Archive | Fuel Cells

Fisker Karma, the Fisker Electric Car

Here comes another all-electric automaker, and one with quite a pedigree. If you go to the website for Fisker Automotive you will be tantalized but definitely not overwhelmed with information. Like Aptera, this Southern California start-up is keeping a low profile as their next generation car takes shape. On Fisker’s home page you will see a sexy green silhouette of a sports car, a clock ticking backwards to the formal launch of the vehicle on January 19th, 2008 at the Detroit Auto Show, and three press releases, dated 9-5-07, 10-31-07, and 11-19-07. Oh, and a pre-order form…

Fisker Automotive’s Plug-in Hybrid
Four Door Sports Sedan.

But there is nothing low profile about the team they’re building. CEO Henrik Fisker is a well respected leader in the world of ultra upscale automotive design, having been the lead designer of the BMW Z8 as well as the Aston Marton DB9 & V8 Vantage.

More recently Fisker’s other new company, Fisker Coachbuild, has been building and selling the Tramonto (base price $296,775) and Latigo GS (somewhere north of $180,000). Fisker doesn’t just know high end cars, he IS high end cars. Joining Fisker as Director of Engineering is Thomas Fritz from BMW. Directing retail sales and joining Fisker’s Board of Directors is Vic Doolan who ran Volvo North America, and before that, BMW North America.

Partnering with Fisker Automotive to provide plug-in hybrid technology is Quantum Technologies, a public company (Yahoo finance profile) specializing in fuel cells and hybrid drives. Considering Quantum’s (QTWW) share price has gone from $10.00 in early 2004 to $0.70 today, considering their trailing twelve month operating cash flow is -$51M, and their most recent quarterly report shows $48M in debt and $5M in cash, we have to assume the folks at Fisker know something the market doesn’t know. Given Fisker’s extraordinary management team, combined with the fact they have raised money from the prestigious Palo Alto Investors – we’ll just assume they know what they’re doing.

Today we talked with Fisker spokesperson Cristina Cheever, who confirmed the company intends to eventually sell 15,000 cars a year at a price of $80,000. Cheever said the first 99 cars will be delivered in late 2009, and that they expect to deliver between 2,000 and 2,500 in 2010.

Fisker hasn’t yet revealed many performance specifications for their new sedan. According to their press releases, the car will go 50 miles on battery power, with nearly another 600 miles of range on gasoline power. We’re guessing this car is going to be another series hybrid, where the gasoline engine is completely disconnected from the drivetrain, and instead turns an onboard generator.

Similarly we don’t have a lot of information yet about acceleration or top speed, but considering the source (the Tramonto does 0-60 in 3.6 seconds), this car is going to probably burn up the road. Fisker has been quoted stating the battery pack is situated in the center of the vehicle, providing “optimal vehicle driving dynamics.” That is almost certainly an understatement. It is a very interesting time in the history of automotive engineering.

Posted in Cars, Engineering, Fuel Cells, Other, Science, Space, & Technology, Transportation3 Comments

The Hydrogen Bottleneck

Will we ever see fuel cell cars on the road? Many critics feel that government support for this technology is misguided, with far better options available for alternative-fuel, “green” transportation. While the fuel cell concept is simple, implementation faces major hurdles. For example, there are more than 170,000 gas stations in the United States and so far well under 100 hydrogen counterparts.

Honda’s FCX “Clarity” advanced fuel cell vehicle.

Here is the basic science behind the operation of a fuel cell vehicle: Air blows across one side of a permeable film while hydrogen passes across the other side. The film serves as a catalyst to combine two hydrogen molecules with one oxygen to release an electron and thus create electricity with water and heat being the only by-products. When that reaction occurs in sufficient volume, power is generated to fuel a vehicle. Since air is out there for the taking and water vapor won’t hurt the environment, the technology has attracted followers, including the Bush administration.

Even at this point, however, there’s a significant, if somewhat overlooked hurdle to the viability of fuel cell transportation. The most popular material for the catalyst required to cause the hydrogen/oxygen reaction is platinum. At the current level of the technology’s evolution the required amount of catalyst per kilowatt is 0.018 – 0.028 ounces (0.5 – 0.8 grams). Platinum costs roughly $1,500 an ounce, which means the catalyst alone in a 100 kilowatt fuel cell engine (one kilowatt is equivalent to 1.34 horsepower) runs between $2,600 to $4,200. A comparable gasoline engine costs approximately $3,000 total. Platinum isn’t going to drop in value just because car makers are producing more fuel cell vehicles – the opposite is more likely.

Another significant barrier to adoption of fuel cell vehicles is the hydrogen itself. It isn’t readily available and currently costs twice as much as gasoline for the same quantity of energy. The inability to actually pull up to a hydrogen pump to refuel is an even bigger problem. Currently there is one hydrogen fueling station in Washington, three in Las Vegas, and a smattering in Detroit mainly for automakers’ testing purposes. The best place to be a fuel-cell driver is California where there are two dozen stations in and around the Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento areas, with fourteen more on the way. Given these limitations and the current level of prototype development, only two fuel cell vehicles will actually be in the hands of a limited numbers of drivers next year, the Honda FCX and an experimental version of the General Motors Equinox SUV.

Honda plans to offer a limited run of its FCX fuel-cell sedan for the 2008 model year. The FCX is a four-door with front-wheel drive. The engine produces 127 horsepower and returns 68 miles per gallon (running 270 miles on a tank). A kilogram of hydrogen has almost exactly the same energy as a gallon of gasoline. Since Americans have an innate understanding of “I can go this far on a gallon,” manufacturers offer fuel cell performance ratings in language people will instantly understand.

In actuality, of course, the 2006 version of the Honda FCX was equipped with a 3.75 kilogram tank. (The 2008 is said to have a slightly larger tank, but the specs are still vague.) With that fuel capacity, the 2006 FCX returned 62 miles per kilogram (mpkg) for city driving and 51 mpkg on the highway. With a larger tank and other improvements, it’s fair to assume the 2008 will do that well and most probably a bit better.

Honda has reduced the size of the fuel cell and positioned it vertically in a center tunnel running between the driver and front passenger under the armrests. The size and positioning, according to the company, makes the water flow faster and concentrates heat to decrease the risk of freezing and to increase the speed of power production. Honda has mounted the electric motor on top of the front wheels and the fuel tank and battery pack (lithium ion) are behind the backseat.

In January, General Motors will put a fleet of 100 fuel cell Chevrolet Equinox SUVs in the hands of consumers for three months, a test that will be repeated with a new group for an overall study of 30 months duration. Interested parties can go to the Chevrolet website to sign up, but you must live in Los Angeles, New York, or Washington. Dubbed “Project Driveway,” the effort also involves the installation of four new hydrogen fueling stations in New York and six in Los Angeles. The Equinox SUVs to be used in the test have a range of only 150 miles per tank — well, make that three carbon fiber tanks — stacked up under the rear seat and in the cargo area. These tanks have a combined capacity of 4.2 kilograms with the vehicle rating 35 mpkg for in-town driving and 45 mpkg on the road.

The big question with fuel-cell technology is not if it works. It does. Placement of the fuel cells and powertrain elements is far from refined, however, and both the Honda FCX and the GM Equinox have limited ranges. Other automakers have their hats in the ring as well, with Daimler AG and Ford Motor Co. just announcing their acquisition of Canada’s Ballard Power Systems, an automotive fuel cell business, in November 2007. The deal was inked for the express purpose of further research and development. It’s clear, then, that automotive bucks continue to flow in the direction of fuel-cell technology, but we won’t see fuel-cell cars on American roads in any significant numbers until hydrogen flows just as readily. And right now, that’s just not the case.

Posted in Cars, Electricity, Energy, Fuel Cells, Hydrogen, Other, Science, Space, & Technology, Transportation5 Comments

Clean vs. CO2-Free

Following this brief commentary is a “letter for publication” entitled “CLEAN, SAFE SOURCES OF ELECTRICITY” received from and if you can find out what M, N, and G mean you are more observant than I. In this “letter for publication” we are provided a list of alternative energy technologies that may power the planet without combustion – photovoltaic and solar concentrator 35%, wave and tidal 31%, combined heat and power and reduced wastage 26%, and wind 26%. The perspicacious reader will note this is overkill, by 18%.

This smorgasbord of alternative energy compares to our current worldwide energy production as follows: oil 34.3%, coal 25.1%, gas 20.9%, “combustible renewables” (mostly wood) 10.6%, nuclear 6.5%, and hydro-electric power 2.2%. None of the alternatives make this list, which totals 99% of all energy produced in the world. And today, 80% of the remaining one percent is geothermal. All of the proposed alternatives, today, only produce two-tenths of one percent of all energy production on earth.

So in the letter to follow, we have a prescription for how we will take what is currently two-tenths of one percent of our worldwide energy production, and provide 200% of our worldwide energy production. If we adhere to this non-nuclear, non-hydroelectric, non-fossil fuel prescription, a 1,000x increase in alternative energy production is what we will need to accomplish, since our planet’s growing, industrializing human population will need 2x more energy even if huge efficiencies are gained.

And to build all these wind and tide emplacements, 1,000 times what we have now, how much concrete and steel would we need? Wouldn’t it be much easier and less disruptive to the environment if we simply ran diesel fuel refined from heavy oil through solid oxide fuel cells? Or what if we continued to burn fuel, but in a totally clean manner – only emitting CO2, and instead used all that concrete and steel for housing and freeways, and maybe even aqueducts and desalination plants and pumping stations to grow trees?

Implicit in this alternative energy prescription is that we must stop all burning. Civilization must stop all burning, because burning gives off CO2. But fully 90% of all energy produced by humanity requires burning, and in the short term it is impossible to eliminate burning without shutting down civilization – so we must find other ways to maintain a stable global climate. Clean burning is feasible, but eliminating all burning is not feasible without shutting down existing economies, let alone permitting economic growth. It can’t be done in the time we’ve got.

Remember that worldwide burning of fossil fuels is nothing in the grand scheme of earthly CO2 emissions – less than 3%. The rest is from nature. And today we spew far more CO2 into the air each year through rapaciously burning away – to make room for biofuel – the paltry 40% of our tropical forests that still remain. And this burning can be stopped. Global warming and climate change can be successfully addressed through massive tropical reforesting where biofuel plantations stand or are planned. What if that were all it would take? And what if nothing else would work anyway?

To their credit, the bmg.orgsters did not include biofuel on their agenda, and to their credit, they are trying to put forward an alternative. But even if our rainforests are replanted, do we really want wind generator towers and blades surveiling every landscape, menacing flying creatures? And do we really want seabeds and reefs and tidepools everywhere to sport massive underwater propeller-driven electric turbines? Aren’t the people proposing these alternatives the same folks who don’t like hydroelectric power? When all we have to do to supply energy between today and when we reach the fusion fueled, electrochemical energy economy of the future is tear up a few thousand square miles of oil sands? Sure, solar power is good, but clean fossil fuel is a realistic goal, not no fossil fuel.


Dear Editor,
Contrary to what is suggested in the new Energy White Paper, there are more than enough clean, safe sources of electricity to meet our needs and there is absolutely no need for nuclear power and all its many headaches (see

There are now several reports showing in detail how the UK can meet its needs for electricity, make deep cuts in CO2 emissions from electricity generation, and phase out nuclear power. These can be downloaded from .

It is simply not true that “the lights will go out” without nuclear power. The British Wind Energy Association say that “the UK’s offshore resource is equivalent to three times the UK’s annual electricity consumption.”. But rather than rely on one single source of renewable electricity, there are good reasons to develop a variety of sources as described in the analysis and spreadsheet at .

In summary, UK electricity needs may be met quite comfortably, and soon, from the following renewable, carbon-free sources:
Percentage of total UK demand

Wind power (large scale) 20 (or more)
Wave power 20
Tidal currents 3
Tidal lagoons 8
Photovoltaics 20 (or more)
Micro wind power 6
Combined heat and power 16
Concentrating solar power 15
Reduced wastage 10 (or more)
Total 118

Apart from these sources, there is energy from biomass and there are plans to import geothermal electricity from Iceland (see

There is no “energy gap”, only a gap in the political will needed to bring these renewable sources of energy on stream.

Dr Gerry Wolff, +44 (0)1248 712962,
18 Penlon, Menai Bridge, Anglesey, LL59 5LR, UK.

Posted in Coal, Consumption, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Fuel Cells, Geothermal, Hydroelectric, Nuclear, Other, Solar, Tidal, Wind0 Comments

The E-Flex Auto Revolution

Calling an e-flex vehicle a “series hybrid” is not accurate, according to Larry Burns, Vice President of Research and Development for General Motors, and he’s right.

Larry Burns
Larry Burns
R&D and Planning
Photo: General Motors

In order to see why GM’s revolutionary new Chevy “Volt” automobile design is different from typical hybrids, the “series” designation is helpful, but that’s all. Hybrids to-date, by this reckoning, are parallel hybrids, since the gasoline and the electric motors are both connected to the drive train. In the Volt, the gasoline engine only powers an onboard electric generator, and only a powerful electric motor actually turns the wheels.

At a breakfast that Rob Peterson at General Motors set up for me and a handful of other bloggers (including Sam Abuelsamid from AutoblogGreen and David Houle from EvolutionShift) earlier this week with Burns, at GM’s Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, the top R&D VP stressed that GM’s “E-Flex” concept is broader – it allows “the same powertrain to use different types of energy.”

Different types indeed. The Chevy Volt, a brilliant and long, long overdue automotive innovation, can run on either gasoline or electricity stored from the power grid. Currently planned to have a battery pack storing 16 kilowatt-hours and weighing under 400 pounds, the GM Volt will have a range of 40+ miles using plug-in electricity from home. The car will also be able to operate independently of the battery, running purely on generator supplied onboard electricity, getting 50 miles per gallon and having a range of 600 miles. This is the car we’ve been waiting for.

When I asked Burns why someone hadn’t made a car that had an onboard generator and an all-electric drivetrain sooner, he had some interesting answers. Much automotive R&D is influenced by government mandates, of course, and in the early 1990′s policies emphasized developing a zero emission vehicle – even though the Volt in a normal commute cycle would almost never use its onboard gasoline generator, it didn’t qualify as a ZEV. At the same time, for the coming hybrid cars, policy goals fixated on an 80 mile per gallon mileage standard- the Volt, when running just on gasoline, only gets about 50 mpg.

Not mentioned by Burns, but undoubtedly true, was the passion for hydrogen fuel cells felt by environmental activists which translated into relentless and very successful lobbying for policies favoring the fuel cell option.

Here is where e-flex technology gets really interesting: General Motor’s Volt isn’t just a long overdue innovation some might call a series hybrid. With an all electric drivetrain, it is a platform that can accept any source of electric power; an onboard generator running on hydrogen, diesel fuel, or gasoline; a fuel cell; batteries. No matter what technology is best suited to the fuel resources of wherever an e-flex vehicle is operated, the basic design and drivetrain stays the same when the power systems vary.

Returning to the Volt, what makes the series hybrid version of an e-flex car extremely exciting is not just the freedom of a vehicle with a 600 mile range that can operate most of the time on plug-in electricity – it is the utter simplicity of the vehicle. As Larry Burns put it, “you can see some big components dropping off the car” when you move to an all electric drivetrain. The most dramatic example of this is the transmission, which in a conventional hybrid is an amazingly complex mess of gearboxes. In an all electric vehicle, a two-speed transmission linking one electric engine to the drivetrain is all you need. These Volts are going to last forever.

Along with E-Flex platforms, eventually automobiles will have in-wheel motors, collision avoidance systems, ultra-safe interiors, increasingly capable modes of autopilot, and power sources we can only imagine. As Burns explained these and other features that constitute the imminent and first-ever “new automotive DNA,” his optimism was evident. And optimism is warranted. Today is the dawn of the automotive industry’s electric age, the biggest revolution since the horsedrawn carriage gave way to the gas powered car. Right now, today, the Chevy Volt is the biggest step forward into that age yet seen. Bring ‘em on.

Posted in Cars, Electricity, Fuel Cells, Hydrogen, Other, Policies & Solutions, Science, Space, & Technology14 Comments

What are the Global Warming Priorities & how much does Anthropogenic CO2 Contribute?

Anything in the name of fighting global warming, you say?Meanwhile , where are hte desalinization plants that could easily restor our depleted watertables?
Airplane with Big Jetstream
Where are the clean aerosols?

Editor’s Note: In spite of serious debate being over, and only fringe groups, hacks, and the obsolete and defiant holdouts remaining steadfast in their denial, we’ve decided to publish Dr. Edward Wheeler’s latest essay regarding global warming. To be possibly overstating the matter, Dr. Wheeler thinks the entire notion that global warming is a dire threat – which can be stopped if we cut back on our industrial CO2 emissions – to be pure hogwash.

With so much at stake and so much still unknown it is not just contrarian, it is vital to maintain a vigorous, intellectually honest debate over global warming – whether or not these theories are worth mandating unprecedented leaps in government power?

Over the past few years we’ve begun to cover global warming more, often doing quantitative comparisons using the data put forth from the media reports and the underlying studies, and far too often, we have found that the hype and the spin coming from the environmental activists, the media, and lately, politicians and corporate America, is over-stated. If we have a hot day, there is an ominous inflection in a newscaster’s voice. It isn’t just hot, we’re on the road to oblivion. If it hasn’t rained yet, it’s because of human caused climate change. If you don’t completely believe all this terrifying hyperbole, it sounds incredibly opportunistic or just thoughtless.

What if none of them have the slightest idea what they’re talking about?

Here are questions regarding the notion of anthropogenic CO2 causing runaway global warming that all who opine might find worth answering with more than fatuous declarations or blind acquiescense:

  • Atmospheric CO2 molecules boil off the upper atmosphere and are self limiting
  • Tthe impact of increasing atmospheric CO2 is non-linear, we’ve already seen most of the warming effect
  • Global warming is caused more by sunspot and cosmic ray activity, as well as earth’s many orbital cycles (ex: when earth’s orbit is more circular, the planet is hotter)
  • Recent measured temperature change just below the “CO2 belt” in the upper stratosphere is down, not up, contradicting fundamental runaway CO2 threat theories
  • Anthropogenic CO2 is only 3-5% of CO2 emitted, the rest is natural
  • Yearly fluctuations in natural CO2 emissions are an order of magnitude greater than all yearly anthropogenic CO2 emissions
  • There is evidence that historically (over the past several million years) rising CO2 levels were the effect of global warming, not the cause
  • The southern icecap is actually increasing in mass (Ref. Antarctic Ice)
  • Greenland’s icecap is not melting at a significant rate (Ref. Greenland’s Ice Melting Slowly)
  • Sea level rise is insignificant – much flooding is due to land subsidance
  • Storm fury is more visible today because of overbuilding into marginal areas
  • The western arctic is warming but the eastern arctic is actually cooling
  • Warming in the northern hemisphere over the past 20-30 years could be due to the interdecadal oscilation between the northern and southern Atlantic ocean temperatures
  • The most recent IPCC summary acknowledges there is no evidence to suggest the gulf stream that warms Europe may be disrupted
  • Global temperature measurements are weighted towards areas that are increasingly urbanized, and urban areas absorb more heat
  • There are now over a million square miles of urbanized land, and this urban heat island effect could cause some warming on a global scale
  • Transpiration from watered, forested land, especially in the tropics, is the forcing mechanism to maintain global monsoon circulation and prevent drought – in turn – deforestation causes drought, creating hotter land and additional heat island effect
  • The tropical forests have declined from over 7 million square miles to less than 3 million, and tropical forests release more moisture and are cooler than open land
  • Using mechanized pumps, in the last 100 years we have depleted aquafirs in all the agricultural lands of the world, lowering water tables from, say, 10 meters deep to over 500 meters deep. The resulting agricultural land heat island comprises perhaps 10% of all land surface on earth
  • Even taking into account the possible errors in measurement, the recorded warming over the past 150 years is about .5 degrees centigrade, not a significant amount
  • The claims that the last 10 years include several of the “warmest on record” is disputed, just as the claims the landbased icecaps are rapidly melting (net loss) is completely false
  • CO2 forcing theories and the computer models associated with them do not sufficiently take into account natural balancing processes in the earth’s climate regulatory system

These are a few questions that anyone who is listening to the debate about global warming should wish to hear answered. There is much, much more. Global warming alarmists and the things they’re trying to do are extreme. If you pause to consider the laws being proposed based on blind acceptance of global warming alarm, you may find many of them do more harm than good. In the name of reducing CO2 emissions, there is reduced attention to other pollutants, and massive new rounds of deforestation to grow biofuel.

Meanwhile, there is a stifling of dissent when skeptics like Dr. Wheeler can be compared to holocaust deniers. There is too much fanaticism and blind acceptance of whatever is proposed in the name of reducing CO2 emissions. Regulating CO2 is going to crush small businesses while awarding lucrative “mitigation” government contracts to large businesses, raise taxes and create new bureaucracies, and undermine our freedom to use energy as we choose, especially energy with CO2 emissions which is 80% of all world energy. It may create dangerous tensions with the Chinese, many of whom don’t buy any of this, and perhaps they shouldn’t.

The call for drastic measures because of global warming and the role of CO2 is a huge shift, for better or for worse. Be careful what you wish for. Yes we must produce clean energy. But overall, overproducing energy will spawn prosperity and innovation, and underproducing energy will spawn rationing and tyranny. Do we want to scare ourselves, unthinking, into swindling ourselves out of a glowing future of private enterprise and prosperity? What is clean? – Ed “Redwood” Ring

Global Warming / Climate Change Redux
by Edward Wheeler, March 15, 2007

In March of 2006, I wrote an article for EcoWorld “Global Warming – Is it Real, Are Humans the Cause, and Can Anything be Done?” which emphasized that there really IS a scientific debate going on over whether anthropogenic (human induced) CO2 generation from burning of fossil fuels is responsible for global warming (GW). If you haven’t read it yet, go to the link now. There will be a quiz. However, the mass media have concluded that there is no doubt whatsoever (such as in Time magazine’s cover story, “be worried, be VERY worried”) that GW is caused by anthropogenic CO2 emissions, and that civilization as we know it is doomed unless we stop using fossil fuels. I, on the other hand, concluded that CO2 doesn’t have much at all to do with GM in general, and even if it were a major factor, strict following of the Kyoto protocols wouldn’t fix anything.

Richard Lindzen Black & White Portrait
Dr. Richard Lindzen
Professor of Meteorology, MIT
A skeptic who is respected by his foes.
Ref. Lindzen
“Is There a Basis for Global Warming Alarm?”
also by Lindzen
“Some Relevant Figures for Current
Behavior of Global Surface Temperatures”

Since then, additional feature articles have been published on this web site which also express a skeptical view of the CO2 induced GW dogma in different ways. Since my first article, some very important new scientific findings have been published that raise strong doubt that the anthropogenic generated CO2 GW theory is true. However, the mass media and the climate scientist establishment have ignored any evidence that calls into question the CO2 dogma. So please, read what follows with an open mind, something hard to find in people when considering “hot” issues (pun intended) like GW these days. Consider also that just because your mind is open, your brains won’t necessarily fall out.

Before getting into the heart of this matter, let me state very clearly that, probably like most of you reading this, I am TOTALLY in favor of developing and using alternative sources of energy; including solar, wind, tidal, hydrogen fuel cells, nuclear (whoops, some of you won’t like that one) and sex. With the exception of sexual energy, which generates LOTS of CO2, none of the others mentioned above generate anything other than water and heat. We absolutely need to stop financing terrorists and polluting the air by our profligate use of mostly foreign oil. This is one of the rare times that I think we need the Federal Government to take over and do something. This is very difficult for me to say because I am a libertarian type, but the government should tax gasoline so that it always costs at least $4.00 a gallon. Americans will never stop guzzling gas unless it really costs them. Europeans have managed to survive even higher gas prices for decades. Also, give big tax breaks to companies doing research on alternative energy sources.

Having said that, I still find it puzzling that it has become common to call CO2 a “pollutant”, one needing EPA regulation just like Nitrogen oxide emissions from automobiles and soot and sulfur oxides from coal fired power plants. Many of you readers, not to mention virtually every reporter for the mass media in the country, may not be too familiar with biochemistry (and in the case of most of those reporters, no familiarity whatsoever). So I will state the simple facts of what keeps life on Earth going: Every living animal on this planet breathes. We animals (assuming none of you readers are plants) take in oxygen and use it for energy production to keep us alive. The next step of breathing is that we exhale CO2. This happens every moment of our lives. Meanwhile, every green plant on the planet is waiting with baited breath, ha ha, to inhale that CO2 that we animals exhale to use for their energy needs. They exhale oxygen, which us animals need. What a great system! God is great! It is also true that whenever we humans burn wood, coal, oil, natural gas (a clean fuel), CO2 and water are released. Is this then a big new cause of elevated CO2 levels in the atmosphere? Probably yes, but is this fossil fuel burning causing GW? Probably not!

Thus, even though I agree with environmentalists about the ABSOLUTE need for developing and using all those alternative energy sources, I am still called an enemy of humanity (Gelbspan book), akin to holocaust deniers, and could just as well believe in a flat earth (Al Gore). There is no doubt among sentient people that the Earth is not flat and that there was indeed a holocaust, but there is no proof that GW is caused by the well documented increase in atmospheric CO2 over the last 100 years! It’s a theory. I believe Mr. Gore and other true believers have it backward. They may just as well believe that the earth is the center of the universe, as did the Catholic Church in the middle ages. In 1633, Galileo was forced to recant his assertion that the Earth moved around the sun, not the other way around. The Inquisitors would have put him to death for heresy had he not recanted. Are we getting there yet? Should I be worried for my safety? It seems to me that Mr. Gore’s best selling book “Inconvenient Truth” should have been titled, “Convenient Truthiness” (look it up in Wikipedia). The word’s about people believing what they want to believe, and don’t confuse them with facts. GW is just the latest in mankind’s long tradition of infatuation with disaster scenarios; right up there with pesticides causing 100% incidence of cancer by 1970 (Silent Spring), mass starvation by the mid 1980″ (Paul Ehrlich), everybody (especially people who like to sunbathe in Antarctica) getting skin cancer because of ozone layer shrinkage, Y2K destroying the world’s financial system at a minute after midnight 2000, African bees destroying U.S. agriculture in the 70′s, and the world pandemic of killer flu due to mutated bird flu virus that we are all still waiting for. I personally worry a lot more about the earth colliding with an asteroid.

Michael Oppenheimer Portrait
Dr. Michael Oppenheimer
Professor of Geosciences, Princeton
Principal contributor to IPCC studies.
Ref. “IPCC 4th Assessment Summary”
February 2007

Now for the real science that has turned me into a heretic, an infidel in the climate change arena. In my previous GW article, I stated that,

“the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a U.N. sponsored group of more than 2,000 scientists from over 100 countries, has concluded that human activity is a major factor in elevated atmospheric CO2 levels, and this will result in rising temperatures and sea levels that could prove catastrophic for multi-millions of coastal dwelling folk all over the world.”

It is the IPCC’s conclusions upon which Mr. Gore and most Climate scientists base their beliefs in Global Warming due to greenhouse gas CO2 dogma. The problem is that the IPCC essentially based their conclusions on only ONE scientific study, one authored by Michael Mann, an American scientist, published in the prestigious journal “Nature” in 1998. The alarmist IPCC report cited above (U.N. sponsored and therefore driven by politics) based its assessment of climate change almost solely on Mann’s study. In essence, he said all the historical temperature data was wrong. He claimed his data showed that there has been only a gradual global temperature change over the last millennium, but that there has been a very sharp rise in the last 100 years, i.e., his temperature graph looked like a hockey stick. Because atmospheric CO2 has doubled in that time, the sharp increase in temperature must be caused by that increase in greenhouse CO2. Gosh, only enemies of humanity could dispute that conclusion, right?

The big problem is that Mann’s research is either fraudulent or simply the work of an incompetent or very bias scientist who wishes to get the results he desires, as in truthiness. In June 2005, the U.S. House of Representatives committee on energy and commerce asked Dr. Edward Wegman, chairman of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics, to form an independent committee to assess Mann’s data. To you blogers who insist that all the infidel scientists like me are funded stooges of the big oil industry, Wegman’s group did it all pro bono, and that means FREE! In short, the committee concluded that Mann misused statistical methods, and that the hockey stick model is false. After their report, a separate committee was formed by the NAS to review Wigman’s report Mann’s work. I assume most of the scientists on the committee were true believers because they started their report saying something like, WE BELIEVE THAT THE LAST DECADE HAD THE HIGHEST TEMPERATURES EVER RECORDED, but the rest of his work is wrong and the hockey stick model is bogus (my words). They didn’t even mention CO2. Why, you might ask, have you probably not read about this in the mass media? Because the mass media is composed mostly of true believers who don’t want to be confused with facts that go against their faith, so they don’t report what they don’t like. Truthiness is rampant in elitist environmentalist circles. Pointing out the facts only hurts the “cause” many of them say. I must point out that I am an environmentalist, but not an elitist one, and I am ashamed of the extremism and deliberate disregard of real science that has taken over some environmental organizations (you know who you are).

So what are the believers left with as far as scientific evidence for anthropomorphic CO2 induced global warming? There is nothing but a statistical correlation between increasing atmospheric CO2 levels and rising global temperatures over the last century. Statistical correlations never prove anything. Over the last fifty years, the incidence of lung cancer in women has about doubled, as has the level of atmospheric CO2. Lung cancer rates in men, however, over the same time period have not increased at all. So should we conclude that CO2 causes cancer in women, but not in men? Perhaps we should look further and note that women, very few of whom smoked before 1960, started smoking profusely in the 60′s, while men leveled out in their smoking habits. When grass is tall and green, 1000 times more people drown than when grass is short and brown. Therefore, green grass causes drowning, right? Well, consider that when grass is green and tall, it’s summertime, just when people are likely to go swimming. My favorite, however, is the well known fact that the more time a person spends driving his car on the highway, the more likely he/she is to get in an auto accident, possibly fatal. Knowing this, one can limit the risk of an accident by driving as fast as possible, damn the speed limit. Obviously you will spend less time driving the faster you go, thus you reduce your risk of having a fatal auto accident, right? Reduce CO2 emissions and the earth will stop warming, right?

“A team at the Danish National Space Center has discovered how cosmic rays from exploding stars can help to make clouds in the atmosphere. The results support the theory that cosmic rays influence Earth’s climate.”

That news, like anything that might go counter to the GW dogma, was not widely reported in the mass media.

Here’s another excerpt:

“It is known that low-altitude clouds (my insert: high altitude clouds are greenhousers) have an overall cooling effect on the Earth’s surface. Hence, variations in cloud cover caused by cosmic rays can change the surface temperature. The existence of such a cosmic connection to Earth’s climate might thus help to explain past and present variations in Earth’s climate.”

It goes on:

“during the 20th Century, the Sun’s magnetic field, which shields Earth from cosmic rays more than doubled, thereby reducing the average influx of cosmic rays. The resulting reduction in cloudiness, especially of low-altitude clouds, may be a significant factor in the global warming Earth has undergone during the last century. However, until now, there has been no experimental evidence of how the causal mechanism linking cosmic rays and cloud formation may work.”

Perhaps while we are spending lots of money trying to limit CO2 emissions, we should also have politicians pass laws limiting how many stars in the galaxy should be allowed to explode!

Finally, economist Bjorn Lomborg, author of the book “Skeptical Environmentalist” is a GW believer. He buys the CO2 theory. However, he strongly disputes the wild disaster scenarios put forth by folks such as Al Gore and the recent report on climate change by Nicholas Stern and the U.K. government.

Referring to them, he states in the November 2006 issue of the Wall St. Journal:

“Faced with such alarmist suggestions, spending just 1% of gross domestic product (GDP) or $450 billion each year to cut carbon emissions seems on the surface like a sound investment. In fact, it is one of the least attractive options. Spending just a fraction of this figure 75 billion the U.N. estimates that we could solve all the world’s major basic problems. We could give everyone clean drinking water, sanitation, basic health care and education right now. Is that not better?”

Do you still believe, after reading this far, that global warming is totally due to anthropogenic CO2 emissions?

EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

Posted in Animals, Causes, Coal, Drought, Fuel Cells, Global Warming & Climate Change, Hydrogen, Natural Gas, Organizations, Other, Ozone, People, Smoking, Solar, Tidal, Wind0 Comments

Smart, Smart Growth

Concentrating people into high-density living arrangements is a central premise of the “smart growth” movement. But the nature of these high density communities is what separates the truly smart developments from the merely smart.

Green buildings are designed, essentially, to require no more energy and water inputs than they are able to generate using on-site systems. A green building is also designed, of course, to use non-toxic, sustainable materials, and to recycle or 100% treat all of its waste. But green buildings may also be awe-inspiring feats of architecture, and fantastic spaces for humans to work, live, and congregate.

Green Building
Image: Montana State Univ.

A mesmerizing example of such a green building showed up in the December 2006 issue of The Atlantic magazine, in a detailed illustration that consumes nearly the entire space of a two-page advertisement. This ad, placed by United Technologies, and accompanied by the phrase “Imagine that. You can do well in the world without hurting it,” there is a cross-sectional illustration of building perhaps ten stories in height that is “the first zero net energy building.”

On parts of the roof and on sections of passive solar sunshades are arrays of photovoltaics that are totally integrated into the surfaces.

Designed to operate inside ducts with barely visible intakes, high-tech wind-turbines also operate, silently, to generate additional electricity. Ultra high energy-efficient elevators speed people and cargo throughout the levels. Underground is a cistern, to collect all of the building’s runoff from rainfall. Rooftops are covered in turf including plants and ponds, with a water reclamation system integrated into the landscaping.

Between cantilevered beams of steel and composite, this large green building has floor-to-ceiling “electro-chromic” windows that automatically increase their tint depending on the degree of sunlight. These windows may also be photovoltaic. Various levels of the building have extra-high ceilings, as high as twenty feet. Workspaces and residences are placed throughout the building, and a giant central atrium ensures ample air circulation throughout the building.

Along with rainwater cisterns that can either draw from or supply municipal pipes, beneath the building are parking areas and utility areas including electrical storage units that use fuel cells or batteries. The climate and energy functions of the building are completely automated, and controllable from anywhere in the world using a cell phone.

Sunlight provides energy, rain provides water, nothing pollutes, there is no “urban heat island” effect, and people live in enjoyable and inspiring spaces in very high proximity to each other. Green buildings make humanity’s footprint smaller on the earth, and they can also make the life within the print a better life than ever.

Posted in Architecture, Buildings, Electricity, Energy, Fuel Cells, Homes & Buildings, Landscaping, Other, Solar, Wind1 Comment

Series Hybrid Hints

This week the Los Angeles Auto Show had its 100th annual exhibition at the Los Angeles Convention Center. In his keynote address on 11-29, Rick Wagoner, the Chairman and CEO of General Motors, congratulated the producers when he said “you have ‘arrived’ this year as one of the industry’s top international shows.”

This is more true than the distinguished Mr. Wagoner may realize. California is the home of automotive industry newcomers Tesla Motors in the Silicon Valley, and Phoenix Motorcars in California’s southland. Tesla Motors is noteworthy because they have the backing of some of the wealthiest, smartest venture capitalists the Silicon Valley ever spawned, and they are using the already commoditized lithium ion batteries used in laptops, with extremely high energy densities, to power their 100% battery powered Tesla Roadster. Phoenix Motorcars is interesting because they have a supplier agreement with Altair Technologies, who claim they have a next-generation “nano-titanate” lithium ion battery that has faster recharging times and greatly reduced problems with heat management. Could the automotive industry’s center of gravity be shifting from Detroit to California?

What we really were looking for when listening to the GM Chairman Wagoner deliver his keynote in Los Angeles was any indication that GM was going to deliver a series hybrid car, as rumor has it – read “The Series Hybrid Car is Here.”

In Wagoner’s keynote (read text here) he mentioned flex-fuel vehicles, E-85 gasoline, new hybrid vehicle roll-outs, even a plug-in hybrid! We like plug-ins, even now using nickel metal hydride batteries, because some of us only have 10-20 mile commutes, which means we can plug our hybrid cars into a wall socket each night and spend $.02 per mile using the electricity from the grid, instead of triple that cost when we charge our cars batteries using on-board gasoline. Read “Electric Car Cost per Mile” or “The 100% Battery Powered Car” for charts explaining the cost-per-mile savings of using grid electricity vs. gasoline.

We are extremely excited about series hybrid cars, because in this design the onboard gasoline engine is hooked only to an electric generator. This means it can operate at a constant RPM, which means it can attain up to 40% efficiency, far, far more than it can achieve when hooked to a drivetrain with constantly varying RPM and torque requirements. The efficiencies getting power from a generator through a battery pack and into an electric traction motor are surprisingly high. We believe the serial hybrid is potentially more fuel efficient than today’s parallel hybrids, and we believe they are far, far less complex to build and maintain.

We were told, off the record, by a GM spokesperson only two days ago that GM is definitely going to have a serial hybrid concept car early next year. But the best we got on 11-29-2006 from Chairman Wagoner is the following: “GM is committed to the development of electrically driven vehicles that will help improve energy diversity, and minimize the automobile’s impact on the environment… and, we’ll follow today’s announcements with additional announcements during the auto show season… including Detroit, in about six weeks.” That’s an enticing tidbit.

GM has gotten a bum rap by environmentalists. GM has tried everything; the experimental EV-1, sixteen generations of internally designed fuel cells, hybrids, flex-fuel; now plug-in hybrids. But if they don’t come through (as they have hinted so far they will) with a serial hybrid car, which is the closest thing yet to a 100% battery powered car and eminently practical, someone in California is going to do it instead, and the automotive world’s center of gravity will shift westward…

Posted in Cars, Electricity, Energy, Fuel Cells13 Comments

Hydrogen Internal Combustion

There are many obstacles to creating an energy future reliant on hydrogen, but it is a mistake to think the hydrogen future must include fuel cells. In our posts critical of the hydrogen lobby we have oversimplified that point, because hydrogen can be used as fuel for an internal combustion engine. And even when hydrogen combusts, it is still absolutely pollution free, emitting only water vapor.

When we participated in California’s hydrogen highway planning sessions a few years ago, there was an obvious disconnect between what the hydrogen zealots wanted, and what the industry engineers claimed was feasible. I distinctly remember representatives from Ford and Toyota patiently trying to explain how easy it would be to just convert a vehicle to run on hydrogen – keeping the internal combustion engine.

Today a BBC report entitled “BMW’s Hydrogen Car” describes the experience writer Jorn Madslien has as he tools along the autobahn north of Berlin in a prototype that delivers over 300 horsepower. By sticking with an internal combustion engine, BMW is bucking the trend, and will undoubtedly deliver affordable hydrogen-powered cars way, way ahead of the pack. Designing vehicles with onboard fuel cells is still very problematic, and not just because of their expensive raw materials.

None of this means the hydrogen future is going to be easy, or will ever occupy more than a niche in tomorrow’s energy economy. We like hydrogen because it can be produced using nothing more than electricity and water, and you can burn it with no pollution. We believe that technology is about to deliver a photovoltaic revolution, so being able to produce vast quantities of “green” hydrogen is not a far fetched notion. But storage and distribution of hydrogen remains an extremely challenging obstacle.

On board BMW’s hydrogen car, for example, is a tank of liquified hydrogen. This requires a refrigeration system, as well as the necessity to bleed off a small percentage of the liquified hydrogen as gas each hour. Absent a recapturing device, this means such a vehicle could never be parked in an enclosed environment such as a parking garage, since the hydrogen gas would collect and could cause a catastrophic explosion.

On a larger scale, hydrogen storage is even more problematic. At any given moment, there are well over 400 million barrels of gasoline (a five day supply) refined and working through the worldwide storage and distribution infrastructure. How on earth are we going to store that much energy in the form of hydrogen? In practical terms, this would require ultra-cold liquification, or containment in 10,000 PSI pressure vessels. By contrast, natural gas only requires pressure vessels at 300 PSI. Storing hydrogen would require a containment vessel literally 30 times as strong as natural gas. Gasoline, of course, simply requires a tank.

So if you take away the fuel cell and go with internal combustion, and if you assume we are on the verge of having abundant electricity via photovoltaics, then hydrogen looks a lot better. But because of the remaining storage and distribution challenges, replacing petroleum with hydrogen is going to take creativity, technological breakthroughs, and an investment in infrastructure we can scarcely imagine. My money is still on batteries.

Posted in Cars, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Fuel Cells, Hydrogen, Natural Gas, Science, Space, & Technology3 Comments

Fuel Cell Fantasies

Today’s San Francisco Chronicle ran an article that fairly screams for commentary. In the story entitled “Honda Rolls Out the Future – A Car Powered by Hydrogen,” the reporter informs us of the following “But by one particular yardstick, the car is special — it doesn’t run on fossil fuel. Instead, a fuel cell car uses hydrogen.” That’s in paragraph two. A little further down, in paragraph nine, the truth comes out “The hydrogen can be refined from a number of sources, including coal, natural gas and methane.” Oops.

Further still in this report, reality comes out in a quote from David Friedman of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington D.C., who says “We have to get a fuel cell vehicle that is durable and cheap enough,” Friedman said, “and make sure the hydrogen is clean enough. No one will cheer if, at the end of the day, we make all our hydrogen from coal and melt the planet.” Amen, Mr. Friedman.

At the end of the story comes a final quote, one that bears challenging “As for the economics, Honda Vice President Ben Knight said a fuel cell car can get the equivalent of a gasoline-powered car’s 65 miles per gallon. An FCX filled with 8.8 pounds of hydrogen can go about 270 miles, he said.”

This is only true if the car is fueled with hydrogen derived from fossil fuel. If instead the car uses “green” hydrogen, which requires green electricity to electrolyse the hydrogen by separating the hydrogen atom from H2O, then 40% of the energy in the electricity is lost. Therefore, such a car would get the equivalent of 39 MPG, which is what cars get already.

The problems with hydrogen are huge – it is very difficult to store, it is very difficult to distribute, it has to be made using fossil fuel (or made inefficiently using electricity), and the fuel cells use costly raw materials, they break easily and they degrade quickly. It is extremely unlikely we will ever have hydrogen fuel cell cars on the road in meaningful quantities.

The bottom line is this – as green energy, hydrogen is an electricity carrier. Hydrogen is only green if it is made from electricity (green electricity) using electrolysis, then converted back into electricity using a fuel cell. A better way to do this is via batteries. Even ultra-capacitors have a better chance of winning the electricity storage sweepstakes than hydrogen fuel cells. Read The Hydrogen Hoax for more information.

Posted in Cars, Coal, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Fuel Cells, Hydrogen, Natural Gas5 Comments

Batteries vs. Fuel Cells

For three days in late September, California’s Air Resources Board hosted their annual “Zero Emission Vehicle” (ZEV) Symposium. It’s interesting to see how the agenda has evolved this year, to put more emphasis than ever on battery electric vehicle technology instead of hydrogen fuel cell technology.

If you review the presentation agenda you will see that the hydrogen lobby managed to dominate most of the conference. But if you view the various presentations, you may be struck by the difference in tone and content between these competing technologies. Basically, the hydrogen folks trotted out the same slides they delivered last year, with minor updates. On the battery electric sessions, however, there was an excitement and vitality that comes from knowing you are in the vanguard of an impending revolution.

Battery/electric automotive technology, you see, doesn’t require a government hand-out – or mandate – to survive. It’s venture financed instead of taxpayer financed. It’s nurtured by some of the most hard-headed, brilliant capitalists the Silicon Valley ever spawned, people who have made their fortunes by beating the competition in the free market, and who are willing to invest their winnings in another winner whose time has come – battery/electric cars.

The most revealing and illuminating comparison between hydrogen fuel cell technology and battery/electric technology came on page 21 of the electric car presentation delivered by Martin Eberhard, CEO of Tesla Motors. In this he poses the question “how many miles will one unit of electricity power a car?” and proceeds to prove that the battery powered car will travel about 3.5 times further than a hydrogen fuel cell car on the same amount of electrical input. We believe Mr. Eberhard, since we’ve quantitatively demonstrated similar results in our post “The Hydrogen Hoax” and in our pro-battery/electric vehicle feature story “The Battery Powered Car.”

Eberhard doesn’t quit there. He also demonstrates the advantage photovoltaic arrays hold over biofuel crops on pages 25 and 26 of his presentation. He demonstrates that one acre of land covered with photovoltaics will enable an electric car range 32 times further than the same acre of land used to produce a biofuel crop. We agree, as the calculations prove in our post “Biofuel vs. Photovoltaics.”

It is wonderful to see the truth beginning to come to light. It may be batteries, or it may be ultracapacitors (or a combination of the two), that power the electric motors of next generation ultra-green cars. One thing is certain: It won’t be hydrogen fuel cells. And while biofuel has potential, particularly if it is factory grown, the abundant green energy of tomorrow is going to come, overwhelmingly, from photovoltaic arrays.

Posted in Cars, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Fuel Cells, Hydrogen, Science, Space, & Technology0 Comments

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