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Can plug-in hybrids ride to America's rescue?

21 07 08 - 15:09 Can plug-in hybrids ride to America's rescue?




By Mark Clayton





Davis, Calif. - If the United States breaks its oil addiction, a measure of thanks will no doubt be due to Andy Frank, who some have dubbed the "father of the plug-in hybrid" car.

Laboring in near anonymity in his garage-style laboratory on a leafy byway of the University of California at Davis campus, Dr. Frank has for three decades focused on developing plug-in-hybrid technology. With his students, he has built nine plug-in vehicles since the 1990s, winning several vehicle contests sponsored by the Department of Energy and automotive companies. Even so, Detroit showed little interest in the idea of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) - until recently. With $4-a-gallon gasoline killing SUV sales, big automakers like General Motors, Ford, and Toyota have begun to talk about a future with plug-in hybrids - or even futuristic fuel-cell cars - instead of SUVs.

Plug-in hybrids go much farther on a single charge than an ordinary hybrid. Some converted Toyota Prius plug-ins get the energy equivalent of 100 miles (or more) per gallon and travel nearly 40 miles on electricity alone before a gasoline engine kicks in for longer trips. With their hefty battery packs, such hybrids can be plugged into a socket in the evening for a charge.

Since 78 percent of American commuters drive 40 miles or less each day, a plug-in driver might need only to fill up his tank with gasoline a half-dozen times a year. It's a game-changing concept that's won over many energy-security hawks and even environmentalists who had been married to futuristic fuel-cell vehicles, but now see plug-ins as a here-and-now way to fight global warming as well as freeing the US from imported oil.

One of the main complaints about plug-in technology is that you're just trading one form of pollution for another - tailpipe emissions for power-plant smokestack emissions. But a recent "well to wheels" life-cycle analysis by the Electric Power Research Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that a shift by the US to plug-in vehicles would cut carbon emissions by as much as 500 million tons annually and 10 billion tons cumulatively by 2050. At the same time, other exhaust pollutants would decline.

They found that the US power grid could easily handle the load of three-quarters of Americans switching to plug-ins, which require only about 1 to 2 kilowatts - about the energy load of a dishwasher. The cost of that electricity for transportation would end up being about a 75-cents-per-gallon energy equivalent, according to the study.

"The heart of the matter is to begin to use electricity and to use it as quickly as possible to power a major share of our transportation and to break that 96-plus-percent monopoly oil has over our transportation systems," former Central Intelligence Agency director James Woolsey told a Washington gathering on plug-in hybrids last month.

But to Frank, the future is about far more than saving a few bucks at the pump - it's about changing the world - or maybe saving it.

"We want to emphasize that this plug-in vehicle is not really about fuel economy," he says, his hand gliding along a silver-sized Chevrolet Equinox whose gas-guzzling engine was ripped out by his students and replaced with high-mileage, plug-in innards that make it go 40 miles on electricity alone before using gasoline. "This idea is all about displacing gasoline. If we can dispense with maybe 80 to 90 percent of the gasoline a conventional car uses, then we can begin to get our nation off of using fossil fuels. Then we can save the planet from global warming."

For a kid who liked to cobble together hot rod cars in the 1950s but didn't have enough money for gasoline, it was natural for Frank to wonder if you couldn't get both - hot performance and high fuel economy. That's why when the oil crisis of the 1970s struck, Frank - then an assistant professor of engineering who had worked on the Apollo moon mission and other aerospace projects - told his students they were going to make a vehicle that could get high mileage and go "like a rocket," too.

Frank now admits that he was too far ahead of his time.

"I tried to build a hybrid car in 1972 that ran on gas and electricity," he says. "But I found out quickly that we were missing key technology. We didn't have electric motors that were very good or batteries that were worth anything.... We didn't have computers cheap and powerful enough to be useful in a car."

Still, he kept at it in the mid-1990s and early part of this decade, building on the fundamental idea that a vehicle that could largely replace oil with electricity - but also have an unlimited range - could be built.

Others were following similar paths. Tom Gage, president of AC Power, which now converts regular cars to all-electric, says Frank's work was "influential and ahead of its time." Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars, a nonprofit plug-in promotion group says Frank laid the groundwork for technology that may be America's best chance to break its oil dependency.

"Andy is the person who's been thinking and most consistently exploring plug-in technology since the '70s," says Mr. Kramer. "Others have tried, but he's focused his work on plug-ins and just doesn't let up."

General Motors says it will build a plug-in by 2010 and Toyota, Ford, and other manufacturers say they’ll soon be plug-in producers, too. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have cited plug-in hybrids as key to their plans for energy-security and curbing global warming.

Now some measure of recognition has finally arrived with Frank often asked to speak about plug-in technology or fielding calls from reporters. A few years ago, he testified before Congress. Yet most of his career has been spent working without much recognition and with only marginal funding. Now the grants are rolling in and the university has opened a new plug-in hybrid center.

Even though he and his student teams produced several plug-in hybrid prototypes in the 1990s and offered the technology to US automakers, there was little interest - except from Japanese car companies. Ironically, General Motors and Ford contributed the vehicles that most of Frank's students have retrofitted.

"I made this demonstration to the US car companies year in and out, and gave them an opportunity for them to jump ahead of Toyota if they would invest - or wait and become a follower to Toyota," he says.

When the US companies wouldn't look at it, they took the plug-in to Toyota in 2003, he recalls. "I felt bad that our American companies didn't take us up on it," he says.

He has been trying with little success to interest US automakers in his mechanical version of a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which he says is critical to plug-in development because it is much more efficient than other CVT systems and could greatly boost mileage.

Despite that snub, he's circumspect about the future while posing for a photo beside an ordinary hybrid car he drives daily. The license plate, which he was given as a gift reads: "PHEV DAD."

"We could be completely energy independent in this country," he says. "We have the technology to do it."

Then he smiles. "Of course," he says, "everything is more affordable as the cost of oil gets higher.” Used tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Raging wildfires: Climate changes to blame for record season?

Saturday 16 July 2011 at 06:07 am Raging wildfires: Climate changes to blame for record season?


By Pete Spotts


The images are stark: soot-grimed firefighters steering bulldozers or wielding shovels to clear underbrush; curtains of orange flame tracing the contours of summits; aircraft dumping chemicals to slow a fire's progress.

Between Jan. 1 and early July of 2011, slightly more than 38,000 wildfires charred the landscape in the United States at a record pace. So far this year, wildfires have consumed just under 4.9 million acres of forest and grassland, a cumulative expanse the size of New Jersey.

That's 1 million more acres than fires consumed during the same period in 2006, which saw a record 9.9 million acres burned for the entire year.

Beyond the numbers, this year's fires may provide the first large-scale tests of the effectiveness of projects undertaken over the past decade to help forests survive wildfires, several specialists say.

The West's forests are adapted to deal with certain types of wildfires, researchers note. But since the mid-1980s, they add, some of these forests have experienced an increasing number of fires to which they are not well adapted.

Many researchers trace this shift in part to climate change. more

Hybrid Moves Into Housing

Sunday 22 May 2011 at 01:14 am Hybrid Moves Into Housing


By Brenda Krueger Huffman

(Chicago) – Recycling - Check. Conserving energy - Check. Hybrid car - Next car, check. Hybrid home system - What? Yes, it’s here. Hybrid has seamlessly, successfully moved into housing.

Safety Power, Inc. was initially started to provide homes with back up power. The company quickly grew to include renewable energy options and advising commercial and industrial clients with electrical conservation. Recently the company has come full circle and began marketing a new more capable type of renewable energy system for homes.

The award winning firm was voted one of the “Top 5 Sustainable Product Companies in Illinois” and continues to grow its residential client base in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Safety Power also serves larger firms on the national level.

Robert Brazzale, President of Safety Power, a master electrician turned entrepreneur, began Safety Power in 2007. An avid member of Local First Chicago, Rob believes in assisting sustaining local economies with green collar jobs and belongs to many green orientated groups in Chicago and around the country. more

Are electric car makers missing the trick?

Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 11:12 am Are electric car makers missing the trick?


by Martin Ott

I believe that electric car makers may be driving us all down the road that may result in the same sort of technology failures that we have seen in the past.
I'm not referring to the Sinclair scooter here but cast your mind back to the débâcle of Betamax v VHS home recording systems. The eventual winner was the technically inferior VHS but the battle was not resolved until innumerable consumers had paid out for worthless Betamax systems. Back in the 70's a similar conflict occurred over audio systems when America fell in love with the 8 track tape system that moved magnetic tape in a loop over the player head at a high speed resulting in a better sound. The world market finally dictated that the audio cassette was the way to go but not until millions of consumers had been lumbered with home and in-car systems that went down the technological cul de sac. more

Wind Turbine Manufacturer Acknowledges SGS´s Contribution towards Successful Project Completion

Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 10:57 am by Suresh Varma

The Theni Wind Farm project was developed by CLP India Pvt. Ltd., one of the major wind farm project developers in India. Located in the south western part of Tamilnadu, a southern state of the country, the facility consists of 60 Vestas V82 geared wind turbines. As recognition of its contribution towards the successful execution of this wind power project SGS received Vestas award.

Each turbine at the wind farm has a capacity of 1.65 MW IEC Class IIB machine with a blade diameter of 82 m. After a six-month long completion period, the Theni Wind Farm was officially opened in May, 2010.

Acting as contract engineer during project execution, SGS was responsible for ensuring that all activities were carried out at the site by the contractor in line with the final agreement. In doing so, SGS supervised the quality of construction works, the fulfillment of the technical parameters and kept the project within the scheduled time and contracted price. more

E.ON uses PPC's Broadband Powerline technology in smart grid project

Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 10:37 am E.ON uses PPC's Broadband Powerline technology in smart grid project

by Power Plus Communications

Mannheim - Power Plus Communications AG (PPC), the leading provider of Broadband Powerline Communication systems (BPL) for smart grids has taken on a key role within an E.ON smart grid project to facilitate an extension of Cisco's Connected Grid Solution.

E.ON Westfalen Weser AG is currently trialing smart grid technology within its network of 1.3 million inhabitants and PPC's proven medium voltage BPL solution has connected substations in the project using the existing power grid.

Using BPL technology, standard compliant and IP-based data transfer rates of 5-30 Mbit/s can easily be achieved via the medium voltage cable itself. Within E.ON’s smart grid project, PPC's medium voltage technology facilitated the extension of Cisco's Connected Grid Solution. The Cisco smart grid Router and Switches used in the project are highly compatible with BPL networks, providing a real cost advantage over fiber optic networks – which can be much more expensive where cables are not pre-existing.

By combining their technology at Westfalen Weser, PPC and Cisco have ensured the evolution of fast and efficient smart grids which are controlled on an IP basis. This increases the reliability of the power grid, fulfills regulations and drives down costs. At the same time this modern smart grids communications technology makes it possible to effectively integrate renewable energy into the grid. more

MIT Infrastructure "Life Cycle" Study is Progress Both Left & Right Can Embrace - Part 2, Fiscal Responsibility

Saturday 19 February 2011 at 09:02 am By Brenda Krueger Huffman


Chicago – Perhaps moving to the center is where we all need to be politically on the environment and effective spending compatibility. Not all green technology is crazy, and not all business profit or government expenditure is evil.

Even if you do not believe in man caused climate change, we can all agree leaving a cleaner planet and a more fiscally responsible government for the next generation is preferable to not doing so.

Perhaps green technology can be cost effective, and government fiscal responsibility may realistically include affordable green initiatives. Honest “life cycle analysis” and “life cycle cost analysis” study considerations should be a political compromise starting point both the left and the right can embrace. more

Global warming: Impact of receding snow and ice surprises scientists

Thursday 27 January 2011 at 11:05 am Global warming: Impact of receding snow and ice surprises scientists

By Pete Spotts


Washington - A long-term retreat in snow and ice cover in the Northern Hemisphere is weakening the ability of these seasonal cloaks of white to reflect sunlight back into space and cool global climate, according to a study published this week.

Indeed, over the past 30 years, the cooling effect from this so-called cryosphere – essentially areas covered by snow and ice at least part of the year – appears to have weakened at more than twice the pace projected by global climate models, the research team conducting the work estimates.

The study, which appeared online Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience, represents a first cut at trying to calculate from direct measurements the impact of climate change on the Northern Hemisphere's cryosphere. The study was conducted by a team of federal and university scientists who examined data gathered between 1979 and 2008. more

EPA presents plan on greenhouse gases

Wednesday 05 January 2011 at 10:38 pm By Mark Clayton


Washington - Setting the stage for a New Year battle royal between Congress and the White House over greenhouse gas emissions, the US Environmental Protection Agency Thursday laid out a timetable for the nation's largest carbon emitters – power plants and refineries – to begin curbing those pollutants.

Republicans have said all year that they plan to pull out all the stops to keep the EPA from phasing in greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations beginning in 2011, saying they would damage the energy industry, raise prices, and cost jobs.

Rep. Fred Upton (R) of Michigan, the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has said he opposes the regulations on greenhouse gases and indicated he would lead efforts to revoke EPA regulations in the next Congress. The new regulations, he says, will likely lead to the shut down of coal-fired power plants.

"To protect jobs and fortify our energy security, we should be working to bring more power online, not shutting plants down," Mr. Upton said in a statement. "We are woefully unprepared to meet our nation's growing energy demands, yet this administration's 'none of the above' energy policy will do nothing but cost jobs, make energy more expensive, and increase our dependence on foreign sources of energy."

Environmentalists lauded the EPA's move. more

Supreme Court takes global warming case that targets power companies

Monday 13 December 2010 at 03:21 am By Warren Richey,


Washington - The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed to examine a major environmental lawsuit that seeks to force six electric power companies to cap and reduce their carbon-dioxide emissions to fight global warming.

The lawsuit - filed in 2004 by eight states, the City of New York, and three land trusts - targets what it claims are the largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States and among the largest in the world.

It seeks a judicial order declaring that the fossil-fueled power plants are a "public nuisance." It also seeks a judicial order capping the plants' greenhouse gas emissions and requiring the plants to adopt a schedule of reduced emissions in future years. more

Outside Cancun climate conference, Caribbean Sea testifies to global warming

Monday 13 December 2010 at 03:09 am By Ezra Fieser,


Bayahibe, Dominican Republic - This summer's extreme heat may seem like a distant memory as winter approaches the United States.

But the summer that broke heat records across the Northern Hemisphere is still being felt below the surface of the Caribbean Sea: 2010 will likely be one of the most deadly years on record for coral reefs.

If diplomats attending the two-week global climate change talks that opened Monday in Cancun, Mexico, want more evidence of the negative and potentially devastating affects of warming temperatures, they need look no further than the blue sea outside their hotels. Researchers say that throughout the Caribbean coral reefs are "bleaching," a condition that occurs when they are under extreme stress due to warmer-than-normal sea temperatures. more