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Saturday, March 10, 2012

PNNL aims to make EV cabin heating more energy efficient

Engineers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, known as the PNNL, in Richland, Wash., are conducting research that could make EV cabin heating more energy efficient.

While internal combustion engines are only 25% energy efficient and generate a lot of heat, making it easy to heat the passenger cabin in winter, electric vehicles produce very little excess heat. As a result, providing electricity for the same amount of heat can reduce their driving range by up to 40 percent.

The researchers want to create a new, five-pound molecular heat pump, the size of a 2-liter bottle, that would handle both heating and cooling and allow the cars to travel longer distances before they'd need to be plugged in again.

The team, which includes chemists from the University of South Florida, won a grant of $803,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy for its pioneering work. Funding began on Dec. 1.

"We're really just barely under way," said Pete McGrail, of Pasco, Wash., a laboratory fellow and engineer who has worked at PNNL for 29 years.

The science is complicated, but the basic idea is straightforward: Instead of using a conventional heat pump to control heating and air conditioning, the cars would be heated and cooled with a new class of nanomaterial _ or an "electrical metal organic framework" _ that responds to applied electricity to get the job done. And the new heat pumps would be much lighter, compact and efficient.

"The vehicle is going to be more attractive because it's going to be able to travel longer distances on the same charge you're putting in overnight," McGrail said. "So it's going to make it more marketable, more attractive, and it's going to take less energy."

Backers of the project say it offers other key advantages, such as helping decrease greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on foreign oil.

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