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Monday, February 22, 2010

Bloom Box

Fuel-Cell Powered 'Bloom box'




The 'Bloom box' from Bloom Energy promises to provide clean energy for offices, as well as homes.

K.R. Sridhar has an energy plan anyone could get behind - electricity in a box.

That's the promise of the "Bloom box," the fuel-cell-powered invention coming from the Silicon Valley, start up, Bloom Energy.


"In five to ten years, we would like to be in every home," Sridhar told Leslie Stahl on "60 Minutes" Sunday night.


The "box" generates its power wirelessly through a combination of oxygen and a fossil fuel - natural gas, bio-gas, etc. It is presently being tested by companies such as GoogleWalMartFedEx and eBay, who have shelled out hundreds of thousands for the "green" machines, the CBS News program reported.

Smaller versions could be used to power individual homes, and would be environmentally friendly.
Sridhar initially developed the idea while working with NASA, as a means of producing oxygen for astronauts landing on Mars. However, when that mission was scrapped, he altered the device to produce energy instead.

"It sounds awfully dazzling," Stahl told the Indian-born scientist.

"It is real," he said. "It works."

Not everyone is buying into Bloom Energy's boasts for its product, which it plans to unveil to the world in less than two days, according to its presently-sparse www.bloomenergy.com Web site.

"I'm hopeful, but I'm skeptical," Michael Kanellos, editor-in-chief of GreenTech Media, told "60 Minutes." "People have tried fuel cells since the 1830s."

Bloom's efforts have been touted by the likes of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Vice President Al Gore. It also received hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from John Doerr's capital firm, Kleiner Perkins. The firm developed Netscape, Amazon and Google, but also backed the less-impressive Segway personal two-wheeled transportation vehicle.

"That's my job," Doerr said on "60 Minutes." "To find entrepreneurs who are going to change the world and then help them."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cash Cow




US project seeks to make the family car a cash cow


AFP/Karras Photography-HO – US researchers unveiled this converted Toyota Scion xB, seen here at the annual meeting of the American …

by Karin Zeitvogel  Fri Feb 19, 9:15 am ET

SAN DIEGO, California (AFP) – US researchers unveiled a vehicle Thursday that earns money for its driver instead of guzzling it up in gasoline and maintenance costs.

The converted Toyota Scion xB, shown at the annual meeting of theAmerican Association for the Advancement of Science here, is the firstelectric car to be linked to a power grid and serve as a cash cow.

"This is the first vehicle that's ever been paid to participate in the grid -- the first proof of concept vehicle," Ken Huber, who overseestechnological development at wholesale electricity coordinator PJM Interconnection, told AFP.

The presentation of the box-like, unassuming looking Scion was the researchers' way of introducing the "vehicle-to-grid" (V2G) concept as it begins to gain momentum in the United States and around the world.

V2G projects with hybrid cars that use electricity and gas to store energy in their batteries and feed it back into the power grid are up and running in the United States, and the drive now is to produce all electric vehicles to plug into the power grid.

"This makes the car useful not only when it's being driven, but also when it's parked, as long as you remember to plug it in," said Willett Kempton, who is leading a V2G project at the University of Delaware.

A V2G car is connected via an Internet-over-powerline connection that sends a signal from inside the car's computer to an aggregator's server.

The aggregator acts as the middleman between the car owner and power grid management companies, which are constantly trying to keep electricity output at a constant level.

When the grid needs more power due to a surge in demand, power companies usually draw from traditional power plants, which in the United States are often coal-fired and leave a large carbon footprint.

When V2G becomes more widespread, the power could be drawn from millions of vehicles plugged into sockets in home garages or from commercial fleets, such as the US Postal Service's vans, for a much smaller footprint than that of the power plants.

Grid management companies like PJM Interconnection currently pay around 30 dollars an hour when taking power from a car.

V2G is still a new concept, but it is gaining ground in the United States and Europe.

"Ten years ago, this was just a plan. Today, it's a real project and in 10 years, we'll be producing tens of megawatts of power this way," said Kempton, adding that V2G will readily find applications in countries that are rapidly ramping up reliance on wind and solar energy, such as Denmark and Britain.

Huber said he will be meeting in the coming weeks in Paris with heads of European grid management companies about V2G.

"We're going to try to determine how we can work together on this. It's a technology that is very good at meeting a need we have, and there's growing interest among auto companies to develop V2G vehicles," he added.

AC Propulsion of California has designed an electric drive system for V2G, and car manufacturers including Renault/Nissan, Mitsubishi and BMW are producing all-electric vehicles with an eye on the V2G market.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wheat Straw


Reducing Petroleum Use by Using Wheat


November 12, 2009

Small changes can make huge difference. Consider a plastic storage bin. By using wheat straw-reinforced plastic rather than 100-percent traditional petroleum products, it is estimated that petroleum use will be reduced by approximately 20,000 and CO2 emissions will be reduced by approximately 30,000 pounds per year.

The first application of the natural fiber-based plastic that contains 20-percent wheat straw bio-filler is on the 2010 Ford Flex's third-row interior storage bins. Ford is already considering using the environmentally-friendly technology in the construction of center-console bins and trays, interior air registers, door trim panel components and armrest liners.

Ford's sustainable materials portfolio also includes soy-based polyurethane seat cushions, seatbacks and headliners; post-industrial recycled yarns for seat fabrics; and post-consumer recycled resins for underbody systems, such as the new engine cam cover on the 2010 Ford "Ford continues to explore and open doors for greener materials that positively impact the environment and work well for customers," said Patrick Berryman, a Ford engineering manager who develops interior trim. "We seized the opportunity to add wheat straw-reinforced plastic as our next sustainable material on the production line, and the storage bin for the Flex was the ideal first application."

Collaborative effort

Ford researchers were approached with the wheat straw-based plastics formulation by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, as part of the Ontario BioCar Initiative – a multi-university effort between Waterloo, the University of Guelph, University of Toronto and University of Windsor. Ford works closely with the Ontario government-funded project, which is seeking to advance the use of more plant-based materials in the auto and agricultural industries.

The University of Waterloo already had been working with plastics supplier A. Schulman of Akron, Ohio, to perfect the lab formula for use in auto parts, ensuring the material is not only odorless, but also meets industry standards for thermal expansion and degradation, rigidity, moisture absorption and fogging. Less than 18 months after the initial presentation was made to Ford's Biomaterials Group, the wheat straw-reinforced plastic was refined and approved for Flex, which is produced at Ford's Oakville (Ontario) Assembly Complex.

The wheat straw-reinforced resin is the BioCar Initiative's first production-ready application. It demonstrates better dimensional integrity than a non-reinforced plastic and weighs up to 10 percent less than a plastic reinforced with talc or glass.

"Without Ford's driving force and contribution, we would have never been able to move from academia to industry in such lightning speed," said Leonardo Simon, associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Waterloo. "Seeing this go into production on the Ford Flex is a major accomplishment for the University of Waterloo and the BioCar Initiative."

An interior storage bin may seem like a small start, but it opens the door for more applications, said Dr. Ellen Lee, technical expert, Ford's Plastics Research.

"We see a great deal of potential for other applications since wheat straw has good mechanical properties, can meet our performance and durability specifications, and can further reduce our carbon footprint – all without compromise to the customer."

Abundant waste material put to good use

The case for using wheat straw to reinforce plastics in higher-volume, higher-content applications is strong across many industries. In Ontario alone, where Flex is built, more than 28,000 farmers grow wheat, along with corn and soybeans. Typically, wheat straw, the byproduct of growing and processing wheat, is discarded. Ontario, for example, has some 30 million metric tons of available wheat straw waste at any given time.

"Wheat is everywhere and the straw is in excess," said Lee. "We have found a practical automotive usage for a renewable resource that helps reduce our dependence on petroleum, uses less energy to manufacture, and reduces our carbon footprint. More importantly, it doesn't jeopardize an essential food source."

To date, Ford and its suppliers are working with four southern Ontario farmers for the wheat straw needed to mold the Flex's two interior storage bins.

History in the making

Ford's interest in wheat dates back to the 1920s, when company founder Henry Ford developed a product called Fordite – a mixture of wheat straw, rubber, sulphur, silica and other ingredients – that was used to make steering wheels for Ford cars and trucks. Much of the straw used to produce Fordite came from Henry Ford's Dearborn-area farm.

The company's new-age application for wheat straw joins other bio-based, reclaimed and recycled materials that are in Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles today, including:

  • Soy-based polyurethane foams on the seat cushions and seatbacks, now in production on the Ford Mustang, Expedition, F-150, Focus, Escape, Escape Hybrid, Mercury Mariner and Lincoln Navigator and Lincoln MKS. More than 1.5 million Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles on the road today have soy-foam seats, which equates to a reduction in petroleum oil usage of approximately 1.5 million pounds. This year, Ford has expanded its soy-foam portfolio to include the industry's first application of a soy-foam headliner on the 2010 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner for a 25 percent weight savings over a traditional glass-mat headliner.
  • Underbody systems, such as aerodynamic shields, splash shields and radiator air deflector shields, made from post-consumer recycled resins such as detergent bottles, tires and battery casings, diverting between 25 and 30 million pounds of plastic from landfills. The newest addition is the engine cam cover on the 3.0-liter V-6 2010 Ford Escape.
  • 100 percent post-industrial recycled yarns in seat fabrics on vehicles such as the Ford Escape. The 2010 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan Hybrids feature 85 percent post-industrial yarns and 15 percent solution-dyed yarns. The 100 percent usage represents a 64 percent reduction in energy consumption and a 60 percent reduction in CO2 emissions.
  • Repurposed nylon carpeting made into nylon resin and molded into cylinder head covers for Ford's 3.0L Duratec engine. The industry's first eco-friendly cylinder head cover is currently found in the 2010 Ford Fusion and Escape vehicles.
About the Ontario Bio-Car Initiative

The Ontario Bio-Car Initiative represents a partnership between the automotive industry and the public sector, aimed at accelerating the use of biomass in automotive materials.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Electric Cars Charging Ahead



For further proof that electric cars are charging ahead, take the 2010 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

For the past three years, e-cars have been relegated to the cellar of downtown Detroit's sprawling Cobo Center convention hall, where few of the more than 650,000 visitors to North America's largest auto showcase ever go.

But this year, these emerging vehicles get main-floor real estate. They get to preen in a 37,000-square-foot Electric Avenue. Sponsored by Dow Chemical, this is a first for the huge show, which opened for press events Monday and runs through Jan. 24.

Electric Avenue houses 20 electric-car makers ranging from Chevrolet, with its Volt, and Mitsubishi, with its MiEV (Innovative Electric Vehicle), to a collection of small outfits that for now are operating on batteries, a wing and a prayer.

"The Tango is the only car here that can really change the world," said Rick Woodbury, president of Spokane, Wash.-based, Tango Commuter Cars. The Tango is a 39-inch-wide two-seater that Woodbury says can go 135 mph and is narrow enough to share a lane with a motorcycle or another Tango, if that were legal. (In most of the U.S., it is not.)

Woodbury's company has built just a few Tangos, one of which he sold for $150,000 to actor George Clooney.

Woodbury bought the car back from Clooney after Clooney purchased a sporty Tesla electric car. The Tango's second seat is behind, not beside, the driver's seat. "Clooney's girlfriend wouldn't ride there," Woodbury said.

Like many entrepreneurs in the e-car field, Woodbury pines for investors. If he could latch onto, say, $150 million, he says he could build the cars for $29,000 in volume -- and business would get in gear.

"Investors," he lamented, "just don't understand."

Next door on Electric Avenue is the Triac, a three-wheeler built by Green Vehicles Inc.

Company President Mike Ryan says the Triac, which can seat four, is really a motorcycle and can be licensed as such. It sells for $25,000 before U.S. government energy rebates of up to $7,500. It can go 80 mph and has a 100-mile range. It has a warning system when you're running low. To recharge e-cars, you simply plug them into an electric outlet. But a recharge can take hours.

With a Triac "you aren't going to be a speed demon, but you won't hold up traffic," Ryan said.

He says his company has sold 40 of the vehicles. Ryan hopes to expand into full-scale manufacturing by October.

CT&T United focuses on making commercial e-vehicles such as delivery trucks, police cars and even a line of food trucks, which it calls City Cafeteria. The City Cafeteria comes complete with an awning, refrigeration and a grill, and costs $20,000, says Joseph White, chief operating officer of the Korean-based company.

Basic CTC vehicles start at about $7,000, before rebates, with larger and more feature-laden vehicles averaging $13,000. They can reach 35 mph and can go up to 80 miles on a single charge of their lithium polymer batteries.

CT&T, which was started in 2002, has manufacturing facilities in South Korea and China. Starting this year, the company plans to build components in Korea and ship them to assembly plants it plans to establish in Atlanta and California. White says CT&T hopes to employ 2,600 people in the U.S. within five years.

Over on the north end of Electric Avenue, David Patterson, Mitsubishi North America's chief engineer for advanced technology, sounds confident when he talks about the MiEV. It's been available for about a month, but for now only in Japan. Mitsubishi says it has sold 1,400 already.

In Japan, the cars sell for $45,000, but Patterson says buyers can get $20,000 worth of incentives, bringing their cost down to $25,000.

While most of the big automakers have some presence on Electric Avenue, Mitsubishi is by far the biggest of the big companies looking to make a splash at the auto show's new feature.

And at 1,400 sales, it's already the block's big seller. Mitsubishi plans to start selling its MiEV in the U.S. in 2011. Unlike most of the cars on Electric Avenue, MiEV looks like a conventional gas-powered vehicle.

"The only way electric vehicles are going to be successful is by being ordinary vehicles," Patterson said.

Mitsubishi has concentrated on making the cars familiar before they hit the market. It has leased a small fleet of them to Best Buy to transport its Geek Squad. Similar deals are on deck, Patterson says.

In Japan, Lawson, that nation's second-largest chain of convenience stores, has added MiEV charging stations to all its outlets. The company is looking for U.S. recharging station partners.

The MiEV runs on lithium ion batteries. It has a 75-mile range and can go 85 mph on a charge.

Patterson says the company hasn't determined prices for the U.S. market. Whatever the price, he says the U.S. market will get a proven vehicle. "What we bring to the party is experience," he said.

  

Lithium-ion

 

Is lithium-ion the ideal battery?


For many years, nickel-cadmium had been the only suitable battery for portable equipment from wireless communications to mobile computing. Nickel-metal-hydride and lithium-ion emerged in the early 1990s, fighting nose-to-nose to gain customer's acceptance. Today, lithium-ion is the fastest growing and most promising battery chemistry.

The lithium-ion battery

Pioneer work with the lithium battery began in 1912 under G.N. Lewis but it was not until the early 1970s when the first non-rechargeable lithium batteries became commercially available. Lithium is the lightest of all metals, has the greatest electrochemical potential and provides the largest energy density for weight.

Attempts to develop rechargeable lithium batteries failed due to safety problems. Because of the inherent instability of lithium metal, especially during charging, research shifted to a non-metallic lithium battery using lithium ions. Although slightly lower in energy density than lithium metal, lithium-ion is safe, provided certain precautions are met when charging and discharging. In 1991, the Sony Corporation commercialized the first lithium-ion battery. Other manufacturers followed suit.

The energy density of lithium-ion is typically twice that of the standard nickel-cadmium. There is potential for higher energy densities. The load characteristics are reasonably good and behave similarly to nickel-cadmium in terms of discharge. The high cell voltage of 3.6 volts allows battery pack designs with only one cell. Most of today's mobile phones run on a single cell. A nickel-based pack would require three 1.2-volt cells connected in series.

Lithium-ion is a low maintenance battery, an advantage that most other chemistries cannot claim. There is no memory and no scheduled cycling is required to prolong the battery's life. In addition, the self-discharge is less than half compared to nickel-cadmium, making lithium-ion well suited for modern fuel gauge applications. Lithium-ion cells cause little harm when disposed.

Despite its overall advantages, lithium-ion has its drawbacks. It is fragile and requires a protection circuit to maintain safe operation. Built into each pack, the protection circuit limits the peak voltage of each cell during charge and prevents the cell voltage from dropping too low on discharge. In addition, the cell temperature is monitored to prevent temperature extremes. The maximum charge and discharge current on most packs are is limited to between 1C and 2C. With these precautions in place, the possibility of metallic lithium plating occurring due to overcharge is virtually eliminated.

Aging is a concern with most lithium-ion batteries and many manufacturers remain silent about this issue. Some capacity deterioration is noticeable after one year, whether the battery is in use or not. The battery frequently fails after two or three years. It should be noted that other chemistries also have age-related degenerative effects. This is especially true for nickel-metal-hydride if exposed to high ambient temperatures. At the same time, lithium-ion packs are known to have served for five years in some applications.

Manufacturers are constantly improving lithium-ion. New and enhanced chemical combinations are introduced every six months or so. With such rapid progress, it is difficult to assess how well the revised battery will age.

Storage in a cool place slows the aging process of lithium-ion (and other chemistries). Manufacturers recommend storage temperatures of 15°C (59°F). In addition, the battery should be partially charged during storage. The manufacturer recommends a 40% charge.

The most economical lithium-ion battery in terms of cost-to-energy ratio is the cylindrical 18650 (18 is the diameter and 650 the length in mm). This cell is used for mobile computing and other applications that do not demand ultra-thin geometry. If a slim pack is required, the prismatic lithium-ion cell is the best choice. These cells come at a higher cost in terms of stored energy.

Advantages

  • High energy density - potential for yet higher capacities.
  • Does not need prolonged priming when new. One regular charge is all that's needed.
  • Relatively low self-discharge - self-discharge is less than half that of nickel-based batteries.
  • Low Maintenance - no periodic discharge is needed; there is no memory.
  • Specialty cells can provide very high current to applications such as power tools.

Limitations

  • Requires protection circuit to maintain voltage and current within safe limits.
  • Subject to aging, even if not in use - storage in a cool place at 40% charge reduces the aging effect.
  • Transportation restrictions - shipment of larger quantities may be subject to regulatory control. This restriction does not apply to personal carry-on batteries. (See last section)
  • Expensive to manufacture - about 40 percent higher in cost than nickel-cadmium.
  • Not fully mature - metals and chemicals are changing on a continuing basis.

The lithium Polymer battery

The lithium-polymer differentiates itself from conventional battery systems in the type of electrolyte used. The original design, dating back to the 1970s, uses a dry solid polymer electrolyte. This electrolyte resembles a plastic-like film that does not conduct electricity but allows ions exchange (electrically charged atoms or groups of atoms). The polymer electrolyte replaces the traditional porous separator, which is soaked with electrolyte.

The dry polymer design offers simplifications with respect to fabrication, ruggedness, safety and thin-profile geometry. With a cell thickness measuring as little as one millimeter (0.039 inches), equipment designers are left to their own imagination in terms of form, shape and size.

Unfortunately, the dry lithium-polymer suffers from poor conductivity. The internal resistance is too high and cannot deliver the current bursts needed to power modern communication devices and spin up the hard drives of mobile computing equipment. If you heating the cell, to 60°C (140°F) or higher it increases the conductivity. This is a requirement that is unsuitable for portable applications.

To compromise, some gelled electrolyte has been added. The commercial cells use a separator/ electrolyte membrane prepared from the same traditional porous polyethylene or polypropylene separator filled with a polymer, which gels upon filling with the liquid electrolyte. Thus the commercial lithium-ion polymer cells are very similar in chemistry and materials to their liquid electrolyte counter parts.

Lithium-ion-polymer has not caught on as quickly as some analysts had expected. Its superiority to other systems and low manufacturing costs has not been realized. No improvements in capacity gains are achieved - in fact, the capacity is slightly less than that of the standard lithium-ion battery. Lithium-ion-polymer finds its market niche in wafer-thin geometries, such as batteries for credit cards and other such applications.

Advantages

  • Very low profile - batteries resembling the profile of a credit card are feasible.
  • Flexible form factor - manufacturers are not bound by standard cell formats. With high volume, any reasonable size can be produced economically.
  • Lightweight - gelled electrolytes enable simplified packaging by eliminating the metal shell.
  • Improved safety - more resistant to overcharge; less chance for electrolyte leakage.

Limitations

  • Lower energy density and decreased cycle count compared to lithium-ion.
  • Expensive to manufacture.
  • No standard sizes. Most cells are produced for high volume consumer markets.
  • Higher cost-to-energy ratio than lithium-ion

Restrictions on lithium content for air travel

Air travelers ask the question, "How much lithium in a battery am I allowed to bring on board?" We differentiate between two battery types: Lithium metal and lithium-ion.
Most lithium metal batteries are non-rechargeable and are used in film cameras. Lithium-ion packs are rechargeable and power laptops, cellular phones and camcorders. Both battery types, including spare packs, are allowed as carry-on but cannot exceed the following lithium content:
- 2 grams for lithium metal or lithium alloy batteries
- 8 grams for lithium-ion batteries

Lithium-ion batteries exceeding 8 grams but no more than 25 grams may be carried in carry-on baggage if individually protected to prevent short circuits and are limited to two spare batteries per person.

How do I know the lithium content of a lithium-ion battery?
From a theoretical perspective, there is no metallic lithium in a typical lithium-ion battery. There is, however, equivalent lithium content that must be considered. For a lithium-ion cell, this is calculated at 0.3 times the rated capacity (in ampere-hours).

Example: A 2Ah 18650 Li-ion cell has 0.6 grams of lithium content. On a typical 60 Wh laptop battery with 8 cells (4 in series and 2 in parallel), this adds up to 4.8g. To stay under the 8-gram UN limit, the largest battery you can bring is 96 Wh. This pack could include 2.2Ah cells in a 12 cells arrangement (4s3p). If the 2.4Ah cell were used instead, the pack would need to be limited to 9 cells (3s3p).

Restrictions on shipment of lithium-ion batteries

  • Anyone shipping lithium-ion batteries in bulk is responsible to meet transportation regulations. This applies to domestic and international shipments by land, sea and air.
  • Lithium-ion cells whose equivalent lithium content exceeds 1.5 grams or 8 grams per battery pack must be shipped as "Class 9 miscellaneous hazardous material." Cell capacity and the number of cells in a pack determine the lithium content.
  • Exception is given to packs that contain less than 8 grams of lithium content. If, however, a shipment contains more than 24 lithium cells or 12 lithium-ion battery packs, special markings and shipping documents will be required. Each package must be marked that it contains lithium batteries.
  • All lithium-ion batteries must be tested in accordance with specifications detailed in UN 3090 regardless of lithium content (UN manual of Tests and Criteria, Part III, subsection 38.3). This precaution safeguards against the shipment of flawed batteries.
  • Cells & batteries must be separated to prevent short-circuiting and packaged in strong boxes.

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Green Careers

From solar panels to wind turbines...green careers are here.

By Lawrence Ross

Green jobs used to be a topic that only intrigued the Berkeley types eating granola bars.

Not anymore.

Today, economists trumpet the greening of the economy as a savior of American industry, as scientists and engineers are creating dynamic new ways to go green.

That all sounds well and good, but what exactly is a green job?

It has to pay decent wages and benefits that can support a family. It has to be part of a real career path, with upward mobility, said Phil Angelides, chair of the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of business, labor, and environmental groups championing green employment. "And it needs to reduce waste and pollution and benefit the environment."

Green jobs can range from installing solar panels and wind turbines, to hybrid car production and green facilities management, not to mention the greening of existing occupations.

Did you know that U.S. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu said that if the United States painted 63 percent of the roofs white, the energy savings would be like taking every car off the road for 10 years?

Residential and commercial construction is another big area that will see job growth.

The Center for American Progress estimates that if the country commits to retrofitting 40 percent of all commercial and residential buildings (approximately 50 million buildings) in ten years, 625,000 permanent jobs will be created.

Domestically, the green collar job movement is benefiting from the fact that the U.S. renewable energy industry was growing three times faster than the economy overall prior to the recession's onset at the end of 2007, according to a study for the Energy Department by Management Information Services Inc. (MISI) of Oakton, Va.

That kind of aggressive growth was echoed by a new study from the Pew Charitable Trust, which says the number of green jobs in the United States grew 9.1 percent between 1998 and 2007, about two-and-a-half times faster than job creation in the economy as a whole.

Here are some of the fastest growing green jobs:

Farmer

Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, says there's a need for tens of millions of small farmers who use local, organic, and green methods, rather than the dangerous fertilizers and pesticides used by many corporate farms. And according to The New York Times, Jessica Durham, a partner with D&L Urban Farms, makes $35 per hour tending small urban farms for others.

Forester

With the move from cutting and culling forests to growing higher-value timber for medicine and fruit, forests are a major area for green jobs. The U.S. Forest Service recently received $1.15 billion from the federal government for jobs.

Solar Panel Installer

A study by the Apollo Alliance recommends an $89.9 billion investment in green buildings which would create 827,260 jobs - an initiative supported by the Obama stimulus package. According to The Wall Street Journal, a solar panel installer can make between $15 and $30 per hour.

Wind Turbine Fabricators

According to the American Wind Energy Association, the industry currently employs some 50,000 Americans and added another 10,000 new jobs in 2007. This is an area that Fast Company says is a great place for auto workers to repurpose their skills.

HVAC

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) is a great source for green jobs, because for many businesses and governments, it's a field where retrofitting to more green, energy efficient units creates instant savings. An HVAC tech can expect to make about $38,360 per year, according to the Department of Energy.

The bottom line: Going green no longer is outside the mainstream. It is the mainstream. And with the right training, you'll find that saving the environment is a good way to make a living.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Evolution of Car Manufacturers



Manufacturers Popularity and Decline

There were over 300 companies building electric cars at the turn of the 20th century. At that time the United States had over 30,000 electric cars on the road. The Electric Vehicle Association of America (EVAA) was founded by Boston Edison in 1909. Electric cars were clean and quiet, and did not require manual starting by physically cranking the motor by hand. The biggest demographic customer base for these cars was women. Even Henry Ford's wife drove an electric car.

In 1913 Cadillac invented the electric starter; this was a huge advance, truly a milestone in automotive technology for internal combustion cars.  The internal combustion assembly lines of Henry Ford, active since 1908, caused a further decline in the use of electric cars. Ford's assembly line made cars inexpensive and it helped make them more uniform.  Parts were not custom made for each vehicle, this made repairs and replacements easier and more economic. At the time, electrics were still popular for some non-road applications, such as service vehicles like carts and forklifts.

Infrastructure

With more cars of all types being produced the transportation infrastructure began to improve dramatically. We began building more paved roads. This also made internal combustion cars more desirable because of their greater range. Even Thomas Edison preferred gasoline to electric. As gasoline vehicles became more popular we began building more service and support for them.  Garages and gas stations began to appear in more locations, making it easier to own and operate a gas vehicle.

Today's Hybrids and Electrics

Hybrid vehicles became popular at the turn of the 21st century. Fuel prices reached record levels, quickly going from two dollars to three dollars, and eventually to over four dollars per gallon. One of the first vehicles to reach critical success in the consumer marketplace was the hybrid Toyota Prius. This vehicle is affordable, efficient and advanced, its hybrid technology blurring the lines between the performance of electric and internal combustion vehicles.  Hybrids' have two drive trains that work with each other to provide the work to drive the vehicle.  Development of the Hybrid has produced new technology which combines the drive trains at a price people are willing to pay.  A side benefit of their development has been to show that electric technology works effectively.  Some Hybrid owners have done conversions allowing for their vehicles to be charged by directly plugging in, these are known as plug-in-hybrid-electric-vehicles (PHEV).

The history of electric cars and trucks is filled with both facts and politics. Arguably, the best electric vehicles (EVs) are the one produced by the major auto manufacturers.  The major manufacturers produced both "ground-up", or original EVs, and conversions of existing vehicles.  Most of these vehicles are no longer in existence due to the auto makers' claims that there is not enough consumer demand.  Economics have come into question at various times, as the major vehicle makers have a vested stake in their existing internal combustion engine (ICE) technology.

  Smaller manufacturers have attempted to build electric cars and trucks with varying degrees of success.  Some of the vehicles produced by these companies look similar to the internal combustion cars and trucks we drive, and others appear much more exotic.  Size is important in order to maximize range, so some vehicles are extremely light, almost like bicycles.  Others have been built with three wheels to qualify for motor vehicle licensing in the motorcycle category.  Cars have been produced with direct drive motors, chain drive, belt drive, hub motors.  

Several smaller "boutique", or specialty manufacturers still convert vehicles today. The degree of their quality and performance varies dramatically.  Some companies offer parts that are kitted into standardized assemblies, others simply provide general instructions and ideas, often with a loose recipe of parts and where to find them.

Many hobbyists are drawn to conversions because of the design and creativity necessary to convert one existing design into another.  Because of this freedom, many strange and unique features have come from individual projects.  This experimentation has included charging trailers that are towed behind the with a gas generator (the first "hybrids"); regenerative braking that puts energy back into the battery pack by temporarily making the motor into a charger; even exploring with solar or motion generators attached to the EV.

  The moderate or limited success of these early inventors has both helped and hurt the EV industry.  The best outcome has been that they have proven the concept.  EVs are possible, the technology is here and can be assembled by almost anyone.  The negative side is that some of the early vehicles produced were unappealing to consumers.  The main buyers of these concept cars were early adopters who were willing to try out new technology. Many people believe that a car or truck is not really viable unless it is made by a major car manufacturer.

Your project is the combination of a "major manufacturer" and a "boutique" shop.  The S-10 was manufactured by General Motors, and the conversion kit was made by Electric Auto Shop.  Putting them together into the electric drive truck will use another boutique shop, you and your school.

 Today's Fuel Cell Vehicles

Using fuel cells in vehicles may be new technology, but fuel cells were introduced over 100 years ago.  In this technology, fuel material is converted into electricity.  The fuel material can be a stream of hydrogen gas.  Like a lead acid battery, there is action between the cathode and anode which produces work to the wheels to drive the vehicle.  One drawback is that the fuel cell vehicle is expensive and needs a lot of space for the fuel cell to complete its conversion process. 

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tesla Motors




Tesla Motors files for IPO, seeking $100 million


LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) -- High-end electric-car company Tesla Motors filed for an initial public offering Friday, seeking $100 million in the public-financing arena as conventional auto makers are reeling from anemic sales and product recalls.


Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla filed documents with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, but did not indicate in the filing when those shares would be sold on the public markets, nor what the initial price would be. Company executives could not be immediately reached for comment.


If successful, the IPO could help usher in a new era for the auto industry, which is steadily moving toward cleaner-burning engines.


Toyota's recall debacle

Japanese auto-maker Toyota may have to recall 8 million vehicles world-wide over safety fears that some analysts blame on cost-cutting measures.

The IPO is expected to be one of the most high-profile offerings in some time, and is the first by a U.S. automaker since Ford Motor Co. (entered the public markets in 1956.)

Whether Tesla can take advantage and shift public tastes more toward zero-emission cars is unclear. But the timing of the IPO could prove to be shrewd.

"We believe incumbent automobile manufacturers are at a crossroads and face significant industry-wide challenges," Tesla said in its filing, adding that "the legacy investments made by incumbent automobile manufacturers in manufacturing and technology related to the internal combustion engine have to date inhibited rapid innovation in alternative-fuel powertrain technologies."


While Ford has been prospering of late, rivals General Motors and Chrysler have been suffering from downtrodden sales, and were taken over by the federal government last year. Meanwhile, top foreign producer Toyota Motor Corp.  is having to recall millions of its automobiles around the globe due to a problem with sticking accelerator pedals.

The Tesla Model S.

Tesla first started selling its $100,000 all-electric sports car, the Roadster, in 2008 and followed that up last year with the Roadster 2. The company claims in its IPO filing that the car has a range of 236 miles on a single charge, and says it has sold 937 of the vehicles in 18 countries.

It is designing a sedan designed for family use, the Model S, which would run for $49,900 after a $7,500 federal tax credit, the company's IPO said. The sedan would have a range of 160 to 300 miles on a single charge. In addition, Tesla is negotiating with Daimler AG  to provide its electric powertrain and battery technology for Daimler's Smart fortwo car. One thousand Tesla battery packs and chargers are being used in a trial with Smart fortwo cars in five European cities.

Tesla said it has taken out a $465 million long-term loan with the Energy Department under its advanced-vehicles manufacturing program to build a facility that will manufacture the Model S. The company added that it has been given up to $31 million under similar California state programs.

In the filing, Tesla indicated its revenue will decrease substantially before the Model S is rolled out -- expected to be sometime in 2012. That is because Tesla will cease selling its roadsters in 2011 and won't resume production on a new model until at least 2013.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Toyota Electric



Toyota to Build All-Electric Car by 2012

Toyota promises to have a compact "Urban Commuter" car that runs entirely on electricity for sale by 2012. The automaker will also speed up the rollout of plug-in electric Prius models powered by lithium-ion batteries, and build a Lexus hybrid.




Toyota, the leader in hybrid car sales, plans to have a Battery Power compact car called the FT-EV on the market by 2012 – a lightweight four seat, model on its gasoline-powered IQ, that will have an all-electric range of 50 miles.

Toyota's move toward an all-electric car follows those by companies like Nissan, Mitsubishi, Think and several others aiming for the commuter market, where the shorter ranges of battery-powered vehicles are seen as less of a drawback.

As for its hybrid plans, Toyota said it will begin delivering Prius hybrids that can be plugged in to recharge their batteries in 2009, slightly earlier than a previously announced 2010 rollout date. About 500 of the plug-in hybrids will be used for market and engineering analysis by lease fleet customers.

Those plug-in Priuses will be powered by lithium-ion batteries built at a plant owned by Toyota and Panasonic EV Energy Co., the company announced. Current Prius models use nickel-metal hydride batteries.

Toyota showed off test models of the FT-EV and new versions of the hybrid third-generation Toyota Prius and Lexus HS250h at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this weekend. Startups Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive, as well as financially troubled automaker Chrysler, are introducing all-electric sports cars at the show.

The push for more fuel-efficient vehicles comes amid a dire economic climate, with sales of new cars plummeting and American automakers General Motors and Chrysler tapping up to $17.4 billion in federal bailout funds to avoid bankruptcy.

General Motors plans to have its plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt on sale in 2010. Ford said it plans to be building an all-electric commercial van by 2010, an all-electric passenger car by 2011, and plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2012.

The economic downturn and falling oil prices have hurt sales of hybrids along with broader auto sales. Toyota's hybrid car sales in the United States fell 53 percent in November from a year ago, and the company expects to post its first operating loss in 70 years for the fiscal year ending in March.

But Toyota's push toward electric and plug-in hybrid cars is part of the company's recognition that, despite currently falling oil and gasoline prices, "the inevitability of peak oil," or the coming peak and decline of production from the world's oil fields, will force automakers to make more fuel-efficient cars. Other automakers have also reported steeply declining sales. The poor economic climate has led seven automakers to scale down or cut their presence at the auto show, including Nissan, Mitsubishi, Rolls-Royce and Land Rover.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Best Hybrid



Test Drive: 2010 Ford Fusion is best gas-electric hybrid yet


OK, let's just get it out there: The 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid is the best gasoline-electric hybrid yet.
What makes it best is a top-drawer blend of an already very good midsize sedan with the industry's smoothest, best-integrated gas-electric power system. It's so well-done that you have to look to the $107,000 Lexus LS 600h hybrid to come close.


Fusion's $28,000 starting price is more or less in reach, the driving feel is good, and the interior has a premium look and feel.

There are three facets to consider in evaluating a gasoline-electric hybrid: the underlying vehicle itself, the hybrid system and the mileage.

Assuming the preproduction Fusion hybrid test car was representative — Ford says it was — the Fusion's scores in those three categories are good, great and adequate, but potentially, very good.

The Toyota Prius crowd will protest. Prius is lower-priced, has about the same room inside, has a handy hatchback configuration, gets better mileage — and most of those attributes could improve when the 2010 Prius goes on sale in a few months — so how could Fusion be the best hybrid?

Simple. Fusion drives better. A car is, after all, a driving machine. Brownie points for saving somewhat more fuel or offering a cargo-friendly hatchback, but driving feel is most important.

And there, Fusion is without equal among hybrids.

Here's a look:

•The car. A slick machine, regardless of power-plant. Smooth looks. Good manners. Adequate space. Comfortable accommodations. Above-average ambience.

Ford launched Fusion as a gasoline-only car in 2005 as a 2006 model.

It's getting a mid-cycle update for 2010, including a hybrid version for the first time, which will begin arriving at dealers mid-March.

The hood has a wide, demi-dome bulge, and the grille and rump are tweaked a bit.

The grille now looks as if it was done that way on purpose.

A commendable change: The turning circle is 2 feet narrower. No more back-and-forth getting into or out of a tight parking spot at the shopping mall. The change makes the car feel more nimble overall, not just when docking in a narrow slot.

•Hybrid system. The basic four-cylinder gasoline engine is a 2.5-liter, up from a 2.3-liter in previous Fusions. A little more oomph is the welcome result. The aural signature could be better — it comes down on the coarse side when spurred hard — but isn't a deal-breaker. The electric motor delivers more crank than you get from the gas engines in most small cars.

And the miracle is how Ford blends the two. There was no — none, nada, zip — vibration or shimmying in the test car when the gasoline kicked in to help the electric. No other hybrid — not even that $107,000 Lexus — can make that claim 100% of the time.

Fusion's main rivals, Camry and Nissan Altima hybrids, shake a lot when their gasoline engines join the party, Altima especially.

And no, it's not worth accepting the lack of refinement as a price for saving fuel. It'll make you bitter and crazy after a while, wincing in advance knowing that shudder is due any second.

One Ford trick: using the engine's electronic controls to halt the gasoline engine just at the point in the crankshaft rotation where a cylinder is ready to fire again.

There was a distant shudder when the Fusion's gasoline engine restarted after stopping at a red light, as all hybrids do to save fuel. But it was milder than in any other hybrid tested, so minor as to be inconsequential.

The other great thing about the Fusion hybrid is information delivery. You can pick how much hybrid-related data you want on the instrument panel. Regardless of how much you ask for, Fusion delivers it informatively, no scolding or overwhelming you, as other hybrids do.

Yes, there's the "atta way" pictograph of leaves growing into a wreath if you drive just so. But you can shut that off.

• Mileage. Mediocre for a hybrid in the test, but the mileage numbers were continuing to climb even as the test ended. And the car registered 40-plus miles per gallon in a couple of short trips that usually return crummy, not outstanding, mileage.

Best guess: Moderate, but not mileage-obsessed, drivers could get 35 mpg or so in suburban settings. Not the 41 government rating, but impressive for a 3,720-pound midsizer.

Fusion's city mileage rating is better than Camry's 33 mpg, but does it get more in real life? Probably depends more on the driver than the car.

Even if the Fusion gets lower real-world results, it's still much smoother and a whole lot nicer to drive.

More about the 2010 Ford Fusion hybrid

What? Gasoline-electric hybrid version of midsize, four-door, front-drive Fusion that's been updated for 2010 model year. Ford's Mercury brand sells the nearly identical Milan.

When? Hybrid and gasoline versions begin arriving at dealers in March.

Where? Made at Hermosillo, Mexico.

Why? Pirate some sales from Toyota's Camry hybrid. And burnish Ford's "green" credentials.

How much? Starts at $27,995 ($3,295 more than most similar gas model). With all factory options: $32,435. Midlevel test car: $29,590 (no leather or navigation system). Gasoline model starts at $19,995.

How many? About 20,000 a year, including a few Milans; more if Mikey likes it.

How powerful? Modestly — punch not being the key issue in a hybrid: 2.5-liter gasoline engine rated 156 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 136 pounds-feet of torque at 2,250 rpm. Electric motor: 106 hp at 6,500 rpm, 166 lbs.-ft. the moment it begins to turn (an appealing attribute of electric motors). Ford says net combined hp is 191, but declines (like most hybrid makers) to specify net combined torque.

Continuously variable automatic transmission blends power from the gas, electric powerplants.

How fancy? Lots standard, including expected bags, belts, stability and traction controls and power accessories, plus the unexpected: Free six-month satellite radio service (Sirius), 110-volt outlet, six-CD stereo (instead of the typical single setup), dual-zone climate control, auto on-off headlights, auto-dimming mirror, backup alarm. In other words, you actually could abide the base Fusion hybrid.

How big? On the small end of the midsize scale. Fractionally bigger outside than Toyota Camry hybrid, slightly smaller inside, but has a bigger trunk.

Fusion hybrid is 190.6 inches long, 72.2 in. wide, 56.9 in. tall on a 107.4-in. wheelbase.

Passenger space is listed as 99.8 cubic feet, trunk as 11.8 cu. ft. Weight listed as 3,720 lbs. Turning diameter is 37.5 ft.

How thirsty? Rated 41 miles per gallon in town, 36 on the highway, 39 in combined driving.

Test car trip computer showed 27.2 mpg (but was continuing to climb when test period ended) in 300 miles of suburban driving. Registered a remarkable 41.4 mpg in one 5.1-mile suburban trip, 44 mpg in a 3.1-mile hop, driven normally, no nursing.

Tank holds 17 gallons. Regular (87 octane) gasoline is specified.

Overall:  Best hybrid.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Gas Electric Hybrid



Fisker Preps Its Production Car

The Karma will cost $87,900, a little more than expected, but the gas-electric hybrid is coming next November, the company says.


Fisker Automotive says it will be ready to deliver cars to customers this coming November, and will show off its production models to the public this January.
The startup, which has designed an upscale series hybrid car called the Karma, plans to show off the production version of its car at the North American International Auto Show, which starts Jan. 11 in Detroit.

The production model largely resembles the prototype that Fisker showed off at the show last year and at subsequent events. The company, though, has begun to refine the details on the price and performance of its car. As with Tesla Motors, the big question is whether Fisker can market and mass produce what will essentially be an electric car for a price that will appeal to customers and let the company also make money. The automotive world is a harsh place. You have to go back to the 1910s and 1920s to find the last time that there were successful crops of startup automakers.

The Karma will be released at a base price of $87,900, which is nearly 10 percent higher than the $80,000 price estimate given by the company earlier. The four-door car will be powered by a lithium-ion battery from an unnamed vendor and the Q-Drive power-train initially conceived by Quantum Technologies, which has worked with General Motors on a number of projects. The car will be delivered in November, a refinement from the "fourth quarter" statements earlier.

The car is a series hybrid like the Chevy Volt, which has been delayed until 2010. This type of hybrid, the car drives on an electric motor powered by batteries. When the batteries are about to give out, the gas generator fires up, and charges the batteries. The gas engine can also propel the car. The Karma itself will drive 50 miles on electricity and then drive on a combination of gas and electric power. This gives the car an estimated mileage of 100 miles per gallon, according to the company.

The car can hit a top speed of 125 miles per hour and Fisker says it can go from zero to 60 in 5.8 seconds. It also has different driving modes-Stealth, Sport, HEV and Fuel Economy, giving drivers different degrees of fuel economy and power.

Fisker and Tesla in many ways have similar strategies. Both will enter the market with high-end cars and then try to trickle into the mainstream with sedans as the underlying technology in their vehicles becomes cheaper. (CORRECTION: Tesla has already produced and sold "nearly 100" cars according to a spokeswoman. Fisker won't start until November.) The main difference is the gas generator. Fisker makes hybrids. Tesla earlier had planned to make a series hybrid but now says it will make only all-electric cars. All-electrics can cost more than regular cars because of the inordinate expense of batteries.

On the other hand, the series hybrid concept hasn't been tried in mass production cars yet. Some, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and UC Davis Professor Andy Frank, claim that the concept is tougher to pull off than it sounds. Toyota's Prius and the other hybrids on the road are parallel hybrids. In these, the gas motor propels the car and doesn't exist to charge the battery.

As previously stated, the Karma will be assembled by Valmet Automotive, which also produces the Porsche Boxster and Porsche Cayman. The Yearly volume is anticipated to reach 15,000 cars per year.

A total of 40 retailers for the U.S. market will be established by October 2009. Fisker Automotive will announce 20 of its Retailers in January 2009. European pricing will be announced at the International Geneva Motor Show in March.


Hybrid Chevy Volt



GM's Chevy Volt: A Work in Progress

Chevy Volt co-creator Jon Lauckner says that GM's first plug-in hybrid won't have swappable or leasable batteries, but he passes on saying how much it might cost.


Fresh out of bankruptcy, General Motors promises its plug-in hybrid, the Chevy Volt, will go on sale in late 2010. What else does GM want to tell the world about it?
Jon Lauckner, Volt co-creator and GM's vice president of global program management, didn't offer too many hard answers to the dozens of questions he fielded in an online question and answer session Wednesday. But he did clarify some roads the Volt wasn't planning to travel down.

For example, GM doesn't plan to lease the Volt's batteries to customers. That's a business model being considered by some, including battery charging and swapping station, startup Better Place, since batteries can make up a significant portion of the cost of plug-in hybrid or pure electric vehicle.

Neither does GM intend to make the Volt's batteries easily removed and exchanged, Lauckner wrote. That means the Volt will not be a candidate for Better Place's switch-the-battery business model – not surprising, since Better Place is aiming more at serving all-electric vehicles.

The Volt's battery pack – being designed by GM with battery cells from a consortium headed by LG Chem. is expected to retain enough of a charge to deliver 40 miles of electric-powered range over 10 years and 150,000 miles of service, Lauckner wrote. GM will guarantee that performance and repair or replace batteries that don't meet it.

Afterwards, the battery packs should have enough energy storage capacity for stationary applications. The semi-depleted car batteries will find second homes storing energy at homes or businesses, or utility substations.

GM still isn't talking about a price for the Volt, and likely won't until three to six months before it will start production, Lauckner wrote.

The European version of the Volt, the Ampera, is still on track for a 2011 launch, but GM will also sell the regular Volt in Europe, Lauckner wrote. That was in response to a question about the future of Opel, GM's troubled European division.

And GM doesn't see much point in putting solar panels on the roof of the Volt, Lauckner wrote – unlike Toyota, which will offer buyers of the new Prius hybrid the option of rooftop solar panels made by Kyocera.

"The amount of solar energy you can get by covering the Volt's roof with solar cells is only enough to run a small fan motor," he wrote. "You aren't going to recharge the battery on solar power in a reasonable amount of time."

Toyota expects to start mass-producing a plug-in version of the Prius in 2012.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

New Breed of Hybrid Cars



About Hybrid Cars

The New Breed of Hybrid Cars - Hybrid SUV

Sponsored Results for About Hybrid Cars

While hybrid cars have been around now for some time, now you can find a hybrid SUV as well, which is thrilling to many people. Some people need a bit more than a small car but they love the great benefits and features of the hybrid technology, which is why various companies are now making a hybrid SUV. These hybrid sports utility vehicles are special large vehicles that use both the power of a gas engine and an electric motor as well. This gives great power but helps to keep the vehicle fuel efficient as well. There are both mild hybrids and strong hybrids available. The mild hybrids mainly depend on gas engines and have only a small motor that is electric, while the strong hybrids have electric motors that have a larger role in powering the vehicle.


Various Models Made

There are a variety of hybrid SUV models that are being made today. Both Lexus and Toyota offer their own hybrid SUV models. You'll also find that Honda offers a hybrid SUV, but it is considered to be a very mild hybrid. While there still are not a whole variety of different hybrid SUV models being made today, in the future it is expected that more manufacturers will begin producing a variety of different SUV hybrids.

Features and Functions

There are a variety of features and functions that will come along with a hybrid SUV. Usually you will find that when you are driving at lower speeds, the electric motor will provide most of the momentum for the vehicle and the extra power is used to help recharge the batteries in the vehicle. Also, these vehicles have continuously variable transmissions in them as well, which mean that the gears shift smoothly and provide smooth power no matter which mode you are in.

A Solution to High Gas Prices

One of the best things about owning a hybrid SUV is that they can help to offer a solution for high gas prices. For those who need to drive SUVs, gas prices really have made an impact. With gas close to three dollars a gallon and SUVs getting very low gas mileage, it can definitely cramp your budget. Having a hybrid SUV can help you save on gas prices without you have to go with a car that is much smaller than what you really need. So, for those who are feeling the crunch of high gas prices, a hybrid SUV is a great option.

Great for Heavy Duty Needs

Another reason that many people are thrilled with the idea of a hybrid SUV is because it is great for heavy duty needs. It has the power needed to haul and tow, and this is especially aided b the special continuously variable transmission that offers you all the power you need at any gear level. So, for those who need something heavy duty and fuel efficient, once again the hybrid SUV is an excellent choice. 


Sport Utility Vehicles (SUV) are designed for people who want power and luxurious interior design for their cars. That is why most SUVs come with large engine capacity and a wide range of add on accessories. However, many SUV owners are in a dilemma right now because of the high gasoline prices at the local pump ...

The market for the best hybrid sports utility vehicles (SUVs) has been experiencing a steady expansion over the last few years. The reasons are not at all complex to comprehend. The best hybrid SUVS have all the good attributes of the traditional SUVs plus some additional advantages. Like all good SUV's. Telling the difference between a gas hog and a more fuel efficient vehicle when, your driving a gas only vehicle is usually pretty easy to do. You can tell which ones are better, your not only the environment but also which ones are easier on your pocket book. The ones that people usually lean towards as being the best at these.



Toyota Prius Hybrid



For 2010, Toyota has brought out an all-new version of its Prius hybrid. Like the old Prius, the new Prius is designed to deliver maximum MPG with family-car practicality. But within those parameters, Toyota has made a lot of changes: Sleeker styling, redesigned cabin, and an improved hybrid drive train that gives the driver greater control over the Prius' behavior. The old Prius did the job as well as can be expected -- so has Toyota made any meaningful improvements? Read on. $23,510 base price, $31,430 as tested, EPA fuel economy estimates 51 MPG city/48 MPG highway. 

  First Glance: I love you just the way you are


When I heard that Toyota was redesigning the Prius for 2010, my first thought was "Why?" Few cars carry out their intended mission better than the Prius. I bet Toyota could build it as-is for ten years and sales would still remain strong. But that's not the way things go in the auto business, and so change it they have: The Prius is all-new for 2010, for better or for worse. And while there is definitely some better, there is also a fair bit of worse.

Let's start with the styling. There's really not a whole lot the stylists can do with the Prius; the old model was designed to cheat the wind rather than please the eye, which pretty much dictates the shape. (That's why Honda came up with a similar profile for their own four-door dedicated hybrid, the Insight.) As a result, the new Prius looks a lot like the old Prius, at least at first glance. Look closer and you'll see a more Toyotaes-que face up front, a more pronounced wedge profile from the side, and a racy little spoiler out back. I was indifferent to the new shape at first, but the more new Priuses I see on the road -- here in Los Angeles, the Prius is as common as tall mocha lattes and silicon boobs -- the more I like the new shape. It makes the old Prius look frumpy by comparison. Overall, I'd say the new shape goes in the For Better category.



In the Driver's Seat: What were they thinking?



The Prius' cabin definitely has some For Better changes: A roomier back seat and a bigger trunk. Unfortunately, that's about all of the For Better, and there's a whole lot of For Worse.
Example numero uno is the center councel that divides the front seats. This is one design choice that has me scratching my head. Buying a Prius is all about being a good citizen of the planet -- so why design an interior that isolates the driver in his or her own little pod? The center console provides a more conventional location for the shift lever, though why anyone would possibly care is beyond me. It's an automatic, for cryin' out loud! Aside from that, the console just gets in the way. There's a storage area underneath which pretty much useless; anything you put there is going to a) block the seat heater controls -- which, by the way, are so inconveniently located that I can't believe Toyota came up with them -- and b) fall out on turns.

Example numero dos is the new instrument layout. The old Prius had a simple center-mounted digital gauge cluster. If you wanted more geeky information, like how power was flowing through the hybrid system or what sort of fuel economy you were achieving in five-minute increments, it was available on the same LCD screen that served the climate, stereo and navigation systems. The 2010 Prius still has the LCD screen, but Toyota designed a new geek-o-meter into the dashboard next to the speedometer. Problem is, they used a cheap Red and Blue LDC display, which looks cheesy and decidedly low-tech.



On the Road: Better where it counts



In terms of the mechanicals, it's all For Better. Toyota designed the new Prius to provide more power and get better fuel economy. The engine size is up from 1.5 to 1.8 liters, and there are now three driver-select power train modes: Normal, Sport and Eco. In Normal mode, the Prius drive, well, normally -- just like an old-shape Prius. Sport mode -- an odd choice of names, since there's nothing sporty about the Prius -- changes the accelerator pedal response so you get more power with less movement of the pedal. It doesn't actually make the car faster, but it does provide quicker access to what power the Prius does have.

Eco mode tunes the accelerator response to help you get maximum MPG by accelerating from a stop more gingerly and responding slowly to sudden movements of the accelerator pedal, basically automating a method used by experienced hype-rmilers to get maximum MPG. Like the old Prius, the new Prius can run on pure battery power and low speeds, and there's now an EV button that forces electric-only mode, which is useful for moving the car from one parking spot to another, but not much else.

I spent most of my time in Eco mode, figuring that most Prius owners would do the same. It worked: I averaged 48.9 MPG, a significant improvement over the 45 or so I averaged in all the second-generation Priuses I tested. I also noticed that the new Prius grips the curves better than the old Prius, although it's fun-to-drive factor is still almost nil.



Journey's End: Should be a slam dunk, but...


  The 2010 Prius has a couple of other cool gizmos, like a button on the key fob that lets you run the A/C remotely and a solar-powered ventilator fan that is supposed to keep the interior cool when the car is off (a neat idea, but it was no match for the hot Southern California sun).
But at the end of the day, the Prius is all about fuel economy, and the fact is that the 2010 Toyota Prius not only gets better gas mileage than the old Prius (as well as every other new car on the market), but it makes it easier to hit those stellar numbers. So it should be a slam dunk for the Prius... except it isn't.

Try as I might, I just can't get over the interior, with that intrusive center console and hideous dash display. I prefer the simplicity of the old Prius, even if that means getting 4 fewer miles per gallon (which, at 12,000 miles per year, only saves about 22 gallons).

Bottom line: For better or for worse, the Prius is still the best hybrid on the market. I just wish Toyota hadn't changed it quite so much.