Category: Featured Researcher

Featured Researcher: Andy Burke

Featured Researcher: Andy Burke

Work with ultracapacitors is just another fun day at the office

By Jamie Knapp • J Knapp Communications

“Most people have sense enough to not be coming to work when they’re 80,” admits Andrew (Andy) Burke with an impish smile.

So why does he continue to work when most of his contemporaries choose to spend their days somewhere other than an office, buried in mountains of paper and studying data or a computer screen? Burke, a research engineer with the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, simply loves his work.

“I’m working because it’s the most interesting way I know to spend my time,” he says. “I like to interact with young, smart people. When you’re younger, you’re smarter than people give you credit for. When you’re old, people give you credit for being smarter than you really are. The last place I want to be is around old people.”

And so Burke arrives on campus before 8 a.m. – that is, when he’s on campus. He’s just as likely to be speaking at a conference, delivering a paper at a technical meeting, or traveling the globe to meet with researchers and business people. In the last couple of years, he has traveled to China four times, Japan, Germany, Poland, France and other European countries, and numerous American cities.

“I’m able to travel the world, meet interesting people. And people seem to be interested in what I’m doing,” he says modestly. That’s more than enough to keep him going.

Burke has spent the past 30 years of his career studying batteries, ultracapacitors, and hybrid and electric vehicle technologies. He is known as one of the world’s leading researchers in energy storage systems. He directs the EV Power Systems Laboratory on campus, teaches graduate courses on advanced electric drivetrain technologies, and leads the vehicle technology evaluation component of the Institute’s NextSTEPS Research Program.

Since 1980, Burke has authored more than 100 reports and papers, and made at least 200 presentations on electric and hybrid vehicles and related topics. He was the recipient of the first Annual Leadership Award in Advancing Energy Storage, presented at the Advanced Energy Storage (AES 2010) Conference.

Much of his work focuses on the relationship – and competition – between two energy-storage technologies: batteries and ultracapacitors. Ultracapacitors are sometimes called supercapacitors or electrochemical capacitors. Ultracapacitors, he explains, have very long cycle life and very high power, which in an electric-drive vehicle provides efficient acceleration and regenerative braking. Batteries have much higher energy density, which translates to greater driving range.

Combined, they could provide an impressive energy-storage package for vehicles, with ultracapacitors reducing the peak electrical load on batteries (or fuel cells), thereby, extending their lives and reducing their cost. However, ultracapacitors are presently expensive and the combined systems are thought to be complex, so the auto industry has been slow to adopt them.

Burke’s research involves comparing these technologies’ relative desirability, projecting future performance, fuel savings, emissions and costs, and comparing them with conventional drivetrains. In his laboratory, testing equipment repeatedly charges and discharges various sizes and configurations of energy storage devices to simulate their performance in a vehicle operating on the road.

Researchers are also modeling advanced battery chemistries to project their characteristics before and during development, and testing how different lithium chemistries respond to fast charging. Working closely with Burke are senior development engineer Marshall Miller and associate project scientist Hengbing Zhao, both of whom are also members of the ITS-Davis NextSTEPS research team.

Although Burke was involved in establishing standard test procedures used by industry and government to test ultracapacitors, he has since evolved his own procedures, which he says are more realistic simulations of how the devices will perform in vehicles. Burke says industry representatives see him as an honest broker because he tests batteries and ultracapacitors from all over the world and reports the results in a consistent manner.

“Battery guys think I’m partial to capacitors and capacitor guys think I’m partial to batteries. I try to call it the way I see it.”

One of Burke’s big dreams is to retrofit a hybrid vehicle with ultracapacitors – no battery – to demonstrate on the road what his vehicle simulations and lab tests indicate: that capacitors, alone in a hybrid vehicle, will deliver larger improvements in fuel economy than a lithium battery.

The only thing holding him back is adequate research funding.

A near-term commercialization application for ultracapacitors will be the start-stop hybrid technology presently being introduced in Europe. This technology shuts down the engine when the car is stopped and then starts it up again as soon as the driver touches the accelerator. Burke suggested combining capacitors with lead acid batteries for this application a number of years ago. He is pleased to see it finally happening.

Burke came to Davis in 1994, after working 40 years in academia and private industry. He started his career in aerospace at Bell Aerosystems in Buffalo, N.Y., where he worked on the Dyna-Soar (Dynamic Soarer) project to build a manned, reusable space plane that took off as a rocket and landed as an airplane – the precursor to the Space Shuttle. Along the way he finished an interrupted Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton, worked for another 10 years in private industry, took a position as a chemical engineering professor at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., and, in the 1970s, was a mechanical engineering professor at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.

He first got involved with vehicles and their emissions at Clarkson and continued work on vehicle drivelines and energy storage at the Aerospace Corporation and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena before working on the first U.S. Department of Energy hybrid vehicle project in the late 1970s at the General Electric R&D Lab back in Schenectady. He has worked on electric and hybrid vehicles ever since. His career then took him to the Idaho National Laboratory (INEL), where he began his exploration of ultracapacitors.

Burke says he was first drawn to UC Davis by the work of Professor Andy Frank, known internationally as the father of the plug-in hybrid vehicle, and, after meeting ITS-Davis Director Dan Sperling, he knew this was the place for him.

“It was clear that California was the center of research and promotion of these kinds of advanced, super-clean, super-efficient vehicles. In the early 1990s, the rest of the country was nowhere. I thought this was a unique opportunity,” Burke says.

At ITS-Davis, Burke not only has conducted leading-edge research and built his international reputation, but also has transferred his knowledge to the next generation of researchers and students by working individually with students and by contributing to several engineering encyclopedias and reference textbooks.

He is particularly proud of his contribution in Linden’s Handbook of Batteries (edited by Thomas Reddy, published by McGraw Hill, 2011), Chapter 39, on electrochemical capacitors.

“To get ultracapacitors in a battery book is symbolic,” Burke says. He also has contributed articles on batteries, ultracapacitors and hybrid vehicle simulation to a forthcoming Wiley Encyclopedia of Automotive Engineering.

He calls those writing projects labors of love because they are time-consuming and they bring little financial compensation and less recognition than a formal academic paper. But his quest for knowledge continues to be his primary motivator.

“Why shouldn’t I keep working? We’re in the middle of a very exciting time. I’ve been at this business for a long time, and it’s only now that HEVs and EVs are really coming into the marketplace.

“I’ve been saying since the 1970s that I can’t see any reason why every car shouldn’t be a hybrid. I’ve thought that for over 35 years and still think in 15 to 20 years, it will happen.”

Photo: ITS-Davis researcher Andy Burke at home with his two personal cars — a 2001 Honda Insight and 2013 Honda Fit. He plans to retrofit the Insight with supercapacitors. (Sylvia Wright — UC Davis)

Read Burke’s latest papers:

Burke, Andrew F. and Hengbing Zhao (2012) Energy Saving and Cost Projections for Advanced Hybrid, Battery Electric, and Fuel Cell Vehicles in 2015-2030. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-12-05

Burke, Andrew F., Marshall Miller, Hengbing Zhao (2012) Ultracapacitors in Hybrid Vehicle Applications: Testing of New High Power Devices and Prospects for Increased Energy Density. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-12-06

Burke, Andrew F., Marshall Miller, Hengbing Zhao (2012) Fast Charging Tests (up to 6C) of Lithium Titanate Cells and Modules: Electrical and Thermal Response. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-12-07

View his latest presentation:

Performance of Advanced Ultracapacitors and Prospects for Higher Energy Density Burke, Andrew F. and Marshall Miller. 45th Power Sources Conference, Las Vegas, Nevada, June 11-14, 2012

Watch Burke explain electrochemical capacitors on You Tube:

See also:

Electrochemical Capacitors: Challenges and Opportunities for Real-World Applications, published by the Electrochemical Society.

Featured Researcher: Nic Lutsey

Featured Researcher: Nic Lutsey

‘This [is] a model for what policy and industry collaboration can do’

By Jamie Knapp • J Knapp Communications

With its recent adoption of pioneering vehicle-emissions standards, the California Air Resources Board is back in the center of the world’s clean-car-policy stage. And ITS-Davis graduate Nic Lutsey is being commended for his analytical work, which played a leading role in the development of the new regulations.

Lutsey, an ITS-Davis graduate and postdoctoral researcher and an ARB research consultant, was largely responsible for the vehicle technology, feasibility and cost assessments at the heart of the agency’s new vehicle criteria pollutant (smog) and greenhouse-gas (GHG) standards.

Lutsey, who earned his Ph.D. in Transportation Technology and Policy in 2008, has been an integral member of the ARB team that developed the rules over the past three years. So involved was he that ARB management asked him to give one of the four staff presentations at January’s standing-room-only board meeting, an honor typically reserved for agency staff – not contractors.

He also was an integral member of the ARB team that worked closely with U.S. EPA and DOT analysts on parallel federal GHG and fuel economy standards that are set to be finalized this summer.

Lutsey’s assignment was to create the basis for the agencies’ assessments of emerging vehicle technologies and their emissions-reduction potential in the 2017-to-2025 time frame. The process involved modeling, extensive interaction with automakers, and coordination with automotive industry contractors.

He and the ARB team consulted for hundreds of hours with all the major automakers and automotive industry contractors. To determine what combinations of emerging technologies could be applied to vehicles to meet the emissions goals, the analytical team modeled many dozens of technology “packages” across 19 different car, crossover and pickup vehicle classes. Each package generally included 10 to 15 technologies such as vehicle aerodynamics, engine turbocharging, hybridization and advanced transmissions.

“We evaluated all these technologies and their technical potential in terms of CO2 reduction, together with data from the external contractors, to determine exactly how effective each technology package could be, and at what cost,” Lutsey explained.

“Then we combined our technology simulations with companies’ existing products and future plans, to model how companies might comply with more stringent standards.”

The work, in essence, provides the technical backbone of the analysis for ARB and EPA.

Tom Cackette, the air board’s chief deputy executive officer, praised Lutsey’s exceptional talent for analyzing complex issues thoroughly and quickly. “He is particularly skilled at taking a policy question and answering it with a basis in technology and cost. He could analyze the data and put it in context so that a decision-maker, such as [ARB chairman] Mary Nichols or I, could understand what it meant.”

For example, Cackette said, Lutsey could explain how a particular policy change would impact a manufacturer’s choice of vehicle technology. And if technology changed as an assumption for meeting one aspect of the standard, Lutsey could say how that change might affect the rest of standard. Predictions about vehicle weight reduction, increased or decreased vehicle hybridization, more or fewer electric vehicles — all affected the likely outcome.

When Lutsey pulled those pieces together for the decision makers, he won deep respect from the analysts at U.S. EPA, DOT and California ARB, who came to rely on him a great deal, Cackette said.

The work and Lutsey were a perfect match. At UC Davis, he had studied thermodynamics and vehicle simulation, environmental policy, and tradeoffs between environmental protection and costs. Dan Sperling was his thesis advisor.

“If there was a more perfect place for me to be than this after my ITS-Davis training, I can’t imagine where it is,” Lutsey said.

Others see it as a good match, too. In 2011, Lutsey received the prestigious Barry McNutt Award, given annually by the Energy and Alternative Fuels committees of the Transportation Research Board. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to the development of efficient and effective federal policies related to the automotive sector. In addition, he has routinely engaged with numerous international regulatory agencies on the technical basis for automotive regulations.

And in 2004, after he worked for ARB as a graduate student, giving technical support to the first round of vehicle GHG standards, the board gave him a Gold Certificate of Appreciation.

Having participated in the 2004 and now the 2011-2012 rulemakings, Lutsey has a unique perspective on the process. The biggest difference this time was the increased level of interaction between the California air board, federal agencies and carmakers, he said.

The collaboration was intense and productive, and the leadership of the White House, which directed all parties to work together, was critical to making the process move forward.

“It’s been very gratifying to see industry proactively involved and the agencies working together in an unprecedented way, in one of the most comprehensive assessments, steered toward a common end goal,” Lutsey concluded. “We’ll celebrate this for 15 years as a model for what policy and industry collaboration can do.”

In addition to Lutsey’s contributions, ITS-Davis graduate student Belinda Chen and alumnus Joshua Cunningham played leading roles as staff researchers at ARB.

Chen, who works in ARB’s Research Division while completing her graduate studies, crunched the numbers and led the economic modeling to support the staff’s economic analysis of the rules. Cunningham, a 2001 Transportation Technology and Policy graduate, and now an ARB Mobile Source Division staff member, developed scenarios that became the framework for the updated Zero Emission Vehicle Program. He currently is “on loan” from ARB to the California Plug-in Electric Vehicle Collaborative.

“We couldn’t have done it without them,” said Cackette. “They stepped up, they did it, and they did it really well. Their contribution led to a successful adoption of the clean cars rule.”

Photo: Nic Lutsey on campus, in August 2011 (Sylvia Wright – UC Davis)

Featured Researcher: Tai Stillwater

Featured Researcher: Tai Stillwater

Helping People Save Energy through Instant Feedback

By Jamie Knapp • J Knapp Communications

Zooming along at 80 mph? If you had one of those new cars that provide instantaneous feedback about your energy consumption, you’d know that you’re using 22 percent more fuel than at 50 mph. Maybe then you’d lighten up on the gas pedal.

Driven by government energy efficiency and emissions requirements, major automakers are now investing millions of dollars in computerized energy feedback systems. Likewise, electricity companies are experimenting with a host of information devices and strategies that encourage customers to dial down their energy use at home and at work. As they make these investments, the companies want to know, for sure, that the systems they’re designing will appeal to consumers and will result in energy savings.

So they’re turning to experts like ITS-Davis postdoctoral researcher Tai Stillwater for insight. Stillwater studies how consumers respond to information they receive about their energy use. Today, he’s at the center of a growing field that merges behavior theory with technology innovation.

“I think energy feedback will have a real impact on energy use in the U.S. by changing consumer behavior. Plus, it could have important implications for policy-making,” he says.

Stillwater currently splits his time between the institute’s Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle (PH&EV) Research Center and the university’s Western Cooling Efficiency Center.

“I’ve found my passion,” he says. “My vision is that everyone should have easy access to great energy feedback if they want it.”

Stillwater’s desire to reduce the energy we use in everyday life stems from two observations.

The first is that it’s not hard to do. Stillwater discovered what’s possible as an undergrad at UC Berkeley working on their Human Powered Vehicle Team, which broke multiple world speed records with a carbon-fiber bicycle that he helped design and manufacture. He acknowledges the technology is not for everyone, but it showed him “we’re using many more times the energy we need to achieve travel.”

His second observation is that a lot of people in the world are desperate for the energy that Americans consume every day and take for granted.

“We in the U.S. have access to as much energy as we want. The rest of the world doesn’t,” says Stillwater. “As world citizens, maybe it’s our duty to reduce our energy consumption and to leave a little for other people in world.”

Stillwater worked with PH&EV Research Center researchers Ken Kurani and Tom Turrentine on the center’s landmark 2010 study, “Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) Demonstration and Consumer Education, Outreach, and Market Research Program.” His contribution, which examined driver response to fuel-use feedback, found that the highly successful drivers who cut their fuel use by six percent were personally motivated to save money by saving fuel. Their own personal motivations, which Stillwater refers to as context, combined with immediate fuel-use feedback, prompted them to adjust their driving behavior accordingly.

Context enables individuals to understand when and how much of an effect they can have on energy use, according to Stillwater, and is a critical component of energy feedback research. Providing context as part of the driver feedback mechanism is more difficult than it appears, however, because each driver’s personal abilities and roadway situations are different.

Stillwater, Kurani and their colleagues are also examining ways to tap into to individuals’ proclivity for competition and cooperation.

“It’s very powerful to provide energy performance data to users in a broader context that includes information about how other people are performing,” says Stillwater.

So how do drivers get this feedback? Through vehicle-integrated computers or smartphones that combine their driving behavior with the vehicle’s operational and external data, and then display that data visually in real time so they can connect their driving performance to an outcome.

One study, funded by U.S. DOE and Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL), is testing the effectiveness of three different design interfaces that present information to the driver in different ways. One interesting – and surprising – result is that drivers respond more to feedback with numerical, rather than purely graphical, information.

“This is a useful finding because it contradicts conventional wisdom – that green leaves or other graphic symbols motivate better behavior,” Stillwater says. “It indicates that drivers have a real need for basic data about their energy use to make better decisions.”

Energy feedback research has benefitted tremendously from recent advances in information technology, Stillwater says (by siegfried at this company). Thanks to the boom in cloud computing, the cost of collecting and tabulating data from geographically dispersed individuals and sending useful information back to them has decreased tremendously.

There was a time not long ago, he notes, when policy makers rejected behavior change policy, instead supporting requirements on vehicle technologies. Now, he says, information technology advances inspire effective voluntary behavioral approaches.

When consumers receive accurate information about both their energy use and their individual potential for creating change, and it is relevant to their personal beliefs, they will become advocates for better technologies, information systems and efficient vehicles.

“People are more informed and willing to save energy than they were 20 years ago,” he notes. “If we keep moving in that direction, we will greatly reduce energy use. It’s up to researchers and entrepreneurs to provide consumers with products that make them feel good about saving energy.”

Photo: ITS-Davis postdoctoral researcher Tai Stillwater displays an energy feedback system in a Chevy Volt, October 2012 (Dorian Toy – UC Davis)

Further reading:

Stillwater, Tai and Kenneth S. Kurani (2011) Field Test of Energy Information Feedback: Driver Responses and Behavioral Theory. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board 2252, 7-15

Stillwater, Tai and Kenneth S. Kurani (2012) Goal Setting, Framing, and Anchoring Responses to Ecodriving Feedback. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Working Paper. UCD-ITS-WP-12-03

Stillwater, Tai and Kenneth S. Kurani (2012) Preliminary Results from a Field Experiment of Three Fuel Economy Feedback Designs. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Working Paper. UCD-ITS-WP-12-01

Stillwater, Tai, Kenneth S. Kurani and Patricia L. Mokhtarian (2012) Cognitive Mechanisms of Behavior Change in the Case of In-Vehicle Fuel Economy Feedback. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Working Paper. UCD-ITS-WP-12-02

Stillwater, Tai (2011) Comprehending Consumption: The Behavioral Basis and Implementation of Driver Feedback for Reducing Vehicle Energy Use.  Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-11-13 [