Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Oil Drum: The Politics of Oil - The Discourse Must Change!

As you may have noticed, there's a lot of political hot air getting blow about concerning prices at the pump these days. Everyone seems to have their own solution for how to help solve this 'problem' and cut the American people some slack. Unfortunately, you may have also noticed that the supposed solutions are usually a bit simple and tend towards the 'find a convenient enemy to blame' line of reasoning.

Well the current climate of the politics of oil has prompted the "ideologically diverse" set of editors at the Oil Drum, the premier site for the ongoing discussion of Peak Oil, to issue their first ever press release. Its a very worthwhile read and I've included the fulll text below. It's time we got a bit more realistic about what's causing prices at the pump, and a bit more realistic about finding true solutions (i.e. alternatives to oil). Read on ... and then write a letter to your editor and start injecting some informed discussion into the current atmosphere of finger-pointing and cries of 'price-gouging':

THE POLITICS OF OIL: THE DISCOURSE MUST CHANGE
Wed, April 26th, 2006

Leaders of both political parties are expressing concern about the high price of gasoline. President George Bush announced yesterday that he was suspending deliveries to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in order to make more oil available to consumers as well as putting on hold the traditional regulations requiring additives to make fuel burn cleaner during the summer driving season.

Meanwhile, Democratic leaders have had their own response to rising gas prices. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has announced his support for the Menendez Amendment, which would “provide more than $6 billion in relief directly to the American people by eliminating the federal tax for both gas and diesel for 60 days.” Senator Charles Schumer recently called for a federal investigation to determine whether oil companies are withholding gasoline production, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has blamed high gas prices on the administration's cozy relationship with the oil companies, price gouging, and royalty relief.

The editors of The Oil Drum are ideologically diverse. Over the last year, we have created a forum at www.theoildrum.com to encourage an open, rational, and fact-based discussion of energy issues. While individual editors frequently express an opinion on a subject, we have never felt it necessary to take a unified position on any specific issue. That is, until today.

We strongly feel that the leaders of both political parties are not only headed in the wrong direction with respect to gas prices, but we also worry that they fundamentally misunderstand the factors behind the current situation at gasoline stations around the US. Public statements by political figures over the past several days would seem to suggest that oil companies and their record profits are the sole factor determining the price of gasoline. Not only is this untrue, but it is dangerous to give the American people the impression that only oil companies are to blame. The American people need to understand that the phenomenon of high gas prices cannot be attributed to a single source. They also need to understand that no one political party will be able to fix our current woes.

The major factor that determines gas prices is the price of crude oil from which gasoline is derived. When crude oil prices are high, so are gas prices. The following are just a few factors that affect the price of a barrel of oil:

  • 1. Oil companies do not single-handedly determine the price of oil. The price of oil is set on the crude oil futures market. Simply put, these prices are affected by supply and demand because, at present, oil trades in a global commodity market where increased demand or reduced supply in one place instantly translates into price shifts everywhere. A variety of publicly available information sources show that supply is relatively static at the moment, while world demand continues to grow as economies grow.

  • 2. We have provided evidence many times at The Oil Drum that the output of major oilfields is declining and that we may now have reached a peak or plateau in global oil supply. Oil companies have not been able to increase production for a number of years, and it is unclear that OPEC is accurately reporting their reserves. Even if there were significant sources of high quality oil remaining, it is getting increasingly difficult and expensive to drill. These factors, along with aging infrastructure for oil exploration and a retiring workforce are also contributing to high oil prices.

  • 3. The geopolitical situation is volatile, and an astute citizen may notice that every time there is news from Nigeria or Iran, the price of oil goes up because of the potential and real effects of these situations on world oil supply. Again, oil traders are fearful that the supply will not remain stable forever.

  • 4. Countries like China and India are industrializing at a great pace, and while we are accustomed to obtaining oil at a comfortable quantity and price, it will be impossible (and immoral) to deny similar resources to these countries. China is working furiously to secure new oil supplies, and they're content to negotiate with countries we're reluctant to deal with, like Iran and the Sudan.

  • These points demonstrate that disruptions in the supply of oil that affect the price of gasoline at the pump are not just a temporary glitch. For various reasons--decreased discoveries of new oilfields, geopolitical instability, international competition for oil supply--we can no longer assume that we will be able to consume as much oil as possible, or ever get it again for $1.50 a gallon.

    Demagoguery and grandstanding are not strategies for addressing our energy problems. As an alternative, the editors of The Oil Drum put forth the following recommendations:

  • 1. It is nonsensical for political leaders of both parties to eliminate the gas tax temporarily or permanently as this will only worsen our dependence on oil by disincentivizing the innovation of oil alternatives and oil conservation efforts.

  • 2. Both mainstream American political parties are doing their country a disservice by accusing convenient scapegoats of price gouging or price fixing instead of educating the public about how the price of gas is actually set.

  • 3. Right now, governments should be focused on helping us cure our “addiction to oil.” The answer does not lie in lowering gas prices, which will only encourage people to drive more and further waste our valuable resources. As the Department of Energy funded Hirsch Report on Peak Oil laid out, the consequences of not taking steps to transition away from oil could be dramatic to our economic system. Appropriate solutions include large-scale research, development, and implementation programs to improve the scalability of alternative sources of energy, other projects geared towards improving mass transit and carpooling programs across the country, providing incentives to buy smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles, and promoting a campaign to increase awareness about conservation.

  • The political discourse on this topic is simply so devoid of fact, and constructive discourse so buried and out of the mainstream, that we felt we needed to raise a voice of reason. Public officials will continue to misinform and obfuscate if we allow it.

    The only solution is to educate the public about the most important problem we face as a generation. We, the citizens of the US and the world, must move our attention to this the issue of energy more than any other. We must hold our representative governments accountable for having an open and honest debate on the subject.

    Simply put, we must learn more about where our energy comes from.
    Ditto!

    An always lively discussions continues at the Oil Drum. The discussion of the press release can be found here
    [A hat tip to Green Car Congress]

    Read more!

    Tuesday, April 25, 2006

    Why I'm Not a Big Fan of Hydrogen

    As you know, assuming you're a regular reader around here, I'm not a huge fan of hydrogen and the reason why, is because I believe there are better alternatives to nearly all of the potential applications of hydrogen. This paper, does a good job of thinking through most of the reasons why I believe that:

    Carring the Energy Future: Comparing Hydrogen and Electricity for Transmission, Storage and Transportation.

    I would highly recommend taking a look at the paper. I'd love to hear other's thoughts on what I think is a pretty convincing job of illustrating the viable alternatives to potential hydrogen applications. Its time to cut through the hype and get down to exploring alternative before we start (or continue) investing in the what may be a costly mistake.

    What follows is a discussion on this thread between myself, and University of Oregon Professor of Physics, Greg Bothun. I would welcome and encourage the continuation of this discussion in the comments section below.

    Me:

    It seems that the only time that hydrogen is better than the alternatives is perhaps when you are trying to tap remote renewables that cannot be linked to the grid in any other manner (e.g. high voltage DC lines). In that case, tapping what would otherwise be an unusable renewable resource by making electorlytic hydrogen on site and piping it to demand centers would be a worthwhile model.

    However, it still makes little sense to use that hydrogen as a transport fuel in fuel cell vehicles (FCVs). A better alternative would be to utilize the hydrogen near the demand center in more centralized hydrogen fuel cell power plants that can use more efficient high temperature fuel cells (like solid oxide FCs) rather than the low temp ones (PEM FCs) found in FCVs. The heat from the fuel cells can also be utilized in this model (and is wasted in PEM FVCs), making the process significantly more efficient.

    Here's the back of the envelope math, starting with the H2 arriving at the demand center in pipelines and on through the same electric drive train to power the vehicle. This should allow a direct comparison between the two options:

    Option A: Hydrogen FCVs utilize the gaseous H2 at fueling stations:

  • Gaseous H2 at filling station...

  • H2 compression for on-board storage: 92.5% (Liquification is much worse at 70% and has a host of problems regarding dealing with boil-off)

  • PEM Fuel Cell: 45% eff (I think that's about average for PEM cells)

  • Useful electric energy for electric drive train...

  • Total efficiency: 41.6%
    Assuming 1 mmBtu of H2 input, we get 416,000 btu to the electric drive train

    Option B: Electric vehicles (or plug-ins) utilizing electricity from central Fuel Cell Power Plants running on gaseous H2:

  • Gaseous H2 at fuel cell power station...

  • Solid Oxide Fuel Cell: 55% efficiency (commercially available SOFCs usually operate in the 50-60% range)
    Electric transmission (very short distance as SOFC power plants can be situated within the city, near the point of end use): 99%

  • AC-DC inverter and charge controller on EV: 95%

  • Li-ion battery storage: 99% (99%+ culoumbic efficiency for Li-ion. This is only 66% for NiMH batteries)

  • Battery self-discharge: 92% (assumes 8% per month self-discharge rate)

  • useful electric energy for electric drive train...

  • Total efficiency: 47.1%
    Assuming 1 mmBtu of H2 input, we get 471,000 btu to the electric drive train.

    So, it looks like nearly a wash here. The SOFC/EV pathway is better but not significantly so. Why make a fuss? Well, I of course didn't figure in the recapture of most of the waste heat from the SOFC plant that goes to waste in the PEMFC pathway.

    We can probably recapture 2/3rds of the waste heat from the SOFC power plant for co-gen (supply it as process heat or steam to a nearby industrial facility or maybe situate each plant within a neighborhood to provide electricity and heat for the whole neighborhood or some such ... SOFC power plants are not shabby neighbors to have, considering they produce zero emissions and produce useful heat or steam for export).

    That means that if we assume the same 1 mmBtu of H2 input as above, we will get 300,000 btu of useful heat on top of the 471,000 btu to the electric drive train (66.7% waste heat capture * 45% SOFC waste heat = 30% useful heat; 30% * 10^6 btu = 300,000 btu). Now we end up with a total efficiency for the SOFC/cogen/EV pathway of 77.1% (i.e. (300,000 btu + 471,000 btu)/10^6 btu). That IS something to make a fuss about as it is a significantly more efficient use of the H2 than the PEM FCV pathway above which only manages to eke 416,000 btu of useful energy out of the H2.

    Finally, as a briefly mentioned above, if HVDC lines can instead be used to reach the remote renewables, this option would probably be even better as the transmission losses from HVDC and gaseous H2 pipelines are just about a wash (with GH2 pipelines having a slight edge). The fuel cell is the bottle neck in both of the above pathways and the HVDC option avoids it completely. The question here, as with most proposed hydrogen uses, is why go through the phase change from electricity to H2 if you are just going to go back to electricity?


    To which Prof Bothun replied:
    There is a lot to respond to here, but I will stick to the first paragraph for now.

    I am already familiar with this paper and I fully agree with it conclusions within the constraints that it imposes upon itself. Any argument involving efficiencies and traditional economies of scale will render Hydrogen as a poor investment strategy and not a wise choice. This is transparent.

    What is left out of the discussion is the following critical point:

    --> What happens when the extant infrastructure for delivery electricity is fully saturated and expansion of that infrastructure is neither economically or technially feasiable. At that piont we will require another mechanism to move energy. This critical aspect is left out of the discussion, continually.

    If such saturation never occurs, then we will be fine, [but] the grid is not scalable forever and we already seeing that. In the same way that when the electiricty goes out on a cold winter night all night, sometime in the future, I will need to use wood as my energy source, so too would I need an alternative like Hydrogen. As long as we can continue to generate and distribute electricity on a grid basis then we should simply invest in mechanism that pump electricity into the grid. This could work.

    Its my personal belief, (and others) that grid saturation and ineffectiviness and unrealiability is going to be a very large problem in the long term (30 years) and will start to be come more of a problem in the near term to the point that will be unable to effectively distribute all the electricity that we are generating. AT that point, everyone will want a hydrogen generator in their house, to kick in when the grid is down. If no one ever believes that the "grid will go down nationally" then there is no need for this proactive solution and investments are better made with just direct electric.

    So yes, if direct electric is our future then hydrogen is not part of the generation equation, for pretty obvious reasons. But, if we are more limited by electricity delivery, then we will have problems and I don't believe that advanced battery storage packs powered by PV's on roofs is as scalable of a solution to this problem as using hydrogen as the means of energy transport. We can generate more "energy units" of hydrogen from large scale renewable projects in remote locatoins, than we can access sufficient material for building enough batteries.

    This obviously plays in the transportation. If you can't recharge your electric vehicle because the grid is down for the day, then your stuck.

    To sum up, if you believe that reliable and continuous electricity delivery will continue far into the future, then the direct electric economy is the right way to go. That could turn out to be the case. The advantage of hydrogen, however, is it can be used by the individuall locally for both electricity and for transportation and so it has flexibility. I liken this very much to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (which is now down to 35 days capacity). We very much need a strategic Hydrogen reserve.


    Please, weigh in with your comments and we can continue this discussion here. What do you think?...

    Read more!

    Toyota Execs Talk Up their 'Green Intentions' - Confirm Toyota is Working on Plug-ins

    Toyota Motor Company outlined its vision for the future of motoring this week in an interview with Toyota CEO Kastuaki Watanabe and head of Toyota's hybrid development program, Shinichi Abe. The company envisages 'accident-proof eco-cars,' powered by a non-polluting engine that makes the air cleaner, and running on open roads free of congestion, accoring to the interview published in the UK's Guardian.

    Toyota, which is on course to become the world's biggest carmaker this year, says its vision could become reality in 10-20 years. According to the interview, by the year 2050, the group envisages a 'recycling society' where "there would be no petrol stations, instead vehicles would run on hydrogen produced using renewable energy."

    Mr. Watanabe is quoted as saying:

    "For us to become the genuine number one - in quality - we have to realise the dream vehicle, which makes the air cleaner, never injures people, makes people healthier and can run on a single tank of fuel between London and Istanbul."
    Sounds good to me, although I'd rather see that renewable energy flowing into plug-ins and EVs.

    On that note, Toyota also confirmed in the interview that they are working on plug-ins, claiming that the third generation Prius, due out in 2008, will have a nine-mile all-electric range. According to the interview:
    Toyota is working on plans for "plug-ins" for the battery from the grid at fuel stations, with future hybrids carrying a traditional power-point for domestic appliances to be used outside the home. Mr Abe said the next Prius model will be able to do a nine-mile commute to work without using any petrol or diesel.
    Nine miles is pretty small for a plug-in, but its a start.

    In a recently published article in AutoExpress, Toyota engineers claimed that the redesigned 2008 Prius would be the first production car to reach over 110 mpg [note: this is in Imperial gallons which are slightly larger than U.S. gallons]. Toyota said their engineering target was an ambitious 94 mpg [now we're talking U.S. gals] or 40km/litre. The AutoExpress article also reported that Toyota engineers are working on lithium-ion batteries for the next gen Prius (the current model uses Nickel Metal-Hydride batteries) which would probably be requisite if they hope to reach their fuel economy target.

    The AutoWeek article spawned plenty of enlivened speculation and rumor (see Green Car Congress and the Energy Blog, for example) about how plausible this 94 mpg fuel economy target was. The confirmation that the 2008 Prius will have at least a small all-electric range indicates that it might be possible, assuming that they make certain assumptions about driving habits and count the electrical energy as free (which it of course isn't by either monetary or environmental measures).

    The Toyota executives also highlighted their work on hydrogen vehicles, specifically mentioning the Fine-X/Fine-T concept car discussed here recently.

    Mr. Watanabe told the Guardian he wants to eliminate the environmental damage caused by cars and is planning for the period when the world's reserves of oil and gas are expected to run out: around the middle of this century, by his reckoning. Mr Watanabe and his board are investing 4%-5% of the group's global turnover of 18 trillion yen ($156.64 billion USD) in hybrid vehicles, based not just on petrol but on diesel, biofuels such as ethanol and biomass, all-electric motors and fuel cells, the Guardian reports. "We are aiming at making a quantum leap in the next 10 years," said Shinichi Abe, head of Toyota's hybrid division.

    We'll be waiting...

    Read more!

    Friday, April 21, 2006

    US Offshore Wind Development Still Under Threat - Last Chance to Act

    Towards the end of February, I called your attention to some backroom maneuvering to block the development of the Cape Wind Project, the largest proposed wind development and potentially first offshore wind farm in the United States (another proposed project in Texas might beat it to the finish line at this point). Now, Cape Wind is under threat again.

    [Before I get into the nitty gritty, if you'd like to act to support Cape Wind and offshore wind development in the US (and I strongly urge you to do so) please read the below article, or this summary of the issue, and call and/or email your Senators to urge them to oppose the Steven's language attached to the Coast Guard Reathorization act]

    As you may remmber, at the time of my I earlier post, Alaskan Congressman, Don Young (R), had attached language to the large Coast Guard Reauthorization Act that would have greatly extended the buffer zone required between offshore wind developments and major shipping lanes. The proposed new buffer distance, 1.5 nautical miles, would have virtually killed the Cape Wind Project, as it would prohibit a large portion of the proposed 130 turbine development, making the project "no longer be economically viable to build," according to Cape Wind spokesman, Mark Rodgers.

    The proposed Cape Wind project would construct 130 turbines on a shallow area of Massachusetts' Nantucket Sound called Horseshoe Shoal, according to Cape Wind Associates (CWA), the developers of the project. The development would produce 420 MW (peak) of clean renewable power. In average winds, that would be enough to meet the needs three quarters of Cape Cod and surrounding island's electricity, according to CWA.

    At the end of February, Young succesfully attached his ammendment to the Coast Guard Bill which then went to the House-Senate negotiating committee, a committee which just happened to be chaired by Young and fellow Alaskan, Senator Ted Stevens (R) (the man behind the repeated backhanded attempts to authorize drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge). In committee, Young's buffer language was stripped from the bill, only to have Senator Stevens add another ammendment targeting the Cape Wind project, the Anchorage Daily News (ADN) reports.

    Stevens inserted an amendment giving the Massachusetts governor veto power over the wind farm. This too would effectively kill the project as Gov. Mitt Romney has pledged to do everything in his power to stop it, ADN reports.

    The Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill and the attached Steven's language now must be approved by both the House and Senate. This gives Cape Wind Associates and its allies, including Greenpeace and several other national environmental groups as well as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), time to fight the ammendment.

    According to the ADN, the IBEW Local 103 in Massachusetts is particularly into the wind farm, which Cape Wind has agreed would be subject to a project labor agreement, a preliminary collective bargaining contract. As ADN writes:

    Outside the IBEW hall south of Boston, next to a freeway, the union has its own wind turbine and an electric sign that has been flashing "Stop the Alaskan Ambush" at drivers on the adjacent freeway.
    Still, this all makes you ponder, just as Mark Rodgers did, what these Alaskans have against a wind farm in Massachusetts. "You have to ask, what's in it for Alaska?" said the CWA spokesman.

    The proposed wind farm is intensely controversial in Massachusetts, ADN writes.
    It would be within sight of Martha's Vineyard and other beloved summer vacation communities. Its advocates say Sen. Ted Kennedy and other rich homeowners there just don't want their view spoiled. Project enemies talk about protecting the marine environment and navigation as well as the "aesthetic pollution" of all those huge wind turbines.
    Advocates have pointed out that the turbines would only appear about 1" tall on the horizon and would only be visible on clear days. Many proponents of the development argue that this is a perfect example of the 'Not In My BackYard' (NIMBY) attitude blocking the much needed development of renewable energy. Polling shows state residents outside of Cape Cod overwhelmingly support the wind farm, ADN reports, but on the Cape the opposition is much stronger. According to ADN, more than 60 percent of Nantucket residents opposed it in a recent nonbinding vote.

    So what do these two Alaskans have against the project, indeed, why do they care at all?

    According to ADN, Stevens has said he added veto power for the governor because Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), asked him to and because he believes states should determine what happens off their shores. "Senator Stevens was approached by Senator Kennedy and, on the merits of his argument, agreed," said Stevens spokesman Aaron Saunders.

    But Stevens and Kennedy aren't usually allies, wind advocates note. As ADN points out, Kennedy, one of the nation's most prominent and vocally liberal Democrats, passionately opposes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which Stevens has been working to open for more than 25 years. Suggesting that an Alaskan Senator, like Stevens, might cooperate with Kennedy, as television ads did in Alaska's most recent Senate race, amounts to negative campaigning in Alaska.

    Congressman Young told reporters in Anchorage that it was the Coast Guard that first raised the issue with him and that he's concerned the wind turbines might threaten navigation.

    But Coast Guard spokeswoman Angela McCardle said the Coast Guard never asked for the buffer zone Young's bill required. "We prefer to look at it on a case-by-case basis and not just use 1.5 miles" as a mandatory distance, she said, a policy that seems to make perfect sense to me.

    So what gives? Why would Senator Stevens be willing to take a stand on this issue, one affecting an area far from his constituents, and why would he risk associating himself with Senator Kennedy? And why would Young imply that the Coast Guard requested his ammendment when the spokesman for the Guard has denied it [some might call Young's statement a flat out lie; it's up to you though]?

    According to the ADN article, Cape Wind supporters have had lots of theories, several concerning lobbyists that are said to have pull with Stevens or Young. Some, for example, wondered whether a lobbyist working for the wind farm opponents, a man whose last name was Young, was Don Young's son. However, Don Young has no sons; there goes that theory...

    Another theory centers on the great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt. Ted Roosevelt IV, managing director of Lehman Brothers and a board member of The Wilderness Society, exasperated Stevens last year when he and Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of another Republican president, came to the Capitol to oppose drilling in ANWR. "I really am very, very disturbed," Stevens said at the time.

    Roosevelt has been a vocal supporter of Cape Wind for several years, ADN reports, even though he owns a house on Martha's Vineyard that overlooks Nantucket Sound [making him relatively unique amongst prominent area residents]. Lehman Brothers is also a financial adviser to the project, he said.

    Roosevelt was one of the featured speakers at Thursday's news conference held by Cape Wind Associates and its allies. The Roosevelt theory reportedly gained currency when Young suggested to Anchorage reporters in February that they should look into who was financing Cape Wind.

    Roosevelt, though, didn't put much stock in the speculation that the Alaskans are using the wind farm as payback for his stance against ANWR, ADN reports.

    "I think they've got more important things to worry about than the fact that my firm is involved in this as a financial adviser," Roosevelt said. "I suspect that it's relationships in the Senate, that Ted Kennedy reached out to him and said, 'This is very important to me.'?" Or maybe a Republican senator persuaded him, he suggested, or a lobbyist. "We simply don't know, and they aren't saying," Roosevelt concluded.

    Ernie Corrigan, a spokesman for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the group fighting the wind farm, told ADN that the reasons aren't so mysterious. Young and Stevens are chairmen of the committees most relevant to the issue, he noted. They know from their experience with Alaska fisheries that states should have a big say in what happens off their shores, he said. And, he added, why wouldn't Stevens oblige a request from Kennedy? "It should not shock anyone ... that Ted Kennedy has worked with both sides of the aisle on a lot of things," said Corrigan.

    Don Young, whose days as a Yukon River barge captain are a feature of his persona, has an "instinctive" understanding of navigation hazards, Corrigan posited. "I'm told he's the only licensed mariner in Congress," Corrigan said, echoing an attribute Young often notes.

    Still, at least for this inquisitive mind, I'm left wondering, why should this issue be resolved through the backroom maneuvering of a pair of Congressman from Alaska? Why shouldn't this get a simple up and down vote, rather than being attached in conference as a rider on a much larger Coast Guard appropriations bill? Or better yet, why not leave issues of navigation safety up to the experts at the Coast Guard, who as they've stated, would prefer the freedom to decide these issues on a case by case basis?

    If you find yourself, as I have, baffled by this issue and believe that the Cape Wind Project will be an important step towards harnessing the as-of-yet untapped offshore wind potential in the United States, I urge you to act (again) to support Cape Wind and offshore wind development in the United States. Please call and/or email your Senators to urge them to oppose the Steven's language attached to the Coast Guard Reathorization act. If you'd like further reading, Cape Wind Associates has talking points and a collection of editorials and articles here. And if you haven't read it, my previous post on the issue, which goes much more into the supposed navigation concerns, can be found here.

    Read more!

    Monday, April 17, 2006

    New Canadian Government Slashes Green Programs, Takes Ambivalent Stance on Fighting Climate Change

    The Globe and Mail reports that the new Conservative government in Canada plan large cuts to spending on a variety of environmental programs, including those designed to combat global climate change. The Conservatives want to slash Environment Canada programs designed to fight global climate change by 80%, and want cuts of 40% in the budgets devoted to climate change at other ministries, according to cabinet documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.

    The documents also say that the Conservatives' campaign promise of tax breaks for transit passes would cost up to $2-billion over five years, but would result in an insignificant cut in greenhouse-gas emissions because the incentives are expected to spur only a small increase in the number of people willing to trade using cars for buses and subways, the Globe and Mail reports.

    The section of the cabinet documents on the budget cuts, written by an unidentified government official after a cabinet meeting in late March that approved the reductions, also said the Tories want to try to claw back $260-million (Canadian) the Liberals had pledged to the United Nations to fund its international climate-change programs.

    The document also reportedly said that federal funding for wind power, "is also uncertain."

    The Globe and Mail article continues:

    Ryan Sparrow, a spokesman for Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, refused to confirm or deny the details in the leak, and said the government hasn't finalized its decisions on climate change. "Once there is an announcement to be made, we'll make one," Mr. Sparrow said.

    The documents were obtained by the opposition Liberals and bolster previous reports that large-scale cuts have been under way in climate-change programs, such as the highly visible One Tonne Challenge, which had much of its funding abruptly axed without public announcement in late March.

    The Tories have indicated that they are ambivalent about the Kyoto Protocol to fight climate change, planning to neither pull out of the treaty nor meet its emission-reduction targets. According to the documents, the Tories have yet to develop their unique Canadian-based set of actions. "No process has been put in place to determine next steps on climate change or to develop the new 'made in Canada' climate plan," the documents said.

    The documents said that while the Tories are trying to save money by cutting the programs designed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, they won't cut government staff positions, so most of the money earmarked for climate change will be going to salaries for bureaucrats.

    "Only $375-million was approved for climate spending, with most of the dollars covering staff salaries until the new government determines next steps. ... What is clear is that staff will have little to do and that they will have no budgets to spend over the next year and that more cuts are coming."

    According to the documents, the programs are being eliminated to help fund tax cuts, including the GST reduction the Tories pledged during the election, and to fund the transit-pass scheme.

    The global-warming programs are being eliminated even though a Treasury Board review of government spending found that the vast majority of 166 such programs run by Ottawa were considered cost effective.

    The review, which was begun by the Liberals and completed last fall, found only 22 programs were ineffective. The Treasury Board information was supposed to be used to reallocate funding from programs that weren't working to those that were achieving better results. The Liberals did not deal with the review before the election, and many federal initiatives didn't have budget allocations after March 31, the end of the government's fiscal year.

    Environmentalists reacted angrily to the cuts. John Bennett, a spokesman for the Sierra Club of Canada, accused the Tories of having a "slash and burn campaign."

    The documents also show that senior officials in the Environment Ministry have told the government that its proposed tax credit for transit users will have virtually no impact on greenhouse-gas emissions and only a small effect on riders. "A wide range of data suggests that people are not very responsive to changes in transit fares," said a memo prepared for Ms. Ambrose last week by officials in the office of her deputy minister. ". . . while the ridership impacts of the tax incentives are not known with precision, analysis suggests they will be low."

    The six-page memo outlines five transit tax-incentive options, ranging from a 16-per-cent tax credit for all fares, at a projected cost of $2-billion over five years, to a credit for monthly pass holders only, at $1-billion, to the same credit for high-school students only, at a cost of $90-million.

    The memo makes clear that the second option is the one the government prefers. But its benefits to transit users may be nullified, the memo states, because "it could be quite easy for the transit authorities to raise their fares to absorb the benefit of the tax credit."

    The Canadian Urban Transit Association has estimated that the proposed tax break would increase transit use by up to 30 per cent by 2016. But in another Environment Minister memo drafted for Ms. Ambrose, ministry officials say that, based on a 1997 Canadian study, as well as a U.S. Department of Labour survey in 2004, use can be expected to increase between 2 per cent and 4 per cent. That means the effect on emissions will be negligible, the documents show.


    Well, this is cheery news. It looks like our neighbor to the north is following in the footsetps of our stellar national leadership on climate change. The new Torie government seems to to be keen on adopting the 'do nothing' school of though on combatting climate change pioneered so well by President Bush.

    This is truly a shame to see Canada's efforts towards fulfilling their Kyoto Protocal targets halted by a change in government. As far as I am aware, climate change mitigation policies are also quite popular in Canada so it seems like this is hardly a popular move by the new government.

    Oh well. Canada can join the United States in firmly planting our heads in the sand and hoping that the continued signs [two links] of impending climate change simply go away... Bravo Canada!

    Read more!

    Friday, April 14, 2006

    Renewed Offshore Drilling Debate Thriving in Coastal States

    The fight over oil and gas drilling in the US has been rekindled on a new front - or rather multiple fronts in coastal waters ranging from Virginia to Florida and from California to Alaska, according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor.

    With war in the Persian Gulf, the effects of hurricanes Katrina and Rita last summer, and historically high prices at the gas pump [with more of the same on the way, see the recent post on Summer 2006 gas price forecasts], the Bush administration sees offshore oil and gas drilling as a key element in its push toward energy independence. But, as with the debate over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, many are skeptical and see the prospect of renewed offshore gas exploration as a potential pollution danger that would take years to produce what likely will be relatively insignificant amounts of oil and gas.

    According to the Monitor, officials in coastal states have mixed views on the subject, including whether to lift the present moratorium on offshore drilling along much of the US coast, which has been in place since 1981. "With an eye toward potential royalties as well as environmental impact, many coastal state lawmakers and governors want to increase their control of such development," the Monitor writes.

    The article, by Monitor staff writer, Brad Knickerbocker, continues:

    The US Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) has proposed leasing areas offshore Virginia, the Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska for energy development. Oil and gas developers are happy with the proposal - as far as it goes. "It's a step in the right direction," says Mike Linn, chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

    "However, the majority of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) remains off- limits," he says, noting that some 90 percent of US waters have drilling bans - an area whose potential resources could replace Persian Gulf oil imports for several decades.

    In its recent five-year leasing proposal, MMS estimates undiscovered resources to include 85.9 billion barrels of oil and 419.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas technically recoverable from all federal offshore areas.

    "It's a substantial amount," says Amy Myers Jaffe, associate director of the Rice University Energy Program in Houston. "It's many, many years of supply for current demands."

    An important driver for offshore drilling - especially for natural gas - is recent price trends. The average wellhead price per thousand cubic feet has risen from $2.19 in 1999 to $9.00 in 2005, according to the US Energy Information Administration. "High, volatile natural gas prices will moderate only when supply and demand are brought more into balance," says Tom Moskitis of the American Gas Association.

    Citing last year's hurricanes as evidence of the industry's ability to withstand major hurricanes with no significant pollution from producing facilities, MMS Director Johnnie Burton said in releasing his agency's lease proposal, "The offshore energy industry has compiled an outstanding safety record that allows development of these resources without significant risk to the environment."

    Others have a different view.

    Ever since President Bush took office looking to expand domestic energy production, his brother Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has opposed efforts to allow offshore drilling near his state.

    As environmentalists see it, the prospect of expanded offshore energy drilling puts at risk places such as Santa Monica Bay in California, Acadia National Park in Maine, and the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

    Commenting last week on the MMS five-year plan for OCS oil and gas leasing, a coalition of 27 environmental organizations warned: "Exploration and development of gas resources produces routine discharges of spent drilling muds, contaminated produced waters, and highly-toxic metals and hydrocarbon compounds into the marine environment, in addition to creating a demand for onshore gas processing facilities in sensitive portions of the coastal zone."

    In Congress, a raft of bills dealing with offshore oil and gas has been introduced. Senate Energy Committee chairman Pete Domenici (R) and his fellow New Mexico senator and senior committee Democrat Jeff Bingaman are pushing legislation which would open some 3 million acres off the Gulf coast of Florida to gas exploration - half again as much as the 2 million acres the Interior Department proposes.

    Hoping to mollify Floridians, Sens. Domenici and Bingaman would keep a 100-mile buffer between energy exploration and Florida beaches. That's not enough for Florida Sens. Mel Martinez (R) and Bill Nelson (D), who want to scale back the size of the lease considerably while pushing the buffer out as far as 260 miles.

    Sens. John Warner (R) of Virginia and Mark Pryor (D) of Arkansas propose letting coastal states opt out of longstanding federal bans on gas exploration and development, as does Richard Pombo (R) of California, chairman of the House Resources Committee. Rep. John Peterson (R) of Pennsylvania would lift all current bans on offshore gas production.

    Drilling opponents in Congress are organizing as well. Led by Rep. Lois Capps (D) of California, 115 House members recently called for a continued moratorium on new offshore oil and gas drilling in sensitive coastal waters.

    In Virginia last week, Gov. Tim Kaine (D) rejected a state legislative plan that would open his state to offshore drilling.

    Environmentalists view Governor Kaine's move as a hopeful sign about what they fear could be a series of states falling to energy development.

    "We see Governor Kaine's action as a victory, definitely a momentum builder," says Annie Strickler, spokesperson for the Sierra Club in Washington.
    The Monitor article also includes the following graphic showing estimates of technically recoverable undiscovered reserves of oil and gas in the United States:


    Read more!

    Wednesday, April 12, 2006

    News From My Backyard: Oregon Governor Pursues Wave Power

    Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski voiced his support on Tuesday for a federal earmark of $3 million to establish a national Wave Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Center in Oregon, Renewable Energy Access reports. Siting the research center in Oregon would bring the governor's state closer to a leadership role in renewable energy.

    After seeing a demonstration of electrical power generation from ocean wave action [see image of OSU's linear generator bouy above], the Governor told researchers at Oregon State University (OSU), where work on the technology has already begun: "This remarkable technology is part of my vision for energy independence and renewable energy in Oregon."

    Setting up the Wave Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Center in Oregon is among the top priorities the Governor has outlined to Oregon's congressional delegation, REE reports. "I am committed to doing everything I can to locate the Center in Oregon," the Governor said, "and I intend to work at both the federal and state levels."

    He continued, "Generating electricity from the motion of ocean waves is a critical aspect of that goal. This is the kind of progress that creates long-term prosperity and great new jobs for Oregonians, while reducing our dependence on fossil fuels from overseas." [Note: Governor Kulongoski is campaigning for reelection this year with the primary election in May]

    The Governor's renewable energy agenda promotes greater energy conservation and efficiency; has comprehensive policies in support of biofuels and biomass energy technologies, such as a renewable biofuels standard; and establishes a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to ensure that statewide renewable electrical energy use reaches 25 percent by 2025. [Note: again, all of these goals have yet to be realized in legislative or executive action, although progess is being made on some fronts]

    "This kind of clean, renewable technology is the future of Oregon and our nation. Oregon has the opportunity to lead the transformation of energy consumption on a national and global scale, and we must make the most of that opportunity," said Kulongoski.

    Read more!

    Tuesday, April 11, 2006

    EIA Forecasts 2006 Summer Gasoline Prices Higher Than Last Summer

    In it's brand-new Short-Term Energy and Summer Fuels Outlook (STEO), the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts summer gasoline prices in the US will average $2.62 per gallon - 11% or $0.25 per gallon higher than last year’s summer average of $2.37 per gallon. The agency expects summer diesel prices of $2.62 per gallon as well.

    The agency also forecasts continued high crude oil prices through the rest of 2006, with a razor-thin buffer between consumption and production, Green Car Congress reports.


    The EIA attributes the increase in gasoline prices to a number of factors:

  • The high price of crude.

  • Ongoing growth in gasoline consumption. After showing almost no growth in 2005, gasoline consumption is projected to grow 1.4% in 2006 and 1.7% in 2007.

  • Tier 2 gasoline requirements mandate further reduction in sulfur content this year. The Tier 2 Vehicle and Gasoline Sulfur Program, begun in January 2004, implements a phased-in reduction of sulfur levels, calculated by a cap and an average across all fuels. In 2006, refiners are now required to meet a 30-ppm average sulfur level with a maximum cap of 80 ppm. Gasoline produced for sale in parts of the Western United States will be allowed to meet a 150-ppm refinery average and a 300-ppm cap through 2006 but will have to meet the 30 ppm average and 80 ppm cap by 2007.

    EPA estimates that the Tier 2 gasoline sulfur program will cost less than 2 cents per gallon for the refining industry to produce low-sulfur gasoline when the program is fully phased in.

  • Phase-out of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) from the gasoline pool. In 2005, a number of petroleum companies announced their intent to remove methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) from their gasoline in 2006.

    The decision to eliminate MTBE was driven by State bans due to water contamination concerns, continuing liability exposure from adding MTBE to gasoline, and perceived potential for increased liability exposure due to the elimination of the oxygen content requirement for reformulated gasoline (RFG) included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

    Planning for new ethanol capacity that will be needed to provide ethanol to make RFG when MTBE is eliminated did not anticipate such a rapid exodus from MTBE blending.

    The phase-out of MTBE is projected to increase slightly the average price of all gasoline. The price impact should be higher during the summer than winter because of the required reduction in gasoline vapor pressure during the summer months. Of greater concern with the MTBE phase-out is the increased potential for localized price spikes arising from unexpected supply disruptions.



  • Higher diesel fuel prices are also expected because of the additional cost of producing ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel required later this year.

    By September 2006, the EIA forecasts that fuel prices will drop below the soaring prices last year at that time resulting from the crude oil and natural gas production and refinery outages caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

    The EIA is careful to note however that its projections do not factor in hurricanes and tropical storms with a potential to cause significant new outages. While the 2006 Hurrican Season is not expected to be as fierce as last year's record season, it is not expected to be a light season either and more large storms could make landfall in the Gulf Region this year.

    The STEO had this to say as to the world supply of crude oil:
    "But, in some ways 2006 is likely to bring an even tighter global petroleum market than 2005, if one sets aside the effects of the two hurricanes on US production last year.

    Consumption growth outpaces production growth in 2006 by 0.4 million barrels per day (bbl/d), compared to 0.1 million bbl/d greater consumption growth than production growth in 2005. Also, while the world experienced a global stock build in 2005 of 0.5 million bbl/d, a stock build of just 0.1 million bbl/d is expected in 2006.

    ...Nevertheless, in 2006 annual world consumption growth is forecast at 1.6 million bbl/d, compared with 1.1 million bbl/d in 2005. This will leave average total world consumption in 2006 (85.2 million barrels per day) about 100,000 bbl/d less than average world production."
    A buffer of 100,000 barrels per day in a 85.2-million bbl/d market is, for a ll practical purposes, no buffer at all. With that basically non-existent buffer, any shock to oil production anywhere in the world could shoot world oil prices up, making the market very volatile. The EIA forecasts that even that thin margin will disappear in 2007 as world consumption comes to match production almost perfectly. That should make for another very 'interesting' year. The EIA:
    World consumption growth is projected to increase further to 1.7 million bbl/d in 2007 because of economic growth in developing Asian countries. Chinese consumption growth is projected at about 0.5 million bbl/d per year. Overall, world petroleum demand is forecast to increase by 2.0 percent in 2007, compared to 1.8 percent in 2006. However, greater forecast non-OPEC production growth in 2007 will mean that average total world oil supply will equal average total world oil demand for 2007.
    In contrast to gasoline and diesel prices, the EIA projects natural gas prices will be down sharply during the late summer and fall compared to the hurricane disruption-related highs of 2005. However, the expected average for 2006 for Henry Hub spot prices of about $8 per thousand cubic feet (mcf) of gas, while down about $1 from the 2005 average, is still well above the pre-2005 historical maximum of about $6, reached in 2004, the EIA reports. The EIA's forecast for 2007 includes Henry Hub average prices moving closer to $8.40 per mcf, assuming normal weather and continued economic expansion in the United States.


    Good times ... good times ...

    Resources:
  • EIA: Short-Term Energy and Summer Fuel Outlook, April 11th, 2006

  • EIA: Eliminating MTBE in Gasoline in 2006

  • Read more!

    Sunday, April 09, 2006

    News From My Backyard: University of Oregon to Host 12th Annual HOPES Eco-Design Arts Conference

    [Note: See full disclosure at bottom of post]

    The University of Oregon will be home to the 12th annual student-run Holistic Options for Planet Earth Sustainability (HOPES) Eco-design Arts Conference, April 13th through 16th. Held every April since 1995, the HOPES conference works to promote deeper understanding and broader application of sustainable design principles. Presented annually by the Ecological Design Center, HOPES is the only ecological design conference in the country developed and managed entirely by students. Now in its 12th year, the conference continually brings nationally and internationnaly recognized speakers and panelists to the University of Oregon campus in Eugene for a weekend centered around the cutting-edge of sustainable design.

    This year, the conference is centered on the theme Permanence/Impermance and will explore the potential tensions or synergies between these two concepts, often key principles at the core of sustainable design. The HOPES 2006 conference will explore the potential benefits of creating an impermanent built environment that is responsive to a culture where technology, lifestyle & aesthetics rapidly become outdated. Conversely, conference attendees will explore ways to create places with longevity that will be able to meet the needs of untold generations to come.

    The 2006 HOPES Conference will open with a keynote presentation by internationally acclaimed architect and structural innovator Shigeru Ban on Thursday afternoon. The 49-year-old Ban is perhaps most famous for his development of paper tube structures, disaster relief works, and refined Modernist aesthetic. His major works include the Japan Pavilion for the Hannover Expo 2000 in Germany; Paper Art Museum and Paper Church in Japan; Paper Tube Arch for MoMA in New York; DIY disaster relief housing in Rwanda and Kobe, Japan; and the recently completed Nomadic Museum, a traveling work constructed almost entirely from mammoth paper columns and shipping containers.

    In 2004, Ban received the Grande Medaille d'Or from the Academie d' Architecture and was named an honorary AIA fellow by the American Institute of Architects. He is also recipient of several World Architecture Awards - including the 2002 House of the Year Award (Naked House) and the 2000 Best Building in Europe (Japan Pavilion) [see picture] - and he was named Japan’s Best Young Architect in 1999.

    In addition to Shigeru Ban's opening keynote, HOPES also has the honor of presenting keynotes from: Christine Macy and Sarah Bonnemaison, of the research-based design partnership Filum; Permaculture Institute founder Penny Livingston-Stark; and architect and professor Sergio Palleroni, winner of an AIA National Education Award. This year's conference will also include dozens of panel discussions and hands-on workshops, a Green Business Expo, Professional Showcase, 24-Hour Design Charrette, Speakers’ Dinner, and kidsHOPES activities. A complete program of the conference's activities, which run from Thursday April 13th through Sunday, April 16th, more information on HOPES, and online registration for the conference can be found at the website: http://hopes.uoregon.edu. Questions can be directed to edc.uoregon.edu [email].

    Below is the text of an article on the conference in this week's Eugene Weekly, written by freelance writer and architect, Michael Cockram, and entitled HOPES Abound:

    Eleven years ago a group of idealistic UO students dreamed up the idea of a conference focusing on the impact of design on the environment. And today, one thing that distinguishes HOPES (Holistic Options for Planet Earth Sustainability) from other conferences of its kind is the fact that it is wholly student powered — the nation's only student-run environmental design conference. Besides being a draw to professionals and academics from around the country, the conference throws open its doors to the community, offering a variety of rich educational experiences, from conceptual design to the nuts and bolts.

    This year's HOPES conference, from April 13-16, takes a major step forward in garnering internationally acclaimed Japanese architect Shigeru Ban as a keynote speaker. The theme for the conference this year is "permanence/impermanence" — the dynamic issues between structures built to last and those built temporarily. Ban's work dovetails perfectly with this theme.

    Unlike most star architects, Ban extends his practice to include volunteer work on high-profile social issues. He is noted for his innovative paper tube structures, from temporary relief housing for the Kobe earthquake and the conflict in Rwanda to the award-winning Japan Pavilion at Expo 2000.

    Time magazine credits Ban for redefining permanent and temporary shelter. "Refugee shelter has to be beautiful," Ban says. "Psychologically, refugees are damaged. They have to stay in nice places."

    Ban received much acclaim for the Japan Pavilion at the Expo — an enormous vaulting lattice of paper tubes. After the Expo the structure was taken down and shipped to a recycling center to be repulped.

    Among the several strong keynote speakers is Sergio Palleroni, who focuses his practice on work in impoverished and marginalized communities. In the vein of the late Sam Mockbee's "Architecture of Decency," Palleroni's Studio-at-Large has built schools in Mexico. He involves local community members to make buildings that are affordable, functional, environmentally friendly and beautiful.

    A hallmark of HOPES is the 24-hour charrette — an intensive design exercise meant to generate a variety of ideas around a particular project. This year the project is organized by the student group Design Bridge and involves a garden complex planned for North Eugene High School. The gardens are seen not only as a learning tool but also as a source of fresh food for the schools, a revenue generator in plant sales and a gathering space for the students. Community members are encouraged to join teams of student designers and planners.

    One of the most valuable features of HOPES for community members is the variety of hands-on workshops offered. The workshop entitled "Fast Fuel Nation" involves the process of making biodiesel fuel from french fry oil. A modular green roof demo and installation will show hands-on how to build, plant and install green roof modules. EWEB's "Earth Advantage" workshop focuses on how to maximize energy efficiency, conserve materials and make homes healthier. A "down and dirty" workshop will focus on natural building materials such as cob and straw bale, and another will deal with the installation of solar energy systems.

    Very much in the tradition of HOPES will be a demonstration of a portable water catchment and filtration device intended for disaster relief. The design is a result of student-run competition.

    The Trashy Fashion Show harnesses the exuberance and fun of the conference. A drop-in workshop all day Saturday allows anyone to put together their own glamorous/clamorous ensembles with recycled materials and trash — from chic to cheeky (imagine an architecture student clad in old LPs). The event culminates Saturday night with music dancing and the fashion show on the runway — flash bulbs popping.

    There is much more to take in, including panel discussions, professions showcasing sustainable design projects, an alternative vehicle parade, and of course, good healthy food.

    HOPES provides a place for kids (ages 6 through 12) to engage in art and other related projects, allowing parents to take in the conference.

    Speaking as someone who watched HOPES evolve from its birth over a decade ago, I see in it an energy unlike any other conference I've attended. It comes from the enthusiasm of young acute minds — students throwing their hearts and souls toward something meaningful and good.

    For a full schedule and to register, visit http://hopes.uoregon.edu


    [Full Disclosure: I am the current Campus Sustainability Coordinator for the Ecological Design Center and am involved in organizing HOPES 2006. As such you can consider me an entirely biased author on this subject. Still, read the Eugene Weekly article below and attend the conference yourself if you live in the area if you don't believe me: HOPES 2006 is not to be missed!]

    Read more!

    Two New Prizes Aim at Spurring Automotive Innovation

    Congressional Subcommittee Chairman Proposes an $100M Hydrogen 'H-Prize' to Spur Innovation Towards the Hydrogen Economy

    South Carolina Congressman and Science Research Subcommittee Chairman Bob Inglis (R) introduced legislation called the 'H-Prize Act of 2006' [H.R. 5143, see 'Resources' below] last Thursday in the U.S. House of Representatives. The monetary H-Prize is intended to spur innovation by attracting the best and brightest minds to attack technological and commercial market obstacles in moving to a hydrogen economy.

    Modeled after the successful $10-million Ansari X Prize awarded for entrepreneurial space flight, the three category H-Prize features a $100-million grand prize that would be awarded for commercial transformational technologies that changes hydrogen technology and brings the hydrogen car to driveways around the country, Green Car Congress reports.

    According to GCC, the legislation was filed with 14 co-sponsors and outlines three major prize categories:

  • Technological advancements: Four $1-million prizes awarded annually in the categories of hydrogen production, storage, distribution and utilization.

  • Prototypes: One $4 million prize awarded every other year for the creation of a working hydrogen vehicle prototype.

  • Transformation technologies: A maximum $100 million prize—$10 million in cash and up to $90 million in matching funds for private capital—would be awarded for changes in hydrogen technologies that meet or exceed objective criteria in production and distribution to the consumer.

  • Under the legislation, the Secretary of Energy will contract with a private foundation or panel that will include experts in the field to establish criteria for the prizes, GCC reports.

    Inglis had this to say when introducing the bill:
    "America is treading water in a sea of rising demand for oil that includes China and India. The market is now in a position to reward those who will innovate our way to a hydrogen economy. Those innovators will create jobs, clean the air, and improve our national security."
    The Science Committee has scheduled a hearing on the bill for April 27.


    The X Prize Foundation Now Targets Automotive Innovation with its 'Automotive X-Prize'

    Separately, the X Prize Foundation, creators of the Ansari X Prize, announced that they are forming a new Automotive X Prize to focus on the creation of new fuel-efficient vehicles that far exceed anything available on the market today. Rules for the Automotive X Prize may be announced as early as 1 May.

    X Prize founder, Peter Diamandis, has said, "We're still using the internal combustion engine after 100 years, and getting 20 miles per gallon for the past 40 years. It's ripe for a major prize to break things open."

    The X-Prize site had this to say:
    Many people believe that the automotive industry has too much legacy to overcome and is too risk averse to move away from manufacturing and selling profitable low MPG automobiles. In this view, the problem is not a lack of technology, but high barriers to industry change: long-standing supplier relationships, national and local legislation and regulation, union rules, building costs, legacy costs (pension and other investment expenses) all conspire to maintain the status quo.
    The prize is not intended to create more exciting concept cars that will never make it to market but is rather focused on "putting hyper-efficient cars into the hands of consumers" which clearly "requires much more than a technical performance achievement – winners must deal with the realities of manufacturability and post-delivery service. They must also deal with federal and state regulations on emissions and safety."

    Additionally, while alternative fuels are quite promising, the X-Prize is focused on spurring innovation in gasoline or diesel engines. "Although biofuel, fuel-cell, and plug-in technologies are all promising, current consumer attitudes and the current transportation infrastructure favors solutions based on gasoline and diesel fuels," the Foundation said. "The Auto X-Prize will focus on the creation of new fuel efficient vehicles that far exceed anything available on the market today."

    The Foundation also offered the following initial guidelines:

  • The Prize will be focused on entrepreneurial innovation. That is not to say there won’t be significant technological innovation as a result but it is not the explicit purpose of the prize.

  • There will be a units sold metric included in the rules. This is about creating a product the individual consumer can support and purchase.

  • The goal is to maximize consumer involvement through television and the internet.

  • Over the few weeks we will be meeting with the brightest minds in the industry to map out the economic, environmental, geopolitical, and industrial landscape. In addition we will be looking for strategic partnerships, sponsors, and staff as well as potential competitors.

  • From this group. the final advisory board will be formed to approve final rules.

  • Rules may be announced as early as May 1, 2006, meaning we could begin registering teams by June 1, 2006. These dates are not set in stone but are a good estimate.

  • As this is a prize which is aimed at inspiring entrepreneurial innovation, XPF chose Mark Goodstein as director of this prize for entrepreneurial expertise. His experience building companies his given him an excellent working knowledge of all issues that encompass building a new product for delivery to the market. His ability to examine all sides of a problem to determine a cohesive solution will be vital in bringing together the various factions that now exist in the automotive industry.


  • [It seems like the developers of the 330 mpg diesel-hybrid Aptera should apply...]

    Resources:

  • H.R. 5143

  • Automotive X-Prize site

  • Read more!

    Saturday, April 08, 2006

    Toyota Promises to Unviel an In-Wheel Motor Hydrogen-Electric Hybrid Concept at Upcoming New York Auto Show

    Toyota Motor Company is bringing its Fine-T hydrogen-electric hybrid concept car to the New York Auto Show next week, Green Car Congress reports.

    The concept, which made its world premier at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show as the Fine-X, is powered by four in-wheel electric motors. Like Mitsubishi's all-electric in-wheel motor concept, the MIEV Concept-EZ, the Fine-T takes advantage of the in-wheel motors' space saving charactaristics to offer a compact mono-box design that is as small as a Toyota Yaris on the outside but as roomy as a mid-size wagon on the inside. The electric motors, hydrogen stack, tanks, batteries and other electric drive components are mounted beneath the vehicle floor or in or near the wheels, allowing availabe cabin space to extend nearly the entire length of the vehicle making for a comfortable roomy interior while keeping the exterior size compact and helping create a low center of gravity.

    According to Green Car Congress, the Fine-T is powered by a new downsized, high-performance Toyota fuel-cell stack fueled by 70 MPa storage tanks. The fuel cell stack reportedly adopts a new alloy catalyst, which reduces the amount of precious metals used.

    The ultra-low emissions Fine-T hydrogen-electric hybrid concept, developed by Environment and Safety Toyota, is intended to demonstrate how close a vehicle can come to having zero effect on the environment. With the Fine-T, Toyota pursued using carbon-neutral materials over a wide range of interior fittings, processing polylactic acid (PLA), obtained from sugar cane, as well as Kenaf and other plant fiber into a variety of textures for door trim, suede-like ceiling material, seat nets and floor mats, GCC reports.

    Judging from pictures of the concept's predecesor, the Fine-X, the interior of the concept features a 'futuristic' design with plenty of LEDs and video-displays. For added visibility, the Fine-T is reportedly equipped with peripheral monitoring video cameras. A front-view camera installed above the license plate, a rear-view camera below the Toyota badge, and side cameras located at each side door handle allow the driver to monitor the periphery of the vehicle for obstacles on large display monitors.

    The Fine-T is designed to offer major advancements in handling performance when driving on narrow roads and when parking in tight areas, helping to maximize the driving experience. The concept uses an independent four-wheel large-angle steering system and independent four-wheel drive incorporating in-wheel motors with integrated drive power and wheel turning-angle control [translation: both the front and back wheels can be turned through wide arcs of up to 180 degrees]

    A drive-by-wire system connects the driver’s controls to actuators that operate vehicle functions. In front-axle/rear-axle turning mode, the vehicle can apparently be turned around from the front or rear, which makes maneuverability easier when parallel parking. In directional change mode, continuously variable steering of the front and rear wheels allows a change of direction of almost the entire length of the vehicle in four directions! This feature allows for U-turns while coming out of parallel parking. The on-the-spot turning mode allows for convenient 360-degree turning on the vertical axis, allowing you to literally 'turn on a dime'.

    The Fine-T's independent four-wheel drive system, independent four-wheel steering and under-floor mounting of the fuel-cell system contribute to the concept's low center of gravity, which is lower than most vehicles. This and the vehicle's low movement of inertia add to the Fine-T's driving stability.

    Getting in and out of the Fine-T is made easy by the concept's wide gull-wing doors and "Welcome Seats." When the doors open, the seats swivel to face the door allowing you to easily sit down or stand up from the seat. Once the driver or passanger is seated, the seat glides back automatically to the driving position [i.e. facing forward]. To leave the vehicle, a press of a button moves the seat to the egress position allowing the driver to simply stand up to exit the vehicle. In addition, the drive-by-wire steering system stows away automatically when entering and exiting the vehicle [check out the interior picture above and you'll see the swiveling stearing column].


    Well, this is the first I've seen in the way of in-wheel motor concepts from anyone other than Mitsubishi [whose work we've written about a few times here before: here, here and here. I am very intruiged by the freedom to innovate that an in-wheel architecture gives you and I'm happy to see some new vehicle designs that start to move away from the tradition vehicle forms that have been imposed by the use of an internal combustion engine.

    An in-wheel electric motors architecture can be paired with any all-electric drive system and now, with the Fine-T (hydrogen-electric hybrid) added to the ranks of Mistubishi's MIEV Concept-EZ (all-electric) and Concept-CT (electric-dominant series-parallel hybrid), we've seen a number of potential configurations. So, when is the plug-in hybrid coming? A hydrogen plug-in perhaps...

    Read more!

    Thursday, April 06, 2006

    'The Sky is Falling' Redux - Chicken Little in the 21st Century

    Enjoy...



    [Cartoon by Clement, from Saturday 01 April 2006, in the Sydney Morning Herald. A hat tip to Treehugger]

    Read more!