Short takes

[ED by PG:] Engineer-Poet graces us with a new "Short Takes" segment--a few interesting takes all thrown together, whether it's educating us on differential equations, cracking on the MSM for being innumerate or dropping snarky limericks on us--there's nothing quite like the E.P.-ster, and it's under the fold.

The Toledo Blade gets it wrong

First, innumeracy in the media:  The Toledo Blade editorializes that the new EPA ratings for hybrid vehicles rate them worse compared to guzzler counterparts.  The specific example cited is the Prius' rating falling all the way from 55 to 46 MPG, while a large pickup only drops from 16 to 15.  Hey, a drop of 1 MPG is a lot better than 9 MPG, right?

Wrong this time.  That's not how we use fuel; what we actually use isn't miles per gallon, but gallons per mile.  Taking the difference of gallons per mile gives the real comparison.

Between the old and new driving cycles, the Prius's fuel consumption rises from 1/55 to 1/46 gallons/mile.  This is a difference of (1/46-1/55)=.00356 gallons/mile.  The pickup's consumption rises from 1/16 to 1/15, a difference of 0.00417 gallons/mile.  So in this case, a difference of 9 MPG is actually a smaller increase than a difference of 1 MPG.  The editoral gets it exactly backwards.

Why did the Blade editorialists make this mistake?  Perhaps because they don't use numbers much, and don't have their claims checked by anyone who is.  This kind of error leaps out at anyone who is familiar with differential calculus*.  What does this say about the breadth of education among journalists? A more sinister possibility is that they don't care about the facts, and hope to mislead a readership which is as bad with numbers as the editorialists made themselves look.  Either way, they did the public a disservice.

Which is a call for snarky limericks addressed to the Blade editors:

Though the EPA changed its routine
For the way that it tests each machine
  You went down the wrong path
  When you fix up your math
That old Prius still comes out more green.

* The differential of the function y=1/x (the relationship of MPG to fuel consumption) is -1/x2.  This means that the value of the function is changing, not 3 times, but 9 times as fast around x=15 than around x=45.  A calculus student would expect the 9 MPG change around 55 to make less difference than a 1 MPG change around 16.  Algebra makes it only a bit less obvious:  (1/x-1/y) = 3*(1/(3x)-1/(3y)).  Even checking with mere arithmetic would have caught it.  To get this wrong by accident requires a rather deep level of ignorance.  Is it past time to require at least Algebra II for all journalism majors... indeed, for any 4-year degree?  It sure wouldn't hurt.

"Green" diesel subsidies:  more $/ton than a carbon tax

RR writes about biodiesel companies complaining about big competitors.  What struck me wasn't the competitive aspect, but the huge cost of the subsidy per ton of CO2 avoided.

A gallon of diesel fuel is about 7.67 pounds; at 12/14 carbon by weight, it contains 2.98 kg of carbon.  Each 12 grams of carbon burns to make 44 grams of CO2.  A $1.00/gallon "green diesel" subsidy costs about 33.5¢/kg of carbon or about $91.50/tonne of avoided fossil CO2 emissions.

That figure is mighty high; the suggested cost of carbon taxes is much lower.  The Stern review puts the "social cost" of the marginal ton of CO2 at $85; if it cost more than that to avoid emissions, it wouldn't make any sense to do it.  An effective tax on CO2 would probably need to be no more than $30/ton.  Why are we paying 3 times that for diesel we can call "green"?

That's a rhetorical question, of course; we're paying it because the subsidy is less about the climate and even US balance of payments than bestowing legislative favors.  We could accomplish a great deal more for all of the putative goals by taxing fossil fuels more, and other things less.  The problem with that is that it has no narrow constituency which can be tapped for campaign contributions.  Is there any chance that our legislature will ever do the right thing instead of what gets them the biggest handouts?

The subsidy for green diesel is much greater, of course, than you estimate. You assume that green diesel emits zero carbon which neglects the carbon required to produce it from seed to tailpipe.

While you make a good point regarding EPA mileage figures, the way they are presented by EPA in the first place will be what influences consumers to the extent that they care aoubt gas mileage.

More important, perhaps, is the way we drive. Maybe the new figures reflect the way most people drive or the average person drives but it doesn't have to be that way. Perhaps, there shouldn't be one test but a range of tests depending upon different driving patterns. Let the customer decide which is relevant based on his//her desired or actual patterns.

Regarding the subdidy, I've seen figures that it is in the 5 to 6 billion range for all biofuels. How much carbon does that save and how much carbon could we save for a range of alternative investments, including solar power, wind power, insulation, conservation, high mileage autos, etc? An investment is only "good" as it relates to other alternative investments. One of the biggest fallacies I see is that all these initiatives like ethanol are treated in isolation. Once we have determined that is has a marginally positive EROEI, analysis is over.

These subopitmum investments occur because we pick winners. Actually, we don't even pick winners because in a true contest there are competitors with an equal playing field. This is like if we picked the winner of the super bowl based upon contributions of the NFL commissioner.

Another example is EVs. I love the idea of EVs for their cool factor. Maybe they would even cut carbon compared to ICEs. Maybe I might personally choose to spend thousands of extra dollars over my vehicle's lifetime to drive an EV. But do I want to impose millions of billions of dollars on society for my personal choice? Shouldn't I consider what those billions could do for a range of alternatives, including light rail?

“The problem with that is that it has no narrow constituency which can be tapped for campaign contributions. Is there any chance that our legislature will ever do the right thing instead of what gets them the biggest handouts?” Posted by Engineer-Poet


Antoinetta III

Neighborhood Electric Vehicles made of lightweight materials and a top speed of 35mph for local, non-highway use only make a good deal of sense. They are in production and available now. It is quite feasible to recharge them with a PV panel. For commuters, the best arrangement would be a rooftop PV panel & recharger at home, and an array of PV panels & rechargers at their employer's parking lot (the NEVs could be parked underneath the PV panels). There would be two battery packs, one that is left to recharge at home during the day, the other recharging at the employer's. Each night the owner swaps the battery packs out. For daily commutes of up to 5 miles or so each way the battery pack need not be all that big or expensive. For longer daily commutes we really do need efficient mass transit.

EVs that in size, weight, top speed, and cruise range are comparable to conventional ICE cars do not make a good deal of sense.

Unfortunately, NEVs are just a niche market, because everyone seems to be focused on this kooky idea of making an electric car that is just like the gasoline fueled models. Cars as we know them are not sustainable, it should be obvious that electric rail is going to be the only viable option for longer-distance trips. However, NEVs are a proven and available technology that could feasibly provide a renewables-powered mode of individual local transport in addition to walking and bicycles -- (especially for the handicapped and infirm for whom walking and bicycles will not be an option).

I ride an electric scooter the 3.5 miles to work and back every day. I can't go over 30 mph, but my commute takes less time than in my car, a 2004 Prius-- I often pass, and re-pass, all those SUV's that blow by me doing 45 in a 30 zone, just so they can get to the red light faster.

The best part of my commute is the nods I get from the motorcycle cops on their Electra Glides. And second best is the cost of the electricity for the commute, which works out to less than 35 cents.

Good for you. There are also rechargeable electric motor assist units that can be added on to bicycles and adult tricylces. These will be essential for making bicycles and adult trikes mainstream for older and less physically fit people, and especially for those of us living in topographically challenged (i.e., not flat) terrain.

The big problem is that we still haven't really worked out how to allow motor vehicles and various 2-wheeled and 3-wheeled modes of transport co-exist safely on most town and city streets. Bike lanes are nice where you have them, most places don't, and even those that do are not 100% safe from the 1-ton plus hunks of metal speeding by just inches away. MAny places do not even have sidewalks, meaning that pedestrians must take their chances along the edge of the street with motor vehicles, and occasionally getting killed in the attempt.

Until we have made widespread, almost universal investments in urban infrastructure to make pedestrian and cyclist safety a priority over motor cars, and until the volume of automobile traffic has been reduced and slowed down due to hyper-expensive gasoline, I thus believe that many people are going to find that NEVs will be the most viable transitional option for local travel, especially if they only have short commutes to work or to a mass transit node.

What if people can afford only one car and occasionally need to drive somewhere beyond the range of their NEV, somewhere that mass transit does not yet service? A network of car rental companies already exists, and could be extended into smaller towns and neighborhoods if the demand warrants. If someone can make an NEV serve for their daily needs, then they should find that renting an conventional automobile for their occasional longer trips is an economical option.

This probably doesn't apply to many larger American cities, but I've commuted in a (hilly) city of a million, and it isn't all that bad from a safety perspective. At least, as a cyclist, you're free to make it as safe as you want. Sticking to residential streets, using bike paths or sidewalks where possible/necessary, and lighting yourself up like the sun go a long way. Taking the same path as one would in a car... Well, that would be dangerous.

After moving to a small town from the city, I was nervous about riding my bike, but it was without reason. My experience in a small town is that it's much better for the cyclist. The commute is shorter, there is much less traffic, and the massive roads in the city, that are effectively impassible walls to cyclists and pedestrians, don't exist in small towns.

I'm not saying that I wouldn't like to see more bike lanes or paths, that would be very nice, but even without that urban investment, commuting by bike definitely doesn't have to be as dangerous as many make it out to be.

TN doesn't allow you to squeeze by on a motorcycle. do it all day long in many states including CA.

Quid Clarius Astris
Ubi Bene ibi patria

And if my scooter were a motorcycle, that would bother me-- but it is not. It's rated like a bicycle, which can lane share everywhere.

Does any of this get offset when costs of war are added

That's a great point about the carbon taxes. Most proposals for "cap and trade" or other ways of getting CO2 down end up costing quite a bit more than even rather pessimistic estimates of the true damages per ton of CO2 like the Stern report's $85. Even that figure is only about 50 or 60 cents a gallon of gasoline. So if we added that much as a Global Warming Tax it would spur conservation in a way that balances costs and benefits. Then do the same thing for power plants, so that coal fired electricity would be a few cents a kWH more expensive than cleaner sources like natural gas. It's a much more "gentle" way of getting society into the spirit of moderating CO2 output. Unfortunately it doesn't give politicians as much power to grant favors as does cap-and-trade, which will have a million loopholes and grandfather clauses that reward lobbyists. So we're more likely to see that one even though it is a clumsy instrument compared to the carbon tax.

Arguably, it's the system of favors set up by politicians which has kept us stuck for so long.  If we'd only had a gasoline tax instead of CAFE standards and ethanol subsidies, we'd probably have a lot less of the sprawl, guzzler trucks and other dysfunctional bits of the status quo.

The big problem is what if oil goes $65, $65, $65, $100 and there is no ready replacement. Ethanol doesn't have a good enough EROEI to close the loop and become independent of oil. Maybe green diesel is a better bet combined with controls on negatives like deforestation. In a perfect world the day the last oil refineries close then green diesel plants would open up next door, all financed by private capital. Doesn't seem to work that way hence the need for handouts. I think maybe a subsidy phaseout period (say 5-10 years) could be a compromise.

That is why we need taxes announced now that guarantee prices in the future approaching $100 per barrel and beyond. This is why it is irresponsible to simply wait until the price goes up so that the full marginal cost go to the oil companies and, primarily, foreign sources of supply.

Further, a significant part of this oil should be replaced by absolutely nothing. A significant, if not the majority part of the so called replacement needs to consist of conservation of doing without or doing with less.

That is the problem. The prevailing paradigm feeds into the inability to imagine a world with a lot less liquid fuels to run our vehicles. Let's not only imagine that world but put in place policies that hasten it not try to avoid it with fantasies of abundant biofuels.

I use half the oil that I did a few years ago. My overall well being and financial well being has increased without any increase in income. This was not a difficult transition . The transition for society will be more difficult but it must be done.

Maybe biofuels will play some limited role once we have maximized our efficiency and conservation. I don't know. But relying on subsidies for biofuels as the strategy for the future is folly. Waiting for those higher prices, not just $100 but $200 is just like waiting around for a slap beside the head.

There is never going to be a ready replacement based on our consumption and lifestyle patterns existent now. Apparently, we will do everything imaginable under the sun to avoid that basic reality.

You think you are going to have biodisel with controls on deforestation? Ain't gonna happen. Your perfect world is not going to happen, with or without subsidies. A subsidy phasout plan would mean we continue our growth paradigm full speed ahead. When we hit the brick wall, the crash will be much greater than if we voluntarily cut consumption starting now.

The problem with "doing without" is selling it.  IMHO, parking your Volt and VentureOne at your Passivehaus is a much more attractive vision than wearing heavy sweaters indoors all winter.  And for the moment, at least, we can build the Passivehausen.

Part of doing with less is having a Prius, which cuts gas use by 60% over the average vehicle. This is hardly wearing sweaters indoors all winter. While visions of future technology may be a good selling point, they divert us from what should be done now with existing technology. GM will milk the ICE installed in the big SUV or truck as long as possible. We don't have time to wait for the Volt; besides I don't think it makes sense to trust Lutz as far as we can throw him. I am would like to throw him.

Part of doing with less is better and more insulation and building and retrofiting houses now to use less energy. This has nothing to do with heavy sweaters, in winter, either.

I didn't mean doing without energy; I meant doing with less.

The high price of oil is already encouraging or forcing conservation. World oil consumption will likely flatline in this price regime, or perhaps drop. There are huge amounts of heavy crude and tar out there, and bio is coming on. Any energy problem is political, not geological. (Saudi Arabia has heavy deposits which dwarf its light deposits)
And you are right: We can attain higher living standards while cutting fossil fuel consumption, The plug-in hybrid vehicle will likely break the back of the oil cartel, if we can just get behind it in the United States. In Europe, they will move to plug-in diesel and 20 percent bio within 12 years. That will radically curtail fossil fuel consumption. Sheesh, flourescent bulbs and hybrids alone could ra
dically alter the world oil picture. Toss in some solar and bio, and it's a brand new ballgame.
Taxing fossil fuel going forward is a great idea, so as to transfer revenues to the US Treasury rather than to oil importers. Check out new cattle-ethanol-corn plants. Ethanol can be way energy positive, and I suspect we will see soon pig-potato-ethanol plants (in Russia, that's called vodka).
The future is actually very bright. There is so much technology out there now, let alone coming on. If the United States even develops a mediocre energy program, we will be able to hand our children a better world.

World oil consumption will likely flatline in this price regime,...

World oil consumption will decline. That is the whole point of "Peak Oil". The world can't consume more than it produces. The price is just noise.

The problem will solve itself.
But not in a nice way.

While ethanol is highly questionable, there is indeed a future for biodiesel. There is a considerable installed base of heavy construction equipment, farm equipment, utility vehicles, etc. that all run on diesel. Many other service vehicles such as fire engines, ambulances, police cars, utility service vehicles, etc. could be feasibly be replaced with diesels. There is also shipping, almost entirely diesel powered. We are going to need all of these to keep running, no matter what, and electric is unlikely to be a good option. Biodiesel is not going to be the answer to all of our transport needs, but it will be part of the future mix.

It's checkmate for our civilization and capitalist way of life. The only solution is to powerdown, unplug and localize.

I think the strategy for the keepers of the status-quo is biofuels plus remaining oil for 20 years. This has the advantage of keeping the present profitable and predictable infrastructure in place while still delivering the driving lifestyle we are used to. The idea then is to transition to hydrogen over 20 years or so when the bugs are worked out of hydrogen fuel cell cars. Hydrogen like petrol/ethanol can be branded and sold at oil company outlets like today.

So the vision of the future for corporations is until 2027 or so the vast majority of us will fill up our IC cars with petrol or biofuel while hydrogen cars are developed. After practical fuel cell cars are on the road we will transition to these cars over 20 years or so all the while remaining faithful to the major car and oil corporations.

To those of us that envision a very different world where public transport is encouraged, cities are changed to be walkable and electric cars, some with IC engines, are interacting with a smart grid to enable 70% or 80% renewable power this static vision of the future is a anathema.

One of my biggest objections to biofuels apart from the environmental destruction they are causing and the false hope that they provide is that they are a method of continuing on our merry path without the changes that have to be made. To me they are the familiar and dangerous world of nuclear power, fossil fuels and large corporations that some people are trying to preserve at all costs.

Our own Prime Minister (Australia's John Howard) is desperately trying to force Australia down this path. This is a country with abundant solar and wind resources and some of the original innovators in renewables that his government has managed to send off shore through lack of investment. Instead of renewables and smart grids it is clean coal and subsides to Liberal voting farmers for biofuels from sugar cane.

To stop the threat of widespread nuclear power we need a method of allowing more renewable power to be added to the grid. V2G cars can be a part of this however biofuel cars, unless they are plug in hybrids, cannot. Conventional cars modified to biofuels definately cannot and if this is the vision of the future then V2G will never get off the ground leaving renewables stuck below 25% penetration and allowing the nuke people a free reign.

My objections to biofuels are many but most of all I fear them to be a part of the continuation of the status-quo.

Your appraisal even explains the hysterical AGW denial of the current interests (it caught them with their pants down and invested in the wrong things while the oil boom was still supposed to be going), so you probably have something there.

Fortunately, PHEV's are coming.  The electric utilities will warm to the idea of eating the oil companies' lunch, and maybe we'll even get the Electranet.

Amen to that.

The oil and big 3 auto companies want to hold onto the status quo - but Silicon Valley has an opportunity to make a lot of money replacing both of them.

Who do you bet on succeeding - the past or the future ?

And remember that big oil doesn't control markets elsewhere (particularly the EU and Japan) the way it does in the US and Australia...

PHEVs may be coming, but in the shorter term, I think that the main thing that will happen from Toyota, for example, is incremental increases in motor size and battery size while keeping prices stable. This process could take years to get to what we think of as a PHEV but will give us benefits and less energy consumption now as opposed to waiting for some perfect battery like GM seems to be waiting for.

It should not so much be about the PHEV but wringing the maximum gas mileage out of the ICE even if its part of a HEV setup. With this strategy,maybe we don't get our 100 mpg vehicle but maybe we get a 75 mpg vehicle by late 2008 or 2009.

Things are improving as we speak; the best strategy is to immediately capitalize on those improvements rather than waiting for the silver bullet. This is why GM will be left in the dust, as usual. GM, though, is trying to sell biofuels as the way to go so we can forget requiring better gas mileage. Lutz made that explicit today which is why his company will sink even further behind Toyota.

The electric utilities will warm to the idea of eating the oil companies' lunch

I doubt it. At least for the next 15 years.

Almost every new power plant in the last 15 years has been NG, with a good admixture of wind in the last few years.

Replacing this investment (think suburbia) will take a while. Large additional loads will not be as welcome as you imagine.

OTOH, electrified rail should take not much more than 2% of US consumption.

Massive domestic conservation (electricity, NG and oil) will HAVE TO BE PART OF THE PACKAGE !

Best Hopes,


Sweden is a sparsely populated country with vast forrests. Recently swedens Farmer university SLU came out with an estimation, that it would take three(3) times Swedens forrests to substitute gasoline and diesel with biofuels, and then we would have nothing left for papermills and sawtimber.

Clearly biofuels will NEVER be nearly enough.


I think Ender is right about the 20 years, but the main reason is the belief among the elites that they might just barely keep things going for the rest of their lifetimes, and after that they don't care.

Google for an article in the WSJ by Peggy Noonan a couple of years ago, with Separate Peace as part of the title. She notes that the rich seem to be decoupling, getting ready for walling themselves off because they know the game is up. She notes that in an interview with Ted Kennedy, the latter suddenly got serious and said he's glad he's old enough not to have to live through the time when the wheels come off. She notes that if even people like him see that then it's quite serious. I noted at the time if people like Peggy Noonan could write so candidly about it in places like the WSJ then yes it was really quite serious :-)


We absolutely should be taxing fossil fuels more and other things less. In fact, that's what the Carbon Tax Center,, recommends on its web site. We need a steadily increasing carbon tax that sends a price signal to consumers that it's time to invest in energy efficient vehicles, appliances and equipment. Where's the constituency? First, those who care about global warming and our environment; there is a steadily increasing demand that we do something about global warming. Second, those who care about national security and our economy; there is continued concern about the national security and economic ramifications of our dependence on foreign oil and the fact that we are sending huge amounts of money overseas for oil. Third, those who don't like the payroll tax or can reduce their energy use and want to be rewarded for doing so (rewarded with more than just the savings from using less energy); a revenue neutral carbon tax will provide billions of dollars that can used to offset payroll taxes or simply rebated to all Americans. Those who use less energy will do best; those who don't learn to use energy efficiently will likely end up paying more. Of course, there should be some money set aside for those with low-incomes who need help using energy more efficiently. For details, please take a look at the Carbon Tax Center web site and help us spread the word.

EP, I posted this the other day. What is your take on it?

Expert panel reports to California Air Resources Board on status of both battery and fuel cell vehicle technology.

Tantalizingly close, but not quite ready for prime time. That's the conclusion of the latest Independent Expert Panel report to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) on the "Status and Prospects for Zero Emission Vehicle Technology."

The original report


They conclude that PHEVs won't be mass commercial (100,000's/year) till 2015 and full performance EVs until 2030. That seems pretty reasonable to me.

V2G tech sounds cool, but who pays for the cycle reduction of the Li-on battery IF, they take power out of the battery?
plugging in is one part of the scheme, removing is another. imho OCB

I hadn't seen it and don't have time to go over it in detail, but just a cursory look shows that lead-acid batteries have been ignored (Firefly Energy's stuff has great promise) and the Prius looks to go PHEV much sooner than their projections.  Venture Vehicles is talking about 2008 for first deliveries ("demo" quantities, but few obstacles to a rapid increase).

Years ago, amateurs were able to convert a Prius to PHEV operation using lead-acid electric bicycle batteries.  If gasoline cost enough, it would pay to do it in industrial quantities.  There are already a half-million Priuses in the USA and production is rising fast; if a PHEV variant is certified, 100k/yr could be a reality very soon.  How soon?  2010, maybe?  It depends on the price of oil.

Actually it is possible to buy NEVs right now. France's La Poste just put in a big order for tens of thousands of them. They are becoming street-legal in most communities. I am planning to buy one within the next year or two.

We saw a GEM El (utility pickup) in use as a postal vehicle last weekend. Now my wife wants one.

We produce about one pound of lead and one half pound of nickel per person per year. Over twenty years we could ramp up production of nickel and lead and build battery cars as the oil runs out, and we should. We can consider the cars as permanent, since Lead-Acid batteries and Nickel-Iron batteries are recycled when in large sizes for economic reasons.
The key thing is the 'over twenty years'. World lead and nickel production is already earmarked for other stuff. The high prices for nickel is already ramping up production. Lead prices haven't increased ten times in five years like nickel has, but lead production may not be as easy to ramp up as nickel production is.
Zinc-Bromine cells are toxic and Sodium-Sulfur is molten and combustable. We might design a decent Manganese-Zinc rechargable. Vanadium and Lithium are in way too short supply.
We should start doing this stuff right away, but it isn't enough.


If journalism majors had to take Algebra, there would be no journalism majors.

Then maybe we shouldn't have them.  AAMOF, maybe we should require a logic-heavy basic curriculum for accreditation of all 4-year programs.  Imagine how much better things would be if all those "journalists" out there had to demonstrate that they could think and analyze as well as blather...

I know, I'm dreaming.


I agree! That was the subtle meaning of my post.

I had this little glimmer of hope when my journalism major wifey signed up for Physics 101 last year. It was going to be part of a new career tack for her.

But then she dropped it. Too hard.

The problem will solve itself.
But not in a nice way.

But then she dropped it. Too hard.

And besides, the physics professor was proposing these radical fundamentalist ideas like conservation of energy, conservation of mass, and logical thought process.

What's wrong with these physics folk?

Don't they like ever get like real? Sheesh.

WRT the mileage reporting system perhaps the European example of reporting fuel use in liters/100km ought to be added. I suggest gal/1000 miles be used since it comes closer to average monthly car use.
WRT carbon cap-and-trade or carbon taxes I don't like either one. Neither concept will definitely reduce fossil fuel use the way a rationing system would. It is much easier to control inputs of fossil carbon than to control outcomes. A carbon tax offset with lower taxes on other things would still leave the same amount of money in consumers' pockets to buy the same amount of fuel. A better use of a carbon tax would be to give high mileage new cars to low income families stuck with old gas guzzlers. Cap-and-trade schemes are too vulnerable to schemers. To really work would involve a complex auditing system that would fail as much as attempts to eliminate insider trading on Wall St. The variables like how many trees need to be planted to offset a ton of coal use depends on the species of trees and the type of coal.
WRT electric cars I'm waiting to see how ZENN's planned use of EEStor's ultra caps work out. If they can match the energy density of lithium at the same cost then we have the solution to many EV problems. A battery that can be recharged as fast as it can discharged, no cold or hot weather limitations, and a lifetime measured in decades. IF successful it would end all the hype about hydrogen.

So would all you smart people please tell me why we don't talk about battery replacement rather than recharge in electric cars?

Takes me seconds to punch in recharged batteries to my flashlight or power tool, and could take the same time to do it in my toyota.

Just have battery stations like we have gas stations, and the car owner pays for the battery replacement, and never owns a battery. That gives the battery company the responsibility and opportunity to forge ahead of competition with better batteries, and the car owner gets the benefit of rapid battery progress as well as speedy recharge.

And the battery itself need not last for decades.

OF COURSE this requires standardized batteries, car battery compartments and all the rest. I weary of these simplistic objections stated as insuperable barriers. What actual solution doesn't require changes and improvements? The requirement for new things and ways does not deny their possibility or desirability.

Two words:  crash safety.

Just think. If these battery replacement centers, which could be a sideline for gas stations, were spread more or less equally throughout the country, then one could get all the way across the country with a relatively short range vehicle. Forget the PHEV; just go direct to the EV without the need for a long range. Of course, if we had a rational transportation system, we wouldn't be driving all the way across the country in the first place.

The possible downside is that paying for the replacement battery each time you needed a charge would make it perfectly obvious just how expensive batteries are on a per mile basis. However, if this scheme were combined with gas taxes in the order of $10 to $15 dollars, then the change over to electric would probably be rather rapid.

Such a system of battery replacement stations would require regulation of battery types, battery sizes, operating voltages, and how they are fitted to the vehicle. It certainly wouldn't be a self serve operation. It would be more like the quick oil change business with the cost of labor added into the depreciation costs of the batteries as well as the kwh used. The battery packs themselves will need to accurately display their state of charge when extracted or the customer will be paying for energy not used.

Well, thanks, people, for your replies. But they give a remarkable example of the challenges of human communication. I was certainly not thinking of the car driver paying for the battery at each replacement! The idea (which I and others have talked about several times before in detail), is that the battery service company owns the battery, service station and all the train of support required, and the car driver simply pays for the service gotten from the battery.

Competition would keep everybody relatively honest.

It certainly would HAVE to be a self-serve, or nobody would play. I drive up in my toyota, the robot figures out in a milisecond what I need, plugs out the depleted battery, pushes in the charged one, and off I go, my credit card showing an appropriate reduction for the service, certainly not for the battery, which in my case would be worth more than the car.

I am assuming the crash danger of a switch'n run car relative to one needing on-board charge is similar. One has to assume the structure in both meet the same standards. As to details, I leave it to the engineers who do that sort of design. Seems sort of an ordinary challenge to me.

But maybe you mean that if I prang my toyota and ruin somebody's good battery in the process, my survivers have to pay up. Right. It's a tough world.

I am assuming the crash danger of a switch'n run car relative to one needing on-board charge is similar. One has to assume the structure in both meet the same standards.

The demands on the swappable system are much more difficult.  A permanently installed battery system can be put in less-vulnerable parts of the vehicle:  over the rear axle, in front of the firewall, in the central tunnel, built into the floor.  It can easily be tied strongly to the structure.  A swappable pack is going to have a few latches which must come un-done on demand, and it has to be easily accessible.  The accessible parts of the car (front and back, mostly) are also the most likely to be damaged.

There's also the additional weight of the carrier structure for the swappable pack, which does not contribute to the strength of the car.

If you want to go with a "refueling" system, go whole hog.  I suggest zinc-air fuel cells and a tank full of zinc slurry instead of hydrocarbons.

I can see a bunch of engineers in a idea session spilling out gobs of ways to do this. One- push the battery up from below into a nice strong boxy part of the chassis.

But anyhow- if by some chance we get serious about any of this, it will be a lot of fun raking over all the possibilities, building prototypes and testing them in real world situations. May the best one or two win. Problem is, of course, we aren't serious yet. Maybe when gas is $5/gal. Make that 8.

BTW, I am still trying to get honest performance numbers from that 1kW free piston stirling generator- no budget, no people, no time. But runs great.

Engineer Poet has hit the nail on the head with the swappable battery issue. Take a look at the fork trucks in a factory, warehouse, or store sometime. They are swappable, but it is NOT EASY because of the weight of one big battery (vs a bunch of smaller ones as used in curret EV conversions)

But being a design engineer myself I know that that doesn't mean it's a dead end - it just means that the most evident appraoch has big problems. Usually the most evident approach is equal to "most like today's way of doing it".

So that means we need to think of a different way of doing it...

One possibility is small BATTERY TRAILERS. Very easy to swap for a freshly charged trailer, allows a lighter vehicle frame/suspension, can do roadside service for the forgetful driver that runs out of gas.

Another possibility would be a vehicle redesign to include a BATTERY WELL at the rear of each vehicle that is open to the air for fumes to escape and to allow the batteries to pulled straight up and out for swapping. Trust me, they would be much easier to handle with a small crane than with the push/pull sideways removal mechanisms that most fork trucks use. The frame of the vehicle would need to be integral with the reinforced well, and the well could be lined with flexible containment material for crash safety.

Think out of the box :o)

Greg in MO