2021 Blog Archive


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Sunday April 25, 2021 – Energy Efficiency

Sunday March 7, 2021 – Green Hydrogen

Sunday January 31, 2021 – PHEV Emissions Controversy

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Ten Things to Address Global Warming We have known for quite some time now that we need to take steps quickly to avoid the worst effects of Global Warming.  There is not a silver bullet that will address this issue; we need to do multiple things all of which, done together, will help us avert a crisis which, in the worst-case scenario, could lead to a mass extinction event.


In a series of 10 articles, I will try and set out my vision for what needs to be done to prevent the world from overheating.

Sunday April 25, 2021 – Energy Efficiency

It might not seem like an important first step but it is.  Energy efficiency means using less energy to do the same thing.  We have been following this path for quite a while now and while our efforts haven’t been enough to curb the amount of fossil fuel used it has put quite a cap on the growth in usage that we have seen


For transportation energy efficiency means going further on the same amount of fuel.  The world has made great strides in this area by making engines more fuel efficient.  Unfortunately, this hasn’t translated into less fuel usage as much as allowing larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles like SUVs to be driven with only small increases in the amount of fuel being burned.


This trend is being pushed further as governments around the world introduce tougher and tougher fuel economy requirements.  The automobile manufacturers are responding with a number of strategies.


Fuel economy can be improved by reducing the weight of a vehicle.  This needs to be done without impacting the safety of the car or truck.  To accomplish this, manufacturers introduced things like crumple zones which are designed to compact during a collision to absorb the energy of the crash eliminating or at lease reducing the severity of injuries.


Vehicles can also be made lighter by using lighter materials.  For example, to reduce the weight of its F150 pickup truck Ford switched from using steal for the body to fabricating in from Aluminum.  Other manufacturers are also experimenting with the use of carbon fiber which can produce body panels that are both lighter and stronger than steel. 


The real improvements in fuel efficiency are being made in the power train.  Fuel savings can often be gained by adding additional gears into the transmission.  In the past most cars had either 3 speed or 4 speed transmissions but now 6 speed transmissions are becoming much more common.


Another strategy for improving power train efficiency is to add electric motors.  This can be as simple as adding a bigger starter motor and battery to allow the engine to shut down when the car is at a stop, then start immediately when the driver removed their foot from the brake pedal.  More complex systems, like those used in most conventional hybrids like the Toyota Prius, involves the combined use of electric motors and the gas engine.  Systems like this can show extensive fuel economy improvements over using just ICE alone.


It’s not just in the Automotive world that we need to build efficiency.  Big gains can also be found in lighting for the home.  For over a century the incandescent lightbulb ruled supreme.  This lightbulb proved much better than the use of oil or gas lights but still consumed quite a bit of energy.  A typical bulb would consume 100W and several would be required to adequately light a room.  In recent years the introduction of the Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulb provided the same amount of light but consumed about 23 W.  They were not done though.  The introduction of the light emitting diode (LED) bulb meant that you can get the same amount of light using only 15W.  People are now replacing lights with more efficient bulbs when the existing bulb fails.


A big user of energy in a house is for air conditioning and heating.  The amount of energy required to maintain a comfortable temperature in the home or office and be reduced by ensuring that the building has adequate insulation.  This can often be seen in snowy weather.  One house will have a roof clean of snow when house next door will still show significant amounts of snow on the roof.  The lack of snow indicates that heat is escaping from the house through the roof.  The house with the snow probably has good insolation in the attic which prevents this heat loss.  This house will use a significant amount less energy.


Energy transfer can also be done more efficiently.  For example, replacing an AC unit with a heat pump can significantly reduce the amount of energy required to cool a house.  Tesla also use heat pumps in the AC system on some Model Y vehicles.


In the US the Federal government has introduced the Energy Star designation for appliances.  Having and energy star rating means that the appliance has met energy Federally mandated energy efficiency standards.  The Energy Star designation applies to most electrical equipment from computers to refrigerators.


Advances in energy efficiency are occurring on a regular basis but don’t mean a thing unless they are implemented.  The best thing that we can do to help them succeed is to implement them.  When you change out an appliance look for the Energy Star label on the replacement unit.  When lightbulbs fail update them to a more efficient option like CFL or LED.  An LED television is going to use less energy than a direct view television so select an LED TV for your next television.


Given all this, we still need to conserve energy when we can.  That means turning of lights when you leave the room, or reducing or eliminating phantom loads by unplugging things like chargers when they are not in use.


None of this will prevent global warming to it is at least going to slow it down.  It will also be a big contributor to making everything else that needs to be done a success.

Next - Renewable Energy

Sunday March 7, 2021 – Green Hydrogen I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz on Twitter about “Green Hydrogen”.  It reminded me about every article about diesel using the term “clean diesel” when they were pushing diesel as a low CO2 emissions fuel.  I thought it was time to take another look at hydrogen.


There are many ways to extract hydrogen and each of these have their own name designated by a color.


·       Brown hydrogen is created through the process of coal gasification and is the process that creates the most pollution.


·       Gray Hydrogen is created by steam reformatting of methane.  The process requires the use of an external source for heating water to create steam that is then used to break down the methane into hydrogen and carbon dioxide.


·       Blue hydrogen is created the same way as Gray hydrogen but the resultant carbon output is captured and stored instead of being released into the atmosphere.


·       Green hydrogen is created by a process of electrolysis of water.  This can be a zero-carbon solution if the electricity is created from renewable energy but at the moment this is more likely to be generated using the local power mix which will vary depending on the location that the hydrogen is being generated.


Once the hydrogen has been created it needs to be transported, either by pipeline or by truck to the hydrogen fueling station after which it needs to be stored in tanks under pressure and finally pumped in the fuel tanks of the hydrogen fuel cell car, usually at a pressure of 10,000 psi.


While most manufacturers are moving towards battery electric vehicles some, notably Toyota and Honda, are headed down the fuel cell vehicle track.  A few, most notably Hyundai/Kia are hedging their bets and developing both types of vehicle.


Green hydrogen is possible although I suspect that the way the term is being used right now is more closely aligned to clean diesel than to true zero emissions fuel.  Most hydrogen is currently generated as Gray hydrogen so right now green hydrogen is pretty nice, although from the postings you would think it was the way most hydrogen is created.  At the moment it looks like only about 1% of hydrogen is actually generated using only renewable energy.


Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are extensively supported by government agencies like the California Air Resources Board which gives much bigger incentives to fuel cell vehicles than they do for battery electric vehicles.


The biggest plus for hydrogen fuel stations is that they can be refilled in about the same time as a conventional gas vehicle.  This is a big advantage for many people although this advantage is slowly being chipped away as battery electric vehicle charge times are coming down because of newer high charge rate DC chargers being rolled out across the country. 


It is getting more and more common for EV owners to take long road trips in their cars.  The FCEV owner on the other hand has to deal with one overriding factor, the lack of hydrogen fueling stations.  The cost of implementing a hydrogen fuel pump location is many times more that setting up DC charging infrastructure and so far, only a small number of stations have been built outside California, which makes a cross county trip impossible.


The other issue I have seen is that hydrogen fuel stations seem to come and go.  One of the earliest stations was built on Santa Monica Blvd. in West LA.  This original station closed down and a second station was opened a few blocks away.  I hardly ever saw anyone using these pumps and when I drove past this station last week, I noticed that this too was closed.  The number of stations is slowly increasing but it seems like a lot of stations function for a while then shut down so the number of stations isn’t expanding as fast as it could.


I can see hydrogen being a fuel that is used in long haul vehicles, possibly ships and semi tractor-trailers, but I think that they just aren’t developing fast enough to displace BEVs.  I suspect a better use of fuel cells will be as a back-up for renewable energy.  When there is a surplus of renewable energy, use it to generate hydrogen though electrolysis, and when demand exceeds supply use the stored hydrogen to generate electricity to meet the demand.

Sunday January 31, 2021 – PHEV Emissions Controversy Earlier this month I saw a lot of articles about a new study coming out of Europe that seemed to show that plug-in Hybrids produced more CO2 than the manufacturer claimed and the equivalent ICE vehicle may product less CO2.  Having driven a plug-in hybrid since 2012 I am very skeptical about this and thought I would set down some of my experiences.


I drive a 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in which I have owned from new.  I have also communicated with lots of other PHEV drivers so I have a lot of real-world experience.  It is important to note however that I have not been measuring the amount of CO2 being pushed out of my tail pipe so my speculations are based on observed mpg.


When I first got the Prius Plug-in I didn’t have anywhere to charge it and so after driving from the dealership to home I got to drive it like a conventional Prius.  I bought the plug-in because, being a strong advocate for electric vehicles, I wanted to promote plug-in sales and this was a way to do that.  I was not alone in not plugging my Prius in, I found plenty of drivers who had bought a Prius Plug-in to get the CA carpool stickers and had no intention of ever taking it near an electric outlet.


My plug-in Prius was a replacement for a standard Prius that I had owned since 2005.  Over the next few months, I found I was averaging about 4 mpg better with this Prius than I did with the conventional Prius.  Since the two cars were driven mostly the same distance over the same route during that time so I would call the CO2 output for the Plug-in.  One big advantage the PHEV has over an HEV is that because the battery is so much larger the PHEV can regenerate much more energy than the HEV while running down a long hill.


Eventually they installed a public charging station at the local library which was pretty close to my home.  I began going there on Sunday afternoon and charging.  I found that with careful driving I could make it the 8.5 miles to work on Monday morning and about 3 miles of the way home.  Since the library charger was supplied by a large solar array this definitely gave the plug-in Prius the edge on CO2 output.


I soon found out that the distance travelled before the engine would come on depend on a lot of things.  The first thing to know is that hard acceleration starts the ICE.  I experimented with the various modes over the next few days and found that I could keep the car running all electric best if I ran it in Eco mode.  It has been set in Eco mode ever since.  Eventually I learned to accelerate carefully and soon learned how to keep the ICE from coming on.  Other drivers I talked to would stop the car and turn it off and back on again to reset back into EV only.  I heard from Toyota that this wasn’t a good practice so I would let the car run a full warm-up after which the ICE would turn off again if acceleration was slower or the car was running at a constant speed.


There are other reasons for the ICE to come on.  It is set to trigger if the car reaches a speed of 62 mph.  I’ve found that if I am very careful, I can occasionally get the car up to about 64 mph before it clicks in.   Running the AC doesn’t turn the ICE on but you do take a significant hit on range and when you range is only about 11 miles this is not insignificant.  When you turn on the heater the car gets its heart from the ICE so it instigates a warm-up cycle and will then run the ICE intermittently to keep the engine warm while the heating is on.  I understand that these same situations also trigger the start of the ICE in the Prius Prime and RAV4-PHEV although these can go a bit faster in EV mode before the ICE starts.  Both these vehicles have a much longer EV range that the Prius Plug-in.


After a year my situation changed and I got a job about 2 miles from home where I also had access to a charger.  I needed to charge one to two times per week to handle my commute and one to three times on a weekend depending on where I was going.  I found that I could drive almost entirely on electric.  The Prius Plug-in runs a warm-up cycle every 200Km so the ICE does start once in a while.  In my case that translated to starting every 114 to 117 miles.  I was filled up about 2 times per year usually to facilitate road trips.


Since much of my daily driving would have been done in warm-up mode if I was driving a ICE vehicle the amount of CO2 I produced would have been much greater than anything the plug-in Prius could has put out.  Of course, there is the long tailpipe theory but I was charging either on 100% renewable or the local mix which was 30% renewables with the rest mostly from natural gas.  The dreaded coal made up at most 17% of energy content and that amount has been dropping slowly over the years.


The short commute couldn’t last forever and eventually I me moved both office and home.  I finished up with a more normal commute of 18.5 miles each way.  The bad news was that there are not any chargers at my new location, but the good news is that my new home has a garage so I can charge overnight.  I found I was getting 11 to 12 miles on a charge going to work in a morning but running HEV in the afternoon.  On one memorable occasion, all the ducks lined up correctly and I managed to squeeze 17 miles out of the battery before the ICE came on.  I was seeing mpg around 86 for the round trip which is still pretty good.  I had to fill up about every 2 weeks. 


Now with COVID-19 causing havoc I am basically stuck in home though I do have to do a couple of runs down to Orange County every month so I end up filling up about once per month.  Most local driving is done electric so I am still getting much better mpg than I would even with a standard Prius.


The one thing the report did mention is that the car produced a lot more carbon when run in recharge mode.  In this mode you use the engine for both driving the car and recharging the traction pack.  This is very low efficiency and will result in lot more CO2 going into the environment than if the car was charged by plugging it in.  This mode is used in some places like London where if you enter the city with a fully charged battery you can avoid the congestion charges.  Here in California this mode is usually disables because if the car has it enabled it is no longer eligible for California’s rebates.  The Prius plug-in does not have this mode as an option.


The bottom line is that the amount of carbon put out by the plug-in hybrid is less than the equivalent HEV and much less than the equivalent ICE.  How much of a difference it makes depends on your driving habits.  If you never charge the car, or run it all the time with the heater on, then the ICE will run.  In my experience this still gets a little better mpg than the equivalent hybrid but it is only marginally better.  If you charge your Plug-in on a regular basis, and are careful to keep it running in EV Mode, you are going to see reductions in the output of CO2. 


Depending on how you drive you may produce more CO2 than the manufacturer claims but you are still going to be doing better than a regular ICE.  The PHEV can make a great tool to transition to a pure electric vehicle and is a good learning tool to get you into the habit of plugging in.  I know that my next vehicle will probably not have a gas tank.