In simplest terms, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards are where national security meets cleaner air. Read more
It’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow somebody some good, and it’s an ill pollution day that doesn’t have an upside somewhere.
Self-driving cars are coming. Afraid yet?
The people who gathered at the 16th annual “Advance the Choice: Future of Transportation” conference in Riverside on Thursday didn’t seem too troubled by it. In fact, they welcome the revolution.
If you see someone driving a convertible with the top down on the freeway this summer, you might shout a question at them above the roar of traffic: How’s your health insurance policy?
Tesla is trying to convert the world to the electric car. The Japanese are pushing hydrogen. But Audi, the German carmaker, has a different idea. It’s trying to synthesize fuel from the simplest of elements – water, carbon dioxide and solar energy.
Audi’s research facility in Dresden has produced what the company calls an e-diesel – a net-zero-carbon-footprint fuel made from carbon dioxide and water. The company announced the project to great fanfare on April 21. In May, it unveiled another advance – e-benzine, a fuel that acts just like gasoline.
The two are the latest of a suite of six fuels developed by Audi that behave just like traditional gasoline or diesel, but burn without releasing any sulfur or aromatic hydrocarbons, the stuff that produce air pollution. The fuels also can be labeled as carbon-neutral, since the carbon dioxide they’re removing from the atmosphere perfectly matches the CO2 they put back in when they burn. E-benzine currently derives its carbon from organic material – biofuels made from rapeseed, sunflower oil or corn. But Audi officials say they soon hope to switch to atmospheric carbon dioxide.
“To me, this is a historic moment,” said Marc Delcourt, CEO of Global Bioenergies, the French company that is partnering with Audi on the e-benzine project. “It is the first time that we have produced real gasoline from plants.”
The e-diesel process works like this: Audi begins by splitting water by electrolysis into hydrogen and oxygen. The electricity is provided by wind or solar energy, which makes it completely fossil-fuel free. The oxygen is released into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, Audi filters carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The C02 is stripped down to carbon monoxide, and the CO and hydrogen are then mixed together under high pressure to produce a long-chained hydrocarbon that Audi calls “blue crude.” It has all the properties of crude oil and can be refined down to commercial fuels like e-diesel. “We’re thinking we’re bringing green-ness to a field that desperately needs green-ness,” said Rick Bockrath, vice president for chemical engineering at Global Bioenergies. “It’s basically how we’re moving away from an oil-based economy towards something that has a renewable, sustainable future to it.”
Johanna Wanka, Germany’s Minister of Education and Research, attended the ceremony at which the first batch of Audi e-diesel, five liters’ worth, was put into her official car, an Audi A8 3.0 TDI clean diesel Quattro (that’s her in the photo above). “This synthetic diesel, made using CO2, is a huge success for our sustainability research,” she said. “If we can make widespread use of CO2 as a raw material, we will make a crucial contribution to climate protection and the efficient use of resources, and put the fundamentals of the ‘green economy’ in place.”
The product has a 100 octane rating and can be used either as an additive or as a stand-alone fuel. Audi says cars run much smoother on the product because of the lack of aromatic compounds, sulfur and other impurities. It also converts to energy at 70 percent efficiency, which is much better than regular diesels.
Audi’s pilot project in Dresden is currently producing 160 liters of e-diesel per day. Obviously, that isn’t enough to shake the world. But the long-term plan is to scale up to a level that will make the product available to the public. The estimated price will be 1 to 1.5 euros per liter, which comes to about $3.75 per gallon. This would not offer any price advantage in the United States, where diesel is selling at $2.88 per gallon, but it would be competitive in Europe, where diesel currently sells for about 1.4 euros per liter.
The problem with all such inventions, of course, is whether they can scale up at a price that remains competitive. Robert Rapier, the highly respected energy analyst, is skeptical. In a lengthy piece in GreentechMedia, Rapier did a step-by-step analysis, including all the chemical reactions. He concluded that the price is going to be $3.76 per gallon, which would put it above the current price of diesel in the United States, but perhaps not in Europe. But that doesn’t include any price increases that may come with scaling up the process. In addition, several critics have wondered whether solar and wind electricity will be available on a scale capable of supporting such a commercial operation.
“To sum up, can Audi produce fuel from thin air? Sure. There is no question about technical viability,” Rapier wrote. But “The question boils down to economic viability, which appears to be challenging given what has been released about the process.”
All this doesn’t mean Audi shouldn’t continue experimenting. There’s always room for improvement, and there may be other breakthroughs down the road. A carbon tax would also benefit the process, particularly if Audi could be given credit for the carbon it takes out of the atmosphere. There is also the possibility of combining the procedure with a carbon-capture and storage operation at a fossil-fuel plant, where carbon dioxide is currently regarded as a noxious waste material.
A system that would manufacture automotive fuel out of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be like the philosopher’s stone of the transport sector. Audi should keep trying.
(Photo credit: Audi)
I just finished a recent Forbes article by Jude Clemente, “Canada is North America’s Great Oil Security Blanket.” Gosh, it’s good to know that Canada can supply 10 million barrels a day for the next 675 years. Just think of the biblical proportions of Canada’s reserves. Methuselah lived only 969 years! I feel safer already.
I am (fairly) comfortable that the French won’t take over Quebec and act out residual imperial desires and that the British won’t try to recapture their former colonies. So, sleep easy and leave a note in the morning to your children, their children and their children’s children, ad nauseam. Future generations of U.S. residents won’t have to worry about the definitions of peak oil or real oil shortages, and we will always have fossil fuel in our future. Our very valued friend to the north can and will produce whatever oil the U.S. requires for centuries.
Aren’t we lucky?! Our decedents will be able to depend on what the author calls “ethical Canadian oil.” Why? He argues that “Canada is a democracy and a free market sought by investors that desire less risk.” Wow…freedom to choose and capitalism; John Rawls and Adam Smith. I am crying with joy. But my emotional high lasts for only a few minutes.
Do we need to substitute Middle East imports for Canadian imports, even though Canada is a trusted ally? Are Canadian oil reserves a real, long-term, strategic benefit to the U.S. and are they ethical (a funny term used in the context of big oil’s historical behavior, speculation with respect to investment in oil and the perils of surface mining)? According to many analysts, oil from tar sands is among the most polluting and GHG emission causing oil in the ground. Aren’t you happy? In light of reserves, we can tether ourselves to fossil fuels for hundreds of years and a range of environmental problems, including, but not limited to, air pollution, landscape destruction, toxic water resulting from tailing ponds and excessive water use. Many scientists warn of increased rates of cancer and other diseases. While the tar sand industry, to its credit, has tried to limit the problems, according to the Scientific American article by David Biello, “tar sands may be among the least climate- [and health-] friendly oil produced at present.” By the way, conversion to gasoline will likely result in higher prices for the least advantaged among us, not exactly Rawlsian ethics.
We are in a difficult position, policy wise. Sure, we can establish long-term institutional relationships with Canada and its provinces that will assure U.S. on-demand access for Canadian oil sands. To do this would be comforting to vested interests and some leaders who still believe that oil is the key to America’s economic future. But business, academic, nonprofit, community as well as government leaders are increasingly searching for alternatives that will be better for the economy, the environment and national security. Weaning the U.S. off of oil, as the president has sought, will require, at least for the transportation sector, substituting a “drill, baby, drill” mentality for a strategy that includes increased use of alternative fuels, open fuel markets and flex-fuel vehicles.
Alternative fuels are not perfect, but for the most part, they are much better than gasoline in light of national energy and fuel objectives. Many replacement fuels, like natural gas and natural gas-based ethanol, cannot compete easily because of government regulations (e.g., RFS, etc.) and oil company efforts, despite large subsidies to limit their purchase by consumers (e.g., lobbying against open competitive markets, franchise agreements, price setting, etc.). Most alternatives appear to have sufficient reserves to provide the consumer with cheaper and better fuel than gasoline for a long time. For example, natural gas seems to have more than a proven 100-year supply, and that’s without further exploration.
The policy framework is easier to define than implement given America’s interest group politics. It would go something like this: As soon as they are ready for prime time and reflect competitive prices, design and miles per tank, increasing numbers of electric and perhaps hydrogen-fueled cars will appeal to a much wider band of U.S. consumers than they do now. The nation should support initiatives to improve marketability of both thorough research and development. Until then, the good or the better should not be frustrated by the perfect or an unreal idealization of the perfect. Please remember that even electric cars spew greenhouse gas emissions when they are powered by utilities that are fired up by coal, and that the most immediately available source of hydrogen-based fuel is natural gas. Currently, there are no defined predictable supply chains for hydrogen fuel. Perhaps, more important, neither electricity nor hydrogen fuel cells can be used in the 300,000,000 existing cars and their internal combustion engines.
So what’s a country to do, particularly one like the U.S., which is assumedly interested in reducing GHG emissions, protecting the environment, growing the economy and decreasing dependence on foreign oil? Paraphrasing, the poet Robert Frost, let’s take the road less traveled. Let’s develop and implement a strategic, alternative-fuels approach that incorporates expanding consumer choices regarding corn and natural gas-based ethanol, a range of bio fuels and more electric and hydrogen fuel cars. Let’s match alternative fuels with initiatives to increase Detroit’s production of new FFVs and the capacity (through software adjustments and conversion kits) for consumers to convert their existing cars to FFVs. To succeed, we should take a collective Alka-Seltzer and build a diverse strong fuels coalition that will encourage the U.S. to develop a comprehensive, alternative fuel strategy. The coalition, once formed, should place its bet on faith in the public interest and good analysis to gain citizen and congressional support. I bet the nation is ready for success — just remember how Linus of the famous Peanuts comic strip ultimately gave up his security blanket.
Photo Credit: http://priceofoil.org/
A study at Columbia University indicates that children who were exposed to high levels of air pollution from vehicles while they were in the womb were five times more likely to develop symptoms associated with attention-deficit disorder later in life.
The study adds to earlier evidence that mothers’ exposures to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are emitted by the burning of fossil fuels and other organic materials, are linked to children’s behavioral problems associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
About 10 percent of U.S. children are diagnosed with ADHD, which can impair classroom performance, as well as lead to “risky behaviors and lower earnings in adulthood,” the Columbia researchers wrote.
The study, led by Frederica Perera, an environmental health scientist at the school’s Mailman School of Public Health, looked at the children of 233 African-American and Dominican women in New York City.
More from SciAmerican:
They measured the amount of benzo[a]pyrene bound to DNA – a biological marker for PAHs – in the mothers’ blood at the time of birth. Forty-two percent had detectable levels in their blood.
When the children were about 9 years old, parents filled out a questionnaire commonly used to screen for ADHD behavior problems. The researchers found that children whose mothers had the highest amounts of the PAH at the time of birth were five times more likely to show more behaviors associated with inattention than children whose mothers had the lowest levels. They were three times more likely to exhibit more total behaviors (inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity) associated with ADHD.
Read more on the Columbia website.
Fuel Freedom co-founder and Chairman Yossie Hollander guided PUMP the movie to a successful weekend in Atlanta, hosting two Q&As after Friday night’s and Saturday night’s showings at the historic Plaza Theatre.
He also promoted the film and its message on radio, appearing on both WMLB-AM1690 (“The Voice of the Arts”) and its sister station, WCFO-AM1160 (“The Talk of the Town”). You can listen to the first interview below:
During the segment, Hollander was asked how he got involved with PUMP, a project more than two years in the making.
He answered: “We realized long ago that oil is one of the toughest problems we have. We are funding our enemies, but it’s mainly a burden for the American people. It’s the air we breathe. The brown cloud you see above Atlanta is not from coal, it’s from oil.
“And mostly it’s the burden on our pockets. Families really suffer, and we figured out this is the biggest problem that we can solve. If we can do it with cheaper American fuels, we can actually change America.”
Here’s the second interview, on WCFO, which aired Saturday and Sunday:
PUMP premiered in September and continues to play in theaters around the country. This week it debuts in Tucson, Anchorage and Brunswick, Maine. Visit PumpTheMovie.com for theaters and times, and to buy tickets.
Research announced this week at the University of Pittsburgh is only the latest to suggest a link between air pollution and a higher risk of children developing autism.
Motor vehicles – cars, trucks and SUVs – account for about half the air pollution in the United States, the EPA says, with much of the rest coming from industrial sources and coal-fired power plants.
Smog levels are much worse in urban areas than rural ones: According to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2014 report, 47 percent of the nation — 147.6 million people — live in places where pollution levels make it dangerous to breathe.
Air toxics, as they’re called, can contribute to asthma and other respiratory problems; heart disease. Experts think that these toxics can have a particularly devastating impact on babies when they’re in the womb, and when the children are very young.
Although much of the science on these effects has only been conducted in the past decade, a 2008 report at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability says: “Recently this research has begun to focus on one specific source of modern-day air pollution – traffic exhaust.”
The study, led by Dr. Beate Ritz, goes on:
“These studies largely focused on potential mortality impacts of airborne particulate matter small enough to penetrate into the human respiratory tract, referred to as PM10 (particulate matter less than 10 microns in aerodynamic diameter) and more recently have examined PM2.5, even smaller size particles which can penetrate deep into the lung. Most findings from this research indicated infants living in areas with high levels of these types of particulate matter had a greater risk of mortality during the first year of life, particularly from respiratory causes.”
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a neurological disorder whose symptoms can range from having trouble fitting in with peers to repetitive behaviors to a complete lack of communication and even seizures, now affects an estimated 1 in every 68 U.S. children, a 30 percent increase since 2012. Little is still known about the causes, but many experts believe genetics or environmental exposures, or a combination, are to blame.
The University of Pittsburgh report, led by a health professor of epidemiology named Evelyn Talbott, found that children who were somewhere on the autism spectrum were 1.4 to 2 times as likely to have been exposed to air pollution during their mothers’ pregnancies, compared with children who did not have an ASD. The affected children showed higher levels of styrene, cyanide and chromium.
Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a UC Davis researcher not affiliated with the Pitt study, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that this and other studies like it “do suggest some kind of a link where a family who has children with autism were living usually closer to areas with higher [air toxic] measurements.”
In Utah, where some regions have very poor air quality in wintertime, the incidence of autism is 1 in 47 children, far higher than the national average. Earlier this year, a Harvard study showed that “exposure in the womb to diesel, lead, manganese, mercury, methylene chloride and an overall measure of metals was ‘significantly associated with autism spectrum disorder,’ with the highest association from exposure to diesel exhaust,” according to a story in the Provo Herald Extra.
Given the significant adverse health effects that result from gasoline when it’s combusted inside engines, it makes sense to incorporate cleaner-burning fuels into the nation’s fleet of vehicles. The EPA says as much, saying replacement fuels, including “natural gas, propane, methanol, ethanol, electricity, and biodiesel” can be ” cleaner than gasoline or diesel and can reduce emissions of harmful pollutants.”
(Photo: Los Angeles air, via Shutterstock)