Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why are Ford and Toyota teaming up on hybrid truck development? It's the new 54.5 MPG CAFE Standards!


The other day Ford and Toyota announced a partnership to develop hybrid drive train technology for light trucks and SUV's.   That nice announcement filled my mind with images of contractors, construction workers and farmers driving around hybrid F-150's or F-250's starting in 2020ish.  But then a couple brain cells clicked together bringing back memories of two recent announcements.  In the most recent the White House Announced First Ever Oil Savings Standards for Heavy Duty Trucks, Buses, which effectively created a program like the CAFE standard to big trucks.  A couple weeks earlier they announced the first significant upgrade to the CAFE standards in three decades, which would require 54.5 miles/gallon average fuel efficiency across the U.S. fleet by 2025 (see President Obama Announces Historic 54.5 mpg Fuel Efficiency Standard).

Since the 1970's the CAFE standards have been in place attempting to rein in fuel usage because of the oil crises of the 1970's.  It was later misdirected into greenhouse gas reduction when people forgot about the 1970's oil crises.  However light trucks (and SUV's), medium duty trucks, big trucks, etc were never restricted by fuel efficiency requirements, so the new efficiency standards for trucks was a big deal.  While the big truck standard does not apply to the light trucks and SUV's targeted by the Ford/Toyota announcement, the 54.5 MPG standard does.  And it seems, Ford and Toyota are smart enough to recognize this, and to work together to make sure they're ready to meet those standards.

The connection?  The new CAFE standard ramps up fuel efficiency requirements until in 2025 the F-150 average efficiency must be 23MPG (on the EPA window sticker).  When do Ford and Toyota expect to begin selling vehicles based on the new drive train design?  By the end of this decade, meaning the 2018-19 time frame.

Under the deal Ford and Toyota engineers will jointly develop drive train components for a rear wheel drive hybrid drive train.  They'll be targeting light trucks and SUV's explicitly.

It seems to me that the Obama Administration is being beaten up for not acting strongly enough on environmental issues.  But this is actually a big deal, and one that has outright cooperation by the trucking and automobile industry.  The first major jump in CAFE standards in thirty years would be significant enough on its own, because it stands to save the American economy trillions of dollars and adjust the energy usage curve downward.  But reaching an agreement for fuel efficiency standards for big trucks is an even bigger deal.

The Ford/Toyota agreement should be seen as a sign of how important this is.  Would they have decided to hook up without the increased fuel efficiency requirements?

Ford, Toyota Team Up on Hybrid Pickups:  "...The partnership comes as federal regulators finalize plans to increase corporate average fuel economy standards to 54.5 mpg by the 2025 model year....The Ford F-150 has long been the best-selling truck in the United States, and Toyota dominates the hybrid market. But neither company sells a full-size rear-wheel-drive hybrid truck, and the companies that have — most notably General Motors — saw little success..."  The article goes on to note that GM's hybrid's add megabucks to the pricetag, and come with limitations like limited towing capacity.

The Ford/Toyota press release went to great length to say their design won't force customers to compromise on performance.

“The EPA fuel standards are a big challenge for us automakers,” Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota’s executive vice president for research and development, said through a translator at a press conference in Detroit. “Trucks and SUVs are vehicles that the American society cannot do without. This collaboration we are forming with Ford is not only about lowering carbon dioxide but making light-duty trucks and SUVs more affordable.”

Why Ford and Toyota will jointly develop hybrid truck technology: "... The need to double fuel efficiency by 2025 drove Ford and Toyota to work jointly on development of a new hybrid drivetrain for SUVs and light trucks. ... In the U.S., the auto industry must deliver a corporate average fuel economy of 54.5 mpg by the 2025 model. Owing to unusual ways of calculating CAFE, it’s equal to about 40 mpg to 45 mpg in real-world driving. Either way, fuel economy must roughly double in 15 years. If a pickup truck or big honking SUV can’t deliver 40 real-world mpg, then a smaller vehicle in the automaker’s line has to reach 55 mpg to counterbalance Shamu’s 25 mpg. Or 50 and 30."




Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gator power: Alligator fat pitched as biodiesel

gator_fla_270x202.jpgAccording to a C|NET News report researchers in Louisana have researched the use of "Alligator fat" to produce biodiesel.   This is yet another in a long string of researchers developing a method to convert animal fats directly into biodiesel.  Some people will go "eeewwww" over this.  While others might get a warm fuzzy feeling that someone is working on the problems of climate change and peak oil by developing alternatives.  What I see however is closer to greenwashing, and wasting time on developing a fuel source for an extremely small pool of material.  But maybe there's more to it than meets the eye?  Let's take a think about this.

This has the potential to actually be beneficial.  Animal fat and other biofuel sources, while still being carbon based, are reusing carbon that's already in the biosphere.  Biofuels do not increase the carbon in the biosphere while fossil fuels do increase the carbon in the biosphere.  Second potential benefit is finding a non-fossil-oil source for liquid fuel so that we aren't dependent on a fuel supply that's now beginning to decline in production volume.

The papers' authors claim a "large amount of alligator fat" is produced by the "alligator meat processing industry" and it makes me wonder "what alligator meat processing industry".  You mean there is an industry of alligator livestock and slaughter?  Really?  Are there very many people eating alligator meat?  Really?  Okay, there is an industry of alligator leather for shoes and the like, but I just can't imagine there's very much actual amount of alligator meat and fat out there.

In other words, is there much chance of this making any significant difference in the world?  The U.S. consumes 19 million barrels of fossil oil per day.  The CNET report says 15 million pounds of alligator fat is disposed of in landfills annually by U.S. Industry.  This doesn't really add up, as 15 million pounds a year is a drop in the bucket compared to 19 million barrels a day.  That 15 million pounds would convert to 1.25 million gallons of fuel, per year.  A drop in the bucket.  For comparison, the study points out that 700 million gallons of biodiesel were created from soybeans in 2008. So at its current consumption rate, alligator oil could serve just a small fraction of current demand.  A drop in the bucket. As the researchers point out, though, alligator fat is currently thrown away and is well suited suitable chemically for biodiesel.

Maybe their goal is to learn more about processing animal fats into fuel, to build up the knowledge base.  Think about the total pool of animal fats coming from the livestock industry, it's a much larger quantity and more reasonable to render all animal fats into various secondary products like fuel.  In fact there probably already is an industry of rendering animal fats into secondary products, don't you think?  Converting animal fats into fuel would be a diversion of that animal fat away from the current use into using it for fuel.

In other words, conversion of animal fats to fuel is the same argument we have about diverting food crops into fuel production.  Is there capacity to grow enough biological material to create all the biology based products we need?  (food, fuel, clothing, etc)

Source: Gator power: Alligator fat pitched as biodieselPotential of Alligator Fat as Source of Lipids for Biodiesel Production


A large amount of alligator fat (AF) is produced by alligator meat processing industry and disposed in landfills or discarded as waste. The AF can be used as a potential feedstock for biodiesel production due to its high lipid content. In this work, recovery of lipids from the AF tissue was studied by solvent extraction as well as by microwave rendering. Microwave rendering resulted in AF oil recovery of 61% by weight of the frozen AF tissue obtained from producers. The fatty acid profile of the lipid showed that palmitic acid (C16:0), palmitoleic acid (C16:1), and oleic acid (C18:1) were the dominant fatty acids accounting for 89–92% of all lipids by mass; 30% of the fatty acids were saturated and 70% were unsaturated. The biodiesel produced from AF oil was found to meet the ASTM specifications of biodiesel concerning kinematic viscosity, sulfur, free and total glycerin, flash point, cloud point, and acid number.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Researchers find plentiful lithium resources for electric vehicles, but ignore peak lithium

A group of researchers at the U of Michigan and Ford Motor have concluded there is sufficient resources of lithium for the next 90 years, enough to supply a large-scale global fleet of electric vehicles through at least 2100.  Lithium is a key element in electric vehicle batteries though by no means is it the only element used in batteries, or in the other materials used in building any kind of car much less an electric car.  Plenty of concern has been made of lithium availability and whether there will be "enough" to last for very long, or would we switch to electric vehicles only to run out of lithium in 20 years and be stuck.

Hence this sort of study is very valuable.  The researchers surveyed 103 lithium-containing deposits around the world, finding that 32 of them have more than 100,000 metric tons of lithium.  The data included location, geologic type, dimensions, current production status and mroe.  They also created projects of the future demand for lithium based on assumptions of growth scenarios of electric vehicle use.

The total demand for lithium was estimated to be in the range of 12-20 million tons per year, depending on assumptions regarding economic growth and recycling rates.

The study is only available behind a paywall, but they published extensive supporting data showing the characteristics and locations of all the lithium deposits as well as the demand models they're considering.  The demand models were a forward projection of lithium needs based on current uses including lubricating greases, frits and glass (whatever that is), air conditioning, aluminum manufacturing, and "other" which must be including batteries. 

The demand rises over time for most uses (except for aluminum manufacturing) in a reasonable curve.

However nowhere in the study material is a "Peak Lithium" issue addressed.  The mining and use of lithium falls into a similar model to what's affecting the availability of oil, except that lithium is more reusable than oil and we might not see a proper peak lithium effect unlike the peak oil effect that's basically here right now.

What is peak oil?  It's the result of mining a resource (fossil oil) and burning it, rendering the oil into a form that's not reusable or recyclable.  In oil field after oil field around the world they have measured an oil production curve that's roughly bell curve shaped.  When approximately half the oil in a field has been extracted, it inevitably becomes more difficult and more resource intensive to extract more oil from the field.  This results in inevitable decline of production from the field.  It's possible to sum the production of all oil fields into one graph, as scientists have done over the years, and come up with projections of when global fossil oil production will peak.  The projections centered around the late 2000's and you might have noticed we're now in the 2010's and are seeing high oil prices with no relief in sight.  That's due to peak oil.  You might say "Tar sands" and I would say in response that tar sands are an example of the peak oil problem, because it is so expensive to extract oil from tar sands that it's a resource of last resort.

With lithium however it is not burned while being used and the lithium in a battery can be easily recycled into making new batteries.  This means that as electric cars are built their spent batteries will go into a pool of recycled battery material and be used to make more batteries.

It's very likely that mining lithium from the deposits will fall into the same model of at some point it will become more difficult to mine lithium and production rates from a given deposit will decline.  I don't know precisely whether this is true for mining lithium as it is true for mining fossil oil.

What I'll do instead is wave my hands around and try to sound intelligent about this ;-)

Let's assume that lithium production will fall into the same sort of issue we see with fossil oil production.  That at some point a lithium deposit will become more expensive to mine than the early years of a given deposit.  "More difficult" or "more expensive" will mean each lithium deposit would decline in production capacity, and there would be a point of decline in global lithium production.  We could call that point in time "peak lithium".

It's not that lithium would suddenly stop being available, it's that it's production rate would decline.  Just as peak oil doesn't mean a sudden stop in oil availability, but instead a decline in production.

But thinking this through, peak lithium would have less effect than peak oil does today.  Peak oil is a large effect because oil is burned (destroyed) when used and cannot be recycled.  Lithium on the other hand is not destroyed when used in a battery.  Lithium batteries are highly recyclable.  It means that the existing pool of lithium batteries themselves would be a resource for recycling lithium and constructing new batteries.  Recycling lithium from a battery may or may not be more expensive than extracting lithium from a natural deposit.

However consider that lithium is by no means the only material in a lithium battery, nor in any kind of electric car.  The future supply situation for electric cars is by no means as simple as "will there be enough lithium".  It is an important consideration, however.

Source: Researchers see plentiful lithium resources for electric vehicle batteries

Global Lithium Availability A Constraint for Electric Vehicles?