Energy and Global Warming News for August 4th: GM boosts output of the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle; DuPont says it can boost lithium-ion battery power, lifetime, and safety; How ‘green’ are those hiking boots?

GM Boosts Output of the Chevrolet Volt Electric Vehicle

The buzz about electric vehicles (EVs) recently grew louder, as General Motors Corporation (GM) announced on July 30 that it will increase U.S. production capacity of its new Chevrolet Volt by 50% next year. Citing strong interest, GM said it will boost the number of units from 30,000 to 45,000 in 2012.

The announcement came as President Obama toured the Detroit-Hamtramck facility where the Volt is assembled. Earlier in the week, on July 27, GM confirmed that the 2011 Volt will have a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $41,000. The extended-range EV can qualify for a $7,500 tax credit. Chevrolet dealers have begun taking orders for sales as well as 36-month leases that could cost $350 per month and require a $2,500 down payment.

The Volt has 340-mile range, using electricity stored in its 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery to power it for the first 40 miles, and one tank of gasoline for the remaining 300 miles. The Volt will be available later this year in California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and the Washington D.C. area. See the GM press releases on Volt production and Volt pricing, and the Volt Web site.


DuPont says it can boost lithium-ion battery power, lifetime, and safety

DuPont is preparing for an early-2011 release of technology it says could dramatically increase the safety and performance of lithium-ion batteries and carve out a space for the U.S. chemical giant in the growing electric car market.

In a nutshell, DuPont’s battery separator called “Energain” is a nanofiber-based sheet designed as a barrier to prevent electrodes from touching and shorting out. That allows lithium ions to freely charge and discharge without interference.

DuPont claims its battery component would increase power 15 to 30 percent, increase battery life by up to 20 percent and help batteries operate better at high temperatures. If that’s the end result, electric cars would go farther on a single charge. More power could mean fewer battery requirements for today’s hybrid and electric cars. Further, the company said it wants to use the battery separator for renewable energy and power grid applications.

DuPont spokeswoman Cathy Andriadis called the technology a “critical steppingstone” for the company in the area of energy storage. By 2015, the company estimates, there will be a $7 billion annual market for high-performance lithium-ion batteries. That’s dominated by car batteries, but also includes some solar power and power grid storage applications.

The component also borrows from the burgeoning field of nanotechnology, in which scientists have been trying to produce smaller and lighter materials for all sorts of consumer products.

“We’ve been involved in batteries for a long time,” Andriadis said, “but in this case it’s a perfect example of how a paper-thin material can make a difference in the performance and lifetime of a battery.”

DuPont is going hunting for international customers. Andriadis said DuPont has signed confidentiality agreements with seven global auto companies and 20 battery makers to test the component and potentially purchase it.

How “green” are those hiking boots?

In a world where it’s so hot or dry that no one wants to hike, bike, run or climb, outdoorsy companies like Nike, Patagonia, REI and Timberland will be in deep trouble.

So it makes sense””and it’s certainly about time””for the companies that sell outdoor apparel and equipment to come up with common standards to measure the environmental impact of their products.This week, an industry group called the Outdoor Industry Alliance announced that its members have spent several years doing just that. The companies unveiled “a ground breaking environmental assessment tool” that they call an Eco Index, saying:

It provides companies throughout the supply chain a way to benchmark and measure their environmental footprint, allowing them to identify areas for improvement and make informed sourcing and product life cycle decisions.

U.S. needs clean tech investment

Innovative technological ideas that originate from small American manufacturing companies often go unrewarded. Why? Because often those companies don’t have the ability to take their innovations to the world through an aggressive exporting program.

Although the United States is the unequivocal leader in energy innovation, we lose out to countries like China and Germany when it comes to manufacturing equipment for solar energy, biofuels, fuel cells, water remediation and renewable power generation. These countries provide a host of incentives and recruitment advantages to lure companies away from the United States. Meanwhile, our small manufacturing facilities are often unable to secure even traditional bank loans.

As a result, our energy security, environmental security and our economic security are at risk. Something has to change. Right now, the United States is in a fierce competition to develop companies to generate and use energy more efficiently and cheaply. At stake is our global leadership, with the country that succeeds in developing and exporting clean technology products becoming the global economic leader and job creator.

U.S. Wind Power Installations Fall to 2007 Levels in Q2: Report

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) reported on July 27 that only 700 megawatts (MW) of wind power was added in the second quarter (Q2) of 2010, and painted a cloudy picture overall. AWEA noted that Q2 wind power installations dropped by 57% and 71% from 2008 and 2009 levels, respectively. The total installed U.S. wind capacity is now more than 36,300 MW. The trade group also pointed out that manufacturing investment lags below 2008 and 2009 levels.

According to AWEA, the 700 MW that was installed brought the first half U.S. total to 1,239 MW, a capacity level similar to 2007. And, even with more than 5,500 MW now under construction, AWEA projects that 2010 installations will likely be 25%-45% lower than 2009 installations. Beyond 2010, the amount of construction in the pipeline also drops off. Texas installed the most new wind power””202 MW””in Q2 with the Penescal II project for Iberdrola Renewables, providing power for San Antonio and the South Texas Electric Cooperative. Delaware added its first utility-scale project in the second quarter, a one-turbine project built by the University of Delaware. This brings the number of states with utility-scale installations to 37. One bright spot was that wind turbine orders saw a slight uptick in Q2, mostly for 2010 delivery. However, only two new wind power manufacturing facilities came online in the first half of 2010, compared to seven in 2008 and five in 2009.

Will Recycling Be A Selling Point For An Electric Car?

A small California town best known for growing much of the world’s lettuce and being the birthplace of John Steinbeck may soon be the home of a manufacturing operation meant to be among the auto industry’s most sustainable. That is, if all goes according to plan for ambitious startup Green Vehicles Inc.

Last week the California Energy Commission proposed to award Green Vehicles a $2.05 million grant to help set up a pilot plant in Salinas, Calif. for building small three-wheeled electric vehicles designed for easy disassembly and recycling. The company earned the highest score among 11 companies listed for awards (another dozen didn’t make the cut).

With the proposed CEC grant “” and additional equity investment that Green Vehicles is still working to drum up “” the company plans to start cranking out up to 2,000 units per year of what Mike Ryan, Green Vehicles’ co-founder and President, describes as Triac 2.0, within 16 months. This will be the second-generation version of the company’s Triac model, a three-wheeler classified as a motorcycle that Ryan said seats two people, carries a 23 kWh, 500-pound lithium-ion battery pack, has a 100-mile range, can go up to 80 MPH, and sells for $24,995. The car weighs about 800 pounds less than the 3,500-pound Nissan LEAF largely due to that absent fourth wheel, said Ryan.

Put a Price on Carbon to Help Small Business

As the Obama Administration pushes a small business jobs bill in the Senate, the centerpiece of which is a $30 billion small business lending fund, a much larger economic opportunity for small business is being lost as the Administration acquiesces in the Senate’s decision to put a comprehensive energy and climate bill on the shelf.

Putting a price on carbon would create new resources and incentives needed for utilities to invest in energy efficiency programs. Existing energy efficiency technology can be rapidly deployed to reduce small business energy consumption by 20 percent to 30 percent. Small businesses stand to benefit the most from the savings that energy efficiency can provide, and they deserve some special attention because they already pay the highest prices for electricity and natural gas””in the commercial and industrial sectors, small businesses face electricity prices that are as much as 30 percent to 52 percent higher than the prices paid by the largest entities.

In a report last year endorsing the on-bill financing (OBF) of small business energy efficiency, the National Small Business Assn., a trade group, found that a small business matching the national average could save nearly $5,000 annually on natural gas and electricity by improving energy efficiency 25 percent. Simple and creative financing like OBF can make a huge impact because it eliminates the need for small business up-front capital; instead the utility pays the up-front costs for energy efficiency improvements and repayment is based on the estimated monthly energy savings. In essence, the small business shares the savings with the utility until the loan is repaid.

Multiply $5,000 by 29.6 million small businesses in the U.S. and you have $148 billion in potential savings. Even Wall Street pays attention to that kind of number.

Ecuador signs $3.6bn deal not to exploit oil-rich Amazon reserve

How much would you pay for the most biologically rich patch of land on Earth — some 675 sq miles of pristine Amazon, home to several barely contacted indigenous tribes, thousands of species of trees and nearly 1bn barrels of crude oil?

Ecuador, home of the Galapagos Islands, the Andes mountain range and vast tracts of oil-rich rainforest, yesterday asked the world for $3.6bn not to exploit the Ishpingo-Tiputini-Tambococha oil block in the Yasuni national park. A knockdown price, it said, considering the oil alone is worth more than $7bn at today’s prices. The 407m tonnes of CO2 that would be generated by burning it could sell for over $5bn in the global carbon markets.

But neither the oil block nor the park is for sale, and under the terms of a unique, legally binding trust fund set up yesterday by the government and the UN, the oil and the timber in Yasuni will never be exploited.

Instead, donor countries, philanthropists and individuals around the world are being invited to pay the money in return for a non-exploitation guarantee.

DOE Awards $188 Million to Small Business for Clean Energy

DOE announced on August 2 that it will award $188 million””including $73 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding””to small businesses in 34 states to develop clean energy technologies with potential for commercialization. Funded through DOE’s Small Business Innovation Research program (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer program (STTR), the selections are for Phase II work. That means the 201 awards in 76 targeted topics will support the development of prototype or pilot operations for innovative technologies that have successfully passed the proof-of-concept stage. Targeted technology topics include the smart grid, energy efficient buildings, industrial energy use, and high performance computing.

DOE Offers $17 Million Loan for Battery Energy Storage in New York State

On August 2, DOE offered AES Energy Storage, LLC a conditional commitment for a loan guarantee for $17.1 million to support the construction of a 20-megawatt (MW) energy storage system using advanced lithium-ion batteries. This is the first battery-based energy storage system offered a loan guarantee by DOE. The AES project, located in Johnson City, New York, will help provide a more stable and efficient electrical grid for the state’s high-voltage transmission network.

Power plants typically maintain the “grid frequency regulation” needed to balance generation and consumption by burning more fossil fuels. The AES project eliminates this need to burn fossil fuels by using battery technology and new software to provide the same grid frequency regulation at a lower price. This advanced frequency regulation capability will allow renewable electricity generation to play a larger role in New York’s transmission network. The AES technology can help reduce carbon emissions by 70% compared to frequency regulation provided by fossil energy suppliers. DOE has now offered conditional commitments for loan guarantees to support 14 clean energy projects.