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By Robert Rapier on Mar 4, 2010 with 57 responses

Electrifying the USPS

I usually scan the energy headlines each morning, but had somehow missed the stories on the recently introduced bills to electrify the U.S. Postal Service fleet:

U.S. Postal Service to test a repurposed electric vehicle fleet

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) introduced a bill Friday that would pay for 109,500 electric vehicles, though the cost of that program isn’t known yet. “This, to me, would be a very productive thing and . . . likely to produce jobs and revitalize an industry,” Connolly said.

In December, Rep. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) announced an “e-Drive” bill that would give $2 billion to the Energy Department and Postal Service to convert 20,000 mail trucks into electric vehicles.

I have always liked the idea of electric cars. I have written a number of essays around that theme, primarily because electric vehicles could in theory be adequate replacements for internal combustion engines as supplies of fossil fuels deplete. Imagine that our electric grid eventually moves more toward renewable energy, and electric vehicles could be a much greener solution than the majority of the vehicles we have on the road today.

But note that I use words like “theory” and “imagine” to describe this idealistic future. I firmly believe that we need to have a look at the data from time to time to make sure that our idealism isn’t in direct contrast to reality. Unfortunately, in this case it might be.

Study: Electric cars not as green as you think

The environmental benefits of electric cars are being questioned in Germany by a surprising actor: the green movement. But those risks don’t apply in the U.S., the American electric-car lobby asserts.

Today, the German plants that deliver marginal electricity are fueled by coal. That is the main problem, according to the study. The research adds that to produce the same amount of energy, coal emits more carbon dioxide than even gasoline.

“The irony is that you don’t need a lot more electricity for electric cars,” Raddatz, said. “But the problem is that if they cause these peaks, we would have to have power plants that would be ready to start (as) the massive charging starts.”

An electric car with a lithium ion battery powered by electricity from an old coal power plant could emit more than 200g of carbon dioxide per km, compared with current average gasoline car of 160g of carbon dioxide per km in Europe, according to the study. The European Union goal for 2020 is 95g of carbon dioxide per km.

I have been thinking about this a lot, as I have recently seen some electric car/combustion engine comparisons in a report that is about to come out. I won’t divulge much about the report, but when it comes out I will link to it. But I will provide a quote from the soon-to-be-released report:

New Zealand energy consultant Steve Goldthorpe estimates that if the entire New Zealand vehicle fleet were replaced with electric cars, the amount of electricity New Zealand needed to generate to power this fleet would be increased by about 60%. Only a small percentage of this electricity could be produced sustainably; the balance would probably have to be generated by burning coal.

I think this is where idealism clashes with reality. As I pointed out in The Nuclear Comeback, over the previous 10 years electricity demand increased by an average of 66 million megawatt hours per year. That is without adding electric cars to the mix. The growth rate for renewable energy over the past 5 years or so has only been about 10 million megawatt hours (although last year saw an impressive 20 million). Still, this is a far cry from just keeping up with normal demand growth.

So the idealistic side of me sees renewable electricity continuing to grow, and powering a fleet of green electric cars. The side of me that looks at the data says that in reality, a rapid ramp-up of electric cars will have to be driven by non-renewables because renewable energy growth won’t be able to keep up. I wouldn’t personally have a problem with a nuclear-driven electric fleet, but I don’t think that’s the vision many have for future electric vehicles.

I am not factoring in the possibility that conservation of electricity can help close that gap. On that I remain hopeful, but our history is one of ever increasing consumption.

  1. By Fat Man on March 4, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    I think the Post office is in too much financial trouble to be a science experiment. Let them figure out how to keep Saturday delivery before you task them with doing R&D on electric trucks.

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  2. By GreenEngineer on March 4, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    Your point is well taken and valid in the context of cars in general, but it seems like short-haul delivery trucks (including USPS) might be a bit different. Those vehicles tend to operate at a very low MPG (I've heard ~10, but I don't have a reference for that) largely because they do so much starting and stopping. The efficiency of a good electric vehicle doesn't suffer nearly so much in this sort of driving regimen, since you get regenerative braking and better engine efficiency (compared to an IC engine that is driving stop-start).

    It seems quite possible that the CO2/mile would be substantially better with electric delivery vehicles, even if they charged with coal-fired power. But I haven't run the numbers. Perhaps you have.

    At any rate, what's your perspective on this angle in particular?

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  3. By Rice Farmer on March 5, 2010 at 12:46 am

    Other things to keep in mind are (1) how one makes the electric cars themselves, and (2) how roads are constructed and maintained. Too much of the discussion on EVs assumes that once we figure out how to get lots of EVs on the road, our problems are solved. When I pose these questions to enthusiastic EV advocates, they always start sputtering because they haven't thought about these challenges. It's the same as being presented with a fine set of silverware and then asking what's for dinner.

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  4. By rufus on March 5, 2010 at 12:50 am

    Actually, many of us feel that more CO2 is a feature, not a bug.

    That said, it would be a great test fleet. Of course, the sensible thing would be to start with a few cities, a few towns, and a few rural areas. Keep super-accurate records (let the test be designed by a "small" group (2, or 3) of expert statisticians/scientists.)

    Use different vehicles/batteries in similar situations, etc.

    I think it's a good idea.

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  5. By Paul on March 5, 2010 at 2:25 am

    For the second time in the same day, I actually agree with Rufus!

    This would be a good test case as the USPS vehicles must have just about the most predictable and repeatable route of any vehicle on the road.

    I'm sure they could easily identify routes that have low enough mileage for electric cars, and indeed, the low speed and stop start would make for terrible mileage on gasoline engines. Even using a hybrid would make a huge difference.

    Their flat top vans would also be suitable for roof mounted PV panels, in sunny cities, though the range increase can be achieved cheaper just by adding an extra battery or two.

    Better yet would be to do away with Saturday delivery (if it is THAT urgent, send it FedEx), and go to the cluster box units, as they have done here in Canada – it is much cheaper every resident to walk less than a block than to have the paid employee go to every house.

    Also, make much more use of private mail delivery contractors. The preferred model here is to have the contractor live in the area they serve – they drive in, pick up the mail, deliver and go home. Much better than drive in, take a mail vehicle, drive the run, back to the PO, and then drive home (probably in peak hour traffic). Not only have we save a vehicle trip, but we have saved an entire vehicle too, be it electric or otherwise. We have also saved the space for the USPS to park all those vehicles too (usually prime commercial real estate)

    It's a great employment model for a lot of semi-retired folks, they can use the vehicle they already own.

    of course, "mail" has been electrifying itself over the last two decades, by doign away with nboth the paper and delivery altogether. Ultimately, the USPS, and it's customers and employees will have to deal with the reality that the most energy efficient mail is email, and that is the way things are going.

    Letter volumes are dropping (down 17% in the last three years, and heading south), and the letters that are being carried are more often low paid flyers/junk mail rather than first class mail. That is why they are going to lose $7bn(!) this year, and probably more the next. To recoup that loss, they need to add at least 4c to the stamp price (at all levels) and thus is just this year.

    There is a choice here, maintain the current level of service (with rapidly declining revenues) and accept significant postage increases, or accept minor declines in the level of service, and major changes in the USPS structure, and the commensurate cost savings.

    All that said, there will still be a place for some postal vehicles, and they will be an ideal place for electrics/hybrids.

    Of course, NONE of this is new, the USPS started using electric vehicles 111 years ago, and has been using them one way or another, ever since…

    http://www.usps.com/postalhistory/_pdf/ElectricVehicles.pdf

    Amazing how everyone thinks these are a new idea…

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  6. By Solar Energy on March 5, 2010 at 8:06 am

    In my opinion, this is just the initial phase of growing electric cars and with time this technology is going to improvise a lot. We are in need to have more of user friendly electric cars and the reason is to go green.

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  7. By OxyMaven on March 5, 2010 at 9:31 am

    All of these kinds of analyses need to put the transition times into perspective. I think the main point for this and all alt transportation fuels that require new vehicle technologies is that it will take a long time to turn over existing US (or NZ) fleet. Obama's ambitious goal of 1 million PHEVs by 2015 is great. Wow, seems like a lot, but 0.4% of fleet is not really going to make much of a change in CO2 5 years from now. Of course it can / should grow from there, but the rate of consumer acceptance is highly uncertain. If we have over 250 million light duty vehicles currently, and if annual new vehicle sales are maybe 12 million going forward, and maybe less than 1% of those are PHEV or other fancy new technologies, you can see it will take a while to make a dent. Eventually those vehicles will be 10% of new cars sold, and then 25% etc, but still it takes much time. Presumably the same kind of changes will be occurring on the electric power front over the next decade or two (nukes, wind solar), so potentially there will be huge reductions, but it's just got to take a long time. US public needs that kind of education to help them understand that there are no easy fixes and we need energy efficiency + coal and oil for the next couple of decades too.

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  8. By Wendell Mercantile on March 5, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Let them figure out how to keep Saturday delivery…

    If they do cancel a day of delivery it should be some other day than Saturday. Cancel Saturday and that would be two consecutive days w/o mail service.

    Believe it or not, some people still ship perishables by mail, and they won't want them sitting in a post office for two days in a row. (Rufus, you know it's still possible to order baby chicks through the mail. Right?)

    If USPS has to do away with a delivery day, I'd vote for Wednesday. Then people would never have to go more than a single day w/o delivery service.

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  9. By rufus on March 5, 2010 at 11:05 am

    :)

    No, wasn't aware of that, Wendell. Actually, I haven't been near a farm in 40 years. We did raise some chickens when I was a kid, though.

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  10. By benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole on March 5, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Concentrating pollution at a few sources makes sense to me. Having millions of cars spewing waste into the air is a bad idea–and what does it say about the rights of people who breathe the air, or own property in smog zones?
    Nukes, of course, solve a lot of problems, including air pollution.
    Nukes-PHEVs. France will go that route, and probably Japan too.

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  11. By Kinuachdrach on March 5, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    "there are no easy fixes and we need energy efficiency + coal and oil for the next couple of decades too."

    Any talk about large-scale replacement of fossil fuels has to focus on nuclear fission. It's the only reliable energy source available with current technology which can provide the staggering amount of power human beings need.

    The choice is go forward to widespread nuclear fission, or go backwards to the Middle Ages.

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  12. By Craig on March 5, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    With electric vehicles, I think the crux will always be the batteries. The rare earth elements required for their production and their short life span makes me think that the option of converting to an electric fleet of cars on any massive scale (even if we had the renewable electricity to power them) is likely just as unsustainable as keeping things going on oil in the long term.

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  13. By Paul on March 5, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    I think commercial operations will be (already are) the first major users of EV and PHEV technology, which is good, as their vehicles generally get used more than private ones, so there is a faster payback.

    In Vancouver, every new taxi is a Prius (required by the city to be a hybrid car unless they are a minivan)
    .
    Fedex and UPS have hundreds of hybrid delivery trucks. Eaton (the truck component company) has sold 2400 hybrid delivery trucks to FedEx, etc, which have accumulated more than 30 million miles. Average fuel savings reported of 30-40%, because of all the stop start driving. These companies (and USPS) will steadily replace their fleets with this stuff.

    There are plenty of commercial niche applications, so we'll see this happening. There's just not many commercial applications for a Tesla roadster, or even their four door sedan. BUt if they adapted their system to a light duty delivery van, they would have had orders lined up.

    That said, Oxy is right, it will take decades to get any % of total fleet replacement. My bet is that we will see a lot more hybrid models appearing, they will become as common as all wheel drive is today (in fact, a hybrid is a good way to do all wheel drive, all the electrics at the back, mechanics at the front).

    Overall it would seem USPS needs to modernise both their fleet, and their service. Maintaining the ability to send perishables and live chicks through the mail is a good example. IS this actually still done? And if so, should it continue, and are those people paying the true cost of it? (rather than being subsidised by regular mail).

    If that alone means that they have to maintain Saturday delivery, and the costs associated with having people work a six day week, that is a very big cost to bear.

    Personally, I think they could go to three day a week delivery (as many rural areas have) – if anything is that urgent and important that it can't wait an extra day, it can be sent by courier or email. These days, high speed internet service is the link to the outside world that really counts, mail is a important, but no longer urgent.

    I remember my father telling me that in the 60's, in Australia and Britain at least, mail was delivered twice a day, and some people thought it would be end of the world when it went to once a day!

    People and business would adapt to 3day a week mail, and be happy not to bear the tax burden of a bloated organisation still operating as if it is in the last century (or even the one before).

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  14. By Paul on March 5, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Craig, you partially correct in your assessment here. The high tech EV's do need rare earths, though perhaps not as much per car as you might think. Multiply that by hundreds of millions of cars though, and it does add up.

    Of course, if we are willing to go slower, have smaller/lighter vehicles and have less (electric) range, lead acid batteries will do the job just fine. They achieve a 98% recycling rate – for any lead acid battery you buy, chances are the lead is already on it's third cycle. It is one of the few examples of the difference between something being recycleable (e.g. paper, plastic) and actually being recycled, and back into the same level of use, not a lower one (as is the case with most plastic).

    The problems is that everyone seems to want it all, in one package with no compromise. And, with electric cars, just like a house, you can get it all, but it will cost. if people are prepared to be modest in their expectations, there is lots that can be achieved with today's technology.

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  15. By Optimist on March 5, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    I'm not so sure electrification is the best solution, and it's good to see RR is at least considering that possibility. Hybrids, OTOH, make complete sense to me. Hybrid vigor and all that.

    That said, this would be the ideal application for EVs to prove their worth (stop-start, low distances, low speeds, etc.). Flip side: if this doesn't work out, EVs probably don't have a future.

    As others have pointed out, this taxpayer funded full scale science experiment would need careful and honest recordkeeping. Something Uncle Sam seems less capable of every day.

    Other things to keep in mind are (1) how one makes the electric cars themselves, and (2) how roads are constructed and maintained.
    Rice Farmer,
    Try to understand that you won't wake up some day (say Friday, March 13, 2026, gotta be a Friday the 13th) and discover that, damn, we have NO MORE oil. Crud! Now what do we do?

    Considering that oil is a finite resource, its final years of economic use will proceed as follows:
    1. Spectacular increases in oil prices.
    2. Some oil producers make spectacular amounts of profits. Others (the guys who are starting to run out) don't.
    3. Alternatives start to look competitive, if not downright profitable. Plastics (including electric car parts) can be made from coal or natural gas. Concrete (for roads) can even be made using dried sewage sludge (of which there will be no shortage). Imagine that: green roads. Just don't inhale to deeply…

    Trust the free market and the entrepreneurs, Rice Farmer. If you're looking at the prostitutians, I understand your concern.

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  16. By rufus on March 5, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Give me a 7 mi squared area in every county, and, together with the new CAFE standards, I'll have us off All oil in 5 years.

    Done, and Done.

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  17. By Wendell Mercantile on March 5, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Paul asked: Maintaining the ability to send perishables and live chicks through the mail is a good example. IS this actually still done?

    Yes it is. Neither FedEx or UPS will deliver live chicks, and chicken farmers* do rely on the USPS for that service. If they knock out Saturday deliveries, that means some chicks could be sitting inside their shipping boxes for two days in a post office.

    Better to eliminate delivery on a mid-week day so there aren't two consecutive days of non-deliveries.
    _______
    * If chicken farmers were as powerful as Big Ethanol and Big Corn, I suppose they could get their friends in Congress to hit FedEx and UPS with a baby chick delivery mandate.

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  18. By Anonymous on March 5, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    That said, Oxy is right, it will take decades to get any % of total fleet replacement.

    The problem with that way of thinking, IMHO, is we are thinking in a BAU model. What if shortages or rationing appear? It would seem to me that those that are able to afford an electric vehicle would switch immediately. It could take a lot less time for replacement than decades, assuming the economy can hold together and auto producers were able to ramp up production.

    I have always felt shortages and rationing will appear in Europe first. It would be interesting to see the US's response, if that holds true, as the US would be soon to follow.

    OD

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  19. By Anonymous on March 5, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Craig, you partially correct in your assessment here. The high tech EV's do need rare earths, though perhaps not as much per car as you might think. Multiply that by hundreds of millions of cars though, and it does add up.

    Are there no 'rules of substitution' that apply to EV batteries? And I could have sworn I read on greencarcongress that there was a battery that did not need rare earths, I could be mistaken though.

    OD

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  20. By Wendell Mercantile on March 5, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    OD said: And I could have sworn I read that there was a battery that did not need rare earths…

    OD,

    You may be thinking of the work that has been done on high-capacity capacitors to replace batteries. Here are two stories I found after a short search: New Capacitor Could Lead to Ultra-Efficient Electric Cars

    Ultracapacitors: the future of electric cars or the 'cold fusion' of autovation?

    As far as I can tell, capacitors don't need rare earths, but if they were really great, you'd think we'd have heard more about them.

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  21. By rufus on March 5, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    The Vice-President of GM state in a speech the other day that it cost $70.00 to make a car "flexfuel."

    Le'ssee, $7,000.00 for Batteries, or

    $70.00 for flexfuel?

    Burn Coal – finite, nonrenewable, polluting, or

    Process Switchgrass, Poplar, Sorghum, Corn, Ag waste, forestry waste, etc. – Renewable, Sustainable, non-polluting?

    700 gal/acre, 7mi sq, 3,000 counties = 62 Billion Gallon/yr.

    35 mi/gal – add some batteries if you want – Goodbye imported oil

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  22. By rufus on March 5, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Oh, the average county is a little over 1,000 sq miles. We're talking 5% of our land. Basically, the hilly, marginal land.

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  23. By rufus on March 5, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    No buying rare earths from China, Lithium from Bolivia, or oil from Saudi Arabia.

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  24. By Paul on March 5, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Wendell/OD, I was actually referring to the rare earths in the motors/controllers – should have made that more specific. Lithium is not a rare earth, and is not even rare – it just occurs in low concentrations and is expensive to mine, that's all.

    But the neodyium magnets and the like used in permanent magnet motors, are a different story, then again, so is the platinum used in catalytic converters.

    The ultra capacitors have been hyped for some time, and companies like EESTOR have made great claims, but revealed precious little hard data, though they always say it is a "year away"

    Capacitors are great for hybrids, fast charge and discharge with little loss, but not a lot of total storage. For plug in EV's, you need batteries, but using the capacitors for regen braking will help.

    But then again, you can achieve the same short term energy storage with a pnuematic (or even hydraulic) hybrid, just as efficient as ultracapacitors, off the shelf components, don't lose storage capacity over time, far cheaper and no rare earths or hazardous materials. It's just not sexy and electronic high tech so, it doesn't get the attention – but Eaton now has a hydraulic hybrid system for heavy trucks.

    Not every solution has to be high tech..

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  25. By Paul on March 5, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Wendell, I can't let the chicken thing go! Are you suggesting that the entire country should maintain the cost of six day a week delivery, so that chicken farmers can get chickens delivered on a Saturday?

    IF this service must be maintained (and that's a big if, IMO) then a compromise would be that chickens shipments are only accepted on Monday, to ensure they can be delivered by Friday, or earlier.

    That is a minor reduction in the level of convenience, that keeps the service available, (just not 6 days a week) and allows a major cost saving. I think that is the sort of approach needed – some small sacrifices can lead to large cost savings.

    I don't like the idea of closing on Wed, and keeping Sat – that would mean postal workers never get a "weekend", and would probably be much more dispruptive overall.

    A better way would be to have post offices open five days a week, make more use of branches/kiosks in supermarkets/drugstores which are open later hours and weekends (already very common in Canada), and then have residential delivery three days a week, commercial five. That would lead to major cost savings for minor reductions (and some improvements) in service.

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  26. By Wendell Mercantile on March 5, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Are you suggesting that the entire country should maintain the cost of six day a week delivery, so that chicken farmers can get chickens delivered on a Saturday?

    No. I'm suggesting that if the USPS has to drop a day, it not be Saturday since that would make two consecutive days w/o delivery.

    Pick another day of the week (except Monday), so that people never go more than a single day w/o mail.

    BTW, I'm not a chicken farmer. I just happen to know (don't ask me how) that the live-baby-chicks-by-mail operation is still alive and well in the U.S. and only the USPS delivers.

    I also offered the option of Congress passing a mandate to require FedEx and UPS deliver live baby chicks. If they can force us to buy corn ethanol, they should be able to force FedEx and UPS to deliver live baby chicks. ;-)

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  27. By Wendell Mercantile on March 5, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    But then again, you can achieve the same short term energy storage with a pnuematic (or even hydraulic) hybrid, just as efficient as ultracapacitors>..

    Thanks Paul. And speaking of alternative means of short-term storing energy, whatever happened to heavy, high-speed, flywheels?

    I remember a lot of hype about them several years ago, but nothing lately.

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  28. By Paul on March 5, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    "The Vice-President of GM state in a speech the other day that it cost $70.00 to make a car "flexfuel."
    "
    Rufus, that being the case, the government should make FF mandatory for all cars, immediately. I would add the caveat that flex fuel means it can handle both ethanol, and methanol, which they probably can.

    if they put it on all cars, the $70 would probably become $40, and it would open up many more options for ethanol/methanol (and yes, you can even run on a mix of both)

    And, here's an ethanol operation that makes sense, no subsidy needed. (from aboutmyplanet.com)

    "I have been making my own ethanol for 3 years now. Since I live in Florida, I get all the free oranges, grapefruits, rotting fruit, etc that I can handle. I am happy to say my cost of making my own ethanol is 23 cents per gallon. I make 55 gallons of fuel at a time on a continuous still setup in a single day. 55 gallons lasts me 2-3 months. I use discarded broken wood pallets to fuel the still. It takes 3 barrels of fruit to produce 55 gallons of pure fuel."

    Now that is alternative fuel. I am sure there is a large potential to do more of this with food waste. My local municipality is looking at separate collection of food waste, to compost. Better to ferment it first, use municipal wood waste for the distillation, then compost the remainder.

    If every car on the road was flex fuel we would see a lot more innovation in biofuel production.

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  29. By rufus on March 5, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Paul, I agree. :)

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  30. By rufus on March 5, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    BTW, when Brazil decided to go flexfuel they gave, IIRC, the car companies One year to switch their new car production (80%, I think) to flexfuel. Everyone complied. No muss, no fuss.

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  31. By Paul on March 5, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Wendell, there is one company that is using flywheel storage. To heavy for cars, but practical for passenger trains/trams, where weight is not as big a deal.

    http://www.parrypeoplemovers.com/technology.htm

    They have not sold a lot of these, but it is an interesting idea. I would think the Eaton hydraulic system is probably better though.

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  32. By Paul on March 5, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Of course, there is one, lightweight flywheel system that has been very successful, and sold many millions, over many decades, and you can do all sorts of things with it, none of them useful. This, of course, would be the yo-yo…

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  33. By Kinuachdrach on March 5, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    Paul hypothesized: "If every car on the road was flex fuel we would see a lot more innovation in biofuel production."

    Perhaps you meant to say — If we saw a lot more innovation in biofuel production, such that its unsubsidized cost was less than gasoline or diesel, we would see a lot more flex fuel cars on the road.

    Cart, horse, remember?

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  34. By Paul on March 5, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Kinu, in this case I'm not so sure.

    At just $70 per vehicle, I don't think that is an unreasonable requirement. There are many other requirements of vehicels that cost more for less benefit. Given that any vehicle sold today will be on the road for 10yrs, to have the fleet capable of running an a variety of fuels, is, I think an asset.

    Now, it may be possible that something else (EV's fuels cells, steam, who knows what) might come along and make ICE's redundant, in which case the $70 is wasted, but I think the chances of that, in this decade, are small.

    If the goal is to use less oil, having cars that can run on something else is a step in the right direction.

    It took a mandate to get cars off unleaded fuel, and I am Ok with mandate for flex fuel vehicles.

    This does not excuse the gross lobbying and subsidising of the corn industry, Range fuels, etc etc. And this subsidy chasing is, I think, what as held back real innovation.

    In fact, we would probably have had better value for our ethanol subsidy money if the gov had said it would pay the $70 for each vehicle to be a flex fuel vehicle, and left it at that.

    A flex fuel mandate is simple, uncorruptible, and creates, at minimal cost, a huge market that may, or may not, use biofuels. That is a powerful incentive (probably the best) to make your biofuels better and cheaper than oil – as soon as they are, every vehicle can start using them.

    And that's as much of a head start as the biofuel industry should get – create the playing field and let them work it out. If they don't, we've only done $70/vehicle, about the price of one fill of the tank

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  35. By Anonymous on March 5, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    I'm not sure I see the problem with coal-fired electricity?? The article you linked to discussed old coal plants – new coal plants are remarkably efficient and remarkably clean, and old ones can be retrofitted to be just as clean. In fact, we have the technology available *today* to make coal plants so clean that you could breathe the exhaust and wouldn't even need a smoke stack. And with coal-fired electric cars, we could say goodbye to smog forever and produce all our energy domestically. We could remove the CO2 too – which we could never do with gasoline engines – but apparently we don't think it's important enough to be worth the cost (I certainly don't anyway).

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  36. By Kit P on March 5, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    My wife has a green car. That is the color.

    Assuming that 'green' means less environmental impact; BEV only have a marginal benefit assuming the technology is perfected to the point where it is a consumer choice.

    Problem statement: Large cities have massive transportation systems to evacuate all that can afford to live someplace else at night.

    Solution: I do not know but if you are stuck in a traffic jam, I do not think switching to from a ICE to a BEV is going to improve your environment.

    This is why I like ethanol and wind farms. Productive jobs are created in small communities supplying energy for those who want to live in cities.

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  37. By rufus on March 5, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    K, gasoline closed at $2.27/gal, today. That's 84 octane, RBOB. It would probably be about $2.30 to bring it up to 87 octane.

    Ethanol was at $1.61 at one oclock. That's $1.61 before the blenders credit is applied.

    Allowing a 20% discount for mileage, Ethanol is Cheaper than Gasoline, today. Without subsidies.

    Gasoline may not, ever again, be cheaper than ethanol in America.

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  38. By rufus on March 5, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    After 100 years of price fixing, oil depletion allowances, tax credits for deep water drilling, and foreign sales, and Foreign Wars to protect the oil supply, Today, Ethanol is Cheaper.

    Without Subsidies.

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  39. By Kinuachdrach on March 5, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Rufus asserrted: "Ethanol is Cheaper than Gasoline, today. Without subsidies."

    Great! That means we can eliminate all the mandates, all the subsidies TODAY! If ethanol can do the job that gasoline & diesel can do, only cheaper — then we are in good shape.

    Given the dreadful financial situation that our Federal Government has created, I propose that we put an extra tax on ethanol right now. Something reasonable — maybe split the economic savings from using ethanol 50/50 between the politicians and the motorists. And use that additional tax revenue to cover part of the Administration's Budget Deficit.

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  40. By Robert Rapier on March 5, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    Gasoline may not, ever again, be cheaper than ethanol in America.

    Don't get too carried away. I am about to bump my post on the seasonal gasoline changes. Gasoline always rises in price at this time of year.

    RR

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  41. By rufus on March 5, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Actually, I would be in favor of eliminating the Blenders' credit on the 98% of ethanol that's used in blends of E10, or less.

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  42. By rufus on March 5, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Robert, I said, "May Not."

    :)

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  43. By rufus on March 5, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    Obviously, in a world where oil can go from $147.00/bbl to $34.00/bbl in a matter of a couple of months anything is possible.

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  44. By Anonymous on March 5, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    Why not use these EV,s in areas where there is a large amount of Wind turbines already installed guaranteeing a high percentage of renewable energy use? That way we could be reassured that usage and wind power would grow together.
    I can almost predict that the USPS will not grow along with wind power.
    Anyone ever wonder if The Big Bang took as long to kill the Dinosaurs as the internet took to kill the USPS? jcsr

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  45. By rufus on March 5, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    Why not use these EV,s in areas where there is a large amount of Wind turbines already installed guaranteeing a high percentage of renewable energy use?

    THAT would be a sharp PR move.

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  46. By Paul on March 6, 2010 at 2:35 am

    I don't think that would be a good PR move. In fact, doing things just for PR is what leads to ridiculous subsidies for solar, ethanol, etc.
    using EV's to be close to wind turbines misses the whole point – which is to displace oil usage and improve urban air quality.

    If the EV working for USPS in downtown LA can displace twice as much oil (and twice as much air pollution) as one driving around Altamont pass, or the Texas plains, which is the better use? In which place is the nature of traffic such that you spend more time stopped with the engine idling? In which place do more people benefit from cleaner air from the EV? My guess is that it's not the place where the strong winds are blowing.

    USPS will not grow with wind power, in fact they are shrinking, but they still have a huge vehicle fleet, that does stop start running in every urban area of the country. This is about as good a place for EV's as you can get.

    And, the system does exist for the USPS to buy windpower, if it so chooses.

    Find the best places for wind turbines, and build them there. Let customers find the best places for EV's and use them there – chances are they won't be the same place.

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  47. By Paul on March 6, 2010 at 2:58 am

    "This is why I like ethanol and wind farms. Productive jobs are created in small communities supplying energy for those who want to live in cities."

    Amen to that. Biofuels, wind, small hydro will give the rural areas a whole new economy. The trick is, in my opinion, to prevent all the benefits from going to the middlemen. I'd love to see ethanol being sold at the farmgate.

    Another case of back to the future. In 18th century France, once they learned how to distill methanol from wood, they sent the clean burning methanol and charcoal into the cities, which could be sold for more than twice the price of the wood used to make it.

    This worked just fine until they started burning real coal (cheaper) in their open fires, covering the city in blue smoke and causing respiratory problems – a bit like modern day LA.

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  48. By rufus on March 6, 2010 at 6:58 am

    Some day in America some sharp City Councilman, or woman, is going to look around at his colleagues, and say,

    "look, why don't we build our "Own" stil? We can run the city vehicles on it, and sell the leftovers to the public by installing a blender pump. We can use our grass clippings and waste wood, and paper for feedstock."

    "We can get a government grant, and a guaranteed loan," he'll tell them.

    Then, he might say, "We'll write a letter to the President telling him that we don't use Mideastern oil any more, so we'd just as soon not send our young men, and women over there."

    It could be a Revolootion.

    Seriously, with ethanol we Should think "local."

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  49. By Pops on March 6, 2010 at 8:01 am

    I'd guess it would help if we didn't think we could just drop a battery pack into a detroit dino and tootle off into green nirvana. Americans are fat, but 4,000lbs to haul around a 200lb butt is pretty silly.

    Where did I read this morning that Chinia can and will out-bid the US for oil simply because a scooter is so much more efficient than an SUV.

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  50. By rufus on March 6, 2010 at 8:07 am

    There are 314 Cities, Towns, and Villages in Ms.

    Take Tunica, Ms. Population a little over 1,000. They probably use 400,000 gallons of gasoline/yr.

    The City pays someone $40.00, or so, a ton to carry away their grass clippings, brush, wood waste, etc. Mediocre to marginal farmland on four sides.

    A 100,000 gallon biorefinery would be perfect for them. Probably looking at three to four hundred grand. The Government would pay a good chunk. Gov. guaranteed loan for the rest.

    With their savings on feedstock, and a $0.45 blender's credit they should be able to produce their ethanol for somewhere near $1.00/gal. Remember, a lot of that feedstock they were going to have to pay someone to "haul away."

    There are probably somewhere close to 15,000 similar situations in the U.S. There are probably in the neighborhood of 30,000 Cities, Towns, and Villages in the U.S.

    "Think Local"

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  51. By rufus on March 6, 2010 at 8:16 am

    I knew something looked wrong. That should have been a $1.00 Blender's Credit (cellulosic.)

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  52. By Kit P on March 6, 2010 at 10:39 am

    “covering the city in blue smoke and causing respiratory problems – a bit like modern day LA.”

    Do mean LA in the 50s? Now it is a bit of a stretch to to suggest that the present level of pollution are causing respiratory problems. Association is not causation.

    I recently has some respiratory problems that required me to see a doctor who diagnosed asthma. It could have been from the cold I caught because some insist on coming to work with a cold for a month. Finally I caught it so I went to bed and worked from home. We it did not get better, I went to the doctor who said I a sinus infection. When I went back, I was still not breathing as well which is when diagnosed asthma after testing.

    For twenty years, by job required be to respirator qualified which included testing. If I have a box of Kleenex ducted taped to my hip, Kit P is not going to put on a Scott air pack.

    While I am not a doctor, I think my recent respiratory problems might have been the common cold and getting old. Putting batteries in my car will only make me poorer.

    The point here is that first check to see it the problem still exists before fixing it again. Still waiting for the cure for common cold and getting old.

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  53. By Paul on March 6, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Kit, I don't disagree with you here, and doubtless LA air is much better than it was decades ago. I am not suggesting you, or I, go and get an ev when it does not make sense. But there are places when it does make sense. Ask any warehouse that replaced their propane forklifts with battery electric – saves money and improves air. High use, stop start things like the post vehicles may do the same.

    Is there any real advantage to doing that for everyone, well, not today. And as you point out, if your stuck in traffic, it is equally frustrating either way. And if you drive long distances, the EV is not a good fit. And if you don't drive much, it's a lot of expensive tech sitting there and doing nothing.

    But their are niches where it makes sense, and I'm all for identifying those and using them.

    Anyone who thinks EV's are a panacea for ALL our problems, and their seem to be plenty of those people, has their head in the clouds

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  54. By Russ Finley on March 6, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    Times change.

    Reframing Nuclear Power as an Ally of Renewable Energy.

    From Dan Harding's guest post on solar:

    "It is important when discussing grid parity for solar power not to forget its intermittency and the fact that some backup power system will be needed. Even if our solar infrastructure were so advanced as to provide all our power needs during peak load times, we would still need alternative sources to pick up the slack on cloudy days and at night."

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  55. By Kit P on March 7, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    “Let me start by presenting my environmental credentials …”

    Russ F provide an an example in his blog about nuclear power concerning innovation in aircraft manufacturing industry. I would suggest that environmental protection and making electricity has utilized numerous systematic innovation.

    One tool is life cycle analysis (LCA). A ton of research was done 20 years ago about to determine the environmental impact of making electricity. Armed with this information, the impact of producing energy can be reduced.

    Enrichment is one of the largest factors for making electricity. Enriching natural uranium requires lots of electric. Modern centrifuge enrichment processes use much less electricity. In France, a new enrichment facility will allow two nuke plants previously dedicated enrichment to be used to supply the grid. In the US, one new facility is nearing completion in New Mexico and a second is planned for Idaho.

    A second concern is spent fuel. Each core reload is individually designed. Modern computing power and manufacturing processes allows twice as much electricity to be produced from a fuel bundle. Therefore, half the waste.

    Spent fuel still has 95% of the energy left in it. The French, Russian, and Japanese recycle spent fuel. In the US as part of the a disarmament treaty, weapons grade U-235 form weapons production at Savanna River is being down blended to use as commercial fuel. It is currently being manufactured in Washington State and used in US reactors. The US is also building a mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility at Savanna River to use PU-239 for commercial fuel.

    Just for the record, it is not practical for spent commercial fuel to be reprocessed to make weapons.

    Another factor is how long a plant last. If you divide the impact of the material to build over 60 years instead of 30 years; you have half the environmental impact.

    If you base environmental credentials on metrics, nukes look very good.

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  56. By LarryD on March 8, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    FYI,

    1366 Technologies hopes to cut the cost of solar with cheaper manufacturing.

    Caltech researchers create highly absorbing, flexible solar cells with silicon wire arrays, the silicon-wire arrays absorb up to 96 percent of incident sunlight at a single wavelength and 85 percent of total collectible sunlight.

    Efficient Solar Cells from Cheaper Materials

    On the downside, What it will take for PV to make a difference in CO2 reduction

    Review of battery technology news

    Remember, it can take ten to twenty years for technology to make from the laboratory to manufacturing. For those that succeed in making to manufacturing at all.

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  57. By Anonymous on March 9, 2010 at 6:31 am

    Modern BEVs (such as the GM Volt) use AC induction motors and generators, no magnets of any type in those. The most popular BEV lithium batteries today do not use rare earth metals or cobalt either, nor any rare material.. in any case they are fully recyclable. Battery life is 10-15 years and some even up to 30 years (*).

    If you are unhappy about present batteries just wait a bit, a flood of money is pouring into battery research. The ones we have now are fairly good, but the cost needs to come down.

    (*) the Tesla Roadster uses commodity laptop cells, a little bigger than AA size, life is about 5-10 years and they do use cobalt and nickel.. future BEVs will use custom made large prismatic cells optimized for cars.

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