A123Systems acquires Hymotion

A number of reliable industry sources have confirmed to me that battery maker A123Systems has quietly acquired Concord, Ontario-based Hymotion, which is one of the leading experts on retrofitting hybrid-electric cars into plug-in models. It makes complete sense. The two companies are already working together to supply plug-in hybrids to fleets in California and New York. Given that A123 will need to bolster its integration skills as part of work its doing with General Motors, having the team at Hymotion on board will be a major benefit.

Note: I did a podcast interview back in February with Hymotion’s founder Ricardo Bazzarella. Click here to listen.

Solar growth shines strong

For the latest snapshot on the health of the solar sector, check out this report from Merrill Lynch. It estimates that solar-cell production growth was 35 to 40 per cent in 2006, and maintains the market will have a compounded annual growth rate of 35 per cent through to 2010. The solar PV market in California grew 55 per cent year-over-year in March, with SunPower capturing a lion’s share of that growth. In fact, SunPower saw year-over-year growth of 208 per cent, and this is certainly to benefit Canadian power electronics partner Xantrex. The report points out some of the recent solar news around the world, including the beginning of construction on a 40-megawatt solar park in Saxony, Germany (The size of 200 soccer fields!). There’s no mention of the Ontario market here, but given there are a number of 10-megawatt projects in this province ready to move forward it will be interesting to see year-over-year growth in Ontario a year from now.

On that note, at least one planned project in Ontario is being spearheaded by a new solar PV startup out of California that’s currently operating in stealth mode. I’ll provide more details on that when they become available, but believe me — I’m digging.

Plastic goes natural, but will consumers pay?

CNET’s News.com has a good overview of recent developments around natural, biodegradeable plastics, at this point made mostly from corn starch. The leader in this area is Metabolix, which through a joint venture with Archer Daniel Midlands is moving aggressively to make corn-based plastic cups, bags, utensils, and the like. While I think more study is needed to examine the impact of these biodegradeable products on landfills and recycling programs — that is, are they really natural or harmless? Do they contaminate recycling streams? — I see some great potential in this area, assuming we can wean ourselves off corn and start making these products from residual biomass. Perhaps a bigger question we should be asking is whether it makes more sense to turn biomass into plastics or convert them into a biofuel. Down the road, I’m thinking we go the plastic and chemical route, as I firmly believe the future of transportation will be battery-electric and that the electricity to charge the batteries will be emission-free.

As expected, Toyota overtakes GM

Toyota is now officially the global leader in automotive sales, overtaking General Motors. I’d like to believe that part of this has to do with the company’s commitment to fuel-efficiency, including its pioneering efforts with hybrid-electric cars. Perhaps time for some serious self-reflection by the U.S. automotive industry, which talks the talk on efficiency but has struggled to walk it. Left to be seen is whether this symbolic milestone will raise the bar higher on N.A. automobile efficiency. Here’s hoping.

NYC to embrace “congestion pricing”?

Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, is seriously exploring the idea of a congestion pricing system for America’s largest city, similar to the downtown toll system currently in place in London. Under consideration is a “proposal to charge motorists for driving into Manhattan below 86th Street on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” according to Associated Press. “Trucks would be charged $21 a day and cars would be charged $8, on top of the city’s already expensive parking.” It’s sure to be controversial, but it’s nice to see Bloomberg taking a tough stand on this issue by highlighting the necessity of sustainable growth in New York City. What will be interesting to see is whether NYC modifies the approach currently in place in London, which is simply a toll to get in and out of the city. One potential is to charge people by the number of kilometres they drive in the downtown core, and to have prices be reduced as the vehicle moves out of the city or into less congested areas. Toronto-based Skymeter Corp. is working on just such a scheme, which instead of high-tech tolls uses satellite tracking. Check out the Grush Hour blog for more information on this.