‘Father of the Plug-in Hybrid’ gets a Chevy Volt

UC Davis engineering professor Andy Frank has been called ‘The Father of the Plug-in Hybrid,’ and yesterday he picked up one of the first to be sold. The Chevrolet Andy Frank with his new VoltVolt made by General Motors has both an electric motor and a gasoline engine, and it’s EPA sticker says it can get up to 93 mpg in city driving. That’s because the Volt can drive for up to 30 miles — enough for most in-town commuting — on electric power alone, and can recharge its batteries either from the gasoline engine or from a 110 volt socket.

The Department of Flattened Wildlife

UC Davis researchers have just completed the first year of a comprehensive survey of animals killed by traffic on California’s roads. Fraser Shilling, co-director of the UC Davis Road Ecology Center, has released the first year of data for the California Roadkill Observation System and launched a similar effort for the state of Maine with Maine Audubon.

The data could help conservation planners design more wildlife-friendly roads.

The first year of reporting for California includes 6,700 roadkill observations by 300 people involving 205 animal species from acorn woodpeckers to zebratail lizards. The most common roadkill victim: raccoons.

Bike controls and the pedal desk

Professors Mont Hubbard and Ron Hess in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering are running a project to study bicycle-human control systems. It turns out, says Hess, that this is a harder problem to study than his usual field: pilots flying airplanes.

“What makes riding a bicycle unique is that you have to use all the sensory information available,” Hess said. That includes not just vision and hearing, but motion, orientation, awareness of where your limbs are, and the movement of muscle groups.

Andy Frank on Tesla, battery tech

A plane crash earlier this week may have dealt a severe blow to electric car maker Tesla Motors. The company currently sells the Tesla Roadster sports car, a little pricey at over $100,000, and is due to bring out a sedan selling for around $50 k in 2012.

Tesla at UC Davis

The San Jose Mercury News notes that Tesla is expected to face tough competition when Nissan rolls out its Leaf electric car. But UC Davis engineering professor Andy Frank, who has built both plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles, told the Merc: “Making a business case out of new technology is always difficult, but when you’ve got 1,000 EV’s on the road, that’s 1,000 more than anyone else.”

Retaining walls shaken in test, but not broken

UC Davis civil engineering professor Dawn Cheng recently carried out a series of tests at UC San Diego’s Englekirk Structural Engineering Center. The center has the largest outdoor shake table in the world — meaning that you can build a structure on it then shake it to simulate an earthquake.

Retaining wall on shake tableCheng was carrying out the first tests on retaining walls, used for example to hold back soil from freeways or support bridge abutments across the state. There are thousands of miles of such walls across California, but surprisingly their behavior in earthquakes is not well understood. The tests, which were funded by the California Department of Transportation, will ensure that new retaining walls are designed to high seismic standards.

Andy Frank on the Chevy Volt: A move in the right direction

Last week GM unveiled the new Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid electric car, claiming it could get 230 mpg in typical use. The Volt is expected to hit the market in 2010.

Like the Toyota Prius, the Volt will have an electrical motor and a gasoline engine to drive the wheels. Unlike current hybrids on the road, the Volt will have a large battery pack that can be recharged from a domestic outlet, allowing it to travel a significant distance on electrical power alone. Commuters who drive short distances around town, for example, might not use the gasoline engine at all.

California adopts low-carbon fuel standard

The California Air Resources Board this evening adopted the Low Carbon Fuel Standard. The original standards were drafted by a panel of UC experts including Dan Sperling, Bryan Jenkins and Joan Ogden from UC Davis, and Alex Farrell from UC Berkeley. They released their blueprint of the standard in August, 2007. Their approach was to shape regulations so that competition and market forces drive down carbon emissions. “One of the key roles for the state agencies will be ensuring that the competition among the different fuels results in real carbon emission reductions, more consumer choice, and minimal costs,” Farrell said at the time.

Congress should set auto standards, not pick technologies

If Washington wants a new generation of clean vehicles, Congress should follow California’s example and set tough emissions and efficiency standards rather than trying to pick winning technologies, argue Dan Sperling and Deborah Gordon in a post on the Oxford University Press blog. Sperling and Gordon are the authors of a new book published by OUP, “Two Billion Cars.”

Nationalize Detroit, put Andy Frank in charge?

So says Huffington Post columnist Edward Humes. Calling Chrysler the weakest of the three U.S. automakers, he says:

Let’s buy its manufacturing capacity, parts supply network and manpower and turn it into the National Electric Car Company. Clean house at the top, and put a guy like Professor Andy Frank of the University of California-Davis in charge of product development, a true environmental hero and inventor who knows more about converting existing Detroit iron into clean, mean hybrid electric vehicles than anyone in the country.

Costs of war: three to 15 cents a gallon

The costs of U.S. military action in 2004 amounted to between three and 15 cents per gallon of gasoline or diesel used by Americans, according to a study by UC Davis transportation researcher Mark Delucchi and James Murphy, a former UC Davis graduate student now at the University of Alaska in Anchorage.

The full study was published earlier this year in the journal Energy Policy, available through Elsevier’s Science Direct portal (subscription may be required).