If you're a fan of alternative energy and specifically electric vehicles you no doubt have a love-hate relationship with all of the features on the latest and greatest breakthroughs in EV technology. Every month, it seems, there is an article or press release with promises of an EV future just out of reach. A new car is forthcoming, in prototype...a revolutionary, improved battery technology has been discovered in the lab that will allow x number of many miles more than now at much cheaper prices.
We've certainly seen the hype and, here at Prognog, we may even be a little guilty of spreading the news. And why not? There's certainly nothing wrong with seeing what companies are working on or researchers are discovering.
The key, of course, is recognizing vaporware for the real thing. From being able to distinguish a realistic product from something that will never see the light of day. We covered the futuristic-looking Aptera for quite awhile, hoping it would finally hit production...only to be disappointed once again when it failed to materialize.
Certain technologies are just not ready for prime time. They are simply too good to be true at this point, even if they do offer us a nice glimpse into a future possiblity.
On the other hand, there are companies, notably large auto manufacturers, that are producing electric vehicles with no real intent to produce in any kind of large numbers. Call them "compliance cars," if you'd like.
In fact, Green Car Reports has done just that in a nice feature article enumerating the different car companies that have actually produce a viable model (ie Nissan, Mitsubishi, Coda, etc.) and those that are just making cars that are "only built to meet California regulations for zero-emission vehicles--which is why they're called "compliance cars."
This is an important difference to note--that is pointing out those cars that are not really produced with any proper intent. When consumers, especially those leery of electric vehicles to begin with, see low-quality cars quickly thrown together with nearly non-existent sales, their skepticism is only reaffirmed and amplified. Ultimately, these compliance cars do a great disservice to the future of electric vehicle production.
Sales for the range-extended Chevy Volt have been off to a rather slow start thus far in 2010, less than 1,000 so far, but General Motors remains optimistic that the Volt will sell well and may have plans to increase production this year and next.
According to GM CEO Dan Akerson, production will increase on the Volt to 120,000 a year by the 2012 model build. That is a jump from the 10,000 originally planned for this year as well as the 45,000 to 60,000 once hoped for in 2012.Read more: Chevy Volt Production Set to Increase, or Not
A German stockbroker drove his Tesla Roadster more than 40,000 miles (65,000 kilometers) in one year, and never wanted for charging stations, which he found “at homes, hotels, parking structures and even barns and farm houses” throughout the country, the Silicon Valley electric-car maker says.
Hansjorg von Gemmingen, of Freiburg, has been harder on his Roadster than most of the approximately 1,300 owners of the emissions-free sports car, born in 2008. But he has had no trouble finding infrastructure to support his habit—an issue that has long fueled skepticism about the EV industry in America—as the Roadster charges from conventional outlets.Read more: German Who Drive Like an American Lauds Tesla Roadster
Behold the Sun Corridor: a projected megalopolis with some 10 million residents, car-choked freeways, and acre upon acre of single-family homes spread across the desert from Phoenix to Tucson to the U.S.-Mexico border, each with the air conditioning on full blast for five months out of the year. Planners and politicians have projected such a reality for decades, and it’s good bet that it will come true in the next 20 years of so.Read more: ECOtality to Build a Rich EV Infrastructure in the Valley of the Sun
Some six months before the all-electric Nissan Leaf is set to hit the market, it has already sold out. That's right, according to Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, as reported by the Detroit Free Press, the car has received 13,000 orders for the car that is set to release by the end of 2010, the total allotment of Leafs headed to the U.S.
This fact, certainly good news for Nissan, may perhaps lend some weight to argument that there is a demand in this country for an affordable electric vehicle. But does it mean long-term success for other such vehicles? That is obviously the big question for car makers, scrambling to find their own place in this select niche, but this early success doesn't tell us much.Read more: Electric Car Nissan Leaf Already Sold Out
Joule Biotechnologies, a Cambridge, Massachusetts biotech company founded in 2007 by Flagship Ventures, has recently unveiled a new sun-powered fuel that has been getting quite a bit of attention lately. The process to create the fuel or "SolarFuel" as Joule calls it "harnesses sunlight to directly convert carbon dioxide (CO2)" into their new, proprietary liquid energy. Furthermore, the company claims that this "eco-friendly, direct-to-fuel conversion requires no agricultural land or fresh water, and leverages a highly scalable system capable of producing more than 20,000 gallons of renewable ethanol or hydrocarbons per acre annually."Read more: Joule Biotech and its new Sun Powered Fuel
Most experts agree at this point that ethanol--at least that which is derived from food products such as corn--is simply not a viable alternative to gasoline as a fuel source for vehicles. Of course the corn industry, especially giants like Archer Daniels Midland, the country's largest producer of ethanol, would have us believe that ethanol is still a legitimate product, but, according to this article, even they are moving away from corn as the feedstock for fuel.
Jenna Scatena, over at Alternet.org, writes about the ethanol disaster, noting that "critics have argued that corn ethanol's "green" image is only a façade and the conviction that it can alleviate our energy problem is a false hope, blown out of proportion by the media and America's eager desire for a cure-all."
We don't really need to repeat the score of reasons why ethanol from corn is not a good idea, in fact we've already covered why ethanol is a scam, but it's worth repeating that the production of corn for ethanol use has a host of environmental problems. Namely, as Scatena point out, "the monoculture corn is cultivated in requires immense amounts of herbicides, fungicides, pesticides and petrochemicals. And the fertilizers used contains high levels of nitrogen, contributing to mass soil erosion and 'dead zones.'"
Additionally, the harvesting of the corn requires a great deal of energy, and then transporting ethanol causes further problems. All told, we need to look beyond ethanol if we want anything approaching a "green" fuel. Of course, electric vehicles have a lot of potential, although unless renewable resources are used in the production of electricity, this alternative has it's own negatives.
We have previously discussed some viable alternatives to corn produced ethanol, namely a produce derived from a cellulosic material such as switchgrass. Scatena, quoting Larry Walker, the director of Biofuels Research Laboratory, notes that "Cellulosic ethanol emits 82 to 85 percent fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline (compared to 12 percent fewer with corn ethanol). It also doesn't harm the soil or interfere with the food market as much as corn does."
The recent decline in gas prices has certainly reduced the urgency we felt this past summer for a solution in replacing fossil fuels, but these low prices will be most likely short-lived. The lull, however, does afford us the chance to step back from our fascination with ethanol from corn and explore more viable, long-term solutions. It's likely that a better biofuel--perhaps one derived from a cellulosic material or, moving towards a diesel alternative, algae and the like--will appear shortly on the horizon.
Aptera has updated their website recently with some great new information on their Aptera electric car, or the Aptera 2e, as well as some great new shots of the car. We've seen some key changes to the car as well, most pronounced from the exterior by the addition of sideview mirrors. Gone, now, are the rear side cameras and triple-screened viewing system, replaced by a single camera and screen.
As Aptera mentions in their most recent newsletter, "As many of you noted, we have consolidated the three body-mounted cameras, into a single "fin" style camera on the roof. While the initial setup couldn't effectively show the body as a point of reference, the new position and better camera technology provide the driver with an unimpeded view of the surroundings."
This really doesn't seem to detract from the look of the car at all, and will most likely lend itself to a more familiar driving experience. 0.
Check out their new website at Aptera.com and if you like what you see you can put in your reservation for their electric model, due out in 2009, or their hybrid version, the Aptera 2h, due to hit the roads in 201
The evolving world of alternative energy is, among other things, an interesting venue in which many disparate players play a part. We find traditional environmentalists, energy companies, and a wide array of land owners and interested municipalities.
The interesting thing about wind energy is that the power source is rarely near the energy need. Thus you find wind farms in the middle of absolutely nowhere--more specifically, in those windy environs that people generally try to avoid. The NY Times has a short little feature on the developing wind power industry in Wyoming and the ranchers on whose land this windy area sits.
Nice to see the participants in this case not only accepting but profiting from this alternative energy power source. The formation of associations, groups of landowners in this case, generally insure a more equitable deal for the people living there than the somewhat impersonal and often unfair right-of-way deals otherwise offered.
As the Times puts it: "This allows them to bargain collectively for a better price and ensures that as few as possible succumb to high-pressure tactics or accept low offers. Ranchers share information about the potential value of their wind."
One of the few beneficial consequences of the high gas prices these last few years, at least for electric car and alternative fuel vehicle enthusiasts, is a strong interest in developing and producing cars that don't rely on expensive and dirty fuels. What we've seen in the last few months, owing to falling oil prices combined with an economy that has completely imploded, are gas prices that have fallen even quicker than they rose. In fact, gas prices are levels not seen since at least 2004, and they're continuing to fall.
These might be great news for consumers looking to save money on fuel, and perhaps car makers who have seen the demand for their products nearly dry up completely. But, will these low gas prices once again kill any prospects for a viable market of electric vehicles?
The LA Times recently reported that these falling prices can be both a blessing and a curse for automakers. They mention that "costly gasoline has pummeled vehicle sales in the U.S. this year and forced automakers to dramatically rejigger their lineups. They are closing truck factories, racing out small cars and investing in expensive alternative-fuel vehicles like hybrids and electric cars." However, these changes were brought about with the expectation that gas would be in the $5-$6 a gallon range soon. Now that we've seen gas fall below $2 a gallon, consumers with short memories and a lingering desire for big trucks and SUVs may abandon their quest for fuel efficiency and return to their old ways.
Production of fuel efficient cars and development of electric and hybrid vehicles may come to a standstill. Bob Lutz, General Motors Vice-Chairman and face of the companies electric car the Chevy Volt, was quoted as saying that although "we may hate high fuel prices, but they've been driving us in the right direction when it comes to fuel economy. If we suddenly went to $1 or $1.50 a gallon, that would be really bad." And by bad he means the need to develop of fuel efficient cars and electric vehicles would simply evaporate. Bye, bye Chevy Volt.
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