Sign up for our free newsletter

Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.

Nov. 28–30
Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill

The Industry: sustainable transportation

The Attendees: 400 business, government, and utility delegates examining cash-guzzling new technologies

The Issues:

The Gridlockmobile: The new Mini Cooper–sized ZENN (Zero Emission No Noise) low-speed electric vehicle costs about $12,500, powers up by plugging into standard electrical sockets, travels 35 miles on a single charge—but is restricted by law to 25 mph, since it lacks air bags. Asked why a D.C. resident should consider a ZENN, Feel Good Cars CEO Ian Clifford said, “It’s ideal for sitting in traffic.”

Zero to Gusto: During a “Ride ’n Drive” for congressional staff and reporters, auto-company reps grew accustomed to being jerked around and rocketed through intersections as test-drivers discovered the high torque typical to newer electric and hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles.

Roast Not: According to Alan Gotcher, CEO of Altairnano, temperatures that cause lithium-ion batteries to burst into flames merely melt the plastic housing of his company’s NanoSafe nano-titanate battery cell, which might be brought to market by this spring.

Location, No-cation: The sporty Honda FCX hydrogen-fuel-cell four-seater’s dashboard computer impressively tracks hydrogen refueling stations. Less impressive is the estimate of only 200 stations nationwide.

Roll Models: Christina Gikakis of the Federal Transit Administration suggested mass transit as an ideal platform for new technologies: Buses are out there, they’re big, they’re big-budget items, “and they’re perceived as dirty.” A newly authorized National Fuel Cell Bus Program aims to develop commercially viable fuel-cell buses with drastically reduced emissions and fuel efficiencies double that of comparable buses.

Fiscal Relativism: Examining “Federal, State, and Local Solutions for Energy Security and the Environment,” Mark Simon of the New York City Department of Transportation said that hybrids improved fuel economy of the city’s bus fleet by nearly 40 percent and that, by June, the city will have the largest hybrid fleet—825 strong—in North America. “I don’t have to justify cost,” Simon said, “because I’m required by law to use them.”

Help, Please: During the Petroleum-Free Transportation discussion, one panelist noted an advantage enjoyed by Japanese fuel-cell developers: They can sell excess solar-cell energy back to utility companies at an attractive rate. “This is a lesson to the U.S., which had, and then totally lost, the lead,” concluded the speaker. The government “has to invest in research, but also help the technology succeed in the marketplace.”

Plugging Away: Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) use the same technology as current hybrids but have a more powerful battery that can be recharged in a standard home outlet. As detailed in a brochure from Plug-In Partners, a national grassroots group advocating flexible-fuel vehicles, PHEVs can travel up to 60 miles on a battery charge alone. The electricity equivalent to a gallon of gas will cost 70 to 80 cents at today’s electricity rates. Steven Specker, president of the Electric Power Research Institute, assured that PHEVs wouldn’t tax the current infrastructure, because they’d be recharged overnight, when an estimated 40 percent of U.S. electric-generating capacity operates at a reduced load.