Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Although Barack Obama still has a ways to go in his understanding the energy issues, he grasps the climate and economic issues, and is focusing on a response. Whether or not he can navigate the political issues that will confront him still remains to be seen, but he is where I expected and hoped him to be at the beginning of the endeavor. My prediction is that 2012 is the crunch date. If we have not acknowledged the need for a national mobilization to confront the energy issue by 2012, the country and quite possibly the world will be in deep trouble.


Marcel F. Williams said...

I like the clean energy investment bank concept for providing capital for clean energy projects if the US government is mostly a minority investor. But I'm not sure that 15 billion a year is enough to help fund both renewable and nuclear projects.

With proper funding, it shouldn't be too difficult to more than triple our current nuclear power capacity in less than 20 years if these reactors are built at existing sites that already have nuclear reactors.

But I've been in an FDR sort of mood for the last few years thinking about those massive hydroelectric projects that the federal government funded during the Great Depression.

So I'd like to see a lot of large scale federally owned and initiated nuclear and renewable energy projects also.

But we seriously and immediately need to start producing carbon neutral synthetic fuels: gasoline, aviation fuel, diesel fuel, methanol, and dimethyl ether on a massive scale. That's the key towards total independence from the petroleum fuel economy.

donb said...

Marcel F. Williams said:
But we seriously and immediately need to start producing carbon neutral synthetic fuels: gasoline, aviation fuel, diesel fuel, methanol, and dimethyl ether on a massive scale. That's the key towards total independence from the petroleum fuel economy.

Much of the time, we need to crawl before we can walk, and walk before we can run. Going full bore to carbon neutral may not be a wise move to make in one step. Rather, a series of steps can be taken.

The most obvious and do-able first step is replacing coal-fired base load electricity generation with nuclear. This by itself cuts carbon emissions in the US by about half.

The next step might be replacing a large portion of natural gas-fired generation with variable output nuclear plants. I don't think there is a big problem leaving some gas turbines in place for occasional use during extreme peaks.

Another step would be to replace natural gas fired domestic water and space heating with electric heat pumps, using electrical energy from nuclear power plants.

All this frees up a lot of coal and natural gas, which generally should be reserved for their highest use - transportation via synthetic fuels. Compressed natural gas is a natural for land transportation. Aviation will probably always require liquid hydrocarbon fuels, so we will need to make them from gas, coal, and bio-sources. If I recall correctly, converting natural gas to liquid fuel via the Fischer-Tropsch process is exothermic, so it supplies its own process heat. But converting coal and biomass requires heat input, and nuclear process heat would be the ideal source.

Electrifying ground transporation is yet another step. Electrifying rail lines is a natural. It appears we are on the cusp of practical electrification of automobiles.

With all of this we are not carbon neutral, but we are a long way towards the goal. The final goal can the be approached in a more deliberate manner.

Warren Heath said...

Obama will learn, much like the European’s are learning, that the Renewables path is Way Too Slow and Way Too Expensive. Charles is likely correct, after many 100’s of billions of dollars are wasted on Way Over-Hyped Renewables Scams, Harsh Reality will force a Scientific No-Nonsense approach to the impending Energy Catastrophe.

The fastest and most effective way to reduce energy consumption, GHG emissions, Foreign Exchange & Job Losses and reliance on Unreliable Foreign Energy Supplies is within the Transportation Sector. Unfortunately Obama is hung up on the expensive PHEV – a non solution. I regard the PHEV as an interim vehicle of little significance, a toy for the wealthy. It is dubious that many who can afford a $40,000 vehicle, will bother plugging in for a cheaper 10 to 40 mile electric range, since the fuel economy will be excellent running as a series HEV anyways. The optimal future will consist primarily of small ultra-light BEV’s for City Travel and Series HEV’s for Highway Travel, with the option of an extended range BEV, which would use about a 30 kwh battery pack and a small standardized 10 to 20 kw continuous rated high-efficiency generator. Detroit proved that it can produce HEV’s with 70-80 mpg, in the late 1990’s with the Supercar Initiative:

Supercar: The tanking of an American dream

Undoubtedly, those HEV drivetrains could be improved with the use of modern electronics and motor technology. And the use of Methanol / DME extreme efficiency engines can further improve those numbers. See:

EPA 43% Peak Efficiency Methanol Engine with Low Emissions and a Wide Island of High Efficiency

The quickest path to transportation fuel efficiency would be for the Government to Order Automakers or Auto Parts Suppliers to produce standardized series hybrid conversion kits for common fuel guzzling vehicles on the road today. The necessity is government intervention to jumpstart and subsidize the program. In order to be economical, production in automotive volumes would be necessary. The optimal configuration would be the series hybrid, with a 50 to 100 hp electric motor, (Brushless Synchronous Permanent Magnet or an Induction Motor), a 3 to 5 kwh Li-Ion/LiFePO4 or NiMH battery pack, and a high efficiency 20 to 50 hp engine/generator. Best to use a standard European TDI diesel engine, which can also be modified to run more efficiently and cleaner on Methanol, with simpler, cheaper Spark Ignition and Port Fuel Injection. Remove the engine, transmission and fuel system from the convert vehicle. And remove the ludicrous NOx emission standard (1/6th of Europe’s) for North American Diesel Cars and Small Trucks, that was put there by greedy Oil Interests – successfully blocking the use of high efficiency TDI Diesel engines in North America. Using the European standard for NOx, in the type of high efficiency series HEV’s that I am proposing, would not significantly increase NOx levels. Most of the NOx comes from Coal Power Plants and poorly tuned, inefficient Truck Engines, that curiously the EPA does very little about. It would be easy to catch the extreme offenders, which produce the bulk of the emissions, with automated roadside monitoring stations.

The series HEV system would consist of the engine/generator module which can be standardized and needs no special mounting configuration, the battery pack again can be standardized and mounted in a variety of different locations on a vehicle, the PEM & Driver Interface Modules again can be standardized and mounted in many different positions, the only Vehicle specific requirement would be the connection of the standardized Electric Drive Motors to the Vehicle Drive Shaft.

There will be a severe shortage of batteries for a decade or more, so the PHEV will be an ineffective method to reduce dependence on Foreign Oil and cut Emissions. A PHEV will require several times more battery capacity than the series HEV. The conversion I am recommending, would easily be less than half the cost of the PHEV conversion, and much more feasible. The converted vehicle need not be high performance, just a cheap way for cash strapped, frugal consumers, suffering in a declining economy, who can’t afford even a new car, never mind an expensive PHEV, to get from point A to point B with.

And Automakers could easily make much higher efficiency engines if they weren’t so focused on helping out their Oil Buddies, by forcing us to waste fuel like it will last forever. The Prius Atkinson Engine is an example of what can be done. Other examples:

The 50% efficient, low emissions, Liquid Piston HEHC engine

The Velozzi 200 mpg Series HEV with Micro-Turbine Engine/Generator

The Velozzi 200 mpg Ultra-Light High Performance Series HEV

The 45% efficient, ultra-lightweight, FreePistonPower Engine/Generator – MegaBucks Detroit couldn’t come up with this?

The RadMax Rotary Diesel Engine

The StarRotor 40-65% Efficient Brayton Cycle Engine

John Westlund explains how the Government had to pay Detroit to build 60-80 mpg HEVs in the 90’s, which they easily did, and pocketed most of the cash, without offering the vehicles for sale.

Marcel F. Williams said...

I think its obvious that the use of fossil fuels is not going to immediately disappear in the US and probably not even within the next few decades. That's probably good since you don't want millions of people in the fossil fuel industry to immediately lose their jobs.

But that doesn't mean that we should continue to invest in even more greenhouse gas polluting fossil fuel technologies.

Coal is an environmental disaster. And the US is already importing nearly 20% of its natural gas supplies.

The technologies to convert urban and rural biowaste into gasoline, diesel fuel, aviation fuel, methanol, and dimethyl ether already exist. Combined with hydrogen produced from nuclear and hydroelectric facilities, we could replace at least 30% of our petroleum use. Combined with the new plug-in-hybrids, we could replace up to 65% of our petroleum transportation fuel use.

The extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere in order to make synthetic fuels is the ultimate answer to synthetic fuel production, IMO. But these promising technologies probably won't be commercially available until 2020-- unless the federal government put in nearly a billion dollars to fast track these emerging technologies.

Marcel F. Williams said...

Warren, new technologies are almost always very expensive. When VCRs, computers, even microwave ovens were first introduced into the market place, they were very expensive items.

And even with the $4000 tax break that Obama is promising for the PHEV's, they are still going to be expensive.

But don't forget, we live in a country with nearly 10 million multi-millionaire households who can easily afford these vehicles.

And as with all new technologies, the price will gradually go down over the years due to economies of mass production and the batteries will increase in range.

Warren Heath said...

Marcel, the question is, with a series PHEV getting 80 mpg on fuel, who is going to bother to plugin in order to save a buck or two each day, especially those who can afford a $40,000 vehicle?

Makes more sense to make or convert to an 80 mpg series HEV for highway travel and an ultralight BEV for City Travel. As an example, it would be easy to make an ultra lightweight, AWD, single seat BEV, made of light weight composites, like Kevlar, Spectra, or Carbon fiber. A 15-1/2 ft Kevlar canoe weighs 40 lbs, and has a MSRP of $2100 in volume of one, and takes some serious punishment. Use 4 wheel motors on 20” wheels, 4” wide tires. Even, powerful bicycle Hub motors like the Crystalyte brushless DC 5304’s would work well in this application. Use separate regen controllers for each wheel and a 2 kwh utilized LiFePO4 battery pack. Width would be about 30”, with the small battery pack between the seat & belly plate. Room for a half-dozen grocery bags behind the back seat. Ideally a small air compressor driving air shocks would allow the driver to adjust wheel height (note: No Drive Axle) to accommodate different terrain. Set low for paved roads. In an accident, blow the air out, dropping the belly plate to the road, resulting in a safe skid to a stop, rollovers being unlikely, due to the extremely low center of gravity of the vehicle.( The tendency of a vehicle to rollover is determined by the formula t/2h, t=track width, h=center of gravity. >1.2 implies rollover unlikely. In the 4wd BEV ATV, I'm describing, the value would be > 1.5). With the wheels weight (about 30 lbs each), causing a gyroscopic action, this will also make the narrow vehicle extremely resistant to rollover at speed. With composite construction, extreme lightweight and no engine, the vehicle could be designed to absorb the much reduced energy of a collision by deforming the vehicle structure. In fact, Composites can absorb 13 times more energy than steel in a collision. For heat, an onboard fuel powered heater (methanol is best), would keep the interior toasty warm @ even 30 below, using about 1 quart of fuel in 6 hrs. It is typically six times more efficient to use a fuel fired heater than to idle an engine to produce heat.

The specs I get are:

Acceleration, 0-40 mph: 2.5 sec

Weight: 320 lbs

Top Speed: 60 mph

Energy Economy: 25 miles/kwh city driving profile

Battery: 2kwh of LiFePO4

Range: 50 miles

Charger: 1.5 kw @ 120 vac (standard 120vac plugin)

Charge Time: 37 miles range for 1 hr plugin

Turning radius: zero (by reversing left & right side wheel motors)

I would prefer the frame shape to be more like a Recumbent Trike, more stable and more aerodynamic. Like a Trike, use the handlebars for steering, rather than a steering wheel. It may be suffice to just use a right wheels and left wheels speed differential for steering.

A few points to consider:

The typical city commute vehicle, carries usually one person, weighs more than 3000 lbs, top speed of over a 100 mph. This makes sense? Would it be acceptable if most riders of public transit carried 4 huge duffel bags with them? The average City driving speed (EPA city driving profile) is 21 mph. A major big boost for BEV's is lower top speed. High speed travel soaks up energy like a sponge, which doesn't bode well for BEV's. A major insanity of modern City Road Planning, is the use of high speed roads for City Travel. Doubling vehicle speed, means about double the vehicle spacing, which means SAME TRAFFIC FLOW. All high speed travel achieves is jam-ups at choke points, which in turn means vehicles end up traveling at their most inefficient speeds, i.e. very high speeds and very low speeds. Vehicles travel most efficiently (miles per energy consumed) at 20-30 mph. Having vehicles rush at 80 mph to a road with traffic flow of 5 mph is an absurd waste of energy, and actually slows traffic flow as well as wasting large quantities of fuel. In Traffic jams, along with being extremely frustrating to drivers, requires increased air conditioning or vehicle heating in cold climates and limits vehicle mobility so drivers are forced to take much slower left turns than off ramps or right turns, and even a minor accident or vehicle breakdown can block an entire lane of traffic for an hour or more. No wonder a pedal bike can quite commonly beat a 100 mph vehicle in a typical city commute.

And forget about City Planners building more roads to reduce traffic density, the infrastructure of Modern Cities has deteriorated so badly that trillions of dollars are needed just to bring them up to standard, never mind improve it.

$1.6 trillion needed to bring U.S. transportation infrastructure up to a FUNCTIONAL level

In cities, most efficient travel is obtained by vehicles going at a steady speed equal to or at most slightly greater than the average rate of traffic flow. Already governments are discussing reducing the speed limit to 55 mph, a quick way to save a lot of fuel. The Prius drivetrain gets 7.7 miles per kwh engine shaft energy @ 20 mph, 5.9 @ 40, 4.3 @ 60 & 3.2 @ 80 mph.

With the ultralight, small footprint BEV concept, you could have three times the traffic density of present day. Eliminate most bottlenecks and traffic jams. Would make roads entirely compatible with energy squandering, environmentally friendly bicycles, Segways, e-bikes, and mopeds. Road construction would be easier and cheaper with lightweight vehicles. Much less expensive elevated highways could be built, due to the much lower weight and kinetic energy of the vehicles. Highway vehicles used to carry passengers or cargo could be moved to designated truck routes, where travel time would be still less than current overcrowded city roads.

Note that traffic congestion cost the consumer in the U.S, $64 billion, and traffic accidents $164 billion in 2005. Have a collision between those Steel Tanks and there will be mayhem & destruction, which caused 40,443 deaths and 2.7 million injuries in the U.S. in 2005. And the mess created in these accidents can block already crowded roads for an hour or more. With the ultralight BEV, if broke down or damaged, grab it with one hand and drag it off the road.

The ultralight, AWD, small footprint BEV would be real fun to drive, much more so than the Aptera concept. Zero turning radius, park in the tightest spot, faster acceleration than anything on the road, drive over the grass leaving no damage to it, over the curb, on the sidewalk, up the stairs, and if so inclined, in the doorway, up the elevator and into the office. Drive over a frozen lake, where any 4x4 would get stuck because of their low torque and huge weight. Drive on hiking trails, no smoke, no smell, no noise. Drive in buildings and through the bush. It would be trivial to put 120 vac plugins at all parking spots like restaurants, office buildings, apartment buildings, shopping malls etc, as is already done in Northern Countries to supply heat for ICE engines in the cold. Unlike other concepts, a standard 120 vac receptacle would charge an ultralight BEV in sufficient time to allow for travel throughout a city.

The cost savings to governments would be immense: greatly reduced road construction & maintenance costs, reduced public transit, reduced accidents & injuries, greatly reduced smog induced illness & death, greatly reduced oil imports & consequent oil wars, cheaper agriculture & air travel due to much less petroleum demand, major reductions in emissions and greenhouse gases. As a matter of fact, the cost savings would be so great as to make it profitable for the government to give these vehicles to the consumer, as they could be manufactured in volume at probably less than $5000 (you could build one yourself with off-the-shelf, low volume, components for about $7,000) and would last a lifetime, with minor maintenance.

And to keep the automakers happy, they could still sell their Steel Tanks to consumers for highway travel, pulling loads or carrying passengers & cargo. No need for plugins for these applications, but the series hybrid (with a 5 kwh battery pack) would be ideal for performance and fuel economy.

A $2,500 BEV with a 200 to 250 km range, so who needs a $7,500 subsidy for a PHEV with a 10-40 mile electric range?


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