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Hoon's electric vision: How green?

Richard Black | 13:42 UK time, Thursday, 16 April 2009

The latest element of the UK government's low-carbon energy policy has just emerged; a cash giveaway for green motoring.

Hyundai hybridDrivers are to be offered cash incentives of up to £5,000 to trade in their petrol- or diesel-burning cars for new electric or plug-in hybrid models: not the models available today, but the ones forecast to be in showrooms within a couple of years that are said to offer a driving experience and utility comparable to today's fossil-fuelled vehicles.

This pounds-for-petrol trade is part of the UK's response to an issue that many other countries (and in the US, many states) are grappling with: how to take the carbon out of road transport.

Putting it crudely, three major technologies have been on the table: biofuels, hydrogen and electricity.

Hydrogen still looks costly and technically difficult, despite Honda's recent decision to begin commercial production, and biofuels have been shown to be potentially damaging to the natural world and to humanity's food supply; but battery technology is advancing so fast that that the electric car now appears to have overtaken its rivals as a potential mass-market "green" solution.

But - as has often been pointed out - electric cars (and electric hybrids) do not necessarily offer low-carbon benefits; it depends on how the electricity is generated, and to a lesser extent on the efficiency of the pathway that takes it down the wires from generator to battery, and the efficiency of the vehicle.

So how "green" are they?

With all these caveats, hard numbers are hard to come by. One of the most-often-cited studies [78KB MS Word document] comes from Argonne National Laboratory in the US, which compared efficiencies and greenhouse gas emissions for 16 drivetrain permutations involving fuels such as petrol, diesel, ethanol and compressed natural gas, and power options such as internal combustion engines, hybrids and fuel cells.

The conclusions are far from clear-cut. Ethanol outperformed every other fuel on emissions, however it was used - but the study was done before some of the potentially damaging impacts of ethanol production all came to light.

Hybrids performed just a little better than conventional vehicles.

But any overall carbon savings hinge on the fuel mix of that particular country's electricity generation. The US proportionately uses more coal and less natural gas than the UK - so if the same study were done in the UK, it might project higher greenhouse gas reductions.

The highest savings of all might pertain in a country such as Iceland where virtually all electricity comes from renewable sources; France, with more than two thirds from nuclear, would also presumably fare relatively well.

Already it's clear, I hope, that the success or failure of an electric vehicle programme in reducing emissions hinges on a lot more than getting the fossil fuel burners off the road.

Let's make a leap of faith and say that the UK does switch successfully to a low-carbon electricity mix, through ramping up renewables and nuclear faster than appears likely at the moment.

Car_plugged_inThere now comes a problem. Many renewable technologies cannot generate on demand, and nuclear reactors like being on all the time; so you will generate too much electricity at some times of day, and too little at others.

Car batteries can be part of the solution. As proposed by the Californian company Better Place - and endorsed by a number of governments including Denmark's and Israel's - batteries can be the storage devices, the demand balancers.

When they're not being used in vehicles, they're connected to the grid, recharging when the system is awash with spare joules, and supplying energy at times of peak demand.

This kind of approach potentially reduces the price of electric motoring, because (rather like storage heaters) you'll "buy" electricity when it's cheap - and if it's taken up on a big enough scale, it facilitates the use of a higher proportion of nuclear and renewables in the electricity mix.

Encouraging such a transformation, of course, might require more planning and foresight than some governments traditionally give to their climate policies; nevertheless, it's a vision that potentially addresses several key problems in one go.

So far, so good. But perhaps a cautionary note is needed.

The UK's Committee on Climate Change recently outlined its preferred options for reducing the country's emissions.

Transport accounts for about 28% of the whole, and road transport for about 85% of that quarter.

So decarbonising the entire fuel cycle for the entire road transport sector would lop off less than one quarter of the nation's emissions; and that scale of decarbonisation is extremely unlikely, with the electricity mix still dominated by fossil fuels, and the growth in road transport emissions down to lorries and vans, for which fewer low-carbon options exist than for cars.

Although the committee concluded that a "major role is possible by 2020" for electric vehicles, the potential for reducing transport emissions "is dominated by the scope for improving fuel efficiency" of conventional vehicles.

Far less sexy than a silent, slinky electric coupe, I know; but perhaps the boring road could be the one most travelled.


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  • 1. At 2:49pm on 16 Apr 2009, Peter Johnston wrote:

    You've missed some key points:
    1. 80% of the environmental damage done by a car is in making it, not driving it. The lifespan of a car currently is 16 years but batteries have a life of around 10. No-one will put £3,000 of batteries in a £1,000 car so these will be scrapped earlier. Net there will be increased environmental damage.
    2. The losses in production and distribution of electricity mean that 4 times as much energy is required as reaches the socket. Electric cars mean more fossil fuel burned, not less.
    3. Batteries are not earth friendly. The heavy metals used are environmentally damaging to extract and batteries are not fully recyclable. It also puts us in the hands of fragile regimes (90% of lithium comes from Bolivia, for example).
    4. The only reason why electricity is cheap is lack of taxation. Tax it similarly to existing fuels and it will be a lot more expensive.
    This is greenwash which will unravel after the election.

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  • 2. At 2:50pm on 16 Apr 2009, whiteofmac wrote:

    There is another aspect to consider here around hybrid vehicles. Hybrids are especially good in cities in that you get less pollution and you don't need the engine running when you are sitting in a traffic jam. So a hybrid might be a good choice for someone in London for example. If you don't live in the city the advantages are marginal to say the least. Any immediate pollution such as particulates are much less of a problem and because the driving is less stop start you don't have long periods of idling so there is much less of a gain. When you also add into the picture that any kind of electric vehicle has to hall around very heavy batteries which all eat into the fuel economy then for non-city dwellers hybrids look like not so green an option.
    My primary consideration when buying a car is fuel economy so I drive a diesel that does nearly 60mpg. I certainly won't be looking at hybrids and the government need to look very carefully if my taxes are to be used to subsidise forms of transport which if I followed would substabntially increase my emissions.

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  • 3. At 2:50pm on 16 Apr 2009, bigsammyb wrote:

    Ridiculous idea. Whether you use hydrogen or electric power the cost in fossil fuels to create the hydrogen or electricity is higher than if you just burned petrol in the first place.

    And these cars are expensive people are still going to have to stump up around 15K on top of the 5K if they want to get somthing useable. So this is basically a give away for the rich.

    Why does nobody ever try and address the elephant in the room here? That being that it matters not whether we use lots of fossil fuels or hardly any we are still using fossil fuels! Until we stop using them 100% all these ideas are pointless.

    And there IS a solution it has even been cited on Horizon on the BBC. Nuclear Fusion, this tech will mean infinate energy for everyone we will become 100% carbon free we will be able to produce enough hydrogen to power our cars and enough power for our homes and everything else. Truly free energy.

    This tech is about 30 years away but it only gets 1 billion a year internationally in investment. Why is this? Why isn't the government using this cash (that it has created by getting in debt to china) to invest in nuclear fusion.

    If nuclear fusion had 50 billion a year we could have it in ten years then we'd not have to even think about these problems.

    There is an agenda here and it isn't about saving the world.

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  • 4. At 2:59pm on 16 Apr 2009, joetietjen wrote:

    Great article Richard.

    I started a facebook group recently to try to generate interest in project Better Place in the UK, and you're the first Brit journalist I've come across who's mentioned them.

    You say it's a vision that potentially addresses several key problems in one go. I think it's a vision that 'does' address several key problems in one go.

    We just need the government to invest in the infrastructure required for an electric car network.

    If the UK start moving quickly we could be at the forefront of a new industry that is surely going to explode in the near future.

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  • 5. At 3:34pm on 16 Apr 2009, joetietjen wrote:

    80% of the damage is in making it, Peter? Nonsense - please substantiate.

    You and bigsammy seem to be missing one of the key points here - Better Place would allow electric cars to run off an electric grid, and they would source energy for this grid PURELY from renewable sources.

    They would make the generation of renewable energy more economically viable as the network would provide storage for the energy generated at low usage times.

    Of course this would be expensive initially - it's new technology and it would take time for economies of scale to develop. But once they did develop; we would start to see much cheaper cars, batteries, and more efficient energy production.

    If nuclear fusion becomes a reality it will fuel the network. Nuclear fusion and the electric grid are not mutually exclusive - quite the opposite.

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  • 6. At 3:50pm on 16 Apr 2009, hugo cucumber wrote:

    Is it safe to assume the majority of people who live in cities park their cars on the street overnight?
    How would these be re-charged? I reckon my local council will get the right with me if I trailed an extension lead across the footpath....

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  • 7. At 4:10pm on 16 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    One of the nice things about solar or wind generation is that the sun shines and the wind blows everywhere.

    Nuclear power stations cannot be so distributed for security reasons.

    Oil, gas or coal stations cannot be so distributed because the raw material has to be transported there.

    There are a few books considering what would have happened if the Victorians hadn't gone for centralised energy production and had done distributed production instead.

    Most of them conclude that in today's market, that would have been far more efficient.

    PS Chopsuey, many people have these little houses for cars called "A Garage".

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  • 8. At 4:12pm on 16 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    "My primary consideration when buying a car is fuel economy so I drive a diesel that does nearly 60mpg."

    However, there's more fuel in a gallon of diesel than a gallon of petrol.

    Your 60mpg is about the same as 50-55mpg from a petrol engine in emissions. Tough to get, but not as tough as you think.

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  • 9. At 4:14pm on 16 Apr 2009, calcination wrote:

    bigsammyb - you are correct that continuing to use fossil fuels to provide the electricity is no use. However the current best hope for fusion that I am aware of is iter:

    The problem is that it acknowledges that fusion won't be do-able at a commercial scale until around the 2050's, a little bit late for us.
    There is always a possibility of some breakthrough somewhere in the meantime, but nobody seems to have heard of one.

    So, fusion is out for 40 years.

    As for PeterJ, his points read exactly like the laundry list compiled by people who hate electric cars. The simple fact is that batteries are recyclable, the 16 year lifespan he quotes sounds like that for the USA, whereas the UK one is more like 13.5 years:
    Moreover battery lifespan depends upon the type of battery, and since they are recyclable there is little trouble expected.
    I also don't recognise the number of 4 times electricity generated before it reaches the car. Obviously there are transmission losses, but I'll need a reference before I trust that figure.

    The biggest elephant is the combination of tarmacadam roads and peak oil. When the oil price spiked last year, councils suddenly found it very expensive to maintain roads. This will come again, as oil production will fail to meet demand when the economy picks up again, whether next year or 2011. There are various ways of controlling the demand, but the simple fact remains that individual cars for all will probably die out over the next decade. It may be possible to revive it in 50 years time with improved technology, assuming we havn't died off by then due to war or plague.

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  • 10. At 4:15pm on 16 Apr 2009, GlobalChanges wrote:

    It is really important that we address the problem of climate change but this is not a solution. Its a failure to look at the big picture. The factories use large amounts electricity, which most likely is powered by fossil fuels, as well as transporting them & storing them until they are finally sold and only then will they start claiming back the carbon they have emitted. Not without using more electricity from your house thus likely emitting more CO2.

    Why are we going threw all this for little if no benefit, when you could cut the emissions of every car by up to 50% now, by adding hydrogen. All cars have the potential to run partially from the hydrogen in water using electrolysis. It may sound complex but it is relatively simple. It vastly improves fuel consumption and reduces emissions, as well as improving performance and longevity of the engine. It can be done, it has been done, so why aren't we doing it!?

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  • 11. At 4:17pm on 16 Apr 2009, hugo cucumber wrote:

    You may have missed the point, the majority of people in cities do not live in houses with 'A Garage'.

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  • 12. At 4:23pm on 16 Apr 2009, joetietjen wrote:

    Folks - check out the Better Place website as linked in the article:

    Have a root around, and if you haven't got the time; watch this video on the site which neatly describes the vision:

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  • 13. At 4:32pm on 16 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    And to put my POV rather than rebut the errors of others, I think this scheme is a gimmick. It's partly to appear green, partly to divert interest, partly to kickstart a move to electric cars and partly a way to put money into the economy that won't be so obviously sent straight to the pockets of the executive board.

    I.e. instead of giving banks 500Bn, if they'd given each registered working person a cheque for 30K, they would have spent it, as opposed to keeping it on the books and posting a profit (giving the bosses a bonus for showing a profit in a recession...).

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  • 14. At 4:35pm on 16 Apr 2009, calcination wrote:

    Globalchanges #10 - nope, adding hyrdogen to our engines does none of the things you claim. There are plenty of people who will sell you electrolysis kits claiming you'll improve things by using them, but oddly enough nobody is willing to do the analysis. Come to think of it, there might have been a study a few years ago suggesting a tiny smidgen of a benefit with your engine running a tad cleaner, but basically H2 is of little use compared to designing a good engine.

    Plus where do you get the energy to do the hydrolysis anyway?

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  • 15. At 4:39pm on 16 Apr 2009, Jim wrote:

    1. PeterJ42 80% of the damage? Thought that had been disproved conclusively.
    2. Argonne National Laboratory are still disgracefully pro-ethanol.
    3. I understand that because the marginal/on-demand electricity at least in the UK is mostly from coal and gas (nuclear and renewables mostly operate to the max regardless) this means a full-size electric car currenly has a slightly bigger CO2 footprint than the equivalent petrol car used the same way. (Benefits of a G-Wizz are from being so low-horsepower.) Richard, I'm sure the experts you speak to can confirm this. But still major benefits in air quality.
    4. Doesn't a VW Polo BlueMotion outperform a hybrid Prius?
    5. In addition to more fuel-efficient vehicles don't forget hypermiling - learning to get much better mpg, by having a fuel-efficiency reader wired into the car (a bit like handheld smart electricity meters used in homes)
    6. Don't forget the scope for longer-distance trolleybuses and trolleylorries - vastly more cost-effective than new railways., see also wiki on trolleybus.
    7. Richard, important to distinguish hydrogen fuel cell cars from hydrogen internal combustion engine. Fuel cells are 2x as fuel-efficient according to JRC. See first two bars of graphic:

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  • 16. At 4:40pm on 16 Apr 2009, ReticulatedMonkey wrote:

    Has anyone considered what the government are going to do for spending money once all the petrol tax has run out?

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  • 17. At 4:45pm on 16 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    "You may have missed the point, the majority of people in cities do not live in houses with 'A Garage'."

    You may have missed I said "many people".

    This is not "all people".

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  • 18. At 4:49pm on 16 Apr 2009, WolfiePeters wrote:

    To PeterJ42 and Joetietjen.

    You may argue about exactly how much of the total environmental damage of a motor car is due to its manufacture (not to mention its disposal), but 80 % is certainly within a factor of two (either way). And the more complex the vehicle, the higher will be the environmental cost of manufacture and disposal.

    It is mistaken or, worse still, dishonest to justify subsidies on the purchase of electric, hybrid or just new cars in terms of saving the environment. If you want to save the environment, keep your old car running as long as possible. When reasonable, use re-cycled parts for repairs and upgrade with re-cycled parts from newer vehicles. Of course, it will be difficult as many scrap yards have been closed to save the environment (or force us to buy new parts?).

    If the government’s ‘green’ measures contribute to anything, it is economic activity and the profits of certain companies.

    It makes as much sense for the government to pay us to demolish our houses and replace them with plastic ones. Perhaps I should not have said that. They will probably take it on board……

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  • 19. At 4:56pm on 16 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    "this means a full-size electric car currenly has a slightly bigger CO2 footprint than the equivalent petrol car used the same way. (Benefits of a G-Wizz are from being so low-horsepower.)"

    Except in a petrol powered car, all the energy stored in motion is lost as heat when braking.

    And it doesn't like being turned on and off a lot (like when you're in stop-and-go traffic which is all you get on the M25...)

    An electric car can recall some of that energy.

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  • 20. At 5:16pm on 16 Apr 2009, CuckooToo wrote:

    First of all - WOW! I can't believe yeah_whatever and i, see eye to eye on something. Giving every working person £30K to spend as they wish would have been of more benefit to the economy then letting the banks pat each other on the back with bonuses. There are a few flaws though. I would have paid off part of my mortgage, which I guess what many people would do, rather than buy a car or other material goods.

    Getting back to the electric car thing - i wouldn't have a problem driving a small electric car as long as there were adequate and fast charging points, although, as somebody else pointed out, fuel cell would be better and I actually know a guy who is developing fuel cells. I actually drive a small 2 seater car, well known for it's fuel economy anyway, so not really interested in the old gas guzzlers.

    Just one thing yeah_whatever, and this is a genuine question, could you explain how there's more fuel in a gallon of diesel than a gallon of petrol? Surely a gallon of water is the same as a gallon of petrol (except a gallon of water tended to flood the engine)?

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  • 21. At 5:20pm on 16 Apr 2009, CuckooToo wrote:

    It makes as much sense for the government to pay us to demolish our houses and replace them with plastic ones. Perhaps I should not have said that. They will probably take it on board??

    Actually it makes more sense to refurbish existing homes than knock them down and building new ones. More sense financially (if it wasn't for VAT on refurbishment and not on new build), more sense in land use, more sense environmentally, more sense for infrastructure

    Of course we will always need more housing, because of population expansion, but better use and renovation of existing stock would help a great deal

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  • 22. At 5:21pm on 16 Apr 2009, WolfiePeters wrote:

    #15 MoralClimate: "4. Doesn't a VW Polo BlueMotion outperform a hybrid Prius?"

    I am aware of someone whose (somewhat modified) Jaguar XJS achieves the mpg figures that most people seem to obtain in normal driving with a Prius.

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  • 23. At 5:23pm on 16 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    "but 80 % is certainly within a factor of two (either way)."

    Aye, because you can't have more than 100% and 40% means most is from operation.

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  • 24. At 5:24pm on 16 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    "Has anyone considered what the government are going to do for spending money once all the petrol tax has run out?"

    Ah, well ask Cuckoo Too or Tim Jenvey. They seem to think that AGW (which would be why this car is being pushed ostensibly) is being pushed as a money-spinner.

    Obviously, they know where the money is coming from...

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  • 25. At 5:36pm on 16 Apr 2009, fastkitt wrote:

    Electric cars are not the way forward. They are the way backwards. Hydrogen cars are the future. The recent TOP GEAR series talk about electric and hydrogen cars.

    The reason why hydrogen cars are more advanced and better than electric cars is

    - Government will get revenue from the selling of Hydrogen (like petrol and diesel) (VAT and DUTY)
    - Car works like a petrol and diesel engine, when your low on fuel/Hydrogen you simply go to the petrol (hydrogen) station and fill up which takes about the same time as filling a petrol car.(not charge and wait for 3-8 hours)
    - Mileage is equivalent to that off a petrol car
    - Only by product is water vapour (electric cars will produce co2 in a indirect way as we will use electricity to recharge it.

    So forget talking about Electric, start talking about Hydrogen fuel cell cars. (Car has already been proced it's a called the HONDA FCX CLARITY.)

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  • 26. At 5:56pm on 16 Apr 2009, JunkkMale wrote:

    Some very interesting points being made here, so I will value tracking.

    As to the original piece that has inspired them, I am wondering how many other senior Government individual's names are going to be lifted off press releases with 'electric' and 'green' in them for weeks to come.

    So far I have logged the visions of Call Me Lord Peter Maserati, Green Gordon and now Mr. Hoon. Any others jumping on this caravan we should know about?

    For now, with some small cars (sadly not so eco beyond their mpg) going for about the price of the subsidy we're meant to co-fund to get urban dwellers into the dealerships in their droves, how much are these things?

    I am really starting to regret the £3.5k I forked out on a perfect, low mileage '02 LPG, thinking this fuel plus keeping a second-hander going for another decade was the green thing to do.

    And considering the volumes of raw materials involved in new manufacture, even if... when the generation and distribution of the 'leccy is sorted beyond the known universe within the M25, I would still like to be reassured that the stocks exist to make the necessary numbers of batteries all these folk not using public transport will require.

    I am sure the BBC will be on hand to provide objective, qualified advice on this, and other key aspects of a pretty major commitment being made on behalf of future generations.

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  • 27. At 6:37pm on 16 Apr 2009, Algol60 wrote:

    Focus is in part misdirected, it seems to me. Pre-1960-something, we had enormous networks of efficient, urban, electric transport in the form of trolley-buses. They worked. Unlike the trams now being curiously introduced at enormous expense, they do not need tracks laid along the road and they can manoeuvre around obstructions like parked or broken-down vehicles. They don't need to be vehicles costing zillions -- those designs worked then and could, at least initially, be replicated now. Each could replace a smelly diesel 'bus in use today and of course each used removes the need for many individual cars, especially at commuting-times.

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  • 28. At 7:03pm on 16 Apr 2009, davblo2 wrote:

    #20 CuckooToo "Just one thing yeah_whatever, and this is a genuine question, could you explain how there's more fuel in a gallon of diesel than a gallon of petrol?"

    I wondered about what he meant as well. I presumed at first he meant that it takes more crude oil to make a gallon (or litre) of diesel than it does to make petrol. Then thinking more about it, diesel and petrol are separate distillates from the fractional distillation of crude oil. So at the start you just get out (from the crude oil) whatever there already is, ie so much petrol and so much diesel.

    The interesting bit I found out was that the proportional amount of petrol is too low to satisfy our needs, so other fractions of the distillation are later converted, (processes like "cracking") to produce more petrol.

    So it's up to yeah_whatever to explain what he actually meant.

    All the best; davblo2

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  • 29. At 7:25pm on 16 Apr 2009, calcination wrote:

    I think what he actually means is that there is more energy to be had from a gallon of diesel than a gallon of petrol. Theres more atoms to be oxidised in the diesel.

    "Gas mileage has so much to do with how much energy is stored in a particular fuel. The more energy the fuel has, the more gas mileage the fuel offers. Diesel has the highest energy content, which is at 40.9 MJ/L, among other fuels. This explains why diesel gives higher fuel economy.

    Gasoline, on the other hand, has lesser energy content and gas mileage, compared to diesel. Gasoline has 32 MJ/L which results in a considerably high gas mileage."

    fastkitt - you forgot about the lack of decent storage for the hydrogen, and the small problem of where to get it from. Hydrogen powered cars are not going anywhere.

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  • 30. At 7:37pm on 16 Apr 2009, CuckooToo wrote:


    thanks mate, i didn't know that

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  • 31. At 7:48pm on 16 Apr 2009, rfsmit wrote:

    "biofuels have been shown to be potentially damaging to the natural world and to humanity's food supply"

    Biofuels from food sources certainly have a problem. Deforestation due to palm oil production is a touch problematic. So is food-grade corn for ethanol and the resultant antibiotic pollution in the (meat) food chain. Biofuels from animal products is also a (scuse the pun) red herring. Algae is the answer.

    Algae can be grown in tubes instead of in ponds. These tubes can be wrapped back and forth in a facility a fraction the size of the equivalent pond. The biofuel yield from algae is phenomenal, and genetic engineering can get them to produce fuels without the need for further processing.

    Biodiesel from algae gels at a far lower temperature than dinodiesel, which turns the tables on the old problem with biodiesel from land crops and waste cooking oil. No more need for heated fuel lines and twin-tank bio/dino solutions in colder climates.

    Butanol from algae is a better replacement fuel than ethanol, because petrol engines don't need to be modified to use it (though they'll run better if they are modified).

    Biofuels burn cleaner in the engine, and they require less processing than fossil fuels (excepting corn derived ethanol, which costs more energy to produce than it puts out). Production can be done on a smaller scale, which means it can be more localized, which means it costs less in terms of transportation. Biodiesel (of one form or another) is currently used as a lubricant in normal diesel fuel from the pump, because it's cheaper than the traditional sulphur-based lubricants (like lead in petrol). 100% biodiesel therefore is pure lubricant, which means the engine runs smoother (mine sounds like it's warm even starting it in winter), and therefore last longer.

    Still, if you want electric cars -- the best "batteries" are H fuel cells. Ditch Li-Ion: it's not efficient enough.

    You can even make DHA and EPA from algae -- ever wonder where the fish get it from for your mercury-laden "cod liver" oil? DHAs and EPAs improve brain function -- and I'd say a dose to Downing Street wouldn't go amiss.

    There are all the answers, right there. Not glorified golf carts and whybrids.

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  • 32. At 7:49pm on 16 Apr 2009, rfsmit wrote:

    #28 -- diesel has a higher energy content than petrol. That's why diesel engines are more efficient and cars can get better mpg.

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  • 33. At 8:07pm on 16 Apr 2009, WolfiePeters wrote:

    To clarify the environmental value of replacing vehicles with ones with more efficient technology, I would like to propose a simple example. Remember, when I mention cost, it is environmental cost, not financial. Suppose the operating and running costs are equal for a vehicle that has a life of 10 years. We can make the manufacturing cost 50 units and the operating cost 50 units.

    For a ten year life, the cost to the environment is 10 per year.

    If we can double the life to 20 years, the manufacturing cost remains the same, but the operating cost doubles to 100 units. Cost to the environment is 7.5 units per year.

    Compare this with the scrap the old vehicle and buy the latest technology approach. If we could keep the manufacturing cost down to 50 (which we cannot) for the new technology, we would have to halve the running cost to 2.5 units per year.

    Try the calculation for yourselves, adjust the numbers and add more detail. For me, it seems, whether we think of cars or houses, that maintenance, improvement and life-extension of the existing stock is at least as effective as destruction and replacement with new technology. I appreciate that you could extend the life of the new vehicle, but then it will not be new technology anymore.

    I do not oppose new technology, far from it. At some point, replacement is necessary and when it is the replacement should be efficient. However, government sponsored consumerism is exactly that, it is not necessarily helping the environment.

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  • 34. At 8:14pm on 16 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    "#28 -- diesel has a higher energy content than petrol. That's why diesel engines are more efficient and cars can get better mpg"

    And diesel has a higher energy content because it contains more carbon with a hydrogen link per gallon than petrol does.

    So next time, weigh a gallon of diesel and a gallon of petrol.

    Which is heavier?

    Or google it:

    "The density of petroleum diesel is about 0.85 kg/l (7.09 lbs/gallon(us)), about 18% more than petrol (gasoline), which has a density of about 0.72 kg/l (6.01 lbs/gallon(us))."

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  • 35. At 8:16pm on 16 Apr 2009, mihaib wrote:

    Hi Richard,

    The article indeed looks at the problem from different points of view, and I guess not many thought that the demand of electricity may destabilise the grid or ask for large investments (not only in the infrastructure to bring electricity to the streets, but in electricity production as well).

    Your post left me suspended, as I don't understand from your analysis: should we continue with petrol cars, or should we at least try to diminish (even with 1%) the carbon emissions? You'll never achieve 0% emissions, it would be perfect; we could try to make it perfectible.

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  • 36. At 8:49pm on 16 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    "However, government sponsored consumerism is exactly that, it is not necessarily helping the environment."

    It isn't necessarily going to ruin it either.

    Face it, a tax on petrol cars would have people screaming blue murder. Asking petrol companies to pay for the external costs would be refused. Removing the subsidies for nuclear was shot down by the industry saying that no more plants would be made if the subsidies went (and the deliberately engineered rolling blackouts in California will show what will happen if private companies are told energy production is going to be more expensive for them).

    Yes, this IS a gimmick.

    But there's no need to over-egg the pudding on this.

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  • 37. At 8:51pm on 16 Apr 2009, MLSimon wrote:

    The Americans (and to a lesser extent the Japanese) are investing in a fusion technology that could show results in 5 years.

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  • 38. At 9:21pm on 16 Apr 2009, olyjohn wrote:

    No one has commented on the relative efficiency of electric cars versus internal combustion: 70 to 80 percent versus 30-33. The battery pack of a Tesla stores an amount of energy equivalent to 6 liters of petrol, on which you can travel over 200 miles (320 km). With coal fired power, and typical power line losses, recharging an electric car generates no more carbon dioxide than a US Honda sedan. But that's worst case--in the US, power production is only 85 percent fossil based, and we hope to do better than that. I do agree that electric cars are a better fit for some than others. You Europeans have gotten good service out of clean diesel. Here, GM utterly failed to build a reliable diesel passenger car years ago, so they never tried to do clean diesel. On the other hand, even GM has made a good electric car (the EV) even though they killed it. Personally, I live in a house with a garage and plenty of electrical service, and my state has abundant hydroelectric power. I look forward to getting an electric vehicle for local commuting. I just hope I don't have to buy one from China!

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  • 39. At 9:22pm on 16 Apr 2009, MLSimon wrote:

    Don't forget the Jevons Paradox.

    As efficiency rises it encourages more consumption. What is needed are way more 5 mpg cars if you want to reduce energy consumption.

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  • 40. At 11:42pm on 16 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    "What is needed are way more 5 mpg cars if you want to reduce energy consumption."

    Ah, look up the broken window fallacy.

    People cannot live near where they work any more. There's no job for life any more, so when you lose your job, you're likely going to have to move or travel more to work.

    There's a level of inelasticity in demand for petrol.

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  • 41. At 11:47pm on 16 Apr 2009, Charles Purkess wrote:

    Plans for any green car subsidy must not be limited to battery electric and hybrid electric vehicles. The government seems to want us in an “electric straight jacket” without the freedom motoring offered by versatile fuels.
    We have the opportunity to recoup our vast investments into intermittent renewable sources of energy (solar and wind) to make them as useful and efficient as possible, by deploying electrolysers that split water into hydrogen and oxygen using the electricity whenever it is generated, to produce an alternative environmentally neutral clean fuel; namely hydrogen, which can be stored and used when it is required.
    The government needs to invest in a future for hydrogen fuelled transport. Whilst hydrogen fuel cell vehicles may currently be very expensive and seem a distant future option, hydrogen can power conventional piston engines with only minor modification. This ITM Power have demonstrated with a 2.0litre Ford Focus to bi- fuel (hydrogen –petrol) that runs on hydrogen for first 100 miles before switching to petrol, at the flick of a switch. Driving on hydrogen has zero carbon emissions.
    A government stimulus for hydrogen modification of cars, would allow car manufacturers to evolve production lines rather than incur expense of reinvention, whilst at the same time stimulating “a green hydrogen” refueling infrastructure, using electrolysers. This would be a pragmatic way to bring forward both the supply and the demand for hydrogen vehicles, so that when the fuel cell vehicles are affordable, the refueling infrastructure is already available.

    We need pragmatic thinking to allow our car industry to evolve to achieve long term goals; we have to consider where our power is coming from, make better use of renewable energy, and critically reduce dependency on oil. The government needs to invest in electrolysers for a clean hydrogen fuel, before it “plugs Britain into a black-out”.

    This is our moral responsibility today for future generations.

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  • 42. At 01:12am on 17 Apr 2009, MLSimon wrote:

    GM didn't kill the EV-1. Lack of profitability killed it. Of course lack of profitability is killing GM so maybe there is a connection.


    Jevon's Paradox has been known since 1865. It is in fact standard classical economics. It all depends on price elasticity. However, unless demand is totally inelastic increasing efficiency will increase total consumption while reducing it for a given task.

    And yes I was jesting about promoting 5 mpg vehicles.

    What I was pointing out was that the forcing of higher efficiency is not going to give the imagined results. But your point is well taken. Higher efficiency does increase the overall wealth.

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  • 43. At 01:13am on 17 Apr 2009, manysummits wrote:

    To 'calcination #9: You wrote:

    "There are various ways of controlling the demand, but the simple fact remains that individual cars for all will probably die out over the next decade. It may be possible to revive it in 50 years time with improved technology, assuming we havn't died off by then due to war or plague."

    I agree. Individual cars will hopefully fade or be only seldom used; public transport, feet and bikes I like.

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  • 44. At 03:34am on 17 Apr 2009, Bicycle-Fan wrote:

    calcination #9;

    Once we have experienced the superior safety, efficiency and productivity of a primarily rail-based transportation system, I doubt we would want to bring back the grid-lock and mayhem of today.

    Manysummit #43;

    I also agree, but I think we need to do much more than hope.

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  • 45. At 08:55am on 17 Apr 2009, bigsammyb wrote:

    calcination #9

    I am aware of the time we will have to wait in order to make nuclear fusion a reality. But that is exactly my point.

    Scientists actually have differning views but the general consensous is 30 - 50 years for fusion to be a reality.

    But why is that? Funding, thats all just funding.

    We just spent hundreds of billions on bailng out the banks, well if we spent 100 billion on fusion it could be made a reality much much sooner.

    Thats needs to be our focus here. The idea we will be able to create energy for electric cars without using fossil fuels in the current climate is unrealistic.

    Wind farms etc are pointless they will never even manage 5% of our power needs the only option is nuclear and seeing as that takes many years to roll out why do we think a bit more rationally and invest in fusion.

    In the meantime encourage manufacturers to make fuel efficient cars. Afterall cars like the VW Polo Eco and the Seat Ibiza Eco manage carbon footprints smaller than any electric of hybrid car could ever dream of.

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  • 46. At 09:01am on 17 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    "Wind farms etc are pointless they will never even manage 5% of our power needs"

    Uh, how many watts are produced by the Wind in the UK?

    I guess you must have done the sums, then, and worked out all that, yes?

    So, where's your proof.

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  • 47. At 09:27am on 17 Apr 2009, calcination wrote:

    bigsammyb - I'm afraid it is not as simple as funding. If you look at the ITER timeline, many years are involved in design, manufacture, building, testing, more testing, and running. No amount of money thrown at the project can short circuit it by more than a handful of years - doing physical experiments, taking mreasurements, putting real physical objects in place in the torus, all take time. Throwing money at it would not make it happen any faster.

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  • 48. At 11:13am on 17 Apr 2009, News hound wrote:

    calcination, Hydrogen can be produced by a simple process call Electrolysis of water. Water consists of 2 parts Hydrogen to 1 part Oxygen

    NREL found that a kilogram of hydrogen (roughly equivalent to a gallon of gasoline) could be produced by wind powered electrolysis for between $5.55 in the near term and $2.27 in the long term.

    My "vision" of the future would involve renewable energy sources e.g. Wind, Solar and Tidal powering a combined desalination and Electrolysis plant situated by the sea (for an infinite supply of fuel), and close to is power source. It would use off-peak or surplus electricity from the power to grid to produce Hydrogen.

    To address the issue of distribution, my solution to this is fairly radical - in Europe we already have a national storage and distribution system for Natural Gas, my solution would be to convert this for the sole use of storing and distributing Hydrogen.

    The Oxygen generated by this process could be used for Industrial and Medical use with any excess simply released into the air.

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  • 49. At 12:29pm on 17 Apr 2009, captain_slow wrote:

    I've been hearing a lot about nuclear fusion? I'm not exactly brilliant at science but I hear it's completely clean and is guaranteed energy for life. However it sounds too good to be true, are there any irritating catches to this?

    Use this clean energy to use hydrogen as a fuel to power cars effeciently, and we've got a perfect solution! Again, I'm not too brilliant at science and I'm sure someone is going to come and dispell my idea as idiotic....

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  • 50. At 1:41pm on 17 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    "I'm not exactly brilliant at science but I hear it's completely clean and is guaranteed energy for life."

    The harder form uses Hydrogen. The easiest form uses Tritium. There's also Deuterium. All three are isotopes of Hydrogen with no, one or two neutrons.

    Deuterium and Tritium and chemically Hydrogen and the human body is mostly Hydrogen. Therefore it will take up these isotopes and use them. But they are radioactive and are too heavy (so don't make the same shape triatomic molecule). Biologically VERY BAD.

    And because it's so small and light, H/D/T cannot be contained. They will leech out of a solid steel container.

    So they aren't "absolutely clean".

    However, even though Hydrogen is very rare (compared to the other elements available, and especially taken compared to the relative abdundance in the rest of the universe), there's still trillions upon trillions of tons of Hydrogen available.

    Tritium is rare and quickly breaks down into a lighter isotope so there's not enough of that about. But a product of neutron bombardment of Lithium is Tritium, so it can be bred.

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  • 51. At 2:17pm on 17 Apr 2009, bigsammyb wrote:


    I just rad through your blog post history.

    Whats the matter with you? Were you bullied at school or what?

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  • 52. At 2:37pm on 17 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    "I just rad through your blog post history."

    Totally rad, dude.

    bigsammyb, I treat idiots with the contempt they deserve.

    Of course, the idiots don't like that.

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  • 53. At 3:15pm on 17 Apr 2009, calcination wrote:

    Former F1 fan - that is useful information regarding the cost, although your snark is wasted given I learnt about electrolysis at school. Perhaps you are used to dealing with more ignorant people?

    The big problem comes with storage and distribution. Hydrogen is a more fiddly gas to deal with than natural gas. You can't just change the pipelines over to H2 and leave it at that. Moreover its use in cars keeps running into the problem of storage. You can store it compressed to liquid, but that uses a lot of energy to compress it. You can adsorb it onto metallic or ceramic lattices, but that needs a huge volume of said lattices, which are reasonably expensive. Once you get down to vehicles, electric is better.

    But I do think hydrogen can be used for energy storage, large scale storage would be useful for evening out wind farms, wave and tidal power.

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  • 54. At 3:37pm on 17 Apr 2009, jon112uk wrote:

    These silly milk float vehicles fail badly on two grounds...firstly the ridiculously short range and secondly the way in which they just move the CO2 emissions from the exhaust pipe to the power station (with added inefficiencies along the way)

    It's a shame that that the media continue to promote the 'bio-fuel is harmful' propaganda.

    What about bio-fuel from grass that has been demonstrated to offer >80% reductions in carbon emissions (already)? Or bio-fuel from rubbish? Or bio-fuel from seaweed? Or bio-fuel from the massive area of land our farmers are forced to leave wasted by the EU? etc, etc, etc

    All these have the potential to work in real cars/lorries with minimal modification and could be on stream in a very short time period.

    I’d like to see some serious investment by governments instead of the constant ‘binding targets’ that they repeatedly ignore.

    The continuing impression is that the 'environmentalists' are very frightened of bio-fuel - because it represents a potential for CO2 reductions without the forced return to the dark ages that they are seeking.

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  • 55. At 8:20pm on 17 Apr 2009, primey18 wrote:

    Potentially a great article, but you are let down by skimming over so many facts, and getting half of them incorrect. I am really pleased to see more blogs and articles in general tackling these issues which are having such an impact on us, but seem to slide by us so often, except in scaremongering media tales. I don't claim to know all the answers, but I am studying this topic (and other renewable energies etc) at a postgrad level, and as such have had discussions with several leaders in the field nationally and internationally (directly and indirectly).
    Overall, to date, I feel there is a great future in a Hydrogen infrastructure, although this is some way off. As an interim, the industry should be aiming to utilise the technologies available respecting biofuels. A lot of the debate surrounding this issue is around the food vs. fuel debate, which on a national level generally is not an issue at all (for example, things such as set aside land etc). On a larger global scale there is more debate, however, there is still enough land to accommodate both food and fuel. This takes into account new technologies (undefined, very broad), down to types of biofuel production, such as Jatropha oil, where the plants grow in areas where the soil and land does not suit any food crops. A massive potential area which is being explored and being to be exploted is the production of biofuels from algae. This occurs in areas where food crop production does not occur, and further more, can occur in places to act as a stimulant to the local/regional economies and industries.
    With respect to an electrical transport infrastructure, in theory a great move I guess, looking like a very futuristic step forward too. In practice though, the expense needed to implement, the battery production (reliant on unreliable resources at this scale), and fundementally, the question of where this electricity is produced from, all mean it is not a viable step. Signs which seem to be overlooked. Maybe there are points I can not see, but I do not see this as viable future at this stage, definately not in the next 2-3 years as proposed may occur.
    To reiterate, I am not saying this is a closed case and I know the answers, but this is the overwhelming feeling I am getting from industrial specialists and academics studying these industries and markets. It seems to be the governments, especially so in the UK, that have a lack of technical understanding and bow to media stories and pressure which do not always contain the truth regarding these issues. Unfortunantly this filters down to the public too. This is far from limited to this debate, and covers all aspects of the renewable and sustainable energy spectrum. Sadly, it seems that the UK government, in my eyes, are too slow to act as well as being vastly confused about what action to actually take. Take from this what you will...

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  • 56. At 10:07am on 18 Apr 2009, Bicycle-Fan wrote:

    jon112uk; #54

    Since when do high speed electric trains and solar panels, represent a return to the dark ages?

    Bio-fuels and pushed up food prices enough to cause riots or related unrest on four continents

    The price rises affected parts of Asia and Africa particularly severely with Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Senegal, Mauritania, Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt and Morocco seeing protests and riots in late 2007 and early 2008 over the unavailability of basic food staples. Other countries which have seen food riots or are facing related unrest are: Mexico, Bolivia, Yemen, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan Sri Lanka, and South Africa.

    So bio-fuels are a bad idea, until they can be made from non-food sources.

    Even if we had a non-polluting fuel source, like solar powered compressed air, unless our private motor vehicles are about the same weight and speed of a bicycle, they are too dangerous to be allowed on city streets.

    primey1; #55
    Sadly, it seems that the UK government, in my eyes, are too slow to act as well as being vastly confused about what action to actually take

    Which is a shame, because only large entities like governments, have access to the numbers needed to do the math required to know which way to go.

    All we can do is suggest which paths to consider.

    We should not only count how much carbon will be emitted to make new electric cars, but also consider the carbon footprint of hospitals. Trains are safer and more fuel efficient.

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  • 57. At 12:02pm on 18 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    "It's a shame that that the media continue to promote the 'bio-fuel is harmful' propaganda."

    It isn't propoganda if you listen to the reason, not just skim the headline.

    Using corn to produce biofuel is wasteful. The US want to use it (like they tax sugar cane) so that they can funnel money to the farmers of the midwest. The Brazillians use organic waste and cane to produce biofuel. This requires MUCH lower use of water and less processing to turn into biofuel.

    The use of the wrong product to produce biofuel is harmful.

    And selected to keep a powerful lobbying group happy.

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  • 58. At 12:03pm on 18 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    "These silly milk float vehicles fail badly on two grounds...firstly the ridiculously short range and secondly the way in which they just move the CO2 emissions from the exhaust pipe to the power station"

    So when a new energy source is made available, do you think it is cheaper and easier to retrofit 10 power stations or 100,000 cars?

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  • 59. At 3:08pm on 18 Apr 2009, Burghermeister wrote:

    I am happy to see such great dialog about energy efficiency for
    the transport sector. It is a fair part of our consumption that is needed given the way our city planning has configured our world....especially in the US.

    Although I am an engineer and scientist having worked in the automotive engineering and development arena, I feel many improvements in efficiency
    and sustainability can be realized by placing more emphasis on better public transportation where possible. As a Yank living in the USA, I see the costs of our current system are unsustainable. We have a huge social cost for the upkeep of roads and bridges which all take resources, energy, and labor to maintain.....and still have traffic jams which waste time/energy/productivity.

    Many issues about how the energy is generated to power these
    vehicles is of valid concern. Fossil fuel burning to generate the electricity is not sustainable in the long haul. The efficiencies involved in the process are abysmal. Maybe 35% thermodynamic efficiency
    in the burning and generation can be hugely improved with co-generation techniques. 80-85% efficiency is possible with proper implementation and upkeep to maintain efficiency.

    Transmission energy losses involved with centralized large scale generation/distribution architecture results in roughly 8% loss depending on distances. This could be improved by distributed power generation architecture and renewable sources can add to this diversity if properly implemented.

    Technology advances in batteries for energy storage are happening all around us. MIT has some very interesting new things in the works for battery energy density....and robust performance in rapid charge/discharge scenarios that will deliver great energy storage and longer battery life. This has large ramifications with regard to the vehicle life cycle cost efficiency...which is ultimately carried by all of us.

    Battery energy storage is important to the electrical grid stability when wind resources are added to the mix. Wind energy availability profile usually is rich in the off-peak portion of the day....when we need to store it, as the demand is low at that time.

    Vehicles plugged into the grid result in a mobile distributed storage system. This distributed battery storage modality modifies the argument for wind energy being a poor addition to the energy mix. With proper complementary elements and a lot of thought, systems can be engineered for optimum performance....if we only have the policies driven by data and creative vision. That has always propelled us forward as a species....and will again as necessity is always the mother of invention.

    Let us not forget about base load capacity...and that should be generated by a source which is steady. Nuclear technology is good for that, but the cost of nuclear power is actually artificially cheap on the surface, unless you consider the total life cycle cost to get a true picture.

    Also, rather than focusing on this analysis in terms of artificial printed money backed by nothing real, would make sense to looks at those costs in energy invested to build/commission/operate/maintain/decommission a plant against the energy reaped by that plant over its useful life. That is a real picture which does not need to be balanced against inflation/deflation/global financial meltdown, and is also a real value item...since energy is a commodity consumed and generated to sustain our species on this planet.

    A key is to have some vision how we reconfigure our grid and use smart demand management techniques to make the system work more sustainably. With proper goals, support, and energy(pardon the term)...we can integrate the efficiency improvements to current energy demand side requirements, then add renewable energy sources to make a substantial difference. The combination is critical....reduce demand to sustainably consume less of the renewable energy generated, or we will not be able to afford the generation equipment capacity to serve our thirst.

    Our mentality is instrumental to the reality of a sustainable future. I see many instances of looking backward at the past preventing a clear view of how to make the future work sustainably. Vision, critical thinking, and scientific/engineering work are the necessary elements to making the sustainable future a reality.

    My point is that our opinions and analysis in this blog sphere are all of value. However, if we harness our energy within some useful structured analysis which results in creative output implemented into an energy great would THAT be? (To have an idea that is developed and implemented is an indescribable feeling of accomplishment.)
    The solutions are not trivial, but require multi-dimensional analysis to achieve the optimum combination of energy elements for our sustainable future. Let us all be part of the solution....

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  • 60. At 6:33pm on 18 Apr 2009, manysummits wrote:

    To Burghermeister #59:

    A brilliant analysis, in my opinion. I too think most of our gains in the short and medium term will be made along the lines which you envisage.

    Perhaps it is not too early to recommend a look at something 'jr4412' and I have been working up. I post the link below for your thoughts. Please see comments numbers 101 and 102:

    - Manysummits, Calgary -

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  • 61. At 10:55pm on 18 Apr 2009, davblo2 wrote:

    yeah_whatever #58 "So when a new energy source is made available, do you think it is cheaper and easier to retrofit 10 power stations or 100,000 cars?"

    I had the same thoughts.
    If all consumer devices where eletric then the entire problem shifts to the power stations. So let them (and the governments) sort out the best fuel to use and no changes needed for the millions of consumers. They can also handle the storage problems. Much simpler.

    All the best; davblo2

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  • 62. At 11:53pm on 18 Apr 2009, primey18 wrote:

    56: thats where I believe you're wrong. It's not just governments who have the resources to do the calculations and can work solutions out, there are enough organisations who are capable of doing this, and do do this! The problem lies with the government ( and i refer to the UK here simply as that is the case that I know), not understanding the calculations/solutions suggested and put forward, therefore do there own reports and findings...only to come up with different answers due to the authors having hidden agendas or to have lack of technical understanding.

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  • 63. At 10:42am on 19 Apr 2009, Bicycle-Fan wrote:

    I think we agree about the problems of government. The difficulty is when governments do not even keep track of the numbers, let alone honestly report the truth.

    I ran into this problem when I tried to fight a ten year old bicycle helmet law. After a spat of down-mountain-off-road bicycling related head injuries, my local government imposed a law that only applied to public roads, because that was the extent of their jurisdiction.

    When I tried to fined evidence that this law discouraged cycling, I discovered that no one was keeping track. They were happy to count the head injuries, but no one bothered to count how many trips were taken or kilometers were ridden, by bicycle.

    It would help if governments would consider the term expense, to mean the total financial, human and carbon costs. Human labor might be included in financial costs, human injuries and deaths could be measured by insurance payout.(or what an average payout would have been, in the case of uninsured deaths and injuries)

    So to compare the expense of road-based transport, to that of rail–based transport, we would total all the road maintenance and expansion, vehicle maintenance and depreciation, insurance, and fuel ect, to that mode s share of hospital expenses.

    I say, only governments can do the calculations, because I believe only they have access to all those numbers, and suspect they are not being honest about road-building and maintenance expenses or oil industry subsidies.

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  • 64. At 2:12pm on 19 Apr 2009, Burghermeister wrote:

    Manysummits #60

    Thank you for the kind response...I am humbled.

    I have read many of your posts along the way and admire your passion, vision and desire to positively impact our communities future. The global community. (Noble effort...Kudos!) It is amazing to meet with people of like mind who have a different slant on the world than the average "joe sixpacks". Not to knock them....they just have not come to the higher ground view yet.

    We have experienced many of the same realities with root in outdoor activities, and are equally concerned by the impacts which are directly visible to the planetary traveler walking in the alpine environ. You climb up them more than I.

    During a ski trip to the Alps a few years ago...was told by some friends from Germany the extent of glacial retreat there. After some rather exhaustive research such as you have also done...I can see the messages that our big blue marble is sending as though seeing the "Matrix" in the popular movie. It speaks to my head, my heart and my soul of our responsibility as conscientious citizens of a Planet United. (or United Planet)

    I decided to leave "traditional" past engineering assignments to focus my time/efforts on energy efficiency improvement consulting. This ultimately helps to offset some of my past carbon footprint mistakes which I cannot go back in time to change. Efficiency is "free" renewable energy....lowest cost at least to avoid construction of unnecessary generation capacity. (Waste Not)

    I looked over the progression of diablog in the whale meat article, and I think that the declaration concept really has merit. May also be good to get people involved in participation of developing the vision further as a grassroots movement. The social conscience is slowly evolving and people are more receptive to doing the right thing. Okay, there are still the Flat Earth crowd who deny AGW and are somewhat obstructionist
    in discussions...but even they may change eventually too (out of necessity).

    Perhaps another well recognized and inspirational person to consider in the declaration activity (for inspiration if nothing else) is Amory Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute.
    They are very visionary and creative in their approach to problem solving...and may already have access to channels to open doors for the declaration introduction. Just a thought....

    I have limited time, but will check in and see if I can contribute some items to your effort if that is a welcome input.


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  • 65. At 3:32pm on 19 Apr 2009, achesser wrote:

    It bugs me a little nowadays when journalists mention the threat to our food chain via Bio-diesel.

    There have been a number of developments in the BD field in the form of using Algae to produce the oil.

    If you google for "Algae Biodiesel" you'll find plenty of links that explain the process, or you can read here:

    Some key points
    1) Algae is grown in 'vats' and is a closed system. This does not need to be on farm-land. Therefore no threat to food production capability.
    2) It takes 3 KG of CO2 from the air to produce 1KG of Fuel plus 2KG of 'plant matter' which is often converted into fish food.
    3) In the right system, Algae can be farmed at near theoretical limits, to process is very efficient.
    4) Algae systems draw CO2 from the air, their performance is increased when placed beside polluting factories.
    5) To provide all of the US fuel requirements, it would take a land mass the size of about Minnesota

    More reading

    Our food chain is not threatened by Biodiesel.

    HOWEVER! With that said, if you google for "who killed the electric car" you'll see why I strongly believe that electric really is the future.

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  • 66. At 8:10pm on 19 Apr 2009, Bicycle-Fan wrote:

    Although the sun provides far more energy than we will ever need, there is still a finite amount of energy available to us.

    We only have so many resources we can put towards the collection of energy. Since it will be some time, before we can collect enough wind and solar energy, to shut down all our polluting power plants, we need to use as little energy as possible.

    The inefficiencies and human costs, of private motor vehicles may be impossible to sustain on a finite planet, not matter what kind of fuel powers them.

    You may be willing to sacrifice an area of land the size of Minnesota, just so you can move yourself without physical effort, but that does not mean it should be done.

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  • 67. At 10:08pm on 19 Apr 2009, manysummits wrote:

    To Burghermeister #64:

    Thank you for your thoughts! I have copied your link to my files, and will certainly investigate for what I guess may be Phase Two of our declaration, which I think is nearing completion (perhaps this week?)

    Then, if jr4412 is willing, we may investigate how to entertain suggestions and input, where to send \\\A Planet United/// if the BBC is unwilling or unable to proceed further, etc... It's beginning to look like a Wikipedia type, continuous update, always current, available to all in many languages, may be the way to go? (Phase Two).

    Again, thank you - I wish we could all get together over a real campfire someday - who knows - it's a strange world, and magic happens.

    - Manysummits, Calgary -

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  • 68. At 11:21pm on 19 Apr 2009, Bicycle-Fan wrote:

    Burghermeister; #59

    I actually agree with everything said there, except;
    Vehicles plugged into the grid result in a mobile distributed storage system.

    Electric vehicle batteries cannot be used for distributed energy storage, because draining a battery to make breakfast, could prevent one from getting to work. How could a billion private electric vehicles avoid being anything but an added drain on the power grid? If they had more storage than they needed, it would cost energy to move the extra batteries around, and extra storage seems to be the opposite of their problems. Trains are much more efficient than cars will ever be.

    manysummits #67

    If I ever ride my bbq-bike over the Rockies, I`ll bring the `fire-pit` with me;-)

    I truly wish your Planet United project great success. If I point out what I see as a problem, it is only because I believe it needs to be corrected in order for your declaration to succeed.

    Since the richest 20% of the earth`s people, consume 80% of the world`s resources, prioritizing population control, over per capita consumption, is backwards. We need to be able to consume, without destroying habitat, so has to bring humanity into balance with nature, and eliminate poverty at the same time. If we can move without pollution, and feed ourselves by farming fewer acres, we can avoid famines, wars, droughts and floods.

    If anyone can point out anywhere I have been wrong, please do. I would like to know if I am crazy, but suspect it is others whom are unable to admit the truth or even imagine that I may be right.

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  • 69. At 11:27pm on 19 Apr 2009, TJ wrote:

    Burghermeister #59 and ManySummits:

    Started to read these comments from the latest and got to see the post between Manysummits and yourself. I read your posting and was particularly struck by your summing up:
    "(To have an idea that is developed and implemented is an indescribable feeling of accomplishment.)" My work takes me (in the jargon of the business) into helping businesses realize their vision. I'm pretty short on new ideas, I tend to add the pragmatism and drive but together as team we get the feeling of accomplishment.

    I'm not too familiar with the auto industry. I did work a while in vehicle development at Ford in Detroit. My main area is Hi Tech and Bio/Pharmer but I think the issues are the same. Many of these companies (particularly the smaller older established ones) have big issues with their research and development (R&D). What technologies to develop which research to invest in. Typically these days managers are not scientist but business men and do not make good decisions in R&D. They do a great job with the manufacturing, marketing, sales etc. Development folk obviously get passionate about their product and research folk about their new technology will be the one to save the company. The managers just have a really hard job organizing their portfolio’s and the atmosphere can be very intense as folks ply for favor.
    My job will invariably be a bit of a go between and get some process around their decision making. If the company handed me a report like yours (Burghermeister) this would be music to my ears and I'd probably cut my fee!! It's very broad, objective and practical. However, if the issues are entrench and I'm unable to break through I have sometimes requested extra funding to get such a report from an independent subject matter consultant like yourself (We must swop v-cards. Hope Richard doesn’t mind us using this as a recruitment site!!) and help divide the wood from the trees.
    So this is only the first step. The next is to present this in a way that managers can work with. I’ve used tools/methods to help them develop a process. Managers are very hard to track down and get attention as they get easily distracted in other issue that demand their immediate attention. They are generally uncomfortable in this process as this work is usually done by their staff whose differences (internal politics) are the root of the problem. So you can guess how decisions are typically made. Managers are also susceptible to outside interest groups where pet projects get agreed which disrupt the optimum decision process.
    Well, where is this leading me? I picked up with Manysummits #64 which was a reply to you:
    “ It is amazing to meet with people of like mind who have a different slant on the world than the average "joe sixpacks". Not to knock them....they just have not come to the higher ground view yet”
    Not sure about the higher ground here. What I find is needed is a team approach and a putting aside of our prejudices and fears. What I call throwing out the brain (one step further than an open mind!) so that a new and collective approach can be found. In looking at the three of us I would say we would make a great team:
    Manysummits – Visionary
    Burghermeister – Subject Matter Expert
    Me – the grunt that gets it implemented.
    What do you think guys?
    Have a great weekend from a very sunny San Francisco Bay……

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  • 70. At 12:19pm on 20 Apr 2009, Burghermeister wrote:

    Bicycle fan #68

    Mobile Distributed battery storage is all a matter of scale. I appreciate your point of practical limits on battery storage size/weight in a vehicle that must haul them around. Production of breakfast does not necessarily have to drain the battery when you compare the energy capacity needed to cook breakfast with that to accelerate the mass of a vehicle. The vehicle energy management system also does not need to discharge energy in stationary mode. There can be an algorithm which decides a limit to how much it discharges after what time of day so it can recover to full charge for morning commuting. For that matter, in a real smart building energy distribution system...could be possible for the energy management system to decide which devices in the house are allowed to have energy from the battery and which need to pull from the grid. This could definitely be possible with a bus system and smart energy management system at the vehicle and house. I suspect these devices are not far from prime time, since we will need this functionality for smart grids also.

    Consider the impact of many vehicles plugged in the grid...yes it is an impact. Can be a good stabilizing impact provided correct that of capacitors distributed around on a computer board. Distributed system aspect has inherent advantages of redundancy/proximity to demand points thus cutting line losses.

    The off peak generation capacity of wind needs balancing of some storage....realistically should a combination of mobile and fixed storage due to following. Look at the statistical conditions of all vehicles consuming all their stored energy in the vehicle transportation mode (all discharged when plugged in). If they do not use all energy, there is a net loss of storage capacity by the "system". Since vehicle usage is somewhat random (as are human behavior patterns using them) then mobile storage capacity is somewhat random if only mobile storage device used. (The storage aspect is getting a lot of good effort as it is a key component to have grid stability. Grid stability is mandatory, or the utilities have wild gyrations in their equipment usage profile resulting in "system" inefficiencies.)

    I completely agree that trains are a much more efficient people moving machine...and we need to migrate more to their usage where possible. This used to work well here in the US....and does in other developed countries. They embrace it...we treat it with disdain. Personal mobility as a majority transportation mode is not sustainable, no matter what the automotive companies push in their adverts. (Their motive is not necessarily sustainability for all)

    Keep on biking!

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  • 71. At 12:43pm on 20 Apr 2009, Burghermeister wrote:

    Timjenvey #69

    Good stuff!

    Regarding assignments, I could be open to new adventures...chopping wood so to speak.
    (Please contact me at [Personal details removed by Moderator]to discuss
    possible needs.)

    You are spot on....need collective involvement to make it happen.
    Your experience as project/program manager could really help move things along. (Looks like there is momentum building....need to see how receptive the original creators are to joiners. Seems appropriate)


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  • 72. At 7:44pm on 20 Apr 2009, MattHerrick wrote:

    I know that a lot of researchers are trying to crack the l-ion battery nut, and here's a new-comer: And I think that goes will with this report from the Energy Priorities site:

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  • 73. At 01:56am on 21 Apr 2009, manysummits wrote:

    To timjenvey #69 and Burghermeister #71:

    "A man, like other men" (Kane, Kung Fu - long ago)

    I'd settle for that timjenvey - but I appreciate the thought - being just a man, susceptible to flattery.

    As for: "(Looks like there is momentum building....need to see how receptive the original creators are to joiners. Seems appropriate)"
    - Burghermeister #71

    I have just posted yet another draft in the 'whale meat' blog (#118). In this draft I have tried to address the ideas and concerns of Bicycle-Fan and wunarrik, so there is something there on energy and transporation, definitely not my specialty.

    I would welcome suggestions, from all! Please bear in mind we are already over the 500 words (883), but that is not critical. But it must be simple and direct, and appropriate to the intent, which is a declaration on the internet, providing information and recommendations.

    I found myself needing to make recommendations, not because I think I have any startling things to say, but because it focuses the mind. We all know we have lots of problems, but which ones are 'overarching', the keystone blocks of the Arch? And what really should we do?

    Please post suggestions on the 'whale meat' blog, to leave this site and others free.

    - Manythanks -

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  • 74. At 05:03am on 21 Apr 2009, TJ wrote:

    Burghermeister #71 and Manysummits #73

    Thanks for the endorsement! Looks like the moderators are not allowing us to exchange email which is right. If you want to do this I think we will need to tell the moderators that we would like them to share as they should have our email contacts. So let’s try if you would like. As you have already tried I’ll add:
    To the Moderator: please share our email details.

    To Manysummits:
    You say:
    "A man, like other men" (Kane, Kung Fu - long ago)
    I would quote a more recent version as it fits my experience:
    “Every man is in certain respects (a) like all other men, (b) like some other men, (c) like no other man.”
    (Henry Murray and Clyde Kluckhohn (1948) in Personality in Nature, Society, and Culture)
    We are all unique and none of us has all the answers. Collectively we stand a better chance but then we get into all the messy bits of human nature/interaction which drives us apart. Seems nature is always trying to establish a balance and does that by putting up the two extremes to keep us there. I’ll swing over to your 'whale meat' blog and take a look. Haven’t followed it recently.

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  • 75. At 05:08am on 21 Apr 2009, TJ wrote:

    To Moderators: Addition to #74

    It woulsd be best if you sent both of us an email so we get connected. Not a good idea to put it up on the blog.


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  • 76. At 05:25am on 21 Apr 2009, Boring_username wrote:

    There are a number of serious problems that need to be resolved before electric cars become viable.

    The first is that the distance that they can travel before they need to be recharged. Improved batteries will solve this over time.

    The second is the time taken to recharge the cars - currently far too long for them to be viable for all but short distances. Again this will probably improve but there is a limit to how much energy can flow through the wires into the car in a short space of time.

    Both of these currently limit electric cars to really being most useful in city centres - where their lack of particulate pollution is also most beneficial.

    This is where the third big problem arises - how do you recharge the car? Most houses in European city centres do not have off street parking or garaging. And most journeys from the suburbs will be from home to city centres. These cars will need to be plugged into the grid to recharge / provide backup storage so how is this done?

    Whilst it is relatively easy to provide plug in points in multi-storey carparks the same is not true for on-street parking that is most widely used in city centres.

    And who pays for the electricity used? Will each car be metered so that you can plug into any point - or will each house need its own allocated parking space(s)?

    How much work will be required to dig up the roadways / footpaths to incorporate roadside charging points? How much will this cost?

    This is why I think that electric cars have no real future. Hydrogen fuel cells are the way forward as the fuel is transportable, efficient, and you can use existing facilities (petrol stations) for storage and refueling. Yes, there are issues around producing hydrogen but the same can be said about producing electricity.

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  • 77. At 10:55am on 21 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    "The second is the time taken to recharge the cars - currently far too long for them to be viable for all but short distances."

    Uh, does that need to be fixed at all?

    The UK will have a problem with rail cars not being able to work with it, but most places can manage to drive their short-range electric cars onto a train and the train goes long distances. Then you come out of the train in your car and drive on to where you want to go.

    Cyclists have to do this too.

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  • 78. At 3:02pm on 21 Apr 2009, davblo2 wrote:

    #77 "Then you come out of the train in your car and drive on to where you want to go."

    Having got a fresh charge on the train on the way!

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  • 79. At 04:46am on 22 Apr 2009, Boring_username wrote:

    Re: Yeah_whatever - Rail Cars

    And how many trains would be required to cover the number of long journeys being made by car?

    And what about the freedom that a car currently gives you - which is why people use their cars in the first place?

    A train is a useful idea for long journeys where large numbers of people are making that same trip (London to Manchester and Birmingham, Paris to Nice in August, London to the Alps on winter weekends) but not everyone wants to go from major cities to major cities.

    Hydrogen is the future as it can be made with the energy that you would be using to power cars, cars don't have to be radically redesigned to use it, existing infrastructure needs a minimal amount of change to transition to its use (and can continue to be used whilst the transition takes effect) and it is clean and emission free at the point of use.

    Electric cars powered by batteries are a dead-end as the infrastructure needs to be built before anyone will seriously start using it - so you need those rail cars, charging point in the street, battery technology investment etc to be up and running with very little return on that investment for a number of years. People won't transition to electric cars in large numbers until it is all there - so it will cost an absolute fortune and require huge state subsidies.

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  • 80. At 8:58pm on 24 Apr 2009, Bicycle-Fan wrote:

    Road infrastructure does not require huge state subsides?

    Surely the transport system that costs the least, provides the most amount of freedom, because we have to work the least amount of time to afford it. If rail can be seven thousand times safer than road transport, and 20 times more energy efficient, then would not maximizing rail and bicycle use, maximize freedom of movement?

    Personal mobility as a majority transportation mode is not sustainable, no matter what the automotive companies push in their adverts.

    The personal mobility provided by bicycles, is sustainable. If personal motorized transport, is unsustainable, they we do not need to worry about what powers it, only how to move without it.

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  • 81. At 2:13pm on 28 Apr 2009, U13900240 wrote:

    "And how many trains would be required to cover the number of long journeys being made by car?"

    Why? Don't you know? then how do you know it won't work.

    And what is the average distance for a car journey in the UK? About two miles, isn't it?

    So, not many, since there aren't many people travelling many miles in a car in one trip.

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  • 82. At 11:11am on 01 May 2009, Merrick wrote:

    "Honda's recent decision to begin commercial production"?

    Making 200 cars over three years and not selling any (they're too expensive, you can only lease them) is hardly commercial production.

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  • 83. At 2:25pm on 10 Jun 2009, pandatank wrote:

    Calcination and formerF1fan, you're both so almost there I'm surprised you can't agree. Hydrogen is the future but just not quite the way you suggest. Firstly, electric cars will only ever do one thing, move the pollutants from the exhaust pipe to the power station chimney. Secondly, hydrogen powered cars are a dead end unless you're happy driving around in a car with a big balloon stuck to the roof. More energy goes into compressing hydrogen to go in the fuel tank than is stored in the tank. The only viable vehicles are bio-diesel hybrids (preferably from used chip fat) or methanol fuel celled vehicles (methanol from pyrolysis of garden waste)both backed up by roof mounted solar collectors. But why are we talking about energy savings on transport when it accounts for only 25% of energy useage. over 50% of our energy is used in buildings. A 1% efficiency saving here is far more achievable & effective than making a more efficient car. If we didn't insist on lighting up our cities at night as if it's day we could double the time before oil runs out. Hydrogen Fuel Cells should be in buildings as Combined Heat & Power plants. We should use Underground Coal Gasification to produce Syngas (we used to call it town gas) and use the present gas distribution network.The hydrogen can easily be separated at delivery. Large scale Hydrogen Fuel cells and Voltage inverters should replace the Coal fired stations now and then eventually replace the Gas Fired Power stations(which have been converted to run syngas).
    The car manufacturers are already doing their bit, but we should change to "greener" vehicles when we next need to change our vehicles, not now. The point is, syngas piped into the home enables hydrogen fuel cell CHP, this enables easy integration of renewable microgeneration as & when you can afford it.

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