The Hybrid Conundrum

Thanks to E4’s recent post I’ve been thinking this over for the past few days-thanks for forcing me to better clarify my thoughts.

Current Hybrids must be a transition to the Green Economy-give us enough time to switch off of oil. I think of them as analogous to a nicotine patch for a smoker: they give us time to get healthy while allowing us to be civil enough to live with. The 5 years I will have my Insight will give me enough time to get my PV/Wind array up so I can start generating energy. California Cars has converted several Prius(es?) to plug in capability and they essentially use no fuel for the first 30+ miles (on lithium batteries), when they then switch to normal hybrid operation. It is like having an electric only car for 95% of your driving, but still having the unlimited range (and darn good PZEV rating) of a hybrid. The cost is steep now ($35,000 for a new Prius + conversion), but the economies of scale should help.

Of late I’ve been looking harder and harder at biodiesel, or another monicre it is adopting: grassolean. The fact that the Someday House will most likely have a legitimate need for a truck of some kind is most likely the impetus for this, but even before that my discovery of the Biodiesel Processor had stirred yearnings to make my oil gas. We looked hard at a TDI prior several years ago, when I was first tempted by the hybrids, but our concerns over high sulfur fuels and the health risks of particulate emissions steered us clear. With the rising wave of biodiesel research and products my reservations are almost completely gone. It is now literally possible to create enough fuel for a typical American family on their own property for about $.70 gallon, the fuel is essentially carbon neutral, the particulate and most smog emissions are drastically reduced. And when the oil is gone-you are still truckin.

I have a friend at work whose husband is looking closely at building a processor, and with their third child on the way they are looking to upgrade to a larger vehicle-and they are thinking about getting a diesel Suburban to complement their TDI Jetta. My knee jerk was that this was a massive step back, but is it? E4’s recent post about the Jevons Paradox has got me thinking. If my friend gets a Sienna Hybrid minivan they have no impetus to reduce consumption, and are still using 500 gallons of petrol per year. Put him in a diesel Suburban, and the fact that he will need to spend the time making his own diesel (I am assuming he will stick to his guns on biodiesel) will give him significant reason to question the extra trips-it takes a few hours work to make 50 gallons of biodiesel-not that bad, but certainly more time than a 10 minute fillup at the BP station. Secondly diesels last for frickin ever, so that cuts the resource allocation for the next vehicle down by 50-100%: if he keeps it several years longer than a hybrid. Food for thought.

My dream car, and hopefully in the next 5 years I will see this happen, will be a small diesel (think TDI) plug in hybrid running on lithium ion batteries. I want 30-50 mile range on electric,
and full biodiesel capability. That way I can make both my diesel and my electricity. I might even settle for an E-85 plugin in hybrid if I must compromise. An E-85 capable Prius+ from CalCars would use 30 gallons of actual petroleum gas to go 20,000 miles. (20,000/100mpg*.15). That is unbelievable. What completely chaps my britches is that the technology is there! There is no waiting for hydrogen, relocating commerce into the suburbs, or installing PV cells on every house-though the latter two need to happen sooner not later.
This can happen people! Call your Congress Person today.

Post Script:
I think we all know Who Killed the Electric Car. But some saint (Silicon Valley) has come around and raised Lazarus from the dead. Check out the future of Electric Cars. The Tesla at left will take a Porsche 911 0-60 with zero emissions. Maybe I can race again after all…

Chrysler and several European manufactures are also working serioulsy on prototypes.


2 Responses

  1. I just *knew* that somehow you would find a way to be about Green AND Cars. Be the change, Mr. I-wrote-3-letters-and-made-3-calls-and-so-can-you.

  2. What kills me is that my peers at work think I am crazy for actually communicating with the offices of my representatives. This is still a democracy right? Feingold, Kohl, and Sensenbrenner all have a peice of my mind. Sensenbrenner could probably use all he can get.

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