Archive for the ‘Electric Vehicles’ Category

The Call for Infrastructure

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

“The challenges for fuel cell vehicles in the long run appear to be entirely on the infrastructure side… we have to begin to invest in that infrastructure now, as the advance placement of infrastructure is critical to the market acceptance of fuel cell vehicles.”

-John German, ICCT Sr. Fellow
Transitioning the U.S. light-duty vehicle fleet

A recent U.S. National Research Council report on light-duty (cars and small trucks) vehicle technologies discussed the feasibility of reaching two goals:

  • 50% petroleum reduction in 2030
  • 80% petroleum and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions in 2050

This reduction goal is measured against a 2005 baseline, and researchers concluded that with the right policy incentives, combination of vehicle technologies, and added infrastructure for those technologies, it is possible to achieve these targets.

The study considered multiple policy options in modeling the outcomes of potential technology mixes, and considered purchasing prices and energy efficiencies – two major factors that affect market acceptance. Newer technologies like compressed natural gas and battery (BEV), plug-in (PHEV), or fuel cell (FCEV) electric have higher initial costs. However, long-term assessments show that BEVs and FCEVs become less expensive than both internal combustion vehicles and other alternative fuel vehicles.

High-volume retail price equivalents

Reducing vehicle weight, aerodynamic drag, and tire rolling resistance, has a greater effect on lowering costs for BEVs and FCEVs than for conventional vehicles. In the long run, FCEVs are shown to be significantly better than conventional vehicles, with cheaper purchase prices, comparable range and refill times, higher efficiency, better drivability, and better space utilization of drive train components.

The major challenge to high-volume FCEV production, which is the assumption made in the above predictions, is infrastructure. John German, the ICCT Senior Fellow who headed the subcommittee that analyzed alternative vehicle technologies, explained that while predicting technology development may be highly uncertain, the investment into infrastructure must begin NOW.

Addressing this challenge, EIN currently leads a multi-stakeholder effort to develop a network-level plan for hydrogen infrastructure deployment in California. If successfully implemented, it will serve as a blueprint for market introduction at national and international levels. This plan will establish a clear pathway to market success for the infrastructure needed to support commercial levels of hydrogen FCEVs.

According to the NRC study only three potential scenarios could meet or exceed the goals of 50% petroleum reduction in 2030 and 80% GHG reduction in 2050; all three of those scenarios require significant market penetration of FCEVs. The first is based on optimistic assumptions for FCEV technology, and the other two both require PHEV and FCEV market success.

By modeling a policy-induced transition to hydrogen FCEVs by 2050, the study estimated a net present value of around $1 trillion. This scenario assumes both $6 billion annual subsidies through the mid-2020s and 500 geographically clustered hydrogen-refueling stations (subsidized or mandated) by 2016. In other words, the long-term benefits far outweigh the nearer-term costs associated with a transition to FCEVs.

FCEV adoption has both private and social benefits.  Private benefits include consumer fuel savings, satisfaction with vehicle purchases, and satisfaction with fuel purchases. Social benefits include reductions in GHG emissions and petroleum use – in this scenario, petroleum consumption could be reduced by about 90-96% and GHG emissions by 59-80%.

Vehicle sales by vehicle technology for midrange technologies and policies promoting the adoption and use of PHEVs, FCEVs, and biofuels.

The study goes on to state that for hydrogen FCEVs, advance placement of fueling infrastructure is critical to market acceptance, as the availability of refueling stations directly affects consumer demand.  It is clear that a coordinated effort is essential to achieving petroleum and GHG reductions goals – and it is even more clear that investments in and development of such infrastructure must occur early on in the transition.

Find out more about EIN’s work with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and infrastructure here.

Gasoline Prices Worldwide and Its New, Greener Competitors

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Well into the second month of the New Year, Americans continue to feel that all too familiar sting at the gas pumps. Though it is very clear that citizens remain unhappy about the current cost of fuel found at gas stations nationwide, Californians coming in at about $3.71 per gallon of regular unleaded, they may find themselves frowning a little less often once they hear how much other countries are paying for that same gallon. The US national average for regular unleaded as of January 25th was $3.39 per gallon, about $0.28 higher than prices last year at this time. Canada faces an average national price of about $4.67 per gallon with Japan reaching approximately $6.98 per gallon according to a report conducted by the International Energy Agency in December of 2011. France, Germany and Italy saw unleaded premium prices (95 RON) of $7.40, $7.51, and $7.83 per gallon respectively with the United Kingdom following at about $6.42 per gallon as of January. The IEA also reported Spain reaching a price of $6.44 per gallon with Australia’s national average trailing in at $5.45 per gallon. Lastly, Mexico currently pays a very tempting $2.86 per gallon for regular unleaded as a result of federally funded gasoline subsidies – a program whose extent remains uncertain.  

So with the majority of the world paying much more at the pump, why is it that our prices remain so low in comparison? Well for one thing, the governments in these countries with higher prices tax far more per gallon than our own does. For instance, Germany, the UK, and Japan pay $4.42, $4.76, and $3.10 in taxes alone respectively, while the US only pays about $0.41 for every gallon purchased as of the end of 2011. Furthermore, subsidies offered to the oil industry by the national government also work to keep US prices low through corporate income tax breaks, tax-free construction bonds, and the funding of programs that mainly benefit motorists and the oil industry.  

With the US national average price of gasoline expected to be even higher in 2013, Americans may find themselves looking for even the smallest amount of relief when it comes to transportation fuel costs. Surprisingly and fortunately, it can be found in the very alternative fuels that were once believed to be more expensive than their conventional counterparts. According to a recent report conducted by the US Department of Energy in October of 2011, ethanol (E85) and compressed natural gas (CNG) averaged $3.19 per gallon and $2.09 per gasoline gallon equivalent (GGE), respectively. Similarly, propane averaged $3.06 per gallon and biodiesel (B20) averaged $3.91 per gallon – with ethanol, propane and biodiesel showing a decrease in national averages from the last fuel report. Furthermore, the costs associated with driving a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) are equivalent to about $0.75 per gallon of gasoline according to a study done by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in 2007. Though the years to come may not bode well for conventional fuel prices, American citizens who currently depend on gasoline have cheaper, alternative fuel options that they can migrate to with their next vehicle. These fuel advances have come a long way and are far more appealing than they once were: they can increase energy independence, decrease emissions, and save consumers money.   

By Christine Jaramillo

The 2011 LA Auto Show and What’s in Store for Roads Worldwide

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Car buyers everywhere have every reason to be excited. Whether they’re browsing for luxury, power, performance, or efficiency – they can expect to find themselves frequenting the gas pumps a little less often over the next coming years. The 2011 LA Auto Show officially opened to the public on November 18th and concluded exhibit viewings on the 27th.  Despite the premiere of a staggering 1,000 new vehicles, the most notable aspect about this year’s show was the significant increase in vehicle fuel efficiency across the board in all categories. In light of Obama’s new fuel efficiency standard of 54.5 mpg by 2025, car manufacturers wasted no time in working towards this goal with design innovations appearing in both their debut models as well as models already in production. The show displayed a total of 15 vehicles with 40 plus mpg, 35 hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, 9 clean diesel vehicles, 7 electric vehicles, 13 alternative fuel vehicles and 2 fuel cell vehicles.

In the spirit of competition, Best of Show recognitions were made and selected based on fuel efficiency, tailpipe emissions, and incorporation of innovative technologies that allowed vehicles to meet California’s Clean Car Standards. For the Working Truck category, the blue ribbon went to the Ford F-150 with EcoBoost, followed by the Toyota Tacoma as the runner up. For the Sporting Car category, the blue ribbon went to the Honda CR-Z Hybrid Coupe followed by the Mazda3 SKYACTIV as the runner up. For the Non-Sporting (midsize) Car category, the blue ribbon was awarded to the 2013 Chevy Malibu Eco with the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in placed as runner up. For the Herding Car (SUV/Minivan) category, the blue ribbon was awarded to the 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-in Hybrid with the Toyota Prius V placed as runner up. And lastly, for the Compact (or subcompact) Car category the blue ribbon went to the Hyundai Elantra followed by the BMW i3 as the runner up. Vehicles and technologies recognized for Best of Show are either currently on the market or expected to be on the market within the next 2 years.

So to all those prospective buyers looking to purchase the greenest car of 2012 – look no further. The Honda Civic Natural Gas won the 2012 Green Car of the Year Award and boasts the cleanest-running internal combustion engine certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The model gets 48 mpg on the highway and releases tailpipe emissions at levels that render it untouchable by any competing engines of its kind. Automotive manufacturing companies are making extensive improvements in vehicle fuel economy and couldn’t be doing it at a better time. With gasoline prices expected to reach record highs in 2012, the demand for more efficient and cleaner-burning cars by drivers all over the world could not be more present.             

By Christine Jaramillo

Zero Emissions Vehicles For All Drivers

Monday, October 24th, 2011

In our society's quest for energy independence, its important to remember that no one solution is going solve our oil addiction problem.  We consume A LOT of oil. People naturally have different driving habits and transportation needs. To truly reach a sustainable transportation system, we need to have zero emissions vehicles that can meet the driving demand of all drivers. This means zero tailpipe emissions today,and moving towards zero energy production emissions in the future. Check out this EIN video to learn more:

For a list of references for facts stated in the video, please click here.

All Hands On Deck – The Need for both Fuel Cell and Battery Electric Vehicles

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

With this year’s upcoming releases of the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Coda, the success of the already available Tesla Roadster, and a handful of electric vehicles scheduled for release in 2011 and 2012, we have great reason to be excited about battery electric vehicle technology.  These vehicles are commercial products, expected to make money in the near future, not just comply with regulations.  They help us begin the transition away from petroleum.

Amid the excitement for battery electric (BEV) and extended range electric vehicles (i.e., the Volt), it is easy to lose sight of the other critical electric vehicle technology: hydrogen fuel cells. Honda, Daimler (Mercedes), Toyota, GM, Hyundai, Nissan, VW, and Chrysler all maintain fuel cell programs focused on a range of vehicle types, small and large.  While test fleets are already on the streets, these vehicles are expected to be available commercially in Southern California 2015.  Why are fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) so critical? Because our transportation emissions problem is BIG.

We have millions of gasoline and diesel powered cars to replace before we can end our dependence on oil.  But before we get there, each car or truck we replace with a zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) counts.  How much?  According to data from two California Air Resources Board databases (CEPAM and GHG Emissions tools), over the course of a year, a light to medium duty truck (i.e., SUVs, pickups, etc.) emits close to one and half times more greenhouse gases than a passenger vehicle.

Put simply, it takes more energy, and thus more gallons of gasoline or diesel, to move trucks and SUVs than it does to move passenger vehicles.  As a result, these heavier vehicles emit more greenhouse gases (GHGs) and criteria pollutants (SMOG precursors and particulate matter).  On a per-vehicle basis, replacing an SUV or truck with a ZEV reduces more emissions than replacing a passenger vehicle.

This brings us back to the importance of fuel cells.  Based on what we know today, engineers expect fuel cells to have the best chance to replace long range and heavier trucks and SUVs (and consequently truck and SUV emissions) in the near future.  At production volumes, adding more power output to a fuel cell system will not add insurmountable cost or weight to a vehicle.  Adding more power output to a battery system will add both.

Just recently, as reported by Automotive News, Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota’s executive vice president in charge of research and development, told students at the University of Michigan that he saw BEV as a niche product, focused on short distance city driving.  He sees FCEVs as the most likely zero emission technology to replace the general purpose vehicle.  Why?  Because they are expected to be able to replace the complete utility of petroleum powered vehicles, large and small.

Let’s make no mistake, BEVs are critical to our ability to end our addiction to fossil fuels.  But in our excitement for BEVs we cannot forget the importance of fuel cell development.  We need all hands on deck, and all technologies moving forward if we hope to beat petroleum.

~Tyson Eckerle

National Academies of Science – Plug-In and Fuel Cell Build Out Costs

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

On December 14th, the National Academies of Science released the pre-publication copy of Transitions to Alternative Technologies – Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles.  The report looks at the expected costs of deploying plug-in electric vehicles (i.e., the Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius Plug-In, etc.).  The general conclusion:  plug-in hybrid costs are likely to remain high, and the benefits are expected to be modest, for decades.  What does this tell us?  It tells us that there is no easy solution to reducing our petroleum dependence. Plug-ins are important, but they will not get us there alone.

According to the report press release, “a portfolio approach toward reducing U.S. dependence on oil is necessary for long-term success.  This should include increasing the fuel efficiency of conventional vehicles and pursuing research, development, and demonstration into alternative strategies, including the use of biofuels, electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.” Plug-in hybrids are an important bridging technology that will help facilitate the transition to broad adoption of 100% pure electric vehicles.  But we cannot expect them to save the day alone.  We need to pursue every potential non-petroleum solution we have.