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Rocky Mountain Institute's PHEV Exploratory Project
Sep 28, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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Rocky Mountain Institute and its founder/chief scientist, Amory Lovins, have had an incalculable impact on the way we think about technology and society. From "negawatts" to "natural capitalism" and "tunneling through the cost barrier," RMI specializes in changing the way we look at energy, efficiency and our infrastructure. Its early for-profit spinoff, Hypercar, Inc. (a fully optimized 99MPG SUV) provided the inspiration for the formation of Calcars back in 2001-2002. (Hypercar eventually evolved into Fiberforge, promoting advanced composite materials.)

After a period of time in which RMI was less active in the automotive area, it's been roaring back, bringing together an exceptional automotive consulting group. It's led by John Waters, an engineer and business development with a long background in the battery world at EnerDel, Delphi, and Electronic Data Systems (he led the battery design programs for GM's EV1 and Electric S-10). See­sitepages/­pid56.php for bios of Waters, LIonel Bony, Michael Brylawski, Heidi Hauenstein, John Holmes, Stephanie L. Johns, Alexis Karolides, Michael Kinsley, Colleen H. Long, Michael Ogburn, Jeff Ronning and Laura Schewel, as well as Joel Swisher, who works on related projects.

Although over time known more for its focus on lightweighting and on hydrogen fuel cells, RMI has been paying increasing attention to plug-in vehicles and the potential benefits of vehicle-to-grid solutions. Recently, RMI was one of the six organizations receiving grants from's RechargeIT project.

Now RMI has unveiled its intention to begin the multi-year process of designing and producing a new PHEV from the ground up. In addition to the publicly-announced startups (Fisker, Visionary Vehicles, Venture Vehicles), we can expect to hear from a few other such efforts in the near future. RMI's project is notable for its technical depth and its initial partnerships. Below is the information that is public so far, including a video presentation.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) Team­sitepages/­pid46.php

The plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) team was established to lead a consortium of companies to design and develop an optimized PHEV platform. Originally part of RMI's transportation consulting team, the PHEV now is working with Alcoa, Johnson Controls, Google, and the Turner Foundation to explore the possibilities of bringing a lightweight, fully functional PHEV to the US market. As this effort unfolds, various technologies and market strategies will be explored and developed.

The PHEV team will focus research on:

  • Battery, motor, engine, and control technologies
  • Optimized vehicle platform characteristics (i.e., aerodynamics, lightweighting, rolling resistance)
  • Various market penetration scenarios
  • Enterprise structures

RMI views the work of the PHEV as complementary and essential to its overall effort in shifting the current energy supply and energy use infrastructures to fully integrated systems. These new energy systems will leverage sustainable energy (e.g., wind, solar, hydro, etc.) and integrate vehicle-to-grid and building-to-grid scenarios. This is part of RMI's "Smart Garage" methodology whereby whole system energy solutions can be realized through the integration of users to the overall energy system, thereby providing radical breakthroughs in energy savings and emission reduction.

See video: The Smart Garage: The Fleet Meets the
Grid in a Carbon Constrained World­sitepages/­pid261.php
Speakers: Joel Swisher and John Waters
Date: March 13, 2007
Location: Aspen, Colorado

Description: Running Time: 1 hour, 17 minutes This video highlights Rocky Mountain Institute's (RMI) work on plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, which combine the fuel-economy advantage of hybrid vehicles with the flexibility to source energy from liquid fuels (gasoline, diesel, biofuels, etc.) and/or electricity (from conventional or renewable sources). Also discussed is RMI's work on PHEVs with major electric utilities as well as a major governmental agency. 0:00:000:00:21 Intro 0:00:210:20:30 Joel Swisher. Rocky Mountain Institute 0:20:300:31:10 John Waters, Rocky Mountain Institute 0:31:100:44:00 Robert Howard, VP Pacific Gas & Electric 0:44:000:54:30 Clay Nestler, Johnson Controls, Inc. 0:54:301:17:08 Questions & Answers with panel

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