Verdict in: electric cars more efficient that biofuel-powered

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After hearing a comment about this on a PBS talking-heads show, I found a couple articles confirming what was said: a team of researchers compared turning an equal amount of biomass into biofuel to producing electricity from it to power an electric car. The winner? The electric car, by far (on the order of 80% more).
Articles here: http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/22628 http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20090508/biomass_debate_090510/20090510
Of course, this is only part of the picture. While this indicates it would make more sense to put our eggs in the electric-car basket, rather than funding more biofuel research, the problem remains of the high cost of electric vehicles, and the greater difficulty of converting the world's cars to run on electricity rather than an "alternative" fuel. (Not to mention the yet-unsolved problems of better battery storage.)
But it's interesting. Discuss amongst yourselves.
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the verdict is in !
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On Sun, 10 May 2009 21:09:46 -0700, David Nebenzahl

    There is no clear winners yet. There are a lot of "studies" "Proving" this or that, while ignoring side issues that often are larger than the part they are measuring.
    We are still in the early stages of finding the best way to go. Let's keep the free for all going until we really have a winner or two.
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On Sun, 10 May 2009 21:09:46 -0700, David Nebenzahl

I am very serious about converting my Honda to electric but the real hangup is the cost and lifespan of the battery. That ends up being a significant part of the "per mile" cost. I come up with something like 5 or 6 cents a mile for a lead acid battery set, based on the expected number of charge cycles they advertise (~800) and the expected practical range (`50-60 miles)..
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Filling up the 9.5 gallon tank on my Saturn every 300 miles is enough of a hassle for me (I wish it went 500). I cant imagine ever driving a vehicle that only went 50 or 60 miles, then it began to use gasoline from a 5 gallon or less tank. I say 5 gallon tank because after you fit the batteries there is not much room left for spare tire, decent gas tank, and interior room. The range barrier must break 400 miles before any re-fueling to make these new vehicles not be a royal PIA. In my area I have to travel a bit for a station and refueling is fairly inconvenient.
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On Mon, 11 May 2009 13:29:49 -0700 (PDT), RickH

I think they are using the statistics about how many people drive less than that on most days. If you drive a lot, you need enough fuel on board to have reasonable range. For someone like me who is retired and makes short trips most of the time I pretty much would need 2 cars. One for around town and one for road trips.
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On May 11, 5:24pm, snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

Replacing one car with two doesn't sound all that good for the enviroment or economical either.
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On Mon, 11 May 2009 18:41:11 -0700 (PDT), snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net wrote:

Since we have 3 anyway it is just a choice of which ones we replace. I am thinking an electric for my everyday car and a better truck for trips and hauling.
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snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net wrote: ...

Should help the economy rebound... :)
I can see they can help in metro areas but won't help very much at all if any in the wide open spaces. Hybrids may eventually, but except for midgets or families w/o kids or other stuff to carry, at least to this point they aren't particularly convenient, at least to the way US folks are accustomed. Don't see either really taking off w/ wild popularity any time soon despite wishes of "them that be" for some other alternate universe of their imagining...
I'd have to read the actual studies, not just some summary, to have any real input on the conclusion other than it just doesn't seem right that there could be such a large difference if the complete cycle were considered on a consistent basis for both. Thermodynamics generally doesn't lead to one outcome being so predominantly favorable as that makes it seem.
As a comparison point, there are farmer/producers here who are converting to biodiesel from their own production enough fuel for their overall operation from about one-eighth of their crop acreage. That seems a pretty good input/output ratio to me. The analyses of energy input/output between ethanol and biodiesel are also roughly equivalent which makes me wonder if the actual costs of electric production are fully accounted for in the cited comparison or there are added production costs on the ethanol side that aren't comparably included on the electric side. (The latter has been a favorite ploy of many of the anti-ethanol bunch that add sun energy inputs on the one side but leave out the energy content of secondary products such as the feed value of distillers' grains on the output side thus allowing them to claim net energy loss. Of course it is if you set the boundaries of the process analyzed so that it must be.)
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On 5/12/2009 6:01 AM dpb spake thus:

It can if one of the methods being compared (the infernal combustion engine) is piss-poor as an energy conversion mechanism. Apparently the method used to generate electricity is more efficient.
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David Nebenzahl wrote:

Which method would that be? 30% range is pretty much it for conventional generation.
I'd still have to see where the analysis boundaries were drawn and what, precisely, was compared to what rather than some summary as gospel. (And, no, I'm not interested enough in the particular studies to go do that... :) )
And, of course, it begs the question as to the source of all the electric power that would be required to displace any real significant fraction of current fossil-power transportation usage when it's not likely there's sufficient excess capacity available already at least where it would be needed when...
Again, eventually there can and will be some shifts in sources but it will be far better served to let market forces dictate the rate and the direction rather than trying to force some panacea solution that is quite likely to be lacking in the ability to actually forecast the future.
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On 5/13/2009 11:32 AM dpb spake thus:

>

It is pretty disappointing not to know more about the methodoligies used in the experiment. I'm also not all that keen on hunting down the original article in /Science/.
My understanding from the commentary I heard before I found these articles was that the researchers took identical amounts of input "fuel" (switchgrass) and used them to power the two cars (one using liquid biofuel, the other electricity). What isn't known is how they converted the grass into electricity. Also not known is whether they actually used identical masses of grass in the experiment, or whether they simply extrapolated from different amounts. (For instance, it's possible that the conversion to electricity is more efficient due to economy of scale--burning the fuel in a large plant as opposed to a small portable engine--and that they simply calculated the yield based on that.)
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David Nebenzahl wrote: ...

However they generated electricity as opposed to converting to biofuel if that's all they did then it's the same thing as the previous example I gave where the analytical comparisons used input energy from the sun but didn't count the distillers' grains energy outputs in many ethanol studies.
Same thing w/ the biodiesel cycle--if you don't count the entire cycle including useful byproducts you haven't done a fair comparison but biased the study ground rules to produce the expected/desired result.
And, of course, there's still the problem of while they can be useful in a niche market (inner city commuting, namely) and while it's a fairly sizable niche, helping solve that niche problem doesn't mean it's an overall solution by any stretch.
It reminds me of the touch of realism I heard the other day on wind/solar generation. The goal is to double their share in 20 years or so and in fact we've roughly double wind's share in the last 10 or so which seems pretty good--until one notes that they started out at 0.16% of US energy consumption so that by doubling it yet again they would be at 0.3%. It's just not what those in DC want to hear but unfortunately they're making policy on wishful thinking not reality.
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dpb wrote: ...

... That is, in a real implementation/deployment there will be markets for every useful byproduct and energy extraction or other value from those can't be conveniently ignored in a relative cost/value comparison to alternative technologies.
That's why the market is so effective--if there is a gross inefficiency in a process that will show up as a high real cost as long as it isn't artificially subsidized or the convenience/utilitarian factors offset a higher cost. That is, if ranges are only 50-60 miles for electric vehicles but it's 200 miles to the nearest large airport, needless to say it isn't going to be a choice to take that to go catch a plane if have to stop 3-4 times on the way for recharging. (And, no, that's not made up; that's reality here in round numbers--it's 180+ to Amarillo, 210+/- to Wichita)
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You don't have to go that far. Quite a few people I know drive from Cincinnati to Indy because Indy is so much cheaper (another indication of market forces at work).
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Kurt Ullman wrote:

Or maybe not...does Indy subsidize AirTran or another discount carrier to get that? Wichita does, for example, to the tune of $1M/yr or more. As a consequence, since they started the other carriers' fares have come down significantly.
As for the distance, there is no other airport of any size between here and those places. Even w/ the above subsidies, Amarillo generally is still cheaper but they may also be subsidizing somebody there; that I don't know.
But, air fares etc., weren't the point; simply an example of one reason that electric isn't _necessarily_ the answer even if the study of the post were fair and unbiased (which I still doubt given such a large disparity I still think there's at least one or more factors not being accounted for).
The success of the producers here in converting to enough biodiesel to run their operation from the production of roughly 1/8-th their acreage satisfies me the net benefit is pretty good irrespective of any other study. Of course, there's another whole market area of heavy equipment, stationary equipment, trucks, etc., that electric isn't going to touch (other than perhaps diesel-electric like locomotives) any time soon.
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Nope. Just that no single carrier has more than 30-40% of the flights. We are nobody's hub (like Cincy for instance) so nobody runs enough flights that they can raise rates.
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Kurt Ullman wrote:

Even more significant is the volume is sufficient to attract enough carriers to make it a competitive market so there is more than one carrier per destination/direction for the most part.
Looking I find Indianapolis is served by 11 airlines averaging 154 daily departures. Wichita has 43 flights/day.
Smaller markets that struggle to get more than a few carriers have a much harder time in having any influence on rates--the overall business is such a small fraction that the carriers really don't care--complain too much and they'll just leave entirely and never notice the loss in revenue off past the number of significant digits kept in the summary P&L statements...
The commercial service out of local airport consists of a morning and evening flight from/to Denver. That's it. The two slightly larger that are 60/80 miles do have alternate service to KC as well as Denver. But the cost of those local fares generally approaches or exceeds that of the rest of the trip whatever it is.
Still this is a distant sidebar to the point I was after...
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On Mon, 11 May 2009 22:24:43 -0400, "Stormin Mormon"
They your mind is less than fully open.
Go dig some plates out fo the desert.
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