Mobile Lab Plugs Politicos Into Microgrid

Washington politicians were given a chance to see cutting edge hybrid and electric vehicle (EV) technology close-up this week, with the visit of a mobile lab to the nation’s capital.

Invited by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a group of government officials were treated to a tour of the lab, which was parked in front of the Capitol building.

mobile lab, michigan tech, washington, d.c.

image via Sen. Carl Levin

Since the mobile lab was funded with a $3 million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant (as well as $750,000 from the automotive industry) the government officials got to see firsthand just where some of the Obama administration’s investment in green technologies has been going.

The lab, which was built and is operated by Michigan Technological University, takes hybrid electric vehicle education on the road.

Among the interactive exhibits that the politicos would have had a chance to enjoy was a method for making batteries from common household items and a ride on a specially designed stationary bike that uses leg power to run a hybrid electric engine. The lab also contains a car engine whose cylinders are made from a transparent quartz so that visitors can see with the naked eye the pistons moving up and down and the flames produced by combustion.

The lab is housed inside an expandable double-wide trailer which is pulled along by a class 8 diesel truck.

Even the way the lab is powered is an exhibit in itself. It has its own self contained electric power system, known as a microgrid. The mobile lab itself is a microgrid, with its own self-contained electric power system. The lab has a diesel generator, solar panels, a wind turbine and a battery storage system. The circuits connecting these power sources have been instrumented and a graphical user interface relays in real time energy production and usage in the trailer.

The microgrid is a miniature version of the smart grid, the system by which it is hoped the power grid will be able to cope with the increased demand and surges in power caused by the change to renewables.

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for CNN.com and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.