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The Week in Green Vehicles
Mike Millikin, 31 Oct 04

Starting this week, Green Car Congress' Mike Millikin now gives us a Sunday update on the week's sustainable mobility news. Green Car Congress is by far the best resource around for news and analysis covering the ongoing evolution of personal transportation. WorldChanging is very happy to present Mike's insights here. Take it away, Mike:

The publication of the annual World Energy Outlook by the IEA provides a backdrop to the developments in green transportation this last week.

The agency describes its outlook as “sobering”—and even that assessment is based on its optimistic view that peak production of oil won’t occur until 2030 at the earliest. (The IEA hedges its optimism. The 2030 date is tenable only “if the necessary investments are made.”)

The executive summary is available here as a pdf. Selected points:

  • If governments stick with the policies in force as of mid-2004, the world’s energy needs will be almost 60% higher in 2030 than they are now. Fossil fuels will continue to dominate the global energy mix, meeting most of the increase in overall energy use. The shares of nuclear power and renewable energy sources will remain limited.

  • A central message of this Outlook is that short-term risks to energy security will grow. Recent geopolitical developments and surging energy prices have brought that message dramatically home. Flexibility of oil demand and supply will diminish. Oil use will become ever more concentrated in transport uses in the absence of readily available substitutes. Rising oil demand will have to be met by a small group of countries with large reserves, primarily Middle East members of OPEC and Russia.

  • If current government policies do not change, energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide will grow marginally faster than energy use. CO2 emissions will be more than 60% higher in 2030 than now.

  • It is clear from our analysis that achieving a truly sustainable energy
    system will call for technological breakthroughs that radically alter how we produce and use energy.

And that’s the optimistic view. There is a chorus of countervailing voices, from Matthew Simmons, the energy investment banker, to ASPO, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, who point to the likelihood of an imminent peaking of production. And the world, as Simmons says, is without Plan B.

Energy bridges are the real “Plan B”. Creating a genuine substitute for what oil should have been might not work and might take decades. Meanwhile, hundreds of tiny steps create bridges to buy time. The list of bridges is long.

Energy complacency reminds me of 1859 and 1939. This problem ranks alongside thermonuclear war. Unless it is solved, globalization ends; usable potable water ends; food productivity dwindles; transportation goes back to wind and foot power.

— Matthew Simmons, presentation to Society Of Exploration Geologists, 11 Oct 2004

(Simmons has spent more than a year analyzing technical papers from the Saudi petroleum industry, and his belief is that Saudi Arabia—identified by everyone as the key provider to keep things afloat—is very close to peaking. One derivative of Simmons’ analysis is his view that no approach should be scorned— and that there should be no barriers to drilling anywhere. Is his assessment simply a scam to get more drilling rights, or is it driven by, well, by being freaked out by the prospect of the worst outcome? Unfortunately, I think it is the latter. Unfortunately because one can deal with scams; it’s harder to circumvent the reality of geology.)

Many of the developments in green transportation—in the short term—are those necessary energy bridges that buy us the additional time needed. Increasingly the question seems to be not can we develop the BIG solution before the crisis hits, but can we postpone the crisis long enough through multi-front efforts in conservation, efficiency and alternatives to give us that extra time.

Successfully building enough bridges will require the change in the current adversarial approach to policy so well described by Nicole-Anne Boyer in her recent post here on WC.

With that, here are some of the bridge steps from this past week.

Natural Gas Vehicles

  • EV World. Around the world, 50 million vehicles could be using natural gas as their fuel inside 15 years, according to Juan Carlos Fracchia, vice president of the International Association for Natural Gas Vehicles (IANGV). “If we consider the plans of the European Community to have 10% of its vehicles fueled by natural gas, plus developments throughout Asia, we may have a spectacular scenario that would see 15 million NGVs by 2010 and 50 million in 2020.”
  • Brehon Energy is to convert 10,000 diesel buses in Beijing to run on HCNG—a combination of CNG plus a small percentage of hydrogen (usually about 7% by energy or 20% by volume). HCNG is called Hythane by Hydrogen Components, the company that developed it in the US. The project targets the conversion of the 10,000 buses prior to the start of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. GCC post.

Diesel Hybrids

  • Potential for diesel hybrids continues to increase—but on the commercial (trucks and vans) side rather than on the passenger car side, at least in the US. Toyota subsidiary Hino, the leading truck manufacturer in Japan and an early developer of diesel hybrid trucks, has begun manufacturing in the US. GCC post.
  • Enova Systems has introduced a new set of series hybrid drive systems for heavy-duty, urban transit and delivery vehicles. GCC post.

Alternative Fuels

  • The results of a year-long field test of Shell GTL are in. The synthetic fuel reduces criteria pollutants, is essentially equivalent to diesel on greenhouse gas emissions over the entire fuel lifecycle, but carries a significantly higher energy requirement.
  • The President signed the enormous corporate tax break bill into law—which also brought with it major incentives for ethanol, biofuel, hybrids and other alternative vehicles. GCC post. If the current trend in diesel prices continues, biodiesel may soon become the low-cost fuel, especially with the help of the tax credit. Then we might end up in a situation comparable to that of Brazil, where a 40% delta between the cost of gasoline and ethanol has spurred a massive shift in buying patters over to new flex fuel cars. GCC post.

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watch out for two must promising stuff to reduce the burdern of oil.

biofuels, is comming a big way,
and so is fuels cells.

there already a lot of cars which can run on biofuels.most cars can run on a blend of biofuels.

i have been promoting biofuels, for the past 6 months. biofuels are sustainable. have a lot of benifits for countries like India.

Posted by: krishna on 1 Nov 04

A thing to remember is america has huge resources it can and is mobilizing for fuel replacements.

But its much more a local thing with natuional support via tax breaks fueling the change.

1 Alchohol it looks like that will go from 10% to 20% in gas everywhere wich if you know math is NOT a cut of 10% in gas consumption but in fact a cut of 11% from 90% to 80% is 1/9th or 11.111%

In some places where its easyer and cheaper to make it may even go to 75 even 85% alch.

Other places they are starting up lpg plants as some places in america have massive supplies of cheap gas or of low quality coal that can be cheaply gassified.

Other places they are in fact starting up biofuel plants and hydrogen plants and all the blends of all those fuels.

Its all starting up.

Hybrid cars are ramping as fast as they can concidering america had less of a battery powered locoomotion industry to provide the backbone of the needed parts for hybrid systems and as such there is more industry needed building then in japan.

And on and on.

All it realy took as gas to hit and stay at 250 a gallon and for them to not worry it would drop to 150 a gallon.

Posted by: wintermane on 1 Nov 04

Remember one word: BICYCLES.

No pollution, no C02 emmisions. Benign effect on city infrastructure. Good for public health.

Even the most advanced of motorized transportation has horrendous effects on society and the environment.

Posted by: bart on 1 Nov 04


Thanks for pointing out the IEA report! Excellent summary - and they are the optimists. We just had Richard Smalley (discoverer of buckyballs) here speaking at Brookhaven Lab a couple of weeks back on the energy situation - scary lecture, and very convincing. He quoted Simmons, among others.

Natural gas is running into the same problems as oil - and the added problem that LNG tankers arriving in US cities would be massive bombs waiting for terrorists to take advantage of them. So 50 million natural-gas powered vehicles is probably not a good idea, though it does reduce carbon emissions slightly.

Hybrids and bio-fuels are much more promising - though bio-fuels probably can't sustainably meet growing demand. As the IEA report says, "technological breakthroughs that radically alter how we produce and use energy" are needed!

Bicycles, mentioned by "bart", are not a good solution, at least in modern US cities. I have unfortunately known two bright young people killed in bicycle-car collisions. Accident rates for bicycle-riding is still over 1 per 10,000 miles - i.e. more than once for every year of the typical 15-mile commute. Driving a car is simply a lot safer, per mile.

Posted by: Arthur Smith on 1 Nov 04

Thanks, Arthur.

To clarify, Mike Millikin of Green Car Congress wrote this piece, as he will every Sunday. I just posted it to the site.

We have a number of bicycle enthusiasts here on WorldChanging, and both Arthur and bart are correct in their assertions -- automobiles have had massive undesired effects, while bicycle transit is much more dangerous than other forms. Both of these issues arise from the fact that transportation is a system, not an activity, one tied in with multiple other urban systems. Transportation is intertwined with other social systems such as urbanization/population/taxation/grocery distribution/emergency services/social relationship & dating and more. You can't just unplug one form of transportation and replace it with another without a great number of second-order effects.

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 1 Nov 04

I have personaly known 5 people who died biking and anouther 4 who died or were perminently injured motor biking. Not to mention as I thought I posted before as alot of americans are rather fat now fat people biking is just plain BAD.

Posted by: wintermane on 1 Nov 04

Thanks for the comments on bicycles.

One clarification ... it's not bicycling itself that's dangerous. What's dangerous to bicyclists is the cars!

I'm reluctantly coming to the conclusion that there is an irreconcilable conflict between cars and bicycles. Or more broadly, between motorized transport and human-powered transport. As James said, "You can't just unplug one form of transportation and replace it with another without a great number of second-order effects." You've either got a system for cars or a system based on human-powered transport.

Thus, the growth in car usage in India and China is a revolutionary development -- a victory for car culture with its many negative side effects.

Championing bicycling then is more than adding a few bike paths. It is literally a battle for the streets. Ultimately it's a challenge to the current complex of suburbia / sprawl / hyper-mobility / high-energy usage.

Green cars, then, can be seen more as an attempt to perpetuate the car culture, rather than as a long-term solution to environmental and social problems.

Ivan Ilych wrote about the bicycle/car conflict 30 years ago in "Energy and Equity"
tml , especially the section "Degress of Self-Powered Mobility".

Posted by: bart on 1 Nov 04

Hybrids and bio-fuels are much more promising - though bio-fuels probably can't sustainably meet growing demand. As the IEA report says, "technological breakthroughs that radically alter how we produce and use energy" are needed!

Bicycles, mentioned by "bart", are not a good solution, at least in modern US cities. I have unfortunately known two bright young people killed in bicycle-car collisions. Accident rates for bicycle-riding is still over 1 per 10,000 miles - i.e. more than once for every year of the typical 15-mile commute. Driving a car is simply a lot safer, per mile.


Posted by: Fopae on 2 Nov 04

Yes, risk of injury riding a bike is high. So is risk of social collapse after peak if we all throw up our hands because individual 'bridges' are difficult. We can't move everyone away from oil immediately, but each individual's choice moves us closer collectively.

I commute on my bike for exercise a few times a week, but am considering adding a solar charged battery/moter combo so I can ride more frequently. There is a one time oil 'hit' adding the solar panel and motor, but I save significantly more over the life of the equipment. I can add more panels and drive a light weight solar powered car. Bigger initial hit, but long term savings and safer commuting.

As people move to bicycles and light weight cars the bicycles become safer alternatives. And I'll keep my insurance policies paid up.

Maybe I can convince my boss to install panels at work so I can charge up there. It could be a significant benefit which attracts and keeps employees as gas prices continue rising.

I prefer to personally move away from _any_ solution with ongoing fossil fuel requirements where possible, including biomass solutions requiring fossil fuels to plant, harvest, and convert to a form usable for transport. Isn't biomass based fuel just an alternative, but less efficient, method of converting solar energy?

At the same time, biodiesel may be better for delivery trucks or eventually converted to aviation fuel. Use what is appropriate, most sustainable, least impact.

But don't just write about it. What have you done personally? How have you demonstrated to your friends, neighbors, and coworkers what we can personally change now? I'm getting started late, but at least I'm starting.

Posted by: Scott B on 2 Nov 04



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