Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Death of Fuel Cells; Al-Air

What if you could get a range extender like the Rx on the BMW but with one key difference? This one runs on stored electricity.  What if you wanted a fuel cell like the Toyota Murai but did not live a reasonable distance from the Hydrogen refueling station (assuming your state has one that is)

That day might be less than two years away.  Last Summer Nissan announced they were partnering with a small Israeli tech company for battery technology that they hoped to start manufacturing in 2017. Phinergy had developed the Al-Air battery which uses stored electricity of refined Aluminum and water to produce electricity and heat. Later that year they successfully tested a prototype that was able to go 330 km on a battery pack weighing just 55 kgs (121 lbs) . They also tested a car with an 1800 mile range using a pack that weighs "as much as" 440 lbs.

Now, I say as much as because half the "battery weight" is actually water that can be added at any time by the user.  The formula is one kg of Al plus one kg of water makes 8.1 Kwh of energy.  Half electricity, half heat. With 4 kwh of power for every 4.4 lbs of "fuel" we are now seeing a power output of nearly one kwh per pound.  Needless to say, this is a "bit" of an improvement over the 90 miles we can get out of the 660 lb 24 kwh LEAF traction pack.

So with this truly slack jawed performance, why isn't everyone running head on into this? Well, that is actually a very good question that I don't really have an answer for.  So, what do we know?

Al-Air is not new technology. In fact,  it was "the best hope for energy storage for the future." Now that statement was made in the 1970's!   So why isn't it?  Well the big problem was maintaining the environment within the battery which is difficult to do because... Oh wait! forgot to mention that there is a 3rd component to the technology and that is Oxygen. It also needs a Kg of O2 to work and Phinergy's Al-Air battery will simply suck that out of the air. Sounds convenient? well, in the previous 50 years, no one has been able to figure out how to get the O2 out of air and only the O2.

Now, our atmosphere is basically 80% nitrogen and 20% oxygen, so there is plenty of O2 there but the problem is there is also other junk (that we put there) that messes everything up.  CO2 completely screws up the chemical reaction of Al-Air reducing its effectiveness and reliability but Phinergy has figured out a way to suck up the O2 without getting any of the CO2.  So its possible that the science is still in question.  Prototypes are one thing but mass manufacturing will not work if the we cannot reproduce the performance in bulk reliably at a reasonable cost.  Phinergy estimates a manufacture-able  production ready pack by 2017-2018.

The other thing is the end user adding water.  Any time the customer is involved, that opens up the possibility of messing things up.  Even something as simple as adding distilled water.  We still don't know how sensitive this new technology will be to outside contaminants so adding water carelessly could leave you stranded unexpectedly.  The same goes with the Aluminum.  Phinergy's solution would be having service stations where packs can be swapped out. Now, we already know that Better Place did not work but would people do it for 500 miles of range instead of 80? Definitely something to think about.

There is also the 50% efficiency factor.  Aluminum is very energy intensive to produce and some might not be too happy with a 50% return on the energy invested.  Due to its very high power demands, Aluminum plants can only be placed near very large power sources.

Finally, there is a cost of infrastructure that needs to be investigated. Phinergy only says it will "be much cheaper than current options" which could mean just about anything.

But there is also an up side; a very big one!

**Aluminum is the most abundant metal on the planet. Unlike lithium which is common but not nearly so,  there is a nearly endless supply and no worries about dealing with resistant countries with unstable governments or countries with weird World views. We and our allies have plenty Aluminum right here.

**Yes, it takes a lot of power to make Aluminum out of Bauxite (the rock that mined to make the Aluminum)  but Aluminum is one of the most recyclable metals on the planet and unlike plastics or paper, it can be recycled endlessly and the recycling process uses 95% less power than Bauxite.

**Did I mention weight?  Imagine a sealed unit light enough to carry that would add 50 miles of range. Phinergy does not mention any scale-ability but what if they could package them in 50 mile units? What if Nissan could create a "plug and play" interface that could allow one, two or more of these 50 mile cells to be plugged in?  Range customization as easy as stopping at 7-Eleven to drop off the spent cell for a new one. Simply add water and drive.  Besides its exactly this kind of supply side marketing that will get the big money behind it.   The thought of getting your electricity from the Sun was never in "their" wheelhouse.  But this is an easy way to sell marked up convenience for a fee. But the real benefit is nearly no infrastructure build up required.  Very large packs would need to be done professionally but those could be done several days in advance of a big trip, which all means...

**Flexibility is unparalleled here. Al-Air has no time sensitive storage issues. Unlike Hydrogen, it will not leak a single electron over time. Unlike Lithium, it can remain at full charge for years without losing a single foot of range.  It is simply there when you need it and only when you need it. A smart move would have the LEAF bump the range to no more than 120 miles or so. Add an expandable Al-Air pack that can add up to 300 miles of range. Remember half the expected weight is water. Something you can pick up at any store (guessing Al-Air will mean a LOT more distilled water purchase options) so a 300 mile range extender could be as little as 150 lbs. No more weight than an extra passenger. Sitting there, perhaps for years waiting for that occasional need to arise.  This could mean a single 300 mile range extender could last some people years. Others might have to get replacements a few times a month.

**PUDs. If this does not make their wallet tingle, nothing will!  Here would be nearly unlimited power storage in the form of pure Aluminum. This insures that there will never be a single electron wasted because it had nowhere to go.  Super Sun? No problem, just crank out a few Al ingots and put them in the vault for a cloudy day.  Power outage?  Truck mounted Al-Air cells would be enough to light up the neighborhoods until the power was restored.   With the ability to queue up power in the form of these Al-Air cells, the utility could greatly maximize its efficiency. Power plants would be scheduled to run at peak efficiency only with the extra power diverted.

**Finally, its truly a major major break thru in power storage technology. Right now, its a 50% efficiency keeping in mind its 50% plus heat in Winter.  Right now, its not reversible but in the future it very well could be.  Phinergy is also working on Zinc-Air batteries which basically work the same as the Al-Air batteries except they are rechargeable. If they make some break thrus in that arena, I think they have a pretty good chance of passing Apple to become the first Trillion Dollar company.

Oh!! almost forgot about fuel cells, but then again... oh, never mind, they are NO LONGER IMPORTANT!!

Friday, April 24, 2015

NRG EVgo and Pricing Discussions

In the span of less than a month, EVgo has installed the 4 promised fast chargers. All are in very needed locations and I am excited at where they will expand next.  The Tacoma Mall charger is barely a mile from my office so that will be very convenient but I really need at least 2 more good locations before I would be convinced to get a $14.95 per month subscription. This drops my charging cost to 10 cents a minute. This would be perfect since I rarely have the time (or patience) to sit somewhere for 30 minutes.  The fast charge sessions I have used have almost always been based on what I needed to do while waiting for the charge and not so much the amount of charge I needed since it was rarely more than a few Kwh.

But I am in a job that requires a lot of travel. FYI; There is roughly 3-4 hours of work I can only do in the office on a monthly average. The rest can be done at home which adds up to 4-8 hours a week. The rest is done at the client's location which means a lot of driving around. So far, this has meant very little public charging has been needed on my part but there is also the question of roughly 3,000-4,000miles a year where the LEAF is not viable.  I am hoping new public charging blood will change that.

But many of you don't have such a need so the "use it as needed" pricing EVgo has offered has come under great scrutiny and most of it is misguided.

The biggest complaint centers on a few things.  The one year subscription with early termination fees. Now AV has an "$19.95 per month, all you can eat" program that can literally be started and stopped on a dime.  This allows people to subscribe for a trip, then unsubscribe when they return home.

The 2nd issue comes with the high cost if you choose the pay as you go feature which doubles the per minute rate to 20 cents which is ok but adds a $4.95 connect fee. Now we are talking $10 for a typical charge up.

Now, I have issues with the reactions on both ends.  On the subscription model, it all really depends on where EVgo puts their chargers.  As mentioned above, I would gladly pay more for convenience which means more chargers in places I need them. So the validity of the deal hinges upon where EVgo goes with new installs.  Also, its a time based charging system which is critical for a station that is in such high demand.

On the pay as you go model, $10 for a charge may seem high at first but we accept that kind of billing on a daily basis without complaint.  What is cost of a soda at 7-Eleven verses Costco? or water or just about anything else. Its buy a dozen at 49 cents each or buy one for $1.59 (This is a real example using cupcakes...)  But we accept these seemingly outrageous prices based on convenience and the fact that normally our food bill is much lower so we can afford the occasional cost.  Well the LEAF is no different. I can afford to pay 20 cents a mile for a quick charge on the road because the other 90% of my miles cost me under 2 cents per mile.

 But there are valid complaints. EVgo's website fails in many areas. There is no way to create an account to monitor your usage between billing cycles. That is a huge issue. The station locator does not work but then again, considering the newness of the WA locations, I am willing to wait to see if that part improves. There is also no smartphone app, another glaring oversight.

But new blood means more options, more competition and possibly lower prices from everyone because of it. EVgo's pay as you go  L2 is $1.50 an hour, a very decent deal!  But what it really boils down to is the same old adage; is it a good deal if I have to drive across town to get it?   I love AV's option but their locations simply are too slim for me. I simply do not go South from Olympia to justify the use of the two stations less than 30 miles from my home.  So its all back to EVgo and phase two of their station rollout plans for Western WA.

Add more critical locations which includes redundancy in areas where current stations are overrun and get current with technology. Put out a smartphone app that tells you what your up to date billing is or at the very least, provide that info online.

Friday, April 10, 2015

On the Outside Looking In. EDITED!!

As an EVangelist, I meet all kinds of people who have a curiosity about my LEAF.   I have presented my various EVs at shows and some of the responses people have to my presentations are true head scratchers!

I really marveled at how someone could have the point of view that I have encountered. A conversation while showing my LEAF a few years back at the Lacey Alternative Fuel Fair and Electric Car Rally conveniently located in my hometown of Lacey, WA.

A couple came by to ask questions and the lady started to doubt the math on one of the many displays I had attached to the windshield and windows of the car.  You see, I have constantly encountered people who were truly clueless as to what their real transportation costs were.   Most used advertising  to estimate how much they spent for gas without actually tracking the amount of money leaving their wallets. (guessing the truth was simply too scary)

But one chart compared my REAL costs between my 2010 Prius and my 2011 LEAF.  The best part of the analysis is the near match in mileage where my LEAF had driven  14,181 miles for less than $300. The Prius had driven  13,879 miles for just over $900.  now this was fuel only and did not include the $70 synthetic oil changes the Prius required for 10,000 mile intervals.   Some of you would do it yourself but anyone who owned a 2010 might not feel as you did. To change the oil, there were several plastic under panels that had to be removed first. Not even close to worth my time!! But in fairness, my maintenance costs were not mentioned.  Both cars were new so there wasn't any to speak of anyway other than the oil changes.

***disclaimer***  To be fair, I should mention we did drive the Prius to Disneyland and suffered thru gas prices that were much higher than we would have paid here in WA especially when driving thru Central CA where we paid $4.29 for gas at a time when Lacey Costco (my normal station) was selling it for a "mere" $3.40

Anyway, the couple (she drove a Camry, he drove an Escape so neither were "Prius worthy" claimed they paid slightly more I did for transportation without really saying how far they drove simply because they didn't know.

Now before I continue, let me say that my display included my electric bill, monthly distance and cost (which was being tracked by a utility grade meter) along with all public charging fees (which were minor)  along with my Prius costs.

But the lady, after pondering over my charts for several minutes stated "Glad to see you are doing well, but it wouldn't work in our situation. Not sure what our electrical rates are but pretty sure, we are paying over $1 per kwh"

Ok, now the tier one rates at the time were 8.8 cents per kwh and tier 2 rates were 11.1 cents.  When calculating the LEAF's cost, I took all of the tier 2 cost first then added in the applicable amount of tier 1 cost.

When I pointed that out, she said they lived in different area from me (about 4 miles away) and their rates were "different"

So I did a quick analysis of their fuel costs using their commutes plus 30 miles on one car for each weekend day (their estimates worked out to about $150 a month) and came up with roughly $350.  When I said that, they looked at each other, rolled their eyes and thanked me for my time and moved on.

Now, that was a few years ago and I have actually seen a bit of a change in perspective but not sure its a better one or not.

Recently, I am seeing more people discounting EVs as an option for two major reasons; price and recharge time. All of them were completely unimpressed that as Tesla could gain 150 miles of range in under 45 minutes. IOW; it was not a 100% solution. A compromise was required but nearly all of them said that if the price was right, they would be willing to look into deeper into the thought.

Another  way to look at it was people with money and people without  money.   One couple who normally spends ungodly amounts of money on their cars were one of the people I was talking to. The car they are thinking of replacing was a 4 year old Lincoln that had cost them about $50,000 so a Tesla was not a reach for them. Again, it was the recharge time that they were not able to accept. A driving analysis of their habits showed a dozen trips a year that might tax a Tesla's range (complicated by the fact that their most common destination,  Detroit Lakes Oregon meant passing an SC station in Centralia when still nearly full) and my suggestion of "careful" driving would allow them to make the trip without stopping was immediately dismissed as unacceptable. (FYI; telling them they would pass other SC stations on the way did not help)   Now despite both having active lives, they almost always did things together during their off times (which they seemingly have a lot of!) so two cars was a must. In fact, it was not unusual for both of them to drive separately to OR for a day. (ya, the humanity!!)

But the real market is the people on a budget. (plus there is a whole lot more of us!) Now, I am not talking about low income people, I am talking about people like me. We work, have two incomes but don't really have any money to speak of.  So saving a buck is important.  Now, I found it pretty easy to understand that a car with a ¼ of the parts under the hood that goes for 2 cents a mile can only benefit me but others have not.

You see, its the sticker price that gets people. Equating a $100 a month reduction in fuel and maintenance costs to an $80 increase in monthly car payments wasn't working. BUT the lure of huge savings was still keeping people's interest. What I am hearing is there is a lot of interest among the budget conscious to drive EV but most have never paid more than $15,000 for a car so a $30,000 sticker is simply too scary for them.  But the lure of incentives is attracting a lot of interest where if the price in low enough, then a bit of compromise was not out of the picture especially when it wouldn't be an everyday thing but saving money on fuel would!

If EVs really want to succeed, they need to meet the needs of a larger segment of the consumer market. Now most of us think that all our problems would be solved by simply having bigger battery packs that can cycle a few thousand times before starting to get tired and more range for those who can afford it is "one" thing but really only covers "existing" EVers especially when we must face the fact that the remaining holdouts require a "full day of driving" range. That is likely at least a decade away.

The real need is better pricing for those who cannot afford to not afford it.   Allowing the tax credit to roll over from year to year is an easy one and might even help even up the balance between leasers and buyers.  I think if we can make this happen, millions more will experience firsthand how insanely cheap EVs are to drive. It is this source of first time, low cost, under 100 mile EV owners that will become the main source of EV buyers on longer range vehicles.


I almost am never happy with how my blogs turn out but its my fault. I don't plan these things, I generally just type off the top of my bare head. What comes out is usually disjointed, unorganized and frequently ends up with loose ends and incomplete thoughts.  The 2nd part of this the "Budget" buyer qualifies.  But sometimes, feedback works MUCH better than the article and this no different. The following is excerpted from a single Facebook thread

 Yea, my wife's Leaf has saved us money when compared to her previous car (2011 VW Routan), but compared to my Mazda 5? Not very much. I spend about $30-80 a month on gas and can go as far as I want without charging, whereas she has to charge up when going to Seattle. However, she's environmental-conscious whereas I actually drive as a therapeutic release and make enough money to afford to do so -- not everyone can. And you can get a very economical Mazda 3 that gets 40MPG for around $20k and have plenty of cash for gas before it'd catch up to the cost of the Leaf. It's also a nicer car overall, inside and out.
Me; Pay $20K or $22.8K after taxes for Mazda then $1000 a year for gas, or a LEAF for $31K minus $7500 tax credit or $22.5K and less than $300 a year in gas so what is cheaper????   above scenario assume 12,000 miles per year driving and electricity estimate is a bit on the high side. gas estimate is at $3 a gallon

But which one has a manual transmission and is more dynamic to drive? Ultimately, regardless of tax credit, I still have a car payment for a $32k car, not many people can front $7500 and wait for the tax rebate. Do I like her Leaf? Sure. Do I think everyone should drive one and spread the word like the next coming of Jesus? Nope.
Me; Actually many people simply do not qualify for the full tax rebate at all. Due to the marriage penalty, its more profitable for me to file single and her file head of household with dependent. So I would not have qualified for full credit which is why that needs to be changed. But in my situation; I pay waaaaay less than half for transportation simply because I leased. You don't mention what your car payments are for your Mazda, but I pay $245.75 a month with Zero Down. Granted, I got credit as returning customer but if I hadn't gotten that, It would have been roughly $277 a month with Zero down. along with $324 to drive 17,151 miles and no that is not an estimate from my auto manufacturer. That is REAL life data

My Mazda payment is $353, my Leaf payment is $567, with zero down on a 5 year, no interest loan. But these were purchases.
Me; ok so LEAF is "really" $567 minus the $125 a month (7500 credit over 60 payments) or $442 a month. So LEAF is "starting" at $89 a month more than Mazda. That is a pretty easy number to whittle down.  Either way; I am glad we are having this conversation because it does a MUCH better job of making the point I tried to make in my blog!

 Yes, so ultimately cost to run is about the same, but I can drive my Mazda down to Portland and back in half the time it's take my Leaf whenever I want. Or leave for a trip to CA without having to plan ahead. EVs are great, but they are not for everyone.
Me;  So. two cars is needed but are you not a 2 car household by necessity? And do you not normally drive significantly less than say 60 miles per day? At least one of you anyway? Sorry but not hearing a single good reason why LEAF won't work for you

This poster is a near perfect example of what I am talking about. Again its his perception of the situation and like most point of views, there are more than one.

**His first complaint is the sticker price.  But he fails to consider the roughly $2800 sales tax on the Mazda or the $7500 tax credit on the LEAF which means (as I explained) that S with Charge package is cheaper.

** Monthly payments.  He is only seeing the $214 increase. What is fails to mention is the term on the Mazda which is likely longer with interest or the fact that the $7500 tax credit reduces that effective monthly payment.  I venture to say that when both notes are paid off, the difference will be very little and likely in favor of the LEAF.

**TCO.  He does admit the LEAF is cheap to drive and because the average savings is better than 3 to 1, you don't have to track it to realize the LEAF is VERY cheap to drive, but his opinion is clouded by manufacturer's specs.  He states he gets 40 MPG, but EPA says that the best Mazda 3 gets 29/41 MPG so guessing he is closer to 35 MPG (which is the figure I used to estimate his annual fuel costs). Besides; if he is really having that much fun banging gears, he is definitely not getting 40 MPG.

I tried to determine his transportation needs and only got this

 I work from home so I don't commute at all. I live in Graham, when I do need to go anywhere it's up to Bellevue/Redmond for meetings or multiple locations up north that would require multiple QC stops or Portland. I can do one QC but with kids, multiple stops are not viable. That and the lack of a manual transmission / third pedal, makes it less desirable for me, the Mazda is therapeutic, the Leaf is a soul-less commuter.
He did not mention what his wife does or how often he must make these trips he mentions alone. Guessing that business meetings pretty much means not taking the kids anyway so its pretty much a 2 car household by necessity.


Friday, April 3, 2015

March 2015 Drive Report Along With LEAF Data Conditioning!

Winter is pretty much gone and has been for several weeks and this is not boding well for irrigation this Summer.  The snow pack is nearly non-existent and Governor Inslee has already issued a state of emergency for 5 of the 6 water management areas of the state.  Hopefully, Summer rains will be higher than normal to help but it is not looking good.

For the month of March, the LEAF traveled 1216.6 miles using $22.58 from the meter for a cost of  1.86 cents per mile. This did include a few sessions at various public charging stations, none of which charged a fee.  Again, my work reimbursement has not gone up despite an increase in local gas prices so still driving for paupers wages...

The Corolla skipped a trip to the gas station this month and as luck would have it, gas actually went down a bit averaging 20 cents per gallon less than late February which is the way my luck has been going lately. Also went to the Casino last week and for 2nd time in 4 trips, lost money, about $100.  This is after about 14 or 15 straight profitable trips. Oh well, maybe my luck will change when the 150 mile LEAF comes out.  The Corolla drove 171.5 miles with calculated cost of 8.1 cents per mile. Hard to have an exact figure without a fill up but that will be close I think. I am just under half a tank so thinking of maybe filling up to see what my MPGs are but guessing its around 38-40 mpg...

Other than that, my LEAF's numbers have been all over the map this month. Have talked about this a lot and now that the weather is getting nicer by the minute, more people are planning trips which means range an,  I mean "charging anxiety" (This is term used when planning to use a charger with a questionable service record) so planning is still the most important part of taking a trip. And as always, I recommend conditioning your battery before the trip to insure that you get the maximum range your LEAF has to offer.

During March, my LEAF's ahr has run between 60.80 and 65.13.  My Hx has varied between 93.01 to 100.09%.  What am I to expect? These variances represent significant differences in range.  But as always, the more I drive the LEAF, the farther it takes me and to truly understand this statement, some data is needed.
Every morning, I reset my Trip A and miles per kwh before I take off for the day.  Its all logged into a spreadsheet along with GIDs, ahr, etc. This allows to monitor changes to battery and compare it to my 2011's stats. It also allows me to compare costs between the LEAF and my Corolla.  For those who wish to know, My cents per mile is calculated using the LEAF dash data with an 87% efficiency from the wall.  The 87% was my true efficiency as measured with a utility grade meter in line with the circuit my EVSE is using. Problem is that when I moved, the garage is much tighter and having the meter sticking out from the wall proved to be a bit painful on more than one occasion, so I took it out after a few months.  Anyway,

Columns shown left to right
miles/ miles per kwh/calc kwh used/cost per kwh/ est cost for that day/ 4 blank columns used for GIDs/ahr available/ 2 for public charging calcs/ ahr/ Hx

In the chart, not counting the 11.3 mile day, I averaged just over 54 miles per day. Full charges indicated by GIDs and kwh remaining (according to LEAF Spy).   IMM, the key indicator of range is kwh available. When my LEAF was new, it was 22.7 kwh.  It has dropped to where I don't seem to be able to get over 22.2 any more but then again, I have not really driven it a lot in the past 4 months. So we shall see what the busy season at work will bring.  Hard to not notice the last entry has my LEAF almost back to "new" status.

This shot is same chart just a few days later. Not counting the 65.3 mile day, I am averaging just under 22 miles per day.  Now, maybe this is a chart design mistake on my part, but only one full charge is shown here but there is likely to be some short charging sessions in addition to the small public charge sessions shown. Generally speaking charge sessions not to 100% on L2 have little if any effect on the numbers.  The 5.3 kwh public charge was at Dept of Revenue and an L2 and I only plugged in there just to check on its status. There are like 3-4 stations there but two have been out of order for a while now.  Since this was after 5 pm, the place was abandoned but guessing those broken stations are causing a backup there.  Its normally a VERY busy place.

But as you can see, I went from 21.9 kwh available to 20.4 kwh. That could be 8-9 miles of lost range. Now that is a LOT of pushing involved if one is not careful!

Now, a couple things to take away from all this and keeping in mind; no official data just my personal thoughts on the subject.

First of all; manufacturing extra unneeded driving for a week leading up to a trip out of town is unrealistic and not what I am suggesting here by all this.  I think the key here is maintaining a tight top end balance so this is really for people who usually do not fully charge their LEAFs due to modest needs.  

So if you are planning a trip that will challenge your hypermiling skills,  Just fully charge your LEAF every day for 4-5 days before the trip. Granted not a habit you want to take up full time but just make sure you drive it every day even if its only for a short distance. This is what I did even on days when I drove as little as 11 miles.

After your adventure, go back to your normal 80% or whatever you feel comfortable doing and most of all; ENJOY THE WEATHER!!