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Race on to build a lighter battery for Chevy Volt

General Motors Corp.'s new electric car won't be in showrooms for another two years, but already two sister companies based in this western Ohio community are working to make the Chevrolet Volt better.

CEDARVILLE, Ohio–General Motors Corp.’s new electric car won’t be in showrooms for another two years, but already two sister companies based in this western Ohio community are working to make the Chevrolet Volt better.

GM has said a lithium ion battery will power the Volt up to 64 kilometres on a single charge, but Applied Sciences Inc. and co-owned Pyrograf Products Inc. want to see if that range can be doubled.

“It’s safe to say this is our No. 1 priority,” said David Burton, head of research and development for Applied Sciences.

Helped by $1.2 million (U.S.) in state funding and another $600,000 from GM, the research and development company has worked for two years on tiny carbon fibres that could make the battery lighter and more efficient. The threads, so thin they cannot be seen without magnification, would replace some of the 1.4 kilograms of carbon in the Volt battery currently under development, company officials said.

“By making the carbon perform better, you can reduce the weight of that component in the battery,” John Mackay, an Applied Sciences spokesperson, told the Dayton Daily News.

GM is keenly interested in reducing the weight of the battery to boost the 6performance of the vehicle, said Mackay, who estimated that the Volt lithium ion battery now weighs about 180 kilograms.

That’s already much lighter than the old 360-kilogram lead acid battery that was a drag on the EV1, an electric-powered car that GM discontinued several years ago.

According to GM, the Volt will travel up to 64 kilometres on a single charge from a home power outlet. As it approaches 64 kilometres, a small gasoline or E85 ethanol engine will kick in to recharge the battery and keep the car going for potentially hundreds more kilometres.

When the Volt arrives in November 2010, Applied Sciences hopes that its technology will be on board. “GM researchers say they have not seen any carbon materials that have performed as well as ours,” Mackay said.

Carbon nanofibres developed for the battery by his company would be manufactured by Pyrograf Products, located just across the street and sharing the same owner as Applied Sciences, but with different investors.

Pyrograf is in a good position to supply the tiny carbon filaments as it’s the world’s third-largest producer of those materials, Mackay said.

The Associated Press

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