Published on July 23rd, 2008 | by Guest Contributor3
GTR: The Zero Carbon Car with Author William Kemp
GreenTalk Radio Host Sean Daily discusses the zero carbon car, high
fuel efficiency vehicles, and alternative fuel technologies with William Kemp, Author of the The Zero Carbon Car and other books about alternative fuels and renewable energy.
Sean Daily: Hi and welcome to Green Talk, a podcast series from greenlivingideas.com. Green Talk helps listeners in their efforts to lead more eco-friendly lifestyles through interviewers with top vendors, authors and experts from around the world. We discuss the critical issues facing the global environment today, as well as the technologies, products, and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area of your life.
Hey everybody, this is Sean Daily with Green Talk Radio and greenlivingideas.com. And today we are going to be talking with you about zero carbon cars and the state of really the entire auto industry with regards to high fuel efficiency vehicles and alternative fuel technologies.
And my guest to talk with me on that topic is William, or Bill Kemp, who is the author of ” The Zero Carbon Car” along with a number of other books. He is actually the vice president of engineering for an energy sector corporation, a sustainable living and clean energy advocate, a leading expert in renewable energy technologies, and again, as I mentioned, the author of several books including “The Zero Carbon Car”, “The Renewable Energy Handbook”, “Smart Power”, and “Bio-diesel Basics and Beyond”, as well as several DVD videos on similar topics.
Bill, welcome to the program.
Bill: Yes. Thank you very much for having me.
Sean: Well it is my pleasure to have you on the program and I have been fascinated. I have been reading the book, as I mentioned to you before the podcast. I have actually gotten through about half of it and I haven’t finished the section on where you actually go through and chronicle the story of building a zero Carbon car. But in the first half of the book you give a great breakdown. I have to say, I learned quite a bit about the state of the Union as it were; the state of the world’s fuel problems. The competing technologies and solutions out there and the relative merits and demerits. And then also a story, and you actually go into quite a bit of depth on some of them, including hydrogen, which I want to get to. And then into the various other types of technologies that are out there that are being put forth by the government and private sector corporations and such.
So I think what I would like to do in our opportunity to talk with you today is to maybe summarize some of the global over arching issues with regard to today’s problems and the oncoming problems that we have that are going to happen in the near future with the things like peak oil and so forth. And then maybe we can go through a couple of the highlights of the pros and cons of various technologies. And certainly we would like to hear the story of building the zero Carbon car. So does that sound ok with you, that sort of setup?
Bill: Like a perfect flow. No problem.
Sean: Ok great. Well there is so much to cover it is kind of daunting. I think that reflects how daunting it is for your average consumer out there listening to all the PR hype and information that is going out there, and sort of even figuring out what is true and what is not.
Bill: It is true. It is an enormous amount of information. And of course we are given an awful lot of hype and half truths and competing information from various special interest groups. So it is a very difficult topic. Of course, probably the bigger issue is that everybody loves cars. So thinking about the demise of the automobile as I hypothesize or going to a more mass transited oriented society is something that people can’t fathom and don’t want to fathom. So it’s an extremely difficult and touchy problem for lots of folks.
Sean: Yeah, and you hit the nail on the head. And that is. I noticed that is an essential theme in your book, is really just saying that the personal automobile will become a thing of the past. When I am sitting in this country at my desk in my home in this country, I feel sort of the bristling at that idea. I just got back from Europe. I tend to travel in Europe at least once a year to visit. We have a number of friends that live over there and pretty soon some family. So we do get a chance to travel. And whenever I am there, and of course you talk about the TGV, France’s high speed train system. And we were on the TGV. I was on the TGV with my six and a half year old son a week ago. And every time I am there it just amazes me. And everybody uses the train systems there, whether it is TGV or the regular SMCF. And that is just in France. Of course, all throughout Europe the rails systems are excellent as are the bus systems and so forth. And they don’t have the negative connotations that exist here. Or if not negative connotation, lack of use as we see with the rail systems.
Bill: Absolutely. And of course there is good reason for that. If you go back to the pre-war era, Canada, The United States, and Europe were on very similar footings. Not everybody owned a car. It was relatively new technology. And everybody used trains, buses, or trams to commute. Then of course once the second world war came along, what started to happen is a lot of infrastructure was blown to bits in Europe. And as there was a rebuild after the war, a lot of effort and money was spent developing the train systems because there just simply wasn’t the space nor was there the availability of fossil fuels.
So they took a different approach from a slightly resource constrained standpoint and also from the standpoint that people lived in higher density. So it was easier to put mass transit in. Contrast that to particularly the Western United States or Canada where the entire population is spread over a large land mass. It becomes much harder to service it with mass transit. So it feel out of favor very quickly, especially as peoples affluence grew after the war and the car became a very big picture of personal freedom.
And nobody gave a moment’s thought to the cost of fossil fuels or any of the geo political issues in the 1950’s and 60’s. It was just taken for granted that everybody could drive and that putting money into the interstate road system was a good use of money. If we fast forward, things are starting to change.
Sean: You had described that in the book, sort of this myth of infinite resources that we had going on in the mid 20th century.
Bill: Exactly. And now what is starting to happen is we are getting the conversions of all these various things creating a change in reality. It doesn’t really matter which of these issues we look at. Whether they are individually catastrophic or not; collectively they do cause us an awful lot of problems.
So you get people hearing about the issue of peak oil and that the world is at the at least halfway point in oil extraction and that demand is going up faster than we are finding new supplies. And price volatility is going to be in the way. Peak oil could certainly be an issue or it may not. But the point is that there are other issues that are working at the same time. The cost of supporting this immense infrastructure of roads is being driven up very rapidly. And those costs have to paid by not only society but through the costs of roads themselves; road tolls, taxation, and of course ultimately inflation of price of fuels and cars.
This becomes a real problem. All of these converging issues: inflation, peak oil, the coming of carbon taxation on fossil fuels, which is already in Europe and winding its way slowly into north America, coupled with all the geo political issues are starting to take root. The simple fact of the matter is that the price of fuel and the cost associated with it are rising so quickly that we are marginalizing more and more people at the lower financial status and people at the lower end of the middle class.
So we are going to marginalize more of these people and the only way that they are going to be able to get from point A to point B is through some sort of a mass transit system.
Now in Europe, the mass transit system has never really had the stigma of being extremely bad. Certainly there has been cases where it has been shotty at best. But in recent years with the amalgamation of the transporter rail systems and putting in high speed rail getting into competition, they are actually starting to compete much like the airlines. And the quality of service of course can be much higher. And so what is starting to happen is that demand for use is going up.
So it really paints the right picture of where things are going to go once we are in a situation where the costs and geopolitical issues of using automobiles just are no longer supportable in North America. I think the big problem is trying to get the thinking at the societal level and the political level to start rebuilding the infrastructures within North America so we can be ready to confront these problems head on.
Sean: You hit the nail on the head. And it really is a perceptual issue I think we are facing more than anything. I am not belittling the issues with regard to industry and manufacturer and the infrastructure that needs to go into building the vehicles and supplying fuel and doing all these things to solve these problems. But really, all of it starts, as you pointed out, with consumers. And so if the consumers don’t have the belief that things can be different…..And I guess it is really rewiring our brains ans well as our society. We are living in cities that are designed…and most of us are living in suburbia. The cities are just not designed for efficiency with regards to personal transportation and all these things.
Now back to the vehicular side, I mean just to the personal vehicle. In this sort of interim, assuming for a second just taking on faith that the personal automobile will go the way of the DoDo bird as you surmise in your book, or perhaps just be reduced greatly over time, which is a premise I tend to agree with. In the meantime, let’s just talk about the case of what do we have now available? What are the different technologies that are available? And I really want to get your take on each one.
Bill: Well there are numerous ways of getting so called green automobiles. Really the question becomes, these really just an interim technology. I don’t believe that any form of personal transportation is going to be prevalent in the mid term. My crystal ball is no better than anyone elses but I would certainly predict that within 40 years time the amount of personal vehicles on the road is not going to continue to increase. It will start to wind down if it isn’t already getting very close to zero.
The point is is that having too much personal transportation and too much freedom causes society to sprawl everywhere. And this puts trouble on all forms of infrastructure. It causes our homes to be too large. It causes the heating systems in our homes to be inefficient because the houses are spread apart rather than sharing common walls and being more energy efficient.
So in the interim period we have all this infrastructure and suburbs and so on that have been built that we still have to service. So I think what is going to happen is in the short term we are going to start to see more localized driving. We are going to start to see suburbs become little individual villages onto themselves. Places we play, work, go to school, go to church, shop. And that the inter-city transportation starts to be filled up with coach and new rail systems that would be rebuilt so that we are not doing as much commuting. We are certainly not going to do the 50 mile a day commute that people think of doing now.
So when that starts to happen, first of all the vehicles can be a lot smaller. They can also be a lot more specific to doing a single task of getting a person from point A to point B. So we will still see internal combustion engines without a doubt. Although they will have smaller engines and be much more European like. But we will see more technologies like the Hybrid where we mix a combination of gas and electricity. Although we have to recognize that putting a Hybrid car out like a Toyota Prius for example, give you at best maybe a 30% or 40% improvement in fuel costs. It is not certainly going to, if we bring in carbon taxation on fossil fuels, its not going to be enough of a solution. It’s still going to make the fueling costs too expensive.
I think we are going to see a lot more neighborhood battery electric vehicles. And certainly they can be very low technology vehicles using lead acid batteries that are already out there now, right through to more exotic vehicles that use lithium ion, lithium ion polymer batteries, paper batteries, or other types of technologies, but that are using zero carbon electricity to charge them up. We can talk about that in a few moments.
One of the big things that people believe is going to happen is this massive switch to hydrogen. I think that there is just an enormous amount of confusion that is built around this. The industry ads that you see on TV with water benignly dripping out the tailpipe are nothing but nonsense.
Sean: Yeah, the marketers really got a hold of that one. Now I am very fascinated to hear. You talk quite a bit about dispelling the myths of hydrogen and really do a great job in the book of laying it all out there. As I said, I learned a lot. But we are going to save that for after. We are going to take a quick break and we will be right back. We are talking to Bill Kemp, who is the author of “The Zero Carbon Car: Building the Car the Auto Industry Can’t Get Right”, and we will be right back on Green Talk Radio.
Sean: Ok, we are back. This is Sean Daley and my guest today is Bill Kemp. He is the Author of “The Zero Carbon Car: Building the Car the Auto Industry Can’t Get Right”. And when we left before the break we were just starting to talk about hydrogen. And I said you covered it quite well in the book and I was really fascinated to learn some of the facts around hydrogen production and hydrogen as a potential fuel source for vehicles. You mentioned a few things which really just kind of blew me away.
It is interesting. When you have got companies like BMW that are out there that are promoting this as the fuel of the future you think, “Well these guys have done their research. They are not stupid. They have good engineers. They are good marketers. They are going to pick something that is really competing technology that has legs.” And then reading some of the information that you have in here that essentially in most situations there is a net negative energy production in terms of producing hydrogen. And in terms of producing hydrogen, most people don’t even realize the fact that you have to go back to the source. You are just talking, even with electric cars or hydrogen cars you are talking about, what you hear from the marketers and the companies is about…..they say, “Oh it is a zero emission vehicle.” But that is only in terms of the actual usage in the car. It doesn’t have to do anything with the source and how that fuel is produced, and that is where we really need to look.
Bill: Absolutely. It has been said that a fuel cell vehicle that takes hydrogen and converts the hydrogen directly into electricity and water is twice as efficient as the average internal combustion vehicle is today. And that is perfectly true. Nobody is going to deny that. However, if we put in a high quality electric hybrid vehicle that has the ability to do some range off of electricity, then all of a sudden that difference in efficiency disappears and a car that I can buy today is actually more efficient or just as efficient as a fuel cell hydrogen vehicle in the first place.
And then, if we take it one step further and say, “Well where is the fuel coming from?”, we find that 99.9% of all the hydrogen on the planet today comes from natural gas. We can then take a little bit closer look and realize that we are actually better off burning the natural gas in a hybrid electric vehicle that we can put on the road today than we are converting it into hydrogen first and putting it through a fuel cell car that no one knows what the costs are going to be in the future.
So this is just an enormous amount of hype. In fact, hydrogen, when you look at it from the well to wheels, looking at the entire life cycle, you are looking at a number of multiple times more greenhouse gas emissions than if you just burned gasoline directly in a typical high fuel mileage car that you can buy today for what would have to be a fraction of the price of one of these future cars that doesn’t exist yet.
Sean: Yeah. And this is where people just don’t realize. I mean it all plays right into the hands of the marketer, is that our eye is on the wrong ball. If what we really care about is the carbon profile and the carbon emissions profile of not only the car but what goes into the fuel for the car, then that is really where the rubber meets the road. Unfortunate metaphor to use there, or analogy. But that is basically what we have to be looking at.
I am just going to read from the book real quickly here that summarizes this really well. You are talking about the myth of zero emission vehicles. You say that, “Many people refer to hydrogen and electric cars as zero emission vehicles, a statement that can be misleading.” I am paraphrasing slightly. “An electrically powered vehicle that is recharged from electricity produced from coal has a similar carbon dioxide emission profile as a typical gasoline powered vehicle. By comparison, the same electric vehicle charged with hydro-electricity has an emission profile four times lower than that of the gasoline model.”
Bill: Absolutely. And of course we have to look at the efficiency from well to wheels, from start to finish, over the life cycle because it is the efficiency that what costs society in terms of primary energy usage. It’s not just the actual fuel that you stick into the vehicle but it’s the energy that it takes to extract the primary fuel; to get the crude oil out of the ground or to make the electricity by burning coal, or in the case of cleaner energy from renewable sources. And we have to look at all of that. Plus we have to look at the efficiencies and the carbon inputs related to actually building the car. Building the roads and infrastructure, bridges and so on, and then the energy needed to maintain it. The simple fact of the matter is that there are far too many people on the planet to support the amount of energy intensity that our current mobile lifestyle is demanding.
Sean: Another point you make in the book is about the inherent energy efficiency of just the personal automobile. On an average car I think that you mentioned that it was 1% efficient in regards to moving the weight of the actual passenger.
Bill: Absolutely. Just think about it. If a typical car has an efficiency of forward motion of about 10% and the car weighs 10 times what the passenger does, then you have got a total efficiency of 1% or less. Even the supposedly super efficient micro car, the smart car, which gets very high mileage, is still only a percent or so energy efficient in its job of moving around a person and their lunchbox. So the problem is that we are just using far too much energy and resources to move people around. We can improve these numbers vastly by moving to higher quality mass transit systems that run on green electricity.
Sean: And I think also….and it is kind of hard because I want to talk to you more about the mass transit system idea of the future, but I think really that there is so much money going into the marketing and development of these technologies for improved personal transport, I think it still has a lot of merit to continue to talk about that for so long as it is in effect. Because none of us know. As you point out, we don’t have a crystal ball. We don’t know how long that is going to be the case. But certainly into the very foreseeable future, we are going to be dealing with personal vehicles in this country.
And another interesting factor here is the development in countries like China where they are just sort of hitting our 1950’s. They are just for the first time buying individual automobiles on a large scale basis and these things. Which is frightening, but it’s true. And they are going through that sort of personal automobile renaissance as it were at the same time that we are taking a hard looking at our vehicular lives.
Bill: Absolutely. If you think about it, there is more than four times the population in China than there is in the United States. So there is awful lot of room for growth in buying vehicles. And in fact, to sort of paraphrase that, China just pushed Germany out of the number three world car manufacturing position, right behind Japan and the United States. So it won’t be too many more years before they move into the number one position. And when you start to look at growth that is happening in Southeast Asia and the massive wealth that is happening there and of course the energy consumption and resource consumption in these countries, it is no wonder that we are starting to see all the geo political and pricing issues that are starting to happen with fuel oil and all resources for that matter.
It is going to be a very interesting time. But you are absolutely right. The car will be here for a number of decades and certainly in most peoples, that are listening, lifetimes. Really, the question becomes is, “Are there reasonable alternatives to the standard technology that we have here?”. And I do believe that one of the best transition technologies is the plug in electric hybrid vehicle.
Sean: Ok. You do believe in that technology?
Bill: Well, I believe in it in the sense that it’s a good transitional technology. It’s still on a total energy energy efficiency basis, it is still very low because you are still moving a very large massive car to move a relatively low massive payload-the person. So no matter what you do it’s going to be a relatively total energy loss. But on the other hand, the technology is certainly viable and it has the ability to greatly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, I would argue that the fuel used to move one of these vehicles could be set to run with zero carbon and therefore the need to even think about developing hydrogen vehicles as an alternative.
Sean: So if you were using a clean source, and I believe if you want to get control of this…..because it can get really complicated. I mean if you start looking, you say…..let’s just pretend I have an electric vehicle. I wish I really did have one and I hope to have one soon but unfortunately they are really expensive in this country, right? That’s another problem and we won’t go there. But then you have to say, “Ok, I am somebody who gets it. I am going to look beyond just assuming that my electricity source is clean because maybe it is not. I am buying it from PG&E. Well, I’ve got solar panels, so I guess you have to really produce 100% of your own electricity to know. Or you can go to one of these energy market brokers that will let you buy “green” energy. And what they do is they put the amount of energy you spend with them, they put into green energy into the grid. Because you know the grid itself, people have this fantasy of “my plant generates energy based on one source.”, whether it’s coal or nuclear, solar, or whatever it might be. And then flows into my house in 100% form. But the energy grid in the market is very complex when you actually look at it. And so if we are to buy in on that level you would say, “Ok, I am going to go with the green energy company that will basically sell the energy that I buy. I will buy it from them and they will basically put that much into the grid as a green energy, assuming they do what they say.”
And then another way, which I prefer, is to just generate it yourself completely. That way you know there is no question. It is completely green. And in our case we have solar and we generate the majority. Not 100% percent but we are getting closer. In that case, I guess, is the ultimate green automobile the one where you generate, whether it is solar or wind, or if you are lucky enough to be able to do it micro hydro or something, generating that energy yourself….I guess then you have to also capture and store it in such a way that you can then use it in your car.
Bill: And therein lies the rub. Most people that are thinking about photovoltaics, which tends to be the most common means of generating your own green electricity, requires that the car be plugged in during the daylight hours when most people aren’t at home. They tend to be at work. And then we get into really complicated issues of do you generate the electricity from the sun, store it in batteries, and then use those batteries to charge the vehicle later.
This is a very very complicated thing. And let’s be quite honest. Most people are not going to go to the trouble of buying their own photovoltaic panels and generating it on their own. So it most cases we are going to get our green electricity either through a power broker as you just explained or you are going to be in a location that has a percentage of its electricity on the grid already green. And then you are just going to simply subscribe to buying that energy directly from your regular retailer.
Some places like Ohio it’s 100% fossil fuel for the most part. It becomes tricky. They are using coal so you would have to go to an energy broker to buy the green power. Other areas may be using hydro electric power to charge up the batteries. But really, the atmosphere doesn’t care where the carbon emissions are. As long as the trading process is transparent and honest then the brokering of green electricity across the transmission grid is a perfectly acceptable way of ensuring that you are getting green power into your vehicles. And that will be the least cost way. And I think for the time being people will do that and it allows you the ability to plug the car in when you are at home, charge it up at night and be ready to do your commuting.
The big problem with an electric only car becomes one of range for the most part. Even some of the more advanced vehicles can get a couple hundred miles and then need several hours of charging time. This is where the plug in hybrid electric vehicle comes into play. In that the vehicle can generally do 90% of your day to day commuting on electricity only. And if you exceed that distance, instead of the car being disabled on the side of the road with a dead battery pack, a small high efficiency generator system turns on or a secondary drive motor kicks in and powers the vehicle.
Now, obviously, the fuel that is going into power this generator or secondary engine has to been green as well. So using standard fuels such as gasoline or diesel fuel is going to be pretty tricky. But if the fuel can be made from a zero carbon source, and one example would be to use bio diesel that is produced from non food products or ethanol that comes from cellulocic sources that is non food grade materials again, then it is possible that the combination of the two fuels can give you a totally zero carbon fuel input and reduce the amount of liquid fuels that are required by society by probably some 80%, so using electricity for the vast majority of the transportation needs.
Sean: Now you mentioned using cellulocic ethanol. I was going to ask you about that. Again, this kind of begs the question, why if there are these zero carbon potential technologies out there, are companies and the industries putting forth things like hydrogen production based on methane, which has, as we were talking about earlier, that higher carbon profile similar to gas, which isn’t really a solution in lower conversion. And then when it comes to ethanol and sort of the inferior food based choice, and we are having worldwide food shortages and we are diverting our food….Why are those being promoted versus the cleaner, greener more sensible one, sustainable ones?
Bill: Very, very, very simple answer. Because we don’t value carbon. The problem is that the atmosphere is considered to be free-the public commons, and that right now we can dump whatever we want into it without any penalty. And so we have not bothered putting a price on the carbon that society dumps into the atmosphere.
Now, that is starting to change, and certainly the Europeans are charging a tax on fossil fuels. But the rate and the value that we are putting on it is far, far, far too low. And of course in America we have been loathed to even consider this idea because it has been almost our God given right to use unlimited amounts of fossil fuels and to have all this personal freedom. So, it would be political suicide to put a proper taxation on the fossil fuels visa the carbon tax because they just know that people want to do something about the environment but they don’t want it to affect them directly.
Sean: They don’t want to be taxed for it.
Bill: That’s the problem
Sean: Right. They don’t want to be taxed for it.
Bill: They don’t want to be taxed for it. And it’s a simple situation. It doesn’t matter which one of the thousands of reports that are out there, probably most likely the Stern report out of England is the best one, that typifies the value of putting carbon into the atmosphere. It really needs to be quantified and we need to stop dithering. The problem is that climate change is something that is a relatively slow motion type of catastrophe. People in their day to day lives don’t see it. But on the other hand, if the price of gasoline doubled because of a carbon tax they would see it immediately.
Sean: They’d get it.
Bill: They wouldn’t see the upside benefit. And so this cause and effect relationship is at a bit of askew. Now all of a sudden if it was snowing in the United States in July and there was a foot of snow on the ground and it could be attributed to climate change, people would probably say “Hmm…Maybe we should do something about it even if it is going to cost money.”
Sean: But of course it would be too late at that point.
Bill: That’s the whole problem. And so the naysayers of climate change, who are thankfully now falling fewer and fewer people, are beginning to understand that the effect is real. The problem now is quantifying what that value is and how we fairly apply it across society and do it in a way that is aggressive enough to cause primary fossil fuel use to drop across the world. And there are numerous ways that can be done. You can tax fossil fuels. You can put an efficiency penalty into things so that they have to be at a certain efficiency level so that we are not using as much primary energy, making it so that the property taxes of houses sky rocket if they pass a certain square footage.
Sean: Which is sort of a personal version of the cap and trade.
Bill: Absolutely. Or we could reduce the number of people on the planet. We’ve got six and a half billion now, projected by mid-century to be nine billion people. We’ve got half of the world’s population to become industrialized and affluent, and starting to fight for the natural resources and fuels that we are trying to use here in North America. So there are different ways of doing it. And the problem is that none of them are simple. They are all extremely complex. They require very strong, long term leadership. And you know, we don’t have that.
Sean: Yeah. Well we are going to take a break right there. I have two more questions for you and I wanted to do one follow up in regards to climate change and peak oil. When we come back we will talk about that. And I want to just quickly hear your story about….you had built as part of the book in fact, you had built a zero carbon car. And I would like to hear about that journey as well. So we will be right back and this is Green Talk Radio, Sean Daley. I am talking with Bill Kemp, who is the author of “The Zero Carbon Car: Building the Car the Auto Industry Can’t Get Right”. We’ll be right back.
Sean: Hey everybody. This is Sean Daley. We are back with Green Talk Radio. Talking with Bill Kemp, who is the author of “The Zero Carbon Car”. You can find out more about that book at thezerocarboncar.com or aztex.com. Bill, when we left off, we were talking just a little bit about peak oil. And I wanted to dive in there because I recently had a guest on Green Talk Radio, Andre Angelentoni [sp], who is a part of the post carbon maroon group. And he talked about that the real issue is peak oil and not climate change. He’s not a climate change naysayer by any means; quite the opposite. But he says that peak oil is really the bigger issue of the two and that in fact peak oil will actually climate change to reduce automatically because of the lack of availability of the fuels that are primarily causing, and I am paraphrasing dangerously here. But that is essentially where he was coming from. It was a fascinating argument. I am curious to hear your thoughts on that.
Bill: Well, I definitely know the theory well and I do agree with it. I think that the issue is that we have to look at the whole situation of what peak oil is and how it is tied to climate change. Basically the theory is very simple. We have reached the point where the world has used approximately half the available fossil fuels. The first half was very easy to get and cheap. The remaining half are going to be much more difficult to get our hands on both for geo political and geo technical reasons. And we can see this all over the world. Take a look at the United States where the lower 48 used to be the world’s biggest producer and now the number of wells that are drying up are astronomical. We are seeing reductions everywhere. It used to be easy to get oil.
So this fossil fuel is going to harder to get but at the same time the demand is continuing to rise. It’s rising domestically. It’s rising in Europe. And more importantly and to the point is that it is rising at an astronomical, almost exponential rate in the developing world in China and Southeast Asia as they become more affluent. Now, as this occurs and the demand goes up, we are all competing for the same resources, it is going to put a tremendous pressure on not only the price but also the availability of these fuels. And what we are going to see is extreme volatility in pricing. As the price of fuels go up the scarcity goes up, and as we start to see less and less fuels available, it is very possible that the demand will drop off as people can neither afford to use them or they are just not available to you. So the two points of climate change and peak oil are heavily interrelated and form just two of the arms of this whole issue of the new paradigm of reality conversions as I call it. Couple in the inflationary pressures of rising insurance and operating costs and the costs to keep infrastructure operating roads and bridges and so on, it makes for a very scary and costly paradigm. And people will just not be able to afford to drive the way we have nor heat such large homes in states that are run by fossil fuels to run high electrical bills as well.
Sean: And part of what Andre was talking about as well was the effect in terms of the transportation and the world wide chaos of those price fluctuations based on the cheap costs of bringing goods to the doors and such. That would really be part of the major effect there.
Bill: Yeah, absolutely. If you look at the way transportation of goods on these massive container ships that are brought in from China, they are essentially huge incinerators for low grade heavy fuel oils. The cost right now is not so great, but as the price of primary fuels go up and as carbon taxation starts to build up in availability of these fuels, we are just not going to be bringing in $2 barbie dolls from China. It’s just not going to happen. The rampant consumer way of life that we’ve got right now that’s so heavily globalized is going to be affected by this. And we are definitely going to see a tremendous amount of re-localization of the way people live in the coming decades from it.
Sean: Well thank you for that. I am curious. I wanted to spend some time before we have to go. I wanted to hear about…I know the last half of the Zero Carbon car book is talking about your own experience with the team and building a zero Carbon vehicle. So we would like to hear about that. What you learned, lessons learned, and what you ended up with and how that all worked out.
Bill: Well it was quite an interesting thought. When we were first looking at doing the book and putting it together the research was fairly straightforward. Most of it I had already understood at a fairly in depth level. So that was pretty straightforward. But the problem is, you can create an intellectual story, but the problem is people say, “Well, but it doesn’t work in practice.” So I thought, “Well, great idea. Let’s actually build a vehicle that runs on zero carbon electricity and zero carbon liquid fuels and see if we could just prove that we don’t need to wait from some hitherto impossible technology of hydrogen vehicles that need technologies that don’t really exist today.”
So the concept was to take an existing vehicle. And right from the front, if we had a bigger budget I would have preferred to make some fundamental changes in the design up front. But in any event, we took a 2000 Mazda Miata, pulled out the internal combustion engine that was inside of it, and replaced it with an electric drive engine and lead acid batteries, making in essence, a battery electric vehicle. So that was stage one. So in this particular car, it had a built in charging system so you could run the car for approximately 20 miles on a full charge, which is not a great range, but it is about all we were going to get out of that weight of a vehicle using the primitive lead acid technology.
I think the point is that it was cheap and a quick way to get it done. Also, we wanted to make the plans available to anyone who wanted them so that other people and experimenters could take the basic concept and refine it and perhaps use more advanced battery technology and so on.
Now, that was one half of the vehicle. The next half of the vehicle is to create the liquid fuel side of it to give the car the essentially unlimited range. So what we did is contacted a company in Florida called Fisher Panda who make a very high grade of compact marine generator. We had them modify the unit so that it would not only fit but give us the power levels we needed to run this vehicle. This is based on a three cylinder Kabuta Diesel Engine.
Sean: So this is a hybrid electric diesel essentially?
Bill: No, it’s strictly a diesel engine right now, driving an electric generator.
Sean: Oh, I see. I see. Sorry. Continue.
Bill: The beauty of this unit was that we could get a very high power level in a very small space. And it would also allow us to run it off of a zero carbon liquid fuel, which I will explain in a moment. So the next step then was to mount the unit in the trunk of the car. And we installed a small industrial computer system called a programmable logic controller, or PLC as it is known. These are off the shelf industrial controllers that you can program to do all sorts of control functions. And we mounted that in the vehicle. And we took out the dash where the stereo and air conditioning and heating controls were and replaced it with a small touch screen like you would see on an ATM machine or a banking machine and plugged that into the Programmable Logic Controller.
So the next step then was to write some control software that would orchestrate the operation between the diesel engine in the trunk and the electric system and charging systems. And the idea was very simple. The unit, you could hop in the car and drive along for the first up to 20 miles on electricity only, and then as the batteries became depleted, the control system would fire up the generator in the back and charge up the battery bank and allow you to drive the car. And of course the car could continue to run essentially an unlimited distance until you ran out of liquid fuels. And then once the car was either plugged back in again to charge it back up or you stopped, it would then charge up the batteries and then shut the generator set off itself. So it would perform this little orchestration and make the system seamless and automatic.
Then the next step after the car was functionally built was to be able to come up with the sources of zero carbon electricity and zero carbon liquid fuels. So on the liquid fuel side, as you talked about earlier, one of the previous books that I did was called “Bio Diesel Basics and Beyond”. One of the things that I had done in that book was to look at how we could use non food grade materials to provide a diesel fuel equivalent that would meet all the fuel standards and put that into this zero carbon car. So anyway, we created the zero carbon bio-diesel and popped it into the tank.
The next step then was then was to be able to plug the car in anywhere in my home area, Ontario Canada, and plug the car in so that it would get zero carbon electricity. So what happened there was I contacted one of the electricity retailers and told them what we wanted to do was buy a block of electricity that came from a wind farm in the province. And rather than selling that electricity to a home owner through the wires infrastructure, to retire the green attributes of that power right away and attribute it to the car, so that as the car was plugged in and charged, no matter where it was we would know that it was getting wind power electricity to charge up the batteries.
Sean: So essentially you pre bought green credits as it were for the car.
Bill: Yes. And this is actually the first time that mobile credits have ever been used in this application. I guess the ultimate point is that is that it allows the grid infrastructure, no matter what the majority of the source of power to be, it allows the purchaser of the green power to buy a certain amount of green electricity, get it to wherever the location is that they plug in. So we are getting a zero carbon electric fuel, a zero carbon liquid fuel, but because the vehicle can do essentially a high percentage of typical day to day commuting, probably in excess of 80%, it means that the liquid fuel requirement for transportation is only about 20%. This is a pretty standard sort of calculation that I talk about in the first part of the book, looking at transportation statistics from North America and Europe.
So what it would mean is that if we were able to convert all of the vehicles on the road today just at the snap of a finger, then we would immediately reduce the liquid fuel requirements by 80% for the road transportation sector. And of course if there was enough value in carbon credits, in carbon itself, then we would be able to purchase these liquid fuels that were made from zero carbon sources and be able to not only reduce our primary fuel requirements dramatically, maybe by 26-27% total in the US alone, but we would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of a third.
Sean: What I really appreciate in this section of the book as well is how you break down….you do sort of the macro issues and then you dive into literally down…even for the car technology enthusiasts or even people that aren’t necessarily that technically knowledgeable…literally every part of the process from the battery to the cables, to that you used regenerative breaking, the DC motor, all of the components….and literally there are photos of everything so for anybody that is really interested in taking literally a peak under the hood of what was done, it is all here in the book and it is very fascinating.
Unfortunately that is all of the time we have. And it has been a fascinating conversation and I really have to say I would love to have you back on the program again Bill. In the future, maybe we can zoom in on a particular technology or alternative fuel such as Bio Diesel or something like that and drill down a little bit more into that because you’ve got a wealth of information.
Bill: Yup. That would be just great. Well thank you very much for having me again. I appreciate helping you out.
Sean: Yeah, well it was our pleasure and my guest again has been Bill Kemp who is the author of “The Zero Carbon Car: Building the Car the Auto Industry Can’t Get Right”. He is the vice president of engineering for an energy sector corporation and he is also the author of several other books including “The Renewable Energy Handbook”, “Smart Power”, and “Bio Diesel Basics and Beyond”, as well as several DVD videos.
Thanks everybody. We will see you again next time on Green Talk Radio.
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