Thursday, December 6, 2007

Hybrids vs. Electrics

This is the most recent interview in response to The Hybrid Phenomenon.

I'm quite impressed with her deep questions
for a research paper of her choice in a
College English course as a high school student!!!

It's good to see the next generation of drivers
think before they buy that first jalopy!


1. Why choose hybrid electric vehicles over the other options- especially over fuel cells, a favorite option of the Bush administration?

According to several studies and interviews with hybrid owners, the main reasons to buy hybrid electric vehicles (hybrid) are
1) mileage
2) statement or image

The research was mostly American, where cars and trucks represent two major parts of our persons:
1) the most expensive household purchase and expense
2) fashion that we sometimes wear everyday

Choosing hybrids allows people to be selfish and giving at the same time.

In terms of technology, most hybrid buyers I talked to were not aware of the details of types of hybrids or benefits over fuel cell vehicles, which in my opinion, are all hybrids as well. Those are what I call hydrogen-electric hybrids because all fuel cell vehicles need batteries or capacitors and electric motors to work, just like gasoline-electric hybrids.

The main reason to choose gasoline-electric hybrids over hydrogen-electric hybrids is cost. Cost has several components including down payment, financing, leasing, insurance, fees, tolls, registration, maintenance, fuel, oil, etc. Convenience is the other major reason. Gasoline is everywhere, but hydrogen is very hard to find and much more expensive than gasoline. Could you imagine the insurance costs if you got in an accident with a million dollar fuel cell vehicle?

Politically, the reasons are quite different. Since carbon has become a top issue, new vehicle regulations have becoming more important. Both types of hybrids are very clean, and in fact, cleaner than most of the vehicles we have every produced. But hydrogen looks cleaner at the tailpipe.

Unfortunately, few are using overall cleanliness of the entire fuel to vehicle cycle to compare technologies.
So, hybrids are still addicted to oil, and to make hydrogen requires turning electricity into hydrogen and back into electricity.

In other words, hybrids are the best of the best in terms of efficiency,
but along the way, energy is always lost. So the reason to choose
hybrids is to save energy for the next generation.

2. Could you explain more clearly the section in your paper titled, 'Efficiency: "Well-to-Wheel" Analysis'? I was confused by the percentage values for efficiency and some of the statements, such as this one: "So for every 10 barrels of oil extracted from the earth, one to five are lost along the way to the gas station or electric outlet."

I'm not sure if it's possible to explain well to wheel clearly. It's a very complicated topic. It's kind of like explaining where the lead came from in a dangerous toy or following mercury in an unborn fetus in Oregon from a mother that ate a fish that had ingested mercury from acid rain over the ocean that might have originated in another part of the world at one of thousands factories that were powered by equipment from another part of the world and ingredients mined from some other part of the world. Every step of the way, something bad happened, but most of us just think the fish is bad...

The concise version is that there are hundreds of steps to make a car go down the road.
Since energy can never be made, at each step, energy is lost. Usually to heat.
Someone has to pay for that loss, both in terms of economics and the environment.

Well to wheel attempts to measure the loss in a holistic or full cycle way with things we can relate to,
such as efficiency, or the amount of carbon being released causing global warming. Carbon is created from heat.
Most of the 800 millions cars and trucks driving Earth have a well to wheel rating of 15%.
In other words, we pump and pay for 100 barrels of oil, and in the end,
the equivalent of 1.5 barrels turn the wheels in the last vehicle.

But what happens in between the well to the last wheel?

Helicopters, planes, heavy equipment, pumps, electricity, trucks, trains, ships, pipes, more pumps, cars, trucks and more!!!

All those things are counted in the price of gas we pay, but we don't see them.
Well to wheel wants to see them and measure them and compare the options.

Let's look at some of those steps...

According to physics, energy cannot be made. It can only transfer from one form to another. But at every transfer, there is a loss of energy someone has to pay for. It's usually heat that are lost on the way to a gas station or let's say your TV. Feel the back of your TV. It's warm or hot because it's converting electricity to video and losing energy in the form of heat. Fortunately, your TV is much more efficient that your car.

Heat represents the loss or the cost of making the electricity in a sense.
Just as heat is how your car loses most of all the gasoline you pour in.

Gasoline and fuels are exploded, thousands of times per minute,
so that you can drive your car. Explosions turn fuel into up and down motion
and then circular motion that can turn your wheels. Every step along the way,
more energy is lost. So your car's engine loses or wastes 8 of 10 gallons you
pay for and the last 2 get turned into motion. Of those last two, more gets
lost in the transmission and other parts before the wheels turn.

We didn't even count the pump that pumped the oil, the truck that transported it,
the refinery that burns it, the other trucks that deliver it again, or ships,
and all the other energy losses before you fill up at the gas station.

According to the oil expert Amory Lovins, only 1% of the energy from the beginning of the process
actually moves the drivers body (not counting the weight of the car) down the road in the end.
The rest is wasted or paid for by consumers. We pay for losses.

Now that we see well to wheel is an apples to apples way to compare,
how do the most popular cars and trucks fair?

Rough well to wheel estimates in ultimate conditions:

Gasoline powered = 15%
Diesel powered = 20%
Hybrids = 30%
Diesel hybrids = 40%

Electrics depend on how the electricity is made,
and unfortunately the electrical grid is only 50% efficient.

3. How high do you think the fuel economy standards could be if the fleet was made up of all hybrids as opposed to being all conventional vehicles?

I'm not sure because of the several articles I've read, the rules for measuring the average of the fleet are changing.

For example, the economy standards for light trucks is not the same as heavy trucks.

So I think the economy standards depend more on vehicle class,
and in America we have different classes than abroad,
so our standards will probably be the lowest in the world.

I would like to see a restructuring of the car classes more along the lines of the rest of the world.

The Honda Insight was rated at 70 MPG and many plug-in hybrids are getting 100 MPG.
But there are few heavy or large vehicles in the world getting more than 20 MPG.
Wal-Mart is trying to convert their fleet to hybrids because semi-trucks get very poor mileage.

So for the smallest class of cars, the standards could be 100 MPG using hybrid technology.

But as you move up in weight, it takes more energy loss,
and a semi truck that goes from 10 MPG to 20 MPG
is like a hybrid Prius going from 50 MPG to 100 MPG.

It's impossible to set an average with a political number such as 35,
without a breakdown analysis of the entire 230 million cars and trucks
how many in each class, and the current hybrid technologies in each area.

Even so, I feel that price is much more important than mileage,
because there are billions of first time car buyers entering the global market.

Of the 100s of hybrid owners I've talked to, none of them were first time buyers.

In fact, most hybrids owners have owned several cars and come from the middle or upper class.

A fuel economy standard without classes is like one flat tax rate for all...

4. Many people don’t believe hybrids truly get better mileage than say, diesel engines with other efficiency features often found on hybrids. How would you respond to this kind of statement?

This is an illusion caused by ignorance or a numerical illusion.
All cars and trucks get plus or minus about 20% around EPA.
The reason hybrids stick out, is that 20% of high mileage like 50 MPG is 10 MPG.
Compare that to a semi-truck going from 6 MPG to 7.2 MPG.

When an unskilled driver gets -20% down to 40 MPG,
we tend to think it means more than a truck going from 10 MPG to 8 MPG.

In fact, driving and numbers are often misunderstood.
The ignorance stems from the fact that very few people in the world
know how to drive to maximize gas mileage. Everyone knows how to
drive to maximize horsepower or from a physics standpoint, energy loss.

Theoretically, we'll have to go back to the pump to wheel part of well to wheel.
That is, everything from the fuel pump to turning of the wheels.
The explosions, heat, idling, waste, starting, stopping
and all the parts like transmission, drive shafts, wheels, etc.

In apples to apples, full hybrids are more efficient than diesels,
but diesels are more efficient than gasoline engines.

Put them together, and hybrid-diesels are the most efficient,
disregarding issues like deadly particles, environment, etc.

If we are just talking about gas mileage and gas mileage only,
and not concerned with how we make the electricity,
electrics and hybrids are at the top because they recycle energy.

Most of the other 800 million vehicles shoot energy right out the tailpipe,
and don't recycle any of it, aside from the few turbos.

In summary there are hundreds of ways to get better mileage, just increase efficiency:

Here is a list of some examples any vehicle could use,
but every hybrid has already decided to use:

- turn the engine off when the wheels aren't turning
- use electric steering, air conditioning, etc.
- better tires, higher pressure
- more slippery bodies

Diesel-hybrids would be the best of both worlds,
but generally, cars are like fashion, and you don't
see rival groups coming together.

5. I’d like to borrow one question from the interview you linked:
Is the hybrid vehicle an intermediate step to gasoline free vehicles, or will future vehicles always require some gas? If you could first answer the exact question and then add any further or new thoughts, that would be great.

Hybrid vehicles are compatible with any fuel: gasoline, diesels, E85 and biofuels, propane, natural gas, electricity, hydrogen, air, water, and more...

But hybrids are more expensive.

So in terms of which step from a science standpoint,
they are in between fuel engines and electric motors.

Assuming that gasoline free vehicles are electric vehicles,
then hybrids are a natural technological step because all
the high voltage components in a hybrid are theoretically
the same as an electric, but simply less powerful.

But humans are emotional and the best technology doesn't usually win.

Some prefer luxury, image, speed, horsepower, prestige, price, and other things over hybrids.

Others may want cheap, small, reliable, easy to see and drive, not complicated and simple.

What I'm getting at, is that cars are fashion, and demographics matter!
From socioeconomics to race to gender,
steps in the evolution of vehicles
is much more emotional than logical.

There are hundreds of thousands baby boomers and elderly that
have bought hybrids as their last step, but remember, they have
money and wanted to make a point.

My thoughts are that the upper classes will only buy hybrids for image,
maybe a 20th car.

The middle class that wants to save money and wants a green image,
might buy a hybrid as a last step.

The billions of first time car buyers coming into the marketplace from the lower classes,
cannot afford to buy hybrids.

The consumers that can afford a hybrid are using it as a last step.
They will always buy hybrids again, according to the interviews I've done.

Hybrids owners do not go back to regular vehicles,
so you can generalize that hybrids are a last step
for the people who have already bought them.

Otherwise, it depends on image and price.

6. Also- are hybrids just an intermediate step specifically towards completely electric vehicles? (as opposed to gasoline free cars that are not purely electric)

See above answer.

Do you think the 500,000 people in the world that bought hybrids
are planning to trade them in for electric cars???

Do you think the 2,000,000,000 people that want their first car,
can afford to even think about a hybrid or electric car???

It would also be helpful for me to know your credentials as an expert in this field- so if you could, list the ways you are involved with this topic and your background in it.

My main credential is the fuel for the article you read.

A California State University Master of Business Administration

culminating experience and research project that came out of

1,000 pages of research, dozens of interviews, dozens of events,

dozens of hybrids driven, three years of data collection, several drafts,

and much more in the 183 pages with hundreds of sources I could provide...

It's copyrighted and covers oil, fuels, environment, politics, pop culture, technology and the auto industry.

From a personal standpoint, I have worked on and studied cars for over 20 years,

have owned and driven and car shared and rode more than a dozen hybrids and electrics,

and am currently studying in an auto technology program that has three hybrids to study.

Academics: CSU MBA Management, UC BA Statistics

Hope this helps and let me know if you need anything else.

If you would like to share your results, I would be happy

to post them to my blog for you.


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