Cedarville firm ready to give GM's Volt a reality

Nanofibers could double range of auto's ion battery
PUBLICATION: Dayton Daily News (OH)
DATE: October 12, 2008
BYLINE:Thomas Gnau Staff Writer
SECTION: Business

CEDARVILLE — General Motors Corp.'s vision for its extended-range electric car: A Chevrolet that can travel 40 miles on a single charge to the automobile's lithium ion battery.

Applied Sciences Inc.'s vision: Stretch that range to at least 80 miles with carbon nano-fibers, strands so tiny they're invisible to the unaided eye. This little Greene County research and development firm is aiming to be a part of GM's future in a big way.

"It's safe to say this is our No. 1 priority," said David Burton, the company's research and development manager.

Still in the making, GM's Chevy Volt concept car would have a gasoline- or ethanol-fueled internal combustion engine in place — but only to charge the car's battery. Once the car is charged with an ordinary household plug, the car will go 40 miles, according to GM's concept.

The automaker will not release the Volt until 2010. But engineers and managers at Applied Sciences — as well as its companion manufacturing and production firm, Pyrograf Products Inc. — say they're working feverishly with GM to make the Volt an electrifying reality.

With a shared owner and separate investors, Applied Sciences and Pyrograf Products work together, the former company developing technologies, the latter company producing them. The companies have facilities across from each other on Xenia Avenue.

GM says it has more than 200 engineers and 50 designers working on the Volt, along with 400 others tacking "sub-systems and electric components." The company's urgency is clear, say those with Applied Sciences.

"They'd like to have it done yesterday," Max Lake, co-owner of Applied Sciences and Pyrograf Products, said of GM.

Bolstered by investments of $1 million from the Ohio Third Frontier program as well as $500,000 from GM, Applied Sciences has worked on advanced electrode materials for the Volt's battery for about two years. Already, Pyrograf Products, is the world's third largest producer of the nanofiber materials in question, managers say.

In fact, Pyrograf Products' output is 25 percent of the globe's current manufacturing capacity of carbon nanofibers, said John Mackay, an Applied Sciences spokesman.

The lithium ion battery destined to power the Volt is critical, say Burton and Lake. Not only must the battery have sufficient power, it can't be too heavy or bulky. Each automobile battery has about three pounds of carbon, so controlling weight ranks high on GM's list of priorities.

Applied Science's nanofibers increase the performance of the battery's carbon, Mackay said. "By making the carbon perform better, you can reduce the weight of that component in the battery."

GM's first attempt at a battery-powered vehicle — the ill-fated EV1 produced in the late 1990s — featured a lead acid battery weighing an acceleration-numbing 800 pounds. Mackay put the weight of the new Volt lithium ion battery at about 400 pounds.

Mackay said lithium ion batteries have proven so far to be GM's favored powering method. He and others sound confident that GM engineers want to see Applied Science materials within those batteries.

"GM researchers say they have not seen any carbon materials that have performed as well as ours," Mackay said.

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