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Archive for March, 2010

Copper Industry Support for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (Part 3 of 3)

March 19th, 2010 No comments

By Bob Weed, Copper Development Association Vice President, OEM

The Copper Development Association (CDA) and its member companies are long-time supporters of hybrid and electric vehicles. The CDA built and tested three vehicles in the 1970s to demonstrate the capabilities of electric vehicles and to help improve  supporting technologies. Bob Weed, Copper Development Association vice president of original equipment manufacturing, says the copper industry is still committed to developing new technologies for electric transportation.

Recently, the CDA provided technical assistance to Cobasys LLC for their NiMH batteries. The project involved helping to determine the optimum copper alloys for use in batteries and then partnering with Edison Welding Institute (EWI) to develop effective joining technologies that could accommodate high-volume, high-speed production.

Copper companies have developed new, high performance alloys for connectors and new magnet wire profiles that result in more efficient motor windings. One of the more exciting developments is the cast copper motor rotor. It’s always been known that a copper rotor is more efficient than a traditional aluminum rotor, because copper is a better conductor of electricity and has lower resistance. Therefore, motors with copper rotors can be smaller and run cooler. The result is an induction motor with the highest power density possible today.

copper van 2 FINALThe first transportation application for this technology was the U.S. Army severe-duty trucks. Four 140-hp AC induction motors are used to power the truck, one on each of four axles. The 520-V motors are powered by a 400-hp diesel engine, making a hybrid drive system that can move the 35,000-pound vehicles and run a 335-KW generator to operate field hospitals, command centers or airstrips. Called ProPulse® by Oshkosh Truck Corp., the innovative hybrid electric drive system is said to decrease emissions and increase fuel economy by as much as 40%. Aside from several configurations for the military’s 8×8 HEMTT-A3 (Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck) series, the drive system is also configured for commercial use with refuse vehicles. Oshkosh says the new drives will lower life-cycle costs as well as lower interior and exterior noise profiles.

I’m also introducing this technology to manufacturers of passenger cars and light trucks. These vehicles require motors that are smaller, more efficient and run cooler. Plus motors using cast copper rotors don’t rely on rare earth elements.  Rare earth elements, used in permanent magnet motors, are expensive and have to be imported to North America.

In addition to propulsion systems, a number of very talented people are working on charging systems and infrastructure for hybrid and pure electric vehicles. The Center for Automotive Research (CAR) organized a conference last fall that brought together electric utilities, auto companies, and charger manufacturers. Some of these presentations are still available on their website and hopefully there will be more conferences like this in the near future.

The CDA and the copper industry have been involved in electric propulsion for decades, but some of the most exciting advancements will take place over the next few years. And I’m looking forward to being involved in them.

Is the Future Now? Consumers Consider Hybrid & Electric Vehicles (Part 2 of 3)

March 12th, 2010 No comments

By Bob Weed, Copper Development Association Vice President, OEM

Although electric and hybrid vehicles are receiving a lot of attention, they really aren’t “new.” Trolleys and electric buses use electricity from overhead wires. Most of the locomotives we see pulling trains are diesel-electric hybrids. Large excavating shovels and the giant mining trucks they load are often diesel-electric hybrids. Most hybrid vehicles on the road right now in North America are gasoline-electric hybrids. Bob Weed, Copper Development Association vice president of original equipment manufacturing, says copper will play an important role as more Americans find value in buying and driving hybrid vehicles. At some point consumers will consider pure electric vehicles, but they probably won’t be widely used in the near future because of cost and convenience.

Although the internal combustion engine has served us well for more than 80 years and can still be improved a great deal, we will undoubtedly see more alternative power vehicles, such as hybrids and pure electrics. It makes sense from an automotive design standpoint since there are  a huge number of features being built into cars that all require electricity.  Alternators and batteries are getting bigger in order to handle this additional electrical load. But the consumer is also interested in better fuel economy and fewer emissions in addition to demanding more functionality and convenience. Today, we’re generally driving the power steering, power brakes, water pump, cooling fan, air conditioning and to a certain extent, the automatic transmission, off the forces being generated by the internal combustion engine. Every time you use a belt-driven system for some of these things, you’re going to have a power loss and reduce the miles per gallon.  Plus parasitic losses occur even when you’re not using the brakes or air conditioning.

Trains 004a FINALSo if you can switch over and use electricity for air conditioning, power steering and power brakes, your losses as far as miles per gallon will be less because electrical energy, only used “on demand,” is more efficient than mechanical energy in constant use.

However, the electricity needs to be generated and stored on board. That’s why hybrids or plug-in hybrids make more sense before getting into a pure electric.  Most of us will drive 25-30 miles to work. When electrical vehicles first came out, they said the range was only 60 miles, and that was fine if you wanted to go just to and from work. But the typical American doesn’t want to be limited to a certain number of miles. Many of us run errands during the day or take the kids to athletic practice or after school lessons.  No one wants to worry about whether their car will run out of power before they get home.

We want the capability to get in our vehicles and drive for eight hours without stopping to recharge. Hybrids can give us the freedom we need to drive longer distances without recharging. The thing none of us seems to have enough of these days is time. We want things to adapt to our lifestyles, be convenient and enable us to accomplish the things we want to do. And a lot of people are already enthusiastic supporters of electric and hybrid vehicles.

With either a plug-in hybrid or a pure electric vehicle, you’ll need a place to plug in your car or truck to recharge, whether it’s a house, condo or apartment building. With the pure electrics, we’ll need charging stations around us like gas stations – at malls, at our place of employment and at airport parking structures, for example. But that’s all in the future.

It may take a while for the new hybrid and electric vehicles to gain significant market share because Americans keep their vehicles longer. Today isn’t like in the 1960s & 1970s, when Americans bought a new vehicle every two years or so. People now will drive their vehicles for 100,000 miles or more because the quality and durability is very good. But within the next five- to six years, we could see a million hybrid vehicles on the road because starting in 2010, automakers will begin to aggressively market them to the American public.  Also, the government is talking about incentive programs.

Are Americans Ready for Hybrid Vehicles? (Part 1 of 3)

March 6th, 2010 No comments

Bob Weed-2By Bob Weed, Copper Development Association Vice President, OEM

Hybrid vehicles use a gasoline or diesel engine to power a motor. When the power of the motor isn’t required to move the vehicle, the engine can shut off, saving energy, or can be used to generate electricity that is stored in batteries, and used later to power the vehicle. Bob Weed, vice president of original equipment manufacturing for the Copper Development Association (CDA), weighs in.

The hot topic right now in the auto industry is alternative forms of propulsion. The internal combustion engine has been around for 100 years and has done a great job, but there is constant talk about doing something to decouple our economy from imported oil. And the government, depending on your point of view, is either encouraging us to go to different propulsion methods or mandating it.

The bottom line is the government is trying to enable us to change from using only petroleum products and internal combustion engines. And the public is interested. You see more hybrids on the roads, even with the relative retreat from the high gas prices we saw two years ago.

We’re going to see some exciting things coming out of the auto industry and that’s good for copper. Anything that involves electricity uses copper as an enabler. The average vehicle produced in North America has 50-55 pounds of copper in it, with more than half of that in the wire harness and electrical components. In a pure electric vehicle, the amount of copper is tripled, from 150-180 pounds. I often joke with people who say they’re looking forward to having an electric car someday. I tell them they are already using electric cars – they just don’t realize that the gasoline engine is actually generating electricity.

Look at a typical vehicle today. It has power seats, doors, locks and windows and more than a simple AM radio. It usually has a CD player that holds multiple discs, and interfaces for iPods, MP3 players and navigation systems. There are all kinds of lights in a vehicle that indicate if there’s a problem. There’s a lot that’s different from the days when I started driving. I had a fuel gauge and one red Check Engine light. All these changes and improvements are the result of new preferences and demands by consumers. And changes will continue to be driven by the consumer.

Traffic Graphic2 FINALIn a recent presentation at a Center for Automotive Research (CAR) briefing breakfast, Dr. Christopher Borroni-Bird, the director of advanced technology vehicle concepts for General Motors, reported that global demographics are changing.  People are more likely to live in urban areas, rather than rural. That means most traffic congestion comes from bottlenecks (40%) and traffic accidents (25%), which wastes a considerable amount of fuel. He also said that in dense urban centers, more than a third of gasoline is consumed looking for parking. Obviously, drivers are going to look for ways to reduce the amount of gasoline they use. And since more than 80% of drivers travel only 50 miles a day or less, electric and hybrid vehicles will become more attractive for consumers.