Monday, February 4, 2008

What Are Green Cars Anyway?

This is an email I sent to friend who had asked about the concept of green cars and expressed concerns about batteries in electric vehicles. Based on his response, I thought others might find it of interest.

Live Sustainably


For starters, let's get one thing straight, anything that calls itself a "green" car (other than the Gremlin of course) is an absolute fabrication. The very nature of an automobile is the antithesis of everything that "green" has come to stand for. Most people don't realize that more greenhouse gases are released from the making of a vehicle than from driving it, so it's very existence is worse than it's operation. Along those lines, i think the whole "green" thing has been co-opted for business purposes which the Detroit auto show has done a great job of doing. Want a truly green car? Park it out back, smash the windows, fill it with manure and topsoil, and plant some flowers in it.

Now having said that, perhaps on to something of substance. As we know, Fossil fuels are the big problem out there as a) they are running out and b)they release massive amounts of CO2 which as Mr. Gore has pointed out, are not so good for the folks on mothership earth. Both points can of course be argued, but bottom line, fossil fuels are finite so if we are not presently at peak oil we will be, we are fighting wars (both known and unknown) all over the globe for oil rights, and even if you want to argue against the IPCC and say we are not causing Global Warming, I can come up with 30 other environmental and societal reasons why petroleum is bad.

Two-thirds of all the petroleum brought into this country is used for transportation, much of it in the trucking industry, so obviously, transpo is a place we need to look at. First off before we hit up "alternatives" (I italicize that because in 1900 Diesel invented his engine to run on peanut oil and Fords dream was for all his T's to run on which is alternative petroleum or biofuels?) let's look at efficiency. According to the UCS, if we were today to pass a law stating that by 2015 all cars would need to have 40 mpg minimum consumption ratings, we'd save more oil than will ever be pumped out of ANWAR and then the savings would continue. Pretty much all the car companies agree that 40 mpg by 2015 is doable. In Europe you can buy an off the shelf VW Lupo 3 cyclinder diesel that gets 83 mpg and has been proven to get as high as 116 mpg. So while we need to "green" our cars by going "alternative", most of which are not around the corner due to infrastructure (ethanol, biodiesel and the myth of hydrogen that we are being sold) and customer acceptibility (electric), there's a whole mess of things we can do right now using off the shelf technology that should be explored first.

Moving towards "alternatives", I drive a veggie car simply because it is the best solution available right now, barring not driving, which I do quite a bit. That said, food should be for eating, not dragging stuff and us from one place to the next. Biodiesel, if made from waste veggie oil is a great thing, but there isn't nearly enough to make a dent in the overall picture. Due to demand for bioD, huge swaths of rainforest are being cut down to cheaply grow soybeans. Just like us to take something good and figure out how to make it bad. Ethanol is a scam. Problems range from cellulosic ethanol (the one that works) not being achievable on a large scale, to massive problems with storage and transportation of the stuff due to water content. Most people talk about Brazil, which is great, but they use sugar cane which grows like a weed, and are having massive rust problems due to the water content in the fuel.

Hydrogen makes no sense due to the fact that it has no energy. It's an energy carrier so it all comes down to how are you compressing the hydrogen. Right now it takes roughly four times as much petroleum to move a mile on hydrogen than it does on petroleum. Also, an entirely new infrastructure will need to be built which is insanity. Hydrogen vehicles are essentially electric vehicles that get their energy from a fuel cell. Every time you take a form of energy and transfer it from one state to the next, you lose roughly 10%. So let's say you are using the sun to compress hydrogen. Great clean source right? In compressing the hydrogen you lose 10% of the energy you've amassed. It heads into the fuel cell and gets turned into electricity and you lose another 10%. So why not just have an EV where you don't lose that 20% energy?

EVs are the only solution. First of all, the technology is here, and it's improving at a remarkable rate. It's a heck of a lot easier to clean up the grid than it is a thousand tailpipes so for that reason EVs make sense. They require less maintenance, are better cars to begin with (I've driven hydrogen vehicles and they are nothing to scream about) and don't require a new infrastructure. As far as electricity goes, The Northwest Energy Labs Study a while back is just one of many that illustrates that if 70-80% of all cars and light trucks in the US were EVs today, we would need no new power. That's because they would be charging at night when an amazing amount of energy is dumped off the grid due to the fact that you can't turn power stations on and off as you need. So power wise, we're good right now. We need to improve, but there is time.

The batteries are a problem but they are getting better. Smart companies like Tesla have the price of recycling built into the battery and the future, which is right around the corner, are ultra capacitors. These things are half as light, half as expensive, completely recyclable, and will fuel EVs to come. EEstore is the company in the lead right now and their recent deal with Lockeed Martin suggests that they may be closer than anyone thought to a working prototype.

Finally, here's a link to a really good well to wheels program. If you play around with the configurations, you'll see that an EV charged by the sun is the cleanest way to go.

That said, you're car as a flower pot is even greener.

1 comment:

Los Renegaos said...

What will you do with all the acids form the batteries when you'll need to change them?

You never mentioned internal combustion H2, why? Inneficient? 30 years ago it was 15% less bang mostly due to cooling. 30 years ago! I'll gladly use 25% more energy, 10 from electrolysis and those 15 from thermodynamics. That's to have a vehicle's exhaust only steam or about. Granted that energy has to be made from solar or wind. There's 0% green gases in all that process. I, by far, prefer this balance than doing the job half-way like your suggesting.

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