Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Electric vehicles reach the next level

Hello, hello, it's been a long time, I know. My apologies to the regular readers of this blog (hehe), but I got married in the meantime and it took a while to settle back in... well, sort of.

But the EV scene did not stand still in the meantime!! Quite the contrary, some companies have made great strides in the last 6 months. First off, Think! of Norway are feverishly working on getting their new model ready for launch. It will feature hitherto unseen performance parameters: a range of 180 kms and a top speed of 100 km/h, mostly thanks to a new battery technology developed with Tesla Motors. In other words, Think! will be offering a car to the market that can substitute traditional vehicles for the vast majority of cases, is highway capable and yet compact enough for city environments. Gone will be the days where EVs are only 2nd or 3rd vehicles in the household!

At the same time, Tesla have continued their tests and confirm the range of their Tesla Roadster to reach the aimed for 250 miles (first deliveries have moved to early 2008 however, which was not unexpected given the complex and groundbreaking technology they are working on). Oh, and by the waym the entire 2008 production is sold out, so get in line for 2009! Also, Tesla has started working on a mid-range model coming in at around $50K, a significant reduction vs. the price of the Roadster. This model is expected in 2008/2009.

But EVs are quickly gaining traction among major vehicle manufacturers as well. Mitsubishi is accelerating the development of its MiEV which it expects to launch by 2010. And Renault is reported to plan the opening of an EV plant in Israel in 2008.

All this and more should lead to a very interesting product line up by 2009/2010, with a good selection of EVs for different pruposes and tastes, that can finally fully substitute traditional gas guzzling cars! I am truely electrified!

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Hydrogen cars - "ready in 10-20 years" (nothing new then from the last 10-20 years...)

After the recent postings on more general (yet by no means less important) aspects of climate change, we are back with a more transport-orientated topic: the hydrogen vs. the battery-electric vehicle.

Two recent contributions by the BBC UK's TopGear productions lay the ground for this discussion. In a recent episode of the TV programme, a TopGear "correspondant" went to Germany to test GM's new prototype hydrogen car: the Hy-Wire.

The vehicle is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and operated via a drive-by-wire system. The prototype actually drives and apparently cost around £5M to build. Prototype costs and "driveability" aside, the program gives very incomplete information on the requirements of fuel cell technology, let alone associated costs and impact on the environment. For instance, it is stated that this car "runs on seawater", and that the technology will be available in 10-20 years.

Regarding the former, yes, seawater can be used to form hydrogen (namely through a process called electrolysis), albeit at very high energy costs. Hydrogen can also be obtained from regular air, or even better, methanol. However, in any case a high energy input is required to obtain hydrogen, since it is not widely available in natural form. This means that even though only water comes out of the vehicle's exhaust pipe, the energy which has gone into the entire process is actually superior to that required for today's standard combustion engines. Also, since we already need to employ significant amounts of energy to create hydrogen, why don't we just use the energy directly to power vehicles, e.g. battery-electric ones?

Regarding the availability of the vehicle itself, the 10-20 year timeframe is very optimistic. The problem are costs of the fuel cell technology and, more importantly, the required infrastructure to fill the car up with hydrogen. It is highly unlikely that this will exist in a meaningful coverage in the stated timeframe, considering the massive investment required. Again, one could fuel the car with methanol and gain hydrogen on the go (through a process called reforming), but once again, it would be more efficient to use the energy directly to propel the vehicle.

To conlcude, it is very sad to see the makers of such a popular and influential program like TopGear repeat exactly the one-sided mantra used by many major vehicle manufacturers. The solution is clearly elsewhere, and it is sad to see that after the last 10-20 years, Jeremy Clarkson and his colleagues are not one inch closer to it.

ON the OTHER hand, a recent publication of the TopGear MAGAZINE (which I was told has a somewhat greener view of things with respect to the power-is-everything TV programme), featured a 50-odd page section on green vehicles, from battery-electric to biofuel powered ones (fuel cells are mentioned in a 1/8th page insert, and are presented in a well-balanced way). At last, there seems to be hope that one day some of this attitude might transpire into the TV programme and even Jeremy Clarkson will eventually get it!

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Global warming swindle... swindle?

Hello there,

it's been a while, I know. But it's not as if I've been completely idle those past two months. Quite the contrary, I've closely followed the recent discussions about global warming. More specifically, whether global warming is man made or not. I've posted on several sites and spoke to a lot of people about it, so I guess it's about time to write something on my own blog.

About two months ago, Channel 4 in the UK broadcast the documentary "The great global warming swindle". As the title indicates, the program "revealed" that global warming happens, but is not caused by human actions. Rather, it claimed that the drivers are external factors such as sun activity and general ocean expansion.

The program brought forth those arguments via statements of a number of more or less reknown scientists, who took on very extreme positions around those aspects, thus supporting the "swindle" argument. Some of those scientists went so far as to say that the climate change models of a lot of other scientists are deliberatley tweaked to show that climate change is man made in order to obtain further grants for research into how to reduce it.

Only a week ago, I got hold of a Newsweek article with the title "Why so gloomy", which states essentially the same concept. It is written by Richard Lindzen, an MIT professor and well known opponent of man-made climate change.

What the program (and the article) DID NOT say, was that for every scientist who claims global warming is driven by external factors, there are at least ten others who support the opposite view. Namely, that global warming is caused via a greenhouse effect of CO2 emissions, which in turn are produced in transport and industrial applications.

Another thing the program and article missed out in their line of argumentation, is that the solar activity cannot explain the (proven) temperature increase in the last 20-30 years. In fact, most of the theories stated have been reviewed and analysed over an over, only to be ultimately debunked. See and for more scientific detail.

I personally think that it is a real pity that this program was broadcast in this extreme form, i.e. showing only one side of the equation without giving any voice at all to the other one. This way, the vast majority of viewers (which might be in the low millions, considering the prime time schedule and the channel popularity, and that is not even counting the additional distribution through the audience itself) were left with the impression that they can go on polluting and consuming as before, with no need to change anything, since it makes no difference anyways.

The reality is that the link between human activity and global warming is not 100% proven. However, after several decades of research involving thousands of scientists and hundreds of universities and organizations, the general consensus is that it is highly likely (i.e., >90% probability), that global warming is caused by human activity. Main examples for those activities are personal transport (cars, planes) and general energy consumption (heating/cooling, industrial applications). See the recent summary report of the IPCC on this:

What we should rather do is weigh the risks of both hypotheses against each other. It can't hurt if people leave their cars at home and take the bus to work, or if they buy energy efficient appliances. On the other hand, if we keep wasting resources like we've been doing for so long, and global warming gets out of hand (i.e., temperature increase of 2 deg celcius or more), then the effects would be catastrophic. See to get a taste.

If that happens, then finally everyone will know for certain what the true cause was. Only that then it will be too late.


Saturday, 17 February 2007

ecowhizz is on (this time for real)

Hello again,

the website to this blog - - is now officially launched. At least to a select circle of friends. Now it's about spreading the word...

My objective with this blog and the website is to demonstrate how we can all improve our impact on the environment. It often seems to me that people complain a lot about how bad things are. In this case, traffic jams and pollution in the cities, dirty rivers, winter snow that's becoming ever harder to find etc. On the other hand, very few actually seem to think seriously about how to improve things, let alone act on it.

I think this is due to two, related reasons: the first is a general feeling that big insitutions such as governments and big businesses should take care of this. Second, a lot of people either don't know how they can contribute, or maybe they know but they don't care enough, since it would stretch their comfort zone a little bit.

Hence, my "mission" here is to show that every little thing helps, and also, that every little thing is needed in order to make it work. Take the infamous standby mode of electronic appliances for instance. If only one person in the world bothers to switch their TV off properly when they don't use it, of course nothing will change. On the other hand, if a large number of people do it, then the impact is going to be significant. The point here is that everyone needs to do what is right, but without knowing what others do or having any direct feedback on the result.

This is only one example of many. I will endeavour to give more examples, and also provide specific data to show how things work out. Everyone can make a difference, even if it is little. And everyone needs to... or else!

Be good!

ben from ecowhizz