George Schultz & James Woolsey on plug-in hybrids, cellulose ethanol etc.
highly readable EXCERPTS from a policy paper, "Oil and Security" by the
recently reconstituted "Committee on the Present Danger" -- in particular,
a very good basic summary of the promise of cellulose ethanol. It is also
significant that the authors include the often-overlooked light-weighting
of vehicles (while improving crash-resistance).
by George P. Shultz and R. James Woolsey
George P.Shultz is a former Secretary of State and is currently
Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institutiion, Stanford University. R.
James Woolsey is a former Director of Central Intelligence and is currently
Vice President of Booz/Allen Hamilton. The two are co-Chairmen of the
Committee on the Present Danger.
(With Senate debate of the Energy Bill imminent, this paper is being posted
at this time. It has been submitted to the CPD board for discussion,
commentary and membership approval.)
This paper could well be called, "It's the Batteries, Stupid." Four years
ago, on the eve of 9/11, the need to reduce radically our reliance on oil
was not clear to many and in any case the path of doing so seemed a long
and difficult one. Today both assumptions are being undermined by the risks
of the post-9/11 world and by technological progress in fuel efficiency and
We spell out below the risks of petroleum dependency, particularly the
vulnerability of the petroleum infrastructure in the Middle East to
terrorist attack a single well-designed attack could send oil to well
over $100/barrel and devastate the world's economy. That reality, among
other risks, and the fact that our current transportation infrastructure is
locked in to oil, should be sufficient to convince any objective observer
that oil dependence today creates serious and pressing dangers for the US
and other oil-importing nations.
We propose in this paper that the government vigorously encourage and
support at least six technologies: two types of alternative fuels that are
beginning to come into the market (cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel derived
from a wide range of waste streams), two types of fuel efficient vehicles
that are now being sold to the public in some volume (hybrid
gasoline-electric and modern clean diesels), and one vehicle construction
technique, the use of manufactured carbon-carbon composites, that is now
being used for aircraft and racing cars and is quite promising as a way of
reducing vehicle weight and fuel requirements while improving safety.
The sixth technology, battery improvement to permit "plug-in" hybrid
vehicles, will require some development although nothing like the years
that will be required for hydrogen fuel cells. It holds, however,
remarkable promise. Improving batteries to permit them to be given an added
charge when a hybrid is garaged, ordinarily at night, can substantially
improve mileage, because it can permit hybrids to use battery power alone
for the first 10-30 miles. Since a great many trips fall within this range
this can improve the mileage of a hybrid vehicle from, say, 50 mpg to over
100 mpg (of oil products). Also, since the average residential electricity
cost is 8.5 cents/kwh (and in many areas, off-peak nighttime cost is 2-4
cents/kwh) this means that much of a plug-in hybrid's travel would be on
the equivalent of 50 cent/gallon gasoline (or, off-peak, on the equivalent
of 12-25 cent/gallon gasoline).
A plug-in hybrid averaging 125 mpg, if its fuel tank contains 85 per cent
cellulosic ethanol, would be obtaining about 500 mpg. If it were
constructed from carbon composites the mileage could double, and, if it
were a diesel and powered by biodiesel derived from waste, it would be
using no oil products at all.
What are we waiting for?
PETROLEUM DEPENDENCE: THE DANGERS:
<snip> 7 factors
THREE PROPOSED DIRECTIONS FOR POLICY:
The above considerations suggest that government policies with respect to
the vehicular transportation market should point in the following directions:
1. Encourage improved vehicle mileage, using technology now in production.
Three currently available technologies stand out to improve vehicle mileage.
First, modern diesel vehicles are coming to be capable of meeting rigorous
emission standards (such as Tier 2 standards, being introduced into the
U.S., 2004-08). In this context it is possible without compromising
environmental standards to take advantage of diesels' substantial mileage
advantage over gasoline-fueled internal combustion engines.
Substantial penetration of diesels into the private vehicle market in
Europe is one major reason why the average fleet mileage of such new
vehicles is 42 miles per gallon in Europe and only 24 mpg in the US.
Although the U.S. has, since 1981, increased vehicle weight by 24 per cent
and horsepower by 93 per cent, it has essentially improved mileage not at
all in that near-quarter century (even though in the 12 years from 1975 to
1987 the US improved the mileage of new vehicles from 15 to 26 mpg).
Second, hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles now on the market show
substantial fuel savings over their conventional counterparts. The National
Commission on Energy Policy found that for the four hybrids on the market
in December 2004 that had exact counterpart models with conventional
gasoline engines, not only were mileage advantages quite significant (10-15
mpg) for the hybrids, but in each case the horsepower of the hybrid was
higher than the horsepower of the conventional vehicle. (ETES p. 11) If
automobile companies wish to market hybrids by emphasizing hotter
performance rather than fuel conservation they can do so, consistent with
Light-weight Carbon Composite Construction
Third, constructing vehicles with inexpensive versions of the carbon fiber
composites that have been used for years for aircraft construction can
substantially reduce vehicle weight and increase fuel efficiency while at
the same time making the vehicle considerably safer than with current
construction materials. This is set forth thoroughly in the 2004 report of
the Rocky Mountain Institute's Winning the Oil Endgame ("WTOE").
Aerodynamic design can have major importance as well. This breaks the
traditional tie between size and safety. Much lighter vehicles, large or
small, can be substantially more fuel-efficient and also safer. Such
composite use has already been used for automotive construction in Formula
1 race cars and is now being adopted by BMW and other automobile companies.
The goal is mass-produced vehicles with 80% of the performance of
hand-layup aerospace composites at 20% of the cost. Such construction is
expected to approximately double the efficiency of a normal hybrid vehicle
without materially affecting manufacturing cost. (WTOE 64-66).
2. Encourage the commercialization of alternative transportation fuels that
can be available soon, are compatible with existing infrastructure, and can
be derived from waste or otherwise produced cheaply.
The use of ethanol produced from corn in the U.S. and sugar cane in Brazil
has given birth to the commercialization of an alternative fuel that is
coming to show substantial promise, particularly as new feedstocks are
developed. Some six million vehicles in the U.S. and all vehicles in Brazil
other than those that use solely ethanol are capable of using ethanol in
mixtures of up to 85 percent ethanol and 15 per cent gasoline (E-85); these
are called Flexible Fuel Vehicles ("FFV") and require, compared to
conventional vehicles, only a somewhat different kind of material for the
fuel line and a differently-programmed computer chip. The cost of
incorporating this feature in new vehicles is trivial. Also, there are no
large-scale changes in infrastructure required for ethanol use. It may be
shipped in tank cars, and mixing it with gasoline is a simple matter.
Although human beings have been producing ethanol, grain alcohol, from
sugar and starch for millennia, it is only in recent years that the genetic
engineering of biocatalysts has made possible such production from the
hemicellulose and cellulose that constitute the substantial majority of the
material in most plants. The genetically-engineered material is in the
biocatalyst only; there is no need for genetically modified plants.
Typically the organism that is engineered to digest the C5 sugars freed by
the hydrolization of the hemicellulose also produces the enzymes that
hydrolyze the cellulose.
These developments may be compared in importance to the invention of
thermal and catalytic cracking of petroleum in the first decades of the
20th century processes which made it possible to use a very large share
of petroleum to make gasoline rather than the tiny share that was available
at the beginning of the century. For example, with such
genetically-engineered biocatalysts it is not only grains of corn but corn
cobs and most of the rest of the corn plant that may be used to make ethanol.
Such biomass, or cellulosic, ethanol is now likely to see commercial
production begin first in a facility of the Canadian company, Iogen, with
backing from Shell Oil, at a cost of around $1.30/gallon. The National
Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates costs will drop to around
$1.07/gallon over the next five years, and the Energy Commission estimates
a drop in costs to 67-77 cents/gallon when the process is fully mature
(ETES p. 75). The most common feedstocks will likely be agricultural
wastes, such as rice straw, or natural grasses such as switchgrass, a
variety of prairie grass that is often planted on soil bank land to
replenish the soil's fertility. There will be decided financial advantages
in using as feedstocks any wastes which carry a tipping fee (a negative
cost) to finance disposal: e.g. waste paper, or rice straw, which cannot be
left in the fields after harvest because of its silicon content.
Old or misstated data are sometimes cited for the proposition that huge
amounts of land would have to be introduced into cultivation or taken away
from food production in order to have such biomass available for cellulosic
ethanol production. This is incorrect. The National Commission on Energy
Policy reported in December that, if fleet mileage in the U.S. rises to 40
mpg -- somewhat below the current European Union fleet average for new
vehicles of 42 mpg and well below the current Japanese average of 47 mpg
then as switchgrass yields improve modestly to around 10 tons/acre it would
take only 30 million acres of land to produce sufficient cellulosic ethanol
to fuel half the U.S. passenger fleet. (ETES pp. 76-77). By way of
calibration, this would essentially eliminate the need for oil imports for
passenger vehicle fuel and would require only the amount of land now in the
soil bank (the Conservation Reserve Program ("CRP") on which such
soil-restoring crops as switchgrass are already being grown. Practically
speaking, one would probably use for ethanol production only a little over
half of the soil bank lands and add to this some portion of the plants now
grown as animal feed crops (for example, on the 70 million acres that now
grow soybeans for animal feed). In short, the U.S .and many other countries
should easily find sufficient land available for enough energy crop
cultivation to make a substantial dent in oil use. (Id.)
There is also a common and erroneous impression that ethanol generally
requires as much energy to produce as one obtains from using it and that
its use does not substantially reduce global warming gas emissions. The
production and use of ethanol merely recycles in a different way the CO2
that has been fixed by plants in the photosynthesis process. It does not
release carbon that would otherwise stay stored underground, as occurs with
fossil fuel use, but when starch, such as corn, is used for ethanol
production much energy, including fossil-fuel energy, is consumed in the
process of fertilizing, plowing, and harvesting. Even starch-based ethanol,
however, does reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 30 per cent.
Because so little energy is required to cultivate crops such as switchgrass
for cellulosic ethanol production, and because electricity can be
co-produced using the residues of such cellulosic fuel production,
reductions in greenhouse gas emissions for celluslosic ethanol when
compared to gasoline are greater than 100 per cent. The production and use
of cellulosic ethanol is, in other words, a carbon sink. (ETES p. 73)
The National Commission on Energy Policy pointed out some of the problems
with most current biodiesel "produced from rapeseed, soybean, and other
vegetable oils as well as . . . used cooking oils." It said that these
are "unlikely to become economic on a large scale" and that they could
"cause problems when used in blends higher than 20 percent in older diesel
engines". It added that "waste oil is likely to contain impurities that
give rise of undesirable emissions." (ETES p. 75)
The Commission notes, however, that biodiesel is generally "compatible with
existing distribution infrastructure" and outlines the potential of a newer
process ("thermal depolymerization") that produces biodiesel without the
above disadvantages from "animal offal, agricultural residues, municipal
solid waste, sewage, and old tires". It points to the current use of this
process at a Conagra turkey processing facility in Carthage, Missouri,
where a "20 million commercial-scale facility" is beginning to convert
turkey offal into "a variety of useful products, from fertilizer to
low-sulfur diesel fuel" at a potential average cost of "about 72 cents per
gallon." (ETES p. 77)
Other Alternative Fuels
Progress has been made in recent years on utilizing not only coal but slag
from strip mines, via gasification, for conversion into diesel fuel using a
modern version of the gasified-coal-to-diesel process used in Germany
during World War II.
Qatar has begun a large-scale process of converting natural gas to diesel fuel.
Outside the realm of conventional oil, the tar sands of Alberta and the oil
shale of the Western U.S. exist in huge deposits, the exploitation of which
is currently costly and accompanied by major environmental difficulties,
but both definitely hold promise for a substantial increases in oil supply.
Plug-in hybrids and battery improvements
A modification to hybrids could permit them to become "plug-in-hybrids,"
drawing power from the electricity grid at night and using all electricity
for short trips. The "vast majority of the most fuel-hungry trips are under
six miles" and "well within the range" of current (nickel-metal hydride)
batteries' capacity, according to Huber and Mills (The Bottomless Well,
2005, p. 84). Other experts, however, emphasize that whether with existing
battery types (2-5 kwh capacity) or with the emerging (and more capable)
lithium batteries, it is important that any battery used in a plug-in
hybrid be capable of taking daily charging without being damaged and be
capable of powering the vehicle at an adequate speed. By most assessments
some battery development will be necessary in order for this to be the
case. Such development should have the highest research and development
priority because it promises to revolutionize transportation economics and
to have a dramatic effect on the problems caused by oil dependence.
With a plug-in hybrid vehicle one has the advantage of an electric car, but
not the disadvantage. Electric cars cannot be recharged if their batteries
run down at some spot away from electric power. But since hybrids have
tanks containing liquid fuel (gasoline and/or ethanol, diesel and/or
biodiesel) plug-in hybrids have no such disadvantage. Moreover the
attractiveness to the consumer of being able to use electricity from
overnight charging for a substantial share of the day's driving is
stunning. The average residential price of electricity in the US is about
8.5 cents/kwh, one-quarter the cost of $2/gallon gasoline. So powering
one's vehicle with electricity purchased at such rates is roughly the
equivalent of being able to buy gasoline at 50 cents/gallon instead of the
more than $2/gallon that it presently costs in the U.S. Moreover, many
utilities sell off-peak power for 2-4 cents/kwh the equivalent of
12-to-25-cents/gallon gasoline. (Id. p. 83) Given the burdensome cost
imposed by current fuel prices on commuters and others who need to drive
substantial distances, the possibility of powering one's family vehicle
with fuel that can cost as little as one-twentieth of today's gasoline (in
the U.S. market) should solve rapidly the question whether there would be
public interest in and acceptability of plug-in hybrids.
Although the use of off-peak power for plug-in hybrids should not initially
require substantial new investments in electricity generation, greater
reliance on electricity for transportation should lead us to look
particularly to the security of the electricity grid. In the U.S. the 2002
report of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine
("Making the Nation Safer") emphasized particularly the need to improve the
security of transformers and of the Supervisory Control and Data
Acquisition (SCADA) systems in the face of terrorist threats. The National
Commission on Energy Policy has seconded those concerns. With or without
the advent of plug-in hybrids, these electricity grid vulnerabilities
require urgent attention.
The dangers from oil dependence in today's world require us both to look to
ways to reduce demand for oil and to increase supply of transportation fuel
by methods beyond the increase of oil production.
The realistic opportunities for reducing demand soon suggest that
government policies should encourage hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles,
particularly the battery developments needed to bring plug-in versions
thereof to the market, and modern diesel technology. The realistic
opportunities for increasing supply of transportation fuel soon suggest
that government policies should encourage the commercialization of
alternative fuels that can be used in the existing infrastructure:
cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel. Both of these fuels could be introduced
more quickly and efficiently if they achieve cost advantages from the
utilization of waste products as feedstocks.
The effects of these policies are multiplicative. All should be pursued
since it is impossible to predict which will be fully successful or at what
pace, even though all are today either beginning commercial production or
are nearly to that point. The battery development for plug-in hybrids is of
substantial importance and should for the time being replace the current
r&d emphasis on automotive hydrogen fuel cells.
If even one of these technologies is moved promptly into the market, the
reduction in oil dependence could be substantial. If several begin to be
successfully introduced into large-scale use, the reduction could be
stunning. For example, a 50-mpg hybrid gasoline/electric vehicle, on the
road today, if constructed from carbon composites would achieve around 100
mpg. If it were to operate on 85 percent cellulosic ethanol or a similar
proportion of biodiesel fuel, it would be achieving hundreds of miles per
gallon of petroleum-derived fuel. If it were a plug-in version operating on
upgraded lithium batteries so that 20-30 mile trips could be undertaken on
its overnight charge before it began utilizing liquid fuel at all, it could
be obtaining in the range of 1000 mpg (of petroleum).
A range of important objectives economic, geopolitical, environmental
would be served by our embarking on such a path. Of greatest importance, we
would be substantially more secure.
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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