A tour of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado is a delightful prospect for any green geek. On Wednesday, my inner science geek wanted to squeal with joy as I boarded a bus and headed out to NREL from Denver.


I was in Denver for Toyota’s Future Mobility Seminar, which featured a panel discussion on the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) Standard as well as a presentation by University of Colorado researchers, who delivered the first set of results from a two-year Toyota Prius plug-in smart grid test program.


The first day’s green transportation symposium was followed up by a daylong event at NREL. The tour started with a caravan to the NREL National Wind Technology Center. The original route up Colorado 93 was scrapped because of the extremely windy weather, which had already caused multiple car accidents including a rollover. No one seemed to mind the change of plans, though, and everyone happily boarded into a variety of alternative fuel-powered Toyota vehicles including the Toyota RAV4 EV, Toyota Highlander fuel cell hybrid and the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid.


I paired up with CARB Chief of Sustainable Transportation Technology Branch Analisa Bevan in a RAV4 EV and dutifully followed the caravan up to the wind site. As an Arizona native, and a desert dweller at that, the cold wind at the visitor’s center was numbing but it was nothing compared to what awaited us at the wind test site. I felt like I would blow away after exiting my vehicle but nothing could dampen the spirit of my inner science geek, even multiple 60 mile per hour wind gusts.


At the wind site, Future Mobility attendees boarded onto vans and took a driving tour while NREL experts answered questions about the site. Did you know that wind turbine blade tips travel about 200 miles per hour when fully operational, regardless of the size of the turbine or the blade? I didn’t either.


In addition to producing wind power at the site, the facility also includes a solar array that helps provide power to onsite labs and buildings. One of these labs houses the Wind-to-Hydrogen (Wind2H2) Project, a project that is designed to optimize hydrogen production through renewable resources. The hydrogen can then be used to provide clean usable power, including applications in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.


After our tour of the wind test site, we returned via Toyota AFVs to the NREL Visitor Center for lunch. During lunch, Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF) Manager Carolyn Elam discussed the 182,500 square-foot under-construction ESIF. Once operational, ESIF will host the world’s most energy efficient data center with a power usage effectiveness (PUE) of less then 1.06 and a processing capability of 20 petaflops at full build out.


Once lunch was completed, attendees split into three groups and toured the new low-energy parking structure, the Thermal Test Facility (TTF) and the Vehicle Testing and Integration Facility (VTIF). Keep an eye on my blog for details on these four NREL facilities in the coming weeks.


After touring the various NREL facilities, I had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a 2013 Scion iQ EV. The iQ EV is equipped with a 12 kWh high-output lithium-ion battery with an estimated range of 50 miles. The battery electric vehicle can be fully recharged in just three hours using a 240V connection, which makes the Scion iQ EV the ideal vehicle for urban corporate fleets and car sharing services.


Although the vehicle is small, the driver’s cabin was roomy. There was plenty of headroom and legroom and the interior was comfortable. It was a little disconcerting, at times, to look in my rearview mirror and realize that the back end of the car was right there. However, I drive a sedan and so I always feel a bit awkward in a smaller car.


My two-mile trip around the neighborhood next to NREL including several stop-and-go opportunities, allowing me to test the acceleration of the iQ EV. Like all electric vehicles I’ve driven, if I wanted to quickly accelerate on a green light I could.


However, I was more interested in maintaining the green eco-friendly lighting that surrounded my speedometer. If I accelerated just perfectly then I could stay in eco mode from stop until reaching full cruising speed. I was able to master this feat on my short drive, which leads me to believe that the learning curve to optimal driving range is very easy.


Overall, Wednesday was a fantastic day for this geek girl. A tour of the NREL wind test site, several NREL labs and a drive in the Scion iQ EV – what more could I ask for?

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