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The other huge problem with the Athabasca tar sands is the way the bitumen is extracted. A huge swath of boreal forest is getting wiped out and poisoned by strip mining of tar sands in areas with minimal overburden. Not that in-situ extraction in Orinoco or central California is clean - not by a long shot - but it doesn't effectively erase a whole bioregion, either. Anybody who thinks strip mining tar sands is a good idea should watch the video Tipping Point. You can find it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjA7_wgofp4 The person who posted it shouldn't have used such a hyperbolic tagline, but the vid itself is worth watching.
Lowered suspensions are not so good for the crumbling infrastructure of the US. My '05 VW Golf scraped bottom more than once and my oil pan received a few scratches. I ended up putting stiffer springs on it as well as 10mm lift spacers on the front. The car is about 50mm higher than stock and now sports an 4mm thick aluminum crash plate. Give me better engines and drive trains, more aerodynamic bodies and low-rolling resistance tires, but keep the low rider cars, please.
@ Kit P: Here is the results of one of several studies associating particulate pollution with increased mortality: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240569/pdf/ehp109s-000483.pdf Lots more where that came from. Just Google "health effects of particulate pollution".
As for maintenance costs, VW will almost always be higher than Toyota. After having owned two of each, I can vouch for that. They need more repairs and their parts are not cheap. As with NEDC figures, US EPA fuel economy tests tend to make gasoline/petrol cars look better than they perform in real-world driving, where as diesels tend to do at least as well as EPA. I'm a leadfoot, and my '05 Golf TDI gets 38-42mpg in the city. Several years ago, I read that diesel fuel requires less energy to refine per volume than gasoline. I have not been able to find hard numbers for newer ULSD, although I'd venture a guess that the gap has closed considerably due to the extra refining steps, including hydrodesulferization. What sold me on the Golf TDI vs. Prius is the fact that trailer towing will void the Prius warranty. My Golf can comfortably tow a 1200lb/550kg trailer if it has its own brakes.
I own a Golf IV TDI. The mechanical part of the engine has been very reliable, but the rest of the car, especially electrical parts, needs frequent repairs. With all of those new features, keeping the car running after the warranty ends could get expensive. I wish Toyota, Honda and Subaru would sell their diesel cars in the US.
Hmmmm... lanthanum and cerium. Even though those are the most common rare-earth elements, I wonder how long the easy-to-mine deposits would last. The ore in the Mountain Pass mine in California also contains significant amounts of radium and thorium, which were spilled and carelessly dumped by the previous owner, Unocal. I sure hope the current owner, Molycorp, does a better job of managing that stuff. I have no doubt the mess is much worse in China, where most rare earth metals are mined today.
The I-use-my-truck-on-weekends argument is sort of lame, IMHO. When I was 20, I drove a '65 GMC 3/4 ton pickup as my daily driver. It got 11mpg around town, 14mpg highway. Other than using it to move things once in a while, I mainly drove it empty and solo. It was a prop, decoration, manly jewelry. I got rid of it and bought a new '82 VW diesel pickup that got 46mpg. That had plenty of room for my cargo 98% of the time. Some of my friends thought I had lost my mind. One guy told me that getting that kind of fuel economy was un-American. I merely decided it was really stupid to spend so much money on fuel, especially with the kinds of miscreants and sociopaths who profit by selling the stuff. Today I drive a Golf TDI (only 43mpg because I'm lead footed) and when I need to haul something large, I hook up my trailer. If I need more room, I rent a truck. I feel no need to waste fuel just because I can, and I see no point in making it more expensive for farmers and truck drivers who are barely scraping by. Anybody who buys a guzzler and then complains about fuel economy is willfully ignorant.
After seeing a couple of Aerotecture's turbines get taken down, I figured they didn't work. Maybe those were early units which still had bugs. Like any other wind generator, location and installation have to be right or the project is a disaster. I'm glad to see Bil Becker has had a few good design wins. I'd like to see the data sets from his instrumented installations to see how actual production compares to predictions.
Like any other market, supply and demand affect price. When fuel prices were high before the housing bubble burst, VW dealers were selling diesel Golfs and Jettas at $1500 over sticker, as Toyota and Honda dealers did with hybrids. Diesels, even "clean" ones, have dirtier tailpipe emissions. In smog-trapping crowded coastal cities, health effects from higher NOx and PM are magnified.
Asthma attacks and cancer are expensive, too.
Anne, While diesel contains more carbon per volume than gasoline, it is also less energy-intensive to refine. Well-to-wheels CO2 emissions from gasoline and diesel are comparable. Tailpipe emissions of NOx and soot from diesel are almost always higher, even for "clean" diesels. Well-to-wheel emissions may or may not be comparable depending on where the oil comes from and which refinery makes the fuel.
We're already using more nat-gas-derived hydrogen than we used to in order to desulfurize diesel. I think we'll need even more hydrogen to refine heavy oils, and still more to produce gasoline. Stripping H2 from methane via steam reforming wastes part of the energy from gas, which could be part of the reason diesel is less energy-intensive to refine than gasoline. Heavy oils contain less hydrogen, so it has to come from somewhere. Diesel contains less hydrogen per energy unit than gasoline, yet total carbon emissions per energy unit are comparable. Any petroleum engineers out there who can add to or correct this?
I don't know if this is still the case or not, but at one time, we were importing gasoline/petrol from the EU (especially France and Netherlands) while exporting diesel. Again, this is older info, but many EU refineries used hydrocracking, which produces a greater proportion of middle distillates (diesel/kerosene/heating oil/jet fuel) and US refineries have used catalytic cracking, which produces more gasoline (and lower-grade diesel with more aromatics). New heavy oil and bitumen oil refining technologies may have shifted these proportions in recent years. As we deplete the easy-to-get light crude, we may see those proportions change.
@Reel$$ - I think Dr. Winterkorn may have skipped citing a precise CO2 emissions figure for the PHEVs because of the different levels of CO2 emissions from the various methods of electrical energy generation and unpredictable percentage of plug-in-powered vs. liquid fuel powered driving. As for using E85, I'd be more in favor of it if we weren't strip mining coal or blasting the tops off of mountains to mine it to provide process heat for some ethanol producers. Also, corn is not the best feedstock for ethanol. It takes lots of chemical inputs, including increasingly imported nat-gas-derived nitrogen fertilizer plus some pretty nasty pesticides and herbicides. This release also states the E85 TSI is initially destined for Sweden and Finland. We probably haven't seen the current gasoline TSI here in the US yet because of EPA regs. It's a great engine and I hope VW figures out how to fix that at reasonable cost.
I went to their web site to find out more about their process, but it only gives very general information. I wonder what happens to chlorinated and fluorinated plastic and rubber in this process (PVC, PTFE, chloroprene, etc.) as well as brominated flame retardants (penta-, octa- and decabromodiphenyl ethers), which were used very heavily until a few years ago. Those materials can create dioxins/dibenzofurans and/or strong acids upon pyrolysis. I can't believe those feedstock materials can be easily sorted out.
The claim is that GDiesel yields better fuel economy than ULSD and lowers emissions as well, both because of more complete combustion. Does the fuel economy improvement offset the the energy used in processing? Would using this new fuel decrease emissions enough to allow trucks in areas with bad air quality to avoid installing soot traps? With lower molecular weight, this fuel should have lower pour/cloud/gel points. Would it be a more efficient fuel than #1 ULSD? Because leaded avgas is so expensive and in some areas unavailable, several companies are now building diesel aircraft engines. Using #2 diesel in aircraft is a bad idea since one gelling incident would ruin somebody's whole day. That's why most diesel planes run on jet A. If this new fuel flows in subzero temperatures and has higher heat value than jet A or #1 (which are about the same but for purity specs and additives), it would be a good aviation fuel for diesels.
HG, That London Daily Telegraph article about thorium reactors that you like to keep quoting has got a few concepts about them wrong. If only it were that simple to do. Have a look at this blog page, written by a nuclear physicist: http://helian.net/blog/2010/09/01/nuclear-weapons/subcritical-thorium-reactors-dr-rubbias-really-bad-idea/
@ Goracle, I didn't call you anything. Better check it again. I never thought much of Al Gore, especially after he let ol' W steal the election. I think he's OK for doing some high visibility cheerleading to help combat AGW, but I don't worship anybody or anything. Nothing he said ever swayed me one way or the other. If the Nobel jury was serious about delivering a high-profile slap to W and his oil billionaire friends, they should have awarded a prize to James Hansen. Obama might be worthy of one in a few years if he can deliver at least a few of the things he's promised. Myself, I worry that CO2 and other anthropogenic emissions will greatly exacerbate natural natural upswings and may cause instability and a metastable runaway condition. I don't do atmospheric science for a living (do you?), but what we're doing sounds like a recipe for inducing a positive feedback mechanism to me. Can you post the article that proves CO2 isn't the leading factor? How 'bout some light reading? 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@ Goracle, ESabre and Reel$$, You guys really do build strong, well-supported arguments. I strongly suggest that at least one of you publish a paper in a peer-reviewed journal and prove all of those myopic, shallow-minded atmospheric scientists wrong. How hard can it be?
Hey Goracle, Congress didn't ban diesels. They banned dirty car exhaust. Now that European emission standards are catching up to the ones in the US, and fuel prices are sure to rise again, the cost of making diesel models comply with our various regulations has become worth their investment. Why would Honda, Nissan, Mazda and Toyota spend money to roll out models that would barely sell when they were able to make tons of money (until recently) selling big, expensive, thirsty machines? The difference between the Japanese auto companies and our own now-not-so-big 3 is that they have been successfully selling cars like this in other markets, where they would have gotten creamed trying to pedal Sequoias (way too much irony in that name for me to handle) and Titans. Instead of having to design the small, efficient platforms from the ground up, they merely had to adapt them. If you haven't seen any announcements, it's because Japanese companies typically don't say much about new models until they're about ready to release them. Those cars are coming. http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-9712548-7.html I'm still trying to figure out why Ford isn't working on making US versions of their EU diesel cars. I'd much rather buy a partly US-made Focus diesel than another Brazilian Golf with a Polish TDI (fun to drive, but the upkeep is horrendous), although I'd definitely consider the Honda before either of those two. The other thing to consider is the difference in refining infrastructures between the US and EU. Most of their refineries utilize a cracking process which yields proportionately more of the middle distillates, i.e. kerosene, jet fuel, heating oil and diesel. Most of our refineries utilize other forms of catalytic cracking which are tuned to produce a greater proportion of gasoline. A sudden drop in oil consumption due to 62MPG diesel cars plus the sudden gasoline/diesel supply imbalance would make for an entertaining predicament for our beloved oil companies. Could they have been leaning on the big 3 about this?
Nobody can predict future climate change based on a range of scenarios with absolute certainty. I think all of the top researchers working on GCC would freely admit that. However, with my limited knowledge about climate science, I find the theories of anthropogenic GCC caused by CO2, HFCs, soot, etc. far more compelling than those of the denialsts. Here is something for the denialists to consider: If mankind significantly reduces its output of those chemicals by replacing oil and coal energy with as much renewable energy as is practical while practicing as much conservation as possible, the worst outcome will be a cleaner, safer and much more peaceful existence for all. If the denialists lose their bet, well, who's gonna pay?
Some of the nastier components of non-catalyst-equipped diesel exhaust are certain species of PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). Certain compounds of this type are harmless, but others are very carcinogenic. It would be interesting to compare the PAH profiles of both fuels in exhaust from a variety of engines. I have read that simple PM levels only tell part of the story about the health hazards of various emission sources. Besides the fact that particle size matters greatly (smaller is worse, all other factors being equal), what is in soot particles besides carbon also has a large effect on health hazards. If the submicron soot picks up hazardous HC, such as benzene or PAH, it can carry these compounds into the body. Very small PM can go through the lungs and into the blood, carrying these other compounds with it. All PM is harmful when inhaled. It would be useful to know whether biodiesel PM is more or less of a hazard than petrodiesel PM, and whether it contains any new hazards.
@Rob H. Current theory states that disrupting the thermohaline circulator, as it's called, would effectively reroute the gulf stream and, as most of the rest of the planet heats up, northern Europe would face a "mini-ice age". The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute has conducted much research and published a number of articles on this. See http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=12457&tid=282&cid=7115 for example. Lately, it appears as though the recently slowing circulator has sped up again http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=12455&tid=282&cid=54347 Before the denialists jump on this and tell us the original theory is invalid and the new evidence proves it, I'd like to point out that ANY major changes to such a fundamental part of our climate regulation mechanism ought to scare the living daylights out of any thoughtful person.
Manufacturing silicon carbide wafers is also extremely energy intensive, more so than silicon. This is because of the much higher temperature required during zone purification of ingots. Also, there is currently no source of larger size SiC wafers necessary for more cost-effective device manufacturing. I don't know how much energy is required to create and purify raw GaN material, but I do know that gallium is far less plentiful than most materials. It could be used to make extremely efficient photovoltaic cells, but I was told by a semiconductor physicist that there isn't enough of it available on the earth's crust to support mass production as currently envisioned. Using it for super efficient power switching devices and LEDs is probably a much better use for it. International Rectifier has recently developed smaller GaN switching MOSFETs, http://www.irf.com/whats-new/nr080909.html so IGBTs are a logical next step.