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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Without Clean Electricity, Plug-In Vehicles aren’t So Hot


This is something I (and a lot of other people) have been wondering about for a while in regards to plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs, like the Chevy Volt) and pure electric vehicles (EVs, like the Lightning GT and Subaru R1e). PHEVs are not a new thing, and they have been discussed on Gas2.0 before, but there is some interesting news that recently came out of Carnegie Mellon University suggesting that if we don’t make our power generation system less carbon intensive, PHEVs could have little benefit over regular hybrids (HEVs).

More after the jump!

Unfortunately, if you want to see the original article, you’ll have to buy it, but for the rest of us, Green Car Congress has written a good article about the findings and the implications of this study.

There is no doubt that PHEVs result in good fuel economy figures — GM is currently touting its PHEV-to be, the Volt, as getting 150MPG over all. However, they aren’t necessarily super efficient. Instead, they achieve these high numbers by supplementing the power produced by their gasoline engines with power taken from the grid. This has caused controversy lately, as hybrid-opponents often claim that battery production and the use of energy from the grid actually makes these cars bigger GHG polluters. However, if you look at this chart posted by GCC, you can see that both HEVs and PHEVs have a clear advantage over conventional cars, even when battery production is factored in:


This chart assumes the national mix of power from the grid, and as I said, shows pretty clearly the advantage of HEVs over conventional vehicles (CVs), but also shows that with the current mix of power sources on the grid, PHEVs aren’t that much better than your standard HEVs. I don’t say this to suggest that we should be shutting down PHEV research or production, but rather I think we should embrace the ability to consolidate our efforts in “greening” only one particular industry rather than trying to attack every one separately.

What I mean by this is that if our vehicles all drew power from the grid, making the grid more efficient would both improve standard energy usage as well as make motor vehicles less polluting. As it stands now there is a huge rift, where some are trying to improve the grid by adding things like wind power and others are trying to improve vehicle fuel economy or introduce hydrogen cars.

In fact, as noted by GCC, if the grid were low-carbon, PHEVs would reduce lifecycle GHG emissions of 51-63%, something anyone would admit is a huge improvement for motor vehicles.

You can check out this chart (if you can read it, click for a bigger version) to see how the different vehicles compare under different scenarios:

How do you all feel about PHEVs? Are they the new thing of the future or just another set-back on the way to pure EVs? Or is a hydrogen economy in store for us in the future?

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Scientists Unveil High-Res Map of the U.S. Carbon Footprint


A team of scientists has completed a carbon dioxide emissions inventory of the United States plotted down to 100-square-kilometer chunks.

That means that the NASA- and Department of Energy-funded scientists can detail emissions across all 9 million square kilometers that compose the United States. For a full explanation, check out the video that Purdue's Kevin Gurney put together, which features a number of other excellent CO2 visualizations. Andy Revkin, the New York Times' environment-beat writer, put a memorable headline on a post about the video, calling it, "Breath of a Nation."

The work, known as The Vulcan Project, has already yielded a significant discovery: Previous CO2 estimates that used population as a proxy for emissions overestimated the Northeast's greenhouse-gas generation, while underestimating the coal-heavy Southeast's contribution.

Now, given the opposition of the Southeast's congressional delegations to climate-change action, I'd like to see the new emissions map matched up with House and Senate districts.

Image: Courtesy The Vulcan Project. The units are log(million metric tons/year/100 square km.), so sayeth our team of commenters. The data is drawn from 2002.

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Money doesn't grow on trees, but gasoline might

Researchers make breakthrough in creating gasoline from plant matter, with almost no carbon footprint



George Huber poses with a vial of green gasoline compounds.
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Researchers have made a breakthrough in the development of "green gasoline," a liquid identical to standard gasoline yet created from sustainable biomass sources like switchgrass and poplar trees.

Reporting in the cover article of the April 7, 2008 issue of Chemistry & Sustainability, Energy & Materials (ChemSusChem), chemical engineer and National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER awardee George Huber of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (UMass) and his graduate students Torren Carlson and Tushar Vispute announced the first direct conversion of plant cellulose into gasoline components.

In the same issue, James Dumesic and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin-Madison announce an integrated process for creating chemical components of jet fuel using a green gasoline approach. While Dumesic's group had previously demonstrated the production of jet-fuel components using separate steps, their current work shows that the steps can be integrated and run sequentially, without complex separation and purification processes between reactors.

While it may be five to 10 years before green gasoline arrives at the pump or finds its way into a fighter jet, these breakthroughs have bypassed significant hurdles to bringing green gasoline biofuels to market.

"It is likely that the future consumer will not even know that they are putting biofuels into their car," said Huber. "Biofuels in the future will most likely be similar in chemical composition to gasoline and diesel fuel used today. The challenge for chemical engineers is to efficiently produce liquid fuels from biomass while fitting into the existing infrastructure today."

For their new approach, the UMass researchers rapidly heated cellulose in the presence of solid catalysts, materials that speed up reactions without sacrificing themselves in the process. They then rapidly cooled the products to create a liquid that contains many of the compounds found in gasoline.

The entire process was completed in under two minutes using relatively moderate amounts of heat. The compounds that formed in that single step, like naphthalene and toluene, make up one fourth of the suite of chemicals found in gasoline. The liquid can be further treated to form the remaining fuel components or can be used "as is" for a high octane gasoline blend.

"Green gasoline is an attractive alternative to bioethanol since it can be used in existing engines and does not incur the 30 percent gas mileage penalty of ethanol-based flex fuel," said John Regalbuto, who directs the Catalysis and Biocatalysis Program at NSF and supported this research.

"In theory it requires much less energy to make than ethanol, giving it a smaller carbon footprint and making it cheaper to produce," Regalbuto said. "Making it from cellulose sources such as switchgrass or poplar trees grown as energy crops, or forest or agricultural residues such as wood chips or corn stover, solves the lifecycle greenhouse gas problem that has recently surfaced with corn ethanol and soy biodiesel."

Beyond academic laboratories, both small businesses and Fortune 500 petroleum refiners are pursuing green gasoline. Companies are designing ways to hybridize their existing refineries to enable petroleum products including fuels, textiles, and plastics to be made from either crude oil or biomass and the military community has shown strong interest in making jet fuel and diesel from the same sources.

"Huber's new process for the direct conversion of cellulose to gasoline aromatics is at the leading edge of the new ‘Green Gasoline' alternate energy paradigm that NSF, along with other federal agencies, is helping to promote," states Regalbuto.

Not only is the method a compact way to treat a great deal of biomass in a short time, Regalbuto emphasized that the process, in principle, does not require any external energy. "In fact, from the extra heat that will be released, you can generate electricity in addition to the biofuel," he said. "There will not be just a small carbon footprint for the process; by recovering heat and generating electricity, there won't be any footprint."

The latest pathways to produce green gasoline, green diesel and green jet fuel are found in a report sponsored by NSF, the Department of Energy and the American Chemical Society entitled "Breaking the Chemical and Engineering Barriers to Lignocellulosic Biofuels: Next Generation Hydrocarbon Biorefineries" released April 1 (http://www.ecs.umass.edu/biofuels/). In the report, Huber and a host of leaders from academia, industry and government present a plan for making green gasoline a practical solution for the impending fuel crisis.

"We are currently working on understanding the chemistry of this process and designing new catalysts and reactors for this single step technique. This fundamental chemical understanding will allow us to design more efficient processes that will accelerate the commercialization of green gasoline," Huber said.

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HUGE MANITOBA TORNADO!

une 23, 2007 - F-4 Tornado touched down 45 KM west of Winnipeg, in Elie and near Oakville Manitoba. Several homes were destroyed, and the tornado flipped over a semi-trailer on the Trans-Canada Highway. No serious injuries were reported.

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Ted Turner Unplugged: Iraq & Global Warming

Tedturner He's crazy! Like a fox! In an interview with Charlie Rose last week, CNN founder Ted Turner likened Iraqi insurgents to "patriots," and warned that failure to reverse the global warming trend would lead to an inability to raise crops. "Most of the people will have died," Turner said. "And the rest of us will be cannibals."

As our friends at 236.com summed it up: "Finally, someone to cut through Al Gore's sugar-coated PowerPoint bullcrap. Ted Turner talks straighter than John McCain could ever dream."


Here's the Charlie Rose Interview.



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