Google Pushes Hybrid Development With $10m

By: Anthony Fontanelle

Google Inc. said Tuesday that it is getting in on the development of electric vehicles, awarding $1 million in grants and inviting applicants to bid for another $10 million in funding to develop plug-in hybrid electric vehicles capable of getting 70 to 100 miles per gallon.

The new project, dubbed as the RechargeIT initiative, will be managed by Google.org, the company's philanthropic arm. RechargeIT aims to further the development of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. These product cars or trucks have gasoline engine and advanced batteries that recharge by plugging into the nation's electric grid.

"Since most Americans drive less than 35 miles per day, you easily could drive mostly on electricity with the gas tank as a safety net," Dan Reicher, the director of Climate and Energy Initiatives for Google.org, wrote on the organization's Web site. "In preliminary results from our test fleet, on average the plug-in hybrid gas mileage was 30-plus mpg higher than that of the regular hybrids."

The project of the American public corporation specializing in Internet searching and online advertising intends to develop vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology that allows cars to sell their stored power back to the nation's electricity grid during times of peak demand.

"Linking the U.S. transportation system to the electricity grid maximizes the efficiency of our energy system," said Reicher. "Our goal is to demonstrate the plug-in hybrid and V2G technology, get people excited about having their own plug-in hybrid, and encourage car companies to start building them soon."

The General Motors Corp. earlier intimated that it is selling a plug-in hybrid version of its redesigned Saturn Vue sport utility vehicle but has not given a specific date for production. The will soon have a companion in promoting auto fuel efficiency.

Additionally, GM has contracted with two battery suppliers to work on an improved battery technology for the vehicle. The Detroit-based is also working toward a production version of its Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid concept car which was introduced at this year's Detroit Auto Show. The Volt would be driven entirely by electricity with an on-board engine used only as a back-up generator.

The Ford Motor Co. also has a drivable plug-in hybrid demonstration vehicle based on the Ford Edge sport utility vehicle. Similar to GM's Chevrolet Volt in its basic engineering, Ford's vehicle uses a hydrogen fuel cell as a back-up generator. But the vehicle could utilize a gasoline engine or some other type of motor to charge the batteries.

Because they have to store up and discharge huge amounts of electricity, plug-in hybrids require more advanced batteries than hybrids currently on the market. The batteries in non-plug-in hybrid vehicles continuously store and release small amounts of electricity - a work cycle that exerts little strain on the batteries.

While many people do not associate Google with energy, analysts said that the fit is not all that unnatural. Also, they have long said that one of the big challenges will be managing that flow into and out of the nation's electric grid, and that companies that manage the flow of information are well placed to handle that task.

Google said that it has turned on its huge solar panel installation at the company's Mountain View, Calif. headquarters. At 1.6 megawatts, Google said it is the biggest solar project on a corporate campus in the United States, and one of the largest in the world.

The Internet search giant hopes to accelerate the development of plug-in hybrid cars by giving away millions. "Google is not going to get into the business of building and selling hybrid electrics. Our focus is on accelerating their developing through research, testing and investment," said Google.org's Dan Reicher.

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