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As a native of Oklahoma, this story was bound to catch my attention:

Oklahoma’s painful car culture

I know well how dependent Oklahoma is on the car. The reason?

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — For many people in Oklahoma, life is built around the car. With several refineries in the region, years of cheap fuel have made it possible for many people to live far from their jobs.

So, I was preparing myself for another Big Oil scapegoating, when to my pleasant surprise the story took an unexpected turn:

Cindy LaBeff, 46, drives 70 miles a day from the small town of McLoud to her job at a data processing center in Oklahoma City. Until a few months ago, she spent $40 on gas for her work week. These days it’s $60 a work week – and $80 if she wants to go to church on the weekend.

She decided she can’t afford the higher prices. With no public transportation in her area, she went online to form a carpool. LaBeff has been ridesharing for a week now, and she hopes to add two new members to her car. “That way, it’s just a dollar a gallon,” she said.

If our governor or mayor would help set up carpooling, if they would push it better, then people would think about it,” she said. “But there has been nothing.”

Of course up until recently, the demand for public transportation or carpooling hasn’t been there. And Oklahoma is in a difficult spot:

Due to its sheer size, public transportation is a tough prospect in Oklahoma City. City Manager Jim Couch says that at 627 square miles, Oklahoma City has the third greatest land mass of all U.S. cities. It also ranked last among 50 U.S. cities in a recent study on areas best able to cope with high oil prices.

Tulsa is in the same boat:

High gas prices are also causing an increase in demand for public transport in neighboring Tulsa, Okla. Tulsa ranked second to last in the Common Cause study. Tulsa transit manager Bill Cartwright said urban professionals, who rarely rode the bus before, are now among his customers. “You’ve got people coming out of the woodwork, screaming for more bus service. We get calls and emails daily,” said Cartwright.

Note that those are the densely populated areas of Oklahoma. Most of the rest of the state has a very low population density. That’s why I have been preaching to family and friends back home for years: “Get yourself fuel efficient. Imagine that you have to pay $10/gal for gasoline.”

But it was nice to see a story on high prices were people are taking some initiative instead of demanding the government punish oil companies because prices have gotten high.

A reader also sent me an interesting story about Toyota. They are looking into cellulosic ethanol and green diesel:

Automakers going greener

Earlier this week, Toyota said it had developed a new fuel cell hybrid electric vehicle that can travel more than twice the distance of its previous model without filling up (see Toyota boosts range of fuel cell hybrid). Toyota said the improved FCHV-adv model has a maximum cruising range of 516 miles, up from 205 miles.

The car company also said its conducting research on a cellulosic ethanol, focusing on using technologies that involve yeast.

Toyota said it’s also working with Nippon Oil on high-concentration bio hydrofined diesel, also known as BHD, as a biofuel alternative.

Biomass to liquids are also on the table at the automaker, which said it’s conducting research on the technology. BTLs are derived from synthesizing gas made from all types of biomass, including cellulose.

BHD would appear to me to be green diesel, much like what is made by Neste, Petrobras, and the COP/Tyson venture. (See a bit on the projects from these companies here; explore the green diesel stories I have written here). Note that green diesel, produced either from hydrotreating/hydrocracking (Neste, Petrobras, COP) or via the BTL reaction (Choren) is chemically different from biodiesel. Green diesel has chemical properties identical to petroleum diesel.

June 12, 2008 Posted by | cellulosic ethanol, green diesel, mass transit, Oklahoma, Toyota | 2 Comments

The Solar-Powered Prius


Solar-Powered Prius (Source: http://www.solarelectricalvehicles.com/)

At the end of my recent essay on Nissan’s electric car announcement, I wrote “For my next calculation, I need to see how much power I could generate by putting a solar panel on the roof of my electric car and letting it recharge all day.”

In response, a reader wrote and told me that a feasibility study has been done for this on a Toyota Prius. The paper was the source of the above picture of the prototype:

Prius White Paper

From the paper:

Abstract

The major automobile manufacturers are producing hybrid automobiles, which are part electric and part gasoline powered. Could these automobiles take another step and obtain some of their fuel from the sun?

Solar Electrical Vehicles has developed a prototype PV Prius to help answer that question. The PV Prius is fitted with a custom molded fiberglass photovoltaic module as shown in Figure 1. Solar Electrical Vehicles has applied for a patent on the PV Prius solar system.

The photovoltaic module is rated at 215 watts at AM 1.5. The module is connected to a DC-DC converter and peak power tracker. The output of the converter is directly connected to the primary motive NiMh battery.

The daily power production available for charging the Prius primary motive battery is estimated to be between 850 and 1,300 watt-hours. The car uses 150-175 watt-hours per mile. Thus, the expected range per day that the PV Prius would have on solar power alone would be between 5 and 8 miles. Based upon a nominal daily trip length of 28 miles the gasoline consumption of the PV Prius would be reduced by 17% to 29%.

The following section was of particular interest to me:

Can a PV Prius obtain all of its fuel from Solar?

The answer to this question is a definite yes providing that the stock Prius, in addition to having the solar modifications described in the previous section, increase the size of the secondary battery and the DC-DC converter used to deliver solar energy to the NiMH battery. Using a maximum depth of discharge of 50% to provide some reserve power and extend the cycle life of the enhanced Lead Acid battery, the capacity would have to be increased from its present 3 kWh rating to 8 kWh.

In addition, the 48 to 240 V DC-DC converter capacity would need to be increased to at least 2000 watts. With this battery capacity, increased energy from a residential photovoltaic array could be used to recharge the battery at night when the car is parked in the garage. This complete system is the Total PV Prius.

How can this be? How can you recharge your Total PV Prius at night parked in the garage? The answer to that is net metering with your local electric utility. That is if you live in a region of the country which net metering is offered for residences with a grid connected photovoltaic array, then the owner of the Total PV Prius would be able to supply energy to the utility grid during the day light hours and have it returned to him in the evening. While the energy returned to the homeowner may be produced using fossil fuels, the energy supplied to the utility during the daylight hours would have reduced the use of fossil fuels by an equivalent amount.

Some of you solar guys take a crack at that, and let’s discuss what some of the hurdles might be. The economic analysis isn’t all that promising, as the expected gasoline savings over the lifetime of the vehicle is estimated at somewhere between 300 and 600 gallons. That’s not going to warrant much capital on a purely economic evaluation. No cost estimates are given for the required modifications, but I am guessing the cost is more than can be justified by the gasoline savings.

It’s a start, anyway. Keep in mind that this is a Prius, and a lighter car can have a much greater range. The economics may look a lot better if the range is higher, and so is your daily commute.

May 28, 2008 Posted by | electric cars, phev, solar power, Toyota | 34 Comments

The Solar-Powered Prius


Solar-Powered Prius (Source: http://www.solarelectricalvehicles.com/)

At the end of my recent essay on Nissan’s electric car announcement, I wrote “For my next calculation, I need to see how much power I could generate by putting a solar panel on the roof of my electric car and letting it recharge all day.”

In response, a reader wrote and told me that a feasibility study has been done for this on a Toyota Prius. The paper was the source of the above picture of the prototype:

Prius White Paper

From the paper:

Abstract

The major automobile manufacturers are producing hybrid automobiles, which are part electric and part gasoline powered. Could these automobiles take another step and obtain some of their fuel from the sun?

Solar Electrical Vehicles has developed a prototype PV Prius to help answer that question. The PV Prius is fitted with a custom molded fiberglass photovoltaic module as shown in Figure 1. Solar Electrical Vehicles has applied for a patent on the PV Prius solar system.

The photovoltaic module is rated at 215 watts at AM 1.5. The module is connected to a DC-DC converter and peak power tracker. The output of the converter is directly connected to the primary motive NiMh battery.

The daily power production available for charging the Prius primary motive battery is estimated to be between 850 and 1,300 watt-hours. The car uses 150-175 watt-hours per mile. Thus, the expected range per day that the PV Prius would have on solar power alone would be between 5 and 8 miles. Based upon a nominal daily trip length of 28 miles the gasoline consumption of the PV Prius would be reduced by 17% to 29%.

The following section was of particular interest to me:

Can a PV Prius obtain all of its fuel from Solar?

The answer to this question is a definite yes providing that the stock Prius, in addition to having the solar modifications described in the previous section, increase the size of the secondary battery and the DC-DC converter used to deliver solar energy to the NiMH battery. Using a maximum depth of discharge of 50% to provide some reserve power and extend the cycle life of the enhanced Lead Acid battery, the capacity would have to be increased from its present 3 kWh rating to 8 kWh.

In addition, the 48 to 240 V DC-DC converter capacity would need to be increased to at least 2000 watts. With this battery capacity, increased energy from a residential photovoltaic array could be used to recharge the battery at night when the car is parked in the garage. This complete system is the Total PV Prius.

How can this be? How can you recharge your Total PV Prius at night parked in the garage? The answer to that is net metering with your local electric utility. That is if you live in a region of the country which net metering is offered for residences with a grid connected photovoltaic array, then the owner of the Total PV Prius would be able to supply energy to the utility grid during the day light hours and have it returned to him in the evening. While the energy returned to the homeowner may be produced using fossil fuels, the energy supplied to the utility during the daylight hours would have reduced the use of fossil fuels by an equivalent amount.

Some of you solar guys take a crack at that, and let’s discuss what some of the hurdles might be. The economic analysis isn’t all that promising, as the expected gasoline savings over the lifetime of the vehicle is estimated at somewhere between 300 and 600 gallons. That’s not going to warrant much capital on a purely economic evaluation. No cost estimates are given for the required modifications, but I am guessing the cost is more than can be justified by the gasoline savings.

It’s a start, anyway. Keep in mind that this is a Prius, and a lighter car can have a much greater range. The economics may look a lot better if the range is higher, and so is your daily commute.

May 28, 2008 Posted by | electric cars, phev, solar power, Toyota | 34 Comments

The Solar-Powered Prius


Solar-Powered Prius (Source: http://www.solarelectricalvehicles.com/)

At the end of my recent essay on Nissan’s electric car announcement, I wrote “For my next calculation, I need to see how much power I could generate by putting a solar panel on the roof of my electric car and letting it recharge all day.”

In response, a reader wrote and told me that a feasibility study has been done for this on a Toyota Prius. The paper was the source of the above picture of the prototype:

Prius White Paper

From the paper:

Abstract

The major automobile manufacturers are producing hybrid automobiles, which are part electric and part gasoline powered. Could these automobiles take another step and obtain some of their fuel from the sun?

Solar Electrical Vehicles has developed a prototype PV Prius to help answer that question. The PV Prius is fitted with a custom molded fiberglass photovoltaic module as shown in Figure 1. Solar Electrical Vehicles has applied for a patent on the PV Prius solar system.

The photovoltaic module is rated at 215 watts at AM 1.5. The module is connected to a DC-DC converter and peak power tracker. The output of the converter is directly connected to the primary motive NiMh battery.

The daily power production available for charging the Prius primary motive battery is estimated to be between 850 and 1,300 watt-hours. The car uses 150-175 watt-hours per mile. Thus, the expected range per day that the PV Prius would have on solar power alone would be between 5 and 8 miles. Based upon a nominal daily trip length of 28 miles the gasoline consumption of the PV Prius would be reduced by 17% to 29%.

The following section was of particular interest to me:

Can a PV Prius obtain all of its fuel from Solar?

The answer to this question is a definite yes providing that the stock Prius, in addition to having the solar modifications described in the previous section, increase the size of the secondary battery and the DC-DC converter used to deliver solar energy to the NiMH battery. Using a maximum depth of discharge of 50% to provide some reserve power and extend the cycle life of the enhanced Lead Acid battery, the capacity would have to be increased from its present 3 kWh rating to 8 kWh.

In addition, the 48 to 240 V DC-DC converter capacity would need to be increased to at least 2000 watts. With this battery capacity, increased energy from a residential photovoltaic array could be used to recharge the battery at night when the car is parked in the garage. This complete system is the Total PV Prius.

How can this be? How can you recharge your Total PV Prius at night parked in the garage? The answer to that is net metering with your local electric utility. That is if you live in a region of the country which net metering is offered for residences with a grid connected photovoltaic array, then the owner of the Total PV Prius would be able to supply energy to the utility grid during the day light hours and have it returned to him in the evening. While the energy returned to the homeowner may be produced using fossil fuels, the energy supplied to the utility during the daylight hours would have reduced the use of fossil fuels by an equivalent amount.

Some of you solar guys take a crack at that, and let’s discuss what some of the hurdles might be. The economic analysis isn’t all that promising, as the expected gasoline savings over the lifetime of the vehicle is estimated at somewhere between 300 and 600 gallons. That’s not going to warrant much capital on a purely economic evaluation. No cost estimates are given for the required modifications, but I am guessing the cost is more than can be justified by the gasoline savings.

It’s a start, anyway. Keep in mind that this is a Prius, and a lighter car can have a much greater range. The economics may look a lot better if the range is higher, and so is your daily commute.

May 28, 2008 Posted by | electric cars, phev, solar power, Toyota | Comments Off on The Solar-Powered Prius

70 MPG Volkswagen Golf Hybrid

Thanks to a reader for calling this story to my attention. I will be spending most of my time in the U.S. by summer, and I think I am going to have to get a car. Right now, I don’t own a car, and am happily biking to work. 🙂 While biking is the national pastime in the Netherlands, I fear this is not a good option for Dallas.

The New VW Golf Diesel Hybrid

I had just about decided on a Toyota Prius – because it gives me the best possible compromise between something I can haul the family in, and something that gets great gas mileage (EPA-estimated 46 mpg). I really couldn’t find anything else that came close. (Suggestions are welcome, though).

But the Prius will soon have a worthy challenger. Volkswagen has announced that they are building a diesel hybrid Golf that gets 70 mpg. Wired reports:

According to a Google translation of Germany’s Auto Bild, the potential Prius killer sports a 74-horsepower three-cylinder TDI engine — Autoblog speculates it’s the 1.4-liter used in the Polo BlueMotion — mated to a 27-horsepower electric motor and a seven-speed double-clutch DSG transmission. There’s a nickel-metal hydride battery in the trunk; a regenerative braking system helps keep it charged. The car has stop/start capability and a full-electric mode at low speed. An “energy monitor” display on the dashboard keeps tabs on what the powertrain is doing.

According to Auto Bild, the hybrid Golf will get 69.9 mpg and emit 90 g/km of carbon dioxide. An earlier report by Britain’s Auto Express said 89 g/km, but either way that’s less than the 104 g/km emitted by the Prius and 116 emitted by the Honda Civic Hybrid.

When can I buy one? Well, there’s the rub. Reports are that they are expected to be on sale in Europe at the end of 2009, but no details of when it might be released in the U.S. (Although that link does say that it will meet California’s stringent air emissions standards).

Looks like I will just have to get that Prius, unless someone can suggest something better.

March 6, 2008 Posted by | fuel efficiency, hybrid, Prius, Toyota, Volkswagen | 39 Comments

70 MPG Volkswagen Golf Hybrid

Thanks to a reader for calling this story to my attention. I will be spending most of my time in the U.S. by summer, and I think I am going to have to get a car. Right now, I don’t own a car, and am happily biking to work. 🙂 While biking is the national pastime in the Netherlands, I fear this is not a good option for Dallas.

The New VW Golf Diesel Hybrid

I had just about decided on a Toyota Prius – because it gives me the best possible compromise between something I can haul the family in, and something that gets great gas mileage (EPA-estimated 46 mpg). I really couldn’t find anything else that came close. (Suggestions are welcome, though).

But the Prius will soon have a worthy challenger. Volkswagen has announced that they are building a diesel hybrid Golf that gets 70 mpg. Wired reports:

According to a Google translation of Germany’s Auto Bild, the potential Prius killer sports a 74-horsepower three-cylinder TDI engine — Autoblog speculates it’s the 1.4-liter used in the Polo BlueMotion — mated to a 27-horsepower electric motor and a seven-speed double-clutch DSG transmission. There’s a nickel-metal hydride battery in the trunk; a regenerative braking system helps keep it charged. The car has stop/start capability and a full-electric mode at low speed. An “energy monitor” display on the dashboard keeps tabs on what the powertrain is doing.

According to Auto Bild, the hybrid Golf will get 69.9 mpg and emit 90 g/km of carbon dioxide. An earlier report by Britain’s Auto Express said 89 g/km, but either way that’s less than the 104 g/km emitted by the Prius and 116 emitted by the Honda Civic Hybrid.

When can I buy one? Well, there’s the rub. Reports are that they are expected to be on sale in Europe at the end of 2009, but no details of when it might be released in the U.S. (Although that link does say that it will meet California’s stringent air emissions standards).

Looks like I will just have to get that Prius, unless someone can suggest something better.

March 6, 2008 Posted by | fuel efficiency, hybrid, Prius, Toyota, Volkswagen | 273 Comments

70 MPG Volkswagen Golf Hybrid

Thanks to a reader for calling this story to my attention. I will be spending most of my time in the U.S. by summer, and I think I am going to have to get a car. Right now, I don’t own a car, and am happily biking to work. 🙂 While biking is the national pastime in the Netherlands, I fear this is not a good option for Dallas.

The New VW Golf Diesel Hybrid

I had just about decided on a Toyota Prius – because it gives me the best possible compromise between something I can haul the family in, and something that gets great gas mileage (EPA-estimated 46 mpg). I really couldn’t find anything else that came close. (Suggestions are welcome, though).

But the Prius will soon have a worthy challenger. Volkswagen has announced that they are building a diesel hybrid Golf that gets 70 mpg. Wired reports:

According to a Google translation of Germany’s Auto Bild, the potential Prius killer sports a 74-horsepower three-cylinder TDI engine — Autoblog speculates it’s the 1.4-liter used in the Polo BlueMotion — mated to a 27-horsepower electric motor and a seven-speed double-clutch DSG transmission. There’s a nickel-metal hydride battery in the trunk; a regenerative braking system helps keep it charged. The car has stop/start capability and a full-electric mode at low speed. An “energy monitor” display on the dashboard keeps tabs on what the powertrain is doing.

According to Auto Bild, the hybrid Golf will get 69.9 mpg and emit 90 g/km of carbon dioxide. An earlier report by Britain’s Auto Express said 89 g/km, but either way that’s less than the 104 g/km emitted by the Prius and 116 emitted by the Honda Civic Hybrid.

When can I buy one? Well, there’s the rub. Reports are that they are expected to be on sale in Europe at the end of 2009, but no details of when it might be released in the U.S. (Although that link does say that it will meet California’s stringent air emissions standards).

Looks like I will just have to get that Prius, unless someone can suggest something better.

March 6, 2008 Posted by | fuel efficiency, hybrid, Prius, Toyota, Volkswagen | 78 Comments

Toyota Promises Plug-in Hybrid

Move over, Chevy Volt. You have some very serious competition:

Toyota Will Offer a Plug-In Hybrid by 2010

DETROIT — The Toyota Motor Corporation, which leads the world’s automakers in sales of hybrid-electric vehicles, announced Sunday night that it would build its first plug-in hybrid by 2010.

The move puts Toyota in direct competition with General Motors, which has announced plans to sell its own plug-in hybrid vehicle, the Chevrolet Volt, sometime around 2010.

Katsuaki Watanabe, the president of Toyota, announced the company’s plans at the Detroit auto show as part of a series of environmental steps.

Mr. Watanabe said Toyota, best known for its Prius hybrid car, would develop a fleet of plug-in hybrids that run on lithium-ion batteries, instead of the nickel-metal hydride batteries that power the Prius and other Toyota models.

Given Toyota’s experience, my money is on them to deliver before GM has the Volt ready for the mass market.

Despite its decision to step up its plug-in hybrid development, Toyota is not sure how much more consumers will want to pay for it, Mr. Lentz said. The Prius starts at $21,100. Some after-market companies are charging nearly that much to convert Prius models into plug-ins, he said.

Given that, it is more likely that Toyota would offer plug-in technology as an option on the Prius, at least in the short term, rather than switch all of its hybrids to plug-in models.

Ultimately, Toyota must determine “do people want to plug in their car?” Ms. Chitwood said.

Yes, I want the plug in my car! Sign me up. And as long as gas prices continue to stay high – which I think they will – a lot of others will sign up as well.

January 14, 2008 Posted by | auto industry, Chevy Volt, General Motors, phev, Toyota | 33 Comments

The Prius Tops the Explorer

Looks like people are beginning to respond to high gas prices:

Toyota Prius sales pass Ford Explorer

Americans bought more Toyota Prius hybrid gas-electric hatchbacks last year than Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicles, the top-selling SUV for more than a decade.

The change of fortune, buried in U.S. vehicle-sales data for 2007 and unthinkable a few years ago, will find an echo at this year’s Detroit auto show, which starts Sunday.

While Americans’ love for powerful gas guzzlers remains strong, a slowing economy and high gasoline prices are forcing buyers to lower their sights.

While Prius sales soared 69% last year, demand for the Explorer was less than a third of its 2000 peak.

As I have said before, we have fuel-efficient vehicles available now. Consumers just have to be convinced to buy them. High gas prices are starting to convince them. I think this is a more effective approach than forcing car makers to produce more fuel efficient vehicles via CAFE standards. I am not against higher CAFE standards, I just think addressing the demand side is more effective.

My current plan is to buy a Prius when I go back to the U.S. It doesn’t seem that any other option is even close. Is there anything else that can compete with the Prius on a fuel efficiency basis in the U.S. market?

January 13, 2008 Posted by | auto industry, CAFE, Ford, fuel efficiency, Toyota | 31 Comments