Global environmental challenges
With the first mass-market electric cars hitting the streets this month in the United States, one question looms: Who will buy these cutting-edge vehicles?
General Electric commissioned a survey to find out and the results shed some light on what is likely to motivate different kinds of potential electric car buyers.
The global conglomerate, of course, has a vested interest in promoting the electric car market. GE has its corporate hands in everything from batteries to charging stations to smart grid technology that will be crucial to managing electric cars interaction with utilities.
A research firm surveyed 1,000 people about their thoughts on electric cars. Half were drivers of gasoline-powered cars and the other half drove hybrid or electric cars.
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With the demand for renewable energy still growing, the American Wind Energy Association is eyeing 2010 as a critical year. Here are some of their top trends to watch for:
But General Electric thinks its new battery technology, based on sodium, could radically speed up that process.
“The way the roadmap has been laid out as I’ve seen it is a lot of evolutionary steps,” with technological development taking years if not decades to replace traditional gasoline powered cars with hybrids, followed by plug-in hybrids, followed by pure electric vehicles said Glen Merfeld, who runs the chemical energy lab at GE’s global research center in Niskayuna, New York.
The reason for that long timeframe is that current battery technology limits the range of a car that draws its power solely from an internal battery.
“The sodium battery is potentially disruptive to that evolutionary look,” Merfeld said. The technology that we are commercializing will solve some of those problems.”
GE on Tuesday said it plans to build a new factory outside Albany, New York, where it will initially focus on producing sodium-metal halide batteries for railroad locomotives. That technology differs from the lithium-ion batteries being developed for the next generation of hybrid autos in that it is better suited for releasing small amounts of energy over time, rather than a lot at once.
Eventually, by pairing the sodium battery with a lithium-ion one, such as those made by A123 Systems, which GE owns a stake in, the company could design a power train for an all-electric car that would allow a range of hundreds of miles and cost 30 to 40 percent less than a single-battery power train, Merfeld said.
“You’d probably want to start with larger (vehicles) because that’s where you need to store more energy than in the smaller ones,” added Mark Little, a GE senior vice president who runs its research center. “We could imagine a day where you could go to the future and have a small lithium-ion system for the power side and a larger sodium battery for the energy side. But that will take some time to get to.”
Coca-Cola is the latest American brand working to improve its environmental credentials with a sweeping new program that pledges to improve water efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide emissions throughout its massive global system.
The soft drink maker today said that through a partnership with environmental group WWF, it has commited to eliminating 50 billion liters of water from its bottling plants by 2012 by improving water efficiency by 20 percent over 2004 levels. Coke’s announcement comes a few months after General Electric said it would cut water usage by 20 percent by 2012.
According to a new list by nonprofit group Climate Counts, Nike ranked first among the world’s most climate-friendly companies.
In its second annual report, Climate Counts ranked companies based on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support of global warming legislation, public disclosure of their efforts to address climate change, and whether they measure their impacts on the environment.