by Larry Smith
In a recent Bahama Pundit article I recalled the Silver Volt - an electric car project in the Bahamas from almost 30 years ago.
A Michigan company called Electric Auto set up a pilot assembly plant in Freeport to produce the Silver Volt on a modified GM chassis. It had a top speed of 70 mph, a range of up to 100 miles and could recharge its batteries in just 90 minutes.
Reports claimed that the cars would sell for $15,000. About 300 prototypes were to be built in Freeport for road-testing in Florida. But unfortunately, only 12 models were produced before the company pulled out. However, recently we received this email from Dr Barry Iseard, a vice president and director at Apollo Energy Systems.
"It was good to see that you remembered the Silver Volt in your column of February 6.
I was one of the researchers on the electric car and have stayed in Grand Bahama ever since, subsequently carrying out golf cart assembly and presently in the environmental and construction business with Island Projects. However, I am still associated with the Silver Volt project!
In 1985, the Silver Volt project relocated to Fort Lauderdale. One of the reasons was because the recycling of lead from spent batteries was an essential part of Silver Volt battery production. Unfortunately the Bahamian government had signed on to an international treaty not to import any hazardous materials, and spent batteries containing lead were classified as hazardous waste.
The other main reason was that we needed to develop an improved range extender power source, to make the car into a hybrid. The company is now called Apollo Energy Systems (http://www.electricauto.com). In Austria we have developed an alkaline fuel cell using ammonia as the hydrogen carrier, as explained on the web site.
Funding is presently almost in place for manufacturing of the improved battery-alkaline fuel cell hybrid Silver Volt, and due to the high cost of oil, the timing is now right.
Incidentally, the fuel cell battery combo would also find application as a power source in the Bahamas. The fuel is ammonia, which goes through a cracker to make the hydrogen, the final products being water and electricity. Surplus electricity is stored in the batteries which supply a greater output for a shorter time."
Robert Aronsson invented the lead cobalt battery in 1966 and went on to produce the Mars electric car (this was when the US space programme was high profile). General Motors bought a Mars 11 for testing in 1968. The sticker price was under $6,000 and GM confirmed that the car achieved an unheard of range on a single quick battery charge.
In 1978 the Silver Volt was designed to showcase Aronsson's advanced
battery technology, and two years later a subsidiary called Electric Auto Corporation (Bahamas) Ltd assembled a dozen of these cars in Freeport.
There were ongoing road tests and demonstration projects in the ensuing years, but the electric auto industry never took off. In 1994 investors formed Apollo Energy Systems as the exclusive world-wide licensee of Aronsson's technology.
Apollo has designed a new Silver Volt combining fuel cell and lead-cobalt battery technology that is said to have a range of 400 miles with a top speed of 100 mph with 5-minute re-fueling. The complete Electric Propulsion System consists of a battery, fuel cell, solar cell, electric motor and electronic motor controller. The same technology combo is also being packaged as a mini power plant.
The Apollo power plant operates as a parallel system in a house, farm or commercial building with the lead cobalt battery supplying power directly to the DC to AC Inverter 24-hours a day and the fuel cell charging the battery. A photovoltaic cell operates during the day to generate hydrogen. The new Silver Volt electric vehicle contains a similar power plant.
By comparison, GM's prototype Chevrolet Volt has a 161 hp electric motor that gives a top speed of 100 mph. The electric engine is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack that produces a range of up to 40 miles in standard driving conditions. The batteries can be recharged in about 6 hours.
But the Chevy Volt also has a small gasoline combustion engine to charge the battery pack and extend the driving range to 700 miles. This car was announced last year and is expected to be available in small quantities by 2010 at a price of under $40,000.