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Growing uncertainty with the situation in the Middle East

  1. May 24, 2005 #1
    As a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the growing uncertainty with the situation in the Middle East, South America and Europe, the United States is now forced to re-think its energy policy so that it can lower energy consumption of and dependence on foreign oil. Just as the automobile replaced the horse-drawn carriage so it is time for the electric battery to replace the gasoline engine. We are at the dawn of a new age when one can plug their car into an electric outlet and re-charge it for travel up to sixty miles or more. But with any wholesale change comes the requirement of a transitional mechanism. Hence the need for a vehicle that can run alternatively on both gasoline and electricity. The goal of course would be to make a total conversion within a reasonable amount of time. Most of the electricity produced in the United States comes from coal-fired power plants so the concern by some is that a reduction in tailpipe emissions would be offset by an increase in air pollution from the power plants. Others argue that the sheer volume of reduced vehicle emissions would fall far greater than plant-produced air pollution. We may even see a coalition of military hawks and environmentalists as fuel efficiency brings about both security and a better climate.

    Few would argue that two factors influence consumer's choice of transportation more than anything else: gas mileage and appearance. Ever since the automobile became available to the average consumer, it has always been considered a status symbol much like the clothing we wear and the houses we live in. The price of electricity is pale compared to the price of gasoline so this factor is virtually a no-brainer. The choice of appearance however, will always linger as long as we believe that "appearance makes the person". But this factor can also be addressed during the transition phase since it appears that most vehicles today can be modified to use both fuel sources. As for the future, the old tried and true marketing techniques will convince most people that buying the style of car available will guarantee that the "future won't pass them by". Just as Japanese cars promoting fuel efficiency in response to the oil embargo of the 1970's sparked the Big Three to respond accordingly so will the shift to electric vehicles change the market once again. Perhaps this time General Motors, Ford and Daimler Chrysler will get the "jump on the competition" and in so doing, save themselves from bankruptcy.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 24, 2005 #2


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    That’s amusing.

  4. May 25, 2005 #3
    I see a few(?) problems that need to be worked out before electric cars become a reality, at least here in the US.

    The first issue is battery performance. The electrics I've seen on TV say things like 'up to 55 miles per hour' and 'range of up to 80 miles.' For many Americans, that's just not going to cut it. Trying to make a 1,000 mile trip in eighty mile segments would be maddening, especially when you consider it takes quite a bit longer to recharge the battery than to fill up on gasoline. The top speed is also problematic. The speed limit on the interstate where I live is 70 mph, and most people exceed it. At 55, you're going to have double tractor-trailers and RV's slamming on their brakes as they come up on you. Also, I assume that the quoted top speed is for a fairly empty car. What happens when you have several people and their baggage in the car? Is the top speed now 40 mph?

    The only solution I see to the performance issue, at least until the advent of better batteries or hydrogen fuel cells, is a hybrid engine. Unfortunately, these have their own set of problems. First, by adding the gasoline fuel system and it's associated parts (fuel tank especially) you've increased the weight of the car, requiring an even better battery to get decent performance. Also, there's a space issue. Engines take up a good deal of space and so do battery systems. You probably end up giving up most of your trunk, your back seat, or have an engine so small it barely outperforms the battery (think Geo Metro.)

    The next issue is power plants. I think the folks who say electric cars will cause more emissions are probably more accurate. The majority of fossil fuel plants in this country are old enough that they aren't subject to the latest Clean Air Act requirements (source)

    Of course increased power generation demands would require new power plants (which should be subject to the CA requirements), so it should offset the increase in emissions somewhat. Unfortunately, as California showed us recently, building new cleaner plants is expensive, necessitating a rate increase (since California wouldn't allow a rate increase, the power companies were unwilling to build new plants and rolling blackouts resulted.)

    I hope you don't feel I'm jumping on you harshly. That's not my intention. It's just that it's a big problem and the solution isn't as simple as 'everybody buy an electric car.' There are still improvements in technology and a large scale infrastructure upgrade that need to be made before it can become a reality.
  5. May 25, 2005 #4
    electric cars are much more expensive than hydrogen, propane, ethenol, or vegetable oil cars. Any automobile can be converted to run on any of these, and probably more for less than 2000 bucks. No need for feul cells with hydrogen, just burn the hydrogen in the engine rather than make electricity to power a motor.
  6. May 25, 2005 #5


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    Ive always actaully wondered what kind of actual performance you get with vegetable oils and if any emissions are saved at all (seeing as how... well, i think we all know where that vegetable oil comes from ... specifically how its harvested). How efficient is hydrogen in its electrical generation setup vs its burning setup? And isnt propane pretty inefficient?
  7. May 25, 2005 #6
    I don't know about propane being less efficient or not, but it's cheaper to operate a vehicle that uses propane rather than gas. Hydrogen is 3 times more efficient than gas. the only problem is that there are practically no propane, hydrogen, or 100% ethenol gas stations. Hydrogen can be made at home though, if some company makes a home electrolosis unit that would fill your tank while you sleep.
  8. May 25, 2005 #7


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    Can you source any of that? I wanna keep a record of energy-facts such as these. And the last statement really misses the target when it comes to helping the environment. If you do not have a clean source that leads up to your home's electrical line, its irrelevant what fuel is made with that electricity because you may have used as much or more gasoline to make that electricity to make that hydrogen.
  9. May 25, 2005 #8


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    Propane isn't taxed as a road fuel. It's not necessarily inherently cheaper than petroleum (if this is what you mean by 'gas'). Around 350% of the cost of petrol is duty.

    Can you please back this up? You haven't stated which process will give three-fold efficiencies over petrol. Also, as Penguino mentioned, you're being very narrow minded regarding your efficiencies. If, by producing Hydrogen by electrolysis, you think that you're going to get these three-fold efficiencies over petrol, you're very much misguided. Do you know how efficient burning coal is to make electricity?
  10. May 25, 2005 #9
    I don't know anything about hydrogen fuels, but I do know where to find the most comprehensive report I know of about ethanol via corn production (one of the darlings of the agribusiness group). There's a report here that has a lot of the number crunching in it. Their total balance is about 21,000 BTUs per gallon (I know raw gasoline is about 114,000 BTUs/gallon, but I don't know what the processing costs are). I'm not sure about their yields though, as I once calculated that it would take a tremendous land area to replace all of the US's energy needs with corn-based ethanol fuels. You can evaluate them on your own.

    I'm interested in seeing what kind of numbers you get out of hydrogen.
  11. May 25, 2005 #10
    Read about hydrogen cars here. Unfortunately, just like the battery powered cars, they still suffer from the fact you have to use energy produce hydrogen, unlike oil which comes out of the ground nearly ready to burn. As Jonny_t indicates, there are also cars that run on hydrogen internal combustion. The problem seems to be with storing the hydrogen though. Current designs only get a few miles on a tank.
  12. May 25, 2005 #11
    can't wait for my electric Camry...
  13. May 25, 2005 #12


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    They should make the fuel cells look like giant AA batteries... and call them like HHHHHHHHH batteries
  14. May 29, 2005 #13
    AS a former Chapter Chairperson of MASSPIRG, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group at Mass Bay Community College, I am a hardcore enviromentalist. I walk every where all year round. I used to walk 20 miles a day round trip either looking for work or actually going to work. I wear military Artic clothing. From the big micky moose boots, to the pants designed to fight the Soviets which were not made after 1982, I wear gear in which I can sleep in the snow and still be warm. I have fury gloves and Russian winter hats to wear outdoors and an extra set for indoors. I slept in 2,000 square foot ofice spaces with no heat and litter damaged a part of my body. Hence the catch phrase "froze my #### off!" So yes, now I walk 3 miles a day to work and carpool back home. I am proof that we can live with either walking everywhere, using mass tansite, and the importance of properly keeping yourself warm without damaging your bocy to look like a 60 year old man in one or two reguards.

    Can other Americans do the same? The answer is no. The reason is they do not want to give up thier status in the "caste-system." Thier insecurities have them driving Hummers instead of aToyota's Primus.
  15. May 29, 2005 #14


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    Ah yes, the Toyota Primus, the epitome of clean-burning gas powered machines...

    Sorry, I couldn't help picking on that one. :smile:
  16. May 29, 2005 #15
    No offense taken. You do get the point. People are so busy dressing in their fancy cloths, in their fancy houses, to get into thier fancy cars, and drive to thier fancy resturants, so they can talk fancy about how thier letters to the editor was published in the local newspaper insulting City Hall employees. They will not stop to trade in thier gas guzzlers unless it was Chic because all thier friends were in the current trend.
  17. May 30, 2005 #16
    Big Papa: Ouch!

    I had a couple of professors at the Military Academy who were missing fingers that had been frozen off at Ranger School. That certainly helped with my decision not to go to!

    As for the big gas guzzlers, history provides a good example. When we hit the next major gas shortage and prices skyrocket, we'll see a lot more small, fuel efficient cars on the road. Until then, it's just too easy for us to stick our heads in the sand and pretend there's no problem.

    You can see the same sort of thing in old houses. My family owns quite a few old (80-100+ years old) houses. Most of them don't have one scrap of insulation in the walls, and those that do have rock wool that was blown in back in the 50's. I asked a friend of mine who's been in the real estate business for over 30 years why that was. He told me that the price of coal at the turn of the century was only 2 cents a ton, so there was no real incentive to insulate.
  18. May 31, 2005 #17


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    Environmentalism via attempting to change the American way of life is doomed to fail. I only hope you are putting your efforts into environmentalism options that have a reasonable chance of succeeding. Also, please don't assume people are motivated by fashion and don't use Hummers as an example - they sell what, 50,000 of them a year? The vast majority of people drive $15-$25k cars that they own because they like them, not because they want to impress anyone. One of my bigger problems with environmentalism is the way they seem to misunderstand and even villify the American way of life.

    I, for example, live 11 miles from where I work. Could I ride a bike there? Sure. It would take about 45 minutes (instead of the 25 to drive), after which I'd need a shower. Odds of me ever doing it? Slim to none. Public transportation is also not an option.

    There are a number of simple things that could be done to save energy, though. Heat recovery in HVAC systems, more fluorescent lighting, higher efficiency standards for everything, etc.

    And if you get real ambitious, you could push for the return of nuclear power.
    Last edited: May 31, 2005
  19. May 31, 2005 #18
    Monolithic Dome homes -- too energy efficient?

    ...Monolithic Dome homes and buildings.

    Surprise! Although a heat pump would be more efficient on a conventional home and would eventually pay for itself, the same was not true on a Monolithic Dome. On the Oberon, the heat pump would never save enough to pay the capital cost difference. A one-ton air conditioning unit cost $500; the wall heater cost $80. Compare that $580 to the $2500 price of the least expensive heat pump then available. The capital cost of that extra $2000 is about $200 per year. If you add maintenance and depreciation, you're probably adding another $200 per year. Obviously on our dome, we could not recover capital cost through savings on energy costs.

    Currently for a Monolithic Dome home, we suggest one ton of air conditioning per one thousand square feet. So, for a 2000-square-foot home we would use a two-ton unit. Twelve hundred square feet would take a 1.5 ton air conditioning unit, which is about the smallest and simplest central air conditioning system available. Installed, it costs about $3500 and generally comes with 20 kilowatts of electric heat. Monolithic has learned to disable three of its four heating elements, leaving five kilowatts or 5000 BTU in the heating elements. Even that is overkill for Monolithic Domes in the southern half of the U.S.

    But instead of the central system, the 1200-square-foot dome could be nicely air conditioned with four, 5000-BTU window units. Each unit costs only about $150 and has the added advantage of an individual thermostat. As for heating, built-in electric heaters or four, 1200-watt, plug-in fan heaters can do that. These fans can be bought at many discount stores, for about $30 each, and they run on the same amount of electricity as a hair dryer.

    So -- if what we're using currently is so economical, is an alternative energy system in a Monolithic Dome home even worth considering?
  20. May 31, 2005 #19


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    For a very large portion of our population... its laughable to think its just about status symbols or crap like that. A large number of people haveh to commute a large distance in order to get to where they need to go (in reference to having to use a bike). I personally would have to travel about 10 miles each day just for class through neighborhoods I dont even like driving through. To get to the supermarket... well as of this year it would be around 5 miles (and not sure how i'd get the groceries home....). To get to best buy :D, 20 miles. And of course, I dont really like having my life dictated based on what the government thinks is a good bus schedule. I doubt many people here can say they can cut out of work before there done with their task at hand in order to catch the right bus.

    As for hummers and priuses... well im sorry but this is America, the country not known for criticizing people based on what they want to own.

    And i hope, as someone else pointd out, you spend your time campaigning for nuclear power instead of against the lattest hummer model (well what am i saying, one of hte newest hummers on the design board is hydrogen powered).
  21. Jun 6, 2005 #20


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    See link below


    Also I read somewhere recently that surprisingly one of the biggest easy wins in fuel conservation would be if people only boiled the amount of water they needed when making a cup of coffee / tea.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2005
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