Archive for March, 2012

US files WTO case against China over control of rare earth element market

As discussed in my last post about rare earth element components in hybrids and electric vehicles, the Obama administration filed a challenge with the WTO against China’s restrictions on export of  rare earth elements.  Why should you care about rare earth elements?  A Prius battery contains 20-30 lbs of lanthanum.  Other components like the motor and electronics systems also use these.  This is only one reason why companies are switching from NiMH to Lithium ion batteries.

Why did China restrict exports?  Long story short, to move their domestic production from raw materials to finished products like electronics and automobiles!  While their explanation is that they are motivated by environmental concerns, this is only half true.  Their laws are already looser than the United States and there appears to be many illegal mines in China which violate existing regulations.

This has been on the US’s radar for a while.  After some disputes between China and Japan, they block imports to Japan, maker of the Pris and many other electronics.  The US Department of Energy has started to give millions for research to reduce or eliminate rare earth elements.  While  supplemented by private capital investments, the amount of money invested in what could become a national security issue is tiny compared to federal expenditures.

Before rare earth elements become an area of conflict, raw science research funding needs to be restored.  Here’s a list of some recent projects funded by the DOE

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VW cross coupe concept battery lifespan and range deception

Volkswagen released the Cross coupe TDI hybrid concept today with some interesting facts.  MPG is 130 mpg, the car weighs 4100 lbs, and total power is 306 hp and 516 lb-ft.  While the numbers seem great for fuel economy and range and power, how is this possible?  My best guess is that they are deceptive.  First, since it’s a plug in hybrid, much of the increased fuel economy is from running off the battery charge when you first start moving.

The battery pack is Li-ion 9.8 kWh (how much energy it has or capacity), 85 kW (how much power it has) and works at 370V. It has plug in capability for 230V charging.  However, this doesn’t mesh with their claim that it can go 27 miles off the battery only.  I suspect that they are draining the battery fully for this concept which totally throws off the fuel economy number (even after ignoring that it’s the Euro cycle rating which is much higher than the US EPA cycle rating).

By comparison, the production Touareg hybrid has a NiMH 288V, 75aH, 1.7kWh, 38kW battery pack and it can only go 1.2 miles and up to 31 mph. So going from 1.2 miles to 27 miles I’m pretty sure they’re draining the battery, trading performance for short battery lifespan.

Looking at the Chevy Volt specifications confirms my suspicions.  The Volt uses a 16 kWh battery but only uses 10.4 of it going from fully charged to discharged and has a EPA rated range of 35 miles. Since the battery capacities used are about the same and the weight of the vehicles are about the same (the Cross coupe is 4100 lb vs. the Volt 3800 lbs), the numbers make more sense if you know that the Volt is only using about 10 kW and assume that the Cross coupe is also using about 10.

So while the whole point of a concept car is to get people excited and show them what could be, here’s what IS.  If Volkswagen built this car and sold it as a production vehicle, first it would incur the penalty of both the diesel and hybrid price premium.  So take the cost of a Chevy Volt and add $10,000 for the diesel engine, all wheel drive, and larger car.  Those numbers are just a guess but the final price would be in the $50,000 range.  Second, electric only range would not be 27 miles if my suspicions are correct.  Instead, it would be only around 17 miles.  While the Euro mpg rating is 130 mpg, I don’t know how much it would go down with a shorter electric only range.  In any case, the US mpg rating is significantly lower than the Euro rating and after taking away battery only range, as a total wild guess I’m going to say it would end up around 50-60 mpg.  While that sounds great, would you pay $50,000 for it?

Some more facts:
The front wheels are TDI and electric motor powered. The rear wheels are electric powered only. This means there’s no driveshaft and they could easily make one in FWD only.
Front motor is 40kW and rear motor is 85kW.
Total torque is 700Nm combined…that’s 516 lb-ft! The 2.0L TDI engine makes 188 (190 hp) and 400Nm (295lb-ft), front motor makes 180Nm (133 lb-ft) , rear makes 270Nm (199lb-ft) separately. Since the rear is not connected to the front, I’m guessing the front can only make a maximum of 430Nm combined (317 lb-ft).
Pure electric mode is limited to 120 km/h and max range of 45 km. That’s 74 mph and 27 miles.


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