Posted May 8th 2012 9:32AM
Last week, a science experiment led by an odd trifecta of bedfellows entered its second phase. The trio was Chrysler Group LLC, the U.S. Department of Energy, and Duke Energy; the experiment has all the markings of a tough, rigorous, scientifically significant undertaking. To wit: it costs millions of U.S. dollars (US$10 million from DoE and US$15.8 million from Chrysler); it involves the use of brand-new, highly sophisticated technologies, and; it comes with its own free travel pack of political name-calling and chalk-throwing.
No, really, chalk-throwing. The experiment also has a sort of gleeful open-endedness to it, and you feel that in some back room somewhere, a grubby little boy must be poking something with a stick - because the experiment, once you strip away the jargon and the scientific pomposity and the technological information, boils down to "take this super-cool mega-gadget, do cool stuff to it and see what happens."
Read more after the jump.
Said super-cool mega-gadget would be the Chrysler Town & Country minivan. Yes, you read that right. Yes, it said "minivan." Yes, now that you mention it, it probably would be a fine ride for taking the swim team out for ice cream. Do you have something against ice cream?
But here's the thing: it's more than a minivan. It's a statement: "We challenge anyone to find a way to cram more green stuff onto one vehicle. Go on, try. Can't be done."
How green is this T&C experiment? Let us count the ways. First, it's a hybrid vehicle (HV), so it has an internal combustion engine and an electric motor. Second, it's a plug-in electric hybrid vehicle (PEHV), so it adds to the advantages of a hybrid the ability to recharge via outlet. And third - now here's the piece of resistance - this baby's carrying an E85-compatible 3.6L Pentastar engine, mated to a front-wheel-drive, two-mode hybrid transmission. That's right - it's a flex-fuel vehicle (FFV). Put them all together and you've got one sweet ... well, it could be a "FFPEHV" or maybe an "HFFPiEV." Hmmm... in the interest of simplicity if not humour, let's dub it one sweet "FFPH." Go ahead, sound it out. We'll wait.
Reportedly, the FFPH combo system affords a total output of 290 horsepower and a range of just over 1,126 kilometres (700 miles). Charge times are two-to-four hours at 220 volts with a "Level 2" charge cord unit, and eight-to-fifteen hours at 110 volts with a "Level 1" charge unit.
Of the scientific "poke it with this and see what it does!" method, Chrysler wants to know (before it starts making these mega-minivans commercially available) all that it can possibly know about how such a tech-laden minivan will act in the real world under all the combinations of circumstances and environments it can dream up. What will they do when it's really, really, really hot? Don't know. Let's go to Death Valley. In August. How about when it's really cold? Let's head to Michigan for a complete course of Cold Weather Validation testing. We can hit the sled impact site and the wind tunnel on our way out.
To discover the answers to these and other more technical details, Chrysler, DOE, and Duke Energy launched a two-year project to get demonstration vehicles out on the roads in a wide variety of climates, terrains, and driving cycles. How does the minivan react to being driven fast every day on the salt flats? Or to having the brakes rode hard all the way down a mountain once a week? The only way to know how the prize FFPH would respond to being out on the road in real-world conditions, Chrysler reasons, is to get it out on the road in real-world conditions. They're hoping to prove that the car is viable under a wide range of conditions, that its battery holds up under environment and driving pressures, and that the flex fuel technology is compatible with plug-in hybrid technology.
To get data like these without releasing the cars commercially - and to be able to collect data cleanly and consistently - Chrysler needed a partner that regularly used auto fleets. Many public and private sector entities would fit that description, but Duke Energy landed the gig for several apparent reasons: for one, it already had one of the largest fleet of plug-in electric vehicles and plug-in electric hybrid vehicles in the U.S., including 170 flex-fuel vehicles. It was thus already familiar with the technologies and in a good position to learn from its observations of the flex-fuel plug-in hybrid minivans.
Also, the new vehicles fit in well with Duke Energy's goal of "decarbonizing" its campus; Duke has pledged to transition its entire fleet to plug-in electrics or hybrids, and that after 2020, all new purchases will be plug-ins.
Duke's employees will get to use, maintain and report on the FFPH minivans. Even more importantly for Duke, however, it will be able to collect and analyze two years' worth of highly valuable data on how the vehicles affect the power grid.
Concerns have already been expressed by those in the U.S. power industry about the increasing demand on the grid by plug-in vehicles. By beginning early to think about how to manage that demand and keep the grid reliable before the demand is very high, Duke may be positioning itself perfectly to be the leader in the energy industry that is ready when needed to implement solutions for supplying plug-in power. It will be a neat double play: solving a persistent energy problem while also solidifying its own market position.
If at the same time it reduces its own carbon footprint, you might even call it a trifecta.
News Source: Evergeek