Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Automotive X-Prize winners announced!

Two out of the three winners of the Auto X-prize are battery powered vehicles. All of them reach in excess of 100 MPG while satisfying many real-world vehicle requirements, which is exciting stuff! Now let's just hope many of these vehicles go into production soon.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

COP15 wrap-up

It's almost a year now since the UN climate summit COP15 in Copenhagen. On that occasion, Google put together a site with narrated tours and information on the impact of climate change that will (unfortunately) be very valid for many COPs to come.

Check it out on www.google.com/cop15.

And ... we're back!

More to follow soon :)

Saturday, 17 January 2009

2008 -- gone in a rush!

OK, so now it's been a *really* long time. 2008 was a very busy year, and ironically my post-writing has been highly impacted by the fact that a year ago I started working in a full-time sustainability role at a major Internet & technology company. In this job, I've learned a lot more about being green, and I want to continue sharing this both here and on www.ecowhizz.com.

But in order to maintain a minimum of continuity, let's briefly look at 2008. On the EV front, it brought us the new Think, an compact city car with a great performance parameters (range, max speed and crash safety are all top). And of course the Tesla finally made it onto the streets, at least in the US. For the first time, there are two high performing alternatives to traditional vehicles available, even though they still come at a price (more than 20K Euro for the Think and close to 100 K USD for the Tesla).

On the Green Living front, well, 2008 brought us Obama! That's great news I think, because of his stance on climate change, his already announced green-jobs initiatives, as well as a major planned investment into smart grids. His election also bodes well for *the* event of 2009, the UN Climate Summit in December in Copenhagen. We now stand a chance to come up with a global agreement to significantly reduce emissions towards 2050. 

But the year is still young, and a lot needs to happen to make this happen. Stay tuned...

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. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17997788/site/newsweek/

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 http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2007/03/13/channel-4s-problem-with-science/ and http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/ei/ei_reconsc.html 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: http://www.ipcc.ch/SPM13apr07.pdf

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 http://ecowhizz.com/sustainability/globalwarming.htm 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.