Wednesday, November 12, 2008
  More - yawn - on the electric car

I've had this post pending a hiatus. I have it now, unfortunately, but this is also an opportune, even historic, time. Barack Obama is prioritising a Renewable Energy Plan, both as a means to reduce unemployment and as a precurser to a far-reaching Climate Change Bill. With General Motors and Ford facing bankruptcy, his government-in-waiting has plans to retool Detroit so that the Motor City can produce hybrid cars.

Obama wants the ailing auto sector to make plug-in hybrid cars and more models that run on ethanol. He proposes a tougher fuel-economy mandate. He plans $4 billion in tax help to retool factories to make advanced cars on top of $25 billion in loans that have been enacted for that purpose. Consumers would get a $7,000 tax credit for purchases of advanced cars.
Comments from last time included the following:

Oigal: Yawn.. not that hoary old "they killed the electric car" chestnut.

The bloody thing had a range of 78km when batteries were new. It died like every other sub standard product. No range, no performance, look like crap, handled like a mangy dog on heat. In short - no one wanted it!

I replied: That range of 78 km is a lot more than the average commute to work and back, or on a school run, or to the local shops ~ except for backwards - oops, sorry, I mean backwoods, folk such as your good self.

My purpose in posting about an emerging technology, one that General Motors foolishly, given their current financial malaise, killed off, was to highlight choices we have in personal transport technology, and have to make as finite fuel resources run out. Mind you, given the contribution fossil fuels are making to climate change, I firmly believe that it's good that this technology will perforce, and soon in the timescale of homo sapiens, be superceded.

Fuel cell technology

Ah, um, you see .... electricity is taken from the grid or whatever personal renewable sources there may be to hand, such as solar, wind, hydro or biogas, in order to recharge batteries. Current battery technology is lithium-ion based, as in personal laptop computers and cell phones.

Ian Clifford, the chief executive of Zenn Motors planning to launch an 80mph model with a 250-mile range, is worried that the obvious choice to power it is going to be in short supply.

"If you look at the increase in lithium prices over the past seven to 10 years, it's been dramatic," says Clifford. "There are very limited global reserves of lithium, and they're in potentially very unstable parts of the world."

So other technologies are being researched and developed. For example, Tata Motors, the Indian carmaker, has the rights to build cars based on a compressed air design.

Then there are ultracapacitors, which are storage devices traditionally used for delivering large kicks of power, but which could store as much energy as a lithium battery at less than half the weight - and with a charging time of under 10 minutes. (Lockheed Martin has already signed an exclusive licence to use it in military applications.)

Or, how about producing oil from algae?

Sapphire Energy uses single-celled organisms such as algae to produce a chemical mixture from which it is possible to extract fuels for cars or airplanes. When it is burned, the fuel only releases into the air the carbon dioxide absorbed by the algae during its growth, making the whole process carbon neutral.

Algae are the world's most abundant form of plant life and, via photosynthesis, are extremely efficient at using sunlight and carbon dioxide from the air to make organic material such as sugars, proteins and, under the right conditions, oils.

Yusuf Chisti at Massey University in New Zealand estimates that algae could produce almost 100,000 litres of biodiesel a year per hectare of land, compared to 6,000 litres a hectare for oil palm, currently the most productive biofuel.

So, although fossil fuel cars will be with us for a while, other, cleaner, technologies should have supplanted them by the time oil has run out.

Hemat Biaya

As the cost of private transport increases out of the reach of many family wallets, and the capacity of the road system is proportionately reduced, there should be major shifts in lifestyles. The suburbs will no longer be so attractive unless business districts decentralise. National and local governments will, perforce, find it necessary to develop efficient and comfortable public transport systems in order to control inflation and boost economic competitiveness.

Shared transport, be it by a car pool scheme or company bus, rather than being an isolating cocoon as in individual travel mode, could well boost courtesy and communal ties. For example, there's a commuter train from Serpong, some 40 kms outside Jakarta, offering mini-classes and home cooked packed lunches. Such relief from the stress of road rage should surely boost productivity and creativity.

Miko asked: Where will the electricity come from to power the car? Presumably from the big oil fired, CO2 emitting power stations. So what's the benefit?

I replied: Ah, the presumptive Miko.

Here are a few 'ifs' for you to ponder:

A 2006 presidential decree stipulates Indonesia to use, out of its total energy consumption, 5 percent biofuel, 5 percent geothermal, 5 percent biomass, nuclear, hydro, solar and wind, and 2 percent coal liquefaction by 2025.

That still includes the most expensive option, nuclear, but at least the current government is aware of alternative, sustainable energy sources.

17% is not much and still includes nuclear power, yet there is a belated recognition amongst politicos that there are alternatives to fossil fuel for electricity generation. Although if the plunderers of resources which should be spared for future generations remain in the ascendancy, Indonesia has an abundance of natural gas, admittedly a 'clean' fuel. Apparently, the total (proven and possible) reserve in Indonesia is around 182 TSCF (eh?).

Starts have been made on developing these alternative technolgies. For example, Bali will be the first province in the country to produce electricity using organic garbage, aiming to produce 9.6 megawatts by 2010. Incidentally, it's a British project.

Also state construction company PT Wijaya Karya (WIKA) has just started building the first of nine steam power generating plants with a combined capacity of 4,806 MW.

Or how about kites? After all, they're very popular in Indonesia, so why not combine work and play, eh?

A traditional childhood pastime could provide a breakthrough in renewable energy, after successful experiments in flying a giant kite at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, one of Europe's top research centres.

Scientists harnessed energy from the wind by flying a 10-sq metre kite tethered to a generator, producing 10 kilowatts of power.

The experiment generated enough electricity to power 10 family homes, and the researchers have plans to test a 50kW version of their invention, called Laddermill, eventually building up to a proposed version with multiple kites that they claim could generate 100 megawatts, enough for 100,000 homes.

Hemat Energi

Earlier this year Jakarta residents were warned to expect rolling power cuts as a gas supply line to local power stations was being serviced. These power cuts did not happen, for one simple reason: consumers cut down on their power consumption. Air conditioners were set at a reasonable 26º instead of the Arctic 16º preferred by many hot-bloodied, but frigid, Asians and mall operators. Street lights were switched off, although illuminated hoardings were left on, presumably because someone in City Hall collects 'fees'.

There was also a new government regulation aimed at spreading the load of electricity consumption, whereby industries should operate their factories at weekends. This would also have seen banks opening on Saturdays. Neither of these proposals seem to have been followed through.

Indonesia is the earliest rising nation in the world - and I still hate getting up at 5am! However, this should mean that folk go to bed earlier.

It should mean that but with some 40% of the population able to nap in daylight hours because they haven't got full-time employment, they're going to be transfixed by late night TV, all soap operas, dangdut performances and 'reality' shows.

What a yawn.


6:00 am
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