Based on the response to this mornings post on the governments cellulosic ethanol program, I think some of you may have misunderstood the reasoning behind The Energy Blog supporting this cellulosic ethanol program and some of the basic causes and remedies of The Energy Revolution. Our most pressing energy problem is our decreasing supplies of increasingly expensive oil for the transportation industries. The high use of petroleum products for transportation is one of the primary causes of global warming (the other being coal fired power plants, which will not be discussed in this post), fortunately the solution to the problem of increased use of petroleum products also decreases the emissions of global warming gases.
This is not a short term problem, but one that has taken years to develop and will take years to solve. The timing is hard to pin down. I believe we have passed the peak production of inexpensive sweet crude oil. Each year we are now using larger quantities of expensive (either to harvest and/or refine) oil, whether it be sour oil, very deep offshore oil, heavy oil or perhaps eventually shale oil. At some time, as prices of oil go up, market forces will cause the use of oil to decrease. This would require changes in lifestyle, some of which would be beneficial, as there is much waste and some of which could reduce the the standard of living that we have become used to. More use of mass transportation and driving more efficient vehicles are certainly required.
We currently import nearly two-thirds of our oil. This is increasingly being viewed as a strategic problem, in that we are becoming more and more dependent on obtaining oil from countries that are unstable and not necessarily friendly to the U.S. Most of this oil or its products are used in the transportation industry and thus this becomes the focus of reduced usage.
At the same time increasing use of oil in China, India and other Southeastern Asian countries is putting greater demands on world wide oil production, compounding the problem.
Two general initiatives are underway to mediate this problem 1) Decreasing the use of petroleum products by a)increasing vehicle efficiency and b)by powering vehicles by means that do not use liquid fuels, such as batteries, fuel cells or CNG 2) Developing alternate liquid fuels that are not petroleum based, such as ethanol, biodiesel, biobutane and liquified coal.
Both of these initiatives are required to alleviate severe problems in the future. The current pricing structure is not of too much concern, by the time the problem will become crucial, say greater than $5.00 gasoline, oil will be much more expensive and the alternate fuels will be relatively more economical. We will always have a need for liquid fuels, it would be extremely, if not prohibitively expensive to convert all vehicles to either fuel cells using very expensive hydrogen or battery based power which includes hybrids (HEVs), plug-ins (PHEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
Corn ethanol has a small net positive energy efficiency and is land intensive. Its place is/was primarily to establish a market for ethanol which would have cost several years if we were to have started with cellulosic ethanol. We have reached the point, that with the corn ethanol plants now planned for construction, we will have reached the limit at which corn ethanol is a viable fuel. This is evidenced by large increases in the cost of corn, caused by increasing limitations on the amount of corn that can be grown for its various uses, ie, food, cattle food and ethanol; the plowing in of land used by other crops so that it can be used for corn and increasing prices for farmland.
Cellulosic ethanol on the other hand has a larger net positive energy efficiency and uses crops that are much less land and water usage intensive. It is a technology that for the most part is just coming out of the laboratory or pilot plant stage. It has been postulated that corn ethanol at best can provide 12-15% of our liquid fuels, while cellulosic ethanol could provide 30-35% of our current requirement for liquid fuels. It is also believed that our current ethanol biorefineries can be converted to produce cellulosic ethanol with relative ease.
Ethanol has two downsides 1) it is currently must be transported only by truck and rail cars because it absorbs water which is corrosive to existing pipelines. Cellulosic ethanol minimizes this problem because it can be produced in a more distributed manner, closer to population centers. This could be also be alleviated by constructing new pipelines made of corrosion resistant fiberglass as is used to transport natural gas. Biobutanol eliiminates this problem because it is not hydroscopic. 2) The heating value of ethanol is less than that of gasoline, so that mileage per gallon is reduced. Biobutanol reduces this problem because its heating value is 30% higher than ethanol, close to that of gasoline. (paragraph added 8:30 am 3/2/07)
Whether it be increasing costs of oil, ever increased demands for oil, or strategic needs, all of these reasons point to a need to urgently develop our capability to produce biofuels. Many of the same reasons could be postulated for the use of biobutanol or biodiesel from algae. For whatever reasons the government has not become very involved in these technologies.
Private industry in the name of a combine of Dupont and BP are spearheading the drive to use biobutanol and they probably have the money and science to make a go of it. It was announced today that the U.S. EPA will give a $70,000 contract to Integrated Genomics Inc. to develop a method to produce butanol from biomass that is economically competitive with the chemical synthesis of
butanol from petroleum. In 2004, EPA awarded a contract, running through September 2007, to The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research (CPBR) at Ohio State University to develop a process for butanol from biomass.
There is still much research to be done on producing biodiesel from algae. This is being pursued by several private firms, especially those that are growing algae with the aid of CO2 from the exhaust from powerplants. If this technology is to be developed at a reasonable pace it may take a grass roots effort from private citizens to uplift it into a mainstream technology, receiving the government support needed to implement it.
Through the use of battery based vehicles and other conservation efforts, it is estimated that we can eventually reduce our liquid fuel consumption by two-thirds, which would be consistant with the combination of biofuel and domestic oil supplies, with the usage of biofuels increasing as domestic oil supplies decline.
My stance on the hydrogen economy is that, for the most part, it is a waste. The power plants that are being proposed to produce hydrogen would be better served by using their electricity to more efficiently charge batteries. The infrastructure required to distribute hydrogen would be all new and very expensive, while alternative liquid fuels can use an existing infrastructure. The storage of hydrogen in vehicles is very obtrusive and expensive. The use of fuel cells, which are part of the hydrogen economy, in stationary uses, especially power plants, looks very promising. The technology for these fuel cells, most likely SOFC fuel cells, is less stringent and is moving along fairly rapidly. No infrastructure for distribution of fuel is required as the fuel would be generated at the power plant site.
Battery based vehicles are the vehicles with the most promise for reducing the use of petroleum fuels. The development of battery based vehicles is as urgent as than the development for alternative liquid fuels, but is supposidly waiting for the development of safer, more reliable batteries. Hybrid vehicles are fairly well developed, although the serial hybrid, as proposed for the GM Volt, has yet to emerge. Battery electric vehicles are being developed at a more rapid pace than plug-in vehicles. Phoenix Motor Cars, Tesla Motors and several foreign companies have BEVs that will be available this year, albeit in small quantities. Retrofits of hybrids to PHEVs are available from several sources, but the only PHEVs that have been seriously proposed as new car models, that I can recall, are by Toyota and the Saturn Vue Green Line by GM, although several others have been mentioned.
The use of battery powered vehicles would not increase the required generation capacity of the electric power industry accoding to a study by DOE's Pacific Northwest Laboratory. The study found that "off-peak" electricity production and transmission capacity could fuel 84 percent of the country's 220 million vehicles if they were plug-in hybrid electrics. (paragraph added 8:43 am 3/1/07)
A recent report by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) shows that renewable energy has the potential to provide approximately 40% of the U.S. electric energy need projected for 2030 by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). If suggested energy efficiency measures were taken, renewable energy could furnish 50% of the remaining energy requirements for a total of 70% of our electrical energy requirements. The report concludes that energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies have the potential to provide most, if not all, of the U.S. carbon emissions reductions that will be needed to help limit the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide to 450 to 500 ppm. While I believe this report is overly optimistic, it does show that considerable progress could be made through the use of renewable energy and conservation. (paragraph added 9:25 am 3/2/07)
Although the battery is considered the weak point in PHEVs and BEVs, there are several small companies proceeding with BEVs.
Altair has the lead in technology, if judged by their marketing. Phoenix Motor Cars is using Altair batteries. It plans to produce about 500 vehicles this year, 6,000 next year and eventually 15,000 per year.
Tesla has sold 270 of its $92,000 Roadsters and is taking orders for more to be delivered at a rate of 2,000-2,500 a year starting in 2008. Tesla plans on producing 10,000-20,000, $50,000-$65,000 sport sedans a year starting in 2009. For the Roadster it assembles the battery pack from 6,831 "commodity lithium-ion batteries" of they type used to power laptops. The system addresses thermal balancing with a liquid cooling circuit.
Reva (top speed 39 mph), India, is capable of producing 6,000 cars a year and plans on expanding to 50,000 units. It uses lead acid batteries.
With a driving range of up to 110 mph (185 km) and a top speed of 60 mph (100kph) the 2+2 Think City (made by Think Nordic, Norway) is planned for production in summer of 2007. It is obtaining its batteries from Tesla. The cars will first be sold in Norway and England in the fall of 2007 and then come to the U.S. in 2008.
Hybrid Technologies has delivered several prototypes using Kokum (Korea) li-ion batteries, it has delivered a prototype to the NYC taxi fleet and hopes to sell many more.
Toyota recently spent $740 million to establish a nine percent ownership stake in Fuji Heavy Industries, which makes advanced hybrid batteries (and Subaru vehicles). In October, Toyota also increased their equity in Panasonic EV Energy from 40 to 60 percent. PEVE, the world's leading supplier of nickel metal hydride, will act as they key player in Toyota's recently announced venture to develop a lithium ion battery for hybrid cars. Toyota's third-generation hybrid cars, due out in late 2008 or early 2009, will use lithium-ion batteries.
Saft, a battery maker based in France, has entered into a partnership with DaimlerChrysler to deploy its lithium batteries for use in the car company's plug-in hybrid Sprinter Van, currently being tested but with no clear plans for production.
A123 is the other leading US producer of lithium batteries. The United States Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC), an organization composed of DaimlerChrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation, has awarded a contract of a $15 million for lithium iron phosphate battery technology to A123Systems of Watertown, Mass. Cobasys and A123Systems have a partnership to develop lithium ion hybrid electric vehicle battery systems. A123Systems has announced it will supply batteries to General Motors for the Saturn Vue Green Line plug-in hybrid development program, the world’s first commercial program of its kind by a major automaker.
Firefly Energy Inc., is the spin off of Caterpillar Inc.that is developing a carbon-graphite foam lead acid battery. Their technology claims to deliver a combination of high performance, extremely low weight and low cost, all in a battery which utilizes the best aspects of lead acid chemistry while overcoming the corrosive drawbacks of this same chemistry. This technology is claimed to deliver to battery markets a performance associated with advanced battery chemistries (Nickel Metal Hydride and Lithium), but for one-fifth the cost, and can be both manufactured as well as recycled within the existing lead acid battery industry’s vast infrastructure. The technology will be used in a lawn care device later this year that will be sold by Husqvarna. Their technology, if it delivers what is claimed, could be a sleeper, voiding all the developments of Lithium batteries. (paragraph added 10:42 am 3/2/07)
The government has been increasing its battery research in recent years and the 2008 budget includes $81 million to accelerate research on advanced batteries and hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles.
The federal government has taken some action to reduce fuel consumption through an executive order requiring agencies to reduce fuel consumption by 2% annually and requiring them to purchase PHEVs when they become economical based on a life-cycle analysis. (paragraph added 8.37 am 3/2/07)
Yesterday DOE published a draft of a PHEV R & D Plan which places a major emphasis on battery research. No costs were given, but it would obviously dwarf the current budget request. I would hope that, if enacted, this research plan would provide all the funding necessary for next generation of batteries. It also proposes buying small fleets of PHEVs to gather data, but not large enough to promote usage of the vehicles. Other points of the proposal belong more in the domain of private industry and any monies involved should be used to buy more vehicles.
It appears to me that industry is developing lithium batteries at a fairly rapid pace and their efforts would be sufficient to develop a first generation technology. What the government could do is to buy as many battery based vehicles, as soon as they become available. An example of what could be done is to follow the lead of New York state which has embarked on a $10 million program to convert 574 hybrid vehicles in the state fleet to be plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). This would create a growing market for advanced batteries and promote the use in a demonstrable way.