For those of you who have not seen it yet, Terry Tamminen has a piece on Grist’s soapbox where he shares his ideas for a presidential platform. I have no problems with items 1 through 3. Item 4 needs work:
Replace these vehicles with ones that run on the cleanest fuels available, which today are biofuels, natural gas, and hydrogen.
First, one must contend with the negative environmental issues associated with biofuels before implementing them, not to mention that government isn’t smart enough to know which ones should be implemented or how. These biofuels you speak of, Terry, they have big environmental problems of their own. You of all people should be aware of them.
Most environmental types have become familiar with the many negatives of corn ethanol by now. They are just now warming up to the negatives of biodiesel made from soybeans, which takes five times as much land as corn to produce the same gas mileage. Your average American would stuff about 15 acres of soybean oil into their car annually, removing a valuable food commodity from futures markets.
How big is 15 acres? This is a picture of just four acres of soybeans. Is it smart to ask Americans to increase their footprint scores, which are already the highest in the world, from about 24 acres to 39? Of course, we could import the biodiesel from South America or Indonesia.
Second, I can convert my car to run on natural gas in a few days. Anyone can. Almost nobody does because they don’t want to install a giant cylinder in their trunk and have to fill up every other day. This is an old idea that just refuses to catch on for lots of good reasons.
And the ultimate icing on the cake is this stubborn insistence that hydrogen is a contender for propelling our cars. Here is a physicist who essentially argues that we need to transition to the URGE2 concept through hybrid cars (not hydrogen). He summarily critiques (trashes) Amory Lovins critique of ah, critiques here. Lovins erroneously pins his entire argument on a comparison of a fuel cell car to a conventional one instead of the latest technology, the hybrid. If the comparison switches to a hybrid instead, his entire argument unravels. Recent advances in battery technology have made Lovins’ arguments largely obsolete.
The simplest explanation of what is wrong with the hydrogen car was given by Dr. Ulf Bossel, organizer of the Lucerne Fuel Cell Forum and a fuel cell expert, in this interview. He explains that 100 kWh of electricity will drive an electric car 120 kilometers or a fuel cell car 40 km. Using hydrogen to transport solar or wind power will throw away almost seventy percent of that coveted energy. You should be asking, “Oh come on, how could Lovins have missed that?” It was easy. He erroneously assumed that battery technology wouldn’t progress as fast as it has and therefore never compared an electric car to a fuel cell one.
A diagram of why hydrogen is so inefficient can be found here.
And a final common sense example can be found with my own nano phosphate lithium ion hybrid bike. Imagine me trying to run my bike on hydrogen. Imagine the complexity and expense of mounting a high-pressure tank with all of its attending valves somewhere behind my seat that in turn feeds a fuel cell mounted somewhere else, which in turn feeds electricity to an electric motor. Instead of just charging my batteries in under an hour from a wall outlet, I have to transfer highly explosive hydrogen from one high-pressure tank to another. The grotesque inefficiency of generating that hydrogen and transporting it to my house is where the idea really falls apart. Now, extrapolate that absurd scenario to a car.