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Gas Misers or Corn Guzzlers

By John Addison (5/15/07)

People buying new cars are asking if they should get a high mileage hybrid that runs on gasoline, or a flex-fuel vehicle that could run on E85 ethanol. The United States DOE’s and EPA’s fueleconomy.gov, made it easy for car buyers to compare choices.

When you drive, there is most likely ethanol in your fuel tank. Ethanol is a fuel from a plant source that is normally mixed with gasoline. The percentage varies widely. All current U.S. vehicles can run on a blend of up to 10% ethanol (E10).

GM launched a national campaign, “Live Green Go Yellow.” GM and Ford (F) have sold millions of flex fuel vehicles (FFV) on the road. GM is prepared to make up to half its vehicles ethanol capable by 2012.

Although FFVs are hot sellers in the USA, most have never had a drop of E85 in their tank. They are only fueled with standard gasoline blends. There are over 6 million vehicles on the U.S. streets that could run E85. Most never have.

Most FFVs are fuel guzzlers; fueled with E85, they are corn guzzlers. In 2007 the best rated car running on E85 was the Chevrolet Impala, with a United States EPA mileage rating of 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on the highway when fueled with E85. For a typical U.S. year of driving, the annual fuel cost would be at $1,657 and 6 tons of CO2 would be emitted by this FFV when running on E85.

By contrast, the EPA rating for a Toyota (TM) Prius running on gasoline was 60 miles per gallon in the city and 51 on the highway. The Prius would have an annual fuel cost of $833 and only emit 3.4 tons of CO2, compared to 6 tons from the most fuel efficient E85 offering.

A big problem is that ethanol cuts miles per gallon by about 27%. The energy content of E85 is 83,000 BTU/gallon, instead of 114,000 BTU/gallon for gasoline. Even by 2030, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that only 1.4% of ethanol use will be E85. The vast majority will be for small percentage blending with gasoline.

The EIA forecasts that ethanol use will grow from 4 billion gallons in 2005 to 14.6 billion gallons in 2030 (about 8 percent of total gasoline consumption vs. today’s 2%). Ethanol use for gasoline blending grows to 14.4 billion gallons and E85 consumption to only 0.2 billion gallons in 2030. In other words, agriculture will be a big winner without any need to spend millions of tax dollars funding E85 stations.

There is a heated debate about whether ethanol helps the environment. In the U.S., the vast majority of ethanol is processed from corn. There is no current environmental benefit if the source-to-wheels use of ethanol includes diesel farm equipment, fertilizer from fossil fuel, coal produced electricity, diesel delivery trucks hauling ethanol over 1,000 miles to refineries, and then fueling a vehicle with poor mileage.

The amount of U.S. corn that became ethanol exceeds 20 percent. The Corn Growers Association says that by 2015 a third of all the corn grown – or 5.5 billion bushels – likely will be for ethanol. Food prices have increased.

World Watch Institute warns “Conventional biofuels will be limited by their land requirements: producing half of U.S. automotive fuel from corn-based ethanol, for example, would require 80 percent of the country’s cropland.” Thus, large-scale reliance on ethanol fuel will require new conversion technologies and feedstock.

A broad coalition is more enthusiastic about cellulosic rather than corn ethanol. Ethanol and other biofuels can be made from a wide range of plant fiber and waste. Currently corn kernels are more easily processed into fuel than cellulosic corn stover, but new enzyme technology can change that. Future stalk for ethanol may include prairie grasses, Miscanthus, Poplar, Willow and algae. Cellulosic sources could produce ten times the yield per acre of corn.

Cellulosic ethanol could account for all 14.6 billion of forecasted consumption, and even more, without needing special E85 pumps. It could all be blended with existing gasoline and fueled into current and future gasoline vehicles. Such blended cellulosic ethanol creates major opportunities for farmers in the United States and the world. It is incremental business, rather than business that competes with existing food business.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has concluded that with “an aggressive plan to develop cellulosic biofuels between now and 2015, America could produce the equivalent of nearly 7.9 billion barrels of oil per day by 2050. That is equal to more than 50 percent of our current total oil use in the transportation sector and more than three times as much as we import from the Persian Gulf alone.”

Increasingly biofuel will not be made from food; rather it will be made from sources such as waste, grasses, fast growth trees, algae, and biotechnology.

Fueling all current high-mileage cars with E10 helps reduce global warming when the ethanol is from cellulosic sources. Putting E85 ethanol in a vehicle with poor mileage does not help. It does not even help the nation with energy independence.

Until flex-fuel vehicles offer the same high mileage as many current cars, do not buy a FFV. The FFV will not help your pocketbook, the nation’s energy security, nor will it help the environment. When you buy your next vehicle, get high miles per gallon.

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet and publishes the Clean Fleet Report http://www.cleanfleetreport.com. This article is copyright John Addison with permission to publish or excerpt with attribution.

California Hydrogen Highway Spans 800 Miles

By John Addison (4/23/07) The California Hydrogen Highway Network now extends from Chula Vista, near the Mexican border, to Arcata, near the Oregon border. You are invited to a virtual tour weaving over 1,000 miles as we visit some of the more interesting stations.

The City of Chula Vista pioneered its hydrogen station almost four years ago. Currently it has one shared fleet fuel cell vehicle, the Honda FCX. Chula Vista has taken the Honda to Torrance and back without refueling, demonstrating the vehicle’s 190 mile range. The new Honda FCX will have a range exceeding 300 miles. ISE Corporation has also paid for a number of H2 fill-ups in Chula Vista. In nearby Poway, ISE builds hydrogen and hybrid bus and heavy vehicle drive systems.

Driving up the coast, we pass two stations in progress. One will use direct solar electrolysis to make hydrogen, the other station is still a secret. We next arrive in Oceanside, home of the United States Marine Corp’s Camp Pendleton. This Marine operation has taken a leading role in making the nation more energy independent. Camp Pendleton has hundreds of electric vehicles, uses one million gallons of biodiesel annually, and has a hydrogen station just outside the USMC guarded perimeter so that public access is available. The USMC has tested a GM hydrogen truck and GM Equinox fuel cell vehicle. In a few months, vehicle use will expand when Camp Pendleton brings online its onsite reformation of natural gas and adds more hydrogen vehicles.

Irvine has the state’s sole public station offering 350 and 700 bar pressure. Although Honda is achieving 300 mile range with 350 bar, other auto makers such as GM need 700 bar to eventually exceed a 300 mile range. The Irvine station is at the convenient major intersection of Campus and Jamboree. It provides limited public access. The station is used by the University’s Toyota FCV hydrogen vehicles. These Toyota’s have also been successfully used by local corporations and an individual in a special lease program. The U.S. Postal Service also uses this station for its hydrogen fuel-cell van.

Diamond Bar is home to the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD). AQMD is committed to improve the health and air quality of the millions who live in Southern California. For years, AQMD has pioneered and helped fund alt-fuel vehicles, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen vehicles. It facilitated the purchase of 30 Toyota Priuses modified to run on hydrogen, thereby bringing the cost of a hydrogen vehicle to less than $80,000. AQMD’s public station produces hydrogen with a mix of grid and solar electrolysis. The station is actively used by AQMD’s hydrogen DaimlerChrysler, Honda, and Quantum Prius vehicles. UPS also uses the station for a hydrogen delivery vehicle. The station has been popular with other fleets when traveling north or south.

Torrance is home to several hydrogen stations. The U.S. headquarters of Toyota and Honda both have stations and both use solar electrolysis. A new public station is coming online that is likely to sell hydrogen for less than equivalent gasoline prices by tapping into the existing hydrogen pipeline that runs from Carson to Torrance.

Los Angeles is home to a growing number of hydrogen stations. L.A. is the number one target market among auto makers, hydrogen fuel providers and the DOE for expanded use of hydrogen in transportation. The most interesting station is probably the BP public access station at LAX. Drive-up with a credit card and fill-up just like any other station. Currently the station is mainly used to fuel the fleet of five Mercedes F-Cell vehicles that are part of the LA Airport fleet. The airport is considering converting other hydrogen vehicles to hydrogen.

In downtown Los Angeles, hydrogen blending is being added to Trillium’s CNG station. The nation’s largest natural gas bus fleet, LAMTA, will experiment with a bus running on a blend of 30% hydrogen and 70% CNG.

Although traveling Southern California provides enough stations to keep even limited range hydrogen vehicles refilled, getting to Northern California is a problem. Currently hydrogen vehicles are successful only in local fleets. Individuals continue to buy gasoline vehicles for convenient and fast refills. In 2007, if you want to drive your hydrogen vehicle to Northern California you will (1) need to pull extra H2 in a trailer behind your vehicle, or (2) see if Honda will lend you its new FCX that might get the 330 miles from Burbank to San Jose. Drive the speed limit and brake frequently in traffic because modern hydrogen vehicles make excellent use of regenerative braking energy.

As we leave Southern California, we say goodbye to a number of other clean fleet operators who are piloting hydrogen and other electric propulsion vehicles. These operators include Sunline Transit, SCE, and a number of leading cities such as Santa Ana, Riverside, Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

In Northern California, VTA in San Jose carries hundreds of daily riders on its three hydrogen fuel cell buses. In Oakland and Berkeley, AC Transit carries over 1,000 riders daily on its three hydrogen buses that are plug-in hydrogen hybrids with an added 90kW of batteries per bus. AC Transit supervisors’ fleet of Kia and Hyundai vehicles is growing to ten vehicles. More buses are on order. Other hydrogen stations are coming online in San Carlos, SF Airport, San Francisco and Emeryville.

Next stop is West Sacramento, home of the California Fuel Cell Partnership where the latest exciting vehicles are constantly being driven. The State of California often fuels its fleet of hydrogen vehicles at this station, or at nearby U.C. Davis.

From here we can head north into magnificent mountains, redwood forests, and then dramatic cliffs over the ocean as we head towards Oregon. Before reaching the next state, we arrive at California’s northern most hydrogen station at the Schatz Research Center at Humboldt State University. Station funding was the result of an student team’s national award-winning proposal for of an energy park. Longer term, nearby Diversified Energy and Evergreen Pulp are seeking funding for biomass energy with hydrogen byproduct.

In Canada, Vancouver continues to expand its own hydrogen highway in anticipation of the 2010 Winter Olympics. We will see if Portland and Seattle develop hydrogen stations that would extend a West Coast hydrogen highway over 2,000 miles in length to Whistler, Canada.

Hydrogen transportation continues to grow in California for several reasons including falling vehicle costs, falling fuel price costs, state law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and state law to reduce petroleum dependence. California leads the nation in use of solar power, wind power and hydrogen transportation.

Skeptics have valid reasons to doubt hydrogen’s long-term success. The idea of a hydrogen highway was over hyped. A number of stations have hydrogen brought in on diesel trucks from remote reformation of natural gas to hydrogen. This approach offers no source-to-wheels greenhouse gas advantages over gasoline.

Many of the leading hydrogen stations are achieving major source-to-wheels advantages with renewable electrolysis, onsite reformation of natural gas, and use of byproduct and waste hydrogen. Hydrogen fuel cells also extend the range and “recharging speed” of electric vehicles without adding internal combustion engines and the use of petroleum. Hydrogen may be displacing 100 million gallons of gasoline and reducing 500,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions in California by 2020.

This Friday, April 27, hydrogen leaders from San Diego to Vancouver will converge in Sacramento for the California Hydrogen Business Council’s meeting. There will be a number of presentations from hydrogen station and fleet operators, long-range plans in California, fuel cell updates and more. CHBC Meeting Details: http://www.californiahydrogen.org/page.cfm?content=45&event_ID=66

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report which tracks clean transportation in California. John serves on the Board of the California Hydrogen Business Council. He can be reached at www.cleanfleetreport.com. John is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet.

Big Utilities vs. Big Oil

By John Addison (4/17/07) Question: What could be more American than healthy competition? Answer: Healthy competition that reduces our dependency on foreign oil. By 2010 you may be filling your “tank” by plugging-in to your electric and natural gas utility. Today fleets turn to utilities to power everything from light electric vehicles to heavy natural gas and hydrogen vehicles.

At the recent Alternative Fuels and Vehicles Institute (AVFi) National Conference, major utilities were there with exciting presentations and demonstrations. Major California utilities included Sempra Energy (SRE), Southern California Edison (EIX), and PG&E (PCG). Major automotive and truck manufacturers showed their latest alt-fuel vehicles. Globally there are over 30 million electric vehicles and over 5 million natural gas vehicles.

Vehicles give utilities added markets for electricity and natural gas, the opportunity to use excess off-peak electricity that is now wasted, and long-term opportunities to capture electricity from vehicles (V2G) when electricity is in peak demand.

Southern California Edison provides electricity to over 13 million customers. Edison’s Gordon Smith presented the ability for 70% of U.S. vehicles to be powered with off-peak electricity. Edison provides electricity to customers with thousands of electric vehicles, forklifts, sweepers, scrubbers, airport equipment, truck stop electrification, ship port electrification, and plug-in hybrids. Over 300 of Edison’s own fleet are electric vehicles. Some of its 240 Toyota RAV-4 EVs have achieved a life of up to 150,000 miles. Edison Programs

Running a utility requires large fleets including vans and trucks. Edison is aggressively testing hybrids and plug-in hybrids. SCE now is testing a DaimlerChrysler (DCX) plug-in hybrid-electric Sprinter vans with a 20 to 30-mile all-electric range through a partnership with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the South Coast Air Quality Management District and DaimlerChrysler.

SCE is partnering with EPRI, other utilities and Eaton Corporation (ETN) to establish a program for Class 5 plug-in hybrid troubleman trucks using the Ford (F) F550. They will offer the ability to drive in an all-electric mode, and to operate in a stationary mode (without idling). The electric mode is perfect for the hours that these trucks are used at work sites and when running hydraulic lifts. The electric mode eliminates emissions, fuel cost and noise.

SCE is also working with other fleet operators through the Hybrid Truck Users Forum to place prototype heavy-duty hybrid trucks in operation, with a goal of leading to production commitments and expanded purchases. Based on initial testing of the trucks at an independent facility, these vehicles are projected to cut air emissions by up to 50%, and use 40% to 60% less fuel, compared to similar diesel-powered trucks. These trucks are likely to become a standard Class 6 offering by International, using an Eaton hybrid drive system.

AVFi presented the “Industry Pioneer” award to the Southern California Gas Company, a Sempra utility. Sempra is the nation’s largest natural gas utility, serving 29 million customers. The Gas Company owns and operates a fleet of 1,100 natural gas vehicles. It operates 26 natural gas stations. It helped LAMTA create the world’s largest fleet of natural gas buses (over 2,200). LAMTA is also expanding into buses running on hydrogen blended with CNG and battery-electric buses.

PG&E provides electricity and natural gas to over 5 million customers in California. With revenues exceeding $12 billion, PG&E has an opportunity to increase revenues one billion dollars if there is a shift from vehicles with gasoline engines to vehicles using electric propulsion.

As part of its larger environmental leadership strategy, PG&E owns and operates a clean fuel fleet of electric and fuel cell vehicles, and more than 1,100 natural gas vehicles. PG&E’s clean fuel fleet consists of service and crew trucks, meter reader vehicles and pool cars that run either entirely on compressed natural gas or have bi-fuel capabilities. Over the last 15 years, PG&E’s clean fuel fleet has displaced over 2.7 million gallons of gasoline and diesel, and helped to avoid 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

PG&E is actively field testing both battery electric vehicles (BEV) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV).

PG&E has ordered four Phoenix Motorcars (http://www.phoenixmotorcars.com/) all-electric sport utility trucks (SUTs) for June delivery. PG&E has given Phoenix a conditional order to buy 200. The Phoenix trucks have an impressive 130 mile range using Altair Nano (OTCBB: ALTI) batteries with their unique lithium titanate spinel oxide (LTO) electrode materials. Both Phoenix and Altair were on display at the AFVi Conference. Altair has claimed a breakthrough in several areas: specific power, battery life of over 10,000 charge cycles, “zero explosions and safety issues” test results, and fast charge capability. Altair Nano Batteries:

“PG&E is firmly committed to reducing our carbon foot print by using innovative alternative-fuel technologies,” said Bob Howard, PG&E vice president of gas transmission and distribution. “By adding the Phoenix Motorcars SUTs to our leading clean fuel fleet, we are taking an important step in developing a proven and necessary electric vehicle market. Electric vehicles provide a practical solution to help us reduce our dependency on petroleum-based fuels, keep California’s air clean, and meet the challenges associated with climate change.” PG&E News

Along with Edison, PG&E’s fleet was one of 14 in the country chosen to test the plug-in hybrid pilot project for a Ford F550 Super Duty Field Response Truck. PG&E currently has 350 Field Response Trucks on the road. PG&E, partnering with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, also recently placed into service a prototype Plug-in Toyota Prius to demonstrate the benefits of light-duty plug-in hybrid vehicles.

PG&E owns and operates 34 compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations, through which they supply natural gas to more than 200 commercial and private fleets throughout the PG&E system. This includes transit districts, private refuse haulers, school districts, municipalities, air/seaports, and other miscellaneous operators including taxi, package delivery, military, and private fleets.

Construction of a hydrogen fueling station in San Carlos, California is also scheduled to begin this summer. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) was awarded a California Air Resources Board (CARB) grant for the project. GTI will serve as a partner on the project, providing a mobile hydrogen unit (MHU) that uses GTI’s patented reformer technology. This self-contained unit will produce hydrogen from natural gas and condition it to serve the on-site dispenser during the development of a hydrogen fueling network in California. The hydrogen fueling station will be co-located with a publicly accessible compressed natural gas station to allow for 24/7 availability. Once sufficient demand is established, the MHU can be replaced with permanent facilities, and the unit can then be relocated.

The relationship between big oil and big utilities are complex. Oil refineries are among the world’s largest users of electricity. Oil companies are transforming into integrated energy providers that sell large quantities of natural gas to major utilities, making the utility a distribution channel for the natural gas producer. Some energy giants are expanding into wind, solar and other renewable energy.

Edison and BP have a joint venture to build a large scale electric plant that will not run on coal, not on nuclear, not on natural gas. The Carson plant will run on hydrogen and output 500 MW of electricity. By products will include enough hydrogen to inexpensively fuel thousands of vehicles in Southern California. Another byproduct will be CO2 that will be sequestered as part of increasing oil production. Hydrogen power plant details:

Edison also has an existing hydrogen fueling station in partnership with Chevron.

Currently, fleets are taking the lead with electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids that are developed by system integrators and specialty companies. DaimlerChrysler was at the AVFI conference with its 25 mph GEM. 40,000 have been sold. Rumors are flying that in 2008 Toyota (NYSE:TM) will begin fleet tests of its new plug-in hybrid using lithium batteries. Consumer sales may start in 2009. By 2010, Mitsubishi (MSBHY) will start selling an EV to consumers in Japan. Drivers will increasingly use electric power.

Today, utilities are powering vehicles with electricity, natural gas and hydrogen. In a few years, electric vehicles will also power homes with vehicle-to-home (V2H). Large batteries and fuel cells provide many times the electricity demand of a home. In a few more years, smart grids and intelligent power management will allow peak electricity demands to be met by utilities buying power from vehicles with vehicle-to-grid (V2G). U.C. Davis and PG&E have demonstrated V2H and V2G already.

Healthy competition is leading America to cleaner electricity and cleaner vehicles. Innovative utilities are taking an important role in the transition.

John Addison is the author of the upcoming book Save Gas, Save the Planet and publishes the Clean Fleet Report http://http://www.cah2report.com/. This article is copyright John Addison with permission to publish or excerpt with attribution. John owns stock in ALTI.