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USA: Advanced Vehicle Research Center drives change in electric vehicles

As a new market for electric vehicles and related infrastructure emerges, Danville’s Advanced Vehicle Research Center wants to help guide the charge.

In front of the center’s 16,000-square-foot building on Stinson Drive in the Cyber Park, the AVRC plug-in hybrid Toyota Prius recharges in the parking lot at one of two Coulomb Technologies’ ChargePoint-networked charging stations — first two stations installed in Virginia.

Inside, AVRC Executive Director Richard “Dick” Dell gets a message on his cell phone to let him know the charge is done.

While the available charging stations currently take several hours to half a day to recharge the battery, Dell envisions a future where drivers would pull electric vehicles into gas stations and rest stops to mostly charge up in 20 minutes. Drivers would get an account to use the charging stations and could download an application on their cell phone to find them.

Slower or lower voltage charging could still be used at home or while employees are parked at work.

“Electric vehicles are going to change transportation in the future and we really want to be a part of that change and guide that change,” Dell said.

Inside the AVRC facility, scientists and researchers work on developing new technologies for the emerging industry.

A long-term goal is to continue to develop drive-train technology — the components that generate power and propel a vehicle — for automakers, Dell said. AVRC’s primary purpose is research and development, so the center would license out its patented technology to manufacturers or others.

The center could also contract with local companies or shops to help with some production, Dell added.

For instance, AVRC is using a Danville engineering shop to make components for its “E-vette,” a 1992 Chevrolet Corvette equipped to be a demonstration high performance electric vehicle, Dell said. The AVRC could also make E-vettes for customers.

The head of Project E-vette is engineer and inventor Cliff Hall, who also invented the electric drive axle and dynamo trailer axle still in development at AVRC. A tractor-trailer truck or bus retrofitted with the electric drive axle would turn into an electric hybrid. The dynamo helps generate electricity for refrigerated trucks.

A primary focus right now is for a $1.4 million Department of Energy contract to develop a full-size electric test vehicle with sensors to serve as a platform to try out different motors, battery packs or other components, Dell said. CyberMetrix of Columbus, Ind., will develop the software and testing tools for the project.

The project began in earnest when Yimin Gao, a Texas A&M University researcher with expertise in electric vehicle design, joined AVRC full-time in July as a senior research scientist.

The AVRC also looks to develop plug-in hybrid conversion kits for different vehicles and would market them initially to fleet owners — like municipalities or delivery or taxi services, Dell said.
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