Monday, April 25, 2011

Ecoliner battery-electric bus

Foothill Transit has three prototype battery-electric buses made by Proterra. One was on display at the SCAQMD for its Zero-Emission Transportation Technology Forum last Wednesday (4/20/11). Also see George Karbowski's presentation (3 MB PDF) for technical details. (click to enlarge photos)

Saturday, April 09, 2011

1. Oil Supply

The the first critical reason for Freedom from Oil is declining oil world supply....

The supply of oil in the ground is not infinite. Someday, annual world crude oil production has to reach a peak and start to decline. It is my opinion that the peak will occur in late 2005 or in the first few months of 2006. – Princeton University Professor Emeritus Kenneth Deffeyes, Beyond Oil

Based on oil geology, the peak of oil production occurs when around half of total recoverable oil has been produced. Not that we're "out of oil", but that supply will inexorably fall after the peak. The United States peaked in 1970 (blue area).

The above chart, data from ASPO (the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas) founder Colin Campbell (Newsletter #100 and, summarizes our likely situation. Now even the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2010 sees a 2006 peak of 70 mb/d world crude oil production.

Won't oil companies keep finding more oil fields, especially with new technology?

No, as shown above, the biggest fields were discovered decades ago and are running down faster than new discoveries can replace them. Matthew Simmons' Twilight in the Desert summarizes numerous technical reports to conclude even Saudi Arabia's production may have peaked.

The United States' 1970 oil peak was never exceeded despite all of Alaska's new production (U.S. EIA). The big rise in demand has been supplied with imported oil (top five import sources' data beginning 1993/1995).

Nearly two-thirds of United States oil is imported, some from "countries that don't like us very much" (John McCain, 2008), and causing half of the U.S. balance of payments deficit, over $20 billion per month.

"Drill Baby Drill" simply cannot change the U.S.'s production decline. We need real solutions that reduce oil use, or else ...

We've already experienced for the consequences of oil supply less than demand: price spikes (2008) and gas lines (1979).

Synthetic fuel from Canadian tar sands consumes vast quantities of natural gas and water, creates huge waste ponds, and is worse than conventional oil for global warming (Suncor photo).

Synthetic fuel from coal, aka "liquid coal", has twice the global warming emissions as petroleum.

The Gulf oil disaster (USCG , AP photos; also see LA Times) is the latest example of environmental and economic devastation from oil production. Not to mention decades of air pollution. How much stronger a message do we need??

The vast majority of oil is used for transportation, with over half for personal vehicles' motor gasoline.

For more on Peak Oil see Energy Bulletin's Peak Oil Primer, The Oil Drum's Peak Oil Overview, and authors Richard Heinberg and James Howard Kunstler.

NEXT: 2. Global Warming

2. Global Warming

A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems. – U.S. National Academy of Sciences, 2010
This January 2011 NASA chart shows 2010 tied (with 2005) for the hottest year on record, and is part of the hottest decade on record. It "is compiled from weather data from more than 1000 meteorological stations around the world, satellite observations of sea surface temperature and Antarctic research station measurements."

Multiple reconstructions of historic temperatures show it is now the hottest in 2,000 years (PDF). More perspective on temperature reconstructions from Climate Progress and Skeptical Science.

Glaciers and ice sheets are melting around the world. For example, Muir Glacier in Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park, 1892 (left), has vanished in 2005 (right; both USGS).

Arctic sea ice is at record lows, and melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets is increasing. The “Albedo Effect” of shiny ice replaced by dark ocean further accelerates warming.

Not only is sea level rising, but most of the excess heat and has been absorbed in the ocean, resulting in stronger hurricanes. CO2 is also making the ocean more acidic, endangering shellfish and coral reefs.

A new NASA-Jet Propulsion Laboratory study projects a one-foot rise by 2050. If the 100,000-year-old, mile-thick Greenland Ice Sheet melted it would raise sea level over 23 feet.

Effects of global warming include extreme weather – severe heat, storms, floods, drought and dust bowls. Great wildfires (photo – Station Fire behind downtown Los Angeles, August 2009) are a result of heat, drought, and pine borer beetles that were formerly killed by cold winters.

Greater heat and less water reduce food crops.

Climate doesn't change all by itself for no good reason. Something has to force it. – Mark Serreze, National Snow and Ice Data Center director

The Greenhouse Effect is well-documented. That something is CO2 levels, primarily from burning fossil fuels over the last century – and other greenhouse gases – that have risen with temperature (NASA chart). This atmospheric CO2 acts like a thermostat to control the temperature of the Earth.

Warming is not caused by the sun: temperature is rising despite falling solar irradiance.

In fact, 97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming via greenhouse gas emissions.

See more in NASA's Climate change: How do we know?, Empirical evidence that humans are causing global warming, and Climate Progress, especially:

Transportation is the second-largest emissions sector nationally (above, US EPA, Tables 2-12 & 2-15) and the greatest in California (due to less coal-fired electricity, below, CARB; more on AB 32 Scoping Plan)

NEXT: 3. Alternatives to Driving BACK: 1. Oil Supply

3. Alternatives to Driving

Livable communities with better transportation choices including transit and opportunities for bicycling and walking reduce the need to drive.

Los Angeles' Measure R and "30/10" – now "America Fast Forward" – will expand our transit network, including the Wilshire subway to Westwood (above).

Grid-connected electric transit – streetcars, light and heavy rail, and electric trolleybuses are quiet, energy-efficient, and proven. As Gilbert and Perl note, "Electricity is the ideal transport fuel for an uncertain future. Unlike other alternative energy transition paths for transport, only electric mobility can move people and goods using a wide range of energy sources."

New battery electric buses being tested on Foothill Transit may provide a good alternative to diesel and natural gas powered transit buses (Proterra photo; also MetroRiderLA). See George Karbowski's SCAQMD presentation (3 MB PDF) for technical details.

"Complete Streets" make communities more livable with inviting places to walk and bike, instead of driving (Charles Gandy, City of Long Beach image).

Urban parks importantly balance higher-density residential.

Ridesharing (via smart-phone apps) may be the fastest adjustment for an oil shock.

Intercity high speed rail will replace oil used by long-distance driving and intrastate plane flights (CHSRA image).

Moving freight to rail is much more efficient than trucks, and railroads can be electrified to become entirely oil-free.

NEXT: 4. Electric Vehicles BACK: 2. Global Warming

Friday, April 08, 2011

4. Electric Vehicles

Plug-in electric vehicles, now beginning to be available (such as the battery-electric Nissan Leaf, above, and plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt), are the most feasible alternative to oil-powered cars.

Vehicle fuel efficiency helps, but cannot get us off oil. EPA-NHTSA rulemaking – in conjunction with California ARB – is beginning for 2017-2025. A range of 3-6% annual improvement would result in 47-62 mpg in 2025, compared with 34.1 mpg in 2016 and 27.5 mpg of the old (1990-2010) CAFE.

In comparison, a 2004-9 Toyota Prius midsize car was rated at 46 mpg. A fleet averaging that would cut U.S. gasoline use in half and U.S. oil use by 1/4.

Cartoon (c) by Steve Nease, used with permission

Most U.S. personal trips are by car (U.S. Census, SF-3, QT-P23), although less so in dense cities with good public transit like San Francisco, where only 41% drove alone, 31% rode transit, and 9% walked – a strong reason to oppose new sprawl development.

Fifty percent of drivers travel less than 25 miles per day (EPRI PDF). There is ample off-peak grid capacity today for overnight charging, and vehicle batteries can become distributed storage for demand peaks and renewable supply.

From renewable solar, wind, and geothermal power, the core of our clean energy, green jobs economic future.

But even on U.S. average-mix electricity Argonne National Lab's June 2010 "Well-to-Wheels Analysis ..." documented that plug-ins have lower GHG emissions than equivalent ICE gasoline cars, about the same on a coal-intensive mix, and of course much better with renewables (Figure ES-1, page 3).

See also Michael Brune's Sierra Club blogs 10/6/10 and 3/10/11; California ARB on zero Emission Vehicles, advocate Plug In America, Top 11 Electric Car Myths, and lithium availability.

We will need to plan for charging stations in apartment garages, public street parkways, and retail and commercial locations.

Biofuels, conversely, fail the key criteria of scalability, net energy, and external impacts.

Ethanol from corn uses about as much fossil-fuel energy to grow and make as it yields. It consumes water and fertilizer and competes with food production. Ethanol from sugar cane in Brazil is more sustainable, but not scalable to replace any large portion of oil.

Cellulosic ethanol is not in large-scale production, and has poor net energy due to transporting biomass and distilling the alcohol.

Biodiesel from used french fry oil sounds great, but there's not very much used french fry oil! The most productive oil crops are palm oil and soybeans. Their expanded production threatens rainforest land, hardly a benefit to global warming emissions.

See also Robert Rapier on The Palm Oil Conundrum and Five Challenges of Next-Generation Biofuels.

Hydrogen is an energy carrier, not source. It is mostly created from natural gas today, just another fossil fuel.

Even if electrolyzed from renewable electricity, it is less efficient to make, compress, and run a fuel cell on hydrogen than to just charge a battery (page 5, Table 2 in Boschert).

We need a solution now, but fuel cell vehicles are extremely expensive, plus there is no hydrogen fueling infrastructure.

BACK: 3. Alternatives to Driving