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N.C. seeks research hub for plug-in cars

Feb 13,2008 - The Associated Press

North Carolina State University plans to launch a research hub for the development of plug-in cars, a project that has attracted the interest of energy and automobile companies.

The school already conducts research into the development of the no-gas vehicles. And Gov. Mike Easley said Tuesday that, depending on the support from federal grants, the state may give $5 million to start and $1 million annually to operate the Advanced Transportation Energy Center there.

"This new energy economy is out there just waiting for somebody to pluck it from the vine," Easley said in announcing the plan at a forum on energy at N.C. State. "I'm going to make sure that North Carolina gets its share. America's ready to go where North Carolina's ready to go."

Duke Energy Corp. and Progress Energy Corp. said they have pledged to participate in the project and are already developing a grid system that would allow drivers to charge their car batteries while away from home.

Easley said General Motors Corp. may also join the program as researchers seek to develop lighter and safer vehicles that the batteries can power.

The initial mandate of the center would be the development of cheaper, lighter and more efficient batteries that could be plugged in at home. N.C. State Chancellor James Oblinger said he expects to develop a battery that can power a vehicle without the aid of gasoline within the next two to five years.

Cost is a big factor for making the batteries available to the average consumer, and Easley said with the proper research that the department can bring the cost of the battery from $10,000 to $3,000 and make other improvements. Easley dubbed it the "Wolfpack Power Pack" for its N.C. State roots.

Drivers, meanwhile, would save on the cost of gasoline. For a vehicle with a range of 40 miles, it could cost roughly $1 to charge the battery, said Michael Ligett, the director of market and energy services for Progress Energy. Easley said he would like to see batteries with a longer range such as 150 miles.

"This is transformational," said Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson. "This really is a bold and aggressive idea."

Progress and Duke, two leading energy companies with headquarters in North Carolina, said their grids would allow people to charge their batteries at various stations. For quick recharges, consumers could swap out their batteries at a station for one that's already charged, officials for the companies said.

Johnson said the energy would become a retail commodity that could be sold anywhere.

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