The last in our series of reports from the discussion panels from last week's Austin Alt Car expo focuses on the panel that had the broadest possible appeal: an overview of plug-in hybrids. Taking place on the Saturday, and therefore more accessible to the working public, the free-form panel featured Ron Johnston-Rodriguez of PluginCenter.com and the Port of Chelan County in Washington State, and Chelsea Sexton of Plug-In America. Austan Librach, who works for Austin Energy and Plug-in Partners (well, he used to work for PiP), moderated.

"Assuming normal economics, we're looking at a real bright future for PHEVs."
Johnston-Rodriguez started by giving a brief overview of plug-in hybrids, but all three of the panelists commented on Johnston-Rodriguez's slides. The starting point was encapsulated by Librach's statement that, "Assuming normal economics, we're looking at a real bright future (for PHEVs)." That might be a big assumption, but it's what a lot of people are counting on. Follow us after the jump to see what this future might look like.


As I said, the panel was freeform, with questions coming from the audience throughout the session. Johnston-Rodriguez was up at the podium most often and he did a fine job of replacing panelist Andy Frank, the godfather of plug-in hybrids, who could not make it to the expo. As Sexton reminded us, Dr. Frank actually made a plug-in version of the EV1 for GM a decade ago.

Responding to a question about the recyclability of advanced battery recycling, Johnston-Rodriguez said that Argonne National Laboratory is about to put out a Request For Proposals for lithium battery recycling. Currently, Sexton said, there is one company, ToxCo, that recycles lithium batteries and they've been doing it for a while. As a side note: don't forget that Tesla is doing things its own way. But, when a li-ion battery doesn't have enough power to move a car, does it even need to be recyeled? Everyone agrees that these packs will still have a lot of power capability left and could be used in other applications (home-based backups, anyone?). The problem is that no one knows what a 10-year old giant li-ion battery is worth, exactly - both for power and monetarily. This is just one of many questions that need an answer as we move forward.

Someone asked, "What do you know about EESTOR?" Sexton responsed, "What does anyone know about EESTOR?" which got a lot of knowing laughs and gives us an idea of the make-up of the audience. She continued that until the mysterious company lets outside experts vet the technology, she remains skeptical. It'd be a game changer, the panel agreed, but it's way too early really know anything yet. In 30-60 days, an audience member said he'd heard, there will be a new website up (either from EESTOR or Lockheed) with more information. We'll be waiting for that.

Thanks to my recorder's battery (a li-ion one) falking out, my recording of the session is broken into two parts, with a minute or two cut as I swapped batteries. Appropriate, no?

Listen to Part 1 (34 min):



and Part 2 (22 min):