the extra cost.


There IS at least one company trying to develop domestic lithium-ion battery manufacturing, and it's production facility is adjacent to GM structures in Indianapolis: EnerDel, a subsidiary of Ener1 of Fort Lauderdale. It has received a little bit of cash from the US Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC) and modest financing from Credit Suisse, but has been operating well below the radar. It's main competition is Johnson Controls of Milwaukee and A123, although there are certainly many other players in the space.


In 1875 people drove low power cars because President Grant insisted. He stuck to horses and carriages and still got a speeding ticket :)

'As for the PNGV they produced a car that was bigger than the Prius and got 50% better mileage.'

If the PNGV was so great then where is it? Is it built in Europe where people buy small cars because of high gasoline costs? (actually, thanks. I am now curious enough to research the PNGV but don't have time this morning)

Roger Pham

Putting tariff on foreign car imports is not a good way to raise the technological level for domestic carmakers. Much better way is to mandate stricter fuel efficiency standard and other competitive standards requirement for domestically produced cars, via carrot-and-stick approach, so that a domestic car can compete in world-wide auto markets. Instead, Washington has been in cohoot and yielding to Detroit via the abscence of stricter CAFE standard and instead, giving grants like the PNGV program without a specific mandate in return for the money given. Without strong incentive for innovation and higher fuel efficiency, this is what we are getting, a weaken domestic automobile industry. It's just like giving money to a child so that he can study, but without asking in return for any academic performance achievement. Of course, the child will pocket the money but instead of focusing on studying to make better grades, the child plays video games because it's more fun.

The government should act like a teacher or a master and giving out goals and standards for achievement, and not an instrument of Big Lobby, big interest groups who are bent on profiteering at the expense of the society's good as a whole.

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