Battery Performance Deficit Disorder

This is a guest post by Tom Murphy. Tom is an associate professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego. This post first appeared on Tom's blog Do the Math.

Batteries fail—as certainly as death and taxes. Rechargeable batteries at least offer the possibility of repeating the cycle, so are in this sense more like recurrent taxes than death. But alas, the story cannot repeat indefinitely. One cheerful thought after the other, yes? But wait, there’s more… Add to their inevitable demise an overall lackluster performance in battery storage technology, and we have ourselves the makings of a blog post on the failure of batteries to live up to their promises.

To set the stage, the specific energy of gasoline—measured in kWh per kg, for instance—is about 400 times higher than that of a lead-acid battery, and about 200 times better than the Lithium-ion battery in the Chevrolet Volt. We should not expect batteries to rival the energy density delivered by our beloved fossil fuels—ever.

A recent article in APS News reported on an emerging view that batteries are failing to live up to our dreams in the electric car realm:

Despite their many potential advantages, all-electric vehicles will not replace the standard American family car in the foreseeable future. This was the perhaps reluctant consensus at a recent symposium focused on battery research.

I was somewhat stunned to see this article. I am accustomed to seeing articles emphasizing the possible—albeit often improbable, in my mind. Also appearing in the article is a quote from Paul Alivisatos, an accomplished physicist, summarizing the need for further research:

“It remains true today, as in the past, that we need a fundamental understanding of the physics of how energy-conversion processes take place, at a much deeper level, in order to achieve a truly sustainable energy future.”

Rephrasing: the physics we currently understand is not sufficient to deliver the kind of battery we need to make the future work without fossil fuels. Red flags go up for me when it is our understanding of physics rather than practical engineering challenges standing in the way—as serious as the latter can be. Physics limitations instantly present a much taller order to overcome.


I’m sure everyone has tales of how batteries have let them down—ranging from the merely annoying to life-threatening situations. I find that I am more often disappointed than pleasantly surprised when it comes to batteries. Here are some examples:

  • I frequently go for months without driving my truck. The battery is often dead when I try to start it. Lead-acid batteries only get worse if left in a discharged state, so it’s a runaway process. Fortunately, I live on a hill and can often roll-start my way back onto the road.
  • The rechargeable NiMh batteries I use for small electronics devices are rated for 1000 charge cycles. I’ll bet I only get about 15–20 cycles before noticing a serious degradation in performance.
  • The first set of lead-acid batteries I used with my home-built solar photovoltaic system only lasted two years before showing substantially reduced capacity. A newer set is still in good shape after 2.5 years, but the drop in performance can be pretty fast, I have found.
  • Lead-acid batteries for cars tend to last 5–6 years, often failing with little warning, in many cases resulting in being stranded.
  • New laptop batteries seldom fail to delight their owners in how much longer the charge lasts compared to the previous generation batteries. But give it a few years and it is not uncommon to be operating at half the original capacity.
  • Batteries left in a device for a long time can develop corrosive crud around the terminals, often in hard-to-clean places.

A counter-example is the occasional amazement I experience when alkaline batteries in a device that has not been utilized in years crackle to life after all that time—if the batteries haven’t gooped themselves up, that is.

Energy-Power Tradeoff

The chief measure of a battery, in my mind, is how much energy it can store. But it makes sense to adjust this concept to the size or mass of a battery. Obviously, a more massive and voluminous battery can pack in more energy. So for a given mass (we’ll take a kilogram), we want to know how much energy a battery can store, called specific energy.

At low power demand (sipping rather than gulping), lead-acid batteries tend to hold about 30–40 Wh per kilogram (one Watt-hour is equivalent to 3600 J, or 0.001 kWh of energy). Ni-MH batteries score 45–60 Wh/kg, and Lithium-ion gets about 120–180 Wh/kg. Part of the reason for Li-ion’s better performance is that lithium itself is lightweight; by volume lead-acid has about 40% the capacity of Li-ion. Gasoline, at 36.6 kWh/gal, has a specific energy of 13,800 Wh/kg. Off the charts!

As power demand increases, the battery flags, and will not offer as much total energy. Obviously, the battery discharges faster under heavier power demand, but the effect is exacerbated by less actual energy available. This is best shown on a Ragone plot, in which specific energy is plotted against specific power.

Characteristics of various battery chemistries, plus a few other technologies thrown in. Diagonal lines indicate time to discharge. The various electric vehicle goals indicate maximum power desired, but discharge times only apply if the maximum power is sustained until complete discharge, which is not the way we drive (most of us!). Plot courtesy of V. Srinivasan.

Note that the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) exceeds both specific energy and power goals for vehicles (the mass must include engine weight, rather than the fuel by itself). Fuel cells provide decent specific energy, but typically insufficient power (per kilogram). Capacitors, including super-capacitors, discharge super-fast with lots of power, but have very low specific energy.

As useful as this plot is, it does not convey the whole story. While it looks like Li-ion meets the the goal for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, this does not necessarily remain true if demanding 5,000 deep charge cycles, a ten-year lifetime, a moderately inexpensive product, etc.

Spider Diagrams

The U.S. Department of Energy teamed up with the automotive and battery industries to define benchmark performance targets for batteries that would result in electric vehicles being competitive with ICE vehicles on a mass-produced basis. The resulting coalition was called USABC/FreedomCAR, and their various target requirements are available here, with a useful summary presentation also available. Below is a subset of the target parameters pulled from these sources, and I have also thrown in the Chevrolet Volt for a side-by-side comparison to current capabilities.

The 300 mile (580 km) range for the pure electric vehicle (EV) comes from the presentation rather than the official USABC source, and does not look right to me based on the 40 kWh battery size. Electric cars typically need 30 kWh of storage for each 100 miles of driving (about what the Volt, Leaf, and Tesla achieve, based almost entirely on air resistance—not battery technology). So I would expect the 40 kWh battery pack associated with the EV goal to deliver half as much range as what’s in the table.

Some of the figures for the Volt deserve explanation, since many cannot be directly looked up, and require inference and calculation. Firstly, the 2013 model battery pack has a capacity of 16 kWh, but only 10.5 kWh are made available so-as to avoid potentially damaging deep discharges. Meanwhile, I have no choice but to use the entire battery pack mass and volume (197 kg; 100 L) in conjunction with the partial 10.5 kWh charge in calculating energy densities, because available energy density is what’s important. For lifetime and cycle computations, I use the 100,000 mile, 8-year guarantee on the battery, together with the estimated 37 miles per gallon (MPG) on gas alone and 98 MPG for combined gas/electric. This implies an expectation that about 62,000 of the 100,000 miles will be driven under battery power. If recharges typically happen after 30 of the 38 miles are spent (corresponding to 80% of available capacity), this translates to about 2,000 deep cycles. Perhaps this is pessimistic in the sense that most guarantees correspond to a minimum expected performance. But offsetting this is the fact that the USABC targets are specified for end-of-life performance, whereas I use the beginning-of-life numbers for the Volt. General Motors estimates a 10–30% degradation at the end of 8 years (100,000 miles).

A comparison between actual performance and target performance can be cleverly displayed graphically in a “spider chart,” as illustrated below for the plug-in hybrid performance as of May 2011 (I first saw such diagrams in a presentation by Venkat Srinivasan, in 2008).

Figure from an LBL news article showing current battery performance relative to PHEV targets (blue line). The story is dominated by underperformance on many criteria.

We can make our own spider diagram for the Volt, based on the numbers in the table. Please excuse the sub-optimal placement of labels, etc.

Spider chart for the Volt in relation to the USABC/FreedomCAR targets, using my estimates for several parameters, as described in the text. Power performance exceeds the values plotted, so the points are simply placed on the peripheral rim as an indication of sufficiency.

Besides looking like some sort of cool fighter jet in a dive, the diagram highlights performance deficits on several fronts. It is not terribly hard to get lots of current out of a battery, translating to more-than-adequate power performance. But all other measures fall short of the goals by varying degrees. The APS article intones that we should not hold our collective breaths to see a march of progress in lithium-ion technology at a level that would satisfy this (still hungry) spider. In practice, improving one aspect of performance tends to decrease another somewhere else (see the piece by Srinivasan for more on this principle). So it’s not a simple matter of advancing on all fronts independently and incrementally.

Full Cost of Electric Drive

Let’s say you pay $0.10 per kWh for electricity delivered to your home. Charging the Volt battery with 10.5 kWh at 90% efficiency to replace the drain from 38 miles of driving will cost $1.17. If using gasoline alone, the same car uses about a gallon of gas to go the same distance. Let’s put the cost of that gallon at $4.00. Electric looks pretty good, at these rates!

Now figure in the estimated price of the Volt battery at $8,000 (a disputed number, but GM has not revealed the actual cost). If we get 62,000 miles of electric drive out of the battery, we will spend $1950 on electricity for charging, plus $8000 for the battery. That’s $9,950. The same distance on gasoline would cost $6500. Not an order-of-magnitude difference, but still gasoline currently wins.

If the price of gasoline goes up (it will; but so will electricity), and the cost of the battery goes down (it should), the two may cross. But there are other added costs to the Volt (or hybrids in general) besides just the battery. After all, hybrids can’t jettison the ICE, and require an electric drive train to boot. Even the fact that the space occupied by the battery forces bucket seats in the back of the Volt is a “cost” that must be paid.

Beyond Cars

Batteries are, of course, useful for purposes other than transportation. While transportation hardship may be the most pressing problem in the decades following peak petroleum production, solar and wind resources cannot scale to be very large without a viable storage solution.

I worked out in an earlier post how large a lead-acid battery would have to be to support the entire U.S. energy demand in the presence of solar/wind intermittency. It turned out that our estimates for recoverable lead in the world do not satisfy the need. Lithium and Nickel are even more constrained. It is possible that some other approach like sodium-sulfer or zinc-air can step in. But these are already relatively well-known options and have not blazed a wide path into storage over the past few decades.


Don’t get me wrong: even though I dwell on the shortcomings of batteries in this post, I still hold a net positive view. When it’s dark at my house, my refrigerator, television, computers, and internet goodies are all powered by stored sunlight in lead-acid batteries. My laptop battery gets me through many a bus ride and an occasional airplane ride. Batteries really do work, and provide value. Moreover, electric cars are more than a notion or fantasy: they are actually on the road getting people where they want to go. Despite their lackluster performance next to fossil fuel storage, batteries still beat the pants off of mechanical or gravitational storage.

And even though I might appear to be picking on the Chevy Volt by highlighting its deficiencies, I actually rather like the design point (electric vs. gasoline range hits the sweet spot, in my view). In fact, I was half way to buying one. By half way, I mean that if the price were cut in half, I would surely have one now.

The real point is that batteries fall pathetically short of our customary fossil fuel energy storage medium. When we wake up to a declining global availability of petroleum, we won’t just switch over to electric cars. We may not be able to collectively afford such a transition, given the huge up-front costs in both money and energy. Where will the prosperity come from? If oil shortages drive recession in the usual fashion, expensive options may be off the table.


The same author of the APS article referenced above wrote an extended version, worth a look.

What about LiPo batteries? Will they not work for electric vehicles? I know people who use them in electric bikes and have a lot of success (long range/high speed). They are also used in R/C cars/planes...

There is no need to think about new battery technology in order for the EV to become practical. There is a far better EV model - Better Place. They have just completed the entire infrastructure in Israel and are on their way to finish their second country - Denmark

This system is already proving to be more cost effective than not only other EV business models but more cost effective than current fossil fuel powered passenger cars.

I guess Better Place is kind of like the Ron Paul of the transportation industry - it just makes more sense but people don't want to hear about it. Crazy!

The idea is that no new technology is needed. However, if better battery technology does finally make it to full production, Better Place can simply integrate that into their model and run with even lower costs.

Remember, recharging a full sized EV in 5 minutes to go over 100 miles or so takes a tremendous amount of power, like that powering any large skyscraper. Battery swap is just much better, faster, safer and uses existing battery technology. It just works and it works well. All a country needs is one week's worth of fossil fuel spending to pay for the initial infrastructure. One week's worth.

Of course, resistance will be massive until Israel has been running this model for many years and it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

China is also moving fast on this technology and once they go all in, everyone else must follow, or risk falling behind. Running the world's transportation systems on fossil fuels was a fun but short-term activity. It will be impossible to sustain even current activity, yet alone predicted growth (which will never happen) for any significant time period.

The idea of standardizing and making batteries swappable makes too much sense. It solves many problems and allows batteries to be charged off peak, as well as provide load balancing for intermittent generation (every 'battery station' would be a grid storage station). It also addresses the issues of battery testing/evaluation, obsolescence and upgrades. Lease the batteries, own the car.

Every time the battery swap subject comes up here people go off on easily overcome silly objections.. I don't know why this one brings so much flak, or worse, flat out dismissal. After all, don't I swap out batteries all the time in my portable hand drill?

Naturally, I keep designing new swap arrangements in my head for amusement. My current favorite, not original by any means, is a smart trailer, owned by the battery company, having all the latest stuff, including, if one desires, an IC engine optimized for battery charging. Trailer with enough brain and powered wheel to allow brainless parking by the car driver.

If the automobile battery was as inexpensive and light weight as a battery for a hand drill, then one could own several and swap them. It will not work so well when swapping them for a battery owned by someone else. For example, I will not swap my empty propane tank for a full one because mine does not leak and is not chipped up and rusty like all the others. When people get a battery with half the storage capacity of a new one and can not get to their destination, they will learn quickly that swapping will be a ripoff.

"... and light weight as a battery for a hand drill.."

"...When people get a battery with half the storage capacity of a new one and can not get to their destination..."

You were way too kind in both of these statements.

First off, the battery packs in EV's are going to weigh several HUNDRED pounds. The swaps are obviously going to have to be done with robots or power equipment because once you go over about 30 pounds, "kerjiggering" by human hands becomes difficult. The swap will likely have to be done from underneath the car on the outside because anything else would be too much of a compromise to pull off and emptying the entire contents of your trunk/hatch to swap a battery isn't going to happen. So the batteries are going to be subjected to the elements more than in a built-in design...especially those batteries like the Volt which have an elaborate thermal-regulation system. The extra engineering to design the hookups and the battery retention system are probably going to be a nightmare - especially if they get gunked up and fail from being under the car and subject to salt, dirt, and corrosion.

On the second issue...just wait until you swap in a battery that has suffered damage during its former swap and has a bad cell that doesn't present itself until partial discharge. I don't know about anyone else, but I've certainly had batteries that act fine when fully charged, and read full voltage, but when a load gets put on them they drop like a rock - failure. When you lose a cell in a serial're dead in the water and it can come out of nowhere. And if you don't think that the guy down at the battery swap joint isn't going to blame you for the damage somehow - boy howdy do you not know people.

People in warehouses swap forklift lead acid batteries weighing x00s of pounds every day. The batteries are also often leased and can be exchanged.

I do agree it would cause a whole lot of problems. Cars would not have the utility and performance we are used to.

Well, as I said, lots of flak and easily countered objections. Good Grief.

But I am not gonna do any work to reply. Let Better Place do it.

I am spending my time and having fun with biomass burning stirlings. Talk about really stupid ideas! Can't beat that one- right?. Will report later.

Meanwhile, I am running my house on one when the sun is dim and not up to the job. Like right now.

People in warehouses swap forklift lead acid batteries weighing x00s of pounds every day. The batteries are also often leased and can be exchanged.

Yes, and ground support equipment at airports also contain some EV's with battery swap. However in these cases i) all the vehicles and batteries are same, ii) the consequences of the odd bad battery slipping in are small, iii) thermal protection of the battery is not required because range matters little or the environment is benign.

I have no doubt that swapping EV batteries would be functional for a corporation that has the money for upfront purchases, a fleet of identical vehicles and owns all of the batteries. So rental car agencies, a taxi service, a warehouse with forklifts or a pizza delivery service could manage with swapping batteries. The problem I see is with personal EV's. Do you honestly think a person who just purchased a new EV is going to swap his new, discharged battery for a used, charged battery at a service station? He will never see that new battery again. To counter this, the battery will have to be leased instead of purchased. However, leasing reminds me of General Motors revoking the leases on the EV-1, ripping the cars from the hands of "owners" willing to purchase them and crushing them. The lessor could easily follow Hewlett Packard's lead and make the battery obsolete on their schedule forcing the driver to purchase a new car.

Trust the corporation? No way. Consequently I would not lease the battery nor EV. My strategy would be to purchase a new EV with a new battery, recharge the battery myself and, after the battery has aged reducing its storage capacity, swap it at a service station. Get it? I would dump my bad battery on the business owner hoping to get a newer, better one.

To counter this, the battery will have to be leased instead of purchased. However, leasing reminds me of General Motors revoking the leases on the EV-1,

Yet people go on leasing millions of vehicles every day. And they drive up to gasoline stations they've never used before and put ~ten gallons of a explosive fuel in their vehicles without a second thought, though they can not be positive of its makeup.

Bad Fuel Scare Likely Over, Heights Mechanic Says

Did Recalled Gasoline Find its Way Into Your Tank?

BP Promises Refunds For Bad Gas

The point being I do not think battery swaps are that big a stretch for the vehicle ownder compared to what they do now.

With a level of standardization, swappable batteries is quite doable. Vehicles could have the battery tray low in the chassis (low center of gravity) much the way fuel tanks are, with cooling and protection incorporated. A robot attendant reads an RID tag or bar code for the vehicle, extracts the discharged battery and replaces it with a suitable fully charged replacement; just slides it in. We have robotic car washes, why not robotic battery attendants? Battery stations could even offer the latest/greatest higher capacity battery, with a free cup of joe ;-) Smart phone apps would guide drivers to the nearest station that has the correct battery for their vehicle, at the best price. This could even be programmed into the cars GPS system: "find battery". Standardization is the key.

This, of course, would require an inventory of multiple batteries for each vehicle, but as the technology advances, it would allow more frequent diagnosis, maintenance, full charging, upgrading, re-manufacturing and recycling of batteries; a new industry to eventually replace the millions of fuel pumps and stations we currently have. The problem is getting from here to there, and that our civilization is in the process of undergoing a major reset. [sighs]

It is not only doable but done! Check out Better in Israel. They are fully up and running with great cars (Renault Fluence), swap stations, pricing model, balanced network, clean energy contracts, etc. It is alive and they are already selling cars in two countries to customers.

EasyBat Consortium which is presumably setting switchable battery standards for Europe. But note that only Renault is a member.

You guys are commenting on a system you didn't look up to find even the most basic of introductions. Yes, they have full swap stations that use robots, very much like a car wash. It takes less than 5 minutes (they were doing demos of less than one minute). It is fast, easy and has been working great in test swap stations for years now. Even the Japanese give it extremely high marks for their electric taxi project.

Just check it out on YouTube and watch a few Shai Agassi videos. Then come back with your criticisms and comments, most of which have already been addressed in painful detail. Like it or not, it is up and running smoothly and cheaply. It is just a matter of time and adoption rate.

"...very much like a car wash."

Funny you should mention that...

and "Better Place" has a HOLE in the floor...

I love how immaculate that facility looks. Just wait until this guy pulls up for his fresh battery...
"Fresh battery please"

"...high marks for their electric taxi project."

Professional drivers. Meet "real world conditions":

"...very much like a car wash."

Funny you should mention that... ...

So is that to suggest automatic car washes will never be viable? ;)

The swap will likely have to be done from underneath the car on the outside ... So the batteries are going to be subjected to the elements more than in a built-in design...especially those batteries like the Volt which have an elaborate thermal-regulation system. The extra engineering to design the hookups and the battery retention system are probably going to be a nightmare - especially if they get gunked up and fail from being under the car and subject to salt, dirt, and corrosion.

I completely agree. This is one of the most fundamental problems with the battery swap approach. Performing an automatic break/make electrical connection is one thing but a fluid or other thermal connection is another. I think the problem is a solvable but so far has received only so much hand waiving by players such as Better Place and Renault. I suspect they are aware of the problems and thus so far have only rolled out a battery with no thermal system (like the Volt's) and only in arid Israel where the absence of thermal regulation is tolerable. For the same reason I predict we'll never see BP's planned roll out in Denmark, not with the existing design.

On the second issue...just wait until you swap in a battery that has suffered damage during its former swap and has a bad cell that doesn't present itself until partial discharge. ...

I don't think that objection is nearly as valid. First, battery testers can be built (and are) that can go along way to detecting bad cells. In the swap station a pulse load can be placed on the battery. Second, the comparison has to be made against the existing liquids refueling system which is also not perfect. Nearly every day on average someone, somewhere, picks up a bad load of fuel, usually water contaminated that can not only leave the driver stranded but damage or even destroy the engine.

We're used to such problems so its ignored as consequence of modern life. In defense of the liquid fuels system is its robustness in case such failures, i.e. a walk of few blocks with a one gallon gas can or a call to AAA solves the problem. EV's, whether battery swap or otherwise, have no such side-of-the-road solution for the bad or depleted battery, aside from the expensive tow.

"The swap will likely have to be done from underneath the car on the outside..."

I don't see that. Cars can be designed with standardized compartments accessible from the rear, with cooling and protection designed in. There's no need for the battery to exposed to the elements at all. Arrange the cells so that the battery set is long and flat, and just slides in behind an articulating bumper, or beneath the bumper. Heck, the battery could have it's own airbag.

I don't see that. Cars can be designed with standardized compartments accessible from the rear, with cooling and protection designed in.

Agreed, and anyone who has ever stacked palettes in a warehouse using a forklift can certainly imagine how they might be very easily swapped in and out in less than a few minutes...

Do you guys realize that the infrastructure is already completed in Israel and the network in Denmark is nearly complete already? Cars are already being sold to customers! It reminds me of the naysayers a few years ago saying it would be impossible to do and that the frame of the car would not support the weight.

Just go to the just renovated Better Place website and check out the videos. It shows everything, including the washing station that pre-washes the battery pack prior to swap. They have tested in every climate and have solutions for most conditions.

Of course, the system will evolve, just like the ICE has evolved over the past 100 years. It will take time to get it right for every situation but fundamentally, there is no deal breaker. It uses current technology and don't worry, humans have very good mechanical engineering abilities. The thermal system and the connections will not be too difficult to overcome. Yes, there will be problems but it wont cause Better Place to fold the tent and go home. No way.

So, go ahead and say it won't work and brush the idea aside. The rest of us will just watch the system working on a national scale and enjoy reading about the new milestones reached.

Over 500,000 miles and more than 14,000 swaps already logged and growing quickly. Impossible? Hardly.

Gosh, Tank, some of us have been touting reasons why it can work, not "brushing the idea aside". The engineering is fairly straight forward. Too bad our systemic predicaments go far beyond getting to Grandma's house on Sunday, or how and where to put a battery in a car.

the network in Denmark is nearly complete already?

Nearly complete? No it is not, not in Denmark.

Yes, they have 20 swap stations to complete and they are all well into construction. What do you think that latest 50 million dollar line of credit is for? Don't take my word for it, just listen to their presentation. They are already selling cars on that network. It is just a question of finishing up the stations and adding them once they are fully tested. Not a big deal considering they already did that in Israel. Just more of the same. Why do you think they are so far behind? Where is your evidence? What did your buddy at the bar tell you?

You have to agree that is is not a technical issue at this stage, nor a financial one (have the capital and credit to complete the network). It would be political, regulatory, burocratic, etc. Yes, those issues are a huge pain in the butt but far from making this a deal breaker, especially since the government wants the green respect card.

Of course, most of Europe is in deep crisis and that may stop everything in it's tracks. Hopefully a few countries will complete their EV networks and the concept will be fully realized to show it works well.

Even though we now live in a negative-sum world (winners like India and China can only arise because other countries are declining faster - net energy is in irreversible decline) that does not mean there will not be pockets of success and privileged groups enjoying the remaining resources. We must remember that 33 billion barrels of oil / year is still a tremendous amount of energy. In twenty years we will still be capable of producing at lest 20 billion barrels of oil / year, more than enough for a substantial global economic system to thrive. The set of rich people, corporations and countries will get smaller but won't go away for a long time. It will take 150 years for the low point and balance to be reached. Until then, we humans will burn everything, everywhere. It is in our yeast-like nature.

the network in Denmark is nearly complete

they have 20 swap stations to complete

Which is it?

Don't take my word for it, just listen to their presentation.

Why should I believe more hype from Better Place?

Not a big deal considering they already did that in Israel. Just more of the same.

Hardly. Denmark is very different: i)it doesn't get cold or snow in Israel and the swappable batteries in Renault EVs don't have significant thermal management as do, say, Chevy Volts; ii) Israel is effectively an island for purposes of ground transportation which lends itself nicely to a network which BP by stated policy will not support car charging outside of. One can not drive a Renault-Better Place EV out of Denmark into the rest of Europe and return in the same vehicle absent a tow truck. There's no engineering reason why that must be so (charge at grandmothers house in Paris, say), but BP has purposely prevented this possibility by policy.

Why do you think they are so far behind? Where is your evidence?

The evidence is the BP CEO who stated back on September 15, 2009 at the Frankfurt auto show that Denmark's network would be *deployed* in 2011. Not in test, or in beta, but deployed.

What do you mean, "which is it"? You understand that the fully completed infrastructure is 20 swap stations right? But, you don't need 20 fully operational stations to get going, right? Also, if you have 20 houses under construction you expect them to be completed within a reasonable time-frame. Right? Well, think of it like that - 20 in total, more than enough already in operation and they are already selling cars to customers. Already selling cars! The remaining stations are under construction AND have full funding for completion. I just don't understand your argument and it seems very petty.

So, you are suggesting that in cold weather the Better Place system will not work? That is not what their testing has already shown. Remember, they have had a station and cars running there past at least one winter already. They are testing in Canada as well as China. Do you think they didn't think about the cold weather issue? Seriously?

lol. You are now saying the entire endevor is a failure because Shai Agassi said way back in 2009 that it would be deployed in 2011? I have seen just about every video produced by them as well as the interviews and he clearly stated at least two years ago that Israel would be the first completed and that Denmark would be second. Additionally, he said the system in Israel would be in testing for a year before selling to customers. So, his milestones have been almost perfectly on target, for a completely new concept that took over four years of hard planning involving many completely new hardware and softare systems. Man, you are a tough critic. Have you ever been involved in building a complex system before? Just about everything is thrown at you, from physics to politics and regulations. They were delayed a few months in Israel due to the difficulty getting building permits for their swap stations. So, you think they are now a failure for that? Some people are just made to complain and be negative. Give it a chance, it is an amazingly ambitious project that should at least be given a reasonable chance.

Regardless, just sit back, and complain. The project will move forward anyway. Humans will learn much from this project. Perhaps you think we should just continue to frack for our fossil fuels and that will keep us going forever? Perhaps drive (or push) our vehicles into the lakes and start to raise draft animals starting this year?

Our transition away from fossil fuels will be a 150 year project (with possible delays, should I be off by a few months or years). It will be ugly and people will be angry and we just might lose most of the civilized manors we enjoy today. We really need the shotgun approach when finding new solutions to get us through this era. In the end, energy and other resource use will be much lower. However, it is not time to give up just yet or burn all the offices and head back to the farms. Not yet. We humans will be dragged kicking and screaming back to a life of farming. Most would rather fight wars and those will also be on the event ticket.

What do you mean, "which is it"?

I mean that when you originally said "the network in Denmark is nearly complete" but knew otherwise you were being a flag waiving fan and (intentionally) disingenuous.

[Denmark]... more than enough already in operation

Blatantly false.

his milestones have been almost perfectly on target

You have seen facts to the contrary now so that statement is also disingenuous.

...That is not what their testing has already shown.

There is no published material on what BP cold weather testing has shown. Waiving the flag for press releases and pep rallies can be fun, but it is no substitute for analysis of real tests.

It sounds like it's even more fun to heckle and make impudent demands from the safety of the sidelines.

They've got wheels on the ground, and some brick and mortar in place. Sure, it's not final proof of anything, but it's not vaporware anymore either.

So do Andrea Rossi and the 'E Cat' cold fusion crowd, though I don't even think Rossi's save the world claims are as grandiose as Agassi's. Rossi certainly does not have his hand out for as much money as Agassi ($700 million in loans last I looked).

Transparent comparison. Suits your needs, but I don't see a lot of substance to give them this equivalence. There are a lot of startups around, but few are as roundly challenged and dismissed as Rossi, et al.

Agassi is trying something really ambitious, but he's not selling a perpetual motion machine.

From my viewpoint better place is not doing very well in Denmark - except from their prominent business residence in central copenhagen.

They were expected to sell 5000 cars in Denmark during 2012 - so far they have sold about 300. I wouldnt call that a success where there is about 2.2 million ICE cars in Denmark.

Let's debate again in a year or two. Give it some time. How many 5 year projects have you been involved in that worked perfectly on the initial target completion date. How many 5 year projects on Earth have perfect completion and no delays when dealing with technical, political, economic, etc. issues?

The Better Place model is a sound idea and it will need some time. Giving up so early would be the real shame. Telling people it is a failure so early in the game sounds like the person bet wrong in the beginning and is now hoping to be right. A person that has never worked on a long-term complex project.

Placing a 250kg mass in the most rearward part of the vehicle will have significant impact on vehicle maneuvering. Rear mount also requires rear impact survival. Modern vehicle front and rear zones are ~collapsible crush zones. Prism batteries don't crush.

Quite solvable. The battery simply slides forward to the center of the vehicle. Besides, current fuel tanks are often near the rear, inside the crush-protected zone.

I was in Beijing recently and noticed that the delivery vehicles at the pizza and burger joints (Pizza Hut!, PapaJohns!,MacDonalds! and knockoffs) were using electric scooters ("motorcycles") that had swappable batteries. When the delivery guy came back from a delivery he pulled out the battery and swapped it for another before heading off for then next delivery. I watched this activity as a dined on pizza and beer one night. It was all part of the process. I noticed that the batteries in the electric scooters used by the local vendors (small shops lining the street) tended to be recharged in place - I needed to be careful to avoid tripping over the wires on the sidewalks. I am not sure how widespread this battery swap is throughout all China, but I understand that electric rather than gas-powered scooters are required in Beijing for pollution control.

Battery exchange system dream wains as Renault favours fixed systems in future EVs

This is in Australia, but has Better Place lined up any other vehicle manufacturers?

Tankingthinker wrote,"recharging a full sized EV in 5 minutes to go over 100 miles or so takes a tremendous amount of power, like that powering any large skyscraper." I don't know about powering a large skyscraper as a comparison as I've never done a back of the envelope figure, but when I imagine 10 or 20 electrics at once at an interstate fuel stop trying to do the same thing, I get your point. I've always thought "Better Place" was a little nutty, but now not so much. I get the point and thank you for it.

A highway lane can handle 2000 cars per hour at peak or 1500 when congested. Its about 100 miles from South Bend to Chicago. Taking the lower figure, and estimating that about 50% of the cars would need a swap taking 4 minutes/car, the Knute Rockne Plaza on the two-lane Indiana Turnpike would need 100 battery changing stations to handle the load after a Notre Dame game. (Traffic estimates based on an unfortunately timed drive from Cleveland to Chicago.)


Its about 100 miles from South Bend to Chicago.

Ha, one of the most cost effective mass transit links in the country on the South Shore line, <$12 from Chicago to Southbend, electric light rail, max speed about 80mph. I'm goin' 65 in 2 weeks, <$6. They must be making a profit. Why is it so damned expensive to replicate that all over the country on existing rights of way?

So why were all those drivers out on the Turnpike!


The South Shore is a great way to get to South Bend for Notre Dame home football games. The South Shore will drop you off at the South Bend Airport where you may board a Free Enterprise Game Day shuttle bus to Notre Dame Stadium.

The shuttle bus fare from the Airport to the Stadium is $10 one way or $15 round trip. Free Enterprise representatives will be on select regularly scheduled South Shore eastbound trains on game day selling shuttle bus tickets. When you arrive in South Bend please board a Free Enterprise bus. They will be clearly marked.

And like the Jets and Giants fans going from Penn Station to the Meadowlands via NJ Transit, you can get "tuned up" for the game when you don't have to drive.

"Why is it so damned expensive to replicate that all over the country on existing rights of way?"

Could it be that not too many places in the country (outside of the Boston-WashDC corridor plus the LA and SF Bay areas) have the total population, tax base and population density to make such routes as cheap as in the greater Chicago area? And even in the LA area they don't take much advantage of the mass transit potential (perhaps a greater cultural attachment to the car?).

So all those other places that don't have the population density for trains, have the resources to spend on highway expansions (at least 10X more than rail) and the fuel required (again 10x).
Please stop repeating this fallacy - look in the history for this site about many counter examples.
The reason right now it looks cheaper to drive is because we all pay for taxes to maintain the current auto-centric system. Why should I pay taxes to allow you to drive an SUV across the country? Just pay road fees according to your weight (road damage goes up with the 4th power of weight).

That being said, I am aware that nothing will change until after 80% of the population cannot afford to drive anymore. At that point there will be few resources to develop even a cheap train system.

Sorry, not intending to be flippant but as a long time reader of this site, I learned a couple of things which really drive me crazy. Speaking about how Cassandra felt...


I am aware that nothing will change until after 80% of the population cannot afford to drive anymore. At that point there will be few resources to develop even a cheap train system.

Yeah, and that's gonna come on real fast, I suspect. It's why I don't think much of any monster infrastructure project of any kind except smart grids and internet. We're gonna be in save the most important mode before you know it. The rest will be try to keep it repaired and repurposed. If we can move and purpose renewable energy with sense and have a way to cheaply re-educate citizens from financial marketing nonsense on their asses, to making, fixing, growing and building things on their feet, by hand, if that is the only way, then we can minimize the pain of systemic change.

Merrill had asked why rail projects were so expensive outside of the Chicago area, and I was just replying to that question. I never said that rail could not be done in such locations. And you cannot deny that population density and its economic implications has a big effect on the viability of passenger rail systems. Witness the evolution of passenger rail systems along the East Coast corridor (Boston to DC) which became well developed even before there was any widespread concern about peak oil, climate change, etc.

A highway lane can handle 2000 cars per hour at peak or 1500 when congested.

Those 2000 cars will typically contain about 2400 passengers per hour per lane (1.2 passengers per car) at maximum, and 1500 cars will carry 1800 passengers per lane per hour when the roadway is overly congested.

One track of a light rail system with optimized signalling can carry nearly 20,000 passengers per hour under normal conditions or up to 30,000 passengers per hour under "crush" conditions. A heavy rail system can carry well over 40,000 passengers per hour per track, depending on design - New York and Tokyo being examples.

Both light and heavy rail systems can be electrically powered and do not require batteries. They simply draw power from the grid when accelerating, and can feed power back into the grid when braking. This makes them far more efficient than huge numbers of cars with hundreds of pounds of batteries apiece, plus battery charging stations.

One track of a light rail system can be built for the cost of one lane of freeway, assuming the design is not "gold plated", e.g. the tracks are put into the median of a freeway or into spare space in a freight railroad ROW. Heavy rail systems cost more because of the underground and elevated sections of track required, and elaborate stations. Modern low-floor LRT vehicles can board from a sidewalk or the street if necessary.

The key difference is that cars go from garage to parking lot, while trains go from station to station.

So Notre Dame fans would have to get from their homes spread across the Chicago metro area to a train station. At the South Bend end, there is a shuttle bus from the station to the stadium. The duration, cognitive load, physical effort, and cost of the two alternatives can be significantly different.

You oughta see the 7 train station at Shea Stadium.. the same station also serves the US Open Tennis Arena in Flushing Meadows, where they have big, broad boardwalks in a beeline from the Trains to the Courts. What a Zoo!

Sure it's different. That gets used far too much, even here, as a rallying cry for staying on the couch. Let's let those jolly midwesterners burn off just a oouple of their Fluffy Bratwurst Buns, eh?

While all the differences of the two modes may be real, the sad fact is that the average American just does not seriously consider any alternative to driving. There is no thought process, just grab the keys on the way out the door. High gas prices may be slowing eroding this pattern.

My in-laws live in South Bend, so I use the South Shore a bit. Chicago's transit system feeds into the Chicago South Shore terminal beautifully, so Chicago city residents would have no problem getting to the terminal. We have often gotten cheap air tickets to O'Hare and used the CTA to get to the South Shore terminal, almost always faster than driving on Chicago's clogged "expressways".

Parking at Notre Dame games is quite a clusterfrick, so I think having a shuttle drop you off at the stadium doors might take less time and hassle than finding and paying for a parking space and making your way through the congestion to the stadium.

So most South Bend residents never even consider taking the South Shore for a day trip to Chicago. My observations of the South Shore demographic are 1) US underclass, minority single mom's and poor families 2) Some suit-clad commuters 3) College students either without cars or planning to party too hard for driving home 4) Solo hipsters with their technology. The Middle American families that largely populate Indiana/Illinois just do not use South Shore much, in my experience, they are still driving around in minivans.

But when gas prices get to the point that Middle America starts looking seriously for an alternative the South Shore will be ready to serve.

Public Transportation Ridership Use Surged in First Quarter 2012

Nationwide Increase of 5.0% with Nearly 2.7 Billion Trips Taken

Public transportation ridership surged in the first quarter of 2012, as Americans took nearly 2.7 billion trips, an increase of 5.0% over the first quarter of last year, according to a report released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). This was the fifth consecutive quarter of U.S. public transit ridership increase, as 125.7 million more trips were taken than the first quarter of 2011.

All public transit modes saw increases and several saw significantly high increases. Light rail use increased by 6.7 percent and heavy rail use increased by 5.5 percent. Some public transit systems throughout all the areas of the United States reported record ridership for the first quarter. (i.e. Ann Arbor, MI; Boston, MA; Charlotte, NC; Fort Myers, FL; Indianapolis, IN; Ithaca, NY; New York, NY; Oakland, CA; Olympia, WA; San Diego, CA; and Tampa, FL).

Any business increasing volume 5% year over year in this economy is doing well.

The population adjusted twelve month average of vehicle miles driven appears to be down about 8% since 2005 and is back to 1996 levels.

Vehicle Miles Driven: Up in June, But Total Population-Adjusted Sets a New Post-Crisis Trough

There are all sorts of halfway points for different urban densities.
Here are Dresden's giant buses:

Personally I think the big game changer will be computer controlled taxis, which pick up several passengers on route, but do door to door.
In a few years they will be robotic, but initially can have human drivers:

The trouble with giant bend-a-buses is that above 2000 passengers per hour, their costs become higher than a light rail system, and they don't have anything close to the same maximum capacity.

Light rail is not really very expensive if you keep it truly light and don't "gold-plate" it, which most systems do. The difference is that light rail vehicles can be run in multi-vehicle trains, which buses cannot, and you can use them with off-the-shelf heavy-rail control systems. You can also run fully-automated (no driver) LRV's if you want, which is highly theoretical with buses, already done with LRV's.

Feeder buses, park-and-ride lots, and kiss-and-ride stops (the spouse drops off the commuter) are the most cost-effective way to get riders to the stations, other than walking and bicycling.

If you want to fit EV's into this picture, put recharge plug-ins in the park-and-ride lot. The commuter drives to the station, plugs in his car, and goes to work. When he comes back, his car is fully charged, and range anxiety is not an issue for the rest of the day.

It requires more urban transit planning than is typical of governments, though.

I'm not sure about the planning that is typical of 'governments'.
Your comment seems to apply more to US 'governments.'
Of course bendy buses don't cover all public transport needs, but they can form part of an integrated system which can deal with different population densities.
Here is the site for the Dresden transport system:

As can be seen they are using a whole raft of transport mechanisms, including trams, with giant buses only part of their integrated solution.

Yes, humans will need to change their habits. That liquid black gold is indeed a wondrous fuel that is safe and very energy dense, not to mention you only needed a scoop to pull it out of the ground.

Those days are coming to an end because that is a fossil resource. The low hanging fruit is gone and now we have to climb up higher on that resource tree every year to get the same yield.

We will have to move less molecules and more electrons in our daily activities. We will have to live very close to our work communities. Resources will most likely have to be sourced from only a few hundred miles away, except in rare cases like for microchips and other very high tech equipment. Some argue that advanced technology cannot survive due to the global supply chains needed. This is a logical argument.

Trains, EVs, bikes, draft animals, walking and sailing ships are our future. Accept that or not. Balance will be achieved and we have about 150 years left in the fossil fuel era to figure things out.

Scavenging will be a way of life as we try to utilize all of the resources we already extracted and added value to yet have not fully utilized. The days of fresh mining and virgin metals and fuels were nice but everyone should have realized it was going to be a short-term luxury. How could it be otherwise, given our knowledge of science?

Peak oil does not mean peak energy.
Both nuclear and solar are orders of magnitude more plentiful than fossil fuel resources, and fuel cells cars assisted by batteries could certainly provide equivalent mobility to that enjoyed at present.
Will that be what happens?
We don't know, but there is no technical reason why it can't.
Political choices are less certain.

Yes, there are deep technical reasons why it will not happen. The main concept that needs to be fully understood is net energy. All of the alternatives you listed work. The reason we don't use them today is that fossil fuels provide great net energy and thus have less cost. The more net energy a community has, the more things they can do to improve their comfort and standard of living.

Solar is great, but don't forget about the supply chains needed to build, maintain and recycle complete power systems. This is the main problem. It takes a lot of net energy to build and maintain complex systems. Maybe one day humans will gain the knowledge and resources needed to build wonderfully complex biological systems using custom designed DNA, but we are far from that level.

The great infrastructure of the United States was built using a net energy of more then 80:1 (cheap oil and coal).

People expect that new alternative energy systems like ethanol (EROEI - 1.3:1) are going to allow such excess. It is just not possible at our technical level. Our systems are just too resource hungry and our management systems far too simplistic for that to be possible. We cannot even expect to maintain our current infrastructure with fracked fossil fuels, tar sands, bio-fuels, PV solar, fuel cells (negative net energy - the real value of these systems are that they allow mobility), etc.

As a result, we humans will find it impossible to maintain our current 7 billion population level at anywhere near the standard of living now enjoyed. Sure, we may be able to hold around 7 billion for 20 years if we universally degrade to the living standards of the average citizen of Bangladesh but forget about middle class America-like standards. Just not possible.

The notion that nuclear energy in particular, and solar for that matter when it is deployed somewhere where it makes sense like within 20 degrees or so of the equator where annual variation is not important, instead of in ludicrous places like Germany, is too low to provide for our civilisation has no foundation in fact.

For nuclear the cost of a barrel of oil equivalent in energy using a once through system as in the US is about $5 for the energy content.

The most fantastic mental gymnastics have been performed to 'prove' that the EROI of nuclear is poor.

The assumptions which have had to be made to support that for an energy source which is a million times as dense as fossil fuels should not detain any reasonable person.

About typical of them are calculations purporting to show that uranium from the sea is not an energy efficient possibility.

To do that:

'Ugo, a critic of uranium from seawater used locations and methods that make the case for uranium from seawater 100 to 1000 times worse than better plans and methods.

Ugo looks at the Strait of Gibraltar which carries a current of about 1 Sverdrup. Japan has proposed various scaling up plans for uranium from seawater They look at the Black Current (42 Sverdrup, 42 times stronger than the current Ugo looked at) in the ocean off of Japan and how much materials it is moving. They would put uranium extraction materials in its path and collect uranium and other resources as they are moved past the materials that would trap the resources.

Ugo assumed recovering one kilogram of uranium, therefore, would require processing at least 3 tons of membranes per year.

Ugo calculates using the ratio of 5 kWh/kg for energy expenditure in fishing, and assuming the yield and the conditions reported by Seko , we can calculate a total energy expenditure of about 1000 TWh/year for processing the membranes to give sufficient amounts to fuel the present needs of the nuclear industry. This is close to the total energy that could be produced by the extracted uranium, ca. 2600 TWh/year. An energy gain (EROEI) of 2.6 is larger than unity, but it is too low for the process to be of practical interest.

Japan is looking at offshore processing, which would save the fuel costs of bringing the absorbent from the ocean to a land based facility

Ugo also bases his calculations on once through reactors. Switching to advanced breeder reactors or extensive reprocessing can increase the efficiency of uranium usage by 60 times.'

So this 'close calculation is out by a factor of around 42 times for the strength of the current, and 60 times for possible fuel burn efficiency.

I make that something like a near miss by only something like a factor of 2,520 times in the EROI calculation.

Or alternatively thorium could be used in molten salt reactors.
Producing rare earths would yield as a by-product the needed 15,000 tons of thorium to supply all our energy needs for hundreds of years without doing any sole-purpose mining at all.

An average cubic meter of the earth's crust contains around 188 times the energy in thorium as a cubic meter of oil combusted.

The notion that there is any possible way the the EROI if too low is simply a fake argument.

You are not persuasive at all. Your fantasy of U from seawater is not a argument.

The EROEI for nuclear needs to include the energy cost of roughly 100 never completed (or completed and not operated reactors like Zimmer), the energy cost of permanent waste disposal (no good data yet), the energy cost of Fukushima, TMI and Chernobyl, the energy cost of several hundred billion in R&D, the energy cost of enrichment (down with centrifuges, but at a cost of nukes for Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, etc. - a VERY expensive energy savings), etc.


A goulash attack, sticking anything in, rather than an argument.
Essentially you are saying that there are really big numbers which you can assume work against nuclear, without being in any way specific.

The arguments I have presented are, in contrast, specific and numeric.

Not fancying a technology because it goes against your prejudices and leaves your assumptions in trouble is not a credible critique.

There is plenty of uranium in the sea, and that is a fact.
The costs per kwh of a once through cycle are around $0.003kwh for the raw uranium, and that is a fact too.
Costs are estimated at around 3-5 times present to get uranium from the sea, so even with a once through cycle you are only talking of up to $0.015kwh, hardly unaffordable.

That ignores all of the many pathways we have to improve fuel utilisation, ranging from simply reprocessing up to more efficient reactors, which we know the energy pathways of perfectly well.
The reason they are not used at the moment is precisely because uranium is so cheap.

Paying rather more for uranium would lead to massive new quantities of uranium being available even without getting it from the sea.

You then try to confuse the issue of EROI with two completely bogus non-issues, waste, aka very lightly used fuel disposal when clearly we can simply stockpile it whilst we complete the development of more efficient reactors to use it, against the best efforts of the Luddites and technophobes who have kept us burning dangerous fossil fuels, and decommissioning costs.
Decommissioning costs including in energy terms were fully accounted for in the analysis of Vatenfall.

It is at least some kind of logical construct, even if a deeply flawed one, to critique decommissioning and waste on the grounds of safety.
To do so on the grounds of EROI is ridiculous, when you can reduce decommissioning costs as far as you fancy by simply leaving it for the radiation to die down, as you can for the nuclear waste, where the most dangerous particles have relatively short lives precisely because they are giving off a lot of energy.

The ones which last thousands of years do so precisely because they are not very energetic.

When every cubic meter of the earth's crust contains hugely more energy than a cubic meter of oil it is absurd to go on about EROI.
That is nearly as much a technical and engineering nonsense as touting the 'precautionary principle'

That goodness that they were alive to the dangers of vampires in old Europe, and plenty of stakes and garlic solved the problem.
Those who seek to apply the 'precautionary principle' because they don't fancy nuclear power have not changed too much in their approach to science! ;-)

Your analysis is just blind to reality.

You completely ignored most of the points I made - and fuel is closer to 1 cent/kWh. You forgot the energy to enrich (still a lot), the energy to mine and purify zirconium, the energy to fabricate, etc. etc. etc.

You ignore reality in your blind worship of nuclear power.

Nuclear should be used to a limited extent when renewables cannot do the job - and only sited in areas that we can do without for a couple of centuries.


In addition to the fact that these 'useless renewables' in Germany and other sub-optimal places (like here in Maine) are still working for us reliably, day after day, with absolutely no percievable downside risks and the opportunity to function independently and safely through a broad range of nearby upsets, be they economic, climatic, geologic, political, hydrological, etc..

And they can be as small as a postage stamp or as big as a cornfield.

Germany and other sub-optimal places (like here in Maine) are still working for us reliably, day after day,

That's simply not true for solar in German winters.

A Stinging rebuttal.. You gonna remind us about nighttime next?

It's known pretty well by now that your Renewables production follows the basic laws of the seasons, no less than any farmer would bother to demand that his Orchard give him Apples whenever he wants a pie.. but he's not going to say his trees are broken because they won't, either.

I have winter here, too, and I know what kind of usage I can expect from my equipment.. I'll still be getting inputs even on dark cloudy stretches.. and know to expect a battery sag in a few days, but they also Automatically start filling up again when the clouds pass. And when January/February is the most bitter cold, but also frequently bright and clear, I can expect very strong performance from the Hot Air Panels, and from the PV, which 'likes' the cold temps for the reduced resistance in the conductors. Right when I need it the most.

It's reliable, like I said. But it doesn't promise things that it cannot deliver, or can't deliver for much longer, like some other energy sources I could mention.

Look, its great that you have a PV system, good for you.

The farmer would not expect fruit from the orchard in winter but neither would he mistake the orchard for electric power. We're discussing electric power here, not orchards, and at German latitudes which are above even Maine's. In those terms "reliable" is what I would call the electric power system required to run, say, a hospital. I think a system that produces 3-5% of daily collection in December (try 12/21/11) of what it does in the summer might be sufficient for your needs which apparently are flexible, but that's not the same as reliable.

No, not just 'good for me', good for a great number of people who have a bit of it, and also have a growing understanding of how our energy future will, like the crops of a diversified farm, require having a diversified portfolio, an understanding of savings and frugality, an appreciation of where electricity is the most valuable, and where other power sources or approaches are better alternatives.

Whether it's a dark Nuclear Reactor with perforated tubes or an Empty Solar Battery Bank, our hospitals, just like everything else in our society will need to know how to deal with a natural range of conditions, and not simply stamp their feet and tell the world what they think they can demand of it.

What's 'Reliable', is that a PV panel produces current in bright light. It's very simple, and many people much farther north than Hamburg or Blue Hill are using PV for that purpose, even though they know they have far fewer overall hours per year when they can enjoy this harvest. They ALSO know this will not be their ONLY answer to the energy problem, and they very likely never pretended that it would be.

There is a far better EV model - Better Place. They have just completed the entire infrastructure in Israel

Not yet. In Israel as of last month BP had opened 17 swap stations on their way to what they say will be 40. Originally BP had stated they would build 51 in Israel. And BP is loosing $200 million / year.

and are on their way to finish their second country - Denmark
No, as we discussed elsewhere, they are not. BP has built *one* station in Denmark and they are at least a year behind their publicly announced schedule.

I agree that battery swaps are technically a good approach to solving the range anxiety issue with EVs, but I do not think BP's particular approach and execution is sound.


LiPos give great battery performance characteristics except for safety. This is a real concern with those buggers unless you keep an eagle eye on while charging or have a place to charge them that is completely fire containing or of little concern if it goes up in smoke. Don't charge 'em overnite next to the bed, or in the attached garage.

"This is a real concern with those buggers unless you keep an eagle eye on while charging "

That sort of tedious watching is what computers are for. Since we have large amounts of hydrogen around the plant, we have a network of smoke, temperature, and UV flame detectors all feeding into a safety controller/alarm system.


Sure, around the plant. But is Joe Sixpack gonna follow the rules, have the monitoring and grok its importance. I have my doubts.

Thanks, Tom. As Nate has pointed out, a 'longage of expectations' is likely to be our greatest liability. After a couple of centuries of realizing ever more utility and efficiency from our energy slaves, the idea of diminishing, even declining returns is a tough pill to swallow for most. It's going to be interesting watching those firmly stuck in the bargaining/anger stages vs. those who've achieved some level of acceptance.

While I have no doubt that better battery technologies can be developed, I have my doubts about our ability to achieve implementation on a scale that matters to most people. Better to make other arrangements; get past the expectations that cheap and plentiful petroleum lulled us into. We're going to have a lot more to worry about than the range of our EVs.

BTW: The sealed AGM battery on my solar fence charger lasted nearly 19 years. Perhaps we need to focus more on what batteries can do for us, rather than what they can't.

Have to say I agree completely. EVs and PHEVs may not yet meet all the expectations of engineers, but they have certainly come a long way. The Volt is a fantastic vehicle and one that could be improved.

In general, I think there's quite a lot of room for innovation in energy storage technologies, should we apply ourselves. It would be far better than doubling down on the dirty, dangerous and depleting fossil fuels.

Why can't we just call it quits with carism? It's not sustainable to have individuals expending 2000 litres each a year traveling back and forth in 2 ton vehicles to places most of them can walk to with ease. It'd be good for their bodies and for everyone else who might want another decade of not dying due to famines.

One sobering thought is that the search for better battery technology is hardly new. Over 100 years ago, Thomas Edison invested a considerable amount of time and resources on trying to develop something substantially better than lead acid batteries for use in electric powered cars. His efforts, along with everyone else working on batteries at the time, failed, ICE cars continued to improve in reliability and performance and the electric car vanished from the market.

Edison eventually invented the Nickel–iron battery:

The battery was developed by Thomas Edison in 1901, and used as the energy source for electric vehicles, such as the Detroit Electric and Baker Electric. Edison claimed the nickel–iron design to be, "far superior to batteries using lead plates and acid" (lead–acid battery). Edison had also several patents: US.Pat No.678.722/1901, 692.507/1902 and German patent No 157.290/1901.[12]

This would be my solar battery of choice but for the price.

There is some redevelopment of the Edison battery. Perhaps it will find a modern day niche.

I actually have 200Ah at 24V on order from Iron Edison. Should have them in the next couple of weeks, but probably won't fill them until after the winter. $4300 delivered(ouch). If they work out as expected I'll probably go for another 200Ah next year.

Wow...congrats, you can be our site Edison battery tester. Doing the math, these are roughly 7X the cost of my lead/acid batteries; a bit hard to fathom. Still, if I won the lottery, I would get a set,,, just because.

Well I understand there are only two or three companies in the world manufacturing these now. One in China, one in Russia, and a new guy in Montana. Would have liked to order the Montana ones but they were almost double the price.

I decided to go for these because 1) They should easily last more than the rest of my life, and 2) They are relatively immune to abuse and I'm a newbie at this :)

If they do work out and I add another 200Ah next year that should really be all I need. You needn't worry about discharging them deeply the way you do with lead-acids.

I will let the board know how I make out when I get my mad science experiment up and running.

Electric vehicle technology actually got off to a fairly good start early last century. Although slow battery technology development notwithstanding, you will find out that the newly formed Oil Companies were actively involved in making sure the EV's were not adopted en masse. The Oil Industry profited greatly after making sure that EV's were "driven off the cliff", but think about what the state of EV's and battery technology might be today were that not the case.

His efforts, along with everyone else working on batteries at the time, failed,

Edison succeeded in producing an electric car with his battery that was popular for awhile. NYC city had electric taxis, charge spots at the big hotels, and battery swaps for electric delivery trucks. Edison only 'failed' in that liquid fuels and the internal combustion engine had too many advantages at the time.

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison had an interesting discussion at a dinner one time when Ford worked for Edison's company. Ford convinced Edison that gasoline cars (which he was experimenting with at the time) were probably going to triumph over electric cars. Edison was impressed by the young Ford, and had to agree he probably was right. They continued to be great friends even after Ford became much richer than Edison, and even took whoever was President of the US along on their golf games from time to time.

Ford designed an electric car, but it wasn't a success. It was really the Model T that killed the electric car, including Ford's electric car. His Model T delivered three times the range and three times the speed at one-third the price of an electric car. Most workers could afford a Model T but not an electric car. The Model T was "everyman's" car, whereas the electric car was a rich man's plaything.

Ford designed an electric car, but it wasn't a success. It was really the Model T that killed the electric car, including Ford's electric car. His Model T delivered three times the range and three times the speed at one-third the price of an electric car. Most workers could afford a Model T but not an electric car. The Model T was "everyman's" car, whereas the electric car was a rich man's plaything.

What does 'success' mean? That the car model never be replaced by a better model? The model T does not survive that test either. The electric cars of time prior to the Model T were popular and had a good half of the market. I agree that range and speed afforded by liquid fuels eventually became decisive factors, but the electric car had its advantages even then. It was safer, quieter, and more reliable. It was favored by women (those who could afford one) up until the electric starter came about decades after the first Model T. The Model T was one-third the price of many combustion engine vehicles of the time too, as Ford's assembly line methods were the main price driver and not the difference in power plant. I argue that it was Ford's manufacturing techniques that made the combustion engine competitive, as the hundreds or thousands of moving parts required by the combustion engine as compared the electric motor's one were too daunting to assemble reliably by the old one-at-time garage shop methods.

Most workers could afford a Model T but not an electric car. The Model T was "everyman's" car, whereas the electric car was a rich man's plaything.

Porsche and Mercedes are creatures of the well-off. They are also as factual matter profitable and arguably successful.

What does 'success' mean?

"Success" means that the Ford Model T sold about 15 million cars before it was replaced by the Model A. "Not a success" means Ford spent about $1.5 million over two years developing an inexpensive electric car, built two prototypes which he never showed to the public, and then gave up.

The biggest problem was that Edison's nickle-iron battery, which Ford was counting on to power his car, couldn't actually propel the car much of the time due to very high internal resistance. It often failed in service. That was a serious drawback.

You can argue that Ford should have tried harder, but with the Model T selling millions of cars, he was pretty busy at the time. The fact that he could build two Model T's for the cost of buying one Edison battery must have also been discouraging.

"Success" means that the Ford Model T sold about 15 million cars before it was replaced by the Model A.

Therefore every vehicle, EV, steam or internal combustion built prior to the Model T failed.

No, every car before the Model T was introduced was just practice for the age of automobile mass production. Prior to that time, the average American couldn't afford to buy a car. After it was introduced, he could. It ceased to be a rich man's plaything.

Henry Ford's wife wouldn't drive a Model T and drove an electric car instead because she didn't like internal combustion engines - but she was rich and could afford it. Edison had numerous of electric cars. The average American could afford none of these cars. Ford tried to build an inexpensive electric car, but he found he couldn't do it for much less than three times the cost of a Model T, and he didn't think he could sell any at that price point - so he killed the electric car project.

Porsche and Mercedes are creatures of the well-off. They are also as factual matter profitable and arguably successful.

Yes, but if the only two choices for passenger vehicles in the US were Porsche and Mercedes, how many Americans working at Wal-Mart would be able to afford to drive to work? Probably not many of them. Most Americans would have to take the bus or train instead.

Why can't we just call it quits with carism?

I agree I think I'd prefer something like this:

Pannon Rider from Hungary

I think more along the lines of
Apostlenes hester (Apostle's horses).
Americans are into Jesus so maybe it could work.
It will as a matter of necessity either way.

I want something like this:

With hub motors, a lipo battery, and solar panels for the roof.

I'd rather prefer one a little more aerodynamic, but this is obviously a single-passenger deal.

I made an electric pusher trailer so I could haul my dog to the Loud and Lit ride in Portland.

The dog hates it, so there it sits. It does push me along at 20+mph (with both motors on). It is a little unstable. I am redesigning the hitch. It has 2 1kw electric wheel motors on 20 inch rims. Not sure how much range. I would guess 20 miles. Just a guess.

Jeff Barton

That's a beautiful little pusher trailer design, Jeff. I learned a lot just seeing the picture of it. Thanks for posting it.

My guess is you are an electrical engineer. It would take considerable practical engineering skill to come up with the remote control scheme for this. Do you have it slaving to chain tension on your bike?

No remote control. I run a cable from a standard e-bike throttle on my handlebars to the bicycle-side hitch. I run another cable from the Brushless DC motor controllers to the trailer-side hitch and connect them together with a connector. You have to take care: The BLDC motor controllers use a variable resistor to control speed. They supply 5V, ground and signal. I use one of the controller's 5V to wet the variable resistor (don't parallel the 5V of both controllers). I tie the grounds from both batteries together. Then the same 0-5V signal from the var. resistor can control the speed of both motors. The torque from both motors will not be exactly the same, but will be too close to notice a difference. You need a separate BLDC controller for each motor.

In the picture the LiFePO4 batteries are in the ammo cases. in that configuration there is too much tongue weight. I had to move one battery to the rear. Otherwise the push from the motors (smaller rims=bigger push) when I press the throttle, combined with the high tongue weight makes the bike want to pop a wheelie (front tire will leave the ground, for non-native English speakers). I am still learning about the mechanicals. I would do things differently now.

What I have not yet implemented yet is a dynamic braking scheme. I have brakes that have a switch in them. They will activate a 3-pole c-form relay that will disconnect the controller and short the windings through a resistor bank. Trailer will brake itself. Or possibly break itself. We shall see. Regenerative braking is also an option, but regenerative braking often becomes regenerative breaking, in my limited experience. I may have trouble with the relay contacts though.

I am an electrical engineer. I work in HVDC transmission these days and used to design brushless DC motors.

Thanks for the plug. I am kind of proud of the trailer, though it mostly just sits in the garage. I usually just pedal these days.


I have played with motor controls myself. They can be quite tricky. Control loop instability quickly leads to unsafe operation. I had been considering how I would control the hub motors on the bike I left a picture of. I figured I would slave the motors to chain tension, much like those power vacuum cleaners slave the motor control to the vacuum cleaner handle. Mounting a idler gear in the chain loop between the "supply" and "return" of chain will allow me to differentially sense chain tension via strain gage sensing on the idler gear mounts, letting me slave the motor control to my pedaling. ( Yes, the motor assist will ramp up and down as I pedal, if I don't pedal, the motor doesn't try either. )

I am looking into regen braking too. I am considering cutting in a "boost" converter to draw power from the motor windings so the motor acts as a generator in braking mode. I haven't had a hub motor to play with, so there will be a lot of learning for me here. The motor may be some sort of BLDC design that keeps me from doing this.

Well, if it works, I get a nice bike that should last me well into my senior years. Others will see it and may commission me to design control systems. If I fail, at least I bought an education, and still have a baseline bike.

I have seen those LiFePO4 batteries around. Nice ones. I figure I'll build a little charge balancer from a multisecondary flyback. I can power the flyback from full pack power, then route the energy back to the cell with the lowest terminal voltage.

I guess you have seen these newer BLDC three-phase motors they are putting in washing machines...does both agitate and spin and no transmission.

That one is a little too stripped down. But it does illustrate the point the quote below missed.

"Despite their many potential advantages, all-electric vehicles will not replace the standard American family car in the foreseeable future."

It doesn't need to replace the standard family car. It needs to replace my commuter car. If it can carry two people and a weekly grocery run it will do for nearly everything. What it won't do, I have the pickup for. I have the pickup because the standard American family car can't do everything either.

To replace the commuter car, I need a worst case 70 mile range. So we are almost there.

Love that bike !

What is the name of a bike like that? Do you know who sells it?

I at one time commuted to work by bike, and now have a recumbent trike (and I've seen the same model rigged with a solar panel roof), but at age 69 I'm not interested in commuting by bike in the rain and cold weather (and worrying about securing a rather pricey item downtown while I'm at work). So I need something that is electric, enclosed, seats at least two passengers with room for groceries, can be securely locked up, and costs less than US$15,000. And I still need another vehicle that can carry at least four passengers and operate on the open highway. "It's not easy being green."

"Securing a rather pricey item downtown"

I have had a rusty kiddie wagon stolen from my yard. It was several years old, but still mechanically functional. I think someone from outside the neighborhood saw it and figured it was his for the taking.

This tops my list of disadvantages of owning this kind of stuff. The solar panels, batteries, hub motors, and the whole lightweight nature of the thing make it an attractive target for thieves to haul it away in a van. Even if it is uniquely identifiable when assembled, its parts are readily marketable. It would be like leaving my wallet outside on the street.

So I need something that is electric, enclosed, seats at least two passengers with room for groceries, can be securely locked up, and costs less than US$15,000.

Here is exactly what you are looking for:

Exactly; mass to power is everything in vehicles so battery powered ones are already fine so long as they are very light; especially two wheeled ones. Heavier ones also work really well if they are tethered to their power supply, like trains and trams, so it's pretty clear that we're heading 'back to the future':

The places that adapter their form to suit this future, I'm picking, will succeed this century. Tough on the auto-dependant sprawl-burbs with no transit and local amenity. It will mean a return to the local, which will be a good thing, as well more vibrant street life, and less social isolation. Except in the places that refuse/can't/won't adapt.

Tom's post is all about the struggle to live exactly as we are now in a more energy constrained future.... Better to accept that the late 20th century way of life is negotiable. We may just be a whole lot happier as a result?

We will eventually have to call it quits with using huge personal vehicles to move around. It will simply not be practical to support such energy expenditure, not for the masses anyway.

However, humans will not go down without a fight. We will burn everything, everywhere and kill everything just to maintain our way of life. It is going to get ugly and after about 150 years when the dust settles and the fossil fuels can no longer be extracted for their energy value (it will take more energy to extract than they return), the human population level will be back to what it was before fossil fuels and most of our beloved technology will be gone. But hey, it was fun, right?

One important tip - remember to have a great security element within your local community. No matter how nice it is inside the fences, outside the fences there will be numerous desperate organizations wanting your hard earned bounty.

It has been and will always be about the resources and net energy.

Beyond Lithium Ion V
Symposium on Scalable Energy Storage

Some of the presentations are also available online. Li-Air and Li-Sulfur in an Automotive System Context by Thomas Greszler, et al, from General Motors is an overview of systems aspects for electric vehicles.

Battery technology has been studied intensively for at least 3 decades, driven by the need for backup batteries installed in manholes and cell sites, on customer premises, and in cell phones and laptops. There may be a breakthrough out there, but progress has been fairly slow so far.

Of course, if Alan Drake (in New Orleans) had electricity, he would probably point out that electrified rail is a far better solution. A link to one of his articles from a few years ago:
Electrification of transportation as a response to peaking of world oil production

Alan asks, and answers, a simple question, to-wit, how did we provide for mass transit in prior decades, with minimal use of oil?

The tragedy for the US is that we had pretty good electrified local rail networks, until around 1948, when most of the systems began to be shut down, because of the rising supremacy of the automobile (and with a little help from industries interested in seeing our auto dependency increase).

For example, Dallas/Fort Worth had about 350 miles of electrified streetcar lines, with a regional electrified Interurban system, until about 1948.

Ironically enough, 1948 is the year that the US became a net oil importer.

Electrified mass transit is great if you don't have to pay for it.

I've lived in four cities where I used electrified transit for much of my travel, and found it convenient and quite adequate for commuting. In Sydney (Australia) I used the electric train; in Brisbane (Australia) I traveled by tram (quite a few years ago); in Melbourne (Australia) I traveled by tram; and in Copenhagen (Denmark) I traveled by S-tog (train).

When I lived in Sydney, the second largest item in the state budget was the operating loss on the Sydney rail network. While I was living in Brisbane the trams were replaced by buses because they were cheaper. In Melbourne there were constant gripes in the newspapers about the cost of the trams. In Copenhagen the fare I paid on the heavily subsidized train was more than it cost me to drive in my heavily taxed car using fuel taxed at more than 100%. I used the train so I could read a book on my way to and from work.

I live in Houston now, where Houston Metro is currently expanding its light rail service. At a cost, someone calculated, of $15,000 per inch. My calculations are about $1,150 per inch, but Metro is so careful to confuse the public about how much money it is spending you can never be sure everything is included. The operating cost for light rail in Houston is $0.60 per passenger mile.

According to the IRS the operating cost of a light motor vehicle in the U.S. is $0.555 per mile. My car, which averages 28 miles per gallon in city driving, probably costs much less than this for operating costs. I'm not throwing in depreciation or taxes in my operating costs any more than Metro does, but I am including the taxes I pay on gasoline. I don't think Metro pays taxes on the electricity they use. If I carpool with my wife (as I do most of the time) my passenger-mile operating costs are a small fraction of Metro's passenger-mile costs.

I don't use Metro's light rail on a regular basis, because I very rarely travel where it goes.

I won't speculate why electric rail costs so much to build, or why it costs so much to run. But if electric transit is to become widely used in the U.S. someone needs to figure out a way to build it and operate it at a much lower cost.

And as Alan would point out, it's not like road and highways don't cost substantial sums of money. As Jim Kunstler pointed out, the post-war suburban expansion in the US was the biggest waste of resources in the history of the world.

And I would argue that we need, and will probably be forced, to implement a "Triage" system, where we identify the housing areas that will: (1) Do fine; (2) Survive with expanded mass transit and (3) Not survive, even with expanded mass transit.

You could switch to extremely lightweight vehicles. But their range and speeds, and cargo capability, would be very limited. Americans bitterly resist switching to even subcompact cars, they won't want anything to do with vehicles that are a lot lighter than those. And the American way of life, driving huge distances, probably requires vehicles of a minimum size and speed.

I have previously used "The Sixth Sense" analogy (an American movie about ghosts, and in the movie some ghosts don't know they are dead and they only see what they want to see):

I see dead people . . . Walking around like regular people. They don’t see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they are dead . . . They’re everywhere.

For most Americans, as in the movie "The Sixth Sense," our auto centric suburban way of life is dead, but most of us don't know it yet, and we only see what we want to see.

...they're everywhere...

As Jim Kunstler pointed out, the post-war suburban expansion in the US was the biggest waste of resources in the history of the world.

As much as I enjoy his books and reading his latest Monday morning rant, I've never been completely comfortable with this oft repeated claim of his. One of the reasons that Americans fled the cities immediately following WWII was because --aside from the wealthy parts of downtown-- most big city neighborhoods in the U.S. were cramped, overcrowded dirty, noisy, polluted, frequently crime-ridden, and (for what you got) expensive. In other words, most regular working class people lived in the slums and ghettos. Most people vastly improved their overall quality of life by moving out to the burbs --they got houses that were cleaner, bigger, quieter, safer, and had more amenities for the same money. If this weren't true, the great suburban migration would never have happened.

I think it's true that U.S. is not doing nearly enough to develop alternative energy and upgrade our rail infrastructure, but to say that every family home or road built in the suburbs over the last 65 years represents a "misallocation of resources" is presumptuous and debatable. I also think Kunstler falls into the trap of ignoring survivor bias and idealizing a past that never really existed --for example, the way he waxes poetic about how beautiful and well designed old buildings are vs. new architecture, which he hates with a passion. Not unlike the way modern American conservatives pine for the Gilded Age or Antebellum South as a idealized era, while ignoring all the slavery, racism, misogyny, share-cropperdom, miseries of factory life, company towns, robber barons, political corruption, and lack of a safety net or environmental protections.

I wonder how JHK feels about batteries :-0

He'd call them part of the techno-utopian delusion and repeat his line about not being able to run Wal*Mart, the highway system, and Disneyland on batteries.

I would argue with your characterization of neighborhoods in cities and towns. The housing in many neighborhoods was cramped, but it wasn't as bad as you say. Many accounts wax poetic about how great the in-town neighborhoods and downtowns were. They were part and parcel of a way of life that produced great Americans for generations. Heck, I live in a city neighborhood, and it's none of the things that you describe. It wasn't back then, either.

Why did people move? For a lot of reasons, but there was a herd mentality, racism, the sense that values were stagnating, there was tremendous public investment to get people to move, everything was new in the suburbs, old in the cities, etcetera.

Those were the reasons why people moved. On an individual basis, it's hard to blame them. But we did it on a societal level with a determination that was staggering in retrospect. We tore apart city neighborhoods with freeways, zoned all of the land so that traditional neighborhoods could not be built, we set up financing systems to guarantee that shopping centers would be built and main streets would stagnate and die.

Yes, people benefited, but it doesn't mean that it wasn't a mistake on a colossal scale to do it the way that we did. That's Kunstler's critique. He never says that people shouldn't have moved, or that city neighborhoods didn't need to be revitalized, or that new housing shouldn't have been built. His critique is the way that we did it. It is spot on in my book.

We tore apart city neighborhoods with freeways, zoned all of the land so that traditional neighborhoods could not be built, we set up financing systems to guarantee that shopping centers would be built and main streets would stagnate and die.

And this is the part of Kunstler's critique I completely agree with. What city planners did to some beautiful old neighborhoods in the name of "progress" was shameful, and we lost many amazing and irreplaceable Victorian and Art Deco era buildings. Nonethless, not everything built since 1945 is really so awful. Despite the car culture it helped to perpetuate and ingrain, I rather like the interstate highway system and use it frequently.

Since "I" was the big push for the move to the burbs I will tell you what it meant to the four year old me that moved from a neighborhood of four story comfortable apartments near 17th and Kostner in Chicago to a near west suburb in the early 1950's.

I still remember marvelling at the all the butterflies on the flowers in our modest backyard, and rolling around and around the block on our tricycles and bicycles and clamp on skates

with the rest of the kids in the neighborhood without parents right in train--it was safe for us, we weren't going to get run over as the busy streets were just far enough away. Ball games in the paved alley, a pleasant half mile walk to school past one yard after another that all contained some degree or another of vegetable and/or flower garden. Near empty streets to play in by day (now the multi car families keep those same streets and all the garages on the alleys filled to the max with parked vehicles near 24/7).

Never was I allowed to go beyond our four story back porch complex in the city apartments without a parent. I spent far more time indoors in the city. Life in the near west burbs was pretty darned good for us young pre and grade school kids. But those very livable places (my little burb had "city of homes' printed on it's windshield tax tags--the burb just to the east of it that ran right up to the heavy industry heavy rail belt line, a main artery of the world's manufacturing heart at the time, and was home to the famous Hawthorne plant of Western Electric and had been the home of the infamous Al Capone as well) were already near completely built by 1953--only the odd double lot maybe on every third or fourth block left to build on--lots of people wanted to have the same roomier environment for raising their kids (remember a good many of these parents had migrated from the farm to city during the depression and war years) and the baby boom was just getting going--west they sprawled over some of the best farmland in the US. The dozers just scraped the 8-12 foot deep top soil down to clay and it was ready to 'develop'. Of course you could have just a bit more room and your own driveway farther west-space wasn't quite as limited...and so the shape of the next fifty years outbuild was set...

The post WWII baby boom was a very real event and the there was no way the cities could have been rebuilt as cheaply as new housing could. The post war prosperity was also very real, as was the very marked move to the smaller nuclear family. Two kids was the norm all of a sudden with families of three just about balanced out by one child families--only one of my friends through grade and high school came from a family with five--and I was a Catholic school kid. The city did not have the housing to accommodate this change.

That is really why people moved, your statement

Why did people move? For a lot of reasons, but there was a herd mentality, racism, the sense that values were stagnating, there was tremendous public investment to get people to move, everything was new in the suburbs, old in the cities, etcetera

is pretty much history reconstructionist garbage--though no doubt the racism part was a major driver of neighborhood choice.

You misunderstand my critique and Kunstler's. It was not a problem that new housing was built — the way it was built was a problem. New housing in fact was needed desperately after WW II, because we had literally not built any housing in this country for 15 years prior to that. There was a huge pent-up demand.

But your personal experience of being not allowed outside in a city neighborhood was hardly everybody's. City streets and parks were filled with kids in the 1950s. My current city neighborhood of single family houses, duplexes, and apartments is more typical. Kids are not cooped up here and they never were. I've got kids who are "free-range." We let them out to play. That hardly ever happens anymore, but it happens on our block.

It's hard to judge the suburb that you moved to — many of them built prewar have transit access, have main streets, and are ideal places to raise kids.

Even the new, automobile-oriented ones were great places in the 1960s. They just weren't sustainable, and that is what Kunstler is saying.

This bothers me:

"is pretty much history reconstructionist garbage--though no doubt the racism part was a major driver of neighborhood choice."

Are you saying there was no herd mentality? That values in cities did not stagnate? That there was NOT tremendous public investment to get people to move? That everything was NOT new in the suburbs and old in the cities?

Please tell me exactly where I was wrong and back up what you are saying.

well if you define herd mentality as going where the forage is that does describe much of the early post war build out in the Chicago area. Industry was moving west, there simply was no place to put up new large plants in the city and of course truck transport was supplanting rail to large extent--of course the interstate system had a lot to do with that but it was still following the the move west at least in Chicago. Of course once the multi-lane monsters were plowed in all the open spots between developing areas filled in. The 'L' was built right down some of the expressway right of ways and was in before the pavement on at least on line--but then the pavement kept on extending out for decades and the 'L' didn't.

That there was NOT tremendous public investment to get people to move?

So yes I will strongly disagree with this the core of your statement. The public investment followed the people at least up until the the seventies. The road system in place was overtaxed so the new multi-lane limited access plowed out the loosen up the gridlock--obviously that didn't work and it just spread people farther--but there was not a huge plan to gut and the cities--it was just much easier to pave and roof over farmland. The lack of planning as metropolitan regions expanded--hardly something new after the war--is pretty much standard operating procedure for all flora and fauna with more than adequate food supply. Of course the ICE rig with its plentiful and cheap high density fuel made this human habitat expansion one of unprecedented speed and scope.

I was already bemoaning the demise of the well laid out city districts in the late sixties--my senior year term paper (a whopping six pager and a major formal footnoted enterprise--grade schoolers write longer stuff these days) essentially proposed a rebuilding those oh so strategically located city neighborhoods--my plan looked a whole lot like what we call 'gentrification' these days (a year later I proposed what would eventually become the monster, meant with every sense of the word, of vacation timeshares in SOC 101 paper--too bad I didn't get in on the money part of either proposal, neither took off in the US until years after).

My suburb described pretty much the edge of the buildout when the crash hit in 1929--the 'L' stopped just short of it and city buses traveled one route from there to its western edge. Automobiles were essential to it but city public transit access was there (my dad learned to drive in what was to become a suburb a bit farther west after the war--when the crash hit in 1929 the roads and curbs where in but no houses--the developer went bust first). You would actually have a hard time discerning the 'city of homes' from many city neighborhoods built a bit before it except that it was not bounded in the same way. West of it was the cemetery and forest preserve district and that rolled right up to the Desplaines River. Some of the first post war suburb buildout was just south of that--and it repeatedly flooded until the public investment followed the build out and put in major new sewer systems. A prime example of the public investment following the move.

Yes the cities stagnated and public money flowed out but the process really wasn't all that different than the slash and burn farming process seen in forested regions around the world to this day. People moved to where the could have space to raise a family and have access to a livelihood at the same time--virtually no planning at all. Call that herd instinct if you like--but I don't think that term is either useful or accurate.

[edit addon]
The whole process was and is fairly organic, new branches, stalks and leaves farther from the roots, lower foliage withering as the nutrients get sucked past on major 'freeways.' You might find it of interest that the first shopping center in the area (mid 1950s) was built at the west end of the CTA 'L' run (the bus extended one) which was also the end of the business district that that bracketed Cermak Road fitfully from near the lake on east on through Chinatown all to way to Harlem Avenue on the west, a distance of about eight or nine miles.

What a convenience 'The Plaza' was. Now all the stores that required trips to disparate city neighborhoods that easily could take an hour to get too and were ten minutes away. 'The Plaza' was anchored on one end with a large (for its day) Hillman's supermarket and on the other by a medium sized Sears store that was perpendicular to the store strip and defined the east end of the parking lot. And of course the neighborhoods around the stores we used to drive to in the city hardly bemoaned the loss of our traffic and of our hogging of all their on street parking.

Interestingly the store anchoring design of Cermak Plaza is exactly what today's downtown revitalization planners base their plans around. There was no great plot to gut the cities, it just happened as money influenced the zoning and taxing policies so that it could happen as quickly and haphazard as we could build out--because that was were the next fast money was.

Thanks for that detailed response.

By herd mentality I was referring to is the same force that moves the stock market in big ways. There was a lot going on in the decades after WWII, most of it bad for cities. Even if people liked their neighborhood and didn't want to move, when lots of other people are moving and your property values are stagnating or going down, your tend to move. Racism was a big factor, but I think this herd mentality played just as big a role. The single-family house in the suburbs connected by highways was seen as progress (still is, to a degree). That was a powerful motivator.

As to public investment — and public policy, to just as great a degree — this country began large-scale investment in roads in the first decade of the 20th Century. At the time, there was almost no investment in rail — these lines were privately operated and fees paid to government for the right to use right of way in the case of the streetcar systems. The figure I have seen is that by 1919 the US at all levels of government was investing $1.9 billion in roads, a level which continued and rose for decades before most governments put a dime into rail.

Meanwhile, in the 1920s zoning was adopted like wildfire, under the encouragement of Herbert Hoover, secretary of commerce in 1926, who published an educational text that encouraged separation of uses and housing types and promoted the single-family house as the ideal. In the 1930s came the federal housing regulations that effectively outlawed financing of mixed-use, main street buildings (the loans couldn't be resold).

In the 1940s and the 1950s the streetcar lines were torn out and urban renewal and freeways began to plow through cities. I don't know how to include an image, but cities were torn apart as a matter of public policy. You can see it in the street networks and the buildings in downtowns from 1950 to 1990. The damage to many cities over the coarse of several decades was worse than what Allied bombing did to Berlin in WWII.

The public investments in roads is absolutely what enabled the suburbs to take off the way that they did. The order of development was housing first, followed by shopping malls, and finally office and industrial parks. Industry did not lead people out to the suburbs, it followed the employees. The suburbs took the form that they did as a result of public policy and the general agreement that that lifestyle represented progress, and life in walkable neighborhoods was obsolete. There was not a lack of planning that produced the form that the suburbs took, there was public investment and codes.

we've a bit of the 'chicken and the egg' discussion going here.

is a big part of the picture and farm mechanization was a big part of that picture.

The desire for individual transport with greater range and carrying capacity than human legs goes back bit before the era we are talking of. No doubt govt money went into roads in a big way in the early 20th century--the public treasure had gone into rail (in the form of land give away) decades earlier. Guess what you still had to get to the rail and the roads were abyssmal. Once the Model T was in production the push for good roads went into high gear. Tech pushed public policy, not the other way around.

suburbs took the form that they did as a result of public policy

is a substantialy different claim than

here was tremendous public investment to get people to move

which was your initial statement

The order of development was housing first, followed by shopping malls, and finally office and industrial parks

That is not entirely true. At least west of Chicago new big industrial plants like International Harvester went in well before the shopping centers and while the new housing was still clustered around established (pre-interstate) US hwy arteries. These plants needed lots of square footage for their expanded operations and that was simply not available in the already built city cores. And of course as employment opportunities sprung at the edge of the suburbs a lot of new arrivals bypassed the city for the suburbs as well--if they were white that is. It really is a chicken or the egg first situation.

In the '50s and '60s we got:

The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways

Distributed manufacturing and infrastructure

Middle class (thinks it) moves out of the atomic blast zones, away from ground zero...

Fear and nuclear preparedness may have had more to do with getting the whole thing started than we realize.

Fear and nuclear preparedness were more like seasoning than the main course in my opinion.

Look at the chart above, population 132 million 1940 (it remained essentially unchanged into 1945) vs. 179 million 1960.

I will hold to my initial statement in this thread
Since "I" was the big push for the move to the burbs

linked inextricably to this line in my second comment
Of course the ICE rig with its plentiful and cheap high density fuel made this human habitat expansion one of unprecedented speed and scope.

The US population was extremely mobile for nearly a century and a half before we cast nuclear shadow upon ourselves. In hindsight our love affair with the car and truck seems almost preordained--but statements like that give off a smell I try and avoid. But once we had the ICE rig many, many of us sure wanted to be able to drive it for profit and pleasure to about every corner of our land. I'm guessing it is those many, many who really pushed policy or the money for the roads would have dried up early on.

Before the availability of hard surface roads and heavy trucks, industrial development could not be nodal in cities. It was linear, built along sidetracks and spurs of the railroads.

Yes hard surface road and trucks changed the game, much in the same way rail had allowed heavy industry to move off navigable waterways. The rail switch yards in Chicago were/are vast no man's lands--I wonder if they displaced more than a neighborhood or two as they grew? By the time I was on the scene no one could remember what was there before they made their land grab.

I think the rail yards were mostly open land when the railroads arrived. It was the railroads that created Chicago, and they got much of their land for free in the form of land grants.

In 1850 Chicago had 1 railroad and 30,000 people. By 1856, it had 10 railroads, and by 1860 it had tripled in size to 109,000 people. By 1870 had 300,000 people - it was 10 times the size it had been 1850. The railroads made a lot of money selling building lots to the people and industry they attracted.

Railroads and Their Influence on the Growth of Chicago in the 1850s

I'm used to what is probably the reverse phenomenon to what Chicago has experienced in recent decades. Of the two Class-I railroads in Calgary, people near CP's main yards in Calgary are complaining that they have become so busy that it is like living next to a rock concert, and CN is relocating its main yards out of the inner city area to a big, new "Logistics Park" in the industrial suburbs near Calgary. CP might have to relocate its yards, too, if the noise gets any worse.

It's a reversal of the post-WWII trend of railroad downsizing. They're upsizing again. Containerization and the high fuel efficiency of railroads is making a huge difference.

Yes CP and CN are going concerns, I'm guessing Warren gives those outfits some thought these days and maybe wishes he'd jumped in a bit earlier and picked up the Illinois Central himself. With that acquisition CN connected its already large network to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Wonder how long it would take an average freight car to get from Prince Rupert to New Orleans and if any rail freight actually rolls that route--good chance not much as both places are major ports.

What sort of passenger routes do CP and CN run these days? I made the round-trip from Edmonton to Saskatoon back in the 70s--hitch hiked at either end of that while doing a round trip from northern Wisconsin to Dawson Creek (there was one wild Grey Goose ride from Winnipeg to Saskatoon on my outbound run--the French speaking driver kept us in the oncoming lane doing at least 65 mph passing the bumper to bumper Easter weekend west headed traffic for almost the whole run). I was always amazed at how much of Canada's major highway system was two lane--even in the 80's Ottawa to the Sault Ste Marie had us driving pretty heavy travelled two lane most if not all of the trip, much of it survey line straight if I recall.

Warren Buffet owns BNSF now, but his friend Bill Gates owns a large part of CN Rail.

Companies like CN, CP, and BNSF are currently moving large amounts of oil from the mid-continent area (Bakken, oil sands, etc) to Gulf, Atlantic, and Pacific coasts. It is getting to be a big business. CN and CP have a thriving business moving unit trains of containers from west coast ports to the eastern US. So does BNSF.

There is not much long-distance passenger traffic in Canada. The Canadian government took over the CN and CP passenger services, created Via Rail, and then abandoned the southern CP route through Calgary. However, There is still a private company running trains on the CP route at luxury prices. Via Rail is still running trains on the northern CN route through Edmonton.

I was always amazed at how much of Canada's major highway system was two lane--even in the 80's Ottawa to the Sault Ste Marie had us driving pretty heavy travelled two lane most if not all of the trip

I think you would still be amazed at how much it hasn't changed. Most of the TransCanada Hiqhway through Northern Ontario is still two-lane, as far as I know. There is a 25-year plan to widen it to four lanes, though. Maybe, if budgets permit.

The Birth of the Chicago Union Stock Yards

In order to build the new centralized stockyard, a consortium of nine railroad companies purchased a 320-acre area of swampy land in southwest Chicago for $100,000 in 1864. Using Chicago as a hub, this new stockyard would serve as a commercial link between America's East and West.

The stockyards' ultimate boundaries were Pershing Avenue, Halsted Street, 47th Street, and Ashland Avenue. Civil engineer Octave Chanute designed the plan and Chicago's Union Stock Yard and Transit Company officially opened on Christmas Day 1865. Fifteen miles of track delivered livestock directly to the stockyards from the city's main rail lines. Five hundred thousand gallons of fresh water were pumped daily from the Chicago River into the yards, and waste drained into a fork of the river that would be dubbed "Bubbly Creek" due to the contamination. Drovers herded cattle, hogs, and sheep down two wide thoroughfares from the railroad cars to the pens. By 1900, the stockyard grew to 475 acres, contained 50 miles of road, and had 130 miles of track along its perimeter.

So when the stockyards were started, it was on open land. I think that the same is true of the now-extinct Hawthorne plant of Western Electric which was built in 1905 in Cicero.

City centers have always been the seats of government, trade, merchandising, arts and culture, etc. Manufacturing in the city center would have been labor-intensive, light manufacturing, such as the garment district of Manhattan. Heavy industry was typically outside of cities along railroads and waterways. Ford was in Dearborn, not Detroit. US Steel was in Gary, not Chicago.

The rise of the consumerism greatly expanded cities as the hubs of consumption.

Lastly, Chicago was advantageously sited as a Great Lakes port based on the Chicago River. It then became a rail hub. But a key advantage was that the Chicago River could be reversed in 1900 to flow into the Illinois river so that Chicago could take fresh water from Lake Michigan and send its sewage down the Illinois River to the Mississippi.

thanks, the Indiana Harbor Belt RR still interconnects much of Chicago area heavy industry

and has 11 switchyards in the area (click above map to get to thumnails).

Likely much of the switchyard growth after the original layouts came from industrial sites.

There are plenty of other switchyards operated by other RR in the area as well. They all morphed one way or another over the years, no doubt someone cried about what they displaced at least a time or two over the last century and a half.

Thanks for the map. The Indiana Harbor Belt RR is the rail equivalent of Interstate 294. However, since railroads are private, establishing interchanges involves various commercial machinations. They can also prevent other railroads from crossing their tracks. See "frog wars".

Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad History

The Indiana Harbor Belt as we know it today was formed in 1907. The Chicago Junction Railway, a New York Central affiliate, had leased the East Chicago Belt Railroad and the Terminal Railroad in 1898, and had bought the Chicago, Hammond & Western Railroad in 1896. In October of 1907, the ECB's lease was dissolved, and it then acquired the CJ's interest in CH&W and assumed control of the Terminal Railroad as well. The new company was named the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad. Although not a signatory, the New York Central provided the financial backing and quietly orchestrated the entire transaction, reserving trackage rights over all routes of the new railroad.

Chicago and Detroit had (and still have) quite a bit of heavy industry. There are still working steel mills next to gentrified residential neighborhoods in Chicago.

Even the new, automobile-oriented ones were great places in the 1960s. They just weren't sustainable, and that is what Kunstler is saying.

And, of course, that's completely unrealistic.

Existing urban housing is less efficient energy-wise than suburban housing (mostly because it's older); urban housing is harder to renovate and upgrade with PV and heat pumps; EVs of various sorts (hybrids, PHEVs, EREVs and EVs) are perfectly affordable.

Here's the data:
Residential Energy Consumption Survey
2005 Residential Energy Consumption Survey--Detailed Tables
Average Consumption, British Thermal Units (Btu) per Household (US9)
Housing Unit Characteristics and Energy Usage Indicators (US1:Part 1)

Total BTU's
Type of Housing Unit Single-Family Detached. 108.3
Single-Family Attached 91.7
Apartments in 2-4 Unit Buildings 84.5
Apartments in 5 or More Unit Buildings 53.8

Floorspace/ Household (sqft)
Type of Housing Unit Single-Family Detached. 2,720
Single-Family Attached 1,941
Apartments in 2-4 Unit Buildings 1,090
Apartments in 5 or More Unit Buildings 872

BTU's/ thousand SF
Type of Housing Unit
Single-Family Detached. 39.816
Single-Family Attached 47.244
Apartments in 2-4 Unit Buildings 77.523
Apartments in 5 or More Unit Buildings 61.697

We see that Single-Family Detached are most efficient, followed by Single-Family Attached (townhouses), then Apartments in 5 or More Unit Buildings, and at the bottom are Apartments in 2-4 Unit Buildings!

We see that apartments only manage to use somewhat less energy by being much, much smaller on average.

Why is this? This is likely due primarily to the fact that heat loss and gain are much more affected by windows than by outside wall exposure, and apartments and condo's maximize the outside exposure and window area for all rooms.

Also, here's something somewhat on point:

"Typically, an older housing unit will consume more energy for space heating than a newer housing unit. (Although newer homes tend to be larger than older homes, their average energy use per square foot is lower.)

We can guess that much multi-unit housing is much older, and has the old problem of a landlord/tenant split in responsibility. "apartments and condominiums that are individually metered and for which the tenant pays their own heat and hot water use significantly less energy than those that are bulk metered and for which these services are provided at no additional charge -- perhaps in the order of 15 to 25% (e.g., Unmetered consumption can also vary widely by tenant, and it's generally believed that 30 per cent of residents will be responsible for 50 per cent of a building's overall energy requirements." (quoted from

Probably it's much less efficient by design (single pane windows with R value of .04, very low wall insulation, old furnaces, etc).

What should we do?

Well, it's fairly straightforward. We should stop worrying about whether the suburbs are viable, or whether we should all "localize", and concentrate on the basics: insulation, pluggin air leaks, better windows, higher efficiency lighting and appliances, heat pumps for heating and A/C, and a host of smaller, inexpensive improvements.

Well, that's existing housing. What about new housing?

We nee much, much better "green" design for new homes. For instance, there's every indication that PassivHaus type design can almost eliminate energy consumption for new homes, at very little additional cost.

An Energy Star certified home would reduce energy consumption by 15% over a conventional home. A LEED certified home would reduce consumption significantly depending on the level of LEED certification and the points that the builder chooses to focus on. There are several levels of LEED certification, and the credits can be applied across any number of areas (energy consumption, water reuse, materials resources, etc.).

A DOE ‘zero-energy’ home would reduce consumption by 70%.

The Passive House Standard home is +90% more efficient than a new conventional home, without relying on PV solar arrays and passive solar space heating. See

Now, one might ask if energy use per sq ft is the proper was to measure efficiency . IOW, am I suggesting that if SUVs were as efficient on a per pound basis, it would be a good idea to buy one?

No. Here's why:

1) Energy-related design is much more important than building type. Efficient single family homes are available, plug-in SUV's aren't.

2) SUV's and homes are different in another way: homes last 10-20x as long, and we build about 6% as many per year (625K homes per year vs 10M light vehicles). We scrap old SUV's, but we rarely demolish old homes. Even during the white flight of the 50's & 60's, the houses from which people fled weren't abandoned - someone else moved in. If the middle class were to flee the suburbs, the same thing would happen, except the new occupants would have much less money for energy efficiency.

3)Choosing a more efficient vehicle is trivial, while moving homes is a very expensive proposition. Urban condos can be more expensive than suburban homes, even while they're half the sq ft. It's much, much cheaper to make an existing home energy efficient than to move.

4) It's worth noting that different housing types have a different number of occupants: single family homes use less energy per person than townhomes or 2-4 unit apt buildings, and only slightly more than apts. SUV's, on the other hand, don't.

5) SUV's have other problems: they're make the roads much more dangerous, while not improving the safety of their occupants.

6) OTOH, it's true for SUV's as well that design is more important. A plug-in SUV really wouldn't be a big environmental problem (windpower is very cheap to build, should we choose: a one-time payment of $1,500 would pay for the wind capacity needed to power even a very big SUV forever).

The fact is, housing is currently overbuilt. We have more homes than we need, and we're not going to be building a whole lot for a while. We need to primarily pay attention to retrofits.

Energy-related design is much more important than building type. This is true both for existing units, and newly built: conventionally designed existing multi-units aren't more efficient (in fact, they're less), and new single families can be made just as efficient or more.

If you build an apartment building with units having, say, 1800 sq ft with the same techniques as you build a single family home, isn't it true that any of the apartment units are going to consume less energy than the single family home?

Not really - that's too simplistic.

1st, the physics also works against you. You can't put all of the windows on the south side; in a large building you can't use solar for water or PV (some Passive House designs go to net zero energy with solar, which couldn't be done with an apt bldg); you won't have space for ground-based heat pumps (which likely means wasteful resistance heating, or fossil fuels, though air-based heat pumps will be useful in some cases); after a certain point A/C is working mainly to move internally generated heat, not external heat, so no further savings are possible; using earthen berms (or any large inexpensive structural element) for heat buffers will tend to be impossible.

2nd, The Passive House standard sets a maximum, which an architect will design against, so energy consumption will be the same. In particular, exterior windows will be maximized until they hit the limit.

3rd, apts have several common elements that must be taken into consideration. For example, the lighting in hall corridors, stairwells, lobby and other public areas will likely operate twenty-fours hours a day, as will the elevator(s) if the building is so equipped. If there's underground parking, this garage area will be continuously illuminated and perhaps heated during the winter months. There may be any number of ventilation fans that also run 24/7 and even ice melting cables embedded in the sidewalks and parking ramps to keep them free of ice and snow. Most of us would be positively shocked if we were to view the billing records of some of these buildings -- I can tell you I've nearly fallen out of my chair on more than one occasion (this paragraph quoted from

4th, even if you did manage to reduce further with apts, the absolute difference is going to be so small as to not matter. The Passive House standard is about 3 KWH/SF for heating and cooling, so a 1,800 SF single family will use only 5,400 KWH. If an apt saves 20% beyond that, that's only 960 KWH, or about $100. That could be supplied cleanly by about a onetime expenditure of $700 for wind turbines. For $100 savings we're going to go with apts over another form of housing??

Urban condos can be more expensive than suburban homes, even while they're half the sq ft. It's much, much cheaper to make an existing home energy efficient than to move. I don't know why people waste a lot of thought on very expensive, painful, slow solutions like moving people into different housing, when much cheaper and faster solutions are available.

I've been asked - Shouldn't we replace our housing, to relocalize and improve housing energy efficiency?

No, that would be a very expensive solution. We have very roughly 110M units of residential space. To replace 50%, at a ridiculously conservative $100K each (assuming only 1,000 SF/unit, $100/SF, not including supporting rail or other infrastructure(!) and the demolition of the surplus housing), would cost $5.5B and only eliminate a fraction of our energy consumption (an optimistic estimate would be 50% - your estimate for 12 years out was only 6%). The same money (and sense of political urgency) could build enough wind power to replace all of our coal and gas generation, power all of our transportation and heat pumps for all of our homes, and eliminate 80% of our oil consumption and 90% of CO2.

Didn't we do it before, in the 20 years after 1950?

In 1950 we had an enormous backlog of needed construction - not much happened during the Depression, or WWII. Much of the construction was not replacement, much of the abandoned property was very poor deep rural (some Southern, due to the great migration North). Today we're coming off of a very big construction bubble, with excess property everywhere: suburban and city.

We added much housing, but we didn't lose a big % of the old. We're only building 342K units per year now - to replace as much as 50% of our existing housing in 20 years we'd have to get above 2.75M (a rate we've never reached at peak building rates), figure out how to finance them when residential construction is at the very bottom of anyone's lending list these days, in dense areas that require a great deal more planning and supporting infrastructure (including a lot of rail, most of which would take a decade itself for planning and construction). That's highly unrealistic.

342K units per year now

In fact, new housing construction rates have fallen in a way that's unprecedented, and it's unlikely that new construction rates will recover for quite some time.

Flight to the suburbs had the wind of cheap, greenfield land at it's back. Flight to the city would have the very big headwind of much more expensive, complicated infill housing in front of it (even if all suburban building codes were made more expensive, or urban codes relaxed). It would also face enormous opposition from the existing residents, who wouldn't be eager to double the density of their neighborhoods and lose many of their homes. It would require the demolition of a lot of existing urban/near urban SFH's and low-rise housing, to be replaced on the same site by townhouses and medium and high rises - this would require local permissions that would be impossible without a WWII-like emergency and no other alternatives, when such alternatives are obviously available, faster and more energy and cost-effective.

So, to summarize: we won't change our settlement patterns and building practices to require less energy so that less dense energy sources like solar and wind suffice?

That will take decades, and provide only marginal gains, relative to what we need.

Building out wind (and solar, etc) would be much, much cheaper and faster: compare 100M residential units at $200K each and only 625K units being built per year, vs 200,000 5MW wind turbines at $10M each.

Rebuilding the residential units would cost $20T and take many decades, while the wind would cost $2T and could be done in 10 years.

thoughtful appraisal--there might be some objection that you did not bring the cost of maintaining our extended road/transport structure into play, but that opens many other cans of worms about just what the future transport mix to our existing housing stock could/will actually look like...

I believe most road maintenance costs are related to damage/wear & tear by vehicles. Vehicle damage is the 4th power of weight, so overweight trucks are the big culprit.

I expect most long-haul trucking to move to rail.

Asphalt is another problem, but it can be replaced by concrete (which can be made negative-CO2, if related industries can ever be induced to change their very conservative ways).

In just twenty years, 1950 to 1970, we trashed virtually all prime commercial property (known as "downtowns") and well built, well located established neighborhoods (known as "inner cities") and moved almost a quarter of the population to Suburbia.

We did it once - We can do it Again !

Perhaps a little quicker this time.

And we should,


PS: TOD has 1/4th the carbon footprint of Suburbia. The energy savings from wholesale abandonment of Suburbia are quite large, not "marginal", and should be a focus of a long term US energy policy (not that should be said too loud).

PPS: Your metric of energy consumption (per thousand sq ft) is not an appropriate measure of energy efficiency. BTUs per person is.

moved almost a quarter of the population to Suburbia.

Well 1/4 of the 1970 population didn't exist in 1950 and today's population, which is over double 1950's, likely won't fit back into the pre suburbia city all that comfortable. It is even a tighter squeeze when you factor in better than 10% increase in urban dwellers relative to rural that since 1950. Talk of wholesale abandonment of suburbia is basically bogus--reshaping it around somewhat denser local centers is more likely. Some of it should become more dense, some of it should go away and some should stay pretty much as it is (well not quite almost all needs to be made more light transport friendly--light being everything from skates and bicycles through light electric).

I spent a little time walking around some New Orleans residential areas in 1968--some of those neighborhoods were no more dense than those in upscale Chicago suburbs like River Forest and Riverside, many others I walked through certainly were no more densely populated the the belt of suburbs that rings Chicago's west, north and south sides a couple/few miles deep. Wholesale abandonment of suburbia is pretty harsh talk--a planned retrenchment might be a better way to phrase it ?-)

Yes, New Orleans leads the nation in lowest VMT (NYC is #2) with a very human scale built environment with plenty of green around. A model for what could happen in selected areas of Suburbia.

And looking at reducing Suburbia from slightly more than half of the current population to about X% of the future population in 20 years. Add population growth (was +0.9%/yr, now closer to +0.7%/yr) for 20 years - say +15% to +20%. Double the Urban population, and increase the TOD population (now 2% of current population to 20% to 25% of a future population).

This leaves a LOT of people in Suburbia - and massive swaths of abandoned Suburbia. I think the major impetus for reforming Suburbia into TOD Lite is seeing miles and miles of abandoned cul-de-sacs nearby and struggling economically to survive as the cities boom.

I attended a lecture by the Chair of the Congress of New Urbanism recently. She talked about case studies of reforming Suburbia. One was literally building a new village on top of an old Mall parking lot (with the Mall re-purposed into civic area, shopping (duh) & services (barber, shoe repair, etc.), apartment housing (seniors) etc. Not much green though.

I will let others worry about how to rebuild and re-purpose some part of Suburbia. The emphasis should be on creating as much TOD as possible, and start drawing large numbers of people out of Suburbia.

Lots to do - but most of Suburbia as we know it will not survive,


most of Suburbia as we know it will not survive

Alan, did you read my stuff above?

That's just completely unrealistic.

Why would someone pay twice as much for their housing, when they could just switch cars?

The Prius C uses 40% as much fuel as the average US vehicle, and costs less than 2/3 as much. A Nissan Leaf costs only $3k more than the average new vehicle, without the rebate!!

In just twenty years, 1950 to 1970, we trashed virtually all prime commercial property (known as "downtowns") and well built, well located established neighborhoods (known as "inner cities")

Do you have sources for that? That looks inaccurate to me. Most of that property stayed in place, and is now occupied - maybe not by the same middle class types, but occupied nonetheless. It varies of course - Chicago is vibrant, while Detroit is depressed - but on the whole I don't see the phenomenon you describe.

TOD has 1/4th the carbon footprint of Suburbia.

That's primarily due to transportation, which needs to be primarily addressed by electric vehicles - which is faster and more comprehensive.

The energy savings from wholesale abandonment of Suburbia are quite large, not "marginal", and should be a focus of a long term US energy policy (not that should be said too loud).

I agree that Rail is good and should be a large element of public policy and long-term planning. OTOH, abandonment of Suburbia for energy reasons is misguided and unrealistic.

energy consumption (per thousand sq ft) is not an appropriate measure of energy efficiency. BTUs per person is.

That confounds too many things. Reducing one's sq ft has a cost - people may be willing to pay that cost to fit into urban space, but it still has a cost.

In the US, the Federal contribution to public transit comes from the gas (and diesel) tax. That funding is shrinking ( Moreover, that funding requires a 100% local match, and can only be used for capital costs ( Operating/maintenance costs have to come from someplace else, and fares are rarely (if ever) enough. Higher gas prices will shrink sales and decrease funds available for public transit. Higher prices at the pump will also increase demands for lowering or eliminating gas taxes. Frankly, I don't see any way of expanding public transit without heavy taxes or heavy borrowing, and any source for borrowed funds (banks, bonds, etc) will probably insist on payment being guaranteed from general tax revenues rather than potential profits from the transit lines (heavy taxing, again). By the time enough people want to (or have to) use public transit to make it potentially profitable, we may not be able to find the funds needed to build it. Another trap.

Someone needs to figure out a way to build and operate roads and highways at a much lower cost.

In 2010, they required $101 billion (about the cost of Afghanistan) or $326.99 per person in subsidies from general funds, other non-transportation taxes and more borrowing. All to keep gas taxes too low.

Two months ago we stole $18.5 billion from the US Treasury, $11.8 billion from the Pension Guaranty Fund and over $2 billion from the Leaking Underground Storage Fund to spend on federal highways.

That said, yes the USA needs to learn to build more & cheaper.

At the bottom of this essay, I compare Houston to Bordeaux. (Your wine is not as good either)

Best Hopes for Full Cost Accounting,


The DC Metro (subway) system requires 18 cents/passenger mile operating subsidy - and their buses require $1.12/passenger mile.

The dramatically higher cost of subsidizing buses, and private cars, is never mentioned in the calculations for Urban Rail. Abolish free parking (there is no "free lunch") and urban rail will be quite cost competitive.

Best Hopes for Full Cost Accounting,


At the bottom of this essay, I compare Houston to Bordeaux. (Your wine is not as good either)

I can imagine some inebriated Texans standing on one of the rails and urinating on the third rail... >;-)

That would be an illuminating experience and would also provide - at least for a larger group - a save ticket for the Darwin Award :-)

METRORail uses overhead power. IIRC, hurricane Ike resulted in floating 18-wheelers at low spots on the freeway, so a third rail system may not be very practical.

hurricane Ike resulted in floating 18-wheelers at low spots on the freeway, so a third rail system may not be very practical.

I was in London when the British third-rail railways were brought to a halt by wet leaves on the tracks. They claimed they were "the wrong kind of leaves", although I don't know that means. It seemed to be a good argument for overhead wires.

The last time I was in Houston, I saw 18-wheelers floating sideways down the Interstates in what they described as a "heavy rainfall" - Good thing it wasn't a real storm.

North American mainline locomotives can plow a foot or so of water before the electric motors short out. I think it would be better to build the rail lines above flood level.

I always look forward to Tom Murphy's posts here. They are some of the best on the oil drum.

What he points out is what I have seen. I have wanted to do either an all electric car or motorcycle just for the benefits of the simple drivetrain, and quiet operation. And because I thought it would be interesting.

When you look at cost savings there aren't any really. Same thing with storing much solar power in batteries. If you look at the electricity costs for vehicles or buying it from the local power company vs solar panels and batteries, the cost of using up and replacing batteries swamps any savings. You might break even, but probably won't. There are other reasons like lower pollution perhaps.

Further looking carefully at how to make use of stored energy you quickly come to the conclusion electric vehicles would be able to come close to doing everything we need if we moved about at lower speed. One could make a nice EV if it never needed to exceed 30 mph. You don't waste very much to aero losses at lower speeds nor to stopping losses when you brake to a stop from slower speeds. Of course if we lowered voluntarily what ICE vehicles do to the same 30 mph with the engine optimized for such use we could easily double or close to triple the distance we got from each gallon of fuel used. So again the battery option isn't all that attractive. Right now no one wants to limit themselves to 30 mph. The day will come however when moving at any speed on non-human power might be quite attractive.

I think some of the developing countries not yet addicted to our speeds would do themselves a huge favor to develop their transportation systems with a hard 30 mph limit. I also wonder about cargo roads for heavy transport done at very low speeds like 15 mph. Such a speed if automated could be quite sufficient. But then so would special cargo train systems. No one is in a position to declare such will happen. And the free market is too oriented to short term profit only to take a long sighted view in regards to energy efficiency. Which is pretty much the story for all our energy issues.

I drive an (almost) normal diesel ice car. Room for 5 adults (at a pinch) and 500 litres of cargo. Will do 90mph (I am told) and meets European standards on safety, emissions etc. I recently drove it 128 miles at an average of 49mph and the computer reported 97.4 mpg (UK, 81.1 mpg US). The computer tends to be 5% optimistic. If the car was built to hold 2 people and have a top speed of 60mph and a reduced crash resistant cage, as well are removing unnecessary items like air conditioning and electric windows etc., I am sure the same journey would return 120 mpg (US) with no new technology at all. If almost all cars in the US were built to the same standard, oil shortages would be delayed at least 20 years. My fuel costs were 9.5c a mile, with fuel at $8.50/gallon. The car cost $15000 new two years ago.

The car companies will never sell such a car, because we would never buy it in enough numbers to make it worth their time making it.

I've looked into neighborhood electrical vehicles (NEV), as they are called in the US. The problem in Florida is that they are limited to a top speed of 25 MHP, and are not allowed on any street where the speed limit is over 35 MPH (and I frankly would not want to take one on a road where Suburbans and Excursions and F-350s and 18-wheelers were passing me at 50 or 60 MPH). Where I live I could get to work, get to downtown, get to several venues for live theater and several museums, get to my daughter's house, but I could not take an NEV to the supermarket and drug stores and branch library that are closest to us, or to any movie theater, or to where my mother and stepfather live. And they still cost about US$9,000 (for a two seater) and up. Of course, if I got a three-wheel EV (legally a motorcycle), the speed restrictions are gone (just lousy crash protection).

In response to RalphW.

I too drive a very conventional European Diesel car - it's a 2006 VW Golf TDi.

Last weekend I experimented in keeping the speed on the motorway (freeway) to between 65 and 70mph. The fuel economy meter maintained 68 UK mpg or 56.65mpg (US).

Provided that you keep your speed fairly constant, with no sudden acceleration, and below 70mph, then the fuel economy is excellent.

So much for highway driving, but on the regular road, where in the UK you will encounter gradients and bends, it is less easy to maintain a constant rate of output from the engine. For this reason, I would suggest having an electric drive - engineered around the rear axle, which provides electric boost when climbing hills, and conversely regenerative braking when descending hills.

In this way the diesel ICE can run at a near constant speed and power - effectively decoupled from the acceleration/deceleration profile required in normal road and traffic driving conditions.

If I ever find a Golf "4-Motion" - the 4WD variant, I will consider fitting a traction motor and modest battery system (200kg) to the rear axle.

A little story: In France electric car are not selling well and the Peugeot/Citroën have failed to sell their rebranded version of Mitsubishi i-Miev at the price of 22,500 Euro (range of 100 miles, max speed around 80 mph) in the first 6 month. The new governement raised the rebate from 4000 Euro to 7000 Euro but it helped little. So to get rid of their stock of car and do some advertising, Peugeot decided to do a limited sal at less than 11,000 Euro starting August 1st... they sold all the cars in 3 days and could have sold thousand more (but would probably be loosing money on each one).
The point of this story is that if carmakers could make an electric car and sell it profitably for less that 15000 Euro (without rebate), it will have a big success even with a 100 miles range. This is certainly the case in Europe and probably even in the urban area of USA. So trying to improve the range is not a major point to increase the sale, reducing the cost is, specially it the tight economic situation most of us are facing. Beside that, electric bike, scooter and motobike are probably a better solution.
Another news from France: The post office is planing to buy around 15,000 electric cars in the coming years to distribute mail. I think doing local delivery is probably the most sensible usage of electric car.

In my view, an electrified rail transport system similar to the US in 48, or France today must be built. This system can be powered
by renewables/fossil fuels, as required. Non-rail transport must be local, and limited to trips of less than 20 km.

This specifically means that local and long distance rail must be integrated, perhaps by shifting containers from rail to short haul trucks, and the reverse, and definitely by shifting persons from high speed rail to bicycles/ mopeds / electric vehicles/ walking.

I also believe that lighweighting of local vehicles is required, and such vehicles will be limited to 50 km/hr or less.

The long haul semi is a soon to be extinct dinosaur.


Rail transport is feasible in sufficiently urbanized areas, but any build-out will cost (and I do not see the political will to fund it in most places). Where I live now used to be served (early 20th century) by three railroads. More than 95% of the rails in and around the city have been removed. Even if the right-of-ways could be reclaimed, most of the growth has been away from the old lines. We do have a bus system that is fairly good at getting students to and from the university, but that exists because every student pays for it in student fees, and there is very limited parking on or near the campus. (For the same reason, you see a lot of bicycles and scooters around town.) It is not so good at moving people between other points. I have two sisters that live in the country. Each is about 5 miles from the nearest traffic light or retail store. My sisters drive compact cars, but I don't think my brothers-in-law will be giving up their pickups any time soon.

Rail transit requires a certain population density to provide sufficiently high ridership to make it feasible. Most US suburbs are built at too low a density to make rail transit practical, but the same is not true of other countries. Most cities in developed countries elsewhere in the world are built at higher densities.

Where I used to live, Calgary (I retired to the mountains), the newer suburbs are built at a sufficiently high density for rail transit. It works extremely well, and in fact most of the suburban residents are vociferously demanding new rail transit.

Some years ago, the transit system realized that riders to the University of Calgary (plus a nearby technical college and arts college) would be reverse-flow riders - taking up empty seats not occupied by commuters who were going the opposite direction. They offered a deep discount to the university and colleges (who are in the business of education students, not parking cars) and the schools passed it on to their students. The result is that the trains are now full (standing room only) in both directions.

U of C: Transportation

U-PASS: A travel pass for full-time U of C students is a sticker that is placed on your student identification card. It allows you unlimited public transit access for the semester. The fees for the U-Pass (currently assessed at $75 per semester) are COMPULSORY for all Undergraduate and Graduate students.

Parking costs range up to $488 per semester in the campus centre, the waiting lists for parking lots range from 3 months to 3 years. (I'm guessing that the $488/semester lots are a 3-year wait).

The university has about 30,000 students, which is about 6 times as many as when I went there and parking was free. The technical college has about 26,000 students, the arts college about 1200. It does make for a lot of transit riders.

"My sisters drive compact cars, but I don't think my brothers-in-law will be giving up their pickups any time soon."

One of these ?

A bit pricey though.

I have to take exception with Tom’s analysis. I am and Engineer and I own a Chevy Volt. I agree that battery’s cannot compete with liquid Hydrocarbons on energy density. However, Hydrocarbons energy density is not an absolute requirement for vehicles. I purchased the Volt after a very detailed financial evaluation (If the Volt falls apart or the battery is completely dead at 100,000 miles as assumed in Tom’s analysis it will not be a wise purchase). My electric rate is .062/kwhr with tax, $.80 per charge. I assumed the Volt will last 180,000 miles. The battery capacity will be diminished some; however, I don’t expect this to be significant. The volt’s battery is 16 kw-hr but only uses 10.2 kw-hr and I usually have shallow charge-discharge cycles. After the rebate the Volt cost me $33,880. After 8 years and 180,000 miles I will have spent $22,000 less in fuel than compared to our previous vehicle , a Honda CRV. That puts the total cost of ownership over 8 years less than the CRV. The CRV is a nice vehicle , but in my opinion the Volt is better in all categories except ground clearance and interior volume. Now let’s factor in the uncertainty of gas prices in the decision.

PS. I initially entered the 5 year saving. We drive 20k miles per year on our primary vehicle. the $22k saving includes the cost of electricty

Vs. your CRV sure. But how nicely does the savings look if compared to the Chevy Cruze which is the Volt with just an ICE? I say it likely won't look like any savings by that measure.

i disagree that the volt is a Cruze with an ICE. The Volt is a much nicer vehicle. Go test drive both. For my pariticular situation the Volt total cost of ownership for 8 yrs is $49,048. The Cruze total cost of ownership is $51,142. The Volt doesn't make sense for everyone. But if you drive a lot and live where the electricity is cheap, it can be a lower total cost than even much inferior vehicles.

Well, it is and it isn't. If you were to look at it purely as a practical commuter, the Cruze is in the same size and performance class as the Volt, just like the Leaf and Versa hatch are in the same class. However, car buyers will pay extra for luxury, performance, style and "brand prestige". Because of EV drivetrain costs, the Leaf and Volt play in a different price range, and manufacturers will spend a few extra bucks to make it drive nicer and feel nicer inside to justify the premium pricing, and they've mostly succeeded with the Leaf and Volt. The competition isn't the Cruzes, Leafs and Civics. It's the Prius and VW TDIs: $30K cars for style-conscious Greenies. I should know. The Prius is de rigeur for Green street cred around LA.

FYI, I estimated the Prius 8yr total cost at $45,923. So the prius was a smarted choice finacially. But the volt styling ,perfomance, and electric only driving was worth the difference to me.

Did you account for the time value of money? With a car such as a Volt or Leaf, the initial price delta happens on the front end, with fuel savings distributed over time. It would be interesting to see your numbers converted to NPV using a reasonable discount rate.

On the other hand, did he account for an ever-rising price of gasoline?

That is one of the things with all these calculations . . . they are all educated guesses since we don't know what the interest rates will be, what the gas prices will be, etc.

Fair enough, but lack of certainty isn't an argument in favor of disregarding such factors altogether. We don't know with any certainty what oil, coal or nat gas production will be 8 years from now, what the cost of extraction will be, what the world economy will have done to the balance of supply and demand and pricing, etc. If we did, "The Oil Drum" probably wouldn't exist. But it's not too hard to envision some range bookends, plug them in and see what they yield.

What has been your average real world experience with the number of miles you can drive before the gasoline engine kicks in?

Also, isn't there a limit to the time that you can go without using the gasoline in the tank?

Another Volt owner here - we have been driving a Volt since November of last year.

The number of miles you can drive on battery power is largely dependent on temperature and the speed at which you drive. Most of our experience is with in-town driving at speeds around 30 mph. In the dead of winter in Wisconsin with an outside temperature below 0 F we can get about 30 miles on a 10 kWh charge. In the summer when our outdoor temperatures are around 75 F we can easily get over 45 miles on a charge.

The car is designed to run the gasoline motor on occasion to keep the gas in the tank from going stale, but in our experience that has never happened. In the winter the car will run the gasoline motor for about half a mile in the morning just to heat up the batteries (ice engines make great heaters). In the summer we are more likely to take the occasional longer driving trip that works the gasoline motor, so the car hasn't needed to run the gas engine for maintenance purposes.

Regardless of the economics, it might prove to be useful to have a vehicle that can move you 30 to 45 miles with minimal use of gasoline.

I get about 30 to 35 miles in the winter, about 40 in the summer. Some kind of temperature related thing.

As an owner of an electric car - a Nissan Leaf, and I have to correct some if not most of your statements.
-I've driven now 12'000 miles, and recharged my car about 100 times of full cycles. No problem so far, the battery capacity and range remains stable.
-Nissan guarantees 100'000 km or 1000 recharge cycles, but I can reasonably hope to extend the life of this battery to 200'000 km or 2000 cycles, with some single cells replaced. Battery life in years should be at least 7 years, I hope to extend it to 10 years
-the efficiency is far better than an ICE, I need the equivalent of 1.9l of gazoline for 100km, you can't achieve this with an ICE, and with lower velocities the relation between E-car and ICE further improves
-an important advantage of electric cars are their longevity: The drivetrain should not only last 150'000 miles as an ICE but up to 1 million miles and more. I won't have to buy another car in my life anymore, if I don't want to, only replace the batteries. Other maintenance costs are much lower than with an ICE
-Nissan already offers a power station to connect the car with your house, so in combination with a solar roof the battery can deliver electricity for my home or my office for months. This is the first step to a new electric grid, decentrally organised.
-Lithium is not a rare metal, but quite abundant.

Electric cars won't solve all our problems. We still should reduce our energy consumption to a fracture of our current consume, if we want to avoid a collapse of our society. Electric cars can be a part of this effort to reduce the energy consumption and they can help to create a decentralised and more secure electric grid!

I have to agree with you. I've driven an electric converted Renault that used Lead-Acid batteries (talk about a LOW Kwh/Kilogram). It had about 30 miles of usable range.

And I loved it.

The reason, I was 16 at the time. My options were drive and electric or take a bicycle. If you guessed, the electric was a way better choice.

It will take a long time for an electric car to compare to a gasoline vehicle on price, range, recharge rate, horsepower, etc. Simply because the amount of development that has gone into the ICE. But this is the wrong train of thought.

Right now oil has an equilibrium price of about $100/bll. It used to be $50/bll and even as low as $20/bbl. The future is higher ($150 or $200 or higher). The ICE will not be practical forever. The choice for the average person will not be electric, gasoline, diesel, or NG car. It will be electric, bicycle, scooter, or walking. I don't know about you, but I'd prefer to take an electric for 50 miles a day than 5 miles on a bicycle...


I used to hate cars until the age of 35 years, I always used transportation by electric train and bicycle. When I accepted to buy a second hand car, I soon began to be dependent of it, more so, when I bought a new Toyota Prius eight years ago. Sort of crazy, when my Toyota was out of service I felt like being ill - absolutely crazy!

I know, there's something wrong with our car dependence. It seems we can't be successful without driving our own car. I can say for me, that I now really need it as a physician. I'm a house doctor, have my own office and often visit my patients, I really need a car, it could also be smaller, a vehicle with one or two seats would also be enough.

The Nissan Leaf is really a modern car: reliable, with a fast acceleration, very low maintenance cost, as I live in a small country - switzerland - the range is sufficient in nearly all situations. For longer distance of more than 80 km I continue to use train transportation.

I have to agree. I've owned a Leaf for about 18 months and it has become our primary car with the ICE as backup. The life cycle cost of the EV vs the ICE needs to include the cost of maintenance as well the cost of electricity, gasoline. I have owned a Passat (our ICE backup vehicle) for 9 years and have spent easily $10K in maintenance including such things as changing of the timing belt, oil leaks, coolant leaks, ECM-emission control system problems, etc., etc. Much of the cost of maintenance is in the labor of tearing the engine apart and putting it back together again. Look under the Leaf hood and the difference in maintenance costs is obvious. Even brakes in the Leaf last longer because of the regenerative braking. Add to that, I charge the Leaf with a solar PV system (net metering) that will be paid off in another 18 months based on the $ saved on not using the ICE (about $200/mo). I figure I will replace the EV every 5 - 8 years because better quality cars (style, interior, etc.) and batteries will come along. I use a life cycle model to calculate a 20-year saving analysis of about $60K over a comparable ICE vehicle. Most of this comes from not paying for gas (PV capitalized) and much lower maintenance costs. Disclaimer: I live in a high-cost-of-energy state (Hawaii) where electricity is $0.35/kwh and gas is $4.50/gal and rising.

At ASPO 9 in Belgium last year I heard an interesting talk by Yulong Ding from the Univesity of Leeds (physics department). He talked about storing electricity using heat, or rather cold. It worked as follows: you use electricity to run a heat pump that freezes a chemical which has a boiling point at something like -10 degrees C. The chemical is kept frozen by insulation. To convert back to electricity, you remove the insulation and as the chemical boils, you use the expanding gas to drive a turbine to generate electricity. All this technology is very well known: heat pumps, insulation, and turbines. He claimed to be able to recover around 90% of the electricity required to freeze the chemical.

I didn't think about asking what the specific energy of such a system would be, nor the size. One could imagine canisters of the chemical kept in storage and then transferred to a vehicle such as a bus equipped with a turbine.

I have been suggesting for years using dry ice [CO2] as energy storage. Even if it is just vented afterwards you have 1/2ved its 'footprint' by re-using it. You could easily make dry ice intermittently with solar/wind/grid surplus and it would power trains, backup power etc.

This company claims to have made some breakthroughs. They are targeting a 300 mile electric range from a $20,000 car. If they can make their goals, it does sound like a game changer. They lifetime for the battery is only 500 cycles, but that is 150,000 miles.

BTW, they also claim that they can produce their batteries at half of current costs and I think that their claims are more than pie in the sky because another claim is being in production in less than a year and a half, and the major investors are the feds and GM. There lots of speculation that the first GM all electric will use this battery. Even if the final production model has batteries that are only 2 rather than 3 times better energy density at 65% of the cost of current batteries, it's still a big game changer. When you have 200 mile range, then very worst case is 100 miles and that's a lot of comfort to owners and covers 98% of most folks needs except cross country.

The first GM all-electric is the Chevy Spark EV. It is slated to used A123 batteries.

First GM electric vehicle? How quickly some forget about GM's EV-1.

I think our recollection was part of the general recall.

All the short-term memories were gathered up by court order and crushed.

All Perfectly Legal.

They say GM is testing the enviasystems battery also, but it may not be ready for the first model year. A123 isn't standing still and likely has improved batterys on the drawing board also.

This is the 1st generation of electric cars, and they seem to be just on the edge of being cost effective versus an ICE with gas at $4 per gallon. The batteries will get better, and the price of gas will continue to rise. Electric motors are a lot cheaper then an ICE, so as this matures, the cost of the electric cars can come down a lot.

Electric cars with 200+ mile range and costing only $20,000 - maybe in just a few years look plausible, that should put to rest all these electric cars are crap stories.

"This is the 1st generation of electric cars..."

I could live with calling these the "second" generation of factory built electric cars. There was a true first generation of electric cars around the beginning of the 1900's - but those can essentially be disregarded as much as the Model T and Stanley Steamer's effects on modern cars. What I would call the first generation of factory built electric cars is the EV-1, EV+, S10 EV, and Rav4 EV.

The original EV-1 came in two flavors before it was smote. The PbA version, which was slow and had an abysmal range of 60 miles by most accounts, and the NiMH version which had a range about that of the Nissan Leaf. The Rav4 and EV+ also had a range about that of the Leaf. The Rav4 EV was the only one that was actually sold and not leased (the S10EV only sold to fleets).

The Rav4 EV's are still going in many cases ( Many don't seem to be driven very much per year, but I've seen accounts of a few with 200,000+ miles. There's usually been a few batteries that have been culled by then, but otherwise nothing else done. The batteries are a big issue because of the large-format NiMH lawsuit.

It seems that battery technology is always behind the curve of expectation. Can you imagine the fanfare if the EV-1 had burst out onto the scene stuffed with LiFePO4? Those are vehicles with NiMH, which was new then but is common now, and they can essentially match the Leaf - but gas was like $1.50/gal and few cared. But there were obviously niches where they fit just fine and people have been driving them for years. It's infrastructure and attitude - we have the technology but not the mentality. Longage of expectations.

Good points, but the EV1 and the others were more market experiments, not really mass production. As you mentioned, most were only available for rent. I don't think I could have gotten one even if I wanted, since the number produced was so limited. The batteries used were designed for notebook computers and cell phones, not cars. On the other hand, the Volt uses the first generation of batteries that were actually designed for cars. I've seen several Volts on the road and don't think it would be too hard to get one if I wanted.

But okay, if you want to consider the Volt and Leaf as second generation, that's fine. It's usually the 3.0 version of some new technology before they finally get it right and everyone switches. Either way, there is still lots of room on the learning curve. It looks like the batteries on the drawing board are going to enable some very good electric cars for that next generation, whatever you want to call it.

GM sold electric trucks from 1912-1918: they were very successful.

I have been driving a EV for 4 years now. It serves all of my day-day commuting needs (I am a parent with three kids). Compared to an ICE vehicle I spend nothing on maintenance and fuel is effectively free. It's a delight to drive.

I recently sold my 2nd, ICE car, as it wasn't getting used. For long distance vacations I rent an ICE car or fly. Maybe in the future I will use (electric) trains to travel interstate.

I agree we won't be swapping ICE for EVs on a 1:1 performance basis. The key point is that we don't need to.

There are other models for personal transport than every home owning two 600km range ICE vehicles. I'm living one of them.

I have my own vision for future EV pricing. EVs are far simpler than ICE cars, and have a large electronics content. The price of electronic hardware drops towards zero with volume and time (look at TVs, computers etc). So I figure commuter type 200km range EVs costing a bit less than equivalent ICE vehicles in a few years.

Try looking at electric double-layer capacitors, also known as ultracapacitors or supercapacitors.

This discussion has centred around BEVs but a topic that has been discussed a lot in Australia is supply shifting of solar power, for example
A couple of years back both capital rebates and feed-in tariffs were quite generous. Then one State cut the FiT from 44c per kwh to 6c. That means home solar effectively became a case of 'use it or lose it'. If the real world cost of panels does get down to $2 a watt that means that many households could afford the $20k for say a 10 kw system. That system might generate even 10-15 kwh a day in winter in mid latitudes such as Australia. Provided overcast periods weren't too long a battery of say 10 kwh capacity could help with frugal electric heating in winter.

The problem then becomes not only of the cost of batteries but the space they would occupy in a suburban block. I understand building codes require heavy batteries like lead-acid to be housed in a secure shed. AFAIK there is no building code applicable to compact EV type batteries that could be kept in say a wall mounted cupboard. That assumes they have enough life cycle and the price is affordable. I'm thinking say $30k for 10 kw of panels, a 10 kwh compact battery that should last 10 years plus inverter, installation, smart wiring and so on. In summer a smart device would switch off some panels since I'm assuming surplus power is not wanted by the grid.

Multiply $30k by millions of houses and we're soon talking multibillions. I wonder if it would simpler to retain the dinosaur grid with big dumb thermal plant churning out cheap power 24/7.

General Electric is entering the business for large scale storage with sodium metal halide batteries. Durathon Battery

Some consideration:

1. Does a typical house have enough roof area for a 10 kW rated PV array? At 10% efficiency the active area would occupy 100 m2 or a square measuring 33 feet x 33 feet. At 15% efficiency the active area would be 67 m2. That area must have minimal shade and point in a near optimal direction.

2. A 10 kWh battery is small for a residential application. Can it source enough power to run a microwave oven, electric range or a combination of loads at night? A load of 1,800 W (120 VAC and 15 A) requires lead acid batteries with a rating of about 38 kWh. I am not sure if lithium batteries are any better. The average power drawn from a Chevy Volt battery is on the order of 250 W. The peak power is larger, but a vehicle accelerates briefly compared to an electric range cooking food.

3. Are you sure you want to put a 10 kW battery in a wall mounted cupboard in a house? How many hundreds of pounds would be mounted in distributed cantilever? Heavy things are best placed on a sturdy floor.

4. PV panels already have a retail price less than $2 / (rated watt) depending on the model and country. If the homeowner does the work himself, he should be able to install a 10 kW off-grid residential system for around $20,000.

Good questions. Some friends are getting a 5kw system mounted on the roof of the detached garage with the house roof having even more space. I guess night time electricity use in winter could be restricted to microwave cooking, electric blankets and LCD screen devices, one of which could give a real time energy consumption reading on request. On a frosty night the family of four watches the single 70w LCD TV in a draft tight room. The ceiling has a couple of 5w CFL back lights. There's no electric heater but electric throw blankets (4 X 60w). Taking turns each person microwaves a mug of hot chocolate on a 650w microwave. So from dinner to bed time the power draw is 320w with a few minutes of an extra 650w. Nobody is bored nobody is cold.

My understanding with battery banks is that they may need to vent hydrogen into a large space and always kept away from curious kids.

The reason I've been thinking along these lines is that even though I have all the free firewood I want I recently had a bad cold and a sprained knee at the same time. It was just too much hassle to replenish wood from the back yard on a freezing night.

"My understanding with battery banks is that they may need to vent hydrogen into a large space and always kept away from curious kids."

Regular flooded lead/acids need to be vented. Mine are in a cabinet vented by a small inline fan ducted outdoors. The fan is controlled by a voltage setting; most good solar controllers have an auxiliary relay for this. The fan also helps cool the batteries during charging. Sealed gel or AGW batteries generally don't need to be vented, but I don't recommend these for larger battery banks because they are difficult to equalize.

As for kids or the curious adult/pet,etc., my stuff is in a utility room that is lockable and fire resistant.

Our batteries are large 2 volt cells, 2200 amp hours, 20 amp rate. We have 12 cells, providing 2200 AH at 24 volts or 52.8 KWh (rated). We rarely cycle them below 80%. These are industrial forklift batteries from a nearby manufacturer who also makes batteries for the US submarine fleet. Out total cost was around $6400 in 2007, without shipping. Weight of the battery set is about 5200 pounds. I have an automatic water level maintenance system on the set. I recommend the larger 2 volt cells for larger battery systems as there are fewer cells to maintain and only one or two battery strings. They are also tall and narrow which allows the electrolyte to circulate well during charging.

"Our batteries are large 2 volt cells"

Single cell! Speaking of equalization, the other one than noted, whereby you get all of the batteries in the battery pack at the same can do that on a cell level. (For those unfamiliar...the 6 volt PbA is three-cell and 12V is six-cell...and you don't get "taps" to access the individual cell). It's not as big of a deal as with other chemistries but interesting anyway.

Peukert's Law...the amp rating you give is surprisingly small 0.0091 Coulomb rate - what's your typical draw? At 24 Volts 20 Amps would only give you 480 Watts continuous.

Our last set was twenty L-16s (6 volt) = 60 cells (5 strings) to maintain. Homepower did an article about 10 years back citing a Sandia study which determined that battery sets of more than 3 strings were much more likely to have cells fail over time. Of course, a battery string is only as good as it's poorest cell.

The twenty amp rate is a method manufacturers use to determine the storage capacity of their batteries. While many batteries will show a much higher capacity at a twenty amp discharge rate than at a 100 amp discharge rate, my industrial cells are rated only slightly lower in capacity, I think, typical of the larger 2 volt cells. Our normal discharge rate in the home is about 25-30 amps average in the evening after sunset (when my wife is watching TV ;-).

I couldn't find the older Homepower article, but here's a good primer on RE batteries:

The article mentions that L-16s are the biggest batteries most folks will want to work with (@120 pounds each), but I had little trouble moving our big 2 volt cells (@220 pounds) using a hand truck. Our utility room is on a 6 inch slab, so no trouble with weight there.

A 10KW solar installation is much larger than an average residential system. That is a pretty darn big system. If you are only using the most-Southern facing roof sections, you generally can't get that much on a typical house. And people typically have to deal with shading from some trees, a chimmney, etc.

"Does a typical house have enough roof area for a 10 kW rated PV array? At 10% efficiency the active area would occupy 100 m2 or a square measuring 33 feet x 33 feet."

As it happens, the sunny half of my very average roof is 16 ft by 60 ft, not counting the carport, which is probably too shaded.

As it happens, the sunny half of my very average roof is 16 ft by 60 ft, not counting the carport, which is probably too shaded.

Sounds like you're already pretty damn close at 960 sunny square ft.! BTW 10% efficiency is rather low for this day and age so you might not need that much roof space to begin with and then the question is do you really need 10kW? Have you done everything possible to reduce your consumption already?

In 2012, solar panels available for consumers can have a yield of up to 21%,[32] while commercially available panels can go as far as 27%.[33][34] Thus, a photovoltaic installation in the southern latitudes of Europe or the United States may expect to produce 1 kWh/m²/day. In Australia, a typical 1 kW solar system may produce 3.5-5 kWh/day, though this is dependent on location, orientation, tilt, and other factors.[35] Source Wikipedia

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with this company.

A 10kW Solar Kit requires approximately 1050 square feet of space. Ideal output will be achieved with an unobstructed south-facing view of the sun for maximum solar power. 10kW is 10,000 watts DC direct current. This could produce an estimated 3,300 kWh kilowatt hours AC alternating current per month given 5 sun hours per day and at least 230 watt DC solar panels.

Best hopes for more solar!



Please note that PV panels are now available in quantity for $0.45 / watt.

LiIon batteries providing 10 Kwh of power are available for $4,500 in quantity

Systems can be installed at $ 1,700/Kwe, which means the 10Kwe system mentioned would cost $ 17,000 USD.

Surprised? Probably, because most folks look back 3 years to prices then, but the world wide depression, coupled with excess Chinese capacity has collapsed Solar system prices.


I just hope that this excess Chinese Capacity and .45/w doesn't also coincide with a collapse in crystal quality or longevity.. but generally, the signs have been encouraging!

Please provide me the link to these $0.45/watt panels. Perhaps some Chinese thin-film panels could do that. But I'd worry about quality and you'd have a pretty low efficiency so you'd need a lot of area.

Please note that PV panels are now available in quantity for $0.45 / watt.

Silicon? Not retail they are not, not in the US.

post uprated.

bottom line message in last paragraph is key: batteries work. they are amazing inventions. but fossil fuels are indistinguishable from magic to us in short term. life will be different (still potentially high standard of living). But growth is over, globally. We might grow again from lower level in future. Our institutions and assumptions are not prepared for this as conventional media (and conventional economics) assumes some sort of seamless transition when fossil fuels become more expensive

If memory serves this Corvair crossed the US on battery power. The batteries were roughly $20,000, when silver was cheap

An intresting question is if you had to create oil from scratch with non fossil energy compared to using that energy directly in a battery which one is more efficent

Btw I did not buy my Volt to save money, just like most people that buy macs instead of pcs dont do it to save money.

Here is a rough comparison:

We did research on algae to crude oil. We obtained about 2% of solar radiation captured as algal biomass. We converted it to very poor quality crude oil at 45% of energy content in the algae (excluding drying costs). Refining to gasoline would be at about 80% efficiency. ICE is about 15% efficient:

2%*40%*80%*15% = 0.096% (less than one-tenth of a percent efficient)

Solar PV cell at 10% efficiency, transmission at 80% efficiency, battery charging at 90% efficiency, electric motor at 97% effiency (discounting the value of regenerative braking).

10%*80%*90%*97% = 6.9% efficient.

So, solar / battery / electric is about 70 times more efficient that making artificial crude oil and using it in the existing petroleum infrastructure.

This is why we stopped doing research in algae.

Sunrise Ridge

In general you are correct in your analysis - we did the same and decided not to invest. However, there are certain schemes that use waste CO2 as an accelerant. But even those schemes have ROI problems. Turns out that the cash cow for (most) algae is nutraceutical/pharmaceutical substances with "oil" as low volume, low-ROI side product. That said, there is plenty of research looking to change that 70 to 1/70 ... but not in the foreseeable future as far as I know. Others may know the real status of that.

Why not talk about an electric car that is already competitive in performance with gas-engined cars in its price class?

Here is Motor Trend's writeup of the early production of the highest-level version of the Tesla Model S sedan:

Base Price Weight Power 0-60 mph 60-0 mph Lat grip
BMW M5 $92,095 4384 lb 560 hp 3.7 sec 110 ft 0.94 g
Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG $96,805 4256 lb 550 hp 3.9 sec 113 ft 0.92 g Porsche Panamera Turbo S $176,275 4388 lb 550 hp 3.5 sec 105 ft 1.00 g
Tesla Model S P85 $105,400 4766 lb 416 hp 3.9 sec 105 ft 0.92 g

These are some of the best cars in the world, all limited production models and thus inflated in price. The Signature Performance Model S has the 85 kwh battery pack, and a special motor, and the price as tested included an optional glass roof and performance tires. The standard 40-kwh battery pack model costs $57,400 before the $7500 Federal credit, and the 60-kwh model costs $10,000 extra and the base 85-kwh model costs $20,000 extra. So you're paying $500 per kilowatt hour of battery or less.

Now before the usual barrage of objections from doomers, I'd like to point out that before this car arrived everyone believed that electrics could only be competitive with gasoline engines in the smallest and slowest cars. Is the real competitive curve saddle-shaped, with electrics doing the best at both extremes of price? Or are we simply missing improvements in batteries that have already occurred?

Tesla people claim that their battery costs have fallen 8% a year.
Tesla sources its batteries from Panasonic, which supplies a type introduced a year or two ago with about 100 wh/pound capacity. Panasonic has two newer generations in the pipeline; the replacement is said to have 120 wh/pound capacity.

While Motor Trend took the car only 238 miles on a single charge through Southern California in mixed traffic, it reports setting the cruise control at 65 mph, which is higher than the 55 mph used by the EPA and Tesla's own figures. Furthermore, each 20 kwh reduction in the size of the Tesla battery pack also means a loss of 200 lbs, and a reduction in its power requirements. The estimated cost of the electricity for this trip was $10.17, while the comparison cars would have cost about 4 times as much using premium fuel before the recent spike in prices. This is a huge car, much bigger than a Leaf or Volt, and very wide with lots of frontal area. Tesla has chosen not to push aerodynamics at the cost of visual appeal, which I tend to disagree with. We could do much better than this. The original GM EV-1 used only 120 wh/mile at 50 mph despite the weight of its primitive batteries.

As for Rembrandt's figures, the problem with the Volt is precisely that the battery pack is so small that it has to be recharged fairly often. For these big Tesla packs, 500 to 600 recharges gets you to 100,000 miles. You act as though gasoline engines never have to be overhauled or replaced. And as usual, electric car critics refuse to even consider that electric car batteries taken out of service when they reach 80% of capacity might still have other uses which make them economically valuable. Why is that? People at this site are usually so ingenious when it comes to ways to store energy, but not when it means perpetuating the utility of automobiles. In fact, the refusal to accept that price and energy density improvements are happening right now is due to the same attitude.

As a startup in an industry with massive barriers to entry, Tesla may not survive. But why does it accomplish so much more than established automotive behemoths? If the R&D fortunes devoted to all the IC engines in the world were directed to electric cars, how much could that accomplish?

Comparing the power density of a Li-ion battery and gasoline is not fair, gasoline is burned with an efficiency of 17% on average, electricity is returned at 90% by Li-ion battery and burned in an engine that is 90% efficient, so the tank to wheel in an electric car is 80% and barely 20% in ICE car, so saying that gasoline is 200 times more energy dense then an Li-ion battery is not the right way to look at it. On top of it you should stop by the Tesla store where you can see an open Tesla S : no gear box, no transmission, the bottom of the car is flat like a marble, when you see all the saving in weight and aerodynamic and transmission loss that the electric architecture allows compared to an ICE you can really improve the efficiency of the vehicle. Just to say a simple comparison of the energy density won't help us to see how good or bad is the future of EV cars. Asides this year ENVIA has announced a battery that is 440Wh/Kg a factor 3 improvement, 200Kgs of that battery would return like 240 miles, the Volt would only need 70Kgs of this battery... Not bad...more this battery uses Manganese and not Cobalt for its cathode, means cheaper and abundant. The future of EV is not "if" but "when" how fast it will happen is hard to say but it will happen,

We have both a Nissan Leaf and a Chevy Volt. We also have 12 KW of PV solar on the roof (yes, plenty of room) with 12 KWH of lead-acid battery backup. Dual Xantrex 6048 inverters, which switch over to battery power seamlessly in 1 millisecond. We also have solar thermal water heating and rainwater capture and storage. Our annual grid electricity use looks like about 800 KWH over the last year, which I hope to get to zero with better house insulation. The house is all-electric.

The Leaf and Volt are great! They have replaced our two former gasoline cars. We get about 40 miles electric on the Volt and 80 miles on the Leaf (we only charge to 80% since that is supposed to give better battery life).

Comparing just energy density is misleading, because the electric cars are 7 times as energy-efficient as gasoline cars. Both cars get about 4 miles per KWH, 140 mpg gasoline equivalent in terms of energy.

If you do the math, the cost of about 2.5 years of gasoline for a 20 mpg car will pay for solar panels that will power an electric car the same distance per year for the rest of your life. (The panels are typically guaranteed for 25 years, may last for 40 years.)

One of the main problems of electric vehicles seems to be the many articles bad-mouthing them. Some of the bad-mouthing is from conservatives who are wedded to or paid off by fossil fuels, but some is also from engineers and scientists who ought to know better. Take it from this engineer and scientist who not only has done the math, but also has done the experiments: electric vehicles work great.

I also have electric bikes (Tidalforce M750X), and those get 1000 mpg in gasoline energy equivalent (my 14-mile round-trip commute for 0.4 KWH, vs. about 3.5 KWH in an electric car). If energy is really short that's a savings, but in cash terms it's 4 cents versus 35 cents, not such a big deal.

Some people seem to have a religious objection to driving a car, but you can power an electric car for the rest of your life with $5,000 worth of solar panels at today's prices. That seems affordable to me.

Great testament, thanks!

And of course, there is a LOT of middle-ground as well, where electric Scooters and Motorcycles can be useful transportation, as well as all these other lightweight designs that people are coming up with.

I bought a Volt last year. I figured, what the hell, I will likely end up bankrupt anyway, may as well buy the car at the low low interest rates. The tax rebate put me over the top. I cannot say it is cost effective; the upfront cost is, say, twice that of a Chevy Cruze, but maybe it will pay off in an unexpected way, outside of standard economics.

I love the car. Well designed, I think. If I had a family of four, I might think it over. But it is a hatchback, easy to throw the bicycle into. Seats fold down. I can put padding and blankets down and camp out in the back, just a little scrunched up. I had 2 bikes and the bedding in the car recently when I went up to the Dead Baby Downhill. We shall see how the maintenance history and battery life turns out. Maybe have another Oil Drum article in 5 years. I can say I rarely buy gas anymore. I took it to Utah to see my sister and got 40MPG, so not bad. Wish there was a way to drop most of the battery for long trips -- just dead weight after the first 40 miles.

Jeff Barton

"Wish there was a way to drop most of the battery for long trips -- just dead weight after the first 40 miles."

I think this is actually backwards because of compromises they made. I made a post below that sort of touches on this but I'll expound here a little.

A car will require approximately 25 horsepower on flat ground to travel at 65 mph, a lot less going downhill, a lot more to go up. As a general rule if you go up you come back down, and unless you're traveling up Pike's peak the up doesn't last long and neither does the down.

The energy expended going uphill can be partially regained going downhill (energy in excess of that already being expended to maintain speed). The major losses in the long run are aerodynamic, rolling resistance, suspension, and the various drive-train losses.

The decision to put a 4 cylinder 80hp engine in the Volt I think was a lazy engineering one and a marketing issue. They already had a 3 cylinder of the same class and chose not to use it. I think it should be a large displacement 2 cylinder 45 hp (run at 2/3's max rpm unless reserve power needed/desired) at most with an appropriate downsizing of the generator to go along with with it. This would reduce mass in the engine, generator, and cooling system (peak potential cooling load nearly halved). It would also run the gasoline engine at a higher, more efficient, load.

To compensate for the smaller engine the battery would have to do more juggling - much as like occurs in the Prius. I was surprised when I first started driving a Prius just how often the electricity is coming out of or going into the battery - it changes from second to second and never really stops. Because of the much greater flexibility of the Volt it wouldn't have to be so frantic and because of the greater capacity it could allow a great battery deficit to build and allow for a great surplus as well.

So the battery can actually allow for a engine much smaller than practical for a car powered by an engine alone. Much. When traveling uphill, any power required in excess of the engine can come from the battery, when it goes downhill it can store the excess from the next hill, and if it has depleted its buffer to an extreme amount the engine can put some charge back into the battery for reserve while going downhill or on the flat. In order to take full advantage of all of this the engine must be started at the appropriate time. This is where the trouble starts because the car doesn't know the appropriate time. The driver would have to tell it.

Situation 1: Full trip will be within battery range, return to charging station at the end.
CarAction1: Never turn on engine.

Situation 2: Trip slightly longer than battery range, return to charging station at the end.
CarAction 2: Turn on engine when battery reaches 40%, turn off when destination is within estimated range.

Situation 3: Long trip far in excess of battery range. No guarantee of charging at the end.
CarAction 3: Turn on engine when battery reaches 40%, do not turn off until destination.

The 40% state of charge float range is probably overly cautious, but it would allow for long steep uphill climbs without running out of charge and plenty of charge capacity to recoup the downhill. Using a much smaller engine that couldn't take up all of the slack if the battery is depleted would require foreknowledge of the destination to use to full advantage, or the engine would come on too soon for efficiency, or too late for convenience.

This could be done in different ways such as: consumer knowlege/skill (tee hee!), GPS prompt at the beginning of the drive "Please enter your destination and if you will charge at your destination", or a distance prompt "How far are you traveling?" and "Will you be charging there?" The worst that could happen is to be left with a slight pig-in-a-poke if the engine had to take 100% of the load.

It's really another case like is often encountered on TOD of having plenty more room for the engineering - the Volt could be better, but the consumer would have to plan ahead and accept the situations when they goofed, "fate" intervened, or the car is in a "1%" situation.

So are you thinking a 20HP engine would do the job? There was a long, long uphill on I84 in eastern Oregon, but you could probably do it fine at 55mph with a mostly full battery without resorting to the gas engine. What happens if you run out of battery? Put it in low gear and go 20MPH? I have no objection. 20mph is faster than most people traveled on long trips through history. We are just spoiled today. But how much efficiency would that give you? Could you get up to 80MPG for a 1600mile trip with a 20hp engine? If it is only 45mpg, I'll keep the 80HP engine.


It's hard to say how big of an improvement it would make, but it should be more noticeable than +5 mpg and would impact the electric range positively as well due to the weight reduction.

The holy grail in fuel economy right now is still the original Honda Insight (

People would routinely get 70mpg in the Insight on the highway. The Insight is technically a hybrid but really barely so - it can't decouple the engine to run on battery alone, nor can it take full advantage of regenerative braking since engine drag is always present. The Cd of the Insight and Volt is similar-ish though frontal area of the Volt is more. Insight is much lighter.

Coincidentally, perhaps, the Insight uses a 995cc 3 cylinder engine which in size and power is nearly identical to the 998cc 3 cylinder version of the 1398cc 4 cylinder the Volt currently uses. The Insight's control systems were advanced, but there has been 13 years of engine development in that time. There are conversion losses (mechanical-electric-mechanical) in the Volt which would necessitate more power than pure direct drive, how much only Chevy knows, but the engine only needs to put out enough power to overcome the constant losses at it's target speed plus a small surplus to cover an amount outside of that target speed. The large ebb-and-flow of hills is handled by the battery. The Prius is essentially designed to partially take advantage of this but the electric propulsion system is too small and so the gas engine is still large...but even this returns a solid 45mpg in mixed driving in what is a big and comfortable car.

A whole lotta words, a whole lotta not really answering your question. The problem is that the Volt has no peers in what it can really do and Chevy dropped two complete drive systems in it - which means that neither is optimized. Both are carrying extra weight but worse is that the gasoline engine has two extra cylinders to cool, lubricate, actuate valves, friction losses, and massive loss of volumetric and combustion efficiency. When the over-sized engine ramps up to climb a hill or accelerate you have excessive conversion losses, when it spools down to cruise it has the extra baggage above. WAG - if GM got their stuff together I think they could get the Volt an extra mile of electrical range and mid-50's when on gasoline.

When are they going to use a highly optimised IFCE as a drive for a high efficiency generator to keep the batteries topped up instead of lugging around a whole heavy load of transmission systems to link it to the axles. Are they just seeking the 'broom broom' effect?


Look at the Jay Leno/ Bob Lutz interview (linked above somewhere) about the new VIA P/U Truck. It uses a V4 4.6 liter to only drive the Generator at dedicated speed. The truck is still packing a lot of mass, but the drive concept is in place.. now, just to downsize!

Sounds interesting, I'll check it out later.

Via Motors: Power Train indicates the ICE generator is a V6, 4.3 l, outputting a huge 150 kW (201 hp) The lithium-ion batteries store 24 kWh and are supposed to have a range of 40 miles. Running on batteries at 40 miles/hour the power drawn from the batteries would only be about 24 kW. The generator seems a bit oversized.

Thanks, it seems that the power is there for when the ute needs muscle or should I say 'in theory' since they are mostly used for lump hauling. Maybe it is so the owner can boast about his 4.6l engine. My thought was, rather than running at beast power for 1/3 the time, the motor/ generator produced a more average power most of the time with batteries/capacitors levelling it out for power bursts and absorbing power for regenerative braking. Maybe we will start to see more variations on the theme over the next few years.


Thanks, misremembered the engine..

The generator seems a bit oversized.

The generator has to handle the full non-steady state load (acceleration, hills) when then batteries are depleted after ~40 miles.

As notanoilman commented the vehicle should be designed to draw power from the battery and generator when accelerating. When traveling at constant speed, the generator should recharge the battery to restore or maintain some minimum level of charge (say 30%). Regenerative breaking would be another source of energy to be stored in the battery. This would allow the generator to be lower powered, smaller, lighter and more fuel efficient. If the power system was designed properly, then the generator would not have to do it all. The manufacturers seem to be designing the vehicles for high speed police chases where near constant acceleration and sudden breaking are used.

GM's top priority is showcasing a vehicle that has no compromises or flaws.

That includes minimizing wear and tear on the battery to ensure it lasts longer than promised.

Optimization comes later, when EVs are well accepted.

As per my post above, it is more likely for the owner to be able to puff up about having a 4.6l engine.


well you sort of have it right. It is a 4.3 litre Vortec V-6 is hardly a brag about big engine for US pickup drivers but rather a tried and true one(my 1988 Chevy 1/2 ton had one of the earliest of these--the standard and smallest available full sized pickup engine). It is one of the most reliable engines out of the GM stable and well trusted--so yes using the 4.3 will add confidence factor rather than a brag the big engine factor. It is an excellent engine and my 1988 regularly got 21-22 mpg with a light/moderate payload at 70mph highway speeds when on 200 plus mile trips. No doubt once this truck is proven in the work place GM will roll out smaller more economical engine/battery/generator designs.

The same distance on gasoline would cost $6500. Not an order-of-magnitude difference, but still gasoline currently wins.

Of course that assumes the price of gasoline remains perfectly constant at $4/gallon for eight years. I currently pay more than $4/gallon. And you'd be crazy to think you'll be paying $4/gallon eight years from now.

If the price of gasoline goes up (it will; but so will electricity)

Yes both will go up. But oil is the commodity that we are having a lot of trouble with. We can make electricity from natural gas, coal, wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal, even oil! Electricity prices are notoriously stable.

But even if we assume that they go up in price evenly (which they won't) what happens?

Let's say you pay $300/year on electricity and $1000/year on gasoline. If they both double in price then you'll be paying $600/year for electricity and $2000/year in gasoline. So the gasoline just went from being $700 more expensive per year to $1400 more expensive per year. Ouch. The amount of money you save using electricity also doubles. So the rising prices strongly favors the much cheaper fuel.

"Batteries fail—as certainly as death and taxes."

Strange introduction, why do taxes fail ? (a hint at being a "true American" I guess), volume based taxes on fossile fuels or raw materials for sure don't fail in pushing the products in the right direction (as well as the trade balance), just compare the average mpg between Europe and the US for instance.
When are the US going to get out of the legend that "the first oil shock was about the arab embargo"(that lasted 3 months and wasn't even effective from KSA to the US) ? It was about the US production peak, full stop, and US diplomacy (James Akins) were fully in line and pushing for the price rise (necessary to start Alaska, GOM, North Sea).
The result of this ("first oil shock=embargo" in public opinion) today ? You have this :
Or this :
Or this :

Otherwise clearly EVs cannot be "normal cars except that they are electric", they have to be much lighter and less powerfull to begin with.

I take the introduction to be a jocular third 'given' in life; an extension of the quote "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."!

Yes I guess you are right, meanwhile volume based taxes on fossile fuels are still be the best policy to accelerate the set up of any "solution" possible, EV included

I totally agree. Drive in any European country to see the effect of high fuel tax (and to a lesser extent CO2 emissions tax) on the car models of choice. Add the typically small parking spaces in urban areas into the mix and small, frugal cars make up a big proportion of the traffic.

The result of this ("first oil shock=embargo" in public opinion) today ? You have this :

The graph is grossly incorrect.

How so ? (doesn't matter much anyway, bargain the few mbd you wish with corn ethanol or what not)

The increase in production articulated in Gov. Romney's 10 year plan is against i) all North American production, not only the US, and ii) is for all liquids, not just crude. Total North American production is 15 million bbls/day, not the 6 mbpd for US only crude. (see chart title here).

The plan is to increase all N. American production by ~7-8 mbpd over ten years from the current 15 mbpd, i.e. an increase in Canadian tar sands + natural gas liquids + tight oil + offshore + Alaska + biofuels, and anticipates a continued decrease in traditional crude production.

nice :)

Note : not really interested in discussing the details (as overall these numbers won't materialize anyway, Alaska for instance well on the post peak slope), but googling a bit, found below :

"First, by 2020 he promised to make North American energy independent, even though in most respects North America is already energy independent. The U.S. actually exported oil last year. He would take full advantage of our oil, gas, coal, nuclear and "renewables."

Maybe from an obscure local paper, but seems to me a good illustration of the totally "warped up" perception of the US or world energy situation (but perception more or less "managed", above coming from the refined products exporting situation that has been continuously distorted for instance).

Again : How many Americans know that US production peak was in 70 or 71 ?

That small town newspaper summary is silly. Why bother? The actual transcript of that energy speech is here.

With regard to Alaska, no doubt they're referring to ANWR in Alaska which has not been touched yet.

Again : How many Americans know that US production peak was in 70 or 71 ?

That was a crude only production peak back in '71, but then the US does not live on crude alone. How many know that US *all liquids* domestic production will almost certainly hit a new all time high by the end of next year? As of May it was 10.9 mbpd and at the moment is rising by ~0.8 mbpd per year, while consumption is slowly falling.

That data series seems to start in 1980.

What were the numbers from 1970-1979? Wasn't the peak for all liquids also around 1973?

I could not find US all-liquids data back beyond 1980, but since we do know the earlier crude oil production we can make a good guess. US crude peaked in '71 about 0.7 mbpd higher than in '85, the date of the all liquids peak from '80 until now. So I expect the all-liquids peak was also around '71 and also about .7 mbpd higher than the '85 all liquids peak, given NGLs and refining gains were smaller in '71 and ethanol was nil, increasing since then. That gives an all-liquids 1971 peak of ~11.9 mbpd, with current production at 11 mbpd.

How would that look if we adjusted for BTU content?

Good point, it makes a difference given the all-liquids make up varies over time, but a small one I think, given NGLs are double Ethanol.

I understand NGLs to be about 60% the BTU/gallon of crude oil, and ethanol to be about 70%.

? Not as far as I know. The big NGLs LPG Propane and LPG Butane are 49 MJ/kg (gasoline is 47)

The problem: that's a weight/mass measurement, while overall liquids production is traditionally measured by volume.

By volume propane and butane have about 66%-74% as many BTUs as oil.

I know someone who just refilled their 500 gallon propane tank. They paid $2.40 per gallon, but adjusted for BTU content that's as expensive as fuel oil #2 at $3.60/gallon.

Yes, I see you are right about energy per volume. Good point.

If you account liquids required to produce ethanol from corn, considering the ridiculous EROEI, much lower than that.

And again the US went through its production peak in 1971 if you didn't know, full stop.

I'm not sure you meant to reply this comment....

FWIW, the liquid fuel return on liquid fuel invested for ethanol is about 5:1. US domestic oil is probably about 10:1.

Yes sorry, about corn liquid fuel return, if you consider it being also a gaz(fertilizer) to liquid process yes maybe, but this isn't EROEI

The first question one has to ask is: why is it ok to depend on Canadian & Mexican imports?

How will NA energy "independence" insulate the US from oil price shocks?

I don't think its ok as in all is well, but it is a substantial improvement to my mind over importing from Venezuela, Nigeria, or from anyone than moves oil through the Strait of Hormuz.

I'd argue that while one can never be completely independent of oil price shocks in a world w/ global trade, replacing imports with domestic production will tend to lower the sensitivity to oil price shocks, or 'insulate' the country from them if you like.

I agree, but....

I don't think that energy independence from unfriendly/unstable regimes is nearly good enough. We need true energy independence: truly domestic energy production and greatly reduced reliance on petroleum consumption.

Romney's plan doesn't provide that, and therefore I'd describe it as highly misleading to voters as well as a sop to legacy energy industries.

I don't think that energy independence from unfriendly/unstable regimes is nearly good enough. We need true energy independence: truly domestic energy production and greatly reduced reliance on petroleum consumption.

I agree with w/ not good enough and reducing the reliance on petroleum. I don't know why the US can't import *some* energy needs from Canada or Mexico, whatever form that might eventually take.

Romney's plan doesn't provide that, and therefore I'd describe it as highly misleading to voters as well as a sop to legacy energy industries.

There I disagree. Romney's plan is what it says it is, it does not mislead from what I can see, and it is an improvement over the other guys plan. The primary difference is the other guy will import more oil, sending a lot of money out of the country and some of it to bad actors, requiring more defense dollars and weakening the economy. A US with a relatively stronger economy w/ less defense spending would have more resources to invest in cleaner and more secure forms of energy as well as a more efficient demand side.

I think we're in substantial agreement. I see no reason to not import a little energy, as long as it's small enough that security fears won't influence our DOD budget or foreign policy.

A couple of quibbles:

Anything labeled "independence" should not include substantial reliance on imports from any country - that label is misleading. Do I blame Romney for misleading? Not a lot - it's par for the course in a viciously competitive campaign. Still, misleading is misleading.

Also, from everything I've read it's unrealistic to suggest that Romney's policies would produce significantly more domestic oil than Obama's, and Romney is signalling in many ways that he will reduce the pressure for energy and liquid fuel efficiency (e.g., criticizing the recent CAFE rules).

I agree except for the Obama vs Romney energy policies. As per above Romney's plan to reduce imports is more Canadian tar sands + natural gas liquids + tight oil + offshore + Alaska + biofuels. The Obama administration has a record on several of those: no pipeline to Canada, no Atlantic offshore and slow walking offshore permits Gulf, and no Alaska, while encouraging Brazilian offshore. Also given that record I think it quite possible in a second term Obama will use the EPA to interfere with tight oil and NGLs from fracking.

Romney's plan to reduce imports is more Canadian tar sands

I don't know how he's going to do that. I think Canadians would be quite amused to hear that Romney has a plan to make a big difference in their exports to the US - the pipeline that got blocked recently wouldn't bring more Canadian imports to the US: it would take them to the Gulf, for refining for export to Europe. More importantly, even if those exports displaced Venezuela et al, those would be imports, not US domestic production.

natural gas liquids + tight oil....Obama will use the EPA to interfere with tight oil and NGLs from fracking.

Obama's record is quite clear - he hasn't interfered with tight oil or NGLs in the slightest. I would agree that this was due to pressure from the Oil & Gas industry, and that Obama has an environmental constituency that is uncomfortable with that, but I see absolutely no evidence that they have any power (for better or worse).

offshore + Alaska + biofuels.

As best I can tell, assertions that goverment action can make a difference with these are pipe dreams. Review what RockyMountainGuy has said about offshore drilling - he is adamant that assertions that government has blocked offshore production are highly unrealistic (except, of course, in the aftermath of the big spill, which was inevitable - think of the blowback if there had been another spill back to back!). That fits with what I've seen elsewhere. ANWAR is highly speculative, and 10 years off. Cellulosic ethanol is silly, and really significant expansion of corn ethanol looks unlikely.

assertions that government has blocked offshore production are highly unrealistic

I don't know what the potential offshore resources may be without a review, but it is a fact that Atlantic/Eastern Gulf offshore were closed in 2010. They're still closed.

... President Obama's administration announced Wednesday that it will not allow offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico or off the Atlantic coast for at least seven more years.

Pacific/Eastern Gulf offshore were closed in 2010

That was an old ban, that was simply continued. It would have been lifted if not for the major spill.

It was originally imposed primarily because the adjacent states want it that way, and it was kept because of the wishes of those states.

Everything I've seen on TOD suggests there isn't much oil there.

That was an old ban, that was simply continued. It would have been lifted if not for the major spill.

Don't think so.

July 14, 2008

President Bush lifted an executive order banning offshore oil drilling on Monday and urged Congress to follow suit.

Hhmm. I have to admit I haven't really looked into that.

OTOH, look at the following paragraph from the article:

"The White House estimates that there are 18 billion barrels of oil offshore that have not been exploited because of state bans, 10 billion to 12 billion in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the Green River Basin."

Now, the Green River statement is ridiculous, and the ANWR statement is badly exaggerated. Based solely on the company it's keeping I would have serious doubts about the offshore claim.

USGS has Green River *in-place* oil at 1.4 trillion barrels. I don't know about recoverable.

I think a reasonable estimate of technically recoverable might be 25% or even as much as 50%.

But, it will never be economically recoverable. Turning Green River kerogen into oil is an expensive nightmare. CTL and GTL are far cheaper and more viable, and we have far more coal than we'll ever use.

So, anyone who uses Green River oil as part of a plan has completely blown their credibility.

Ok, but I understood that you shot down the prior White House's statement of oil in Alaska because the Green River recoverable estimates along side it were supposedly "ridiculous". They're not, they're inline with the USGS figures. Perhaps the conversion of kerogen in Green River is non-economic (I dunno)but Alaska production is economic. Romney in his plan has listed Alaska and nothing else for onshore traditional oil production. Otherwise he has traditional onshore oil continuing to decline.

Well, the Green River estimates were indeed "silly". They're completely unrealistic. It's not oil, it's kerogen, and it will never, ever be part of a realistic energy plan.

I don't know about the USGS' Green River oil figures - I suspect if we looked closely, we'd see that they don't really show them as viable, just as a theoretical mineral resource.

Alaskan ANWR production is highly speculative - the 10GB figure is the very high end of a range that was based on an incredibly tiny amount of exploratory drilling - it's highly misleading, even irresponsible to suggest that it's something that can be relied upon. What's worse, ANWR would take at least 10 years to produce significant amounts, even if they exist.

BTW, GAO statement in testimony:

USGS estimates that the Green River Formation contains about 3 trillion barrels of oil, and about half of this may be recoverable,...

Yes, it's a theoretical resource. On page 5:

"A significant challenge to the development of oil shale lies in the uncertainty surrounding the viability of current technologies to economically extract oil from oil shale. To extract the oil, the rock needs to be heated to very high temperatures—ranging from about 650 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit—in a process known as retorting. Retorting can be accomplished primarily by two methods. One method involves mining the oil shale, bringing it to the surface, and heating it in a vessel known as a retort.

Mining oil shale and retorting it has been demonstrated in the United States and is currently done to a limited extent in Estonia, China, and
Brazil. However, a commercial mining operation with surface retorts has never been developed in the United States because the oil it produces competes directly with conventional crude oil, which historically has been less expensive to produce. The other method, known as an in-situ process, involves drilling holes into the oil shale, inserting heaters to heat the rock, and then collecting the oil as it is freed from the rock. Some in-situ technologies have been demonstrated on very small scales, but other technologies have yet to be proven, and none has been shown to be economically or environmentally viable at a commercial scale. According to some energy experts, the key to developing our country’s oil shale is the development of an in-situ process because most of the richest oil shale is buried beneath hundreds to thousands of feet of rock, making mining difficult or impossible."

It won't be developed, because it will never be as cheap as GTL and/or CTL.

the pipeline that got blocked recently wouldn't bring more Canadian imports to the US: it would take them to the Gulf, for refining for export to Europe.

How could you (or anyone) possibly know that?

More importantly, even if those exports displaced Venezuela et al, those would be imports, not US domestic production.

As I said above imports from Canada displacing Ven/Nig/Middle East is a good thing. They're also cheaper at the moment.

How could you (or anyone) possibly know that?

I'm not an expert, but that's what I've been reading from multiple sources on TOD.

imports from Canada displacing Ven/Nig/Middle East is a good thing.

Sure, just not nearly good enough. And, they certainly don't constitute "independence". They may be nice in the case of another world war, but they do just as much damage to our economy as KSA oil.

They're also cheaper at the moment.

And that was the reason for the pipeline: to free up oil that was trapped in the US, and bring it to Atlantic markets where it could get Brent prices.

But less defense spending is not part of the Republican platform--I believe they are proposing spending 2 trillion dollars more than the Pentagon asked for in the next decade.

HO did a post on what is essentially the 'Romney energy plan' some months back (I believe the plan was credited to the Texas governor-can't recall his name ?-) then but I've no time to look for that key post right now). That plan had Alaska producing 2 million barrels a day in only a few years time. Look at outfits like Great Bear's performance relative to their hype and you will see how much longer it takes to get Alaska oil on stream than optimistic forecasts project. This week's tech talk showed the TAPS flow through as just north of 430,000 b/d for July 2012--a substantially lower number than even the 2011 daily average of about 580,000 b/d which was the lowest average for any full year of North Slope delivery/production.

If the Alaskan reality vs. 'Romney energy plan' projection are any indication of the how the rest of the plan compares to boots on the ground numbers it certainaly could be called misleading.

But less defense spending ... in the long term US defense spending will rise or fall in part based on i) its dependence on imported oil, and ii) oil income received by rogue states. Take away the Bin Laden family's Saudi oil money and the guy would have been just a nut in cave with grandiose plans.

You people should read below :
(Akins paper in 1973)

The US could be "energy independent", by cutting its consumption by around 2 maybe. (will probably be in 30 or 40 years)

(and Romney "plans" are of course a complete joke)

The US could be "energy independent", by cutting its consumption by around 2 maybe.

Two million barrels per day? How does that eliminate imports?

Romney "plans" are of course a complete joke)

Humor me and let me know how it completely falls down. Natural Gas Liquids? Canadian tar sands? Tight oil? Offshore? Alaska? Biofuels? Plan is to increase each a from a half million to two million barrels per day by 2020.

by around 2 maybe

I believe that was meant to be "by a factor of 2".

Which is the sensible, achievable, reliable and lowest cost path to energy independence.

Natural Gas Liquids? Tight oil? Offshore?

Good ideas, but significant increases in these areas are speculative, and aren't the center of a rock solid strategy.

Canadian tar sands?

Not domestic. Both Alberta and China might have something to say about it belonging to the US...


Highly speculative (IOW, not very likely), and not available by 2020.


Cellulosic is highly unrealistic. Corn ethanol is already 40% of the crop...

I believe that was meant to be "by a factor of 2".

ok, depending on the time frame...

Which is the sensible, achievable, reliable and lowest cost path to energy independence.

Romney's plan shows total consumption flat eight years out, which is to say consumption per capita would decrease 1% per year since US population is increasing ~1% per year via immigration. But cut total US oil consumption in half by 2020, with the population increase? A quarter reduction / eight years would be aggressive. The US just finished cutting consumption more than 10% over seven years. Unless the plan is to shut half the country down for few years, a 50% reduction / eight years has no chance. I don't see how turning over the transportation fleet on that time scale to PHEVs/rail/high MPG ICE can be low cost or reliable, nor do I see how it should be the governments job to make that happen.

Regarding the feasibility of the following alternatives, recall the plan is not to replace all N. American production with one grandiose scheme, but to increase N. American production ~8 mbpd from all new sources over eight years, enough to nearly eliminate US imports. With that in mind:

Natural Gas Liquids? Tight oil? Offshore?

Good ideas, but significant increases in these areas are speculative, and aren't the center of a rock solid strategy.
Need another 1 to 2 mbpd from each over eight years. I think that's likely, and risk is reduced by enabling them all, counting on no one source.

Canadian tar sands?

Not domestic.

So? As Canada and the US enjoy free trade, most all Canada's oil exports, ie 99%, go to the US, and I think it likely it will stay that way if the border bottleneck is opened again soon via KPL. Keep it closed and yes Harper has said he'll sell elsewhere. The concept of trade means one country does not have to own an asset in another country to gain access to it. Canada sells tar sands oil, the US refines it and sells some finished product back (for example).


Cellulosic is highly unrealistic. Corn ethanol is already 40% of the crop...

There are other schemes afoot besides Cellulosic. Until then, ethanol production efficiency is likely to slowly continue to increase per bushel, and there's room to plant some more corn yet. Production is ~1 mbpd now, another 0.5 over eight years is not unreasonable.

"I believe that was meant to be "by a factor of 2"."

Yes exactly, and perfectly achievable without much functionality loss in fact (although obviously very late)

The best policy for that being of course volume based taxes on fossile fuels, much better than subsidies on alternatives : you don't have to say "this is good let's do that"(and getting it wrong most of the time), you just push any "solution" making sense, it being on the conservation or alternative technology side, ie you let the market decide about solutions, but you favor any of them.
(and push the trade balance in the right direction as well)

I will apologize in advance for the length of this post; it has a number of ideas that have been working in my head for several months. I am looking for your feedback.

To start, and lay my initial bias: I am a Volt owner. I bought it partly to test the current state of the art for commercial electric vehicles, and partly to hedge against future higher petroleum prices. We operate a business that requires considerable commuting. So far, in 6 months, the Volt has gone about 9000 miles, used a total of 32 gal of gasoline, and gets about 3.7 miles per kwhr (input to the battery). Assuming a reasonable life of about 120 K for the car battery, the cost of operation is about breakeven vs. $4.50 gasoline.

The car is fun to drive, quiet, with a smooth ride (heavy battery pack duh). And it’s not burdened with guilt from soldiers dying in the middle east for oil, tanker spills or toxic emissions from refineries. Good karma is maybe worth a couple cents per mile – penance for a 30 year oil industry guy.

I am deeply troubled by this whole thread, which compares a fixed transportation concept, optimized for the unique features of petroleum-fueled vehicles, to assess the inadequacy of emerging electric vehicle technology. I think the whole tenor is inappropriately negative and drives toward seeking solutions that are hard to achieve when other solutions are much less costly or risky to develop.

While I believe that battery technology will improve, and there are clearly inherent technology efficiency advantages in storing and using electricity vs. burning petroleum in a low-efficiency ICE, I think many people have a mindset about electric vehicles that is stuck in a closed box that leads to sub-optimization – namely, that all cars need to have independent, onboard energy sources. Just like petroleum. Which then requires batteries that have energy capability like petroleum. Which they don’t. And probably never will.

Let me try to open up the box a bit, metaphorically speaking.

What is the Goal of a good Transportation System (US Centric)

- provide personal, private and comfortable transportation, whenever we want, to go where-ever we want.
- Get there fast
- Keep it cheap
- Keep it under personal control, not government control where possible and
- within safety and network efficiency parameters (traffic regulations, or highway building capital formation, for example)

This supports a suburban lifestyle and less dense cities, in many areas of the country. Many (most?) people like that lifestyle.

Petroleum / ICE / highway technology has been pretty darn good at this. But, at some point, petroleum will not be sustainable, either due to cost, outright shortage or pollution impacts (e.g. climate change).

So, then, what? Electric vehicles are a great option – they are quiet, the fuel is cheap, the technology is robust and the drive train might last longer than your children’s children. The only problems: you can’t go very far on a battery. And, charging takes forever. And, the battery costs a bomb and needs to be replaced too frequently. So, the approach we have in this thread is to bemoan the state of electric battery technology.

Ever hear this comment? “Electric cars are great, but my extension cord is too short.”

What if we actually had very long extension cords? Almost all the issues with electric cars are eliminated.

Trains in Europe and Asia (and a few in the US) have long extension cords… so do some trolleys and buses. These vehicles are run using electricity from overhead wires, connected to the grid, and to the vehicle via a pantograph or trolley whip. Most have no battery at all, but they are then limited to a fixed guideway or route.

Why not optimize our transportation system for electric vehicles, keeping in mind our goals as discussed above? It probably doesn’t require a “superhuman” battery, or megawatt charging stations… or any of those magic answer technologies.

Note that battery electric vehicles are pretty good already for short jaunts up to 100 miles (maybe a bit more for Tesla). They fall down though for longer trips.

And, so then, where do those longer trips take place? Mostly, they occur on the Eisenhower Interstate system.

It accounts for about 35,000 miles of roadway in the US. About 40% of total miles driven occur on the interstate (including urban interstate sections). Roughly guessing (since DOT does not report energy consumption differentiated for highway vs. city driving), those interstate miles driven might represent about 1/4 of total US petroleum demand - which translates to a cost of roughly $600 MM per DAY or $200 Bn per year.

This is the big opportunity. And, fixing it will enable us to move our transportation system into the next era, while still meeting the goals that we listed above.

What do we need to do? Develop 3 keys technologies and -- electrify the Interstate system.

The three key technologies:

1) Overhead Wires and Self-Connecting Pantographs

Overhead wires are tried and true for more than 100 years – but not for highway vehicles. Rubber tired vehicles need two conductors. High speed freeway traffic may require different configurations (stiffness, arcing, oscillations, etc). Pantograph / trolley whip designs need to self-connect / disconnect. Perhaps a video-guided unit that can automatically connect? I can imagine bunches of different configurations… and other inventors will too. It needs a test bed, and some funding.

Of course, there are additional electric drive issues within the vehicle (sizing the electric motor and control electronics, for example), but these are not a huge barrier for car makers, who would need to work together to create standards (voltage, current draw, etc).

Siemens is proposing a system like this for the LA port area, where heavy diesel /electric trucks will use electricity to reduce emissions in the non-attainment area.

In conceptual operation on the interstate, electric vehicles would drive on battery power from their local starting point, then enter and connect to the overhead wire. Lane changes would involve disconnecting / switching to battery / reconnecting. When near their final destination, the vehicle would disconnect, exit and proceed to the local destination on battery power.

The cost for the entire US Interstate might not be cheap – if the cost of overhead wire is $2 -10 million per mile – the overall cost would be $70 – 350 Bn. We don’t really know the cost – some research and test operations are required to optimize and to ensure the workability of various wire and pantograph types. But, we aren’t doing any research like that now.

The investment, though, creates substantial benefits. The cost can be recouped by the lower cost of electricity vs. petroleum – in only a few years (depending on vehicle fleet turnover rate). Electricity is currently about 25% of the cost, for equivalent energy delivered to the wheels on pavement, than petroleum / ICE. Over the foreseeable future, electricity will continue to be priced substantially less than petroleum. This fuel savings will pay out the investment – provided the correct institutions and financial frameworks are created to handle the money flows, and provided that a substantial portion of the US vehicle fleet switches to electricity from petroleum. Medium haul truck fleets might be among the first groups to switch, as segments of wire are completed, and PACCAR sells more electric/diesel hybrid trucks.

2) Autonomous Vehicles and High Speed Cohorts

DOT has been working on this for a while, so has Google, and GM and Volvo and DARPA….. Recent popular press articles suggest that autonomous self-driving vehicles will be mainstream by 2019-2025. Great! We can text and drive and not crash…..

And, maybe, our self-driving vehicle can tuck close to the leading vehicle at highway speed, just like AJ Foyt, legendary racer. Part of AJ Foyt’s driving skill was the ability to tuck in a foot or three behind another car at 180 mph. The boundary layer and vortices shed from the first car are then lifted by the second, greatly reducing drag for BOTH cars. This allowed the two cars to speed past single cars, and helped AJ get to the finish line faster than the rest. The same drag effect will help reduce energy consumption while permitting much higher rates of speed on the interstate.

By the way, this technology, combined with technology 1, will provide a helluva competition for high-speed rail city connections. It is way cheaper (the citizen buys their own car with self-driving electronics, a corporation or government entity buys the wire, and then there is no need to buy a train, driver, station, track and special right of way). And faster – the citizen drives onto the highway, connects to the wire, enters self-driving mode, joins a highspeed cohort, goes to near final destination, exits and goes to local endpoint. No need to embark / disembark / rent a car at the train stations. And, oh, no worries about a train driver strike either.

3) Renewable / Distributed Power

The 35,000 miles of interstate system covers a large swathe of US surface area. Back of the envelop calculations suggest that the amount of solar radiation, collected on fixed-angle PV, in that area, is 3-5 times larger than the amount of energy consumed by the vehicles that are using the highways.

Yup, not all the energy supplied is near the vehicles that will use it – for example, desert Arizona will not be able to supply power to commuters on the Jersey turnpike. Similarly, the peak energy production time is not likely to match with peak commuter times. These challenges may require additional wires, other generation, and a good market for pricing to buy/sell stored electricity in the vehicle batteries (which probably would be managed by a software “agent” on behalf of the vehicle owner).

And, Yup, renewable power is going to be more expensive than current electricity prices. But not more than double. Wind and solar are rural resources. Transmission to and along the electric interstate will enable us to capture those resources more easily and completely. The costs of renewable generation equipment will continue to drop – even faster, along the learning curve, as these large projects would be built.

And so what if the electricity price doubles? Even then, the payout is good. Because electricity is so CHEAP compared to petroleum. The capital investment for wires, and generation, is still cheaper, than for oil.

OK, I am imagining a future that is filled with electric vehicles. Where a large societal investment in wires and renewable generation enables long-term weaning from petroleum for ground transportation in the US.

I haven’t heard this concept discussed in other forums. The individual technologies look attainable, based on current technology and reasonable expectations for innovation and progress. What we may be missing is the vision to consider a 21st century transportation system that is different, in a few ways (on-board fuel supply), but still meets the goals that we have.

I despair when we look backward for technology – the 150 year old high-speed electric train (sorry, it does not meet most of our goals), or the 100 year old car with on-board fuel, driven by an individual. We need to look forward, integrating our new and emerging technologies, without wishing for “magic” technologies like 500 mile batteries which can be charged in 5 minute, that allow us to mimic the characteristics of the existing petroleum / ICE system.

I believe that an electric interstate could provide a ready solution. The issue is getting agreement and institutions in place, working on it. The biggest challenge is the transition of the fleet – getting people to buy the network and the vehicles to fit it. Early adopters might be trucking companies, going point to point.

What are your thoughts?

Sunrise Ridge

I believe that an electric interstate could provide a ready solution. The issue is getting agreement and institutions in place, working on it. The biggest challenge is the transition of the fleet – getting people to buy the network and the vehicles to fit it. Early adopters might be trucking companies, going point to point.

Too much to ask of a nation that's...let's say "politically paralyzed" and overall scientifically illiterate. To be able to sell this as a solution would first depend on having a large consensus on there being a problem that needed an immense project to solve.

You're driving the current technical and socially acceptable solution right now - a long-range hybrid. They put far too large of an engine in the's capable of running entirely on the gasoline engine - which is larger than that in some cars that use an ICE alone. Part of the reason is that they appear to have gone for the "100%" solution. It's like any time you massively over-size any equipment to meet that last few percent. The ICE engine in the Volt should be at least 1/2 the size that it is.

Essentially what they did with the Volt is avoid a single action by the determine, before you go very far, whether you plan on driving beyond the electric range. Because it waits until the battery is nearly depleted, the ICE must be large enough to fully power the car. GM has a 3 cylinder that would work better, but a 2 cylinder would be better than that. In V configuration they could reduce the footprint and free up space in the car, plus the generator portion could be made smaller since it would only need to handle the conversion of around 35 horsepower instead of 100. But the driver would have to take a smidgen more participation in driving the vehicle or they'd be left in "limp mode."

At some point those secondary power plants could be made interchangeable to run on whatever is available. But that of course would depend on civilization not falling apart.

Long-haul trucking is likely doomed, at least in the volume it operates now. There's still a lot of low-hanging fruit in aerodynamics to explore before going to hybrid systems, but there's a great opportunity for it there as well...and different safety margins as well. Trucks could use longer-lasting NaS batteries with less fear of catastrophic consequences and have the space and weight handling to manage their other issues. The trailers could potentially be covered with solar PV, though that can only provide a pittance of the necessary power - it would still be something. Perhaps the trailers themselves could carry part of the pack (in the underside where there's usually no cargo) and would charge with the PV array if detached from the truck. Solar can't be counted on to provide power under these circumstances, but with a hybridized truck you would have the option of using it when available to reduce the amount of whatever other fuel you're using.

There are a lot of tweaks that can be done to buy time...but that time has to be used well. If the time is used to grow a few billion more humans, it will have been used poorly. If it's used to reduce the impact on the Earth and start a gradual decrease in population there may be a chance of not turning the Earth into a smoking heap and avoiding a "die-off."

Electrifying any highway with overhead lines would require the lines to be mounted higher than any vehicle (including anything towed) using the highway. On the Interstates, that would be about 14 feet above the road surface. That might be doable for large trucks and buses, but your typical car would need a pantograph 8 or 9 feet tall. You could restrict trucks and other tall vehicles to the outside lanes and mount the lines lower on the inside lanes, but you would have to hope that no tall vehicle ever veered into those lanes. And you would want the towers holding the lines to be very robust. Overhead lines typically operate in the double-digit kV range, you don't want live lines falling on vehicles or lying in the roadway because someone fell asleep at the wheel. Separate roadways might work. Maybe there would be more political will to build electrified roads restricted to long-haul trucks, if that would get them off of the Interstates, than there is to build high-speed trains and other public transit.

One proposal has been to put electric induction coil chargers in the roadbed.

"...the 150 year old high-speed electric train... " I rode the Jinghu High-Speed train from Shanghai to Beijing a few weeks ago ($90). 1,300 km in 5 hours. Most of the time we were moving at 300+ km/h. This is roughly the distance from Wash Dc to Chicago. There are 50 trains per day. China will open another high speed train line between Beijing and Shenzhen (about the 3/4 distance between Chicago and Los Angeles) with similar (or faster) speed. All electric - however, the number of coal-fired power plants flashing by between Shanghai and Beijing was rather stunning. China has approached the problem as a national problem to be solved not just discussed.

How does a driver pay for the electricity he used?

What is the Goal of a good Transportation System (US Centric)
- provide personal, private and comfortable transportation, whenever we want, to go where-ever we want.
- Get there fast
- Keep it cheap
- Keep it under personal control, not government control where possible and
- within safety and network efficiency parameters (traffic regulations, or highway building capital formation, for example)

I'd like to argue that concluding that these goals result in "car" is a result based on myth.

Cars do relatively well on whenever-wherever, provided you don't necessarily care about get-there-fast. Provided you don't accidentally drive into a ditch or snowbank, provided you don't actually kill the engine in high water, provided you don't have some mechanical malfunction that requires the assistance of a two truck and/or mechanic.

I live near Boston. Best-case commute to my wife's work in Cambridge is 18 minutes, not counting time to park or to walk from parking. It is guaranteed worse during rush hour, and even early on a weekend morning parking is dicey. In contrast, biking all the way in or bike to transit and walking the last bit take 32 minutes, door-to-door, during rush hour. I've raced her (me on bike, she in car) to the same destination at rush hour, and I won by minutes because she had to find parking. On my commute home, during rush hour I cover the first half (on a bicycle, five miles) faster than auto traffic. So for many people, if they'd bother to try alternatives, they'd discover that cars are "not fast". But the myth is that they are.

Cheap? Please. List price on a cheap car would buy several very nice bicycles, including cargo bikes and bikes with electric motor assist. And what about the government subsidies -- Big Dig? Interstate system? Operation Iraqi Liberation? Not cheap compared to a bicycle, that's for sure.

Personal control, not government control. Cars? Really? Required registration, required license, required insurance, cops can stop you and ask for your papers any time? Special excise taxes just for cars, yearly inspections that can trigger mandatory repairs.

Safe? Not really. Consider expected lifespan in places where fewer people drive to work (e.g., NYC), notice that it is uniformly higher across all demographics. There's a Danish study, comparing people who bike to work with those who don't, and those who don't have a 39% higher mortality rate. A 39% higher mortality rate is NOT "safe". Using the other definition of "safe", stats show that cars kill over 3000 pedestrians per year, far worse than other methods of transportation, even after adjusting for ride share (rough estimate is that a bicycle is 15x safer for others).

So, kinda go-anywhere/when, not fast in semi-urban areas, not cheap, more big gummint meddling, and a higher mortality rate for everyone. But we love our myths, so we keep driving.


A post worth saving. You've covered everything except perhaps comfort, but that is something solvable by some innovation. Bravo!

I'm picking some special cases, of course. Driving into urban areas is worst-case for car, yet bizarrely, tens of thousands do it. My commute to work is 25-35 minutes by car, never less than 45 by bicycle, and we have acres of "free" parking where I work, not in an urban area. This is not all going to generalize to truly suburban commuters, especially in places like Houston and Atlanta where stuff is spread out and there was no history of commuter rail to guide and densify suburban development.


Without going into the nitty-gritty, I just want to thank you for laying this out. A whole range of visions will help us to work it out.

I despair when we look backward for technology – the 150 year old high-speed electric train (sorry, it does not meet most of our goals), or the 100 year old car with on-board fuel, driven by an individual. We need to look forward, integrating our new and emerging technologies, without wishing for “magic” technologies like 500 mile batteries which can be charged in 5 minute, that allow us to mimic the characteristics of the existing petroleum / ICE system.

This is very perceptive and something we all must guard against.

'Fuel cells provide decent specific energy, but typically insufficient power (per kilogram).'

'Data was logged by Toyota and analyzed by NREL. The maximum range of the FCHV‐adv vehicles was calculated to be 431 miles under these driving conditions. This distance was calculated from the actual range of 331.5 miles during over 11 hours driving, plus 99.5 miles of additional range calculated from the average fuel economy from the day times the remaining usable hydrogen. Driving range results were independently calculated for each vehicle, and these results averaged together to achieve the final 431‐mile range estimate. The uncertainty on these results is relatively low due to eight independent measurements of distance and six separate measurements of hydrogen usage, with a resulting uncertainty of ± 7 miles (± 1.7%) based on spread between the low and high values from all of the multiple measurements. The average fuel economy resulting from the day’s driving was 68.3 miles/kg and the total hydrogen stored on‐board at 70 MPa was calculated to be 6.31 kg. The speed profiles were analyzed and compared to standard driving cycles, and were determined to be of moderate aggressiveness. The city segments of the route had average speeds slightly greater than the UDDS cycle and the highway segments were close to the HWFET & US06 cycles. The average acceleration for the highway driving was very close to the HWFET cycle, and the city portions had average accelerations lower than the UDDS and US06 cycles. We feel that the route accurately reflects realistic driving behaviors in southern California on a typical weekday, and is an appropriate benchmark to use in the verification of a fuel cell vehicle’s range.'

That sounds like adequate power and range to me.

Analyses of costs,hydrogen sources. technologies etc here:


For those who fancy the idea of batteries, most manufacturers are also prototyping 30kwh fuel cell stacks for use as a range extender, with a battery pack of around 12kwh.

It is still an all electric vehicle, but would do it's everyday running around on power from the plug.

Being all electric the complications of Volt-type engineering are avoided, and even on longer journeys you still have zero pollution at point of use.

This post has inspired some of the best comments I have seen in the blogosphere, even for the high standards of TOD in general. I think we are again back to the main challenge: "longage of expectations". Thanks to Nate for coining this. I have heard another version, which is maybe a bit more nuanced. "The planet can meet all our needs, but very few of our greeds". I am convinced that electrified transport in various forms will meet our needs. Electrified transport in various degrees includes some without batteries like trains, trams, and some with batteries, like cars and bikes, and hybrids of these with some ICE input, like the Volt, Prius and the flood of models coming. We have great examples of all of these that work today and are commercially competitive. It is just a matter of getting our policy and politicians aligned with this. So please remember this the next time you vote for a politician or a referendum, and if you can speak up actively for the good cause in a way to convince all candidates and parties, then please do it!

decarb - I agree: always amazing to see the depth of logical thought on TOD covering many different areas. Been following the thread all along but had nothing much to contribute.

Lots of good ideas but it always seems to boil down to the same stumbling block: implementation. IMHO the battery swap idea solves many problems. Long range transport wouldn't be too expansive an infrastructure investment: would need swap stations (granted large ones) every 50 miles or so along the highway system. Where highway system interconnected to high population areas the number of swap stations would dramatically increase...or would they? Folks like me who commute less than 100 miles daily can recharge at home. But even if I do a lot of trips during the day, like deliveries/sales calls, I could still plan my travels around the existing swap stations. Granted I can travel long ICE distances with having to stop just once to refuel every 400 miles instead of 4 or so times at swap stations. But an extra 1/2 to 1 hour on a 7 hour tip isn't the end of the world. My world is split between daily 50 mile rt's and 500+ mile rt's to my wells. I could easily handle the swap station route.

So, as some have offered, the swap stations seem to be not only doable but relatively quickly implemented. But what private businesses are going to invest those $billions in swap stations until there is a sufficient demand? And that demand won't become significant until a great many more citizens give up the ICE and switch to EV. And given the number of valid arguments why it would make sense to have that happening today it isn't happening at a pace that will change our circumstances anytime soon IMHO. Thus the solution doesn't seem to be the technology so much as human nature.

IOW what are the prime reasons it's not happening now? Cost, even with the subsidizes, seems to be a factor. Especially since many folks can't afford to swap out vehicles until it's absolutely necessary: cheaper to pay a high fuel price, like an extra $20 a tank full, than buy a $30,000 vehicle. Familiarity with the known vs. something new probably has its influence. Not having the basic math skills to run their own economic analysis (and thus having to trust someone else on the cost factors) probably impacts more than we would like to believe.

So how can such logical ideas such as swap stations be implemented quickly enough? Seems like govt mandate is the only way it can be achieved before the worst aspects of PO take effect which, at that time, I suspect our options will be severely limited. Then again politicians pushing through such drastic requirements on the public to change their ways won't likely be re-elected IMHO. More important, I think the great majority of them would agree with me. Thus if the public and the majority of the politicians aren't sufficiently motivated to change BAU then no solution, no matter how good it looks on paper, will be implemented.

Rock -- Change is most easily implemented when you can do it for yourself, by yourself, using stuff you've got.

When change involves:
- multiple organizations, with costs and benefits unequally distributed,
- cooperation of multiple organizations, such as setting cross-industry standards or solving "chicken and egg" implementation problems, and
- new and unproven technology or access to intellectual property owned by multiple organizations,
change becomes a great deal harder, especially in mature industries where a great deal of money is at stake.

Merrill - Exactly. "We" ain't doing it so it isn't getting done. But in the end that's fair IMHO. Folks don't want to prepare for PO then that's their choice...whether they are realizing it at the time or not. Four more years and I'll be dumping my then 6 yo SUV on my then 16 yo daughter. And hopefully at 65 yo I'll be retired. An EV might make sense for me then. OTOH if I can buy another Kia for $17k instead of an EV for $35k and I'm driving less than 30 miles a week would that make sense even if fuel was going for $8/gallon? My monthly fuel bill would just be around $40. Thus take about 10 years just to make up the price difference alone. Still, as a cranky old old fart, sneaking upon folks in stealth car would be appealing.

So for those of you who think battery swaps are such a good idea, suppose you were to own such a business. Remember that a battery is going to weigh 400 pounds--so you are going to need specialized equipment. You will need to keep in inventory a significant number of batteries--costing thousands of dollars each. To mean it sounds like such businesses would charge at least $25 or more for an exchange which lasts 75 miles (and uses maybe a dollar's worth of electricity). Or perhaps $50 is a better guess.

Battery Switch Stations

At Better Place battery switch stations, drivers enter a lane and the station takes over from there. The car proceeds along a conveyor while the automated switch platform below the vehicle aligns under the battery, washes the underbody, initiates the battery release process and lowers the battery from the vehicle. The depleted battery is placed onto a storage rack for charging, monitoring and preparation for the another vehicle. A fully-charged battery is then lifted into the waiting car. The switch process takes less time than a stop at the gas station and the driver and passengers may remain in the car throughout.

Presumably they use hot water and detergent or de-icing fluids to wash the underside prior to making the swap. The collected road gunk would probably be classified as hazardous waste.

And while they are there, might as well slip in a heat/cool package of the appropriate phase change stuff so as to be warm/cool while driving to the next swap station without need to drain the battery for heating/cooling.

longage of expectations

I would like to expand on this as follows:

From an ego gratification standpoint I would like to argue that society would be better off if the movement of people and goods were done mostly by mass transit and that the need for the use of personal vehicles were minimized. Basically it is a move away from ego gratification thru seeking possessions and toward ego gratification thru relationship building.

I feel that one of the forcing factors creating the dysfunctional self-destructive society we exist within is the unhealthy way we feed our ego. By ego I mean that part of ourselves that controls the feel good neurotransmitters the creation of which gives us the motivation to engage in life.

The advantage of mass transit is that it provides an opportunity to engage in relationship building, to meet and interact with new people. The issue with private autos is that it restricts interaction with others and encourages isolation. This loss of an healthy ego build opportunity is replaced with an sub optional, win/loss, mine is better that yours mindset that drives excessive material goods possession seeking.

Please take a look at the PbC = Lead-Carbon batteries that are being developed by Axionpower and will soon hit the "street" in various applications (Powercube = Grid based energy storage with plug in capabilities for solar and wind, hybrid locomotive and hybrid vehicle sector).

These batteries are considered the absolutely best for start-stop vehicle applications, which will be predominant in contrast to full electric vehicles.
Their investor presentation gives a good summary of the truly impressive capabilities (like 40,000+cycles with crank function and ADDITIONAL 60,000 without crank function, optimized ca. 100A charge acceptance (over ca. 5 years etc.)

Sorry mentions the PbC battery by Axion Power. It is a new version of the AGM lead acid battery. It replaces the negative lead electrode with carbon to prevent sulfation. This extends the life of the battery and allows much faster charge and discharge.

BMW has finished testing and turned it over to third party testing to verify results. It should be ready for use by BMW for stop/start within a year or so. Norfolk Southern has ordered 1000+ batteries to use in their yard locomotive. This comes after two years of exhaustive testing to replace their failed experiment with the NS999 a few years ago.

Axion has also developed a 24 battery energy hub to smooth power and provide backup for homes with high end electronics. It can be integrated with solar and wind energy. Rosewater Energy will be offering this new energy hub beginning Sept. 5.

Axion Power also has developed a power cube which is larger than the energy hub. It is designed for much larger applications and also helps provide power smoothing as a service to utilities. New regulations will soon go into effect to provide compensation to people or businesses who own power cubes.

Is Axion built on Firefly Energy's battery technology? The technology looked promising, but the company went bankrupt before they could actually start making anything, IIRC.

Substrate, Axion has been developing its own technology for nearly ten years. Its chief technology is the carbon negative electrode. Other companies have tried carbon paste and other modifications. Axion has about a dozen patents that protect the battery's technology. The company is in the transition from an R & D company to a production company. If you would like to do further research on the company you can check this web site. It is developed by shareholders without current insider information. However, John Peterson, a former board chairman, writes articles about the battery industry and contributes regularly to the blog. Seeking Alpha hosts a blog of shareholders and interested investors called a concentrator. We are currently on our 147th one with nearly 200 comments on each. Most investors on the blog believe that the price of the Axion stock is nearing an inflection point where it will soon make a dramatic rise as products begin to hit the market.

Look at horse-drawn vehicles. For a long term these were the pinnacle of ground transportation technology. Extremely lightweight and fairly fragile. Now look at cars. In comparison these are massively overbuilt. Heavy body, heavy suspension, they look like tanks in comparison. Both types of vehicles have been shaped by how much power they have available. My point being, a vehicle designed to operate on such a low-density power source as batteries is going to resemble a horse drawn cart more than anything an American would recognize as a car.

I've raised this issue before and I'm going to raise it again: There is an underlying assumption that BAU or some form of it will continue into the foreseeable future, e.g., 20 or 30 years.

A reasonable argument can be made that this assumption is in error and, in fact, all the efforts, including EVs, to perpetuate BAU are likely to fail and turn out to be a waste of time and resources. I'm not going to attempt to lay out that argument here since I doubt many would accept any part of it and it's not a simple one issue argument.

I believe it would be well for society to take the time to fully consider what the real future might be. I know this discussion will never take place but it's nice to think it might.


C'mon, Todd, humor us a bit. Let us dream of what could have been ;-/

The only electric vehicle I'm likely to have will be a small PV charged farm vehicle, hopefully with enough range to get some produce to town and some supplies back, though I'm thinking I should have taken those free donkeys when they were offered.

Well, if push comes to shove I'll be in the forefront of the Wood Gas Generation(tm) - at least for my 4x4 truck. And, you, I and others already have the PV and solar hot water going and actually grow food!

If it came down to it, I'd only "go to town" (that's a 30 mile round trip) once a month like the ranchers* around here used to do and make a quarterly trip to COSTCO (assuming they are still in business) to pick up bulk stuff.

Being able to get by is good!


*There are still some out there (way out there) that get snowed in for 6-12 weeks a winter.

It's the loss of the rule of law that has me worried. I think a lot of people could learn to like a lower energy lifestyle, if not for the roving gangs of the hopeless, angry, and hungry.

All said and done, battery technology and infrastructure to charging is just one piece of the puzzle. What we fail to look into is that we must produce electricity from renewable resources and also produce enough to replace all the gasoline in use for cars. That is a huge ask.

As everyone knows that majority of electricity produced in three most populous countries in the world is still based on fossil fuel.

" that we must produce electricity from renewable resources and also produce enough to replace all the gasoline in use for cars.."

That is an assumption that you ought to challenge. I support EV's, but as much or more, I know we need to get away from the long commutes, use more Bikes and Walking, create mass transit, get into much smaller vehicles.. etc. etc..

We can work with a LOT less energy than we get from Gas and Oil today.

Perhaps, but the problem is, so much of our housing and other infrastructure was built around the assumption of cars and long commutes that getting to a lower required energy state will require two revolutions: (1) getting people to completely change their thinking about transit ("your car is your freedom", "only losers walk/bike/ride transit"), and (2) a complete redesign and rebuild of infrastructure to make it possible to live without a car in most places. (1) will be hard enough, but (2) may be impossible, simply due to the resources and energy needed in order to demolish or retrofit existing infrastructure and rebuild it around Transit Oriented Development ideals.

Promoting EVs and HEVs is several orders of magnitude an easier sell to the public.

Here an old town center is near a heavy commuter rail stop that has been designated a transit village. The streets between the two are being revitalized with new businesses, and developers are putting up condo and apartment buildings in the surrounding areas. Older houses and industrial buildings are being torn down or salvaged and repurposed.

Farther away, numerous houses from the post WW II era are being torn down and lots are being rebuilt with new, upscale designs. Compact commuities are the place to be, and new conversions of farmland to developments have largely stopped. Real estate developers know how to spot a trend.

"upscale designs" = unaffordable housing

Sort of. What happens in more compact areas near transit is that transportation costs are much lower. So people can put some of that money into paying for housing, and the prices for housing go up. However, the overall costs (housing + transportation) are generally lower in cities and towns than in the distant suburbs.

It's difficult to build new, market-rate, affordable housing, but there are two regulatory ways that we can make it easier. One is simply to reform zoning laws to allow more walkable neighborhoods to be built (right now most zoning restricts density and doesn't allow mixed-use).

Another is to eliminate off-street parking requirements, which are often not needed near transit. That makes a huge difference for affordability.

They are clearly affordable because they sell. If they didn't sell, builders wouldn't build them.

As public transit becomes more important, real estate near transit hubs will be more attractive and expensive. This was the case in the past.

Llewellyn Park, West Orange, NJ was an early example of a planned suburban community (begun 1858) which was a short carriage ride from the Orange station of the Morris and Essex Line. There Thomas Edison built his home, Glenmont, in 1880-82.

They are affordable to somebody, but generally when people say affordable they mean affordable to a percentage of the median household income in the area.

But you are right that the more that is built the more affordable it will become, especially if government gets out of the way and then actively helps it to come about.

No doubt, at which point, it becomes a matter of not outrunning the Lion, but just some of the other gazelles. When they start to notice they've fallen behind, it's on them to pick up the pace a bit..


I've read some from here but have never posted. I've gotta say that this is the best commentary I've ever seen on a blog post, anywhere. I'm probably way out of my class and with this comment be laughed off the planet but I do have some practical experience and some back of the envelope figuring, so I'm gonna wade in.

I live in Chicago, don't have a car anymore, use public transit only a few times a month and taxis a few times a year. My personal transport is by a personally constructed electric bike (trike to be precise), year round, (lead acid powered no less), and it more than meets my needs except for comfort. You can see it here: and get a flavor by watching the "E-bike Shopping in Winter" video (been a TV producer all my working life.) So, yeah, e-vehicles are a major interest.

I've read a number of Tom's blogs in the past and was delighted. This article really gets into some battery nitty-gritty in very fine ways, some of which I had to work a bit to understand. However..., I was shocked by a number that I suspect is hinky right at the top of the article. It seemed to color the whole article with what I consider an unwarrented gloominess.

Tom writes, "...the specific energy of gasoline—measured in kWh per about...200 times better than the Lithium-ion battery in the Chevrolet Volt." What? If this were the case e-vehicles would be impossible. According to a Wikipedia table, admittedly not the most authoritative source, the number is more like 40 or 50 to 1 gasoline vs. Volt battery energy density. If you plug that 40 to 1 number into current e-vehicle performance characteristics that ratio works out just fine in the real world of comparison to ICE. I don't know whether I'm comparing apples to oranges, or if Tom got his number from the CEO of Fossil Fuel Corp, but there is a disconnect here.

When I first encountered the Envia Battery that others have mentioned in comment here, I looked up the wiki table that I'd seen earlier and decided to write a back of the envelope word song to electric cars. It contains some of the great points that other commentors here have brought up about the utility, power and inexpensiveness of electrics. It's probably too breathless and naive, entails some guessing and cuts too many corners, but I'm gonna just cut and paste it, begging for forgiveness, if necessary, for length and idiocy:

Why Electric Vehicles Will Win Out in the End

Have a look at this short NY Times article, not much more than a press release:

This matters, perhaps more than is apparent on the surface. Here is why. The above link is not an airy-fairy technology leap announcement of possibilities. Envia claims they have a product in which all major gotchas have been solved. It is a product that works, functions safely, is reliable and long lasting. Presumably it's a matter of a couple of year's time before production is rolling to deliver battery packs for transport use that are almost 3 times as energy dense and less than half as costly to produce as current technology. This comes about because of a public/private partnership (Obama/GM) that neither could have done on their own in the same time-frame. It bucks the Solandra messaging of fossil fools, big time.

Let's do some back of the envelope math with a lot of rounding. There will certainly be room for quibbles about my numbers and rounding here, but I've tried to be conservative in favor of oil, so that is what they will be, quibbles, not substantial mistakes. I hope! Oil is an amazing substance, just packed with energy built up under the Earth's crust over millions of years. However, it is a finite substance. Today, while it's not the end of the line for oil, all of the easy and cheap oil has been found, most of that has been burned doing work for mankind, and the oil that remains is proving harder to find, more expensive to extract. Plus we have discovered over the last half century the price we have paid to burn the stuff – not at the pump – but the price to our planet's and our own health. The same goes for oil's cousins, coal and natural gas.

In comparison to electricity stored in batteries, oil currently stores a huge multiple of energy. The gasoline burned in your car today has an energy density of 50. I could tell you what 50, of what measurement this is, but since we are just comparing, it doesn't matter. Energy density refers to the amount of work that a stored amount of material by weight can do. A gas tank stores gasoline, a battery stores electricity. The battery in today's electric car, like a Nissan Leaf, has an energy density of a bit over 1. So 1 pound of gasoline has 50 times more stored energy than 1 pound of battery. A big, big difference, eh?

The question you might automatically ask is how the heck does an electric car do 80 miles on a charge with such a big difference in energy density between gasoline and batteries. A regular car can do 500 miles on a tank of gas, so why is the range of an electric car a somewhat respectable 80 miles not a worthless 10 miles? (500 miles in a gas car, times 1/50 energy density of battery car, equals 10 miles.)

Here's how it works. Electric motors are nearly 4 times as efficient in using the energy fed them as are internal combustion engines. The approximate numbers are gas car – 20% efficient, electric car – 80 % efficient. Inefficiency in a gas car's engine and drive train means a whole lot of wasted heat that doesn't do any work, but keeps you warm in the winter and makes the AC work overtime in the summer. So because of drive train efficiency, the effective energy density of the batteries in an electric car is now 4 instead of 1 (vs. gasoline's 50.) Plus the batteries in an electric car weigh about 8 times as much as a tank of gas in a small car (800 lbs. vs 100 lbs.)

If you've followed along this far, you might ask, then why with 8 times the weight in propulsion material doesn't the electric car go 320 miles on a charge instead of 80? (10 miles – from the theoretical mileage of an equal weight pack of batteries to gasoline above, times 4 – the efficiency of electric drive trains, times 8 – the extra weight of electric fuel, equals 320 miles range.) A number of factors enter into this significant draw down of theoretical range. First, only about half of the pack's weight is actual batteries, while the other half is bulked up with control equipment, wiring and armoring for safety; this drops the range to about 160 miles. Second, dragging all that extra weight around is quite hard on range, bringing it down to 130 miles. Third, heat and air conditioning for occupants is hard on range, particularly in temperature extremes, down to 100 miles. Fourth, jumpy drivers and difficult terrain brings us down to the 80-mile range. This 80 miles range quoted for the Nissan Leaf is a bad, not worst case, scenario. Some owners are reporting 120+ miles of range on a 70 degree day with relatively flat terrain. A zero degree day on the hills of San Francisco might see the car die in 50 miles.

Now that the comparative picture is clearer, what will be the effect of the Envia battery on an electric car? If it is half the current cost for a battery pack, this makes the whole car hardly more expensive than a gas car after accounting for the comparative simplicity of electric drive trains. And now we're talking a fully charged range of well over 200 miles. Not too shabby, when 80 miles of range already covers over 90% of our daily driving. Do I hear 97%? If, and it's a big if, these batteries can be charged at a high powered charging station in 20 minutes or less, then cross country travel becomes eminently doable, with charging stations at most gas (energy) stations.

There's a wealth of gas stations appropriate to long range travel between potty and food breaks. We know how to do the infrastructure for this. It's not rocket science or overly expensive. And that electric car power comes at 1/3rd the price of gasoline. Driving an internal combustion car could be considered stupid a very short time into the future.

The Envia battery is hardly the end of the line in battery technology for transport. Companies like IBM are working on lithium air nano batteries on a 5-10 year time-line, that will likely jump the energy density of batteries another 3 or more times. There are already experimental batteries that accomplish this, with energy densities of 9 or 10. Once you reach this sort of energy density for batteries even quick charging becomes a bit over the top, because with a normal size and weight battery pack you've got a 600 mile range, enough driving for nearly all of us in one day, and charge over night.

Perhaps all the kinks in these experiments won't be solvable, and these lithium air batteries will be a bust, another Solandra. But perhaps the next one won't. At that point batteries plus electric motors plus even better production costs meet or exceed the capabilities of petroleum engined cars. A whole new world opens up..., and not for just cars. That's when the technology takes over farm and construction machines.

If you've wondered why the Oil and other fossil fuel companies fight tooth and nail to keep their subsidies, try to shut down government research efforts, and distort the competition, this is why. Our World is going mostly electric, particularly where portable power is concerned. Just look at the proliferation of smaller machines moving from petrol to e-power in the last 5 years, battery powered electric hand tools, bikes, motorcycles, hedge trimmers, yard mowers and snow blowers.

The average person soon finds how much less maintenance and stink is required to keep these smaller tools working. Petroleum will rapidly lose its iron grip on civilization. A 3 times better energy density battery supercharges the change, and a 10 times better battery puts change over the top. Better and better batteries are the key and our government's support is grinding that key faster. Considering the filth, ecological devastation and waning supplies of petroleum, it is none too soon. Don't you believe otherwise.

Uncle Ron, great post and video! You cut it a little close turning left into the first market you visited...

I encourage you to post more, as it gets a little doomy around here. We need more optimism like yours. Thanks!


It's been a very long time since anyone called me "optimistic." (grin)

Once you understand the 3 pronged attack of climate change, energy/other resource depletion and population in the financial default noose of this century, optimism comes very hard and hard won. I find it only in small spurts. But that is telling because until the bulk of us understand the difficulty and also joys of smaller, slower power, habitat and quality local lifestyles we're gonna be beating our heads on the ground, walls, each other and falling over cliffs. Sounds familiar at election time, doesn't it.

I write about electric cars here, but they are almost as dumb as ICE cars. We won't get 90%+ reduction of carbon output by mid-century with electric cars or with most of public transit in heavy iron, even if electric. Until personal transit comes with e-vehicles that weigh no more than their occupants and cargo, and speed is limited to max 40 mph with most doing 20-30mph, do we have a shot. Bicycle tech (2,3or4 wheels) + a lot of innovation can do that. Often early cars came from bike tech. It needs to head back in that direction.

The more I learn about this stuff, the more my thoughts lead back to enormously bungled agriculture as the nexus of the neoconservative created problems and the place to start the fix, but that's like trying to to talk to 300 million Kardashians who have leased their farms for fracking. Gotta keep a sense of humor.

Actually Tom Murphy wrote:

To set the stage, the specific energy of gasoline—measured in kWh per kg, for instance—is about 400 times higher than that of a lead-acid battery and about 200 times better than the Lithium-ion battery in the Chevrolet Volt.

Wiki: Energy Density:

gasoline: 47.2 MJ/kg
Lithium-ion battery: .72 MJ/kg (66 times less than gasoline)
Lead-acid battery: .1 MJ/kg (472 times less than gasoline)

His statement is roughly correct but is misleading because lead-acid batteries are not the best choice for electric cars. The Chevy Volt battery is supposed to store about 20 kWh but only 10 kWh is used because the system does not charge the battery to 100% nor discharge it to 0%. If one factors in the energy lost when charging the battery, an older battery will not be as efficient and maybe extra weight due to the packaging for a Volt battery, then its average energy density might be about 200 times less than gasoline.

BlueTwilight wrote, "His statement is roughly correct..."

How can you say that? Roughly correct about lithium-ion batteries would be 30% off like I might have been, not 300% off like Tom was. There's a large range of energy densities of lithium-ion battery chemistries and no specific source that I could find for the Lithium-Manganese batteries that are currently state of the production art in the Volt. For my admittedly rough calculations I chose 1 MJ/kg for Lithium-ion possibly less than actual for state of the art but more than this chart and 50 MJ/kg for gasoline, a touch more than this chart or other charts elsewhere on Wikipedia.

BTW, I stated Tom's exact words (what he actually said) just leaving out the part about lead acid batteries which was not necessary for my discussion.

Li-Air and Li-Sulfur in an Automotive System Context
Thomas Greszler, Manager, Cell Design Group, Electrochemical Energy Research Laboratory
Coauthors: Mark Mathias, Wenbin Gu, Steve Goebel, David Masten, Balsu Lakshmanan

The Li-Air and Li-Sulfur alternatives are compared with the current Li-Ion packs using LG Chem cells.

I will be more rigorous. For the Chevy Volt:

Weight of battery: 198 kg.

Battery capacity: 16 kWh lithium-ion battery (2011/12) = 57.6 MJ

From these values its energy density is .291 MJ/kg (163 times less than gasoline). However, only 10 kWh is actually used because the operation of the battery is kept between a minimum and maximum charge to prolong its lifetime. Its usable energy density is .182 MJ/kg (259 times less than gasoline).

Because an EV is more energy efficient and reduces weight in other components of the vehicle compared to a gasoline powered vehicle, the Chevy Volt reduces the gap by those means.


I will be more rigorous. For the Chevy Volt:

Weight of battery: 198 kg.

Battery capacity: 16 kWh lithium-ion battery (2011/12) = 57.6 MJ

From these values its energy density is .291 MJ/kg (163 times less than gasoline). However, only 10 kWh is actually used because the operation of the battery is kept between a minimum and maximum charge to prolong its lifetime. Its usable energy density is .182 MJ/kg (259 times less than gasoline).

Because an EV is more energy efficient and reduces weight in other components of the vehicle compared to a gasoline powered vehicle, the Chevy Volt reduces the gap by those means.

This discussion has now entered the silly realm. Measuring the comparative energy density of an engineered battery pack and all its weighty components and armoring in comparison to raw gasoline with none of it's weighty components and armoring is a highly distorted argument. It's the same as me saying that the weight of electrons in any battery of any chemistry is 1000 times more energy dense than an equal weight of gasoline thus electronic fuel is clearly the cat's meow (a rhetorical not physical argument.)

The fact remains that Tom led off his highly erudite analysis of the bulk of his post with a nonsense 200-1 energy density number that cast a pall over the whole question of electric transport. If that number were true there would be no electric transport, yet it's abundantly clear that there is and that it is coming on strong. Trying to gin up a 200-1 number is, well, nuts. Rigorous in this case just hides a whole lot.

Fini! We are now talking apples vs mountains.

The battery used in the Chevy Volt is not an idealized battery cell in a laboratory. It is a practical battery for an electric automobile. Adding the weight of the gasoline tank to the weight of the gasoline would make a more equal comparison.

I am using facts to rebut your incorrect statement:

Written by Ron Shook on August 31, 2012 - 2:25pm:
What? If this were the case e-vehicles would be impossible.

In fact the usable energy density of the battery in the Chevy Volt is as bad as Tom Murphy states while the car is functional.

The 198 kg of "battery" is a aggregate of things like thermal management, mechanical support and environmental packaging, power electronics and the like. The battery pack is much more than electrochemicals, i.e. electrolyte, anode and cathode. One could superficially stand on the fact that those things are required by the battery. But neither does one drive 'gasoline' down the road, but instead drives atop some volume of gasoline *in* a tank, which in turn requires a fuel pump, a fuel filter, an air intake system, an exhaust and emissions control system, a lubrication system (oil pump and filter), a heat transfer system (water pump, radiation, engine firewall,...), an ignition system, etc, etc. *None* of these things are necessarily required by the battery powered vehicle.

To compare like to like, compare energy density of gasoline to rechargeable battery electrochemistry alone: 45 to 1, though that comparison is not very useful unless the sole purpose of gasoline were to heat things. A practical comparison involves the consequence of energy density in transportation - range: about 4 to 1 in actual vehicles (combustion to EV)


You said it better. Bravo!

Weight of battery: 198 kg.

That's the weight of the battery *pack*, not the electrochemical battery.

Lithium-ion battery: .72 MJ/kg (66 times less than gasoline)

Panasonic sells Li ion retail, today, at 3.1A-h, 3.6V, 45.5g, i.e. 245Wh/kg, 0.88MJ/kg.

As per my other post below, the relevant comparison is range of combustion vehicles to EVs and that's about four to one at the moment.

Fossil fuel gets a huge advantage in the energy density stakes over batteries because the mass of oxygen needed to extract the energy isn't counted, because it floats along in the air, duh.

20 kg of gasoline requires 82 kg of oxygen. So to be fair, energy density of gasoline should be about 1/5 of that quoted.

20 kg of gasoline requires 82 kg of oxygen. So to be fair, energy density of gasoline should be about 1/5 of that quoted.

Energy density figures are cited in performance comparisons because the mass of the vehicle is relevant to vehicle performance. The mass of the atmosphere is not (unless the vehicle carries its own oxidizer in the case of rockets).

Metal air batteries have the same advantage as combustible fuels and they consequently have by far the highest energy density figures among batteries, theoretically achieving a significant fraction of the energy density of liquid fuels. Unfortunately metal air comes with show stopping disadvantages, namely that they are not rechargeable to any useful degree (so far).

Why is Tom Murphy allowed to continue to post his articles on the Oil Drum? They are all smarmy, junk science winks to the uninformed, have little foundation in modern science or practical engineering, and are oblivious to current technology trends, development opportunities, and advances. I could care little about his various anecdotal detours: on jump starting his truck on hill, exhausted PC battery, or the crud on his terminals. We know that liquid fuels have a high specific energy. So what? They burn at huge inefficiencies in a combustion engine, power an inefficient drivetrain, have major security and pricing risks, and pollute the environment. Trade-offs, there are plenty, and he doesn't see, describe, or appear to understand any of them.

I'd rather read an article from someone who can maintain his own battery (sufficiently enough to avoid having to jump start his own gas powered vehicle). Even better, someone who knows something about current research and the engineering principles behind the electric vehicle (and where imminent technological advances will likely take us in the future). No mention of nanotech, impossible to discuss advanced battery concepts without it. "does not look right to me" … "I would expect" … "cannot be directly looked up" … huh? Is this guy a science professional, familiar with rigorous and evidence based arguments, or does he just throw a dart at a pile of papers and say he's not going to look any further. Myers must think most contemporary engineers working in this field (and the major companies hiring them) are all rubes.

If he wanted to review the performance and operating characteristics of:

- Li-S chemistries
- Zinc air-flow
- Lithium-air
- Magnesium-ion
- Advanced lithium-ion with high-energy cathodes and new anodes
- Semi-solid rechargeable flow
- Solid-state lithium
- Capacitive storage
- All-electron batteries
- And more …

a useful contribution indeed. But sticking to conventional designs and well-documented performance trade-offs and existing battery limitations tells us very little. It tells us this author doesn't understand his field, and may have another purpose for generation confusion and uncertainty about electric vehicle engineering advances and designs. To say nothing about existing commercially viable batteries and vehicles.

'Even better, someone who knows something about current research and the engineering principles behind the electric vehicle '

!!! Clearly you have not bothered to read Tom's qualifications.
With respect, the chances are that they are considerably better than your own.

That does not mean he is always right on all subjects, but to say that he is underqualified is absurd.

Someone who has a different opinion to your own is not always uniformed.

Clearly you have not bothered to read Tom's qualifications.

Sure I have, he teaches a course or two on energy and the environment for non-science majors, and has a blog. His specialty is astrophysics and space sciences. He bounces laser pulses off reflectors on the Moon. He read an APS News story, and decided to blog about it. My charge is that he is uninformed (and not "unqualified"). I believe his lack of interest in advanced hybrid or EV battery concepts, chemistries, and physics clearly bears this out.

Instead of being critical of Tom and TOD, perhaps you could better educate us. This is user participation media; all are encouraged to contribute. Of course, if it's your habit to always point out what is wrong with something, rather than making a contribution to clarity, there are plenty of sites that encourage that sort of thing, where coming across as angry and confrontational is the norm.

Instead of being critical of Tom and TOD, perhaps you could better educate us.

Indeed, I've been trying. I mentioned several advanced concepts in battery designs for EVs (none of which were discussed in the lead article). Donald Sadoway has a great deal to say about why battery research and materials science is not as sexy or prevalent (i.e, lucrative) as other technology fields, and why many of the most important technical findings (particularly in nanotechnology) have only come about over the last half decade. There's no indication that we are at the end of the development timeline for energy storage and batteries. In fact, we appear to be at the beginning, and most companies have dedicated research and engineering departments devoted to the stuff (which I highlighted above), and see expanded potential in current (commercially successful) models and future designs that lower costs, boost performance, and introduce better alternatives. "Ford has said hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric cars will account for as much as 25 percent of its new vehicle sales by 2020 ... [and] Ford research showed 60 percent of customers would buy a hybrid or electric vehicle if there was no price penalty." Tom would lead us to think we have a dud here. I (and apparently the largest stakeholders in the industry) see an expending market, and even more so with rising gas prices (and other environmental and well documented "deficits" and future challenges with fossil fuels).

Your opening remark...

"Why is Tom Murphy allowed to continue to post his articles on the Oil Drum? They are all smarmy, junk science winks to the uninformed, have little foundation in modern science or practical engineering, and are oblivious to current technology trends, development opportunities, and advances." crass, non-constructive, and confrontational. I doubt many readers got past that point. I suggest you review the TOD Reader Guidelines, especially nos. 4 & 5:

4. Treat members of the community with civility and respect. If you see disrespectful behavior, report it to the staff rather than further inflaming the situation.

5. Ad hominem attacks are not acceptable. If you disagree with someone, refute their statements rather than insulting them.

I suggest something more along the lines of...

" While I appreciate Tom's ongoing contributions to this site, and especially the opportunity for discussion, I disagree with Tom's post on a number of points:.." ... would be more in line with the culture of TOD. Just sayin'.

Thank you.

Ghung, since you have highlighted an excerpt from TOD Reader Guidelines, I would like to highlight the following:

Users can flag comments that do not abide by the commenting guidelines. Logged-in readers will see a "Flag" link at the bottom of each comment. Clicking this link will cause the comment to be flagged. If a comment receives a certain number of flags, it becomes hidden automatically.... Readers cannot tell whether a comment has been flagged by anyone other than themselves.

Lurkers welcome.

Lack of interest in physics?

Really? That is a little odd, if true, since:
'Tom Murphy is an associate professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego.'

And your qualifications are?

Personally I would think Tom admirably qualified to make informed comment.

"If he wanted to review the performance and operating characteristics of:
- Li-S chemistries
- Zinc air-flow
- Lithium-air ........"

Yes there are lots of interesting battery chemistries under development, but most of these are still under wraps at the R&D testing/evaluation stages and therefore are unlikely to be available in the public domain. Indeed a lot of the weekly announcements are simply press releases with very limited testing data and/or commercial viability.

Certainly worth keeping an eye on these developments, but to be fair to Tom, you can only expect to do any kind of analysis on the current commercially available state of play.

The autor is trapped in, what will likely become, an obsolete paradigm.

It is only natural to think and see the (PH)Ev's design, ownership, industry, usage and it's energy infrastructure of the future as being similar to today's solutions using the standard car. We have seen this reasoning fallacy before: The first petrol cars were also designed and used with the horse drawn carriage in mind. Even the word car is derived form it's predecessor. The customers expectations, the legal system, the engineering standards, the industry supply chain, the roads and infrastructure; the first cars had to fit the world of the horse drawn transport. The first steamships were hybrids that were used and based on windpower thinking and engineering, the first electric train was used within and designed on the basic frame of the horse drawn tram , etc etc.

Restricting thinking and engineering in an old energy and mobility paradigm as the autor and most commentators do is a fallacy which will not help us discovering the ways into the future. The engineering constraints and business opportunities of this new renewable energy and mobility paradigm differ from our understanding based on current living and mobility solutions and the current energy business.

Early adopters and first movers in industry are discovering the new e-mobility possibilities. This leads to Rethinking, reshaping and rediscovering your mobility and energy needs. One example : the average Car commute, one way, in the netherlands is below 20 KM. The average daily km traveled of a car sold in the Netherlands is below 60 km. In this daily use when able to charge at home or work the EV users in the Netherlands and the car owners (company car) are more satisfied then ICE users. The energy needed for the average yearly car usage in the Netherlands can be generated within the nordic european climate with less then 50 square meters of PV panels. This are some insights from the first steps in this new world; where will this end ?

The autor is trapped in, what will likely become, an obsolete paradigm.

It is only natural to think and see the (PH)Ev's design, ownership, industry, usage and it's energy infrastructure of the future as being similar to today's solutions using the standard car. We have seen this reasoning fallacy before: The first petrol cars were also designed and used with the horse drawn carriage in mind. Even the word car is derived form it's predecessor. The customers expectations, the legal system, the engineering standards, the industry supply chain, the roads and infrastructure; the first cars had to fit the world of the horse drawn transport. The first steamships were hybrids that were used and based on windpower thinking and engineering, the first electric train was used within and designed on the basic frame of the horse drawn tram , etc etc.

Restricting thinking and engineering in an old energy and mobility paradigm as the autor and most commentators do is a fallacy which will not help us discovering the ways into the future. The engineering constraints and business opportunities of this new renewable energy and mobility paradigm differ from our understanding based on current living and mobility solutions and the current energy business.

Early adopters and first movers in industry are discovering the new e-mobility possibilities. This leads to Rethinking, reshaping and rediscovering your mobility and energy needs. One example : the average Car commute, one way, in the netherlands is below 20 KM. The average daily km traveled of a car sold in the Netherlands is below 60 km. In this daily use when able to charge at home or work the EV users in the Netherlands and the car owners (company car) are more satisfied then ICE users. The energy needed for the average yearly car usage in the Netherlands can be generated within the nordic european climate with less then 50 square meters of PV panels. Because cars and petrol which have a larger CO2 footprint are taxed more there is already a business-case for EV in relevant market niches. For the average consumer the current EV market is still not an competive option but the roadmap towards a market uptake looks promising. This are some insights from the first steps in this new world; where will this end ?

I think you miss the point of a Plug-in Hybrid. Further, some of the numbers you use in the article are incorrect. I am a Volt owner and driver. I normally average about 4.4 mpkWh which gives me a total range of 44 miles given the useable 10 kWh of the 16kWh battery. I am aware of the range many other other drivers get, and this is a common range. Further, I get 43 mpg when driving on gas alone. 2,000 cycles is the lower limit on battery life. I suspect that given the battery management system, the battery life will be significantly longer than that. GM is certainly counting on a greater life given their warranty.

The Plug-in concept is to provide a car that provides all electric operation for the majority of trips, but can revert to gas on the minority of trips that exceed the electric range. On this account the Volt delivers. It is a rare day that I use gas, but it is always there ready to be used. This eliminates the range anxiety that is associated with all electric cars such as the Leaf. I am saving approximately $250 a month on gas. These savings are reduced by the increase of approximately $20 a month in additional electric cost. As such, my net savings are $230 per month. Savings aside, the Volt is a joy to drive. Acceleration is smooth and responsive. It is quiet and comfortable. I regularly let others drive my Volt and they are surprised at the performance of the car, coupled with its obvious benefits.

I do not work for GM or any of their suppliers or affiliates. I am simply a satisfied customer.

Yair . . . ratac's comments mirror many I have seen about the Volt.

Anyone out there like to hazard an opinion as to the increase in range/efficiency available if the same technology was applied to a basic platform without all the bells and whistles . . . think Mini-moke.


scrub puller,
You and Tom Murphy seem to be missing the point about PHEV such as the Volt. Battery range is not a major issue, in fact the plug in Prius has considerably less range than the Volt. For most commuters the Volt allows most day on day driving using electricity sourced from home. No need to regularly visit service stations for fuel or muck around with battery swapping.
The cost of the batteries is the only issue and thats going to come down when millions of PHEVs are being produced. Even in US where gasoline is extremely low price (due to low fuel taxes) PHEVs seem to be cost effective compared to similar ICE vehicles.
I am sure that BEVs will be suitable for a minority of the population or suitable as a second family vehicle even if no advances in battery technology are made, but for most people the PHEV concept will be the way that society adapts to declining availability and rising price of oil based fuels.

Its really a low cost way of maintaining BAU and using a lot less energy possibly generated on the roof by PV at the same time.

Yair . . . Neil1947. No mate, not missing the point. Horses for courses. I don't need or want bells and whistles.

I don't have to deal with snow and ice. I need basic transportation . . . with the ability to get me home if we have to go the long way if it rains.


If you consider the cost of the vehicle, the bells and whistles are really in the noise. The high cost items are the battery, engine, transmission, and body. I like to have a Bluetooth connection to my phone. It makes me a safer driver. Having an XM radio built-in is super. My last car had all these bloody wires hanging around. Agree that basic transportation is the primary need. Making the time spent in your basic transportation a little more enjoyable has some worth.

This article and the responses I read have a fixed underlying assumption that cars will remain more or less as they are now, but driven by electricity. This most likely will not be the case. The objectives of the car need to be re-evaluated. For instance my VW Golf TDi does 100mph, carries up to 5 people, has aircon, airbags, electric windows etc etc and weighs 1300kg. It does 50mpg, which is not bad. Here in Australia they are $30k for the base model. Most trips are around town, covering short distances at low speed. For this we need a car that can carry the same number of people, has a top speed of 30mph and that weighs 500kg, including batteries. I am thinking of something that already exists: a golf cart. It will need some development (such as energy recovery), but I am sure these goals can be met in such a vehicle. It could include a small ICE that is used solely for recharging. The aim must be to achieve say 250mpg. In that way oil can be pushed up the value chain (ie diesel and gasoline are used for trucks, longer trips and by the rich) and provide a bridge across the physics barrier mentioned at the beginning of the article.

Great topic.

Thanks to everyone who contributed their own real world experiences with EVs, particularly those that did their own math on the total cost of ownership - something that gets lost on the average car buyer.

My view is that EVs will initially be best suited as "city cars" - suitable for relatively short commutes. While that might seem a major limitation it does indeed satisfy a very significant proportion of commuters that dont have easy access to public transport.

Tom, I really enjoyed reading this, but you actually have made the point that even the first-generation E-REV technology of the Volt has won in the contest of gas vs. battery.

The problem with your numbers is that you expect that every Volt owner will have to spend $8000 on a new battery once they hit 62,000 miles. In the real world there are several Volts that are well over 40,000 miles, and have shown no degradation in battery range. Do you really think that in the next 15,000 miles that these Volt owner's batteries are just going to go to zero?

GM really babies the Volt's batteries, and conservatively estimates a battery life of at least 160,000 miles without any degradation in mileage. Cell phone batteries and laptop batteries can't be compared, because they lack the advanced liquid cooling/heating system that optimizes L-I battery life.

Yes, the actual Volt battery will degrade by 160,000 miles, but the 38-mile range will remain the same because the Volt software will allow the battery to use more of it's total capacity. (When brand-new, a Volt only uses about 60% of the middle-range of the total battery capacity.)

I expect after 160,000 miles there will be some drop off in the battery range as perceived by the Volt driver, but even then, let's say a Volt with 200,000 miles has an all-electric range of 25 miles (which I think is pessimistic). For over half of commuters, that is all the range they need to commute gas-free every day. There would be no real reason to shell out $8000 on a new battery.

Check out two real world examples (you can work with the tabs on the bottom of the page to see lots of recent data on these cars):

From your article, where you wrongly assess a cost of $8000 for Volt owners at the 62,000 mile mark:

"Now figure in the estimated price of the Volt battery at $8,000 (a disputed number, but GM has not revealed the actual cost). If we get 62,000 miles of electric drive out of the battery, we will spend $1950 on electricity for charging, plus $8000 for the battery. That’s $9,950. The same distance on gasoline would cost $6500. Not an order-of-magnitude difference, but still gasoline currently wins.

If the price of gasoline goes up (it will; but so will electricity), and the cost of the battery goes down (it should), the two may cross. But there are other added costs to the Volt (or hybrids in general) besides just the battery. After all, hybrids can’t jettison the ICE, and require an electric drive train to boot. Even the fact that the space occupied by the battery forces bucket seats in the back of the Volt is a “cost” that must be paid."

From your article, where you wrongly assess a cost of $8000 for Volt owners at the 62,000 mile mark:

"Now figure in the estimated price of the Volt battery at $8,000 (a disputed number, but GM has not revealed the actual cost). If we get 62,000 miles of electric drive out of the battery, we will spend $1950 on electricity for charging, plus $8000 for the battery. That’s $9,950. The same distance on gasoline would cost $6500. Not an order-of-magnitude difference, but still gasoline currently wins.

It gets worse, Murphy includes the component cost for the PHEV (cost of battery), but leaves out the component cost for the gas powered vehicle (fuel tank, injectors, spark plugs, air filter, combustion engine). Rolling in component costs on one vehicle but not for another seems to ruin the comparison. Average fuel economy in the US is at best 23.8 mpg (17.4 for long wheel base vehicles). At these levels, Tom seems to assume a fuel cost on 62,000 miles of $2.49/gallon ($1.82 for long wheel base vehicles). I don't know where he lives, but I'd sure like to move there.

There are a number of very good scientific papers that look at the history of development, current status, and future prospects for BEVs (and competing HEV, PHEV, REEV, FCEV, NEV, and comparable vehicle approaches and concepts). Most note the important role that very efficient battery powered vehicles may play in urban design, business development, modern lifestyles, and global natural resource availability … particularly as regards GHG emissions, air pollution, oil depletion, energy security, and population growth (and anticipated rising fossil fuel and electricity consumption). To say nothing of the high consumer acceptance of these vehicles (when costs are not a factor), and long term bets of companies building them (using the best available science and research on the marketplace at their disposal). To take one example:

"Cost have been falling exceptionally rapidly, and are expected to continue doing so for the next 5–10 years … BEVs have already reached such a price-point [for a luxury sedan] … with $20,000–30,000 attainable within 10 years" (p. 14). Battery durability "is already expected to be sufficient for automotive use" … "batteries need only offer 666 Wh/kg at the cell level to offer the same driving range and consumer acceptability as current petrol vehicles. The next generation of lithium-based chemistries are expected to approach this value, and so the perennial problem of 'range anxiety' may soon be overcome" (p. 15).

I would like to see Tom re-work his paper, and submit it again with less guesswork, and more accurate and up-to-date figures and comparisons.

I would think that an Acura TSX (cash price of $31,000) would be a fair gasoline only comparison to the Volt. Here is an Edmund's True Cost to own calculation for a 2012 Acura TSX (fuel price assumptions are probably conservative):

In any case, they are estimating a true cost to own (assuming you pay cash) of $52,000 over a five year period, assuming 15,000 miles per year, or an estimated total cost of 69¢ per mile ($862 per month). Estimated five year fuel cost: $11,300.

How do you guys think that compares to the Volt? I guess I would use an average case for gasoline consumption for the Volt, and a low case for gasoline consumption (pretty much commuter only, with rare longer trips).


Here are Edmunds numbers for the Volt:

$40,000 over a five year period, inclusive of tax credit, assuming 15,000 miles per year, or 53¢ per mile ($663 per month). Estimated five year fuel cost: $2,500 (I assume that this includes some kind of allocation for electricity, and I also assume that the depreciation number includes battery depreciation).

A bit earlier there was some talk of possibly using overhead electric lines to power our vehicles.I came across this article which shows a couple of big trucks being tested in Germany using the overhead electric power.When I watched the video it really brought home just how much infrastructure has to be built for getting the electricity to the vehicles.I REALLY really would love to see in the road electric lines rather than the huge eye sore they would need to use for overhead.Cost will probably be mentioned as a reason for not going in the road but hell at 5-7 million per mile for overhead,could not it be matched?


Those particular trucks are based on batteries, diesel (hybrid), *and* overhead electric connection? Must cost a fortune.

A couple of points on that.. While I don't know that I necessarily advocate for the idea of overhead or other power lines, it has a strong appeal in a couple of ways.

First, if one were to allow that EV's would have at least a few miles of battery range in them, and so the lines might be on the long thorofares, and on select intercity-intertown roadways, NOT to have them on every street everywhere so the costs would be far less astronomical, in that case.

Second, the compounding benefit of having EV's only needing a couple of miles of battery range means they can use much less battery mass, quickly making all the vehicles lighter, not only in battery weight, but then in suspension and motor size, wheel strength, etc..

Third, next set of compounding benefits is that the overall demand for moving these lighter vehicles is going to be less kwh/mile, and less loading on these lines that would be driving numerous vehicles (and I don't know the plausibility of that aspect in any case..)

Fourth, that the overall lightening of the fleets using these roads would hopefully translate into a reduction in roadway damage and maintenance liabilities.

It's still a strange overall vision, and intown solo travellers would probably do best with Trolleys, bikes and the less-ubiquitous Taxicab (EV)..

I strayed a little into OT territory focusing so much on the Chevy Volt, but I find the current state of infrastructure and battery tech to compliment that configuration right now that I think it's worth the space talking about. But, to redeem myself a little I'll hit a few bullet points above:

I frequently go for months without driving my truck. The battery is often dead when I try to start it. Lead-acid batteries only get worse if left in a discharged state, so it’s a runaway process. Fortunately, I live on a hill and can often roll-start my way back onto the road.

This is likely due not to the battery but the truck. In most cars that are "Off" there's still something running...clock, radio, perhaps even the computer itself to a degree. Modern cars are even worse at this because of the remote entry and smart keys...there's some electronics running just waiting 24 hours a day for that signal from the key. If a Prius is not going to be driven for a few weeks the smart key system needs to be turned off, and if it's not going to be driven for a month it's recommended that the 12V accessory battery should be unhooked or the car will likely deplete it.

The rechargeable NiMh batteries I use for small electronics devices are rated for 1000 charge cycles. I’ll bet I only get about 15–20 cycles before noticing a serious degradation in performance.

Batteries lose capacity, but they don't do it linearly. Most curves that I've seen have a steep drop at the beginning followed by a more gentle slope down to 80% of original capacity which is where the line at "life cycle" ends. Often the batteries will work long past that point, but at a diminished capacity.

Most of the curves for LiFePO4 have this pretty fast initial drop with a slow trickle towards 80% and hence their long cycle life. But the curve at that point is dropping so slowly that as long as you've designed for or can live with that seems they'll last almost forever.

The big danger is in pack balancing...poor charging or discharging can hammer a weaker cell and cause it to fail completely and very prematurely - so the pack must be operated on the basis of its weakest cell through a well designed battery management system.

The first set of lead-acid batteries I used with my home-built solar photovoltaic system only lasted two years before showing substantially reduced capacity. A newer set is still in good shape after 2.5 years, but the drop in performance can be pretty fast, I have found.
Lead-acid batteries for cars tend to last 5–6 years, often failing with little warning, in many cases resulting in being stranded.

PbA batteries are very much constrained by Peukerts Law and sulfation. To avoid both you need a really large pack compared to your draw. Amp draw needs to be a tiny fraction of Ah capacity or they will never put out their rated capacity. Deep cycle batteries might say they're good to 80% DoD, but even 50% is really too far.

New laptop batteries seldom fail to delight their owners in how much longer the charge lasts compared to the previous generation batteries. But give it a few years and it is not uncommon to be operating at half the original capacity.

I think this guy's page was posted recently, but it says all:

"What you do need to know is that if you keep your laptop plugged in, you force your battery to remain at 4.2V continuously and these side reactions continue to happen and slowly kill the battery."

This article is about scientific bulls*** [edit] and how it is used to distort our view of sustainable energy transfer mechanisms in the biosphere by wrongly relegating them to a position of lesser importance than the vaunted rapid oxidation of hydrocarbons.

Humans are, the last time I checked, living organisms governed by biochemical reactions involving complex energy transfer mechanisms. Life, as opposed to an ICE (internal combustion engine) or a nuclear reactor operates in a Goldilocks energy transfer zone; too little and death results; too much and death results. Homeostasis is the name commonly given to this phenomenum.

Some creatures with less sophisticated energy transfer biochemistry, like reptiles, need to position themselves in or out off a photon shower to assist their energy tranfer biochemistry but, regardless of the method, rapid oxidation is never used to preserve, prolong and protect life. There are some beetles out there than can perform rapid oxidation (small explosions) to defend themselves or propel themselves a short distance but that is rare and is not favored by evolution for reasons I will get into later.

Electricity used by eels is not rapid oxidation so no one can point to that as a high energy use process in nature. However the 500 watts an eel can generate to kill prey is an excellent example of what early scientists missed in his zeal to measure energy transfer. More on that later.

Neurotoxins, various other life terminating as well as protein denaturing chemicals in nature (digestive enzymes) are prevalent because they are a defense and a tool for capturing and digesting prey. For some reason, evolution didn't design humans with brick fireplaces or nuclear reactors in our stomachs to rapidly and explosively oxidize or fission the energy transfer process.

Why not? Because nature is geared toward the most effcient method of energy transfer to preserve, prolong and protect life WITHOUT destroying the environment that provides a supply of more energy (prey). This is important. This is math. This is nature's Homeostatic logic at the biosphere level. This is the Goldilocks energy transfer mechanism that the scientific priesthood that worships at the enthalpy altar of "more = better" NEVER understood.

While the sun's energy is absolutely essential for life on this planet, the biosphere can only "handle" an extremely tiny amount of energy from the sun. The Earth is in a Goldilocks orbit with the moon keeping the winds on earth from being routinely 600 mph and Jupiter has blocked untold meteors from slaming us. Those are facts. But the "scientific" mind has a fascination with gobs of power like those the sun posesses that could burn us to a cinder with by one well aimed burp.

This is where I am convinced the "science" of physical chemistry went off the deep end into masturbatory exercises in calculus jabberwokky to define energy in search of more methods of transferring energy at faster and faster rates, consequences be damned. The bias of physical science towards measurement "admiration" of massive, lifeless energy transfer mechanisms like those in stars and planetary cores on some glorified number line with positive values as "better" while "low" values on the energy number line from natural physical forces like capillary action, evaporation and counterintuitive energy miracles like frozen water occupying more space than liquid water (no miracle, they say, just a random chance - that life would be impossible without) are given little notice as a potential power source. Negative value substances (endothermic) are a curiosity good for this and that industrial process but not worthy of the worship due the ill defined "powerful" energetic processes.

Spiders don't die from eating something they killed with their venom because eating the venom is harmless outside the bloodstream in the digestive tract. Spiders deposit digestive enzymes that help denature proteins (remember that denaturing a protein requires ENERGY) along with the venom but that's just fine tuning the energy transfer mechanism. Cats have a pH of aound 1 (VERY high acidity) in their stomachs to aid digestion and kill most disease causing bacteria in the food they eat. Acid is another way that nature facilitates energy transfer.

Scientists say, yeah, sure, anabolism and catabolism in metabolism is important and all that. It's wonderful that water floats when it freezes and evaporation is nice too. Learning about that helped us design air conditioners! But hey, those are puny energy transfer mechanisms. We need to power jets, tanks, cars and make bombs and provide electricity to millions of homes, etc. How in the hell do you expect us get that kind of power from this puny shit you are talking about here? As for the moon, it's really cool the way the lunar orbit keeps the winds down and provides tides but hey, that's a given! The energy the moon is using to keep those winds down and promote ocean life through tidal activity is just a big math equation we don't use much; it's not centralized enough but, don't worry, we are looking into some tidal power mechanisms just as soon as we can figure a way to SCALE UP tidal power generation.

I say they are wrong on all counts. I say they have a bias towards death WORSE than the entropic processes that lead to absolute zero on the negative part of their number line that they fear and work to avoid by going in the other extreme. They say energy is energy. Early scientists took care of all that with their work on enthalpy. I say the only RIGHT use of energy in a closed system is to be in the ZONE, not reaching for more raw extremes in energy transfer.

So where do we begin? The Homeostatic biosphere energy transfer Goldilocks model doesn't sound too scientific, now does it? So lets get down to the brass tacks of energy transfer. The sun shines, a plant grows, something eats it and you eat the plant and/or the animal, transfer energy from the food to your body with the indispensable help of your gut microbes and then YOU provide FOOD for the plants and tiny microbes by depositing your nitrogen rich plant food known to us as urine and feces back onto plants. It's not race car sexy but it ain't optional.

Before I get to the neanderthal and primitive pig poison spewing invention known as the ICE, lets talk about how biologists figure out the "efficiency" of a life form in transfering energy (i.e. getting it out of food). They take an identical portion of food being fed to an animal, weigh it and burn it. Hello, enthalpy! They measure the energy of rapid oxidation as best they can. They weigh the droppings in a continual cycle making sure the droppings correspond to the measure of food eaten. They burn the droppings. Hello enthalpy again. Now they get real scientific and anal about all this because carbohydrates, fats and proteins burn differently. Mineral content is studied to see what what is no longer there.

The point is that there is an ASSUMPTION made that doesn't have beans to do with the energy transfer process known as digestion. WE DO NOT BURN OUR FOOD! All that CRAP you and I learned about caloric content is based on physical chemistry leaps of faith (not math) about enthalpy and the "lets burn it and see how much energy it has" boys. Of course this stuff is only partial bullshit in nonliving energy transfer processes so they were quite objective in determining MJ of burning hydrocarbons and many other substances but catalysts messed with their results so they invented a fudge factor called "energy of activation". More on that later.

What is it that living systems DO if they don't BURN the food? Something similar to what they do to move muscles; they use catalysts (substances that do not gain or lose energy or are degraded in a chemical reaction) to keep HEAT and pH from getting out of the Goldilocks zone of life. How do they do that with those enzymes? The physical scientists with their knowledge of molecules and the different kinds of chemical bonds will tell you that enzymes DO NOT rig a chemical reaction so it uses less energy. They say it can't be done. They say the enzyme just lowers the "energy of activation" so the reaction can proceed.

This the scientific concensus:
Question: Do enzymes lower the energy of the overall reaction?
Enthalpy, entropy, and Gibbs free energy are all state functions. This means they depend only on the initial state and the final state. Anything that happens between those states is irrelevant.
So no, enzymes have no effect on the enthalpy of a reaction.

I see enthalpy is back right there with the word enzyme. I see that really fascinating term "state function" as a rationale for the "no effect". This is all quite valid and true in nonliving energy transfer mechanisms. This is bullshit in living systems. Why? Because the biochemical reaction DOES NOT release the same amount of HEAT that it would in the absence of the enzyme. That HEAT that wasn't emitted is an amount of energy that is CONSERVED! That means that the figures for caloric content based on brute force rapid oxidation are WRONG. The enzymes (BILLIONS OF THEM!) are constantly operating at an efficency level no ICE could ever approach. It's not just sweat that keeps you from overheating, folks.[sup][1[/sup]

They have a "slight" problem you probably never were told about in measuring enthalpy (Especially if you work with hydrocarbons).
[quote]Although enthalpy is commonly used in engineering and science, it is impossible to measure directly, as enthalpy has no datum (reference point). Therefore enthalpy can only accurately be used in a closed system. However, few real-world applications exist in closed isolation, and it is for this reason that two or more closed systems cannot be compared using enthalpy as a basis, although sometimes this is done erroneously. [sup]2[/sup][/quote]

So, as you can see, "scientists" can have a ball with fudge factors and tell YOU they are doing science.

Even now the myriad chemical reactions in the human body are not fully understood. Scientists can write these calculus formulas for "work" done in a reaction that include the different state functions along the way and dazzle us with numbers and "empirical" evidence OUTSIDE living systems. Inside living systems, they still do not understand how gamma radiation can upregulate (cause them to accelerate activity) Tyrosine Kinase enzymes that tell cells to divide like crazy and simultaneously turn off apoptosis (cell death clock) so the newly multiplied cells don't die. It's called cancer (Almost all kinds have this same trigger - radiation just does it faster than other toxins out there). Cancer, boys and girls, is caused by too much energy slamming a tyrosine kinase enzyme. This is what happens when you depart the goldilocks zone towards higher energy.

[quote]Plant foods contain many of the same enzymes that humans use to metabolize different kinds of macronutrients. Proteases and peptidases, which help digest protein; lipases, which help digest fat; and cellulases and saccharidases, which help digest starches and sugars are examples of the kind of digestive enzymes that would normally secreted in our digestive tract or in a nearby organs like the pancreas or liver. However, these same digestive enzymes can be found in the plant foods that we eat. [sup]3[[/sup][/quote]

How do the enthalpy boys deal with the above reality? You were lacking some of those enzymes that help you transfer energy and you ate some vegetables. How EXACTLY does that translate to "state functions", enthalpy and WORK that you can quantify as MJ in energy? It doesn't! They BURN that stuff to see what the caloric content is. That's mechanistic reductionist science at its most neanderthal. Sure, it works "great" (not really but it looks that way from a distance) for engines and rockets but it's a FAIRY TALE as far as humans are concerned. Consider that the enthalpy of a human body with all its' carbon, nitrogen oxygen, hydrogen, potassium, sodium, sulfur compounds and all the rest of the trace elements that make up what it is one second before it dies and 10 minutes later is, according to enthalpy measurers, the same. Do you believe a dead body has the same energy content as a live one? You'd better if you believe the published stats on caloric food content.
Let's compare an electric eel with a human manufactured battery.
[quote]When the eel locates its prey, the brain sends a signal through the nervous system to the electric cells. This opens the ion channel, allowing positively-charged sodium to flow through, reversing the charges momentarily. By causing a sudden difference in voltage, it generates a current. The electric eel generates its characteristic electrical pulse in a manner similar to a battery, in which stacked plates produce an electrical charge. In the electric eel, some 5,000 to 6,000 stacked electroplaques are capable of producing a shock at up to 500 volts and 1 ampere of current (500 watts). [sup]4[/sup][/quote]
The electric eel is really not an eel but a type of cafish. It lives, eats, mates, lays eggs and dies. It serves a viable and useful function in the biosphere in life and in death. It's in the Goldilocks zone.

Now for the 20th century product of our "vast" understanding of energy transfer mechanisms, chemical reactions and, of course, enthalpy.


[quote][b]Used Lead Acid Battery Recycling[/b]

Lead acid batteries are rechargeable batteries made of lead plates situated in a ‘bath’ of sulfuric acid within a plastic casing. They are used in every country in world, and can commonly be recognized as “car batteries”. The batteries can be charged many times, but after numerous cycles of recharging, lead plates eventually deteriorate causing the battery to lose its ability to hold stored energy for any period of time.1 Once the lead acid battery ceases to be effective, it is unusable and deemed a used lead acid battery (ULAB), which is classified as a hazardous waste under the Basel Convention.[sup]5[/sup][/quote]

[quote][b]Exposure Pathways[/b]
Throughout the informal recycling process, there are opportunities for exposure. Most often the battery acid, which contains lead particulates, is haphazardly dumped on the ground, waste pile or into the nearest water body. As the lead plates are melted, lead ash falls into the surrounding environment, collects on clothing, or is directly inhaled by people in close proximity.

Soil containing lead compounds can turn to dust and become airborne, enabling the lead compounds to be easily inhaled or ingested in a variety of ways. Lead can also leach into water supplies. Children, in particular are often exposed to lead when playing on the waste furnace slag and handling rocks or dirt containing lead, while engaging in typical hand-to-mouth activity, as well as by bringing objects covered with lead dust back into the home. The most common route of exposure for children is ingestion, as lead dust often covers clothing, food, soil and toys.

[b]Health Effects[/b]
Acute lead poisoning can occur when people are directly exposed to large amounts of lead through inhaling dust, fumes or vapors dispersed in the air. However, chronic poisoning from absorbing low amounts of lead over long periods of time is a much more common and pervasive problem. Lead can enter the body through the lungs or the mouth, and over long periods can accumulate in the bones. Health risks include impaired physical growth, kidney damage, retardation, and in extreme cases even death. Lead poisoning can lead to tiredness, headache, aching bones and muscles, forgetfulness, loss of appetite and sleep disturbance.

This is often followed by constipation and attacks of intense pain in the abdomen, called lead colic.5 Extreme cases of lead poisoning, can cause convulsions, coma, delirium and possibly death. Children are more susceptible to lead poisoning than adults and may suffer permanent neurological damage. Women that are pregnant and become exposed to lead can result in damage to the fetus and birth defects.[sup]5[/sup][/quote]

I'm just curious, but what "state function" in physical chemistry applies to the above? How about the enthalpy, entropy or energy of a stack of battery casings? What's the "energy of activation" needed to brain damage a kid? Where are the "elegant" calculus equations to show the "energy" used to make, use, discard and poison the biosphere, HUH!!? Anyone? How about someone from The Oil Drum? Can you explain the superiority of the car battery over the electric eel? I can't. BUT, if you worship DEATH; if you worship energetic processes above the goldilocks zone, then it is fucking OBVIOUS why the battery is head and shoulders above the electric eel!

Which brings us back to the BANKRUPTCY of the physical sciences in describing energetic porcesses in living systems. The cells in an electric eel function as a group of many, many individuals, each producing a tiny change in electric potential. In order to have an energetic process that doesn't harm the people using it (e.g. humans) you are SUPPOSED to keep each individual process tiny so as to maximize efficiency and minimize or totally avoid biopshere damage. The moment you exit that zone into "bigger is better explosive energy output", for every single MJ/L of energy you produce above the goldilocks zone of life, you are generating life destroying entropy with waste heat and poisonous chemicals. The blind, greedy fuckers that built the ICE refused to see that. Most people today STILL refuse to see that.

THIS is what the IDIOTS in science never get. For many decades they were scratching there moronic heads about why a dolphin can swim as fast as it does (Gray's paradox). The dolphin didn't match their equations so they went TILT. The arrogance is breathtaking. The same thing is going on today with the slavish devotion to oil and nuclear as some great and glorious energy process. LOOK AROUND! Look what all this "cheap" energy has produced. Don't you get it? There was NO WAY you could exit the Goldilocks zone in energy output and NOT produce untold garbage, poison and waste. The two things go in opposite directions in equal vector strength! The "externalized" effects of oil and nuclear CAN be quantified in NEGATIVE MJ/L of entropy and poisons. THAT is what the early scientists studying energy failed to see. The blindness just accelerated from then. For every bomb, car, truck, tractor, tank, plane, train, ship or powerplant high energy transfer device the Industrial Revolution IDIOCY of brain dead mechanistic reductionism worshippers brought us, we received a corresponding equal and opposite reaction in the biosphere.

For a viable society, absolutely every energetic process must be measured in the total cycle. Every ICE out there NOW, if the TOTAL enthalpy, entropy and poison generating math was done, would never have been built because NONE of them were EVER cost effective compared to living system energy transfer mechanisms, PERIOD! Everybody that likes cars should lock themselves in their garage with one and start the engine. After an hour or so, you will experience the part oil EROI worshippers and the scientists like those at The Oil Drum fail to mention. The fact that these oil energy loving F***S [edit] that call themselves scientists can believe it's wrong to run your car in a garage but a mark of "advanced civilization" to do it outside is proof that they are SERIOUSLY math challenged idiots. Have a nice day.

"In our mechanistic greco roman western reductionist linear fragmented compartmentalized disconnected democratized individualized parts oriented thought process, we never think about the whole." Alex Hillman

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Renewables, why they work and fossil and nuclear fuels NEVER DID.

Too long. Didn't read.

You seem to have useful ideas, but like Richard, I would ask you not to put in a whole chapter or a book. It's considered hogging the thread.

The use of "BS" in the first sentence also quickly made you seem fairly rude and ranting.. making it hard to take anything afterward very seriously.. though as I said, I think some of the ideas in there probably will be great to have discussions on.. just not great speeches or treatises, if you please.

As Leanan says sometimes.. 'get your own blog if you want to share that much stuff'. This is appropriately called a discussion.


Yes, please keep your posts a moderate length - we'll tolerate longish ones if they're nicely formatted - i.e. use your return to make clear paragraphs.

Commenters are able to edit posts until someone replies to them. If you'd like to start over and post a clearer and more concise comment, I'd be happy to hide the old one.

Best to all,


[edit - I returned to disguise profanity - we may have school age kids reading - also added para returns]

Very well. Let me discuss some facts in a profanity free manner. The above article was admittedly long and not fully fleshed out. I did so at the Doomstead Diner that posted the article today.

This is a very brief summary of the problems we face and I feel are, at best, insufficiently addressed or ,at worst, ridiculed in sites like this that display a bias towards petroleum products:

CH[sub]4[/sub] + 2O[sub]2[/sub] ---> 2H[sub]2[/sub]O + CO[sub]2[/sub]
Burning hydrocarbons is trouble for planet Earth's biosphere.

The absorption of terrestrial radiation is dominated by triatomic molecules – O3 in the UV, H2O, CO2 and others in the IR because it so happens that triatomic molecules have rotational and vibrational modes that can easily be excited by radiation with wavelengths in the IR.The Earth radiates energy away at the same rate as it is received from the Sun. The Earth's emission temperature is 255K; that of the Sun, 6000K. The outgoing terrestrial radiation peaks in the infrared; the incoming solar radiation peaks at shorter wavelengths, in the visible.

The emission of terrestrial radiation is a function of the Earth's radiative temperature. Earth radiates in the IR band. Therefore even a tiny addition of triatomic molecules such as CO[sub]2[/sub] and H[sub]2[/sub]O will result in a powerful positive feedback mechanism. Burning hydrocarbons destabilizes Earth's radiative equilibrium profile. It is irresponsible for the petroleum industry to pretend otherwise.

Published EROI studies at The Oil Drum such (Hall) pretend the application of science and mathematics to determine energy return on energy invested. However, in thermodynamics, applying the law of conservation of energy to determine enthalpy is only half the picture. You must also compute entropic effects as well. That is, you must take the energy density per mole and determine how much WORK it can accomplish in the real world. Hall and associates fail to do that. If they had done this for ethanol vs gasoline, they would find that the higher octane ethanol is a better fuel for the ICE (internal combustion engine) than than gasoline. All you need to do to get equivalent mileage per gallon or litre is to burn the ethanol in a high compression engine. This was proven as far back as 1906 in Edison Labs research funded by the US Navy (Google it!).

Furthermore, ethanol does not require a catalytic converter so the entropy is decreased and overall energy output in the form of mechanical WORK is increased. The rabbit hole on ethanol is deep and goes back to Rockefeller gifting religious fundamentalist organizations with millions of dollars to get Prohibition passed. I don't believe it is any coincidence that less than a year after Prohibition destroyed ethanol (it became illegal, not just to drink, but to produce and use as fuel) as a competitor to gasoline, the Tetra Ethyl Lead poison additive to gasoline increased its octane rating to a level comparable with ethanol. You know how tetra ethyl lead ended up being banned for the horrible effects on humans and other life forms.

Petroleum energy's ultimate source is the sun, not an oil drum or a well. Why then, is your site named "The Oil Drum" instead of "The Sustainable Sun"? Why the "Drumbeat" campy title for an energy discussion forum instead of the "PhotonBeat"? Because you suffer from endowment bias. This is unscientific in a site that claims they back up everything they say with science. Politicized EROI formulas neglecting real world application efficiencies and entropy in order to make petroleum products look favorable is flawed science.

We address this issue in detail at the Doomstead Diner web site. Our motto is "Save as many as you can". There is no censorship. People that don't properly reference their ideas with scientifically proven facts are not banned but are identified as pushing opinions as facts. Anyone that questions facts, as those I have just stated above, by claiming they are opinion with pejorative remarks like "this is speculative and not real world" must show some facts to back up their assertions besides unethical debating tactics (e.g. my resume is bigger than yours).

Learn what a proper formulation of the EROI formula should be composed of free from propaganda, politics and the petroleum profit motive.

Renewables, why they work and fossil and nuclear fuels never did

Carbon Footprint and how the 1% skew the per capita numbers in the USA (Joe 6 pack uses much less energy than is claimed) is discussed, among other subjects of interest to Oil Drum readers, here:

Latest article hot off the presses:

Unlike most sites, the comments on these article do not get shelved or disappeared into dusty archives. The thread is preserved and you can read through the whole thing. You can tear the articles to pieces and use profanity if you wish to accentuate your prose. As long as you don't conflate opinion with facts and vice versa, you will be listened to. Come one, come all and show us your debating skills.

Petroleum energy's ultimate source is the sun, not an oil drum or a well. Why then, is your site named "The Oil Drum" instead of "The Sustainable Sun"?

Oil has not been sunlight for millions of years and went through several different processes between then and now. Endowment bias? Really?

All you need to do to get equivalent mileage per gallon or litre is to burn the ethanol in a high compression engine.

Compressing a fuel doesn't change the fact that you still need more of it than gasoline to run your engine (nearly 40% more apparently). Considering that this fuel source is usually taken from our food stocks, this is never going to be a "good" solution regardless of how you play with the EROI.

Compressing a fuel doesn't change the fact that you still need more of it than gasoline to run your engine (nearly 40% more apparently).

Actually, it does. Raising compression ratios increases efficiency. Audi has reduced the ethanol penalty to 12%.

12% down from 40% is pretty good. What's the energy loss from compressing the fuel though? That probably won't be a huge factor but it would be a nice to know.

What's the energy loss from compressing the fuel though?

Hard to tell - the compression happens during the engine combustion cycle, so the energy output is a net figure.

Petroleum energy's ultimate source is the sun, not an oil drum or a well. Why then, is your site named "The Oil Drum" instead of "The Sustainable Sun"?

Oil has not been sunlight for millions of years and went through several different processes between then and now. Endowment bias? Really?

All you need to do to get equivalent mileage per gallon or litre is to burn the ethanol in a high compression engine.

Compressing a fuel doesn't change the fact that you still need more of it than gasoline to run your engine (nearly 40% more apparently). Considering that this fuel source is usually taken from our food stocks, this is never going to be a "good" solution regardless of how you play with the EROI.

Seeing that you're really here to push the Doomstead diner, is it really necessary to toss in snyde remarks about the site that is hosting this comment? You may have seen some recent threads where many posters here have expressed their gratitude for having a site which keeps high standards of both civility and supported arguments. It's far from perfect, but it's very good compared to anything else I've seen online.

I may peek in to DD at some point, but even without profanity, your tone upstages your points, and I see no reason amongst the ideas you've presented for expecting to have a fruitful discussion over there.

After the initial responses asking for less than a chapter, it might have been more useful to pick a single idea you want to take on, such as EROEI, and let that issue go forward conversationally. (unless it's really off-topic to the thread, which we've now pretty much become..) But it doesn't seem like that's what you're here for. It IS what I am here for.


Written by agelbert:
CH[sub]4[/sub] + 2O[sub]2[/sub] ---> 2H[sub]2[/sub]O + CO[sub]2[/sub]
Burning hydrocarbons is trouble for planet Earth's biosphere.

Burning large amounts of fossil hydrocarbons is trouble for Earth's biosphere. Reverse the reaction:

2H2O + CO2 + energy ---> CH4 + 2O2

The energy could come from sunlight. It is easier to store methane than hydrogen.

Are you thinking of utility-scale energy storage?

Electric vehicles are here to stay and while they are certainly a niche product today their market share will only grow. Energy density comparisons with gasoline are less than useless when trying to determine the future of electric vehicles. The only thing that matters is utility. Assuming a 3.5% annual increase in energy density (a modest assumption) the utility of EVs will continue to grow. With a doubling time of 20 years a Nissan Leaf will have a range of 200 miles in 2032; 400 miles in 2052 and 800 miles in 2072. This can be achieved without coming close to current theoretical limits and would have EVs commanding a majority of market share in the second half of this century.


You may be well intentioned, but your posts in general, and this one in particular, are exercises in tearing apart straw men. In this case, this cites an article which suggests that pure EVs won't be ready to replace conventional ICE vehicles any time soon.

Of course! It's pretty clear to car-industry analysts that hybrids, plug-ins, and extended range EVs will dominate for quite a long time. For instance, a Prius C appears to be the lowest cost vehicle around: at $19k and 50 MPG, it's price is less than 2/3 of the average new vehicle price, and it's fuel consumption is 50% of the US average new vehicle. Add a plug and $10k in batteries and you still have a vehicle that's cheaper than the average new vehicle, but gets about 300 miles per gallon of liquid fuel.

Even for the special case of pure EVs the analysis is highly unrealistic:

External costs like security of supply (both short term and long term), criteria pollution (sulfur, mercury, etc) and climate change are very, very real. Not including them is just dishonest - if a media writer wants to focus their article on slow adoption rates due to artificially low market prices, that's fine, but they should make that explicit.

An honest market price analysis that looks at the entire lifecycle, includes maintenance savings, and uses realistic assumptions about operations, miles driven, etc, will find that pure EVs are already cost competitive - that is to say, their costs no higher than for ICEs. Hybrids are currently the sweetspot for low costs, but PHEVs and EREVs will claim that spot reasonably soon.

Finally, battery prices appear to be continuing their long-term decline rate of 7-10% per year. The Reuters article below indicates that consumer li-ion is going for $300/kWh: that's 25% less than several years ago. Please note that consumer devices have the advantage of large volumes, but their size is small and costly. For instance, an iPhone has a 5.3 watt hour battery. The Volt's battery pack at 16 kWh is 3,000 times as large. So, when the Volt gets to 25k vehicles per year, that's equivalent to 75M cell phones (a little more than Apple sold in 2011). That's pretty good scale.

On the other hand, individual cells for automotive uses are much larger, which is cheaper to manufacture (per unit capacity) and can use cheaper materials (because weight isn't nearly as critical).

The bottom line: automotive traction batteries will stay cheaper than consumer batteries (which continue to fall in price, driven by intense pressure from places like Apple).

2) The overall price of an EV is a very complex mix, and can't be reduced to the cost of the battery. Car makers have many costs: drive train; ancillary devices such as steering and braking; suspension/wheels; body (including aerodynamics); etc. Almost all of these have to be redesigned for an electric drive train (which includes EV/HEV/PHEV/EREV) because the design requirements are very different. For instance, ICE vehicle efficiency is dominated by weight. Weight is much less important for EVs because they have regenerative braking, so aerodynamics move strongly to the forefront. Another example: elimination of mechanical control and power transmission (brakes, steering, etc) affects a lot of secondary systems. Heck, window wipers get redesigned!

Battery packs are complex: there are the individual cells; the connections; cooling and heating systems (air and liquid); charge and discharge management systems; temperature sensors, heat insulators and radiators; electronic communications and control, with hardware and software (including 10M lines of code, more than recent fighter jets); containment systems, structural support and crash protection; etc.

So, economies of scale apply to the whole car, and cost comparisons are complex. That's why I raise the example of the Prius C, which has the advantage of Toyota's economies of scale and willingness/ability to aggressively price a new vehicle based on long-term costs before it has achieved the large sale volumes which will enable those low costs.

A Prius C has both ICE and electric drivetrains, each of which are sufficient to drive the vehicle. That's substantial duplication. And, they have a full battery pack (with battery management), yet they can price the vehicle starting at $19k. We can get a pretty good idea what a small PHEV could cost, based on that.

One aspect of the discussion I don't see in the article (though may well be in some of the 300+ comments) is the energy demand of the vehicle itself. If we are focused on Volts and similar vehicles, then we have to push hard at the R&D envelopes to chase the horizon for the FreedomCar goals. If we have vehicles with significantly less energy demands, however, suddenly we can ready to go with the batteries we have.

Some of the (potential) vehicles that require far less energy (e.g., rolling, aero, F=ma) include;

VW XL1 (200+ mpg)


And of course, there are many 100+ mpg cars from the Progressive Auto X-Prize;

Li-On and Zap Alias


And there are many other such vehicles that participated in the XPrize competition;


That's great information - there's no question that HEV/PHEV/EREV/EV technology and engineering will continue to improve fast, and that will help acceptance and growth. But, we can't let it us distract from the most import thing, which is that the engineering and technology in plug-ins like the Prius plug-in and the Volt are good enough, right now - the Volt gets about 230 miles per gallon of liquid fuel. Even Tom Murphy admitted that he'd be delighted to buy a Volt in the Original Post (although he wanted to pay only $17-20k, which is unreasonable). The price could be a little lower, but that will get there with volume production.

The perfect is the enemy of the good. We have no excuse not to act now, and start making oil obsolete.

Let me say that again:

The engineering and technology in plug-ins are good enough, right now!