The battery issue is such a speed bump along the road to getting American vehicles to rely more on electric power that the U.S. Department of Energy is trying to spark improvements in the technology.
Batteries currently used to power vehicles have issues: They are too large, cost too much, don't last long enough and don't always protect the flammable liquids inside.
"Batteries aren't where they need to be," said Douglas E. Patton, senior vice president at Denso International America Inc., a supplier of technology and components to the automotive industry.
If electric vehicles are going to take off, he said last week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, "That's where that cool, whiz-bang technology needs to show up."
It's a project that's right up the alley of Canonsburg simulation technology company Ansys, which is on a team chosen two years ago to participate in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's $7 million project. The goal is to develop computer-assisted engineering for use in creating the batteries.
Three teams were announced in 2011. Ansys is working with General Motors and ESim, while Penn State University is part of a second team that includes Ford.
All of the teams are making progress. "We are seeing the first generation of the software tools are being circulated among the initial customers," reported Ahmad Pesaran with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The goal is to have fully commercial products ready for the market by 2015.
The energy department is funding the effort because the government has put a priority on improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions, but the commercial participants are expected to contribute 50 percent of project costs. The companies will be able to market their systems at the end.