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Image Gallery: Hybrid Vehicle Technology At GE Global Research

A visit to GE's advanced battery labs reveals engineers at work on green energy strategies for hybrid automobiles, electric cars, and other vehicles.

While the focus on hybrid vehicles is squarely on passenger cars, researchers at GE Global Research are developing hybrid technologies that can be applied to other transportation platforms such as locomotives, heavy mining equipment, tugboats, and buses.

A GE engineer runs diagnostics on the battery system of an electric car.
(click for image gallery)

To be sure, significant work is under way at GE on battery packs for electric cars. In fact, the company recently announced it has upped its funding of A123 Systems to $30 million. The latest cash infusion gives GE 9% ownership in the Massachusetts battery maker.

A123 uses nanotechnology to produce rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and is working with major automakers on 19 vehicle models, ranging from hybrids to plug-in hybrids to full electric vehicles. One of those automakers is Norway's Think, which makes an ultracompact all-electric vehicle currently available only in Europe.

GE, drawing on its experience integrating electronic power into complicated system, has partnered with A123 to finesse the Think's battery management, battery safety, and fusing systems. On a tour of GE Global Research's Niskayuna, N.Y., headquarters in October, engineers showed off their work with an A123 battery pack attached to a Think electric car.

In the battery lab, engineers displayed a pack under development for use in locomotives. Roughly twice the size of the A123 battery pack for cars, it's expected to result in a 10% fuel savings and 10% emissions reduction.

A GEMx high-temperature, energy-dense battery pack in a recyclable stainless steel casing.
(click for image gallery)

One of the challenges researchers are grappling with is energy storage. The pack for the locomotive is made up of 400 sodium nickel chloride battery cells, which capture energy through regenerative braking. Together they can store 1 megawatt hour of power, which translates to 2,000 horsepower, sufficient for boosting an engine's power on steeper grades or heavier loads, as needed.

In developing battery packs for mining and construction vehicle applications, heat is a key obstacle, so high-temperature battery packs, encased in recyclable steel, are being developed.

In January 2008, GE's hybrid vehicle team successfully demonstrated what it calls the world's first hybrid mine haul truck. Its 600-hp battery pack, developed with the U.S. Department of Energy, is a version of the pack used in locomotives. Among GE's contributions: advanced high-temperature, high-energy-dense capacitors.

Tim Richter, a GE engineer who works on battery systems for buses and mining equipment, acknowledged the high cost of hybrid technology. "Battery costs will never compete with what we're driving today. Hybrid bus sales are booming because purchases are government-subsidized."

"The fact is," Richter concluded, "it's going to cost more to get around."

To see more photos, click here.

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