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Environmental Entrepreneurs Looks to Electricity for Cars

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  • Felix Kramer
    Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) is the national community of business people committed to protecting the environment while building economic prosperity.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 29, 2006
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      Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) is the national community of
      business people committed to "protecting the environment while
      building economic prosperity." Without E2's voice and efforts,
      California's AB 1493 Climate Change (Pavley) Bill would probably not
      have passed. E2 has repeatedly played a key role nationally and
      locally on critical issues and legislative campaigns. Any
      CalCars/PHEV supporter with a business background should consider
      joining E2's 2000-person network and 600 members from 22 states who
      work in technology, consulting, venture capital, financial services
      and other sectors. See http://www.e2.org> for more.

      E2 members have been very supportive of CalCars and PHEVs
      individually for a long time. The article in the June 2006 E2
      newsletter is the first time the organization has considered the role
      of electricity in transportation. (Until now its transportation focus
      has been largely on hybrids and on the benefits of cellulosic ethanol.)

      Importantly, E2 works closely with one of the world's most effective
      environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council.
      (Contributions to E2 go to NRDC.) CalCars has been working for a long
      time to encourage NRDC to become champions of PHEVs. As a member of
      Set America Free and the Apollo Alliance, NRDC has supported the idea
      of PHEVs. Roland Hwang, NRDC's Vehicles Policy Director, was involved
      in they early HEV Working Group efforts that helped fuel the recent
      advances in PHEVs. Deron Lovaas, NRDC Vehicles Campaign Director,
      co-authored an Op-Ed on with Set America Free's Gal Luft in April
      <http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/375.html> and drove CalCars'
      PHEV when we were in Washington. Senior Attorney Robert F. Kennedy,
      Jr., has strongly endorsed PHEVs and has featured them on his radio
      show. NRDC is currently involved in a major research program to
      quantify PHEVs' overall benefits. We're hoping E2's attention to
      PHEVs along with efforts by CalCars, Plug-In Partners, legislators
      and others, will further encourage NRDC to expand its programmatic
      attention to PHEvs in the coming months.

      Following are brief excerpts from a longer article by E2 Co-Founder
      Bob Epstein and Tony Bernhardt. Please view the full story at
      <http://www.e2.org/ext/jsp/controller?docId=10696> to see the full
      story, follow URLs and get a sense of the scope of E2 programs. Even
      from this excerpt you'll see E2 looks at the issue in novel, creative ways.

      Will Electricity Challenge Ethanol?

      Biomass to Fuels: Grasses like the field of Miscanthus above can
      create as much as 15 dry tons of biomass per acre. This can be
      converted into 870 kilowatt-hours of electricity to power a plug-in
      hybrid or electric vehicle; or into 80 gallons of ethanol to power a
      flex-fuel vehicle. This article compares the two choices.

      Most electric vehicles were removed from the U.S. market when
      California withdrew the legal requirement to sell zero-emission
      vehicles in April 2003. It is hard to find former owners of electric
      vehicles who did not become attached to their cars' noiselessness,
      lower fuel costs and ability to refuel at home instead of the local
      gas station.

      Ethanol could displace most of our gasoline usage if we solve the
      technical challenge of making it from plant "biomass" such as
      agricultural waste, grasses and forest residue (known as cellulosic
      ethanol), rather than corn. (See Biomass Basics for background.) In
      our February 2006 newsletter , we described how liquid fuels derived
      from plant material, like ethanol, can compete with gasoline.

      Alternatively, biomass can also be used to produce renewable
      electricity to power electric vehicles - if more powerful batteries
      can be developed. If cellulosic ethanol or electric vehicles - or
      both - become mainstream, the opportunity exists to replace
      significant amounts of gasoline with fuel derived from biomass.

      As President Bush identified in his most recent State of the Union
      speech, America is addicted to oil. Alternative fuels that use less
      oil and produce less pollution reduce our dependency on oil, put
      price pressure on gasoline and diesel, and can reduce global warming pollution.

      Electric Vehicle Batteries

      Batteries have not been successful as automotive power sources
      primarily because the amount of energy in a battery is a small
      fraction of the amount of energy in gasoline. This problem is known
      as "energy density." To hold the same amount of energy as gasoline,
      today's vehicular batteries would require over 100 times more space.
      Current nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries hold only about one
      percent of the "energy density" of gasoline.
      An electric vehicle will have much more weight in its batteries than
      a gasoline-powered vehicle with a full tank of gas. However, an
      all-electric vehicle avoids the weight of the gasoline motor (an
      electric motor is much lighter), the transmission and other items.

      The issues of weight and efficiency have lead to three design choices:
      1. The all-electric vehicle: <snip>
      2. The hybrid vehicle: <snip>
      3. The plug-in hybrid: The plug-in hybrid provides a way to
      charge the battery separately and is both a complete battery-electric
      vehicle and a gasoline vehicle. More battery is added so the electric
      driving range of the vehicle is between 20 and 40 miles.
      (All-electric vehicles usually are designed for a 100 mile range.)
      For more information about current plug-in hybrids, see CalCars.

      The all-electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid vehicles allow us to
      displace gasoline with electricity. As batteries decrease in price
      and increase in energy density, electricity could power more - or
      most - of our vehicles.

      How Much Electricity vs. Gasoline is Required per Mile ?
      Is There a Hybrid Premium?

      Using the Toyota Prius as our test case, we can compare its gasoline
      engine performance to its electric engine performance. The author's
      car actually gets 44 miles per gallon as measured over the last five
      years. A modified Prius developed by CalCars running only on battery
      power requires about 11,400 watt-hours of electricity (this is the
      equivalent power of 114 one-hundred-watt incandescent light bulbs
      turned on for one hour - or about 500 compact florescent bulbs) vs.
      one gallon of gas to travel the same 44 miles.
      How Far Can You Drive on a Ton of Biomass?

      Both Ethanol and electricity can be produced from biomass. This is
      done either by using agricultural waste or specific plants such as
      switch grass, and either converting the energy stored in the
      cellulose plant cells to ethanol or combusting the dried plant
      material and converting it to electricity. The question becomes:
      Which is better?
      Thus, one dry ton of biomass will produce:
      Prius running on electricity Prius running on ethanol
      2,700 miles/ton 2,300 miles/ton

      In other words, biomass-to-electricity and biomass-to-ethanol produce
      similar number of miles achievable per ton of biomass. However, there
      are major differences in feasibility today which will change over time:
      * Biomass-to-electricity and plug-in hybrid technology exists
      today while the potential of biomass-to-cellulosic ethanol is still
      unproven in volume.
      * Electricity can be transmitted to every home that an electric
      vehicle can be plugged in to, compared with the current limited
      infrastructure for delivering ethanol.
      * The auto companies have sold more than 5 million flex-fuel
      (ethanol-based) vehicles, but few have announced plans for electric
      vehicles. GM is rumored to be working on a plug-in hybrid (see GM
      Eyes Plug-in Hybrid . Toyota is starting to talk about their plug-in
      hybrid plans (see Toyota to Explore Plug-In Hybrids ).
      * According to the U.S. Department of Energy, advanced
      technologies for biomass-to-electricity such as gasification could
      double the electricity produces per ton which would provide 5,400 miles/ton.
      * Market pricing for electricity is relatively independent of
      oil, while ethanol directly displaces gasoline and, even though its
      production cost is currently significantly less than that of
      gasoline, tends to be priced just below gasoline.

      How Much Does it Cost to Drive a Mile?

      There is considerable savings in buying electricity to charge a
      battery vs. gasoline in today's market. Using the night time
      electricity rate of 8.8 cents per kilo-watt hour, the cost to drive
      is about 2.3 cents/mile. At 44 miles/gallon, this is the equivalent
      of buying gas at $1.02 per gallon. If a driver recharges during the
      day, the price is likely to be 50 percent higher or more.

      What are the Impacts on Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
      If motor fuels go green before power generation goes green the
      lifecycle GHG emissions of hybrids will be lower than electric
      vehicles. If power generation goes green first, hybrids will compare
      unfavorably. In the distant future, when both power generation and
      motor fuels are green, it won't make a significant difference.


      As the U.S. looks to biomass as a renewable source of energy for
      transportation, two paths hold promise. In one case, the U.S. fleet
      would comprise increasing numbers of flexible fuel vehicles that can
      run on gasoline or ethanol. Ethanol production would transition from
      corn-based to cellulose-based. Alternatively, the U.S. fleet could be
      increasingly based on electricity, either through plug-in hybrids or
      all-electric vehicles.

      In the first case, the major risk is the ability to produce
      cellulosic ethanol on a large scale. In the second case, it is the
      ability to develop higher-energy density batteries. Consumers are
      likely to find electricity significantly cheaper than ethanol. This
      is because electricity prices are regulated while ethanol prices are
      likely to be priced just below gasoline until there is a significant
      oversupply. E2 believes both paths should be aggressively pursued as
      they both offer alternatives to oil that will save consumers money
      and help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

      Many thanks to E2 member Tony Bernhardt for co-authoring this
      article. Thanks also go to E2 members Felix Kramer and Ron Lloyd, and
      to Joe Romm and Brian Jenkins for providing key details.
      -- Bob Epstein and Nicole Lederer, Editors

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      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
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