Friday, March 14, 2008

Random Rumblings

Shaking the Intertubes and seeing what rolls out ...

Could plug-in hybrids and electric cars actually be worse for the environment than old skool gasoline cars? Seems crazy, but USA Today wrote a big article on it, getting most of their info from two studies, one by the Natural Resources Defense Council and another by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The gist of the claim is that the increased electricity usage will require burning a lot more coal.

I gotta admit that the NRDC sounds suspiciously like something an oil company might have thrown together to fight the rising tide of alternative fuels for vehicles, but it is actually a legitimate pro-environment group.

But wait, there's more. PHEVs and electrics cars will also use more water than their gas-powered bretheren. As that article points out, this issue isn't a show-stopper, but it's one more variable to consider.

A mass-produced 70mpg car? Maybe. VW showed off their diesel-hybrid Golf at the Geneva Motor Show. It looks and sounds pretty darn cool, but there's some debate over whether it will actually get to market. VW is being coy and saying it's just a prototype, but that's not what these guys say. Unfortunately for the US, it may be a Europe only thing. We'd get a gas-hybrid instead.

More hybrid and alternative fuel news:
Toyota and GM racing to put out the first plug-in hybrids. I guess they don't read USA Today.

While a bit late to the game, GM is already pushing their next-generation hybrid system using Li-ion batteries.

Sure that Golf, may be sexy, but Toyota isn't jumping on the diesel-hybrid bandwagon.

Toyota (man, are they all over the hybrid news or what?) thinks Li-ion is soooo 2009. They are totally into zinc-air batteries these days. At least until zinc-air sells out and signs on with the big companies.

We posted a couple of weeks ago about the potential ecological impact of switching to biofuels. It gets worse. The New York Times has discovered that the plants that refine the stuff are dumping tons of hazardous gunk into local streams and rivers.

File this one under the "never would have guessed it category" (that's in the 'n' drawer) - a nationwide sawdust shortage might make cars a bit more expensive. That's just odd.

The Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS) recently posted PDFs of their last two status reports. The big issues seem to be driving speed (duh) and roof strength.

Looking to buy a new car? Consumer Reports doesn't seem to be too high on American cars. Again. They do like Hondas though. You might want to also consider the NADA's recent finding that luxury cars are the worst when it comes to depreciation. Forbes also looked at car depreciation and found a more varied list of offenders.

Lastly, I couldn't resist this one. James Bonds' Lotus-cum-submarine from The Spy Who Loved Me remains one of the coolest cars ever. If only it really existed. Well ... this little baby's pretty close. It's a Lotus. And it's a submarine. And get this, it's a convertible.

You have to watch the video:


Anonymous said...

I'm just not buying the "electric-powered vehicles *may* be worse for the environment than gas-powered ones" argument. Especially in the long run.

And the NRDC seems to agree. Here are two direct quotes from the article:

"The NRDC calculus shows that a plug-in charged from a power plant burning the dirtiest type of coal still has an overall pollution level less than a conventional gasoline car...according to Luke Tonachel, vehicles analyst at the NRDC and co-author of the group's report on plug-ins."

"He says, however, that charging a plug-in with electricity from renewable resources — wind or water, for instance — cuts overall greenhouse gas emissions to as low as a conventional gasoline car getting 74 mpg."

And that's a key point to me. Electric-powered cars do not *have* to be powered by coal-generated electricity. Society could actually choose to replace coal-fired plants, if it chose. Currently, there are a number of companies (FuelTech is one) that are working on lessening the negative environmental impact of coal-produced electricity with "scrubber" and other types of technology. Also, wouldn't it be cool, if--as an option when you bought an electric-powered car--you could choose to install a wind- or solar-powered mini electric generator on-site to power your vehicle (and maybe even push excess electric power back onto the general grid)?

Anonymous said...

That video is crazy. Can you imagine the gunk (seaweed, little water creatures, etc.) you'd have in your car after tooling around underwater with the top down?

Dave said...

Good point on that NRDC article. There is already a push to look for cleaner sources of electricity (including a resurgence of interest in nuclear power). If we shift a lot of our energy needs from gas to electricity, you can bet that the pressure for cleaner sources will be even greater.