Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Is the Karma an innovation?

One might file the following under "what were they thinking"?

Fisker Automotive, a California manufacturer of luxury electric vehicles, will receive more than $500 million in federal loans to develop a plug-in hybrid sports car with a sticker price of nearly $90,000 and a new plug-in hybrid vehicle to be built in the United States.

The Energy Department said Tuesday it would lend $528.7 million to Fisker from a $25 billion fund to develop fuel-efficient vehicles, making the Irvine, Calif., startup the fourth automaker to receive loans from the program. The government awarded $8 billion in loans to Ford Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Tesla Motors Inc. in June to develop environmentally friendly cars.

"This investment will create thousands of new American jobs and is another critical step in making sure we are positioned to compete for the clean energy jobs of the future," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. He estimated it would save or create about 5,000 jobs.


The remaining $359.36 million in loans will be directed to Fisker's Project Nina, an effort by the automaker to develop a lower-cost, higher-volume plug-in hybrid car by late 2012. Fisker has said the next-generation plug-in will sell for $39,900 and be built in the United States with an annual production of about 100,000 vehicles.


Fisker has raised tens of millions of dollars from top venture capital firms such as Palo Alto Investors and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, of which former Vice President Al Gore is a partner. The company has pre-sold more than 1,500 Karmas and recruited a network of 45 dealers.

The company has promoted the Karma as an example of green mobility. The vehicle's average fuel economy can exceed 100 miles per gallon and company officials say the Karma could use as little as one tank of gas per year if driven fewer than 50 miles per day and fully charged overnight.

As to technology advance:

One year after the debut of the Fisker Karma concept, the company revealed the 2011 Fisker Karma S. It's based on the same plug-in hybrid technology and Q-Drive combination of gasoline engine and dual electric motors powered by lithium-ion batteries.

***from howstuffworks:

So how does the all-electric Tesla Roadster manage to pack 6,831 Li-ion batteries under its hood without risking a major blow-up? The Tesla's energy storage system that propels the car is equipped with a cooling system, which ensures the batteries don't overheat. It also regulates the speed of the flow of ions to keep them from re-charging or draining too quickly.

Since car companies and scientists realize the broad potential of Li-ion batteries, they have poured time and money into finding ways to reduce any safety hazards. For instance, nanotechnology, the study of atoms and nanostructures, may be able to prevent those dangerous explosions. New nanomaterials, such as nanophosphate, aren't prone to shorting out like graphite, the traditional Li-ion electrolyte [source: Peter].

IPBiz notes that graphite is NOT an electrolyte, in Li-ion batteries or in anything else. It is an electronic conductor.

Howstuffworks also writes:

There's also an issue with the battery life. Like the AA batteries that you put into your TV remote control, Li-ion batteries eventually die. Even if you aren't using them, they'll begin to degrade as soon as they're made. You can recharge them, but only a limited amount of times. It's like trying to fill up a pitcher of water that has a tiny hole that grows bigger and bigger with each use.

We measure battery longevity in cycle lives, or the number of times that you can run it down, charge it up and use it again. With Li-ion batteries, starting from a 100 percent fully-recharged battery will give you a longer individual cycle life, but will reduce the total number of cycles you'll get from it. For that reason, the Tesla Roadster doesn't allow you to re-charge more than 95 percent of the original power or let it drain down to less than 2 percent [source: Eberhard and Straubel]. Also, the company projects the battery pack to last 100,000 miles, or five years. At that point, you would have to replace the battery.

As with the safety issue, researchers are looking for a longer-lasting Lithium alternative. And once again, nanotechnology seems to be leading the pack of potential solutions. One company, Altair Nanotechnologies announced in 2006 that it had found a new material that would far outlast Li-ion batteries and recharge faster for the same price, called lithium titanate [source: Bullis]. Canadian car company Phoenix Motorcars is using lithium titanate batteries in its line of electric cars that have a 100-plus mile range.


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