As the letter to the editor below will confirm, U.S. 1’s readership has no shortage of knowledge. Convene a dozen readers on any given subject and you have a good chance of finding someone with some useful information. Bring the whole community served by our 19,000-plus circulation and you are sure of some good results.

With that in mind, we are now doing our part to help our new president cope with the daunting challenges facing the nation. In our January 21 issue, published the day after the historic inauguration, we will print some timely advice for the new administration, culled from the cumulative wisdom of the Princeton business and cultural community’s best and brightest.

While we are all agreed that fixing the economy and spreading peace around the world are worthy goals, we are hoping you can offer some suggestions. If you run a high tech company, what should the president do to encourage R&D? If you represent an arts organization, how can the president encourage the nation’s creative force? A doctor or a hospital administrator, for example, might have some specific ideas of where to begin to realize the goal of a better healthcare system.

In the coming days we will be reaching out to leaders in various fields for brief comment. But we also welcome succinct ideas from any source. Please E-mail our editor,, and include pertinent contact information. Thanks in advance for your time and energy.

To the Editor:

Big Challenges

For Electric Cars

Regarding Bart Jackson’s December 10 Survival Guide story, “Making the Case for Electric Cars:”

Whoever believes, as many people currently do, that storage batteries are a prominent part of the solution to energy independence and global warming should probably read the two articles I had passed on to me recently which highlight the cost, scarcity, and geopolitical inconvenience of the materials now believed to be best for high-performance batteries. The URLs are given below:

As far as any electric vehicles are concerned, whether powered by batteries or fuel cells (or even hybrids using ultracapacitors) these articles raise a separate set of questions as to the cost, scarcity, and availability of the materials needed for electric-traction motors which can be reversibly used as generators, for regenerative braking and energy recapture.

The only motor I am aware of (I used to be a professional electronic engineer) that can perform such a dual function and which has no slip rings or brushes or commutator, and hence no parts intrinsically subject to wearing out, uses a permanent magnet rotor. The best permanent magnets (last I heard) were made from an alloy generically known as alnico, which originally stood for aluminum, nickel, cobalt. Its predominant ingredient is iron — apparently that goes without saying — but it may also include titanium and copper; the fractional content of the materials other than iron can be quite large, at least 10 percent and upward.

The stationary parts of these motors also will use plenty of ferromagnetic material, plus equal or greater amounts of copper. I have seen no analysis of how these factors would add up — nor would I believe anyone’s projections of how much any scarce material might cost if the world started to depend much more heavily on it than it has up to now — but along with the materials concerns raised regarding batteries in the two articles identified above, there are almost certainly parallel concerns as to the materials used in high-endurance dual-use electric motor-generators.

Mr. Jackson’s concluding paragraphs talk about the Mini E [the all-electric Mini-Cooper being developed by BMW] as though all the problems were solved, or soon to be solved, and appear to accept as established fact that batteries will replace gasoline, and sooner rather than later.

Not likely. The performance batteries are now capable of is quite near the absolute limit of their basic principles — they’ve been under development and study for approximately 240 years, and “we” have been through these flurries of fervor several times in the past. The Mini E is a zippy upscale enclosed golf cart, with room for two people and three grocery bags if the people are small, and it may very well be, as he implies, the ultimate expression of the art.

Its chief designer, I am reliably told by a well-known automotive journalist, is the same guy — American — who “did” the GM EV-1 15 years ago; he’s using everything he learned then and everything anyone else has come up with in the past 15 years, and this is the best that can be done. Its battery weighs 572 pounds, presumably mostly in materials which are subject to the supply constraints discussed in the two Internet postings.

There are about 200 million personal-use vehicles in the U. S. alone; the rest of the world, as time goes on — present-day economic catastrophe permitting — will eventually have several times as many as we now do. As I recall the articles’ conclusions about materials availability, a billion or so all-electric variants of the Mini E will never be remotely possible. Mr. Jackson’s “case closed” final comment may be appropriate, but not with the verdict he had in mind.

John Strother

Grover Avenue, Princeton

Editor’s note: Victor Udo, the manager of business planning and research for Atlantic City Electric, one of the proponents of the electric car interviewed for the December 10 U.S. 1 article, also had some additional comments and clarifications.

Udo cited two other participants on the panel: Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, vice-chair of the Telecommunications and Utilities Committee and member of the Labor Committee; and Margaret Brennan, associate director of the NJ Agricultural Experiment Station and director for Economic Growth, Rutgers University.

Udo also noted that Pepco Holdings Inc. (PHI), parent of Atlantic City Electric, is partnering with the University of Delaware, PJM, and others in what they call Mid-Atlantic Grid Interactive Cars Consortium (MAGICC) to test the vehicle to grid (V2G) capable cars produced by AC Propulsion of California.

PHI has several other “green” vehicles in their fleet. So far, only two V2G cars (costing $70,000) have been tested in our area but AC Propulsion has manufactured more than 10 such cars and is the owner of the drive train technology in the Mini Cooper announced by BMW. PHI expects more V2G vehicles in the next phase of the test.

The article suggested that the installation of smart meters by the power company has already begun. In fact, said Udo, “Atlantic City Electric is currently evaluating how best to begin the enormous task of installing 480,000 smart meters in its customers’ homes under what they call the Blueprint of the Future, which include Automatic Metering Infrastructure (AMI).”

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