May 2, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/stories/2006/04/24/focus3.html Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle) - April 21, 2006 by Deirdre Gregg Staff Writer
Bellevue firm developing hybrid car that plugs in
A small Bellevue company says it's got the technology to build plug-in hybrid cars that can drive 250 miles on a single gallon of gas.
AFS Trinity Power Corp., working with United Kingdom-based automotive engineering company Ricardo PLC, expects to see about 150 demonstration vehicles on the road in two years and commercially available cars in three years.
A plug-in hybrid is essentially a combination between an electric car and a conventional hybrid. If a commuter plugged in a car with AFS Trinity's technology at night, the batteries could be charged enough to drive 40 miles per day without burning any gas at all. After the battery's charge is used up, the car works like a conventional hybrid engine.
That kind of mileage has obvious benefits for the environment and air quality, particularly if the electricity is generated by something other than coal.
For Ed Furia, chairman of AFS Trinity, a primary issue is energy security and national security.
Because oil is a limited resource and demand for it is growing, particularly in markets like China, he thinks finding a substitute is essential to avoiding future conflicts over resources.
"Imagine that we, the human race, are all in a boat and rowing to shore," he said. "It will take 10 days, and we've got enough water on the boat to supply everybody for five. Do you want to be on that boat? The point is, you are on that boat."
Plug-in hybrids are popping up in many places, including President Bush's last State of the Union address. In February, Bush visited the Milwaukee factory of Johnson Controls Inc., a company that's developing batteries for such vehicles. DaimlerChrysler is building a small number of plug-in hybrid vans, and they'll be tested by members of Plug-In Partners, a national campaign launched in January that supports the technology. That group includes 100 utilities, 25 cities including Seattle, and environmental and national security groups.
In addition to environmental and national security issues, Plug-In Partners thinks the cost of fuel could be a compelling argument in favor of plug-in hybrid technology. According to Plug-In Partners, the electrical equivalent of one gallon of gas costs less than $1.
Furia said AFS Trinity's technology is the solution to a technical problem in the industry. A battery provides plenty of power if a car is driving at a constant speed, but struggles when extra power is needed for accelerating or climbing a hill.
"Think of the battery as a skinny long-distance runner with a good cardio system who can run 26 miles, a marathon, if they do it gradually and steadily," he said. "In a car, you don't just run at a steady pace -- sometimes you have to accelerate. The analogy is if while running a marathon, every quarter of a mile you had to lift 200 pounds over your head."
Companies try to solve that problem different ways. At DaimlerChrysler, for instance, the Sprinter vans will use the gasoline engine to provide an extra burst of power. Other companies are trying to create better-performing batteries.
What AFS Trinity does is combine a lithium ion battery, made of the same materials as the batteries in a cell phone, with an ultracapacitor, which stores energy for short periods of time and can release it in quick bursts to give the engine extra power. An ultracapacitor is essentially a superpowerful version of the same technology that's used to make a camera flash go off: A camera's capacitor collects energy from the camera's battery slowly and then releases it into the flash quickly. But unlike a camera's capacitor, an ultracapacitor recharges very quickly and delivers tremendous power.
"We don't run this race alone -- we have two runners, a long-distance runner, and a muscle-bound one like Arnold Schwarzenegger to lift the weight," he said.
Furia also said that plug-in hybrid technology would complement, rather than compete with, biofuels such as ethanol. That's because there's not enough room to grow enough ethanol source crops to replace gasoline. If cars don't get more efficient, you'd need about 1,750 million acres to grow enough of one type of ethanol source crop, switch grass, to meet demand in 2050 -- about 2.5 times the amount of cropland in the United States, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council paper released in December 2004.
AFS Trinity was formed by the merger of two energy technology companies in 2000. The 20-person company has made annual revenue of $3 million to $4 million selling energy storage devices for government clients, and the firm and its predecessors raised a combined total of about $50 million in financing. Late last year, the company switched its focus entirely to plug-in hybrids, and signed a mutually exclusive agreement with Ricardo Group PLC, a West Sussex, United Kingdom-based auto engineering company with more than $288 million in annual revenue in 2005.
AFS Trinity and Ricardo are working together to raise the $150 million they estimate they'll need to fully commercialize the technology. Furia said the company has met with two California venture capital firms and started talks with a Washington state firm.
"Together we hope to complete this system and then license it to the world's automakers," Furia said.
Contact: dgregg@... • 206-447-8505x114