EU9C. 2009–2013 Energy for Transportation

cover for gss book Energy Use

Staying current for Chapter 9

Articles from 2009–2013

Stay current index page for chapter 9

{ Energy Use Contents }

2013-09-10.  Study: Panda Poo May Be Coup for Future of Biofuels.    Excerpt: …bacteria in panda feces could help make biofuel production more efficient. …more than 40 different microbes living in the guts of giant pandas at the Memphis Zoo … could help decompose the corn cobs and other tough plant materials so it can be more easily and efficiently processed to make ethanol. …Pandas, which have a short digestive tract, feast on a diet of tough bamboo. Bacteria with extremely potent enzymes break down the woody bamboo efficiently and quickly. …“The time from eating to defecation is comparatively short in the panda, so their microbes have to be very efficient to get nutritional value out of the bamboo,” said study lead researcher Ashli Brown, an assistant professor of biochemistry at Mississippi State University. “And efficiency is key when it comes to biofuel production — that’s why we focused on the microbes in the giant panda.”…. Bobby Magill, Climate Central.

2013-08-21.  Turning Grass into Gas.  Excerpt: The … cellulosic biofuels … process has been around since the early 1800s, when the chemist Henri Braconnot figured out how to strip sugars from cellulose—the basic building block of all plant life—and refine them into a crude form of ethanol. …For almost 200 years cellulosic ethanol has had the potential to be one of the world’s greenest fuels. Unlike corn ethanol, cellulosic doesn’t rely on food crops. …Cellulosic refineries enjoyed a brief heyday in the early 1900s—Henry Ford’s first models could run on pure ethanol—but were driven out of business by cheap petroleum. …in early 2013, cellulosic ethanol refineries finally began producing biofuel. Texas-based KiOR, the nation’s leading independent cellulosic company, began shipping cellulosic diesel and gasoline from its refinery in Columbus, Mississippi. INEOS Bio’s Florida refinery began producing cellulosic ethanol from yard and wood waste in early summer. By 2014 the Spanish energy giant Abengoa, the chemical conglomerate DuPont, the ethanol maker Poet, and five other cellulosic refiners are expected to begin producing next-generation biofuel. …turning wood or grass into fuel on a commercial scale is really hard to do. “Getting to scale” is industry-speak for the process of moving from a small research lab putting out fuel in 100-gallon batches to an industrial-size refinery producing 10 million to 40 million gallons. When chemical or pharmaceutical manufacturers scale up, they commonly do so by orders of 10 or 100, expressed as 10x or 100x. …Congress asked the cellulosic industry to scale up on the order of 10,000x in five years. “In a lab, you’re working with perfectly clean wood chips,” explains Renata Bura of the University of Washington’s biofuels and bioproducts laboratory. “It’s almost never that pristine in a real-world refinery. At a commercial-scale facility, you’ll have needles, bark, and branches” polluting the mix….. Bruce Barcott, OnEarth, NRDC. 

2013-07-10.   ‘Scout,’ Robotic Solar Boat, On Transatlantic Voyage Thanks To Group Of College Students. Excerpt:  …The vessel Scout was launched from just off Sakonnet Point, R.I., in the early morning hours of July Fourth. Last time we checked – Saturday morning – the 12.8-foot-long, 25-inch-wide boat had hop-scotched 72 miles from waypoint to waypoint to a spot 49 miles off the Rhode Island coast. That left Scout a mere, oh, 3,389 miles to go to reach its destination, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain, where 515 years ago a guy named Columbus began his own transatlantic voyage. …The entirely solar-powered Scout is following a preprogrammed route…. A couple of things make this project especially cool: First, while the project has sponsors and supporters, it is not affiliated with a company or university. It’s just a group of college guys bringing diverse design, building and engineering skills together to make something cool happen. …The second cool thing here: Scout was built from scratch. You can see how the whole process unfolded, beginning in April 2012, on the website, from a design for a hull, to building the form, to constructing the different aspects of the carbon fiber hull. And then there were the long hours of programming – two weeks of 15-hours-a-day crunching….. Pete Danko, Huffington Post.

2013-07-06.  In Cargo Delivery, the Three-Wheelers That Could. Excerpt:  … a Portland entrepreneur, Franklin Jones, …helped pioneer the new field of pedal-powered freight delivery. In 2009, Mr. Jones, a former teacher, founded B-Line Sustainable Urban Delivery (, a company that delivers produce, baked goods, coffee beans, bike parts and office supplies to restaurants, bike shops and other businesses throughout Portland’s downtown area using electric-assisted tricycles that pull 60-cubic-foot cargo boxes with a 600-pound capacity. …. Clare Martin, New York Times. 

2013-06-18. US kids born in polluted areas more likely to have autism.   Excerpt:  Women who live in areas with polluted air are up to twice as likely to have an autistic child than those living in communities with cleaner air, according to a new study. Building on two other smaller, regional studies, the Harvard University research is the first to link air pollution nationwide with autism. It also is the first to suggest that baby boys may be more at risk for autism disorders when their mothers breathe polluted air during pregnancy. Babies born in areas with high airborne levels of mercury, diesel exhaust, lead, manganese, nickel and methylene chloride were more likely to have autism than those in areas with lower pollution. The strongest links were for diesel exhaust and mercury…. Brian Bienkowski, Environmental Health News.

2013-05-16. Overinflated: Why the NYC Bike Share Backlash Is a Good Thing. Excerpt: …the backlash against Citi Bike — the new bike-sharing program scheduled to put 6,000 bikes and 330 stations on New York City’s streets by the end of the month — is a positive development. …most of the energy behind it has been provided by residents of apartment buildings or business owners who are taking issue with the siting of particular bike share stations. What’s striking about that fact is that it means, essentially, that these people have already accepted the idea of a bike-sharing program in New York as a fait accompli — and that they are now merely subjecting that program to the same gauntlet of travails that would accompany the introduction of any other new transit system.  …Dropping a huge bike-share program into the middle of New York City is unquestionably a dramatic step; …The debate over London’s Barclays Cycle Hire program, …the resounding success of Barclays Cycle Hire [London] to date effectively refutes all the objections these doubters raised prior to its launch in 2010. …49 percent of Barclays’ users say they actually started cycling in London because of the system. …bike-sharing is inherently unsafe? …there have been more than 20 million … uses… without a single fatal crash…. Tom Vanderbilt, OnEarth Magazine. 

2013-03. My Heart-Stopping Ride Aboard the Navy’s Great Green Fleet | Julia Whitty, Mother Jones. Excerpt:  …the Navy has always looked far into the future to fuel its supply lines; the job description of admirals requires them to assess risk and solve intractable problems that stymie the rest of us. Peak oil, foreign oil, greenhouse emissions, climate change? Just another bunch of enemies. So when the Department of Defense set a goal to meet 25 percent of its energy needs with renewables by 2025, the Navy found itself fighting on familiar ground. Four times in history it has overhauled old transportation paradigms—from sail to coal to gasoline to diesel to nuclear—carrying commercial shipping with it in the process. “We are a better Navy and a better Marine Corps for innovation,” Mabus says. “We have led the world in the adoption of new energy strategies in the past. This is our legacy.”…. See full article at

2013 February 12.  Why Prius Owners Drive Like That. By Dwight Silverman, Houston Chronicle. Excerpt: …I don’t drive it too aggressively, but I do enjoy its ability to get moving quickly. …I used to get irked with Toyota Prius owners… notorious for driving below posted speed limits, slowing to a stop far out from a stop sign or light, taking their sweet time when the light turns green or creeping through parking lots so silently that they startle pedestrians. Sure, with my Mustang averaging about 15 MPG in city driving, I envied Prius owners’ claims of 50 MPG and better, but really… do they have to be so pokey while doing it? Well, now that we have a Toyota Prius in our household, I know that the answer is… Yes! Now, I’m one of those annoying Prius drivers. …Not only do you want to conserve power, but you also want to make sure the batteries stay charged enough so the electric motor can be used. …When you coast or brake, the wheels and the braking system turn into a generator, feeding current back into the batteries. Coasting or braking also takes the gasoline engine out of the equation, resulting in high fuel efficiency. …Prius owners love to coast. On surface streets, this translate on coasting to stop signs and traffic lights from as far out as possible. Ideally, you’d love to come to a stop right at the intersection without tapping the brake. I haven’t reached that skill level, but I’m getting there. You also don’t want to do any jackrabbit starts when the light turns green. Toyota recommends slow-and-steady starts from standing stops, but there’s another school of thought among advanced Prius drivers. Some argue you should get up to cruising speed as soon as possible, so the gasoline engine runs for as short a time as possible. …On the freeway, Prius drivers try to “glide”, a state in which they’re still moving at highway speeds but using no gasoline engine at all. The Prius can achieve decent mileage at 55 mph, but as it goes faster, mileage drops precipitously. That’s why Prius owners tend to be the ones in the right lane, letting everyone else pass them while speeding.  …Of course, the way you drive in a Prius is actually the way you’re supposed to drive, according to every defensive driving class I’ve been forced to attend…. 

2013 January 16.  Could Some Midwest Land Support New Biofuel Refineries? | Richard Harris, NPR news.  Excerpt:  Millions of acres of marginal farmland in the Midwest — land that isn’t in good enough condition to grow crops — could be used to produce liquid fuels made from plant material, according to a study in Nature. And those biofuels could, in theory, provide about 25 percent of the advanced biofuels required by a 2007 federal law. …G. Philip Robertson and colleagues at Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station have been looking at plants that don’t require farm fields. “First, we discovered that the grasses and flowers that take over fields once you stop farming produce a fair amount of biomass, especially if you provide them a little bit of fertilizer,” Robertson says. …Using these crops for fuel is much better for the atmosphere than burning gasoline…. But biofuels could at best provide only a tiny fraction of our energy needs. …The 27 million acres identified in the latest study would provide less than 0.5 percent of our national energy demand…. And the more we try to expand biofuels, the more we risk displacing crops for food, or chopping down forests, which store a huge amount of carbon. …Europe has recently recognized those potential hazards and is scaling back its biofuels ambitions…. Read[/listen to] the full article:

2013 January 08.  As Biofuel Demand Grows, So Do Guatemala’s Hunger Pangs | Elisabeth Rosenthal, The New York Times. Excerpt:   GUATEMALA CITY — In the tiny tortillerias of this city, people complain ceaselessly about the high price of corn. Just three years ago, one quetzal — about 15 cents — bought eight tortillas; today it buys only four. And eggs have tripled in price because chickens eat corn feed. … Recent laws in the United States and Europe that mandate the increasing use of biofuel in cars have had far-flung ripple effects, economists say, as land once devoted to growing food for humans is now sometimes more profitably used for churning out vehicle fuel. …Now that the United States is using 40 percent of its crop to make biofuel, it is not surprising that tortilla prices have doubled in Guatemala, which imports nearly half of its corn. … Production of sugar cane, long a mainstay Guatemalan crop, has also skyrocketed as biofuels opened new market opportunities. Pantaleon Sugar Holdings, which once exported only food products, now uses 13 percent of its production for fuel. Local sugar prices have doubled…. Read the full article:

2013 January 04.  A Boost for Lithium-Sulfur Batteries | Robert F. Service, Science 4 Vol. 339 no. 6115 pp. 20-21. Excerpt: …new innovations unveiled at the meeting could see fivefold improvements in battery performance. …today’s lithium-ion rechargeables work by shuttling electrical charges back and forth between two electrodes—a positively charged cathode and a negatively charged anode. …LiCoO2 cathodes can’t hold on to very many lithium ions, which keeps the battery’s overall electrical storage capacity low. …lithium-sulfur batteries [could have] about five times the capacity of current lithium-ion cells. …Yi Cui, a materials scientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, … and his team encapsulated tiny nanoparticles of sulfur inside a shell of titanium dioxide (TiO2)… [and] packed their coated nanoparticles together to form a cathode. …the new batteries have a capacity …roughly six times that of the current devices on the market. … Cui said his team charged and discharged the battery more than 1000 times with negligible drop off in performance. …In previous work, Cui’s team … [made] a high capacity anode, which can potentially give lithium-ion batteries another 10-fold power boost. Now, Cui says, his group is working to put the two nanoparticle electrodes together to see if they can produce the battery Christmas presents have been waiting for.   …. Read the full article:

2012 December 21. Make Way for Kilowatts: A Growing-Up Year for Plug-Ins | by Bradley Berman, The New York Times.  Excerpt: … eight significant plug-in models came to market in the United States in 2012. … many of these debuts were for limited production runs of a couple of thousand vehicles. … cars with plugs will still represent only about one-third of 1 percent of the new-car market…. TESLA MODEL S … simultaneously stylish, efficient, roomy, high-tech and very fast … range of the 85-kilowatt-hour model, which starts at $79,350 … is rated by the E.P.A. at 265 miles per charge. …NISSAN LEAF … 8,330 had left showrooms, …. Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid gained steadily as 2012 drew to a close. … Toyota added a plug-in version to its growing family of Prius hybrids in 2012.  …Perhaps the biggest green car story of 2012 was the Obama administration’s new fuel economy standards… that established a standard of 54.5 miles per gallon as an average of all light-duty cars and trucks by 2025, essentially doubling fuel efficiency compared with today’s vehicles. That target also suggests that within a generation hybrids will be ubiquitous and E.V.’s common, on American roads.  …. Read the full article:

2012 December 20.  Meet the Change Makers: How UPS Delivers Big Energy Savings | Adam Aston, OnEarth (NRDC). Excerpt: [Interview with  Scott Wicker, who was named UPS’s first chief sustainability officer in 2011.] …we saw that we were wasting a lot of time making left turns. The more time a van sits waiting to turn, the more fuel is burned idling. …Last year we avoided 98 million minutes of idling. …Last year … we estimate we avoided driving nearly 90 million miles thanks to improvements in routing and package-flow technologies. That translates into more than 8 million gallons of fuel not burned. Our technologies determine how to load each package and where each one goes on a specific shelf in the truck. this effort alone saved 653,000 gallons of fuel. …Our fleet of alternative-fueled vehicles is the largest in the industry, and one of the most diverse. …Many are powered by natural gas, … an alternative to diesel. … For long distances, we also have about 59 big rigs … powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG). …Rounding out the alternative fleet are 381 hybrid electric models that, similar to Toyota’s Prius, use a combination of combustion, electric motors, and battery storage to boost mileage. Because they recapture so much of their energy through regenerative braking, these models are especially well-suited to urban routes…. …we’re rolling out 40 hydraulic hybrid delivery vehicles. …Instead of storing energy in a conventional battery, these vehicles use hydraulic fluid as the storage medium. When the vehicle accelerates, some of this stored pressure helps it to start moving. During braking, the process works in reverse: the vehicle’s momentum is converted into pressure to recharge the hydraulic tanks. It’s a remarkably rugged system that can save up to 40 percent of fuel….We’d like to get off of fossil fuels. That’s our goal….  Read the full article:

2012 Aug 27. Designers Set Sail, Turning to Wind to Help Power Cargo Ships. By John J. Geoghegan, The NY Times. Excerpt: If the world’s shipping fleet were a country, it would be the world’s sixth leading emitter of greenhouse gases. To reduce those emissions — and, not incidentally, to conserve expensive fossil fuels — cargo ship designers are now turning to the oldest source of power there is: the wind… Wind, of course, is cost- and emission-free. But none of the designs under consideration would replace a ship’s engine, only supplement it…. 

2012 July 19. Navy ‘Green Fleet’ sails on biofuels | by Jennifer A. Dlouhy, SFGate. Excerpt: …Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the “Great Green Fleet” test exercises for the first time proved that aircraft carriers, FA-18 jets and other equipment could run on advanced biofuels without any modifications, a milestone in his quest to find alternative fuels. Critics have blasted the exercises as too costly, especially as the Defense Department heads toward mandated budget cuts. The advanced biofuels used to power the Navy vessels came from a mix of algae and cooking oil, sold by Solazyme of South San Francisco and Dynamic Fuels, a joint venture of Tyson Foods and Syntroleum Corp…

2012 Summer. How Clean Are Electric Vehicles | by Don Anair, Catalyst. Excerpt: By drawing some or all of their power from the electricity grid instead of the gas pump, EVs slash oil consumption and eliminate tailpipe emissions, but still produce global warming emissions (because the electricity they use is generated from a mix of energy sources, including fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas)…No matter where you live in the United States, an EV slashes oil consumption and has lower global warming emissions than the average new compact gasoline-powered vehicle. But in regions that depend heavily on coal-fired electricity, charging an EV will generate more global warming emissions than in regions that obtain more of their electricity from cleaner sources such as natural gas, solar, and wind power…. 

2012-05-29. Into the Wild Green Yonder | By Jeff Turrentine, OnEarth Magazine (NRDC). Excerpt: Algae-derived biofuel — already powering some planes and helicopters — offers a cleaner, renewable alternative to petroleum. Will its partisan critics give it a chance to fly? Last November 7, Continental Airlines Flight 1403 took off from Houston, bound for Chicago. The trip was utterly unremarkable save for one thing. Thanks to its fuel — a blend of standard jet diesel and a biofuel derived from algae — the flight reduced carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to what a car would spew out in 30,000 miles of driving. …This technology isn’t in the blue-sky or even beta-testing stage of the R&D sequence. It has already been proved in the lab, and it’s now being proved in the marketplace, where some very big clients — among them major airlines, the U.S. Navy, and Bunge, one of the world’s largest agribusiness conglomerates — are placing orders for millions of gallons of algae-derived biofuel from dozens of manufacturers. …”We have literally invented the ability to design oil,” says Harrison Dillon, president and chief technology officer of Solazyme, the Bay Area company that sold its biofuel to United Continental Holdings for the Houston-to-Chicago flight last November…. Read the full article:

2012 April 13.  How Green Are Electric Cars?  Depends on Where You Plug In | By Paul Stenquist, The NY Times.   Excerpt:  …According to a report that the Union of Concerned Scientists plans to release on Monday, there would be a considerable difference in the amount of greenhouse gases — primarily carbon dioxide — that result from charging the cars’ battery packs…The U.C.S. report, which takes into account the full cycle of energy production, often called a well-to-wheels analysis, demonstrates that in areas where the electric utility relies on natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric or renewable sources to power its generators, the potential for electric cars and plug-in hybrids to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is great. But where generators are powered by burning a high percentage of coal, electric cars may not be even as good as the latest gasoline models — and far short of the thriftiest hybrids….

2012 Mar 23. The Electric Car, Unplugged | By John Broder, The New York Times. Excerpt: The future would appear bright for the electric car. Gasoline prices are high. The government is spending billions on battery technology. Auto companies are preparing to roll out a dozen new electrified models. Concern is growing about the climate impacts of burning oil. And tough new fuel economy standards are looming. Yet the state of the electric car is dismal, the victim of hyped expectations, technological flops, high costs and a hostile political climate.  … is this what an emergent technology looks like before it crosses the valley of death? …Chris Paine, who made the 2006 documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” about the demise of G.M.’s EV1 at the hands of the car company, government regulators and the oil industry, said … one possible culprit still stands to gain if the electric car is killed yet again,… “Not too hard to guess,” he said. “With Americans paying $250 a month to fill up on gasoline when electricity can do the job in a Volt for $50 a month, why are we being told electric cars are failures? Who could possibly be behind this?” 

2012 Feb 9.  Breakthrough in designing cheaper, more efficient catalysts for fuel cells.  Berkeley Research News.  Excerpt:  University of California, Berkeley, chemists are reimagining catalysts in ways that could have a profound impact on the chemical industry as well as on the growing market for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles….
…In an article appearing this week in the journal Science, UC Berkeley chemists show how to construct a catalyst composed only of edges and demonstrate that it can catalyze the production of hydrogen from water as readily as the edges and defects in regular catalysts….

2011 Nov 30.  Algae fuel firms face moment of truth.  By Damian Kahya and Richard Anderson, BBC News.  Excerpt:  …Following pioneering research during the 1950s and 60s in places such as Berkeley, University of California, the US Aquatic Species Program was launched by President Jimmy Carter in 1978… That programme slowly fizzled out, culminating in a report in 1998 which concluded that the price of oil needed to be far higher than the then $15-20 a barrel to make algae viable… By 2007, with the oil price well north of $100, interest in algae had risen again….
…a rash of start-ups around the world – and especially in the US – [have sought] venture capital funding based on promises of limitless, cheap, clean fuel… But none has yet succeeded in producing fuel commercially and at scale….
…”As you scale up, it’s not that things get cheaper, but that new problems emerge,” said Professor Jerry Brand from the University of Texas in Austin….

2011 Nov 29.  E. Coli Bacteria Engineered to Eat Switchgrass and Make Transportation Fuels.  By Lynn Yarris, Berkeley Lab News Center.  Excerpt: A milestone has been reached on the road to developing advanced biofuels that can replace gasoline, diesel and jet fuels with a domestically-produced clean, green, renewable alternative.
Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have engineered the first strains of  Escherichia coli bacteria that can digest switchgrass biomass and synthesize its sugars into all three of those transportation fuels. What’s more, the microbes are able to do this without any help from enzyme additives….
…Advanced biofuels made from the lignocellulosic biomass of non-food crops and agricultural waste are widely believed to represent the best source of renewable liquid transportation fuels. Unlike ethanol, which in this country is produced from corn starch, these advanced biofuels can replace gasoline on a gallon-for-gallon basis, and they can be used in today’s engines and infrastructures. The biggest roadblock to an advanced biofuels highway is bringing the cost of producing these fuels down so that they are economically competitive….

2011 August 3. Costilla County Runs Successful Biodiesel Plan. By Elise Thatcher, Colorado Public Radio Podcast. Excerpt: “Recently Colorado Matters covered the demise of a plant in southwestern Colorado that was supposed to produce biodiesel. That was the San Juan Biofuels plant in Dove Creek, which closed mostly because of the recession. Today we’re going to talk about a similar plant in another rural part of the state. It’s in Costilla County, in south central Colorado. That’s one of the five poorest counties in the state. Like San Juan Biofuels, it uses local crops. But the difference is this plant is still running.”

2011 August 26. Electric-Car Makers’ Quest: One Plug to Charge Them All. By Csaba Csere, The New York Times. Excerpt: With electric cars and plug-in hybrids at last trickling into the showrooms of mainstream automakers, the dream of going gasoline-free is becoming a reality for many drivers. Cars like the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt can cover considerable distances under electric power alone — certainly enough for local errands and even most daily commutes — while enabling their owners to shun gas stations. Indeed, charging the car’s battery pack at home, or topping up at the office or shopping mall, will work fine for most drivers. But what about trips that are beyond the range of a single battery charge?
…Sure, there are already public charging stations in service, and new ones are coming online daily. But those typically take several hours to fully replenish a battery.
As a result, the ability for quick battery boosts — using a compatible direct current fast charger, the Leaf can refill to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes — could potentially become an important point of differentiation among electric models.

2011 July 28. SolarCity to install plug-in car charging stations. By David R. Baker, The San Francisco Chronicle. Excerpt: SolarCity, a San Mateo company known for leasing solar power systems to homeowners, will begin installing electric vehicle charging stations built by Clipper Creek, the two firms reported Wednesday.
…Although the chargers do not need to be coupled with solar power systems, SolarCity is encouraging people to use both, charging their plug-in cars during the day with the aid of solar power.
“Electric cars are already among the cleanest-running vehicles on the road – charging them on solar makes them that much better,” said SolarCity Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive.

2010 Oct 5. U.S. Military Orders Less Dependence on Fossil Fuels. By Elisabeth Rosenthal, NY Times. Excerpt: With insurgents increasingly attacking the American fuel supply convoys that lumber across the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan, the military is pushing aggressively to develop, test and deploy renewable energy to decrease its need to transport fossil fuels. 
…Even as Congress has struggled unsuccessfully to pass an energy bill and many states have put renewable energy on hold because of the recession, the military this year has pushed rapidly forward. After a decade of waging wars in remote corners of the globe where fuel is not readily available, senior commanders have come to see overdependence on fossil fuel as a big liability, and renewable technologies — which have become more reliable and less expensive over the past few years — as providing a potential answer. These new types of renewable energy now account for only a small percentage of the power used by the armed forces, but military leaders plan to rapidly expand their use over the next decade. 
…“There are a lot of profound reasons for doing this, but for us at the core it’s practical,” said Ray Mabus, the Navy secretary and a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who has said he wants 50 percent of the power for the Navy and Marines to come from renewable energy sources by 2020. That figure includes energy for bases as well as fuel for cars and ships. 
…He and other experts also said that greater reliance on renewable energy improved national security, because fossil fuels often came from unstable regions and scarce supplies were a potential source of international conflict. 
…While setting national energy policy requires Congressional debates, military leaders can simply order the adoption of renewable energy. And the military has the buying power to create products and markets. That, in turn, may make renewable energy more practical and affordable for everyday uses, experts say. 
…Last year, the Navy introduced its first hybrid vessel, a Wasp class amphibious assault ship called the U.S.S. Makin Island, which at speeds under 10 knots runs on electricity rather than on fossil fuel…The Air Force will have its entire fleet certified to fly on biofuels by 2011 and has already flown test flights using a 50-50 mix of plant-based biofuel and jet fuel; the Navy took its first delivery of fuel made from algae this summer. 
…This spring, the military invited commercial manufacturers to demonstrate products that might be useful on the battlefield. A small number were selected for further testing. The goal was to see, for example, if cooling systems could handle the 120 degree temperatures often seen in current war zones or if embedded solar panels would make tents more visible to enemy radar. 

2010 August 10. Lithium: The Next Frontier in Alternative Energy. By Anton Polouektov. Excerpt: With peak oil occupying the minds of energy experts and the Gulf oil spill acting as a painful reminder of the dangers posed to the environment by our unquenchable thirst for fossil fuels, a rejuvenated interest in alternative energy is sweeping the nation. Electric and hybrid vehicles are currently the most viable alternative to gas-powered engines, and Lithium-Ion batteries are the most viable means of powering them…
….Lithium, the lightweight silver-white alkali metal that stores energy in lithium-ion batteries, has been attracting growing attention from automotive and energy companies over the past several years and the mineral’s meteoric rise to global prominence is seemingly set to continue unabated as a new generation of electric cars begins rolling off the assembly line…
….Critics of Lithium-based energy solutions argue that although Lithium is one of the most common metals in the Earth’s crust, the availability of easily accessible reserves of the mineral may be comparatively limited…He concluded that “the range of future demands for lithium is unsustainable.”…
…Ultimately, the strongest argument in favor of Lithium may be that it is one of the very few truly viable alternative energy solutions available to us today, even though it would not completely alleviate global dependence on oil and natural gas…
…”Better batteries can help us to use the electricity generated by solar and wind in our transportation system, leaving oil for heating and aircraft.” In the end, a switch from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries may be the first step towards finding a real alternative to fossil fuels, but before it is taken, some research still needs to be conducted to determine whether an increase in lithium-ion battery production is sustainable in the long term.

2010 July 23. Berkelely lab co-leads $122 million sunlight-to-fuel effort. By Suzanne Bohan, Contra Costa Times.Excerpt: Plants fuel the world with their ability to convert sunlight into a usable form of energy. Now, the Department of Energy is putting up $122 million to help humans capture the energy of the sun and create renewable liquid fuels through “artificial photosynthesis.”
Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena were selected to lead the ambitious research project, the Energy Department announced Thursday. Its aim is to master the basic science involved and develop applications that can be scaled up for commercial use….
…Instead of yielding a simple carbohydrate, artificial photosynthesis would be designed to create oxygen and liquid fuels such as hydrocarbons or alcohols that could be directly pumped into vehicles, without additional, costly refinement.
Photosynthesis “happens on the nano scale,” said PAUL ALIVISATOS, [UC BERKELEY PROFESSOR and] director of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. “There’s really a new environment with all the nanotechnology that’s been developed.”…
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said that it would create 100 new jobs, not including construction and other contract jobs. It also engages the work of an estimated 200 scientists statewide. Other universities involved in the artificial photosynthesis hub include SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford, UC BERKELEY, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine and UC San Diego…. 

2010 July 26. Exploring Algae As Fuel. By Andrew Pollack, The New York Times. Excerpt: SAN DIEGO — In a laboratory where almost all the test tubes look green, the tools of modern biotechnology are being applied to lowly pond scum.
…The goal is nothing less than to create superalgae, highly efficient at converting sunlight and carbon dioxide into lipids and oils that can be sent to a refinery and made into diesel or jet fuel.
…“There are probably well over 100 academic efforts to use genetic engineering to optimize biofuel production from algae,” said Matthew C. Posewitz, an assistant professor of chemistry at the Colorado School of Mines, who has written a review of the field. “There’s just intense interest globally.”
…The strains can potentially produce 10 or more times more fuel per acre than the corn used to make ethanol or the soybeans used to make biodiesel. Moreover, algae might be grown on arid land and brackish water, so that fuel production would not compete with food production. And algae are voracious consumers of carbon dioxide, potentially helping to keep some of this greenhouse gas from contributing to global warming.
…Not all these traits are being developed by genetic engineering, because in many cases scientists do not know what genes to use. Instead, the company screens thousands of strains each day, looking for organisms with the right properties. Those desirable traits can be further enhanced by breeding or accelerated evolution. 

2010 February 18. Road Transportation Emerges As Key Driver of Warming. Goddard Institute for Space Studies.Excerpt: For decades, climatologists have studied the gases and particles that have potential to alter Earth’s climate. They have discovered and described certain airborne chemicals that can trap incoming sunlight and warm the climate, while others cool the planet by blocking the Sun’s rays.
Now a new study led by Nadine Unger of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City offers a more intuitive way to understand what’s changing the Earth’s climate. Rather than analyzing impacts by chemical species, scientists have analyzed the climate impacts by different economic sectors.
Each part of the economy, such as ground transportation or agriculture, emits a unique portfolio of gases and aerosols that affect the climate in different ways and on different timescales 
…The new analysis offers policy makers and the public a far more detailed and comprehensive understanding of how to mitigate climate change most effectively, Unger and colleagues assert. “Targeting on-road transportation is a win-win-win,” she said. “It’s good for the climate in the short term and long term, and it’s good for our health.” 

2010 March 9. The Lithium Chase. By Clifford Krauss, NY Times. Excerpt: …As awareness spreads that lithium is a crucial ingredient for hybrid and electric cars, a global hunt is under way for new supplies of the metal.
Toyota Tsusho, the material supplier for the big Japanese automaker, announced a joint venture in January with the Australian miner Orocobre to develop a $100 million lithium project in Argentina. That deal came only days after Magna International, the Canadian car parts company that is helping develop a battery-powered version of the Ford Focus, announced that it was investing $10 million in a small Canadian lithium firm that also has projects in Argentina.
They were the latest in a series of deals and projects announced over the last year, reflecting a new urgency among companies to assure themselves future supplies of the metal.
…About 60 mining companies have begun feasibility studies in Argentina, Serbia and Nevada that could lead to more than $1 billion in new lithium projects in the next several years, while dozens of smaller projects are being proposed in China, Finland, Mexico and Canada.
The companies are competing for construction financing, and the future of most of the projects will depend on how popular electric cars eventually become. That is an open question since batteries remain expensive, recharging stations need to be developed, and consumer taste for cars that depend on regular stops at electric outlets remains untested…. 

2010 Feb 18. Orange peels, newspapers may lead to cheaper, cleaner ethanol fuel. EurekAlert. Excerpt: Scientists may have just made the breakthrough of a lifetime, turning discarded fruit peels and other throwaways into cheap, clean fuel to power the world’s vehicles.
University of Central Florida professor Henry Daniell has developed a groundbreaking way to produce ethanol from waste products such as orange peels and newspapers. His approach is greener and less expensive than the current methods available to run vehicles on cleaner fuel – and his goal is to relegate gasoline to a secondary fuel.
Daniell’s breakthrough can be applied to several non-food products throughout the United States, including sugarcane, switchgrass and straw.
…Daniell’s technique – developed with U.S. Department of Agriculture funding — uses plant-derived enzyme cocktails to break down orange peels and other waste materials into sugar, which is then fermented into ethanol.
Corn starch now is fermented and converted into ethanol. But ethanol derived from corn produces more greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline does. Ethanol created using Daniell’s approach produces much lower greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline or electricity…. 

2010 Feb 14. Cities Prepare for Life With the Electric Car. By Todd Woody and Clifford Krauss, NY Times. Excerpt:SAN FRANCISCO — If electric cars have any future in the United States, this may be the city where they arrive first.
The San Francisco building code will soon be revised to require that new structures be wired for car chargers. Across the street from City Hall, some drivers are already plugging converted hybrids into a row of charging stations.
In nearby Silicon Valley, companies are ordering workplace charging stations in the belief that their employees will be first in line when electric cars begin arriving in showrooms. And at the headquarters of Pacific Gas and Electric, utility executives are preparing “heat maps” of neighborhoods that they fear may overload the power grid in their exuberance for electric cars.
…In cities like San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and San Diego, a combination of green consciousness and enthusiasm for new technology seems to be stirring public interest in the cars.
The first wave of electric car buying is expected to begin around December, when Nissan introduces the Leaf, a five-passenger electric car that will have a range of 100 miles on a fully charged battery and be priced for middle-class families…. 

2010 Jan 31. An Electric Boost for Bicyclists. By J. David Goodman, The NY Times. Excerpt: …Detroit may be introducing electric car designs and China may be pushing forward with a big expansion of its highways and trains. But people like Mr. Jiang, Ms. Wijzenbeek-Voet and Mr. Chiu — as well as delivery workers in New York, postal employees in Germany and commuters from Canada to Japan — are among the millions taking part in a more accidental transportation upheaval.
It began in China, where an estimated 120 million electric bicycles now hum along the roads, up from a few thousand in the 1990s. They are replacing traditional bikes and motorcycles at a rapid clip and, in many cases, allowing people to put off the switch to cars.
In turn, the booming Chinese electric-bike industry is spurring worldwide interest and impressive sales in India, Europe and the United States. China is exporting many bikes, and Western manufacturers are also copying the Chinese trend to produce models of their own. From virtually nothing a decade ago, electric bikes have become an $11 billion global industry…. 

2010 Jan 28. Biofuel advance made in Bay Area, researchers say. By Suzanne Bohan, Contra Costa Times. Excerpt: Researchers in Emeryville have engineered a microbe that produces biodiesel fuel directly from plant waste and grasses, according to a study published Thursday in the Journal Nature. The development was hailed as a major milestone in a federal initiative to develop new forms of transportation fuels to ease the country’s dependence on foreign oil and to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. “This is a very important advance,” said Jay Keasling, chief executive of the Joint Bioenergy Institute and acting deputy director of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, which manages the Joint Bioenergy Institute.
…Energy Secretary Steven Chu sent an excited message praising the advance, Keasling said. The institute, which opened in late 2008 with the mandate of developing commercially viable alternates to corn-based ethanol within five years, has a $125 million Department of Energy grant. …”This was about making a fuel that would work with our existing infrastructure” for diesel, Keasling said. …extracting fuel from tough plant material called “cellulosic biomass.” The biomass can be taken from agricultural waste material or can be grown on marginal land unsuitable for farming. The bacteria, a strain of the laboratory workhorse E. coli, can convert materials such as straw, wood chips or grass directly into fatty acids used as fuels. …The challenge now is going from laboratory flask to commercial-scale fermentation tanks to produce vast quantities of fuel. …Worldwide for diesel fuel is growing, the Nature study noted. The Emeryville scientists also plan to manipulate bacteria to produce biodiesel for jet planes. 

See also
Carbon Cycle 2.0: Jay Keasling: Biofuels” (videolecture on YouTube, 2010 Feb 16 – 35 min) 

2009 December 22. Solar Car-Charging Comes to New York. By Jim Motavalli, The NY Times. Excerpt: When the sun shines on the docks of Red Hook, Brooklyn, the Beautiful Earth Group’s solar charging station is making electricity to power the company’s leased, battery-powered Mini E.
The Beautiful Earth Group, started last year, builds and operates solar and wind farms, the first of them in the Southwest. Lex Heslin, chief executive of Beautiful Earth, claims two firsts: He got the keys to the first Mini E (an electric version of the Mini Cooper) in New York last May and his company is operating the city’s first solar E.V. charging station….
The drive-in station … has 5.6-kilowatt capacity from 24 Sharp 235-watt photovoltaic panels and can recharge the Mini E in three hours.
Mr. Heslin does say, however, that solar car-charging will inevitably be somewhat limited in New York City. Skyscrapers not only block the sun, he said, but are also shaded by other buildings. And, he said, the rooftop footprints of the stations are too small for large-scale generation. “There are a few locations in New York City where it will work, but they are the exception rather than the rule,” he said
…Tesla Motors and SolarCity opened a charging corridor between San Francisco and Los Angeles (at four Rabobank branches) in September.
…Coulomb Technologies, based in Silicon Valley, has built 450 charging stations around the world, and several of them have been hooked into solar panels. According to its chief executive, Richard Lowenthal, Coulomb has formed a partnership with Envision Solar to integrate its ChargePoint technology into, among other places, a “solar grove” at Dell headquarters in Round Rock, Tex. Dell’s system has two solar-to-electric charging stations and 11 large “solar trees” producing 131,000 kilowatt hours annually. The “trees” (elevated platforms with 516 BP solar modules) double as shade for 56 parking spaces…. 

2009-08-26.  Detroit Gets the Message. Molly Webster, OnEarth magazine. For GSS Energy Use chapter 9. Excerpt: At the Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill, and in state legislatures around the country, NRDC has spent years aggressively pushing auto manufacturers to increase the fuel efficiency of their vehicles and decrease emissions of greenhouse gas pollutants. So it was especially gratifying when, on May 22 [2009], President Barack Obama stood in the Rose Garden with a group of environmentalists, auto industry executives, and federal regulators to announce the establishment of strong greenhouse gas and fuel-efficiency standards for cars. This “historic agreement,” the president declared, will “help America break its dependence on oil, reduce harmful pollution, and begin the transition to a clean-energy economy.” On hand for the ceremony were the heads of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, all of whom have embraced the new rules, which will create greenhouse gas emission standards; these will be roughly equivalent to an increase in fuel efficiency to 35.5 miles per gallon. New car models will emit, on average, 30 percent less greenhouse gases than current models. Roland Hwang, NRDC’s vehicle policy director, called the agreement “transformative.”….

2009 August 19. Toyota, Hybrid Innovator, Holds Back in Race to Go Electric. By Hiroko Tabuchi, The NY Times.Excerpt: …Mitsubishi Motors started leasing its all-electric vehicle, the i-MiEV, in June. Next year, Nissan Motor is set to release its electric car, the Leaf. But Toyota does not plan to introduce an all-electric car until 2012. Instead, later this year, it plans to introduce a plug-in electric-gasoline hybrid, and only a few hundred initially.
…Electric technology could help determine winners and losers in the auto industry of the future, but Toyota has been highly skeptical of electrical vehicles.
“The time is not here,” Masatami Takimoto, Toyota’s executive vice president, said during a factory tour this year.
Electric cars “face many challenges,” he said, adding that “to commercialize pure E.V.’s, we need a battery that far exceeds the current technology.”
If Toyota is right, its competitors will have spent billions on a technology that will be slow to take off.
But if electric cars win drivers over, Toyota’s rivals could take the lead.
…Toyota executives rattle off reasons to be skeptical of electric cars: They do not travel far enough on a charge; their batteries are expensive and not reliable; the electrical infrastructure is not in place to recharge them.
…Toyota is instead building on its hybrid technology, bringing out a plug-in, gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle later this year that runs a short distance on batteries before the hybrid system kicks in…. 

2009 August 16. A New Test for Business and Biofuel. By Kirk Johnson, The NY Times. Excerpt: IGNACIO, Colo. — …With the twin goals of making fuel from algae and reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases, a start-up company co-founded by a Colorado State University professor recently introduced a strain of algae that loves carbon dioxide into a water tank next to a natural gas processing plant. The water is already green-tinged with life.
The Southern Utes, one of the nation’s wealthiest American Indian communities thanks to its energy and real-estate investments, is a major investor in the professor’s company. It hopes to gain a toehold in what tribal leaders believe could be the next billion-dollar energy boom.
But from the tribe’s perspective, the business model here is about more than business. “It’s a marriage of an older way of thinking into a modern time,” said the tribe’s chairman, Matthew J. Box, referring to the interplay of environmental consciousness and investment opportunity around algae.
…The Colorado State professor, Bryan Willson, who teaches mechanical engineering and is a co-founder of the three-year-old company Solix Biofuels, said working with the Southern Utes on their land afforded his company advantages that would have been impossible in mainstream corporate America. The tribe contributed almost one-third of the $20 million in capital raised by Solix, free use of land and more than $1 million in equipment….
…More than 200 other companies are also trying to find a cost-effective, scalable way to achieve the same end — turning algae into vegetable oil fuel, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a federal research center in Golden, Colo. Just last month, Exxon said it planned to throw $600 million into its own algae project, dwarfing Solix’s financial base about fiftyfold. Like most oil-to-fuel efforts, the Solix project focuses on making biodiesel, which can be used in a regular diesel engine…. 

2009 July 31. The Food, Energy and Environment ‘Trilemma’. By John Lorinc, The NY Times. Excerpt: At the 2009 Bio World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology, held in Montreal last week, industry players and scientists found themselves pondering two seemingly contradictory concerns.
One focused on how rapid advances in genetic engineering and biotechnology can expand the market for cellulosic ethanol and other “second-generation biofuels,” which are touted as low-emission substitutes for corn ethanol (itself a partial substitute for gasoline).
The other involved the problem of ensuring that exponential growth in the global biofuel market — which is projected to grow 12.3 percent a year through 2017, according to one recent study of the industry — will not hurt the environment and divert vast tracks of arable land needed for food or grain production.
A paper published in Science earlier this month, referred to the triple challenges of energy, environment and food as the biofuel “trilemma.” The authors identified five “beneficial” sources of biomass: perennial plants grown on abandoned farm fields, crop residue, sustainably harvested wood residue, double or mixed crops, and industrial/municipal waste.
“In a world seeking solutions to its energy, environmental, and food challenges, society cannot afford to miss out on the global greenhouse-gas emission reductions and the local environmental and societal benefits when biofuels are done right,” the authors state. “However, society also cannot accept the undesirable impacts of biofuels done wrong.”… 

2009 July 13. Exxon to Invest Millions to Make Fuel From Algae. By Jad Mouawad, The NY Times. Excerpt: …On Tuesday, Exxon plans to announce an investment of $600 million in producing liquid transportation fuels from algae — organisms in water that range from pond scum to seaweed. The biofuel effort involves a partnership with Synthetic Genomics, a biotechnology company founded by the genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter.
The agreement could plug a major gap in the strategy of Exxon, the world’s largest and richest publicly traded oil company, which has been criticized by environmental groups for dismissing concerns about global warming in the past and its reluctance to develop renewable fuels.
…Exxon’s sincerity and commitment will almost certainly be questioned by its most galvanized environmentalist critics, especially when compared with the company’s extraordinary profits from petroleum in recent years.
“Research is great, but we need to see new products in the market,” Kert Davies, the research director at Greenpeace, said. “We’ve always said that major oil companies have to be involved. But the question is whether companies are simply paying lip service to something or whether they are putting their weight and power behind it.”
…Currently, about 9 percent of the nation’s liquid fuel supply comes from biofuels — most of it corn-based ethanol. And by 2022, Congress has mandated that biofuel levels reach 36 billion gallons.
…According to Exxon, algae could yield more than 2,000 gallons of fuel per acre of production each year, compared with 650 gallons for palm trees and 450 gallons for sugar canes. Corn yields just 250 gallons per acre a year…. 

2009 May 7. U.S. Drops Research Into Fuel Cells for Cars. By Matthew L. Wald, The NY Times. Excerpt: WASHINGTON — Cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells, once hailed by President George W. Bush as a pollution-free solution for reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, will not be practical over the next 10 to 20 years, the energy secretary said Thursday, and the government will cut off funds for the vehicles’ development.
Developing those cells and coming up with a way to transport the hydrogen is a big challenge, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in releasing energy-related details of the administration’s budget for the year beginning Oct. 1. Dr. Chu said the government preferred to focus on projects that would bear fruit more quickly.
The retreat from cars powered by fuel cells counters Mr. Bush’s prediction in 2003 that “the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free.” The Energy Department will continue to pay for research into stationary fuel cells, which Dr. Chu said could be used like batteries on the power grid and do not require compact storage of hydrogen.
…“We’re very devoted to delivering solutions — not just science papers, but solutions — but it will require some basic science,” Dr. Chu, who won a Nobel Prize for his work in physics, said at a news conference…. 

2009 Spring. Solar Fueling Stations: Building a Zero Emissions Transportation Future. (PDF) By Sara Schedler, Friends of the Earth newsmagazine. Excerpt: …Transportation currently accounts for more than one-third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and is rapidly growing. In order to quickly and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and achieve energy independence as a nation, we must fundamentally transform our vehicles and the fuel they use. Plug-in electric vehicles, fueled by renewable energy sources such as solar, offer a vital solution to achieving these goals. …Recognizing the important role plug- in vehicles can play in solving our greenhouse gas and oil dependence problems, President Obama has set goals of putting one million plug-ins on the road by 2015, requiring that at least 50 percent of all federal fleet purchases be plug-ins by 2012, and converting the White House fleet to plug-ins (security-permitting). Today, a plug-in charged from the cleaner California electric grid can reduce emissions by up to 62 percent compared to a conventional car. But, when the electricity used to fuel plug-in cars is produced from 100 percent renewable sources such as solar energy, greenhouse gas emissions from cars can approach zero. Friends of the Earth is pursuing this vision and working with legislators, regulatory agencies, and businesses to develop solar-powered charging stations (i.e. sun fuel stations) that can fuel plug- in cars directly from the sun. A solar fueling station is essentially a carport upon which solar panels are mounted and underneath which cars park and charge from provided outlets. These stations not only charge cars, but can also feed the grid with clean energy or provide energy for the onsite host building(s) when cars are not being charged. …Solar fueling stations will also significantly contribute towards the emerging green economy and help support a burgeoning green collar workforce. Importantly, by using existing built space such as parking lots to generate fuel, solar fueling stations encourage infill development and cut down on the use of virgin land for solar power generation. …there are approximately 90 million parking spaces in California and if just one-third of all parking spaces in the state were converted to solar fueling stations, they could generate enough fuel to power the average daily commute for the majority of Californian cars on the road…. 

2009 April 5. India’s electric car captures imagination. By Daniel Pepper, San Francisco Chronicle. Excerpt: Indian cities are typically clogged with hulking buses, braying bullock carts and motorbikes – stacked with as many as five people – that cause commuters to idle for hours in traffic.
Despite such urban chaos, many Indians pine for a vehicle that they can call their own. A Mumbai auto manufacturer has answered the call, introducing the world’s cheapest car on March 23. At $2,000, the Tata Nano is a five-seat, air-conditioned, gasoline-powered car that environmental activists predict will further pollute smog-filled Indian cities.
While the Tata Nano has received much international publicity, India’s other automotive innovation – the Reva-i – has quietly become the world’s best-selling electric car…
The Maini Group, the Bangalore company that manufactures the car… has sold more electric vehicles than any other company – 3,000 – to at least 20 major cities throughout Europe, Asia and Latin America….
…The Reva-i is not yet available in the United States. Like many European models, strict safety and testing regulations make the price of entering the U.S. market prohibitively expensive….
Nevertheless, the Reva appears to be catching on globally.
…Unlike the much-anticipated GM Volt, due in 2010, the Reva is all electric, with no gas option. The plug-in vehicle turns on with the flick of a dial and rolls almost silently into traffic. Its manufacturer, the Maini Group, is about to introduce its third-generation model, which will be the same shape and size as its two previous versions.
…Reva expects to triple its sales in 2009. There are 3,000 on the road in Europe, Asia and Latin America, and a state-of-the-art plant in Bangalore near completion is expected to eventually churn out 30,000 cars a year…. 

2009 April 1. China Vies to Be World’s Leader in Electric Cars. By Keith Bradsher, The NY Times. Excerpt: TIANJIN, China — Chinese leaders have adopted a plan aimed at turning the country into one of the leading producers of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years, and making it the world leader in electric cars and buses after that.
The goal, which radiates from the very top of the Chinese government, suggests that Detroit’s Big Three, already struggling to stay alive, will face even stiffer foreign competition on the next field of automotive technology than they do today.
“China is well positioned to lead in this,” said David Tulauskas, director of China government policy at General Motors.
To some extent, China is making a virtue of a liability. It is behind the United States, Japan and other countries when it comes to making gas-powered vehicles, but by skipping the current technology, China hopes to get a jump on the next.
…But electric vehicles may do little to clear the country’s smog-darkened sky or curb its rapidly rising emissions of global warming gases. China gets three-fourths of its electricity from coal, which produces more soot and more greenhouse gases than other fuels.
A report by McKinsey & Company last autumn estimated that replacing a gasoline-powered car with a similar-size electric car in China would reduce greenhouse emissions by only 19 percent. It would reduce urban pollution, however, by shifting the source of smog from car exhaust pipes to power plants, which are often located outside cities…. 

2009 Feb 27. On the Fast Track. by Craig Canine, OnEarth Magazine – NRDC. The rest of the developed world has high-speed rail. We don’t. That’s finally about to change.
…Several states are improving existing rail lines with the goal of offering “medium-fast” (around 110 mph) service within the decade (see “Slow, Slow, Quick-Quick, Slow,” this issue), but California has pulled into the lead as the probable site of America’s first true high-speed (top operating speed: 220 mph) system.
Supporters hope it will be whizzing passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco by 2020. Once the technology has a foothold in the United States, its rapid spread will become more and more likely as the economic, environmental, and practical benefits sink in.
State-of-the-art high-speed rail systems don’t come cheap, but the price of not building them will be astronomical, in both economic and environmental terms. As far as the planet’s climate is concerned, high-speed rail can’t come fast enough.
Trains, even painfully slow ones powered by diesel engines, are inherently efficient compared with other ways of moving people and cargo. The reasons have to do with basic physics. Steel wheels on steel tracks have much lower rolling resistance than rubber tires on pavement. One train uses less energy to overcome wind resistance than the number of trucks or cars that would be needed to haul an equal load the same distance. A single freight train can take as many as 280 trucks off the highway and uses a quarter as much fuel as an average truck to move a ton one mile. Amtrak passenger trains, hardly paragons of up-to-date technology, consume on average 18 percent less energy per passenger mile than airplanes and 27 percent less than cars. So policies that encourage and expand rail transport will yield net reductions in both oil dependence and greenhouse gas emissions.
… High-speed trains take the environmental advantages of conventional passenger rail and supercharge them. All of today’s high-speed rail systems run on electricity drawn from overhead wires, which powers motors in the trains’ locomotives. Electric motors are roughly three times more efficient than internal combustion engines in converting energy into mechanical force. Recent generations of high-speed trains use superefficient motors; regenerative braking (which captures energy that would otherwise be lost as heat, then converts it back into electricity and returns it to the grid); and advanced, lightweight materials to boost their comparative efficiency even further.
Independent research commissioned by Eurostar, which operates high-speed trains between London and Europe through the Channel Tunnel, has shown that a passenger who flies from London to Paris (214 miles) or Brussels (199 miles) generates 10 times more carbon dioxide than one who rides on a high-speed train. 

2009 February 26. $25 Billion to Promote Electric Cars Is Untouched. By Leslie Wayne, The NY Times. Excerpt: The Energy Department has $25 billion to make loans to hasten the arrival of the next generation of automotive technology — electric-powered cars. But no money has been allocated so far, even though the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan program, established in 2007, has received applications from 75 companies, including start-ups as well as the three Detroit automakers.
With General Motors and Chrysler making repeat visits to Washington to ask for bailout money to stave off insolvency, some members of Congress are starting to ask why the Energy Department money is not flowing yet. The loans also are intended to help fulfill President Obama’s campaign promise of putting one million electric cars on American roads by 2015.
…Energy Department staff members said they were still sifting through loan applications, dozens of which arrived on the filing deadline of Dec. 31. On top of that, another $2 billion is coming to the department from the $787 billion stimulus package. That money will be used to develop the advanced battery technology needed to power electric cars, batteries more durable, safer and cheaper than anything available today….

2009 February 21. British Fight Climate Change With Fish and Chips. By Elisabeth Rosenthal, The NY Times. Excerpt: NUNEATON, England — As he has done frequently over the last 18 months, Andy Roost drove his blue diesel Peugeot 205 onto a farm, where signs pointed one way for “eggs” and another for “oil.”
He unscrewed the gas cap and chatted nonchalantly as Colin Friedlos, the proprietor, poured three large jugs of used cooking oil — tinted green to indicate environmental benefit — into the Peugeot’s gas tank.
Mr. Friedlos operates one of hundreds of small plants in Britain that are processing, and often selling to private motorists, used cooking oil, which can be poured directly into unmodified diesel cars, from Fords to Mercedes.
…Here, …the direct-to-the-tank approach is gaining a bit of mainstream popularity, attracting people like Mr. Roost… The oil, he said, is “good for the environment and it’s cheaper than diesel, even now that prices have dropped.” It costs $4.88 per gallon, which is about 10 percent less than diesel costs now — and about one-third less than diesel cost at its peak last year. Used cooking oil will never erase the need for filling stations, nor will it, by itself, reverse climate change, transportation experts say.
“You can’t eat enough French fries” to serve all the cars driven in the West, said Peder Jensen, a transport specialist at the European Environment Agency. At most, he said, cooking oil might supplant a few percent of diesel fuel consumption. But he said that it was one of many small adjustments that, added together, could have an important effect on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases…. 

2009 Feb 18. CITY OF SAN FRANCISCO UNVEILS CHARGING STATIONS FOR ELECTRIC VEHICLES. Campbell, Calif. Based Coulomb Technologies Powers Public Charging Stations at San Francisco City Hall to be Used for Fleet and Car-Share Plug-in Automobiles. SAN FRANCISCO – Coulomb Technologies, the leader in electric vehicle infrastructure, today announced the City of San Francisco has installed its Smartlet Networked Charging Stations at City Hall. The charging stations are a part of a two-year public demonstration conducted with the City of San Francisco – a pilot project to power San Francisco’s plug-in fleet and car-share plug-in vehicles. Coulomb’s charging infrastructure is providing the City of San Francisco special networked features that address electric vehicle fleet needs. Unveiling of the charging stations came today in a press conference with Mayor Gavin Newsom and Coulomb CEO Richard Lowenthal announcing the City’s Green Vehicle Showcase outside City Hall, and is part of the Bay Area’s regional EV initiative.
“Our goal is to transform the Bay Area into the EV Capital of the United States, and a networked infrastructure is essential for the adoption of electric vehicles,” said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. “San Francisco is proud to be the first city to feature charging stations with technology to support our city’s clean electric fleet vehicles and car-share fleets.”…. 

2009 January. The Interdisciplinary Study of Biofuels-Understanding questions and finding solutions through biology, chemistry, and physics. Philip D. Weyman. NSTA, the Science Teacher. Excerpt: From media news coverage to fluctuating gas prices, the hot topic of energy is hard to ignore. However, little connection often exists between energy use in our daily lives and the presentation of energy-related concepts in the science classroom. The concepts of energy production and consumption bring together knowledge from several science disciplines to both enhance student understanding and seek solutions to important global problems. Students learn the second law of thermodynamics, photosynthesis, and Ohm’s law in the classroom, but they may not see the direct application of these concepts to their daily lives-from the electricity that powers their computers to the ethanol-blended gasoline that fuels their cars. Students may have even more trouble relating to the world’s rapidly emerging energy crisis. As global demand for energy increases, supplies of liquid transportation fuels used to power our cars, trucks, and airplanes decrease, leading to a potential crisis in their cost and availability (Hudson 2005). In addition, increasing evidence points toward planetary climate changes resulting from carbon dioxide emissions associated with burning fossil fuels. Substituting biofuel for fossil fuel is one potential solution to these energy problems. This article provides an overview of activities and discussions teachers can use to address the questions raised about biofuels in biology, chemistry, and physics classes….