Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Have you ever noticed?

Have you ever noticed that individuals and factions generally partial to greater state control of economic life, have found the evidence for global warming to be quite compelling?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Another busy week for America and Ethanol

For starters, it was really nice to see Texas Gov. Rick Perry suffer defeat by the EPA recently. Gov. Perry, claiming to represent poultry farmers in Texas (as if the as if petroleum companies aren't encouraging him) led a charge to roll back ethanol production mandates. I have written before about the myth that ethanol is blamed for tight food supplies.

Now, FAITH BREMNER of writes a fine article in the link below:

WASHINGTON — Ethanol producers will use about a quarter of the U.S. corn crop this year, an amount that alarms ranchers and poultry producers who depend on corn to feed their animals. As the demand for corn and energy costs climb, so do prices at the grocery store.

But the ethanol industry's impact on the nation's supply of corn for feed isn't as dramatic as it may seem.

One-third of all the corn used to make ethanol ends up as an ingredient in feed that farmers in the upper Midwest — where most of the ethanol plants are located — give their cattle, poultry and pigs.

This year, farmers will feed 18 million metric tons of this ethanol byproduct, called distillers grains, to their animals, up from 2.3 million tons nine years ago. Last year they used 14.6 million tons. About 1 million tons will be exported to places such as Canada, Mexico, Taiwan and Japan.

The article goes on to say that distillers grains aren't easy to come by where there are no distilleries, so Texas chicken farmers are probably experiencing difficulty. Given that Texas is enjoying the fruits of soaring petroleum prices, I think the state can manage for a while. Funny how Gov. Rich Perry doesn't complain to the EPA about soaring petroleum prices. And let's face it! The EPA's mission on earth is not to regulate the price of chicken feed (or the price of tea in China for that matter).

Maybe Texas needs some distilleries producing distillers grain. Maybe Texas petroleum companies need to share some of their record profits subsidizing the state's embattled poultry farmers. I think Texas can solve this problem quite handily without any help from the EPA, the Federal Government, and the rest of the country. All they have to do is get with the program.

In other wonderful news...

Going to Google News and entering "Ethanol" for a search yields fresh news every day about new plants coming on line. Ethanol plants go up FAST. It takes 2 years from start to finish to put an ethanol plant on line.

There are a lot of new cellulosic ethanol plants coming on line too. Each one has rather unique technology; some which may turn out to be more efficient than others. The soaring price of petroleum is fueling a surging technological race to replace it with alcohol fuels.

FYI, the EPA mandate for corn ethanol has already been met (or will be so by the time you read this). The race is on for more cellulosic ethanol production which is the other half of the EPA ethanol mandate. Ooops! Gov. Perry didn't mention that when he whined about the price of chicken feed.

I'll tell you a little secret: Texas has some of the best darn energy engineers found on the planet. They can probably put up distilleries faster than the rest of us. All Texas has to do to fix their little chicken farmers' problem is get with the program.

In yet additional good news...

Yahoo AP reports:

Oil touches 3-month low on stronger US dollar

NEW YORK (AP) -- Oil fell to its lowest price in three months Friday, briefly touching the $111 level after the dollar muscled higher and OPEC predicted the world's thirst for fuel next year will fall to its lowest point since 2002.

Gee! Maybe some of these spot market speculators are figuring out that we have a very nice future with automotive fuels that will compete quite nicely with petroleum sold at ridiculous speculative prices. Maybe OPEC is starting to realize that the party is over. I wouldn't go dancing in the streets just yet. Alcohol fuels start losing their competitive edge at around $50/barrel; still a VERY healthy price for petroleum.

Nobody is going to starve because we put alcohol fuels in our cars. In fact, we'll all have more jobs making fuels here in the United States that bring a good buck to American workers.

Eventually, our idiot politicians are going to get bowled over by economics performing a work of nature that cannot be stopped. It would be nice if they act smart and pass the Open Fuels Standard Act of 2008 and make every car sold in America capable of running on any blend of gasoline or alcohol. Then we'll have even more domestic alcohol plants, more jobs, the price of petroleum will be forced down, the dollar will regain its glory and we'll all live happily ever after.

Have a nice day,

There is NO Santa Claus

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Lithium-ion Batteries for Automotive Propulsion

I promised someone on the Newstalk forum that I'd blog this. It's kind of a long story and there was no sense in doing all the typing and letting it slip into the archives never to be seen again.

So there I was at the AIPAC policy conference last June (2008) and we're at the break-out session on energy independence and what Israel is doing in that field. As I mentioned in my last entry, I hit it off immediately with Dr. Robert Zubrin who was sitting to my left on the panel of four presenters. Unfortunately, I can't remember for the life of me who the others were.

So anyway, for those of you who don't know, the State of Israel is embarking on a bold new adventure with electric cars. Because Israel is so tiny, commute distances aren't that great and electric cars are viable there.

Here's a brief article on the project:

The Israeli car will be developed by a joint-venture between Renault and Nissan. The cool thing about this car is that it will have a drop-out battery. Rather than requiring recharge, there will be special stations that are much like those 20-minute oil change places. You pull over the hole. The old battery is dropped out and a new one is plugged in. The whole process takes just a few minutes; probably no longer than it takes to pump gasoline in the car you own now.

So here's the rub. The guy presenting the Renault-Nissan prototype was sitting on the far left. He mentioned that this car would have a 110 mile radius on one battery charge. This immediately perked my ears for one basic reason: right now the "talk of the town" in electric cars surrounds the Tesla Roadster being developed in England. I'd also digress to point out that there is at least one person in Tesla's management from my Alma mater (University of Illinois College of Engineering) and also one from Israel.

Here's the link for the Tesla roadster:

If you go over to the Performance tab on the web site, you'll notice that the Tesla Roadster has a radius of 220 miles on a single battery charge. This is TWICE that being quoted for the Renault-Nissan prototype.

So back to the AIPAC conference. It was now the question-and-answer period and I got up to the microphone. I introduced myself and asked the guy on the left a simple question: "The Renault-Nissan prototype gets 110 miles to a battery charge. Tesla motors is getting 220 miles to a battery charge. What is Tesla doing different?"

So the presenter on the far left stumbles and says: "Well... if you want a car that goes from 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds, that's a whole 'nother thing. We're not trying to accomplish that here."

I felt like he was ducking my question so I pressed him and answered: "But WHAT IS TESLA DOING DIFFERENT THAT THEY GET 220 MILES ON A SINGLE BATTERY CHARGE?"

He responds: "We feel that the Tesla Roadster uses unproven technology. They use Lithium-ion batteries and we use conventional Nickle-Metal-Hydride batteries."

I thanked him for answering my question and let it go because I knew he was looking for an "out" and this was the best he could do. And besides, I kinda understood what he was saying, even if I didn't agree with him.

Just to tell you how lame this response was, a mere two weeks later, the wire services (AP, Reuters etc.) all ran stories about how Toyota can't keep up with demand for their hybrid cars. The bottleneck is that they can't make enough batteries quick enough. That was the bad news. The good news is that help is on the way. Toyota and Matsushita Electric (aka Panasonic) were building a joint-venture factory to make even MORE batteries for their hybrid cars and better yet! The new batteries were going to be Lithium-ion packs which were smaller, lighter and held more charge.

SO... apparently the world leader in hybrid cars thinks that there's nothing "unproven" about Lithium-ion battery packs for automotive propulsion. I think perhaps the Renault-Nissan folks need to strongly consider this improvement for their upcoming Israeli vehicle.

In all fairness to the presenter at AIPAC, the Tesla Roadster is hardly a family car. It's a two-seater built for performance. Moreover, it's battery pack is not designed to be conveniently swapped out like the Renault-Nissan prototype. This is a key feature of the Israeli car and essential to it's commercial viability. Designing a Lithium-ion battery pack that is also easy to swap out is a significant technical issue; one not to be taken lightly. Nonetheless, the notion that Lithium-ion batteries are "unproven technology" for automotive propulsion is definitely not shared by Toyota Motors. Frankly, I think the subject of Lithium-ion battery packs needs to be re-visited by those working on the Israeli project. Even if the first cars have the older Nickel-Metal-Hydride batteries, I'd like to think there would be little trouble upgrading once a newer Lithium-ion battery pack is developed.