Friday, April 29, 2011

Glass Half Full or Half Empty for EVs & Hybrids?

JD Power and Associates has a sad, somber story to tell about the growth potential for hybrid and electric vehicles -- at least in its version of the story. The research company's take on its study results, along with much of the media coverage it received, says that sales of hybrid and electric vehicles will be less than what automakers have been hoping for. Consumers often cite saving money on fuel as a primary benefit of owning an alternative vehicle, yet the reality for many is the initial cost of these vehicles is too high, even as fuel prices in the US soar.

It was a bummer for me to read about the findings of the survey and market report from such as prominent automotive research institution. However, as has been said to me many times over the years in response to my habit of coming to negative assumptions and conclusions, you can see the glass as being half full or half empty.

Here's a taste of the HybridCars version of the story:

"The newly released J.D. Power and Associates 2011 US Green Automotive Study indicates major growth in consumer interest in green cars—including hybrids, clean diesel, plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars. The market research firm expects as much as 10 percent of sales to come from vehicles with these fuel-efficient technologies by 2016. That would represent a four-fold increase in the sales numbers for green cars compared to 2010."

I vote for half full!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Second Life Batteries Could Help Support for EVs in a Big Way

The future of plug-in electric vehicles will be dictated very much by the success ratio of their batteries. Some of the issues are:
  • Lifecycle of the battery technology -- how long with it really last -- 100,000 miles?
  • What will it cost to replace the battery? How much of the vehicle's cost is tied into its battery?
  • What will happen to that depleted battery? Will it become landfill and end up taking away the environmental benefits it produced in its under-the-hood days
The US Dept. of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, industry, and academia are teaming to give batteries from EVs a “second life.” NREL’s partner is an industry-academia team led by the California Center for Sustainable Energy. Possible secondary uses for lithium ion batteries include residential and commercial electric power management, power grid stabilization to help provide reliable electricity to users, and renewable energy system firming — which in this case involves using batteries to make power provided to the grid by variable resources such as wind and solar energy more useable. 

No one, as of yet, has comprehensively studied the feasibility, durability, and value of these batteries for second-use applications. So, results from the study can be integrated into strategic planning for extending battery shelf life. Recycling is a big part of corporate sustainability programs -- this could be an important one. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

EV Cup Replacing American Le Mans Series in Green Racing

I was sad to see American Le Mans Series cancel its Race for the Green day at the Long Beach Grand Prix this month. They had the event two years in a row, and we did several great video interviews there. Following green racing is important, as is tracking road tests, military vehicles, motorbikes, planes, boats, big rigs, etc,, that are trying out green fuels and technology. These can be proving grounds for advanced transportation that will eventually spill over to passenger vehicles. Don’t be surprised to see managers from Ford, Mazda, Toyota, GM, Tesla, etc., at green racing events, taking notes. 

Perhaps there is a replacement for American Le Mans Series green conference to fill the void? It could be EV Cup, an electric racing car series that culminates at the California Speedway on Dec. 17. There will be five races in Europe before that, and a series at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., on Nov. 26. I expect we’ll be at one of them 

Starting in August this year, the EV Cup will hold with five races in Europe before finishing in the U.S., cumulating in a race at the California Speedway (in Fontana, Calif.) on December 17, 2011. 

In addition to the California Speedway race, U.S. race fans will be able to see the race series at the iconic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey California on November 26, just after Thanksgiving, the second all-electric racing event due to happen there this year. 

The race includes former competitors in American Le Mans Series as well as Formula One British champion Damon Hill and former BBC Top Gear Stig Ben Collins. Could be pretty good stuff – looking forward to it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chrysler Getting Rid of GEM Neighborhood Electric Cars

It's not surprising to hear about Chrysler Group unleashing low-speed electric car maker GEM. It's lineup of bubble-shaped glorified golf-buggies is being sold to Polaris Industries, Inc., makers of everything from snowmobiles and off-road all-terrain vehicles through to motorcycles and its own neighborhood electric vehicles.

Last year, Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) was the focus of a harsh study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that didn't like what it was discovering after doing crash tests on GEM cars. IIHS made a very good point -- these vehicles are safe and reasonable in gated communities such as senior living facilities and work stations where the speed level is low and the risks of head on crashes are basically gone. But out on the road with cars going well over 35 mph, the neighborhood electric vehicles and their passengers are too vulnerable.

GEM has been around for quite a few years. I can remember going to the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Institute annual conference in 2007 and seeing the company's display and golf-cart type vehicles in the ride and drive. It's similar to the hydrogen industry bringing fuel cells to vehicles such as fork lifts -- there are a lot vehicles out there used for commercial apps, and they're a good place to test out new technology like battery-powered and fuel cell vehicles.

Monday, April 25, 2011

GM No Longer Villain in “Revenge of the Electric Car”

Carmaker executives featured prominently in “Revenge of the Electric Car” – GM’s Bob Lutz, Renault-Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn, and Tesla’s Elon Musk – walked the red carpet Friday at the film’s Tribeca Film Festival opening. General Motors should be especially happy with the movie. It comes out five years after “Who Killed the Electric Car,” which was very critical of the company for pulling the plug on the EV1; that car was to be the very first mass market electric vehicle following the crank-up cars from 100 years ago.

"Revenge of the Electric Car," directed by Chris Paine, traces the efforts of GM, Nissan Motor Co., and Tesla Motors to build and sell electric vehicles, starting back in 2008. GM and Tesla gave Paine extensive behind-the-scenes access – as long as footage would not be shown until 2011 – after GM's Volt was in production. Renault-Nissan restricted filmmaker access.

Lutz and GM have long-insisted that the decision to kill the $1 billion EV1 program was not because of conspiracy, but because the company couldn't profitably make EVs that were dependable. Ghosn takes a cautious approach in the film, telling staff to not talk too much about the Leaf, waking up competition. And it delves into Musk sorting through production delays and sifting through problems that had to be resolved before Tesla Motors stood a chance of succeeding.

I’m very much looking forward to the movie coming to theaters in LA, and have seen the original three times.

Friday, April 22, 2011

It's Not All About the Electric Car

While battery-powered, along with alternative and renewable fuel, vehicles are a big part of cleaning up the emissions problem, cargo and people transport vehicles are a very big part of the solution. As has been mentioned here and in ADW Green, there's a lot going on in green transportation moving this forward -- commercial and government fleets, taxi services, executive and luxury transportation, heavy duty trucking, utility and service vehicles, airplanes, ships, mass transit buses, and motorcycles are all seeing testing and deployment of electric vehicles, hybrid technology, biofuels, natural gas, propane autogas, and fuel cell vehicles. Airports and harbor ports are good places to watch to see where a lot is being done in vehicle technology and fueling stations.

Within 10 to 15 years, the 17-mile 710 Freeway corridor will achieve zero emissions for freight transportation at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, said Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president of CALSTART. Amburg was one of the speakers this week on a panel put on by South Coast Air Quality Management District. Van Amburg sees this happening through dual-mode hybrids trucks, which would run on battery power in the ports and on a hybrid engine outside the port area.

The LA and Long Beach ports have had a fight on their hands moving toward their emissions targets. Long Beach settled a federal court lawsuit by the American Trucking Associations and the LA port is still tied up in litigation. It is moving forward, even if it ends up being less strict than the LA port authority had originally intended. And then there's the question of cargo ships and their fuel sources. Much more is to be done for cleaning the air in this, and other, rapidly growing ports.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Synthetic Bio-based Motor Oil for Earth Day -- Look for More of this Soon

So how does bio-based synthetic motor oil, made from a blend of American grown base oils, sound to you? It could reduce our addiction to foreign, imported oil, and from petroleum. So you'd get to make a contribution to the US economy, reduce the power of OPEC nations and the cost of foreign oil imports, remove offshore oil spills, help out your pocketbook as oil prices skyrocket, and reduce noxious emissions into the atmosphere. Sounds pretty good to me!

In Celebration of Earth Day, Green Earth Technologies, Inc., a US manufacturer and marketer of "green" environmentally safer consumer packaged goods and products, has a campaign to "Change Your Oil, Change the World!", encouraging consumers to switch from their current petrochemical motor oil brand to G-OIL, the world's first and only American Petroleum Institute (API) Service SM Certified 5W-30 Bio-based Full Synthetic Motor Oil, grown and made in the USA. The company says the bio-based full synthetic motor oil provides superior performance and protection during the maximum oil change intervals recommended by vehicle manufacturers.

I think we're going to see a lot more synthetic motor oil and engine fuel in the next few years. As mentioned, oil prices are rising, government regulations toughening up, and a lot of consumers want freedom from oil addiction, improved pocketbook efficiency, and cleaner air. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Audi A3 Plug-in Hybrid Could Wed Clean Diesel and Battery Power

Audi could be in a very good position for attracting attention from green car shoppers. The company introduced an A3 plug-in at the Shanghai auto show this week. The version of the car being presented at the show is an A3 e-tron PHEV with a turbocharged, direct-injection 4-cylinder gas engine with a 20 kiloWatt electric motor and a rechargeable 12-kW-hour lithium-ion battery pack that can go 34 miles on battery before the gas engine kicks in. It will get up to 238 horsepower when gas and electric sources are operating in tandem.

So, what if Audi combined the award winning, high mileage turbocharged diesel engine A3 TDI with its plug-in hybrid technology? I would think the diesel engine range would be farther than the 34 miles the gasoline engine goes. The Edmunds article doesn't mention the diesel engine version. The A3 plug-in hybrid could be on the road by 2013. The gas-powered powered version of the new A3 is due to hit showrooms next year, and Audi also has shown an all-electric version of the present A3 sportwagon. But let's wait and see if clean diesel and plug-in are wedded someday.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nissan Leaf Value of Zero Ad Spot Aimed at 3 Interest Groups

Nissan is showing a clever commercial called, "The Value of Zero," which rolls through images of zeroes including a frog's eye, a chalkboard numeral, a bald man's top of head, a pregnant woman's tummy. The benefits of zero, according to the ad spot are:

1. Zero dependency on foreign oil
2. Zero pollutants in the environment
3. Zero depletion of the ozone

Like other green vehicle and fuel marketing, this is attempting to reach three interest groups, which for many people cross over to varied beliefs and opinions:

1. Foreign oil -- could include George W. Bush, T. Boone Pickens, and millions of others with resentment towards the oil industry and OPEC.
2. Pollutants -- this is the classic concern about smog spewing from a car's tailpipe.
3. Depletion of the ozone -- addresses those concerned about climate change and global warming.

So, some people would agree with all three statements, some one out of three. A lot of people could care less about any of it, as long as they get gas in their car, money in their wallet, and food on the table. The Nissan ad is designed with a bit more sophistication, and is aimed at those with knowledge and opinions on the power and negative impact of traditional gas-powered vehicles and the oil needed to run them. Who would care enough to buy a Leaf.

"Suddenly zero starts adding up... Zero is worth everything," the ad says.

Monday, April 18, 2011

HELP!!! Your feedback needed on what should be covered as Automotive Digest Weekly Green goes daily

Before too long, Automotive Digest Weekly Green will become daily and called Green Automotive Digest Daily. We very much need to get reader feedback on what people want to know about green cars and fuels. So this is where you come into the picture…

How this works:
Read my concept (below) for daily newsletter subjects, and themes/topics that will be addressed. Keep in mind that breaking news stories will be covered every day – so it won’t just be about these topics each day.
Send me a reply email with your thoughts on the subject –, or post a comment on this blog.

Here are some questions that might be useful for you to think about as you read the concept…

  • How much would this grab your attention? 
  • Would everything be covered that you’d want to read about? 
  • Is there anything missing that you want to read about? 
  • Would this stand out and be distinctive from other news and information sources you’re accessing on green cars and fuels, or that you have some familiarity with? 
  •  Any other thoughts on the subject? 

Having said that, here’s my concept for the format I’m thinking of about creating…

Monday: Green machines
Plug-in electric vehicles, hybrids, fuel cell vehicles, natural gas vehicles, propane conversions, flexible fuel vehicles, clean diesel engines, and fuel efficient gas engines. Plus, other green transportation modes – racing, motorcycles, jets, boats, big rigs, etc.

Tuesday: Clean energy and fuels
Battery technology, electricity plant power sources, renewables, biofuels, natural gas, propane autogas, hydrogen, and synthetic fuels.

Wednesday: Traffic gridlock solutions
Car sharing, mass transit, fleet management, vanpools, group transportation, bicycling, HOV lanes, telematics and navigation systems, vehicle safety, and intelligent vehicles and roads of the future.

Thursday: Smart cleantech
Charging stations, smart grids, connectivity, technology innovations, energy efficiency, hydrogen highways, green automaking and marketing, and corporate sustainability programs.

Friday: Best of this week
Reruns, highlights, and summaries of the editorial content from Monday through Thursday editions, covering all four daily categories and important news.

Themes and topics to cover:
  • Gasoline and diesel prices 
  • Recovering from our oil addiction 
  • Political battles and regulatory mandates 
  • Environmentalist group action 
  • Problems and uphill climbs faced by green vehicles and fuels 
  • The latest in charging, connectivity, and smart apps 
  • Green vehicle launches and makeovers 
  • Significant happenings around the world 
  • Advanced, innovative automotive technology 
  • Renewable energy and fuel 
Your comments, suggested changes, viewpoints, questions, diatribes, insults, prophetic visions, shopping lists, etc. – whatever else you want to include with your feedback.

Rewards of taking this survey:
  • You will have a positive effect on a media source that some people read and take seriously, and that influences their decisions on green machines and fuels. 
  • If there are a few things I need to know about this editorial structure concept, tell me, even if I don’t want to hear it. Especially if I don’t want to hear it. 
  • I will only have good things to say about you! 
So go for it! Thank you, in advance.

Jon LeSage

Thursday, April 14, 2011

DOE Study Guide on Alternative Fuels to Know About

Ever wonder what categories of alternative fuels (something besides gasoline or diesel) are on the market, and which ones are in development? I do, and it's important to follow. Some of the race cars being tested around the world use these fuels and are testing out advanced alternative fuels and technologies. Solar race cars have been tested for years and could offer a renewable-energy powered car someday. As for now, the categories that are on the market and not just for test cars, according to Dept. of Energy, are:

Natural gas
Propane autogas

There isn't much methanol left, but it's still in use in small quantities. It was very big in the early 1990s, especially in fleet programs, but it eroded engines rapidly and wreaked havoc.

Here's the other categories of fuel currently under development, much of which came to be under the Energy Policy Act of 1992:

Biobutanol - an alcohol that can be produced through processing of domestically grown crops, such as corn and sugar beets, and other biomass.
Biogas - produced from the anaerobic digestion of organic matter such as animal manure, sewage, and municipal solid waste. After it is processed to required standards of purity, biogas becomes a renewable substitute for natural gas.
Biomass to Liquids (BTL) - a term describing processes for converting diverse biomass feedstocks into a range of liquid fuels.
Coal to Liquids (CTL) - processes for converting coal into liquid fuels.
Fischer-Tropsch Diesel - made by converting gaseous hydrocarbons, such as natural gas and gasified coal or biomass, into liquid fuel.
Gas to Liquids (GTL) - a process for converting natural gas into liquid fuels.
Hydrogenation-Derived Renewable Diesel (HDRD) - product of fats or vegetable oils—alone or blended with petroleum—that have been refined in an oil refinery.
P-Series - a blend of natural gas liquids (pentanes plus), ethanol, and the biomass-derived co-solvent methyltetrahydrofuran (MeTHF) that are formulated to be used in flexible fuel vehicles.
Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel - diesel fuel with lower sulfur content enacted nationwide in 2010.

There might be other categories to consider, especially in realm of biofuels. It might already be included in the DOE's BTL category, but there's always investment, research, and development being made in algae biofuel, cellulosic ethanol, and other advanced biofuels. Synthetic fuels are also being tested, too, which are scientifically redesigned versions of gasoline and diesel with lower emissions and better efficiency.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Going Gaga for Green Jobs

As part of an environmental group in my hometown of Long Beach, Calif., I've become involved with networking with teachers and student groups to give educational presentations. I tell them "green cars and fuels," and other topics that can be presented by our group leadership. There's some interest on their part, but not really that much. Teachers are way busy with students, especially high school classes studying like mad for the state exams on english and math skills that teachers and students now have to devote nearly all their time to.

I recently got the idea of mentioning green jobs as the topic. I happen to be one of these people -- laid off a job two years ago and then going after green job opportunities, which led to being the editor of ADW Green and driving on the weekends for a green chauffeured transportation company. I will talk about it, and tell kids about the variety of training programs and job fairs available to them now. This can be connected to solar panel installations, recycling and waste management, tree planting and lawn composting, automotive service and maintenance, energy efficiency programs, and a variety of other opportunities.

So I called a principal at one of the local high schools, and mentioned topics we cover. When I said "green jobs," the response was, "When can you get here?" The school wanted me there for three days, and I had to say only two, and limited times on those days. I will be doing more of these presentations and writing a Frequently Asked Questions booklet on it, too. Clearly a hot topic.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Take on the KBB Top 10 Green Cars List

Kelley Blue Book just released its annual green car top 10 list, and here it is:

#1: 2011 Nissan Leaf | 99 mpg equivalent
#2: 2011 Chevy Volt | 93 mpg equivalent
#3: 2011 Toyota Prius | 50 mpg (51 city, 48 highway)
#4: 2011 Lexus CT 200h | 42 mpg (43 city, 40 highway)
#5: 2011 Honda Insight | 41 mpg (40 city/43 highway)
#6: 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid | 39 mpg (41 city/36 highway)
#7: 2011 Volkswagen Golf TDI | 34 mpg (30 city/42 highway)
#8: 2011 Hyundai Elantra | 33 mpg (29 city, 40 highway)
#9: 2012 Fiat 500 | 33 mpg (30 city/38 highway)
#10: 2012 Ford Focus | 31 mpg (28 city/38 highway)

My thoughts on the subject:
1. The mileage ratings come from the automakers and may not be exactly real world. The Leaf and Volt are the toughest ones to figure out with comparisons to EPA mileage ratings of conventional gasoline engine vehicles. The Volt rating is much higher than what the EPA gave it. Much of it has to do with the type of daily driving usage that goes into it. It's like Chevrolet execs saying Volt owners are typically driving 1,000 miles between charges. That would depend completely on your driving conditions; how many mile you drive per day, how often you charge the battery, and the climate and elevation conditions would be especially pertinent.

2. This is the first time the Toyota Prius hasn't made the number one spot in several years. It's kind of sad to see the icon of green cars drop down to number three.

3. There are no turbo-diesel engines like the Audi A3 TDI or Volkswagen Jetta TDI. These cars are known for excellent fuel mileage and high performance.

4. The Lexus CT 200 hybrid might make a splash in the luxury hybrid arena.

5. It's odd that the Fiat 500 made the list. It's new to the US market and there isn't much driver experience to tap into and cite as evidence that it's a good buy. The mileage is good, but there's several hybrid and conventional gas engine cars that do better and didn't make the list.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nuclear Lessons Learned from Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Chernobyl

As details come out on the Japanese nuclear power plant crisis, there's bound to be comparisons to three horrific incidents. Two of these being the atomic bomb attacks by the US in 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the other being the nuclear power plant disaster in Chernobyl in 1986, that the Soviet government attempted to cover up.

This from Greenwire: "The collected medical histories from the survivors of the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki have never been more visible, as another radiation crisis has gripped Japan. With few exceptions, each invocation of the possible cancer risk -- or lack of risk -- poised by the failed reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has its origins in the lives of atomic bomb survivors."

This as a letter to the editor from attorney Raffaele Ferrante: "...nuclear power stations in general, when they stop working, require an infinite cooling of the radioactive materials, which, especially in the event of disasters, becomes very difficult to achieve, and which, for example, they are not managing to carry out in Japan. It is essentially an unequal struggle against heat. Heat which, if it sooner or later prevails against the emergency systems adopted to halt it, causes fusion, or, as at Chernobyl, explosion, but in the meantime -- until the final and perhaps unlikely cooling -- causes the release of radiation. A drama that cannot be resolved by covering the reactors with cement or anything else, because, at Chernobyl, it was possible precisely because the radioactive material had exploded, so all they covered was the debris of the explosion, which incidentally still continues to 'burn'. Here, however, this monstrous material, moreover in much greater quantities than Chernobyl, is still there, and should it explode or melt down, nothing would be able to contain it."

Perhaps the three damaged nuclear power plants in Japan -- Fukushima, Onagawa, and Higashidori -- have wreaked havoc on the population -- genetic mutation causing yet another wave of cancer for Japanese people. The Japanese government will have to do better than the Russians. Concealing damaging evidence makes it worse. Whatever must be done to resolve the crisis must be done. The future of nuclear power in Japan and in the western world, where it commonly serves as an electric power station energy source, must be examined carefully for public and environmental health and safety.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Honda Insight a Prius copycat but makes dollars and sense

I've mistaken the Honda Insight hybrid for a Toyota Prius -- it looks very similar, is about the same size, and is a hybrid. It's only been on the market for about two years and has done fairly well in sales lately as gas prices rise, but it does look like a Prius copycat. Given that opinion, how do they compare?

The Insight offers a combined mpg of 41, and an MSRP of $19,800. The Prius goes 50 mpg and has an MSRP of $22,800. So $3,000 more for nine more miles per gallon. That means if you drive 15,000 miles per year, you would need 300 gallons to fuel the Prius that distance, and about 366 to power the Insight. If gas is $4 a gallon, that means you'd be paying $264 dollars per year more to gas up the Insight compared to the Prius. That would take 11 years for the prices to even out with manufacturer suggested retail prices.

Gas will be going up over $4 a gallon nationally, and has already done so in California. So that time span will probably be much shorter. There are other things to consider for long-term ownership of these cars -- maintenance and repairs, durability and reliability, how long the battery lasts and what it costs to replace it, etc. So the Insight seems to make dollars and sense. But, do you like it enough? If you're really into the Prius, it would be a tough choice.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

You thought you had great mpg?

GM says drivers of the Chevy Volt have been driving 1,000 miles between gas ups. Pretty good, huh? So the way this is supposed to work is that average drivers are going short distances in their commuter car -- 30-40 miles, and the Volt holds up on the charge. They charge up at work or more likely at home, and don't need to use the gas tank for much of anything at all. Perhaps the EPA window stickers are going to be thrown out the window?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sugar Ethanol Could Be Good and Sweet for America

Corn-based ethanol has its enemies and critics in the US and beyond, yet it remains the main source of biofuels being used here now in flex-fuel vehicles and for 10% of the gasoline in about three quarters of US retail gas stations. One country that has been producing and gassing up on more ethanol than the US is Brazil, which gets its ethanol from sugar cane. There are a few experts who say sugar could work well as an ethanol source in the US, but coming from sugar beets instead of sugar cane.

In North Dakota, agribusiness specialists formed the Green Vision Group to explore sugar beets as a feedstock for ethanol production. The group is planning to build a $20 million plant to demonstrate the viability of energy beets as an ethanol feedstock, according to The Detroit Bureau. Cole Gustafson, a professor at North Dakota State University, makes good points about the benefits of sugar cane ethanol. Gustafson is working with Green Vision on its plans for a processing center, and said sugar plants have an advantage over corn because they require one less processing step. Corn’s starches have to be converted to sugar before the conversion to alcohol. Sugar cane ethanol could possibly be more cost effective and environmentally safe than corn ethanol.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Biofuels Huge Opportunity for Oil Companies, But Challenges Abound

Oil companies face impingement upon their traditional sphere of influence and challenges to grow the alternative energy side of their businesses, according to Accenture, which recently tracked the race for leadership in alternative fuels and technology between the US and China. According to the report, "Biofuels is the area that makes most sense for oil companies, as it aligns most easily to existing infrastructure and knowledge. However, biofuels growth in China will be carefully managed by government departments to ensure no impact is seen on the availability of food, although we are not seeing the level of government involvement that is afforded to electric vehicles."

Major oil companies are continuing to make investments in biofuels, but there's not one clear winner. Cellulosic and algae biofuels get a lot of support and funding, but both have significant limitations for meeting federal targets in the US and in China. Corn ethanol still takes the driver's seat in the US. As for now, China is fueling most of its vehicles with diesel and it's yet to be seen what alternative fuels and technology will expand in the rapidly growing Chinese transportation market.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Overhearing conversations about electric cars

At the Plug-in Electric Vehicle Infrastructure USA conference in San Diego last week, panelists spoke about the latest in electric car charging station integration across the country. Attendees included utility execs, charging technology suppliers, Mercedes-Benz, T-Mobile, consultants, and analysts. Small attendance but very detailed and technical chats between insiders. Here are a few things I heard in video interviews and what others nearby were talking about...

1. Research and development folks are testing out very fast charging technology (5 minutes?) that combine supercapacitors with batteries.

2. The nuclear meltdown in Japan is raising hackles about nuclear power in Washington DC and other places, but it's not appearing to deflate electric car support at this time. Dirty coal is a bigger issue to handle for public support of electric vehicles.

3. Batteries are the real issue for electric cars -- how long will they last in the Nissan Leaf, what will be the cost and impact of replacement, and what happens to the battery systems when they're removed?

4. Telematics and connectivity will play a big role in the future of the EV infrastructure for fleet and retail owners.