Monday, April 30, 2007

Biden Mentions Lithium During Debate; What's Up With the Diesel Provision?

In the Democratic debate last week, Joe Biden mentioned his legislation to prod lithium battery research for plug-in cars among the panoply of actions required to meet the global climate challenge.
We also have legislation in requiring that we invest $100 million a year the next couple of years while this president’s president in order to be able to find lithium battery technology to be able to — to power our cars.
Of course what we need now is not so much dollars for battery research (although that is useful) as incentives and mandates for plug-in cars. Yet that's exactly what the provision tucked in at the end of the bill otherwise devoted to electric transportation, including electric cars and plug-in hybrids, does for "lean burn" diesel vehicles. The legislation, S1055, would expand the availability of tax credits for diesel vehicles. In the press release on the bill, Biden does cite a specific beneficiary:
In particular, Daimler Chrysler produces a Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel that will qualify under the new requirements.
Section 3 of Biden's bill refers to IRS Code Section 30B, but 30B doesn't appear on the IRS webpage. So I can't figure out what the real import of the provision is.

(a) In General- Section 30B(c)(3)(A) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (defining new advanced lean burn technology motor vehicle credit) is amended--
(1) by adding `and' at the end of clause (ii), and
(2) by striking clause (iv).

Upstream Costs of Gasoline

The United States uses 360 million gallons of gasoline each day. One tanker-truck load, a mere 8600 gallons of gasoline, exploded on a San Francisco Bay Area Freeway early Sunday morning, and the consequences will be felt for months. The effect of this one accident is being compared to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which also caused the collapse of Bay Area freeways.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Senators: It's the Electrons

Three Senators, Republican Orrin Hatch and Democrats Maria Cantwell and Barack Obama are showing signs of getting it. The Electric Drive Transportation website has the complete press release.
“We are facing a global energy crunch, and the fact that our transportation sector is around 97 percent dependent on oil is just plain dangerous,” Hatch said, “We have to act now and we have to be creative. In my view there is no solution more practical or urgent than enacting policies that would begin to shift our transportation sector away from liquid fuels and toward a greater reliance on electrons.”

“We already have the technology right here at home to power most of the cars in America,” said Cantwell. “We produce enough extra electricity right now to supply as much as 70 percent of the power needed by our cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs. More options for powering America’s vehicles will save consumers money, help get us off foreign oil, and make our country more secure.”

“One of the most immediate actions we can take to fight climate change is to dramatically reduce our oil consumption by pushing electric vehicles into the marketplace,” said Obama. “We have the technology, but we must provide incentives for consumers and manufacturers so that it is made available to the driving public. Producing electric vehicles and energy efficient technology could help the U.S. auto industry regain its competitive edge.”

Friday, April 27, 2007

Battery Company Buys Plug-in Hybrid Converter?

InsideGreentech reports that Toronto Star reporter Tyler Hamilton posted on his personal blog that battery maker A123 Systems has acquired Canadian plug-in converter Hymotion. It would certainly be a good thing for A123 to have a reason beyond its relationship with GM to be interested in making batteries for plug-in cars.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Phoenix to Build a Plug-in Hybrid Pick-up

UQM Technologies announced today it will supply plug-in hybrid systems as well as all-electric drive systems for Phoenix Motors' sport utility trucks.
"The development of a plug-in hybrid model of our sport utility truck is an important expansion of our model offering that we expect will meet the needs of a broader range of customers," said Dan Elliott, president and CEO of Phoenix Motorcars.

121K Mile RAV4 EV Featured in Electric Car Story

An excellent piece on electric cars by Steven Wickens in the Toronto Star here. Praising his Toyota RAV4 EV, Avi Hershkovitz says,
"I've put more than 121,000 miles (195,000 km) on this vehicle, and it's definitely the best, most reliable thing I've ever driven."

He adds: "I'd probably still have an EV1 if GM hadn't forced me to give it back.
Let's not forget, as GM hypes the Volt, 1000 140-range NiMH EV1 electric cars rot in the Arizona sun. Had they not been destroyed they would be driving the roads still, evidence of what electric cars can do, evidence of what GM can do.

Monday, April 23, 2007

GM Shanghais the Volt

The Technology Review published by MIT reports on the hydrogen fuel cell version of the Volt announced in Shanghai.
The flexible electric car platform is innovative, but the fuel-cell version is freighted with hydrogen's flaws.

....swapping out the generator for a fuel cell may be a step backward. That is in part because producing the hydrogen needed to power the fuel-cell version could increase rather than decrease energy demand, and it may not make sense economically.

"The possibility that this vehicle would be built successfully as a commercial vehicle seems to me rather unlikely," says Joseph Romm, who managed energy-efficiency programs at the Department of Energy during the Clinton administration. "If you're going to the trouble of building a plug-in and therefore have an electric drive train and a battery capable of storing a charge, then you could have a cheap gasoline engine along with you, or an expensive fuel cell." Consumers will likely opt for the cheaper version, Romm notes.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Volt, Re-Volt, No Volt - Will CARB Revolt?

In January GM announced the Volt, a smart idea that makes use of the two existing primary energy infrastructures - the electric grid and gasoline stations. With NiMH batteries - those that provide energy to every hybrid on the road and thousands of all-electric cars - the Volt plug-in hybrid could go into production today. Instead, GM says the batteries must be Lithium and must take the car 40 miles before the engine comes on. An arbitrary decision that merely delays even simple proof of concept, to say nothing of initial commercialization. And calls into question just how serious GM is about plug-in cars. Lutz says GM hopes to have one working car by year's end.

As it struggles to get even one car on the road, GM is in Shanghai spinning the future, as reported in the Detroit News.
Although General Motors Corp.'s much anticipated plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt is still years away, the automaker is already planning a sequel -- a hydrogen-powered version.
Sharon Terlep's story doesn't mention it, but in the hydrogen Volt GM has made another arbitrary decision, as announced on GM's Volt blog. The Lithium battery only needs to provide 20 miles, with the H2 fuel cell providing the bulk of the desired 300 mile range. In the videotaped interview with auto bloggers, Lutz suggested this E-Flex H2 configuration would lessen the need for hydrogen enough to consider interchangeable propane-like cannisters of hydrogen.

I want GM to make the Volt as much as the next guy, but there's only so much bullshit one can swallow. In January GM announced an eminently practical vehicle that could quickly offer consumers a way to tap into the cleaner, cheaper, domestic electric grid for most of their driving needs. With every succeeding announcement, the Volt recedes into the future. Only government incentives and mandates for production can take the Volt, or a plug-in Prius for that matter, from green spin to showrooms.

My Toyota RAV4 EV was only produced because of the California Zero Emission Vehicle Mandate, and every day it proves electric cars are viable now. There is probably no single greater step one could personally take to reduce carbon emissions, smog, and our petroleum dependence than switching to a plug-in hybrid or an electric car. But the automakers just won't make them without mandates. Often, especially with cars, it takes a law.

We can't afford to debate why they refuse to build electric cars for the next one hundred years of global warming and oil wars and wait until a hydrogen fuel cell car drops from $1 million to the cost of an electric car today. The fact remains they've already built battery electric cars. They work and we ought to have the choice to purchase them. Had the automakers not destroyed thousands just a few years ago more would be on the road today. The California Air Resources Board acquiesced in the crushing of all those electric cars and turned its back on its own success. Thousands of useful and desired electric cars on the road were replaced by the impossible dream of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The staff report released Friday suggests they haven't learned from their mistake. As CARB considers revising the Zero Emission Vehicle Program, it needs to hear over the next month from consumers who want plug-in cars. Write CARB. It is within their power to get plug-in cars back into production.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Inevitable and Invisible: Electricity as "Alternative Fuel"

An incredible pair of stories in the Detroit news here and here.

In one, electric drive is seen as inevitable.
In the other electricity isn't even mentioned.

Thanks for the tip to Felix Kramer of CalCars.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ethanol and Ozone

There are so many reasons ethanol shouldn't be priority #1 in America's quest for petroleum replacement. I blogged about this previously here.

Yet another reason to think again about the ethanol craze in an article in today's LA Times.

Of our "alternative fuel" options, only electricity can truly be made renewably (wind, solar, geothermal, small hydro), with no carbon or other noxious emissions. And only electric drive cars can operate truly zero-emission. We need to prioritize clean electricity generation and plug-in battery cars to utilize that energy efficiently.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Lutz Chats Volt with "Fellow Bloggers"

Bob Lutz, GM CEO, sat down to chat with some bloggers at the NY Auto Show, and PODTECH has the video. Well worth a listen. Lutz responds to the sense that GM might be pulling back from its commitment to the Volt that resulted from Sharon Terlep's Detroit News article a month or so ago. (My take at the time here.)

Lutz says the Volt is no "pr stunt," that they intend to have a working model by the end of the year, and are making a diesel version with a European body to be shown in Frankfort. While the goal is still a 2010 release, everything hinges on the Lithium battery thought to be the essential heart of the Volt. And there's the rub. Must the battery really be lithium to get this radically different automobile off the drawing board and into the showroom? Or is lithium the new hydrogen? Simply the latest industry stalling tactic.

Asked why not Nickel Metal Hydride batteries in the Volt, at least to start, he says "NiMH just doesn't do it." It would take more weight to reach 40 miles, he says. And nickel mining is such dirty business we ought move right to benign lithium. But hold on. What's so sacrosanct about 40 miles? And is Lutz - purveyer of Hummers and Escalades - suggesting the environmental consequences of nickel mining are so great we must wait for lithium? Interestingly, Lutz says GM is being approached by NiMH manufacturers to use this proven battery chemistry in the Volt. And if Lithium proves problematic, he says GM will again consider NiMH.

This makes no sense. If you've got the desire to introduce a radically different car, why not simplify the effort by using the best available mature battery technology in the inevitably small-run first generation? If you've got hundreds of millions of trouble-free NiMH miles in hybrids and electric cars, why bet the bank on relatively untested if promising lithium?

Perhaps Lutz's mistaken impressions about the EV1 and electric cars color his understanding of what NiMH can achieve. (Or perhaps GM's disinformation campaign about the successes of the EV1 and its NiMH batteries is still in force.) He says the EV1 got 60-70 miles (actually double that), and very few were sold (actually none were sold) because people were afraid of getting stuck in LA traffic watching their charge go down ("stuck in traffic" requires virtually no energy.) Could Lutz not know the range of an EV1?

Lutz decries the lack of interest by the federal government in the "transformational technology" represented by the Volt.
We're curiously disappointed with all the talk about CO2 in Washington and we have to put industry's feet to the fire and improve fuel economy. Nobody really asks wouldn't it be smarter to put more energy into what you guys are doing with the Volt.
Congressional efforts (and he might add environmental leadership at NRDC, UCS and the Sierra Club) are stuck on gasoline efficiency when it's time to move to technologies with the promise of getting us off petroleum.
"We are beyod the point of diminishing returns on the internal combustion engine. It's time to make a paradigm shift."
Lutz expresses his belief in the benefits of transitioning to the electric grid, lessening our need for liquid fuels by using them merely as range extenders for an electric car. And I couldn't agree more. Does he mean it? Or is he simply asking to feed again at the federal trough, millions for lithium research much like the PNGV or various hydrogen and fuel cell research subsidies that have brought us neither fuel choices nor even high mileage gasoline vehicles.

If Lutz means it, GM should be willing to meet higher CAFE requirements with electric miles in the Volt, rather than ethanol flex-fuel loopholes.

If Lutz means it, GM should have no objection to a reinvigorated ZEV mandate in California. If he means it, GM should be working with CARB right now to include plug-in hybrids with all-electric range in the revised mandate.

If Lutz means what he says about the great benefits of the "E-Flex architecture," (what's more commonly known as a serial hybrid,) GM would demonstrate some real e-flexibility, and build a NiMH Volt now. GM doesn't need a fancy new package. And it doesn't need to have a $20,000 MSRP. There is a market for plug-in cars now.

Plugin Hybrids to save Big Three, Lee Iacocca

From a new interview in Fortune and his new upcoming book, "Where Have all the Leaders Gone?":

What can the auto industry do?
"Plug-in hybrids. I think they're virtually here now..."

Full Interview here:
I don't think I could have said it better myself. I think we are going to be hearing lots on Lee and his book. Particularly the parts where he blasts detroit lack of leadership and also particularly the Bush administration.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

World Wide Lexicon: Help Make This Blog Multi-Lingual!

We're proud to announce that we are one of the first sites to join the Worldwide Lexicon ( It's a new service that will enable us to publish in dozens of languages. WWL is based on a simple idea that websites like ours have bilingual readers without knowing it. WWL enables you to contribute and edit translations to any languages you speak. WWL is free, and is open source, and if you're into language, it's a lot of fun.

To contribute, just go to Look for Plugs and Cars. Beneath the title, you'll see a list of 2 or 3 letter language codes (for example, ES = spanish). Click on the code for the language you speak. You'll be asked to translate the site's title first, then you'll see a list of articles to be translated. Click on an article, and then you will go to a page or form to view or edit the article's title, description (synopsis) and full text. If you want to use a machine translation service and then edit that text, you can click on CHEAT to go to Google Translate to cut and paste.

The goal of the worldwide lexicon project is ambitious, to eliminate the language barrier by making it possible, and easy, for people like you to contribute translations about whatever websites you like and want to share with people in other countries. We think this is the beginning of a big thing, and we're proud to be one of the first testers.

Gasoline, Ethanol, Crude Oil Up in Price

AP reports:
Gasoline futures rose 3.31 cents to settle at $2.1918 per gallon on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Meanwhile, alternative fuel ethanol hit a 7-month high, corresponding to an overall rise in gas prices since last August.

Ethanol futures rose 4.3 cents to settle at $2.280 on the Chicago Board of Trade.

Light, sweet crude for May delivery rose $1.84 to close at $63.85 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude for May rose 88 cents to $68.72 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

NY Times using Plug-in Hybrid Van

Editor & Publisher reports the NY Times has taken delivery of a long-awaited plug-in hybrid Sprinter Van from Daimler/Chrysler. It will perform everyday duties.
The van, a Dodge Sprinter PHEV, will be kept at the paper’s printing plant in College Point, Queens and will be used to transport papers.
I hope David Pogue gets down there to check it out. Not as sexy as the Tesla, but a very practical use of electricity.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Silicon Valley V2G Plug-in Hybrid Demo

Sen. Barbara Boxer attended a Silicon Valley Alternative Energy Summit today and PG&E was there with its plug-in hybrid Prius.

Green Wombat reports on the Vehicle to Grid (V2G) capability demonstrated by PG&E.
The modified Toyota Prius was plugged into a into a standard PG&E meter outside Advanced Micro Devices's Sunnyvale headquarters. As the car's lithium ion battery powered a bank of lights and a portable heater, the meter began to run backwards.
Add some solar panels to the mix and you've got the makings of a comprehensive policy: prioritize renewable electricity, plug-in cars and V2G. I hope Sen. Boxer had an epiphany.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Bush's Near Hydrogen Oops Moment

The Detroit News Autos Insider reports on Ford CEO Alan Mulally's oops moment about Bush's oops moment.
"I violated all the protocols. I touched the President....This is all off the record, right?"

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Hydrogen Hyped: BMW Does Pogue

Why are even the smartest journalists unable to get beyond the hype when it comes to automobiles and alternative fuels? David Pogue has a respected, weekly technology column in the NY Times. In addition, "David is an Emmy-winning correspondent for CBS News, a frequent contributor to NPR's "Morning Edition," creator of the Missing Manual series of computer books, and father of three." He's got cred.

On March 29, Pogue blogged about The Future of Hydrogen Cars. His blog only once before (in my quick search) discussed alternative fuels for cars. Automotive technology is clearly not his balliwick. But like most of us, he drives a car, knows petroleum isn't forever, and receives periodic wake-up calls. One altfuel epiphany Pogue blogged in May, 2006 came watching The Amazing Race 9 (CBS) in Brazil, where sugar cane-based ethanol has eliminated petroleum imports and reduced pollution. Why can't we do something like that, he wondered. We're richer and more technologically advanced than Brazil, aren't we? He concludes his blogpost:
Dudes–no matter what color your political flag, doesn’t everyone agree that pollution is bad, high fuel prices are bad, and that the oil reserves are going to run out eventually? In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush said that “Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years.”

Man, I sure hope so.
Now in his recent blog entry he all but swallows whole BMW's solo voyage down the liquid hydrogen hypeway. BMW used the TED Conference, an annual convening of the technological glitterati, to make an "off-campus" presentation to these opinion makers.
On the second day of the show, attendees were invited to attend a lunch-hour presentation by Dr. Frank Ochmann, the head of BMW’s clean-energy development project, who had flown in from Munich for the event.
The investment paid off. A high brow plug for a corporate fantasy. The bamboozlement surrounding alternative fuels continues apace. The one energy infrastructure that rivals petroleum in its reach, the electric grid, is seemingly invisible for its ubiquitousness. Mr. Pogue, and the public at large, ought to be better informed.

As Pogue accurately concludes his post,
Meanwhile, the biggest obstacles are presented by people’s attitudes, not technology: “Oh, that’ll never work.”

Guess what? It’s going to have to work. Sooner or later, hydrogen, or something like it, is all we’ll have to work with.
That "something like it" is electricity. I invite Mr. Pogue to take a ride "back to the future" in my 2002 Toyota RAV4 EV.

The column continues to generate interesting comments, many from electric car advocates, and I hope he returns to the subject. All he needs to know about the difficulties and expense of creating a hydrogen infrastructure and the viability and desirability of plug-in cars is in the many astute comments of his readers.