Uncommonly Discussed Eco-Myths: Vehicle Design In The Climate Century

Who cares about fuel cell vehicles (FCVs)? How many more hybrid/fuel configurations will there be before we get models we want? Good questions; but, the survival of US car companies seems now to hang more on controlling health care costs than product design. It gets worse. With the notable exception of the Toyota Prius, ICE-based hybrids are commercial oddities. In other words, the ICE/Battery Hybrid is a 'one-hit wonder.' With several prototypes of Plug-In Hybrids ("plug ins") tempting customers to dream of that next-best thing, a new race to the show room may be on (though research and development dollars are limited).

These design and fuel choices will shape the future of the earth. What really is the best "next level" design? Under what conditions might a straight FCV surpass the plug-in hybrid? What other odd propulsion design configs might creep up from behind (as pictured?); and, how will fuel choices affect climate, food prices, land use?

To get at these questions objectively, -- US politicians can be counted on to do the exact opposite -- we'll need to simultaneously analyze propulsion and energy choices, 'well to wheels' as they say.

Let it be known that, while hydrogen opponents can quite properly make us hopeful about plug-in hybrids, (see Joe Romm's comment below), fuel cell dreamers certainly haven't given up. It is after all, the both the Climate Century and the Peak Oil Century. Change can be driven by unexpected resource shortages as much as by invention or industrial engineering.First we'll hear from the Hydrogen Discoveries blog on the posting entitled:
The Hype Against Hydrogen: Setting the Record Straight on Six Hydrogen Myths Perpetuated by Joseph Romm

Myth #2 - Hybrid vehicles are as efficient as fuel cell vehicles

Reality #2 - Fuel cells are twice as efficient as internal combustion engines

Myth #3 - Plug-in hybrids are better than hydrogen fuel cell cars (for whatever reason)

Reality #3- Plug-in hybrid technology can be used in hydrogen fuel cell cars, so any benefits of plug-in hybrids will also be realized by hydrogen cars.

Check out the link (above) for several more H2 myths/realities from HD.

Mr Romm politely responded to the Hydrogen Discoveries post with this statement:- "I fear that the marketplace has already rendered its judgment on hydrogen fuel cell cars, especially vs. plug ins."

Going on, Mr Romm corrected a commonly cited myth:- "Your statement "Reality - Plug-in hybrid technology can be used in hydrogen fuel cell cars, so any benefits of plug-in hybrids will also be realized by hydrogen cars" is factually quite incorrect. Direct use of electricity allows one to travel 3 to 4 times farther than converting the electricity to hydrogen and then back again. Doesn't matter if the FCV is a PHEV. You can't save hydrogen from its inherent inefficiency."

To which this writer replied:- "There is also the possibility of a fuel cell hybrid, integrating a battery bank with fuel cell and/or small ICE engine. Obviously a affordable hybrid with two new technologies would be contingent on the next generation of batteries reaching commodity status..."

To which Watthead (Jesse Jenkins - no relation to James Watt,) responded:- "...you may be interested in the well-to-wheels analysis I performed on a variety of alternative transportation pathways, including fuel cells running on natural gas (both domestic and non-North American LNG) and grid electricity (via electrolysis), plug-ins and plug-in fuel cell vehicles as well. Abstract and Exec Summary as well as the full report here."

"My analysis found that fuel cell vehicles running on grid electricity are worse than conventional gasoline and a terrible idea;

#1:- Fuel cells running on imported LNG compare favorably to plug-ins using the US average electricity mix (FCVs are better on a weighted composite index which weights petroleum use and GHGs evenly and other fossil energy at half the value of petroleum and GHGs; that index weighting is not in the WtW report but in later analysis I've performed);

#2:- FCVs running on LNG compare about the same as plug-ins running on corn-based E85 and electricity from the average US mix;

#3:- But, the winner is plug-ins using cellulosic ethanol and electricity from a "high renewables" US mix (comparable to a mix with 20% renewables).

I [Jesse] ultimately believe that [item #3] should be our target for a more sustainable transportation future in the mid-term (15-25 years), as plug-ins running on cellulosic ethanol can cut oil use by ~90% and cut GHG emissions by ~75% comparable to conventional gas spark-ignition vehicles. "

TreeHugger comment:: Imagine a room full of US Congress Critters having a discussion on these system configurationis. They're going to need more help than "K-Street" can provide. For the Climate Century.

Next posts up on this topic: "Dude: Where's My Sexy Hybrid, Plug-In FCV." Followed by: "Real TreeHuggers Support LNG Port Expansions"

Via:: various emails. Image credit: Stolen Gas In Bag, Knox News Sentinel Blogs