Just Released! “Energy, Biology, Climate Change”

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Our newest book just Released! “Energy, Biology, Climate Change” and available at Amazon.com for $19.95.

The focus of this book is the interactions between energy, ecology, and climate change, as well as a few of the responses of humanity to these interactions. It is not a textbook, but a series of chapters discussing subtopics in which the authors were interested and wished to write about. The basic material is cutting-edge science; technical journal articles published within the last year, selected for their relevance and interest. Each author selected eight or so technical papers representing his or her view of the most interesting current research in the field, and wrote summaries of them in a journalistic style that is free of scientific jargon and understandable by lay readers. This is the sort of science writing that you might encounter in the New York Times, but concentrated in a way intended to give as broad an overview of the chapter topics as possible. None of this research will appear in textbooks for a few years, so there are not many ways that readers without access to a university library can get access to this information.

This book is intended be browsed—choose a chapter topic you like and read the individual sections in any order; each is intended to be largely stand-alone. Reading all of them will give you considerable insight into what climate scientists concerned with energy, ecology, and human effects are up to, and the challenges they face in understanding one of the most disruptive—if not very rapid—event in human history; anthropogenic climate change. The Table of Contents follows: Continue reading

Are Electric Vehicles Really Worth The Higher Costs?

by JP Kiefer

Electric vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and fuel cell vehicles all offer promising alternatives to the conventional vehicle in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These alternatives may not be as beneficial as they seem on first glance, however. While electric, hybrid-electric, and fuel cell vehicles all promise to minimize greenhouse gas emissions from their daily use, Gau and Winfield (2012) point out that each vehicle’s life cycle assessment needs to be computed before jumping to the conclusion that hybrid vehicles minimize greenhouse gas emissions. The life cycle assessment analyzes the greenhouse gas emissions from two cycles: a vehicle life cycle that includes vehicle assembly, maintenance, dismantling, and recycling and a fuel life cycle that consists of fuel extraction, processing, distribution, storage, and use. These alternative vehicles are the products of a larger volume of greenhouse gas emission from the vehicle life cycle due to additional energy consumption involved with the batteries and other additional parts that go into the more advanced technologies. Electric, hybrid electric, and plug-in hybrid vehicles can also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions when the energy used to charge the batteries does not come from a clean energy source. Gau and Winfield calculate that alternative vehicles do consume less energy than conventional vehicles, which consume an estimated 3600kJ/km in their life time, compared to a mere 2250kJ/km by hybrid electric vehicles or 3000kJ/km by extended range electric vehicles. Continue reading

Ideal Shift from Gasoline to Hydrogen Fuel Cells

by Alexander Flores

The main alterative for gasoline fuel and battery electric vehicles is one involving the utilization of hydrogen fuel cells. Just how do these hydrogen fuel cells work? Essentially, each fuel cell is an anode and cathode with a proton exchange membrane sandwiched in between. Hydrogen from an onboard tank would enter the anode side of the fuel cell, while oxygen in the atmosphere would enter the cathode side. Once the hydrogen molecule encounters the membrane, a catalyst forces its split into proton and electron. The proton would then move through the fuel cell stack as the electron follows an external circuit, delivering an electric current to the motor and other parts of the vehicle. The proton and electron would join again at the cathode side and combine with oxygen to form water as the main emission. This fascinating science and technological application has many automakers relieved since sales of electric cars and plug-in hybrids are slow. Continue reading

Automated Electrified of Cars and Sustainability

by Tyler Dean

Automated vehicles increase vehicle and change the economics of alternatively fueled vehicles. This makes them the cheapest transportation and manufacturing option in the long term. Through automated vehicle fleets used as “point-to-point on-demand car clubs”, we increase the total availability of transport services and make the benefits of alternative fuel and automated vehicles available to a larger potion of the global population. The downside to electrified vehicles and automated vehicles are range anxiety and the loss of the driving experience. With complete adaption, the range anxiety is concurred by specialized distance transportation and by the mass majority of society adapting to method because of the benefits of utilizing their time more efficiently while transporting. Continue reading

Evaluating the Environmental Impact of the California High-Speed Rail

by Abigail Schantz

Chester and Horvath from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Berkeley determined that a life-cycle environmental inventory was necessary to fully understand the pros and cons of the proposed project. The life-cycle environmental inventory reviews emissions resulting from use of this transportation method as well as the environmental costs of building and maintenance. Presently, people traveling in this corridor rely most heavily on automobiles, secondarily on airplanes, and lastly on heavy rail transit. Because we are unable to predict the precise usage of a high-speed rail system, when comparing the environmental impacts of each of these modes of travel, it is critical to take into account differences between low-demand and high-demand scenarios, and to account for an expected initial transition period of low-usage.  Continue reading

How to Reduce California’s Greenhouse Gases by 80%

by Emil Morhardt

According to the latest runs of a complex computer energy model (CA-TIMES) coming out of the University of California at Davis (Yang et al. 2015), the energy scene across California may be quite different by 2050. The model is not designed to predict what will happen, but instead to examine the economic and policy implications of just about every possible major perturbation of energy generation and use in the state to get us to the current policy goal of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels. What results is a series of least-cost scenarios to get to various policy-driven energy endpoints. The bottom line is that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced enough to meet the 80% goal at low to moderate costs, but not without major investments in wind and solar power generation, production of synthetic fuels directly from biomass using the Fischer–Tropsch synfuel pyrolysis process (more about that in upcoming posts), and hydrogen production and distribution infrastructure to power fuel cells. Continue reading

Used EV Batteries to Stabilize the Grid

by Emil Morhardt

If a single used electric vehicle (EV) battery, still functional but with it’s storage capacity degraded by 20%, could be used to store energy from photovoltaic panels at home (see Dec 30 post), a bank of them could be used to stabilize the whole grid, according to Gillian Lacey and colleagues (2013) at Northumbria University in the UK. Their particular emphasis is “peak shaving”—supplying enough electricity at times of peak demand that additional fossil-fuel generation can remained turned off. This would also help regulate the line voltage and allow some “upgrade deferral”­—putting off investing in needed new or more efficient sources of energy. A particular value of this type of storage is that it would be at the low voltage end of the distribution system, closer to the end user, thus decreasing the potential line losses that would occur if peak power were supplied by regular generation systems, and increasing the life of transformers which are particularly stressed under peak loads. This might also mean that this type of storage would be “distributed”—maybe one battery per residential transformer. Since most large-scale current photovoltaic generation stations generate at low voltage, used EV batteries might be useful there as well. Continue reading

Used Electric Vehicle Batteries for Home Energy Storage?

by Emil Morhardt

Why would you want to store electricity generated at home when you have a perfectly good connection to the grid and the power company buys back all the electricity your solar panels generate at the cost you pay for electricity? You wouldn’t. But what if the power company started paying much less for the electricity you are shipping back than you could have purchased it from them—as they have been doing recently in Australia (Muenzel et al. 2014)—or decided to charge so much for transmission of electricity back to the grid that there was little point in selling it to them in the first place (as it appears they are contemplating doing in California from the radio spots I hear recently.) Now you might want a battery large enough to prevent any of the electricity you generate getting back to the grid, and ideally meeting all of your routine electricity demands. A cost-effective solution might be about to arrive just in time to offset these likely policy changes; used electric vehicle batteries. Continue reading

Tesla’s New Battery Factory in Nevada: How it Came About

by Emil Morhardt

An extremely interesting article by Peter Elkind in the current issue of Fortune magazine looks at the evolution of the siting decision for the largest lithium battery factory in the world; by 2020 it will equal the world’s current production. This is particularly interesting to me because I’ve been following one side of the location decision on the University of Nevada Reno NPR station, which I get in Bishop, California, and because I bought a lithium-battery gas-hybrid car over the weekend (not, I’m sorry to report, a Tesla—the least expensive version of Tesla’s Model S all-electric sedan costs $71,000, well above my vehicle price tolerance), and I could clearly see that a plug-in hybrid would be preferable if the batteries cost less and I thought they would be reliable. Same for the Tesla cars for which the batteries constitute at least a quarter of the cost according to the Inside EVs website.  Continue reading

Flywheel Versus Supercapacitor for Running a Small Electric Ferry

by Emil Morhardt

When we think of all-electric cars, we think lithium-ion batteries because they are lightweight and have a high power density. For ships, light-weight doesn’t matter so much, and it turns out there are types of shipping routes that don’t need very much energy storage: think ferries, specifically the plug-in ferry Ar Vag Tredan (the “electric boat” in Breton), a zero-emission passenger ferry crossing the Lorient roadstead 56 times a day. When parked between trips it can recharge its supercapacitor more-or-less instantly (that’s a main feature of supercapacitors—that and their ability to discharge their power equally quickly to meet any need for power the ship may have.) How would a flywheel energy storage system work compared to the existing supercapacitor? That’s the question asked in a new paper by Olivier et al. (2014). Continue reading