Batteries: The new Bubble? – Information Technology Essay
What exactly defines a “bubble”? By definition “bubble economies occur when asset prices rise to a point where they become grossly over valued. They often fuel their own rise. Soaring stock valuations makes people feel wealthy,
so they spend more money, which fuels earnings, which in turn fuels stock prices. Many analysts say that all known bubble economies throughout history have ended with a crash. Once you reach the point where you run out of buyers, down is the only possible direction for equities to head (A1).”
We are now recovering from the Internet bubble that defined the 90’s and heading into a new era. Many people are wondering what the next big bubble will be. An area that has received much publicity and talk is batteries. Will batteries be the next big bubble? Will new technologies prevail over current ones and will people make the switch from gasoline powered cars to hybrid cars? There are many opinions regarding this topic. Some say heading into the future is inevitable and new battery technologies will take over, while others remain adamant that the world’s economy relies on the oil market and will crash if there is a significant drop in gas usage.
There are many new technologies regarding batteries being developed today. Some of the ones that will be discussed are fuel cell technologies, lithium ion batteries, nickel metal hydride batteries, and of course the emergence of hybrid cars.
While researching information for this paper, I realized that the area that interested me most was fuel cell technologies, and I have therefore decided to devote the bulk of this paper to discussing the future of fuel cells. Fuel cells are now entering their fifth cycle of attempts to become commercial. Companies stopped development in the past due to often failed attempts. Will the fact that we have more advanced materials available today contribute to the future development of fuel cells? (A2)
Fuel cell batteries are used to conserve energy and to generate electrical power mainly to cars and homes. It works like a battery that never wears out. “A fuel cell is an electrochemical energy conversion device that converts hydrogen and oxygen into water, producing electricity and heat in the process. It differs from an ordinary battery because instead of recharging used electricity, a fuel cell uses hydrogen and oxygen (A3).” When operated directly on hydrogen, the fuel cell produces energy with clean water as the only by-product making it virtually pollution free. Unlike a battery, which is limited to the stored energy within, a fuel cell is capable of generating power as long as fuel is supplied. The proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) is one of the most promising technologies. This is the type of fuel cell that will end up powering cars, buses and maybe even homes (A3). Some types of fuel cells are designed for use in power generation plants, while others may be useful for small portable applications or for powering cars.
There are several types of fuel cells that have been developed and each type uses different materials and operates at a different temperature. There are nine types of fuel cells in development; phosphoric acid fuel cells, proton exchange membrane or solid polymer fuel cells, molten carbonate fuel cells, solid oxide fuel cells, alkaline fuel cells, direct methanol fuel cells, regenerative fuel cells, zinc air fuel cells, and protonic ceramic fuel cells.
Phosphoric acid is commercially available today. More than 200 fuel cell systems have been installed all over the world – in hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, office buildings, schools, utility power plants, an airport terminal, landfills and waste water treatment plants. “Phosphoric acid fuel cells (PAFC) generate electricity at more than 40% efficiency — and nearly 85% of the steam this fuel cell produces is used for cogeneration — this compares to about 35% for the utility power grid in the United States (A4).” Operating temperatures are in the range of 300 to 400 degrees F (150 – 200 degrees C). One of the main advantages of phosphoric acid fuel cells is that they can use impure hydrogen as fuel. Phosphoric acid fuel cells can withstand a carbon monoxide concentration of about 1.5 percent, which widens the choice of fuels that can be used. However if gasoline is used, the sulfur must be removed. There are a few disadvantages regarding phosphoric acid fuel cells. First, it uses expensive platinum as a catalyst. It generates low current and power in comparison to other types of fuel cells, and it generally has a large size and weight. Phosphoric acid fuel cells, however, are the most highly developed fuel cell technology (A4). The United Technology Corporation fuel cells division has been producing PAFC power plants since 1991. PAFC’s are used mainly for stationary applications because the power plants are large and heavy and require a warm up time (A5).
Proton exchange membranes (PEM) operate at relatively low temperatures (about 175 degrees F or 80 degrees C), have high power density, can vary their output quickly to meet shifts in power demand, and are suited for applications, such as in automobiles where quick startup is required. According to the Department of Energy, “they are the primary candidates for light-duty vehicles, for buildings, and potentially for much smaller applications such as replacements for rechargeable batteries (A4).” The proton exchange membrane is a thin plastic sheet that allows hydrogen ions to pass through it. This type of fuel cell is, however, sensitive to fuel impurities (A4).
Ballard Power is a Canadian based company that has developed a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell available for both stationary and vehicular applications. Ballard has manufacturing facilities in Canada, the United States and Germany. Ballard’s main line of business is developing, manufacturing and marketing proton exchange membrane fuel cell products. Ballard’s fuel cells convert natural gas, methanol, and hydrogen into zero-emissions power. Their business operates in three market segments; “PEM fuel cells, fuel cell engines, fuel cell components and electric drive systems for the transportation segment, portable and stationary fuel cell power generators and power electronics for the power generation segment, and carbon fiber products primarily for automotive transmissions, and gas diffusion electrode materials for the PEM fuel cell industry, for the material products segment (A6).” Ballard has recently teamed up with Ford and Daimler-Benz to develop a clean vehicle engine comparable in size, speed, and operating life to traditional ones. Ballard is also commercializing electric drives for fuel cell and other electric vehicles, power conversion products, and is a Tier 1 automotive supplier of friction materials for power train components. Some of the cars that have a Ballard fuel cell engine are the Mercedes Sprinter, the Ford Focus FCV, the Mazda Premacy, the Jeep Commander 2, and about 4 other “Necar” models made by Daimler Chrysler. These cars are currently undergoing field testing, mainly in Europe. Ballard is the leader in the fuel cell industry, continuing to develop products for the portable, stationary and transportation markets. Their goal is to be the leading supplier of high quality, low cost, PEM fuel cell products and to be the first to offer them in mass markets (A6).
Plug Power is another company that develops on site, electricity generation systems using PEM fuel cells. They are based in Latham, New York and focus primarily on residential applications. Plug Power is focused on commercializing PEM fuel cells systems ranging in size from 1 kilowatt to 100 kilowatts. Plug’s mission is to “help transform the energy industry in ways that will positively impact our economy, our society and our environment (A7).” One of the field studies that Plug has participated in is the Verizon Communications Fuel Cell Demonstration Program. Verizon Communications, Tyco Electronics Installations Services and Plug Power Inc. have adapted a field trial at Albany International Airport to promote learning in the areas of fuel cell installation and performance in telecommunications applications. “This one-year program, launched in July2003 and funded by The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), is proving the operational characteristics of fuel cells and providing Verizon and Plug Power with data on the application of fuel cells
in the telecom industry (A8).” Verizon hired Plug Power to administer two fuel cell systems for a one-year field trial at Albany International Airport. A 5-kilowatt prototype system, which was installed back in July 2003, is scheduled to be replaced later with the GenCore™5T, Plug Power’s first fuel cell product designed specifically to provide extended run back-up power for the telecommunications industry. These systems will work to produce back-up power for Verizon’s remote telecommunications equipment, which provides wire-line service to the businesses in the airport’s vicinity. To test the fuel cell systems’ performance, a grid failure simulation is run three times a week. During these outages, the fuel cell serves as the primary back-up source releasing power directly onto the telephone equipment. This job is usually done by multiple strings of gel-type lead acid batteries. Fuel cells allow for long durations of back-up power, enhancing the remote network and bringing it closer to the testing standards of the central telecom office (A8).
Nuvera Fuel Cells is an Italian based company. They believe that in 20 years a hydrogen society will exist and fuel cells will be the power of choice. Their goal is to provide proton exchange membrane fuel cell technologies and products for automotive, distributed generation, and commercial / industrial applications. Nuvera prides in the differences its products have such as its fuel cell stacks. Among other things, Nuvera’s fuel cell stacks are highly efficient, compact, lightweight, and durable and can withstand severe vibration and shock. Nuvera has built more than 500 fuel cell stacks to date (December 2002), from 100W to 50kW. Today Nuvera’s product line is made up of primarily PEM fuel stacks and fuel processors for automotive usage. Nuvera believes that it has constructed the nearest PEM fuel cell technology ready to be commercialized.
The “Andromeda” is designed specifically for the tough performance, volume and weight requirements of the passenger car market. This fuel cell is only available to car manufacturers for prototype testing and developmental purposes. “Star”, one of Nuvera’s other PEM products, is also intended for usage in the automotive market and is a gasoline fuel processor. Nuvera is currently working with car manufacturer, Renault, to test Star’s effectiveness in laboratory trials. Perhaps the most technologically advanced innovation that Nuvera has developed to date is “Gemini”. Gemini is also specifically intended for the automotive market, and it is a fuel processor that uses twin technologies to simultaneously produce hydrogen and power. The difference between Gemini and Star is Gemini’s ability to start a fuel cell vehicle in less than a minute. Nuvera believes that a drivable prototype will be ready by 2008 (A9).
“Molten carbonate fuel cells use a liquid solution of lithium, sodium and/or potassium carbonates, soaked in a matrix for an electrolyte.(A4)” They yield high fuel-to-electricity efficiencies, about 60% normally , and operate at about 1,200 degrees F or 650 degrees C. MCFC’s need these high operating temperatures in order to achieve sufficient conductivity of the electrolyte. “The high operating temperature serves as a big advantage because it allows higher efficiency and the flexibility to use more types of fuels and inexpensive catalysts as the reactions involving breaking of carbon bonds in larger hydrocarbon fuels occur much faster as the temperature is increased. A disadvantage to this, however, is that high temperatures enhance corrosion and the breakdown of cell components (A4).” Carbonate fuel cells for stationary applications have been successfully demonstrated in Japan and Italy (A4).
Solid oxide fuel cells are another highly promising fuel cell. They are intended for use in big, high-power applications such as industrial and large-scale central electricity generating stations. Manufacturers predict the use of SOFCs in motor vehicles. “One type of SOFC uses an array of meter-long tubes, and other variations include a compressed disc that resembles the top of a soup can. Tubular SOFC designs are closer to commercialization and are being produced by several companies around the world (A4).”
Global Thermoelectric is a subsidiary of FuelCell Inc. and is a world leader in the development of solid oxide fuel cell technology and is also the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of thermoelectric power generators for use in remote locations. “Global has developed a proprietary micro-structure which gives its fuel cells very high power densities. Because SOFCs require only simple reforming and can even reform hydrocarbon fuels internally within the stack they have a significant advantage in today’s marketplace (A10).”
NASA has been using alkaline fuel cells for quite a while on space missions. These cells can achieve power generating efficiencies of up to 70 percent. They were used on the Apollo spacecraft to provide both electricity and drinking water. Until recently they were too expensive for commercial usage, but several companies are trying to find ways to reduce costs and improve operating flexibility (A4).
Direct methanol fuel cells are similar to the PEM cells in that they both use a polymer membrane as the electrolyte. “However, in the DMFC, the anode catalyst itself draws the hydrogen from the liquid methanol, eliminating the need for a fuel reformer. Because of the low operating temperatures this fuel cell is attractive for tiny to mid-sized applications, to power cellular phones and laptops (A4).” A major problem, however, is fuel crossing over from the anode to the cathode without producing electricity. Many companies have said they solved this problem. They are working on DMFC prototypes resembling the ones used by the military for powering electronic equipment in the field (A4).
Energy Visions Inc. is a Canadian based company that is a leading developer of Direct Methanol Fuel Cells (DMFCs). EVI believes that DMFCs will be the first truly commercial portable fuel cells for two key reasons: “DMFCs use available, convenient liquid methanol rather than hydrogen gas as the fuel. EVI’s DMFC technology is based on using a flowing electrolyte technology that has shown significant efficiency and voltage improvements over other DMFC systems (A11).” EVI sees several advantages to its fuel cell. It operates efficiently in an alternating use duty cycle. It performs very well under start and stop conditions. The expected cost of the DMFC will be less than competing fuel cell technologies since it uses less catalyst, a less expensive membrane material and does not require fuel reforming. The system operates at 70 degrees Celsius, a temperature that does not require expensive materials. Heat transfer and fluid flow issues should be easy to engineer in the final product as a result (A11).
In a regenerative fuel cell water is separated into hydrogen and oxygen by a solar-powered electrolyser. Both the hydrogen and oxygen are transferred into the fuel cell which produces electricity, heat and water. The water is then circulated back to the solar-powered electrolyser and the process starts over. NASA is currently researching this type of fuel cell (A4).
A zinc air fuel cell usually has a gas diffusion electrode (GDE), a zinc anode separated by an electrolyte, and some form of mechanical separators. A major advantage is that there is a reversing process that takes only about 5 minutes to complete, eliminating the problem of a long battery recharging process. A major component that determines the amount of time a battery can operate relative to its weight is high specific energy, which ZAFC’s have a high level of. When ZAFC’s are used to power electric vehicles, they have proven to deliver longer driving distances between refuels than any other electric vehicle batteries of comparable weight. Because of the abundance of zinc on earth, the material costs for ZAFCs and zinc-air batteries are relatively low. Therefore zinc-air technology has a potential wide range of applications, from electric vehicles to consumer electronics (A4).
Metallic Power, a California based company, has developed a regenerative zinc fuel cell that is similar to a battery, but is environmentally friendly (no hydrocarbon emissions), quiet and is cost effective compared to hydrogen fuel cells. Their mission is “making clean power practical by developing cost-effective, easy to use, environmentally friendly products based on zinc fuel cell technology for a continuously growing set of demanding customers worldwide (A12).” The company’s target market is commercial power back up sources for the telecommunications industry. They are also currently exploring the opportunity to cross over into the market for backup and portable power sources for consumer and commercial use. In 2002 Metallic Power demonstrated the world’s first refuelable on road zinc fuel cell vehicle (A12).
Powerzinc is a renewable energy company based in California. Their main goal is investing, developing, and commercializing zinc-air energy products. Currently, Powerzinc is targeting primarily at the electric scooter markets of mainland China and Taiwan, with the U.S. neighborhood electric vehicles, and fleet markets, such as postal vans, industrial carts, and golf carts as their secondary target. After four years of research, Powerzinc has made a significant breakthrough in the zinc air fuel cell technology and has shown great promise in meeting the requirements for advancement in the electric vehicle market. The company’s newest goal is to focus on the development of zinc-air fuel cells for electric vehicle applications in order to meet the overwhelming market demand (A13).
The protonic ceramic fuel cell is a new type of fuel cell based on a ceramic electrolyte material that exhibits high protonic conductivity at elevated temperatures. “PCFCs share the thermal and kinetic advantages of high temperature operation at 700 degrees Celsius with molten carbonate and solid oxide fuel cells, while exhibiting all of the intrinsic benefits of proton conduction in polymer electrolyte and phosphoric acid fuel cells (A4).” The high operating temperature is necessary to achieve very high electrical fuel efficiency when using hydrocarbon fuels.
Protonetics is a research and development start-up company that was founded in 2000. They concentrate primarily on the development of fuel cells based on a proton-conducting ceramic electrolyte. The technology relies on protons being conducted through an electrolyte at temperatures of 750 degrees C. The company is targeting a 60% fuel efficiency with pipeline natural gas being oxidized directly at the anode (A4).
In today’s world we are always looking for a safer, if not better, alternative to an existing product. Lithium ion batteries may prove to be just that when the issue at hand is batteries. Alkaline, as well as conventional batteries have one serious drawback; they can’t be recharged. In an effort to replace non-rechargeable batteries, lead acid and nickel cadmium were introduced. Both these batteries are rechargeable, and both dominate today’s battery market. Despite the fact that they are rechargeable, these batteries have some drawbacks; they run out of charge too quickly, even when not in use and they have a tricky “memory effect” that causes a loss of capacity. Besides those problems, consumers should be aware that certain elements such as lead and cadmium are highly toxic. However, because the market for rechargeable batteries seems to be growing every day, as does demand, there has been much research and development for making a lighter battery with increased energy capacity. Lithium ion batteries seem to show the most promise. First of all lithium is the lightest metal there is which in turn results in a high specific charge. Lithium also provides a higher voltage and is not damaging to the environment. There are two major types of lithium ion batteries, coke and graphite (B1).
Sony commercialized the first lithium ion battery in 1991 from coke, and many manufacturers followed soon after, making the lithium ion battery the fastest growing battery chemistry in the world. Today most manufacturers, including Sony make a graphite version (B1). “The new graphite electrode provides a flatter discharge voltage curve than the coke electrode and offers a sharp knee bend, followed by a rapid voltage drop before the discharge cut off point (B2).” As a result, the graphite Li-ion needs to be discharged to only 3.0V per cell whereas Sony’s coke version must be discharged to 2.5V to be able to perform at its maximum capacity. In addition, the graphite version is capable of delivering a higher discharge current and remains cooler during charge and discharge than the coke version (B2). The lithium ion battery market has been dominated by Japanese manufacturers such as Sanyo and the Japan Storage company. Today lithium ion batteries are the market leader as the power source for cell phone and laptop computers (B3).
The nickel metal hydride battery is quickly replacing the nickel cadmium battery because it does not suffer from the “memory effect” that the NiCad does. The term “memory” basically is described as the battery “remembers” its usual discharge point and superficially needs a charge whenever it hits that point. When experimentation with nickel metal hydride began, the metal hydride alloys were unstable in the cell environment and the chemists could not reach their desired goals. As a result, the development of nickel-metal hydride slowed down. In the 1980’s new hydride alloys were developed that were stable enough for use in a cell. Since then, nickel-metal hydride has steadily improved. Nickel metal hydride batteries have been successful because they have a high energy density and they use environmentally friendly materials. The modern nickel-metal hydride offers up to 40% higher energy density compared to the standard nickel-cadmium. The replacement of nickel cadmium batteries with nickel metal hydride ones can be seen in the wireless communications and mobile computing market sectors. Experts agree that the nickel-metal hydride battery has greatly improved over the years, however there are still some limitations. It is widely accepted that nickel-metal hydride is a temporary step to conversion over to lithium-based battery technology (C1).
Some of the advantages of using nickel metal hydride batteries are that they have a 30-40% higher capacity than standard nickel-cadmium and still have potential for yet higher energy densities. NiMh’s are less prone to memory than nickel-cadmium especially since fewer exercise cycles are required. They also have simple storage and transportation because transport is not subject to regulatory control. Nickel metal hydrides are also environmentally friendly and only contain mild toxins. This type of battery also has several disadvantages. NiMh’s have limited service life which means that their performance starts to deteriorate after 200-300 cycles if repeatedly deeply cycled. They also have a relatively short storage period of three years. Although NiMh’s are capable of delivering high discharge currents, heavy loads reduce the battery’s cycle life. With nickel metal hydrides a more complex charge algorithm is needed. The charge time with a nickel metal hydride is slightly longer than nickel cadmium since the NiMh generates more heat during the charging process. They also have a 50% higher self-discharge than nickel cadmium. Nickel metal hydrides need to be stored in cool temperatures or else performance levels are reduced. NiMH’s require high maintenance because they require regular full discharge to prevent crystalline formation (C1).
In October of 1990, Sanyo released the first ever nickel hydride battery, the Twicell. It has since then earned a strong reputation as being a high performance, high capacity, and high quality battery. In November 1996, Sanyo was the first manufacturer in the world to achieve 300 million cells accumulatively. The Twicell is intended for use in notebook computers, cellular phones, PHS phones, telecommunications equipment video cameras, digital still cameras, PDA’s, shavers, electric toothbrushes, and other various portable equipments (C2).
Energizer also came out with a nickel metal hydride battery called the Hi-Energy Nickel Metal Hydride. This battery provides more power and longer device run time. One Energizer nickel metal hydride AA battery replaces 35 reusable alkaline AA batteries, offering the consumer a more economical choice. The batteries are ideal for heavy battery users and are ideal for use in high tech devices (C3).
As we move into the future, the idea of a more environmentally friendly car seems to become more and more appealing. The hybrid cars currently on the market seem to be getting a lot of attention. There are quite a few reasons that make hybrid cars appealing including, getting better fuel economy, saving on gas, driving a less polluting vehicle, or maybe even getting a deduction on your taxes. Since 1999, 125,000 Americans have purchased hybrid cars, and the number is expected to continue to rise (D1). Hybrid cars use nickel metal hydride batteries and the battery is designed to last for the lifetime of the vehicle or between 150,000-200,000 miles (D2).
There are three hybrid cars available today on the market, the Honda Civic Hybrid, the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius, and six more models are expected to come out by 2005. Today’s hybrids use two motors to make the car run, including an electric one. It is hard to deny that hybrid cars are going to have a huge effect on our future. We live in a country where the government is concerned with the effects of global warming and is highly concerned with reducing the country’s dependence on oil. As a result, many automakers are seriously considering hybrid vehicles. The electric motor is recharged during driving both from the fuel burning in the internal combustion engine as well as through the energy released during braking. As a result, hybrid vehicles never need to be plugged in (D3). Depending on how the hybrid system is set up there are four possible ways for the vehicle to get its power. Either the gasoline engine or the electric motor may be able to drive the vehicle on its own or they may work in cycles to power the vehicle or the gasoline engine may be used to drive the electric motor, which in turn powers the vehicle.
With the two hybrids from Honda, the electric motor is used to assist the gasoline engine and cannot power the vehicle on its own. GM’s Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra hybrid pickups will operate in an almost identical manner when they are introduced and available this summer.
The Toyota Prius works slightly differently in that the electric engine is used to initially launch the vehicle from a stop and the gasoline engine only starts when more power is needed. Because of this, you can actually drive the Prius at low speeds without using the gasoline engine.
Both Honda and Toyota research has shown that the main reason people are buying hybrids is the improved gas mileage. All three vehicles show a significant improvement in fuel economy over similarly sized, comparable gasoline cars. However the mile per gallon average between hybrid cars differ due to driving style and whether travel is in the city or highway. By merging the best things a gasoline engine has to offer and the best things an electric engine has to offer, the hybrid is able to have a significant improvement in fuel economy. If a vehicle was powered strictly by an electric motor, it would be useless because it would offer limited driving range and require a long recharge time. To further improve fuel economy, hybrids use a feature known as regenerative braking. “In regenerative braking, when the vehicle’s brakes are applied or when it is coasting, the electric motor becomes a generator and captures the energy that would be lost as heat through the brakes. Once the energy is captured, it is transformed into usable electricity, which recharges the batteries and in turn increases the number of miles that can be traveled per gallon of gasoline (D1).” Because of this feature the city fuel economy sees an even greater improvement than highway fuel economy. Regenerative braking also reduces heat, which in turn lessens the wear and tear on the brakes, and affords owners to replace the brakes much fewer times than conventional brakes (D1).
General Motors will soon introduce two hybrid pickups that will have fuel economy improvements of one to two miles per gallon over their gasoline-powered counterparts. Current figures show that U.S. consumers use about 130 billion gallons of fuel in their personal vehicles a year, costing around $220 billion. Engineers at the EPA’s National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory claim that “if you drive a large SUV that gets 15 miles per gallon and is driven 20,000 miles a year, improving your vehicle’s fuel economy by just 2 miles per gallon would save you $270 per year (based on the current national average price of $1.70 per gallon), and you would also emit 1.4 tons less carbon dioxide annually, the primary culprit in global warming. The nationwide impact of a small improvement in fuel economy is huge (D1).” According to these calculations, if every personal-use vehicle in the United States were just one mile per gallon more fuel-efficient, America, would conserve about six billion gallons of gasoline every year, resulting in a savings of about $10 billion annually. Carbon dioxide emissions would also be reduced by more than 50 million metric tons every year (D1).
Even though the Honda Insight was the first hybrid offered for sale in the U.S, the Toyota Prius was actually the first of its kind to be put into production in 1997 in Japan. Honda’s Insight was available in December 1999 and featured a super-sleek two-door body made from aluminum and plastic and was priced at $19,570. However it seems as though the Insight was the least useful since it only had room for two people and didn’t have much power for doing things like climbing a steep hill (D1).
A year later, in 2000, Toyota began offering its Prius at a base price of $19,995. The Prius has been fully redesigned for 2004 and now is a true midsize sedan with more interior and cargo space, more power and better gas mileage. The Prius uses Toyota’s “Hybrid Synergy Drive” to combine an electric motor and a 1.5-liter gasoline engine, allowing the car to accelerate up to 60 mph from a stop in an impressive 10 seconds. Many might say that’s its hard to tell that the Prius is not a regular gas powered car (D1).
The newest hybrid that was introduced is the Honda Civic. Honda’s goal is to make hybrids more appealing to the average consumer. The hybrid Civic is priced at $20,650, and looks almost exactly like the gas powered Civic. Honda’s VTEC Controlled Cylinder Idling System, which closes the intake and exhaust valves of up to threw of the gas engine’s four cylinders during deceleration, reduces engine drag, allowing the electric motor to produce maximum resistance and allowing more electricity to recharge the car’s battery pack. Although the Civic is a major step up from the Insight some critics say that the Civic Hybrid doesn’t perform as well as it should, however its capabilities are respectable (D1).
Six hybrid vehicles are scheduled to arrive as 2005 models and a few others are being prepared for the 2006 model year. The Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra, Dodge Ram, Ford Escape, Honda Accord, Lexus RX 400h and Toyota Highlander are the cars that are expected to come out in 2005.
General Motors’ plans to eventually produce up to one million hybrids a year, in order to fulfill projected future demand. They plan on doing this by offering three different types of hybrids, each suited to a different consumer. One exceptional feature that these trucks will have is a 110-volt electrical outlet onboard, which will get its power from the electricity being generated from the vehicle and during regenerative braking. Passengers will be able to use this feature if they are camping or in a remote area and need to use their electronics. GM also has a number of other hybrid vehicles planned for the 2006 model year and beyond. The 2007 Saturn Vue will be equipped with a belt alternator starter system (BASS) along with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) for improved fuel economy. Although this car is not a full hybrid, it does work by using one of a typical hybrid’s features which is allowing the engine to shut off when not needed to conserve fuel. Expected in 2007 are hybrid versions of the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon SUVs. “These vehicles will be strong hybrids, meaning they will have the full advantages of the hybrid technology, which will in turn lead to a bigger increase in fuel economy compared with their pickup siblings (D1).”
DaimlerChrysler is unveiling its hybrid version of the Dodge Ram in the fall of 2005. Similar to the GM pickups, the hybrid Ram will also feature an onboard generator. The Ram version, however, will have multiple 110-volt outlets as well as a 220-volt outlet that can be used to plug in appliances (D1).
The Ford Escape Hybrid is scheduled to go on sale this summer and will look identical to the gasoline-powered Escape on the market today and be offered in both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions. Under the hood, the Escape will use an electric drive-train along with a four-cylinder gasoline engine. Just like the Honda and Toyota hybrids, the gas engine will shut down when the car comes to a stop, and will be restarted by the electric motor when the accelerator is pressed to avoid wasting fuel while idling in traffic. The hybrid version of the Accord is also scheduled to come out in the next year and will have an even higher level of performance than the current 240-horsepower V6 model. “The Accord Hybrid will use Honda’s IMA technology to combine an electric motor with a V6 engine. The Accord will also use engine cylinder deactivation to reduce fuel consumption even further. This technology, which Honda calls Variable Cylinder Management, will allow three of the engine’s six cylinders to be deactivated when they are not necessary such as during highway cruising (D1).”
Toyota plans on adding two hybrid SUV’s to their line, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid in late 2004 and the Lexus RX 400h in early 2005. The manufacturers claim that these vehicles will be comparable in performance to their V6 gasoline-powered counterparts, as their gas and electric power sources will produce a combined 270 horsepower. As for fuel economy, the SUV’s are expected to achieve a little over 28 miles to the gallon in combined city and highway driving and have a range of over 600 miles (D1).
In addition to DaimlerChrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda and Toyota and all of their subsidiary brands, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi and Nissan have hybrid vehicles in development. BMW has chosen not to experiment with hybrids, and is instead focusing all its efforts on hydrogen. It currently is testing a small number of 7 Series models equipped with internal combustion engines that run on hydrogen. BMW believes that hydrogen is the end solution and plan on bringing it to the market (D1).
It is undeniable that Toyota and Honda have led the way in hybrid technology. With the newly redesigned hybrids that are coming out, many people are starting to view hybrids as mainstream cars. Hybrid manufacturers hope that one day the first thought that will come to a consumer’s mind when purchasing a car will be to buy a hybrid.
The disadvantages associated with hybrid cars such as reduced performance, and not quite high enough fuel economy will soon become obsolete. Within a few months, manufacturers believe that the hybrids will perform just as well as today’s conventional higher-end family cars, with all the advantages that come with a hybrid. From an economic point of view, it is only fair to reason that as more vehicles enter the market and the technology continues to improve itself resale values will rise in the future (D1).
In conclusion, we can see that even with 20 pages of information on everything from fuel cells to hybrid cars, there is no telling whether batteries will be the next bubble. In my opinion, if hybrid car sales reach their projected amounts, and maybe even exceed it, then it is undeniable that battery technologies will continue to develop in order to meet demand and beat the technological race. In that case I see there being a surge in battery related stocks, similar to the Internet rush we experienced (hopefully ending better). However I am a person of caution, and even though many people don’t learn from the past, I think that it’s the best learning tool we have. Nothing is a guarantee; battery technologies might skyrocket through the roof and make many people very wealthy, or it may very well collapse. There are many factors that need to be considered. Many people claim that the world’s economy will not be able to survive a significant reduction in oil usage. Others are just thinking about environmental concepts, and have strong feelings about reducing pollution and waste and saving our earth. Either way, progression into the future is unstoppable and technology will continue to be developed every day. Whether batteries will be the next bubble or not? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!