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Is a new fuel cell needed, SJC? It seems to me the key is the bio-reformer. Instead of reconstructing the fuel cell, it seems more that we're reconstructing the hydrogen highway using the sugar-slurry so that current infrastructures can be used. Nevertheless, the important thing to me is that bridge fuels also have potential long term applications. We can harvest methanol via natural gas and biomass today, but maybe from CO2 or methanogenesis tomorrow, and run that through a methanol fuel cell for optimum efficiency or convert into electricity for plug-ins. More important, in the short term we can use methanol within the current fueling infrastructure and with current engines, achieving huge gains if coupled with hybrid technologies. However, even in just conventional ICE vehicles its still a domestic, foreign oil fighting fuel. Cellulosic ethanol poses the same sorts of potential. We can already use within the current fueling infrastructure and long term it could be converted for fuel cell fueling, or converted into electricity for plug-ins. The point being is that when it comes to things like energy independence, the biggest obstacles are the legacy effects of Americas multi-hundred million fleet of vehicles and our fueling infrastructure. What we're seeing in this kind of research is that there are bridges connecting our energy past to our energy future, and they're available now. Ultimately, we can achieve great change starting today, while nurturing numerous promising technologies for tomorrow. More important, according to analysis from Accenture, for instance, being able to utilize legacy infrastructures is the key to America's energy future. The scientific case that such infrastructure-friendly bridge fuels are available today is ample, so for what are we waiting?
What's your point, Harvey? The legacy effect of the auto industry demands either bridge fuels or decades more of foreign petroleum. There is no way batteries can even begin to overcome this reality for a decade or more, and probably decades. Natural gas, even shale gas, can be much cleaner than oil. No they are not perfect fuels, but waiting for perfect solutions only guarantees we're stuck with the worst solutions for much longer than is necessary.
bob- while i agree that if all costs are equal, even the extra $750 million might be a bargain compared to gasoline, but not all costs are equal. you can buy a loaded versa for $16,000. a leaf is double that. thus, from a consumer's perspective, electricity has to cost significantly less than gasoline in order to justify the extra upfront costs for most consumers. consumers thus far seem unwilling to pay too much extra upfront for long term savings, and a plethora of studies in the US, Europe and Asia all suggest the same. therefore, what this study suggests to me is that EV charging is going to be more expensive than anticipated without smart charging. with smart charging, however, EV charging could be much cheaper and that could help suck a big chunk out of the extra battery costs of EVs. consequently, I don't see this as a "welcomed problem". instead, without a major battery breakthrough, smart-charging will be critical to EV penetration, especially beyond early adopters. fortunately, while consumers are unwilling to think long term, utilities for instance, are used to thinking long term, especially in terms of infrastructure. therefore, this study demonstrates that smart technology makes obvious economic sense, especially long term.
To obtain methanol today, the easiest approach still seems natural gas. In fact, natural gas, methanol and hydrogen offer an interesting trilogy of complementary fuels that are also extremely electrification friendly. China is already way ahead with methanol and ramping up for serious moves into shale and fracking. The Chinese story is not JUST electrification. Even if E-Cat is ready for primetime in the next 5 years, the legacy impacts of our current paradigm would not be overcome quickly, unless E-Cat is drastically cheaper, and I don't think there is any proof of that yet. And since I believe the facts suggest a strong probability that dirty oil dependence will be cost-ineffectively unsustainable to a healthy environment and economy, I think greener and cleaner cost-effective bridge fuels should be driving energy policy until such proof exists.
Perhaps the key phrase is "commercially available". Are Tesla's batteries commercially available enough to produce 1 million cars per year - which is nothing in terms of marketing share, even in America? No. Likewise, it's not just making said batteries commercially available, it's making them commercially available at a pricing point that can lead to real change. Thus, today Mr. Leohold is largely correct and numerous battery experts have made similar statements. Even Argonne pegs 2020 - 2025 for such mass production. And that highlights one of Leohold's most important assertions. The time it takes to change. The legacy effect in the US is 20+ years. Consequently, pretending that plug-in vehicles are the key solution is counterproductive to real change, especially if timeliness is important. We need to make massive changes today and tomorrow as batteries are improved. In the short term mild hybrid powertrains, for instance, offer far more potential than a singular focus on plug-ins. None of that means we should slow our efforts towards electrification, but selling tens of thousands of plug-ins per year while selling millions of gas-guzzling pickup trucks is not a winning formula. Again, far more would be gained by focusing on those pickup trucks with things like EcoBoost, mild hybridization, etc. Ten more years of the status quo and a niche plug-in market simply isn't productive. Plug-is are coming, but it is going to take time - time we don't have. And regarding tar sands, isn't China one of the major investors in Canadian sands? Likewise, China is tapping into methanol already and considering new studies suggest large amounts of gas shale there, I'll bet they'll become big fracking fans as well. China will ultimately do what makes the most cost-effective sense.
Similar numbers have been found in numerous studies for the last several years regarding hybrid sales as well, yet the actual sales numbers never match the "would consider" numbers - not even close. Ultimately, most consumers will consider hybrids and plug-ins as their next vehicle, but they'll only buy if they believe that hybrids or plug-ins are the most cost-effective solution - and that's still after charging and range needs are met. Inevitably, fast tracking electrification boils down to two things: much cheaper battery costs and/or a massive change in consumer psychology particularly around expectations of what personal mobility needs to be - skewing towards pure function rather than universal needs (Yet, even if consumers could handle that change, could automakers?). Sadly, these "would consider" studies are almost starting to become irrelevant, although the implications on the grid are noteworthy in this particular survey.
I think the big picture is being overlooked a bit in these comments. Storing renewable electricity is still a very serious issue, which is a big focus of this effort. Yes, hydrogen into methane seems nonsensical, but it provides a more fungible long term energy framework - a worthy pursuit in my opinion based on the lab science demonstrating the very real possibility of both bio hydrogen and methane, for instance. Likewise, batteries are almost certainly decades away from providing a cost-effective solution for high mileage driving, minimally. Besides, mining and shipping lithium and or battery packs across the globe results in many extra costs that could significantly increase with demand, as so often happens to commodities. Ultimately even converting wind power into hydrogen into methane might still be a more cost-effective way of storing electricity than in batteries, especially if supplemented by bio-versions of hydrogen and methane that might one day replace such methanation. Long term, fuel cells at power plants could be the key to even more cost-effective electricity for plug-in cars. Furthermore such an approach is built on embracing legacy infrastructure systems - something Accenture has pointed as being critical for developed countries. And, seriously, it's ironic that we call this a grab for tax incentives when the battery, solar and wind industries would today be dead if not for massive tax expenditures. Moreover, look at the battery studies coming out of places like Argonne. There are huge obstacles to overcome and they are going to take time, even Argonne's 2025 projections will still be expensive based on today's energy terms. Ultimately, I think the science proves absolutely conclusively that there is no home run solution to replacing oil any time soon. That requires holistic thinking that can take advantage of overlaps between even divergent technologies. This kind of convergence will drive the the near and mid term energy futures. Furthermore, the science also suggests that there are huge breakthroughs that could rewrite the book on energy in ways we simply cannot predict today.
SJC- Didn't JD Power pretty much predict the hybrid sales rate almost perfectly? I remember following Anthony Pratt's research at JD many years ago and his 'magical predictions' were typically based on supply chains and plans for new supply chains. since it takes years just to build the manufacturing centers for new supply chains and years for automakers to work these new supplies into their manufacturing capabilities, I don't think JD Power is practicing some kind of mysterious voodoo. i think they're mostly forecasting based off the real world dollars being spent by automakers themselves. again, Pratt's forecasts many years ago for 2010, for instance, were basically spot on. maybe it was luck, but i don't think a five year forecast is that hard for autos based on the manufacturing patterns of the auto industry.
I think that's possible, Harvey, but that also poses problems it seems to me. Last week, for instance, GM's CEO told CNBC that a sustained national gasoline average cost of $4.50 would be "very detrimental" to the US auto industry. Previously, at the Geneva Auto Show, the same CEO told reporters that the auto industry didn't learn enough from the 2008 gas spike. Consequently, $5.00 gas might provide the impetus to greatly affect consumer choices, but without the profit margins of the light duty truck space, can the US auto industry afford US manufacturing? Yet, if gas prices are not sustained above $4.00, minimally, most consumers just won't care enough about fuel economy to achieve any major transition. Ultimately, if gas hits $5.00 for good any time soon, I'm gonna invest in one of those Chinese electric scooter companies, not one of the Big 3.
There have also been interesting developments in methanogenesis in the last few years that would fit this energy paradigm. So the idea of green, renewable methanol isn't an outlandish idea long term.
"Not terribly ambitious", Anne? Which automaker has more ambitious plans? Almost every major automaker has put forth their hybrid/plug-in forecasts for 2020 and not one is even in the same ball park as Toyota. Considering it takes about 5 years to start a new line of vehicles, they can't just change these plans overnight. When it comes to total output of hybrid and plug-in vehicles, I'll bet Toyota still has a very significant lead by 2020. Would it be nice if Toytota's plans were more aggressive? Of course, but it would also be nice if more automakers were at least as aggressive as Toyota. --- Harvey - I don't think I've seen one single study that supports your claims. On the other hand, I've seen dozens in just the last year, many here on GCG, that contradict your claim of HEVs being phased out by 2020 in favor of plug-in versions. I wish we were on the verge of some major switch to hybrids, or even better, EVs. Unfortunately, consumer studies in Europe and the US do not paint that picture. Nor do the academic studies from both continents, nor the industry forecasts by either analysts or even automakers themselves. Even if gas prices rise much faster, the consumer data strongly indicates that consumers will buy more efficient cars, but the focus will be on much cheaper cars as consumers will have less money up front. Maybe I'm just jaded after following this space for 10 years and hearing this same kind of hyperbole over and over without results. But it seems to me the idea that plug-ins are some silver bullet to America or Europe's - let alone emerging markets - energy problems is not based at all on the available data. Does none of this data matter?
$50 million? That's basically pocket change when it comes to this kind of development and seems largely irrelevant in terms of resulting in something meaningful. This is more about PR than a serious potential increase in EVs from Toyota. Certainly, the news could be worse, and there is a little hope to be gleaned from this partnership, but Toyota is more focused on upgrading their image in light of further Congressional attacks. Likewise, California is a huge market for Toyota's hybrids and their rep has taken a hit in that state for abandoning NUMMI.
I believe that BEVs are the solution that we should be focusing most on today. However, to suggest that hydrogen is already dead is a sad joke. I've driven several generations of FCVs and the strides that have been made are impressive. Of course, that doesn't solve the hydrogen production problem, which does appear impossible to solve. Nonetheless, science has a steady and consistent history of proving the impossible possible. "The wise man is the man whom realizes he knows nothing."