Calstart Report – A Sustainable Transport Interpretation
Energy demand is increasing rapidly on global basis.
Oil production has increased twenty percent over last twenty
years and demand is projected to increase fifty percent over the
next twenty. Add the possibility of peak oil production occurring
some time in that picture and we have a really big problem.
Burning fuel that increases CO2 is clearly and scientifically
directly tied to climate change problems. Increasing the rate of
production based on the increased fuel demand will accelerate that
change. The science is very strong on this one no matter who is in
One of the key speakers was former CIA Director James Woolsey.
It is interesting to ask why a former CIA director would be
concerned about energy. After all his work has been to do with
national security and global relations. Is this an indication that
energy is important to our national security and global peace?
The best solutions are to reduce our use of energy by driving
less. This means mass transit and smart growth strategies. The
applicable smart growth strategies are those that give people the
ability to live, work, shop and play in their own communities
using minimal transportation (sometime referred to as
Increasing the efficiency of the existing engines can get us
15-20 percent improvement while making gas vehicle more expensive
and more complex.
Diesel engines are already 20 to 30 percent more efficient and
more durable. They need to be cleaned up and the technology is
Fuel efficient and clean burning diesel cars from Europe are
definitely on their way. VW has a field rep here working with the
bio diesel people. The Vice president of Volvo North America says
they are ready to bring the cars. BMW also had a rep at the
Calstart conference last week.
These clean vehicles need the ultra low sulfur diesel or bio
diesel to work correctly. The Western States Petroleum Assoc.
people say they are on track to deliver
the ultra low sulfur fuel next year to the entire
Electric vehicles are working but full speed cars
have been pulled from the market and from development.
The argument is that the batteries are not ready to do
the job. That is an issue of range on the vehicle and of
recharge rate. People who are using the electric
vehicles on a daily basis know that this does not make
sense. The RAV4 EV has a range of just over a hundred
miles and works for the vast majority of driving needs.
There is a car from China with a range of 200 miles and
Electric motor scooters and neighborhood EV’s are
moving into the 30 mile range area and beyond. Each of
these can serve part of our needs with potentially
The GEM neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV) is a good
local solution and is available from your local Chrysler
dealer. We have people who use these on a regular basis
if you want more first hand information.
The automakers have an attitude that says the new
technology has to be able to match the abilities of the
old technologies. Innovators know they can move forward
with the new as long as it gets the job on hand done.
How many miles do you drive in a typical day?
The automakers are moving on the Hybrid technologies,
as we all know. This is a step in the right direction.
Another step will be the diesel Hybrid, which will get
even more out of the fuel. The next step is to turn
those into PLUG-IN hybrids when they are being used for
lots of short (less than forty miles a day) commuting.
This is a good example of taking the steps toward the
completely sustainable solution. A completely
sustainable solution is an electric car that is charged
by solar or wind generated power. The hybrid vehicles
followed by the plug-in hybrid will lead us back to the
full electric vehicles as the battery performance is
rewarded in the market place and the volume of
production brings down the prices.
These steps will also be supported by the demand for
be NEV’s and electric motor scooters and motorcycles.
The other sustainable options revolve around fuel
from plants. This includes
1. Growing crops and algae to produce oil for bio
2. Growing Crops for ethanol fuel
3. Converting green waste biomass into methane
4. Converting green waste biomass into alcohol fuels
The bio diesel work is well developed with soy grown
for feed providing quality oil for fuel in this country
and with rapeseed being produced in other countries.
There is an analysis that says this can be done on a
large enough scale to satisfy our need for imported
fuel. This would convert marginal land into fuel
There are soil degradation and related environmental
problems tied to plowing up land to grow crops just for
energy. There are also issues related to specific crops
as to whether they produce a net gain in energy. It is a
seriously complicated thing to figure out how to go
about resolving these concerns.
Professor David Pimentel has findings about getting
ethanol from corn the way we grow corn in the Midwest.
His study indicates that process is not energy
efficient. That is probably true and it starts and stops
with the Midwest corn specifications. It would be nice
to accept the findings as applying to all bio bass
conversions but they do not. James Woolsey specifically
indicated that there are problems with his findings.
An analysis, similar to the one by Pimentel, shows
that bio diesel from soy oil may not fuel-efficient. The
problem with that model is that it is ignoring the
larger picture of that situation. The soybeans are being
produced for the protein and carbohydrates that are used
as cattle feed. The oil is then a bye product that can
be used to recoup the energy used in producing the feed.
If the energy cost of producing the crop is expensed to
the production of the feed then the bio diesel is
produced at zero energy cost!
Brazil is getting almost half its fuel for
transportation from sugar cane derived ethanol. That
means it has to be energy efficient or they would still
be using oil.
Bio diesel makes the most sense as a way to utilize
waste oil resources. Any oil and fats that cannot be
reused for its original purpose can be converted into
fuel. - Why not do that...
Here we have our second path to sustainability. Get
clean diesel engines in 2006. Use a source of bio diesel
fuel in the car. Support local collection of waste oil
and processing that into bio diesel.
Ethanol may not be energy efficient from corn but it
is possible to make it from cellulosic sources - think
green waste, both urban and agricultural. This potential
is huge. The next step would be to process agricultural
bye products like the rice straw that has been burnt off
for so many years. Then we can go after green waste in
the cities and turn grass clippings into ethanol fuel
and compost - yes ethanol production should allow us to
preserve a good part of the fertilizer value of bio mass
that can then be used to grow more crops and renew the
There is a need to develop cost effective and
environmentally sound conversion processes to yield
ethanol from the various sources.
Here is a third path to sustainable transportation.
Get a mixed fuel vehicle that can operate on both
gasoline and ethanol fuel (Designated as E85 for 85%
ethanol content). There are currently 100,000 such
vehicles in California, many without access to the fuel.
Locate a source for the E85 fuel and start creating a
demand for it. Support local programs to create ethanol
from crop residues and green waste.
It is also possible to convert green waste into a
source for methane gas. This is another potential fuel
that can be harvested while producing organic soil
supplements at the same time.
The path to a sustainable methane-using vehicle is
already in progress. Liquid natural gas busses and other
large vehicles are in widespread use. Honda was showing
a compressed natural gas version of the civic at the
event. It included a display of a home fueling station
for filling your car from the domestic natural gas
supply. At today’s pricing that is significantly less
expensive than the gasoline option.
This is a good opportunity for alternative fuel
solutions right now. Honda is in the early promotional
stages with this vehicle and has incentives to get
For more information http://automobiles.honda.com/models/civic_gx_phill.asp?ModelName=Civic+GX
It is not clear whether green waste produced methane
will be suitable as a fuel in the same way that natural
gas can be used directly in a combustion engine. Another
option would be to use methane through a fuel cell
instead. This Honda represents a step that can support
either outcome. The next vehicle Honda has ready to go
in this path to sustainability uses a fuel cell.
There are several fuel cell vehicles in the road
testing stages. Most of these are gear toward using
hydrogen as a fuel including the Honda. Both the use of
fuel cells and of hydrogen are areas of contention as
good solutions for our energy future.
The fuel cell itself has questions to do with the
efficiency of the cell in converting from an energy
source. Honda has developed fuel cells with high
efficiency when converting the fuel into multiple energy
forms. This includes harvesting heat, electricity and
hydrogen from a natural gas source, something that might
prove viable in a situation that can use all three of
these products. This might apply as home utility or in
an industrial on site installation. Vehicles tend to
need only one of these and bring us back to the question
Honda and other companies are spending a good amount
on fuel cell technology so there must be something in
them. It might also have to do with government support
for hydrogen usage.
Both the federal government and Governor Schwarzenneger
are supporting hydrogen vehicles. The Governor has his
hydrogen super highway project. There is a large amount
of money going into this effort.
Hydrogen has two reasonable advantages. It burns
cleaner than any other gas or liquid. It can be
compressed to fill tanks that get a car a two hundred
The problem is that it is not an energy source but
rather a way to transport energy from other sources
including electricity and fossil fuels. These other
sources produce the hydrogen at a fairly low efficiency
so there is a substantial energy loss. The hydrogen can
then be run through a fuel cell to produce electricity
to run a car – again calling into question the
James Woolsey strongly stated his belief that
hydrogen was not a good solution.
Hydrogen may however produce technology that can be
used for related solutions. It might also fit with a
home utility fuel cell system like the one that Honda is
The sustainable option here is to have a local
methane producing system that feeds to one of two
possible transportation solutions. One would be a
compressed methane fuel similar to the natural gas
solution available now. The other would be a mixed yield
through a fuel cell conversion yielding heat,
electricity and hydrogen.
The steps toward this would start with the compressed
natural gas car. It then goes to a fuel cell vehicle
like the hydrogen one Honda has already engineered. This
might also look like a natural gas fuel cell along the
same lines. The next step would be to get the green
waste methane production plants. Finally, the methane is
used as the fuel source for one or the other type of
vehicle – methane internal combustion or methane fuel
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