The company accused of “killing the electric car” says it’s going to bring a new version of plug-in car back to the market. General Motors recently unveiled plans for a new hybrid SUV. But as Dustin Dwyer reports, the CEO of GM says he’s not sure when the vehicle will be on the roads:
The company accused of “killing the electric car” says it’s going to bring a new version of plug-in car back to the market. General Motors recently unveiled plans for a new hybrid SUV. They claim the new technology will get double the gas mileage of any current SUV. But as Dustin Dwyer reports, the CEO of GM says he’s not sure when the vehicle will be on the roads:
GM CEO Rick Wagoner announced the hybrid project at the Los Angeles Auto Show. He said the vehicle would have the ability to be plugged into a wall, to use more electricity and less gas.
The announcement was part of a major speech on GM’s commitment to alternative technologies.
And, although Wagoner set no dates for when his company would have these technologies, Bradley Berman of hybridcars.com says the speech was a big first step.
“For so long, we didn’t even hear the right talk. How can you walk the right walk if you’re not even talking the right talk? At least now it’s the right message. It’s the right way of looking at it. And that sounds promising.”
Berman says GM still has a long way to go to catch up with rival Toyota on hybrid technology.
A concept car powered by a lithium-ion battery. (Photo courtesy of hybridcars.com)
A lithium-ion battery used to power an automobile. (Photo courtesy of hybridcars.com)
Hybrid cars have become almost a symbol of environmentalism on the road. Powered by a gas-electric hybrid motor, these cars get up to 60 miles per gallon or better. Those gas savings come largely thanks to a battery. Now, people in the auto industry are looking at the next generation of battery that could push the gas savings even higher. Dustin Dwyer has this look at how batteries are cutting down on the need for oil:
Hybrid cars have become almost a symbol of environmentalism on the road. Powered by a gas-electric hybrid motor, these cars get up to 60 miles per gallon of gas or better. Those gas savings come largely thanks to a battery. Now, people in the auto industry are looking at the next generation of battery that could push the gas savings even higher. Dustin Dwyer has this look at how batteries are cutting down the need for oil:
For about a hundred years now, the auto industry in the United States has been associated with a certain kind of vehicle – a vehicle that’s big, powerful and chugs a lot of gas. It’s all been based on the internal combustion engine.
Now, that model is being challenged. It involves a number of technologies, but the first to really break through has been the hybrid. Hybrid cars and trucks still have an internal combustion engine under the hood, but the engine is paired with a battery. Of course, it’s not just a battery like the batteries that have always been in cars. The batteries in hybrids are called nickel metal hydride batteries (NiMH).
One company that makes them is Cobasys. On a factory floor a little less than an hour north of Detroit, Cobasys engineer Scott Lindholm explains what makes these batteries different.
“Basically the big advantage of nickel metal hydride in a hybrid vehicle environment is it can do millions of charge and discharge cycles. Where, if you buy a battery for your flashlight or your radio, you really just charge it once as your primary battery. This will accept charge and give you power multiple times.”
That ability to be recharged, and emit energy from a battery that weighs less than in previous generations has made all current hybrid vehicles possible. For hybrid owners, that’s meant better gas mileage, and lower emissions.
The battery itself isn’t exactly new; the technology was first introduced in the early 1980s. It’s taken almost until now for car companies to realize the full potential of nickel metal hydrides, but this isn’t the final step. Bradley Berman is editor of hybridcars.com. He says the next wave of batteries is coming from the world of iPods and laptops.
“It’s already out there in small electronic devices, and the big question is can it scale up for an automotive application? And the race is on to make that happen.”
Many say these lithium-ion batteries have the potential to be cheaper, lighter and more powerful than today’s nickel metal hydride batteries. The problem with them right now is safety. You might remember hearing something recently about batteries in laptop computers exploding. Well, those were lithium-ion batteries, and bigger, more powerful batteries in cars could mean a higher chance of catching fire for lithium-ion batteries.
Berman is confident that problem can be overcome, and he says we could see these kind of batteries in cars within 4-8 years. And that could mean big changes in gas mileage for hybrid owners. Berman says while the current generation Prius gets 60 miles per gallon in the city, lithium-ion batteries could get the next generation up to 80 miles per gallon. And the next step, a new plug-in car.
“If one of these carmakers comes through with some limited capacity for plugging in, which means you could charge more of it up, and you could use more of the battery on a regular basis, you’re starting to approach maybe triple digits.”
Some argue that plugging in just moves the environmental harm elsewhere. Instead of using gas to power your car, you’d generally be using coal or nuclear power from your local energy company. But supporters say that still leads to lower overall emissions.
Also, hybrid technology for cars doesn’t come in a vacuum. It can be combined with new biofuels, or eventually hydrogen. That could mean significantly cleaner cars – even cars with zero emissions. But just like the development of the nickel-metal hydride battery, these technologies could take a number of years before they’re ready.
When you buy a hybrid car or truck you’re eligible for a credit on your taxes, but starting in October, the tax credit for all vehicles made by Toyota and Lexus will be phased out. The GLRC’s
Dustin Dwyer explains:
When you buy a hybrid car or truck you’re eligible for a credit on your taxes, but starting
in October, the tax credit for all vehicles made by Toyota and Lexus will be phased out.
The GLRC’s Dustin Dwyer explains:
If you buy a Toyota Prius in the next two months, you can get the highest hybrid tax
credit on the market, but if you buy after October 1st, you’ll only get half the current
credit, and the credit for all hybrids made by Toyota and Lexus will be phased out
completely within a year.
That’s because Toyota reached a total hybrid sales mark of 60 thousand vehicles in June,
and, according to rules that took effect in January, carmakers that have sold more than 60
thousand hybrids can no longer offer tax credits to their customers.
Bradley Berman is editor of hybridcars.com:
“This cap creates confusion in the marketplace. And that undermines the intent to send a
clear message that consumers should try out hybrids.”
Berman says Detroit carmakers pushed for the cap in an effort to catch up with Japanese
carmakers on hybrid sales.
Peter Gail holds his favorite weed: the spinach-like lamb's quarters.
It's not hard to find lamb's quarters in a suburban backyard.
Edible lilies in the same backyard.
Your barbeque grill isn’t the only place to find food in your backyard. There are lots of plants out there to eat, but most of us call
them weeds. The GLRC’s Julie Grant reports:
Your barbeque grill isn’t the only place to find food in your backyard.
There are lots of plants out there to eat, but most of us call
them weeds. The GLRC’s Julie Grant reports:
Peter Gail of Cleveland loves food. He’s got a lot of meat on his bones.
“Gee, you can’t get me to stop. I start eating this stuff and I can’t stop. It’s terrible, it’s terrible, it’s addictive (laughs).”
But his favorite foods grow right in his backyard, and probably yours. Gail is what’s
known as an ethno-botanist. He’s on a mission to teach more people about how to eat the
plants growing all around their houses. His latest converts are a troop of boy scouts:
“My grandson was one of the boys in this Boy Scout troop. And when I got over to his
house three days after we got back from scout camp, he grabbed the bag, the plastic bag
of weeds that his mother weeded out of the yard that day and dragged it over to me on the
patio and said find the edible plants in here and show me them.”
Gail says the yard becomes more exciting to most kids when they can sit down and
munch. His own love of the backyard snack started when he was just a boy. His family
faced some tough times. They were saved by a common weed known as lamb’s quarters.
“My dad died and left the family with no money. A friend told my mother we could live
off lamb’s quarters. For six months we went out and every day my brother and I would
gather the young tops of lamb’s quarters and then bring them into the house and my
mother would make them into every kind of spinach dish imaginable, until she learned
how to make a living. And then after that she still, we still liked the plant so we still ate it a lot.”
These days you could pay a lot for lamb’s quarters in a gourmet food store. They’re sold
as Belgium spinach. Or, Gail says, you could just take a quick look around your yard.
Today we’re walking around a backyard in suburban Cleveland. We find lamb’s quarters
at the base of a tree. Some say you can recognize the leaves because they look like the
hindquarters of a lamb. Gail thinks they look more like the silhouette of a Christmas tree:
“You’ll notice it has, when you’re looking down on it, it looks like somebody spilled a
little bit of talcum powder on the very top. It has that little dusting of white that is right on the top and on the underside of the leaves you see the same dusting, but taste one leaf, taste a leaf of that.”
And it does taste like spinach, but the USDA reports it’s even more nutritious than
Popeye’s favorite treat.
“It doesn’t take any cooking. It can be eaten raw, or it can be cooked. It will interfere, if you eat too much raw, with the assimilation of both iron and calcium, so you usually want to cook it. It makes a great addition to omelets, great cooked green, great quiches. Any recipe you use spinach in, you can use lamb’s quarters.”
There’s a lot more than just lamb’s quarters in the yard to eat. This time of year, Peter Gail also recommends sautiing the buds or petals from orange and yellow daylilies. He’s also a big fan of dandelions. He suggests looking for the young, tender leaves because they’re less bitter. Gail says he believes dandelions were brought to America by Italian
immigrants. They’re used in lots of Italian recipes:
“80 percent of the things we call weeds were vegetables brought here by immigrants.
That’s one of the reasons most of the things we call weeds in our backyards aren’t
indigenous plants. They aren’t plants that were from America. They’re plants that are
from Europe and Asia and from South America.”
Gail says over time those traditional foods escaped from gardens into the wild. After
World War II, things changed. Most people started buying food at the grocery store and foraging became unpopular. He says only the poor searched the yard for food:
“One by one, as generations went by, the kids didn’t learn as much the second generation,
the third generation they knew nothing. And by the time we reach where we are now,
almost everybody can walk right by the most nutritious plant going, the most commonly eaten
plant back in the 30s and 40s, and not even have a clue what it is.”
Gail is trying to change that. He wants people to become reacquainted with these plants
so we don’t recklessly destroy them. He travels around the country giving workshops,
taking people on neighborhood forages, and teaching cooking classes. Gail believes we
might need these plants again someday.
The global marketplace is growing, with many industries enjoying theadvantages of free trade agreements that give them easier access toforeign consumers. But seed businesses still face tight regulationswhen it comes to crossing borders, and some in the industry say therestrictions should be loosened up. But if that happens, there may bean environmental price to pay. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s WendyNelson reports: