Electric Vehicles

BMW working to capture the power of cow manure and turn it into EV energy

BMW is partnering with California's farmers to develop clean energy.

Photo courtesy of BMW

BMW is in deep when it comes to electric vehicle development. Now, they're also in deep ... manure. The German automaker is teaming up with California's farmers to harvest manure.

"This collaboration is the first of its kind in the auto industry," said Bernhard Kuhnt, president and CEO, BMW of North America. "It is a perfect fit for the BMW Group, which has long valued creative technologies and partnerships that can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

BMW i3 Straus Organic Dairy Farm When owners plug-in to charge, the energy they use may be coming from the remnants of cows' dinners.Photo courtesy of BMW

As part of the new agreement, Straus Organic Dairy Farm, located in Marshall, California, will be using a methane biodigester to capture methane from cow manure, which would otherwise enter the atmosphere. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about 14 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions comes from manure from the agriculture sector.

The captured methane from the Northern California farm is transformed into renewable energy that is sent to California's power grid. When electric vehicle owners plug their car in, they could be running on poo-generated energy.

"In addition to being a great collaboration, we are developing the blueprint for a model that can generate revenue for other farmers throughout California," said Albert Straus, founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery.

The family farm is one of the first steps in BMW's poo-energy procurement plants. "We are well on our way to ensuring that every electric mile driven by BMW and MINI owners in California is covered," said Adam Langton, BMW USA Energy Services Manager.

This methane plan is in addition to the ChargeForward pilot program that currently operates in the San Francisco Bay Area. That program allows owners to charge their vehicles using as much solar energy as possible.

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Production of the Volkswagen ID.4 will mark the automaker's first all-electric SUV launch. The ID.4 will have about 310 miles of range, depending on the drive package.

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Volkswagen is investing heavily into electric vehicles (EVs), even in the U.S. where the models make up a smidgeon of the sales each year. The company has already begun expanding its Chattanooga, Tennessee factory to build a North American center for the engineering and assembly of EVs.

That doesn't mean that they're just working on cars. They're working on the design of the "things" that go into cars as well. Much of this will happen at the Engineering and Planning Center (EPC) in Chattanooga. Breaking ground on the center is set to happen soon with the expectation of it being fully operational by spring 2021.

Volkswagen Chattanooga plant Volkswagen is investing $800 million and adding 1,000 jobs at its Tennessee plant. Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

The EPC will feature a unique, state-of-the-art high-voltage laboratory that is designed to develop and test electric vehicle cells and battery packs. These cells and packs are slated to be assembled in the U.S. before being inserted into vehicles.

"There are two ways that auto companies approach the development of electric vehicle batteries," said Wolfgang Maluche, Vice President of Engineering at Volkswagen of America. "A lot of them will farm out the development and testing of batteries to another company, and some will actually do the work of developing and testing in-house. We are doing the latter."

The lab will include pressure testers, explosion-rated climate chambers and – perhaps the most unique – a custom multi-axis shaker table (MAST), which is designed to test the integrity of vehicle components in some of the roughest conditions they might face on the road.

According to Volkswagen, most automotive labs have MASTs, "but almost none were designed for electric vehicle batteries". EV batteries present their own set of testing challenges because of their size and weight. They typically weight hundreds of pounds each, making them the heaviest component in an EV.

"The battery is not only shaking; it is going through a series of harsh conditions to test its durability in a variety of possible environments, from the South Pole to the Sahara," said Jason Swager, the Director of Electrical Development. "We needed to build a MAST that could withstand the immense force and frequency that we need to test these batteries."

Volkswagen describes the process:

"To run a MAST at such high frequencies, Volkswagen had to design its own tool rather than using an outside supplier. The supports for the MAST will be buried 12 feet under the lab's floor and buttressed with concrete to help withstand the forces in use. Volkswagen's new lab will be only the second location in the country with a MAST of this size."

Volkswagen is building the lab to LEED standards. "This lab was planned to be as sustainable as possible," said Maluche.

The production version of the Volkswagen ID.4 EV is expected to be revealed soon. It will be produced at the factory. The company recently celebrated the 1 millionth vehicle to roll off the line at the plant.

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The Audi E-Tron is being made more affordable.

Photo courtesy of Audi AG

Longer range, cheaper price. That's the bottom line for the 2021 Audi E-Tron. The all-electric SUV was the first in the E-Tron family to debut and go on sale and the a big step toward the brand's commitment to electrifying 30 percent of its U.S. model lineup by 2025.

Though Audi has revised the model's packages and lowered pricing, it's still pretty much the same SUV. Same fascia, body lines, wheels, brakes, and battery.

About that battery ... Software adjustments have made it so that drivers can now get 222 miles of all-electric range out of the 95 kilowatt-hour battery - an increase of 18 miles. The net energy amount goes up to 86.5 kilowatt-hours, nearly three kilowatt-hours more than the 2019 model.

2021 Audi E-Tron Sportback Audi sells the E-Tron in two varieties: E-Tron SUV and E-Tron Sportback.Photo courtesy of Audi AG

The SUV retains its standard 355 horsepower (it can go up to as much as 402 horsepower with Boost Mode) and can get from zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds using Boost Mode.

The all-wheel drive SUV will start at $65,900, an $8,900 dip from the starting MSRP of the 2020 Audi E-Tron. The model trim level lineup tops out at $79,100. A potential federal tax credit for purchasing an Audi E-Tron up to $7,500 may apply. There is a $1,095 destination charge.

The Premium (base) trim level is available with the Convenience Plus Package, which includes the Driver Assistance package and Black exterior trim kit. It comes standard with 20-inch five-spoke wheels; a heated steering wheel; quad-zone climate control; lane departure warning; heated front seats; a power lift gate; Audi Virtual Cockpit Plus; heated, auto-dimming, power-folding exterior mirrors with memory; Homelink; Integrated Toll Module; and comfort pre-conditioning.

The E-Tron Premium Plus grade comes standard with charge ports on both the driver and passenger side of the vehicle. It also gets the Driver Assistance Package; ambient interior lighting; heated and ventilated 12-way power-adjustable front seats; matrix-design LED headlights; 3D Bang & Olufson Sound System; and wireless device charging.

2021 Audi E-Tron Sportback The Audi E-Tron Sportback is more expensive than the traditional E-Tron SUV.Photo courtesy of Audi AG

The highest grade E-Tron Prestige adds a head-up display; individual contour front seats with massage functionality; Full Leather package; multi-color LED interior ambient lighting; dual-pane acoustic glass; an air quality system; power door closers; and rear sunshades.

The E-Tron Sportback, a sloped-roof version of the same SUV, has a higher starting price - $69,100. The E-Tron Sportback Premium Plus is $78,000 and the E-Tron Sportback Prestige is $82,300. It has an EPA-estimated range of 218 miles, has a 5.5-second zero to 60 mph time, and delivers up to 402 horsepower with Boost Mode engaged.

The standard features list for each of the E-Tron Sportback's grades is nearly identical to what is offered in the E-Tron SUV.

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