Daily Archives: April 6, 2006

SAE Congress

Yesterday I attended the 2006 SAE World Congress in Detroit. SAE is the Society of Automotive Engineers of which I have been a member for 17 years. The congress is basically the annual convention of the organization. The gathering includes dozens of technical sessions on all kinds of automotive engineering related topics. There is also an expo for car makers, suppliers, tool providers and other vendors. The big theme this year definitely seemed to be hybrids. There were hybrid vehicles and power-trains on display at many of the car-maker booths and hybrid components and systems on display at various supplier booths. GM had their hybrid power-train that is coming next year on their full size SUVs. Honda had their new Civic hybrid. Ford had the Escape hybrid. Toyota of course had the Prius and the new GS450H hybrid. Aisin showed a new automatic transmission with 2 motors built in that is designed for rear wheel drive applications.

Probably the most interesting thing I saw was from a company called Ovonic. Ovonic started in the early 90s developing advanced batteries for all-electric cars. They made the batteries for the GM EV1 electric car. Unfortunately for GM and Ovonic they didn’t really make much real progress in improving the energy storage capacity of batteries. Chemical batteries in general continue to be a very poor means of storing energy. In terms of energy storage capacity per volume and and weight batteries remain at the bottom of the list by a long distance. Just try picking up the battery in your car and see how heavy that is and all it can do start your engine. Compare that to a gallon of gas which depending on your vehicle can move it anywhere from 10-50 miles.

Ovonic has a new subsidiary that has been developing hydrogen storage systems. Hydrogen is great for use as a fuel because the only combustion byproduct is water vapor. One of the problems with hydrogen besides producing it is storage. Hydrogen gas needs to be stored at extremely high pressures. Ovonic and other companies have been working on methods of storing hydrogen in solid form, which is much safer. They showed a Prius that had been modified to run on hydrogen and used their metal hydride storage system. The hydrogen powered Prius gets the same mileage as the gas powered version and has a range of about 200 miles. Thats more than 3 times the range of the EV1 ( which went about 60 miles under ideal conditions). The fueling system they have developed can fill up the car in about 8 minutes right now. So Ovonic has pretty reasonable hydrogen powered car that unlike the EV1 is actually a practical mid-sized car that can carry four people in comfort and get decent range and doesn’t need to be plugged in when it’s not being used.

Now we just need a hydrogen fuel infrastructure. Hydrogen cars aren’t much use if you have nowhere it fuel it up. We need to develop a cost effective means of producing hydrogen and distributing it. In the coming days and weeks I plan to write some more stuff on hybrids. Hybrid vehicles as we know them now have some very good points but they really are not all they could be.


Brian Ibbott was one of the earliest music podcasters back in the fall in 2004. Brian had a distinct twist to his show though. His show is called Coverville and he plays covers exclusively. He found a way to legally play licensed music by playing the ASCAP/BMI fees because the songs are all cover versions. He does his show three times a week and typically plays 5-6 songs per show. Some shows have a special theme and he also does “cover story” shows where he plays covers of songs originally done by one artist. Some recent cover story shows included one where he played covers of Nick Lowe songs and another of covers of Johnny Cash songs. Brian manages to find some incredibly obscure covers of well known songs. A lot of the songs are really good, but some of them are really atrocious. Some of the more interesting songs I have heard on the show include Don Ho doing his rendition of the Peter Gabriel hit Shock the Monkey and Phyllis Diller covering (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.

Brian’s two most recent shows were truly good for a laugh. Last Saturday on April 1, he released his first episode of Originalville which includes a marvelous rendition of the Men without Hats classic Safety Dance. You really need to listen to this one all the way through to get the full impact. Check it out, it’s worth it. Then yesterday Brian did an interview with Richard Cheese. Richard does lounge renditions of hit songs, including a peppy mambo version of Sunday, Bloody Sunday by U2. Richard is a very funny guy. Go over to Coverville and peruse the archives. I’m sure you’ll find some fun surprises in there.