Energy Urgency Pervades Clean Cities Conference
By EV World
Burning natural gas to make electricity is foolish. Wind energy hasn't delivered as promised. Oil has peaked. Plug-in hybrids are needed for national security. Electric cars are dead.
Those are some of the more intriguing sound bites coming out of the 11th National Clean Cities Conference held the first week in May in Palm Springs, California. EV World's editor in chief was on hand to document as much of the annual alternative fuels fest as possible. Here are some of the key impressions he came away with.
Debut of Electric Plug-In Hybrid
Energy CS was on hand with the second iteration of their electric plug-in Toyota Prius. They, along with Clean Tech, a Southern California alt fuels conversion house, announced the creation of E-Drive Systems, a new joint venture to manufacture and market a retrofit kit to convert the newest generation of Priuses to run faster and further on electric power provided by $15,000 worth of Valence Saphion(tm) lithium ion batteries. (See our upcoming audio interview with the Energy CS founders as we drive around Palm Springs in electric-only mode).
What is significant about Energy CS' efforts and those of CalCars.Org founder, Felix Kramer, who was also on-hand to help promote the concept, is that it may well be one of those technologies that's at the right place at the right moment in history. Four of the most vocal proponents within the national security community and utility industry made up one of the panels talking about ways to reduce America's dependence on imported oil.
Gal Luft and Anne Korin are the co-founders of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security. Milton Copulos is with the National Defense Council Foundation. All three are signatories to the Set America Free initiative, a significant focus of which is the call for flexible fuel, electric plug-in hybrids; the fusion of two distinct technologies on display during the conference. Bob Graham, who also spoke on the "Developing a Global Energy Security Strategy" panel has helped lead the electric hybrid efforts at the Electric Power Research Institute.
However, not everyone is enamored by the notion of electric hybrids. American Honda's chief engineer, Ben Knight challenged Ms. Korin's views, arguing that since half of North America's electrical grid is powered by coal, any local environmental benefit offered by plug-in hybrids would be lost by the increased combustion of coal.
EPRI's Bob Graham and SCE's Ed Kjaer countered by saying that it will take millions of plug-in hybrids on the road before we'd see any potential increase in pollution, largely because electric hybrids would be charged at night using spare electric utility generating capacity. And when we do need to add new capacity, it will likely come from far cleaner coal technologies, nuclear power and renewables like wind and solar, the two men asserted.
Clearly the debate over the environmental merit of electric hybrids isn't over, but given that Energy CS's Prius got better than 160 mpg while driving around Palm Springs, it pretty well puts to rest any doubts about its national security benefits.
More Promising NEVs
Before you can sell a single, highway-capable battery electric (BEV) car in the United States, you've got to deliberately crash at least six of them!
That's why so many aspiring electric car companies have opted to go the FMVSS 500 -- low-speed electric car -- route to introduce their products into America. They hope to sell enough 25-mph versions of their vehicles into the neighborhood EV market to capitalize the cost of meeting the DOT's tough highway crash standards, an effort that is variously estimated to run over $10 million. With full FVMSS certification, the vehicles -- which are already highway-certified in their native countries -- can immediately be upgraded to run legally at highway speeds in the U.S.A.
Two more BEV hopefuls made their appearance at the conference: Miles Automotive and Roush . I'll have more to say about each individually in the future, but since both are in the early start-up phase, I don't want to get anyone's hopes up. Both companies have found small, adaptable automotive platforms: Miles, a really attractive, Chinese-made micro mini-van; and Roush, a Ford Brazil pick-up truck. Miles' first vehicle was still in impound in Long Beach at the time of the show, but Roush, which is a respected international automotive engineering company, did have their first truck available for EV World to test drive.
Being the industry leader -- and longest survivor -- GEM NEVs were everywhere to be found, from the Palm Springs airport ramp to the hotel parking lot, as well as inside the convention center. The company has done remarkably well, largely because of its adaptability, offering three types of recreational and work vehicles that are rugged and dependable. They've also scored their share of marketing coups, like being designated as the official presidential vehicles of last year's G8 summit in Sea Island, Georgia.
The Clean Cities conference is largely dedicated to the promotion of alternative fuels, especially in community fleet applications. This means that a large part of the exhibit area is occupied by companies providing services and support for conventional alternative fuels including natural gas, propane (LP), biodiesel and ethanol.
But with the recent attention being paid to hydrogen, you'd also expect to find some hydrogen applications on display, and there were. Honda had at least two of its FCX fuel cell vehicles, not on display, but in actual operation. General Motors rolled in its big, midnight blue Hydrogen Hummer, which one attendee viewed as the height to cynicism on GM's part. A look at the single carbon fiber-wound tank in the back of the vehicle and a quick calculation of a H2 Hummer's normal fuel economy suggests this vehicle doesn't have but a few dozen miles range.
Hopefully, far more practical is a hydrogen hybrid-electric ATV that made its debut at the conference. Powered by an Anuvu fuel cell stack and Valence lithium ion batteries, Clean Tech's Seth Seaberg and eco-tourism operator Jay Bender plan to build and operate a dozen of the machines on the Carolina Outer Banks, and perhaps in Southern California in the off season. Jay has promised to do a interview with EV World this summer after he's had a chance to put the first few ATVs through their paces in dealing with sand, salt and neophyte tourists.
Ford Motor Company had the first of five hydrogen-powered shuttle vans on hand to move delegates about. The company announced during the conference that it will provide the hydrogen-burning, internal combustion engine vehicles to the Coachella Valley community, including the city of Palm Springs and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.
Taking the Idle Out of Truck Stops
The goods of the nation are carried by truck, and those trucks, by-and-large, burn diesel fuel, even while they aren't moving. This has led to a major government initiative to get truckers to turn off their engines while they are parked. But since the engines provide heat, electric power and air conditioning, ways have to be found to provide those services without consuming diesel fuel.
I discovered one of the more innovative ways to do this, when I met Tom Badgett, the CIO and founder of IdleAire. His firm developed a system to provide truckers with not only heat, power and air conditioning but also Internet access and cable television, all in single detachable package that snaps into the truck window. The company has equipped scores of truck stops across the United States with its system, helping reduce the amount of pollution and greenhouse gases being spewed from idling eighteen wheelers. Be sure to check out the company web site.
Natural Gas Vs. Propane
Since T. Boone Pickens is the founder of Clean Energy, one of the nation's largest natural gas suppliers to CNG fleets, he would be expected to endorse, which he did, the idea that we shouldn't be using natural gas to generate electricity, but in our cars and trucks instead. While GM and Ford recently have backed away from CNG, Honda continues to actively support it as an alternative fuel for its dedicated Civic GX model. It also displayed its Phill CNG home refueling system at the show.
But propane advocates are quick to point out that it is almost as clean as natural gas and has a far higher energy density than CNG. This means that for an equivalent tank volume, you can drive much further on liquid propane -- the stuff we all use for our outdoor gas grills -- than you can on compressed natural gas. To help underscore this, one exhibitor converted a sleek, black Chrysler 300C Hemi to run as a bi-fuel vehicle on gasoline or propane with the push of a button. The high-powered machine responded equally on either fuel with glue-you-to-the-seat acceleration. The beauty of propane, when you can find it in bulk, is that it should sell for less than gasoline. The current futures (9-May-2005) price of propane is 0.81 cents a gallon compared to $1.48 for unleaded gasoline. (NOTE: future's prices do not include state and federal taxes).
Biodiesel & Ethanol Coming on Strong
The production of both biodiesel and ethanol are growing rapidly, though I am hearing reports that there is presently a glut of ethanol and a shortage of biodiesel.
Perhaps the most exciting news I discovered in GM's exhibit area was the new 2006 Chevrolet Impala. Here is a full-sized family sedan that the EPA rates (2005 model) as high as 32 mpg on the highway. According to GM's Brad Beauchamp, the 2006 model will come standard with a 3.5L V-6 engine that can burn E-85 ethanol (85% ethanol and 15% gasoline). This is essentially the same technology as found in GM's Brazilian model line.
As proponents of E-85 like to point out, using a fuel that is derived largely from American-grown, renewable agriculture feed stocks is one of the fastest ways to reduce our reliance on imported oil, especially from unstable, hostile regions of the world. Assume for a moment that the 2006 Impala gets 30 mpg on the highway burning E85. That means that less than three miles of that 30 miles is powered by imported oil rather than the 18 miles it would be otherwise.
Put another way, this is the equivalent of getting something like 200 miles per gallon (30 mpg/0.15) of 100 percent gasoline! (Formula courtesy of Dr. Frank Jamerson).
Imagine mating Energy CS's 150 mpg electric plug-in hybrid with an E-85-capable engine and you get the equivalent of 1000 mpg of gasoline! (150/0.15).
Now we're talking serious reductions in oil imports, though realistically, it might be a bit difficult to achieve that kind of fuel economy in the real world. Most of us probably would settle for a tenth of that.
Energy's Eleventh Hour?
A profound sense of urgency pervaded the conference, from the opening keynote by The End of Oil author Paul Roberts to T. Boone Pickens, who said peak oil is here and now. This was the eleventh Clean Cities conference where the need to shift away from oil has been a central theme for more than a decade. The fuels are here. The technology is here. The infrastructure is here.
The central issue appears to be a lack of political will and courage, though despite her petite stature, Senator Barbara Boxer was willing to speak out against a short-sighted, pork-laden energy bill that nibbles at the margins of the problem, while largely maintaining the status quo.
From the applause she received, it was obvious that many others at the 2005 National Clean Cities conference shared her view.
Editor’s Note: The event's organizers did not permit EV World to record the keynotes. Instead, they will be making available a video of the program in the near future. EV World hopes to arrange the right to podcast the audio of some of the more relevant speeches.
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