VIEWS: Transforming Transportation with Alternative Energy Storage

I recently had the chance to attend a seminar featuring Michael Andrews, the director of communications on the benefits of alternative transportation choices for Johnson Controls. Johnson Controls is well positioned to be a leader in driving technological innovation in lithium-ion batteries, which are one of the most crucial components of the transition to plug-in electric vehicles. The United States government recognizes how crucial advanced battery technology is, and as a result awarded $5 B worth of stimulus funds for batteries. Johnson Controls received $300 M of this money, making it the single largest recipient.

Plug-in electric vehicles offer the potential for enormous economic and environmental benefits, as they achieve fuel savings of 60 to 100 percent compared to conventional vehicles. Johnson Controls’ test car in Milwaukee has been traveling as far on $1 of electricity as it would on $4.50 of gasoline, and at a gas price of $3 a gallon, the simple pay back period on a plug-in vehicle is roughly 3 years. Moreover, even when the electricity for plug-in vehicles comes from a coal fired power plant, they emit fewer greenhouse gases than traditional cars because of the relative inefficiency of internal combustion engines compared to electric engines.

However, challenges still do exist for plug-in electric vehicles. Mid-drive recharging would take more time than gassing up, and some people who don’t have garages may not be able to conveniently recharge a plug-in electric vehicle at night, either. However, by ramping up advanced battery technology R & D, it is likely that solutions to these problems will be discovered. 

Large-scale advanced battery production and use is not a pipe dream for the future. In fact, Johnson Controls is currently retooling a Holland, Michigan plant to manufacture lithium-ion batteries, and the plant should be up and running by the summer of 2010. This plant will create 4,700 jobs, providing a powerful example of the potential for job creation and economic vitality in the new green economy.

A Dispatch by Matt Logan