A Better Way

I know I promised that I would post about the Sci Am article, and I will, but the mailman brought me my plates today so I’ll share.

Notice the shafts of heavenly light… I’m on a mission from God.

This is actually a very nice segway into the first of my Sci Am commentaries. This one will focus in on John Heywood’s article in the Sept 06 issue of Scientific American “Fueling our Transportation Future”. All stats, unless otherwise noted, will come from his article; since he is a professor at MIT and I work in a warehouse we’ll call that a good thing.

First the Doom and Gloom-25% of total worldwide CO2 emissions come from transportation. Let that sink in a minute. Good. A quick Google search leads me to believe that the average Big Rig truck gets about 4-6 mpg. Ugh. That is too dark, so for now let’s focus more on light duty trucks and cars. Here in the US we are using about 150 billion gallons of gas per year-that works out to about 1.3 gallons per person per day (not sure if that is drivers or persons-Heywood is a scientist so lets take him literally). Ew. By 2050 China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil will be upping their living standards immensely-and that will add a few billion more drivers to the mix-figure world consumption of gas goes up by a factor of 10. Holy sh*t. Tell me why we aren’t messing with the CAFE standards again? Did I mention we have more cars in the US than registered drivers? I digress.

First let’s talk Bio-fuels. GM would love to have you believe that Ethanol makes everything ok-put some E-85 in your Tahoe and just keep driving. Balderdash! Even with the immense ramping up in the biofuels segment right now the projections have them hitting 10% of total transportation fuels by 2026, saving about 5 billion barrels (42 gallons) of fuel a day. Sounds great right? Without efficiency gains total demand will have gone up by over 200 billion barrels a day by then. Plus Ethanol only cuts emissions by about 25%. GM isn’t just greenwashing their dipping their sponges in horse manure first.

OK, biofuels are out as a savior for Global Warming. Heywood mentions 4 ‘new’ technologies that he feels will impact efficiency.

  • The direct injection turbos This is already out as seen in the Mazdaspeed 6. Efficiency and emissions increases on these are in the categories of the savings of switching to bio fuels (not even a drop in the bucket) and they cost as much as a hybrid option-so I am calling this a non-solution.

  • Low emissions diesel. Heywood puts this on a timeline of 5 years to market with 15 years until 33% of new cars make use of it. Honda {this is a great article-their FFV that will run on anything from pure ethanol to regular unleaded is hot} thinks they can do it in 2. Am I excited about this? Yes (but-more on that later)-diesels get 30% more mileage (about the same as most hybrids) and do so with about 30% less Co2 emissions. In the past that has come with lots of N02 and other nastiness, but the Tier 3 standards have them cut by 82%. Big Fan. However, 30% doesn’t put much dent in that nasty 200 billion number.

  • Gasoline Hybrids. Heywood puts this at 5 years to market-I must be missing something as my Insight rolled off the line 5 years ago, but again he is stressing market competitive which is probably true. He gives them 15 years until they get 30% of the market, and is probably right unless GM and Ford wake up or go bankrupt. I have written thousands of words on this already so I will be brief: 30-100% increases in mileage and PZEV ratings. Huge Fan!

  • Hydrogen. 15 years for a market competitive vehicle, and 25 years for 30%. I find this as overly optimistic as I find his numbers on hybrids pessimistic-how are the vehicles going to be competitive if there isn’t anywhere to get ‘fuel’. And hydrogen is not a fuel source-it is a carrier, a virtual battery. So we still need to make the energy somewhere and we don’t have enough electricity now. Same goes for making hydrogen using natural gas. Once the solar economy is going and we all have PV and wind turbines at our houses I will be on board with this. I like the concept, but loathe the R&D dollars it is taking away from real solutions.

Nothing really new so far except for the nice (and sobering) timelines for market penetration on new automotive technologies-basically people keep cars for a long, long time. How many circa 1980’s cars do you see every day on the road? Alot.

I think Heywood missed something Big. He mentions plug in hybrids in passing-but I see them as the silver bullet or at least the gun to fire it- as it is the 4th technology that we need to stack to get us out of this mess. Check my math here. A Plug in Prius gets 130 mpg a 2.3x improvement over a 50mpg Prius (which is already a 80% improvement over a 30mpg Malibu). Now lets put on our what if hats. What if the Prius was a diesel hybrid getting 65 (30% more than 50 [a diesel-hybrid Insight would be getting over 90 with me driving and not the EPA]) mpg-run the math and you get over 150 MPG. And then what if you ran it on B100 with a 78% reduction in CO2 emissions with pure biodiesel. Instead of talking about 30% we are talking about taking a mid size sedan that currently makes 30mpg (a non hybrid Prius sized sedan) and increase it 500% and reduce the C02 emissions by 78% for each gallon you do use. And the electricity you need to charge one of these systems over night is available from a 2 panel PV system, about $500 plus an inverter to hook it to the grid, with 8 hours of sun-the energy in the tank of GM’s fuel cell vehicle can power an entire block…

What Heywood’s article did for me was to drive home with a BFH the point that there is no silver bullet-we need to stack ALL the technology at our disposal to make the kind of impact that we need to. He finishes with the stress for drastically improved and coordinated regulatory and fiscal incentive program to get consumers and producers to move. He proposes, and I still love, the Fee-Bate plan of taxing the heck out of the worst offenders (I recommend a gradient system starting at 40mpg and going up quickly until you get to the Hummers) and giving that money in incentives to the vehicles getting over 60mpg. This makes it budget nuetral so we can still fight wars of aggression to protect our oil… He also recommends a higher fuel tax to fund R&D-both would have Big Impacts on shrinking those timelines.

I liked being green better when I felt that planting 600 sq ft of prairie was a Good Thing.

And it is-I am just scared as hell for my kids after these articles.

2 Responses

  1. He proposes, and I still love, the Fee-Bate plan of taxing the heck out of the worst offenders (I recommend a gradient system starting at 40mpg and going up quickly until you get to the Hummers) and giving that money in incentives to the vehicles getting over 60mpg.

    I like this idea at first glimpse, but in effect it sounds like another instance of the rich getting paid while the poor get screwed. The middle and upper class can get fuel efficient vehicles and the accompanying benefits; those living closer to the poverty line can barely afford wheels at all, and could be ruined by such a tax.

    I’m enthusiastically on board with the rest of it, though. Thanks for summarizing that article — and for being a living example of A BTR WAY.

  2. Thanks Lindsey!
    There really is no way to provide cheap environmentally friendly personal transportation-the cheap cars out now (including used) are forcing future generations to foot the rest of the bill. That said, I bought my hybrid for $12,600 with 60k mile warranty still remaining-that’s not a Hyundai, but it is better than a $35k Highlander Hybrid and I literally spend only $30/mo in gas (700 miles @ $3/gln) which really adds up. For the truly low income, and not those that just want to spend their money on cable and cell phones instead of effecient autos, we need to greatly improve our mass transit program-many of which already run on at least B20. When some cities in Sweden went from their already low bus fares to completely free their ridership went up 700%. Sounds like a winner-fund it off the Hummer Taxes and Carbon Credits.

    Cheap bandaids until we get on the hybrid bandwagon-mandate effective 2008-all new cars to have real time mileage meters on the dash. My mileage went up 25% on this alone-behaviors are HUGE in fuel effeciency. I bet I can beat the EPA estimates by 10% on any car out there with the skills my little meter has taught me. Second-all cars to have Full Auto Stop installed. The technology on this is simple (GM can do it) and city driving will see improvements of 10-20% in mileage.

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