By Pat Davis, Vehicle Technologies Program Manager, Department of Energy (DOE)
“May you live in interesting times” can be either a blessing or a curse. Needless to say, those of us who work in the transportation sector are certainly living in interesting times, full of challenges and opportunities. Electrifying our vehicle fleet offers an abundance of both, making it a particularly exciting area for us at the Department of Energy (DOE).
As the manager for the U.S. Energy Department’s Vehicles Program, I lead a team working to get the most out of our cars and trucks, while minimizing their appetite for oil. Right now, 60 percent of the petroleum used in America fuels on-road vehicles—both consumer and commercial. A little less than half of this petroleum is imported, costing our country more than $1 billion every day. In addition to the national security implications of our dependence on foreign oil, our transportation sector also creates about one-third of America’s greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
Although these figures may paint a daunting picture of the challenge ahead, I’m optimistic about meeting our transportation needs in more sustainable ways. Plug-in vehicles that run on domestically-produced electricity offer environmental, social, and economic benefits, and the variety and the quantity of electric and hybrid cars and trucks on the road is increasing. Car makers are rolling out new models; while the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are the most widely available models now, manufacturers are planning on introducing more than two dozen new plug-in vehicle models over the next two years. Tax incentives help more people have access to this cutting-edge technology and many cities are updating plans and policies for the charging infrastructure to be ready for these new vehicles.
We’re seeing incredible technologies emerge from the research we fund at our national laboratories and other research institutions. In particular, the cost of batteries is dropping dramatically. Our research has already helped lower the cost of advanced lithium ion batteries by 50 percent in the last few years. We’re on track to lower it another 50 percent, bringing it down to $300/kWhr by 2015. By the end of the decade, we hope to have it even lower – $125/kWhr. Lowering battery cost will help lead to less expensive plug-in vehicles and potentially increase their all-electric range. Many of these breakthroughs have come about through improvements in battery components. For example, Envia recently announced that they are close to building battery cells that cost less than half as much as existing ones. Cathode technology developed at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory with support from DOE contributed to this leap forward.
Lightweight materials also offer great promise, because lighter vehicles require less energy to operate. For every 10 percent in vehicle weight reduction, you could save fuel 6-8 percent on fuel. For electric cars, it means smaller batteries and lower costs. DOE is focused on reducing costs and widening the use of aluminum, magnesium, high strength steel, and carbon fiber composites.
Last year I participated in a roundtable dinner in Washington D.C, hosted by IBM and attended by General Motors, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Electric Drive Transport Association, MIT, and PEPCO Holdings. It was a general consensus that the combination of these upcoming advances and the urgent necessity to transform our fleet and the energy infrastructure brings us to a unique point in history. At the Department of Energy, we believe that electric drive offers great promise, we’re also continuing to research complementary technologies and smarter systems, such as advanced combustion and alternative home-grown fuels from non-food sources such as wood and waste streams. In addition, we look to industry and local governments to do their part. We encourage manufacturers to take the long view of these technologies by continuing on their push to produce more efficient vehicle models that meet consumers’ needs. We advise local governments to think holistically about their citizens’ transportation choices, including plug-in vehicles and by helping to put in place policies that support the introduction of those technologies. Most of all, we support efforts to learn from the best practices of others. Sharing a common vision will help all of us move forward to a more sustainable transportation future.
Today kicks off #EVweek. Join us for a weeklong discussion on Electric Vehicles. Follow #EVWeek to participate in a Twitter Chat on April 12, from noon to 1pm ET @smarterplanet. For more information, visit: http://storify.com/smarterplanet/p4spchat-electric-vehicle-adoption