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According to a new study, diesel tops hybrids and ethanol isn't even really in the game. Researchers at the Rand Corporation did a cost-benefit analysis of the top near-term alternatives to standard gasoline power-trains that looked at fuel savings, technology costs and performance. They also factored in societal costs in the form of noxious pollutants, greenhouse gas emissions and energy security costs. The analysis was performed for a mid-sized car, a mid-sized SUV and a large pickup truck.
Based on the consumer factors, modern clean diesels yielded net savings over the life of the vehicle ranging from $460 to $2,289 for the different vehicle types. Hybrids yielded smaller but still net positive savings of $198 to $1,066. In spite of the relatively small cost premium to create an E85 capable vehicle, ethanol on the other hand cost substantially more over the life of the car. Thanks in part to the increased fuel consumption of E85, it will cost from $1,034 to $1,632 more than gasoline to operate.

When societal costs are examined the finishing order remains the same although they shift a bit toward the negative. The hybrid car was actually a net negative in this case at $317 more than a gasoline equivalent. The ethanol combination ranged from $1,046 more for cars to $2,049 for pickups. Unless cellulosic ethanol can become mainstream, this fuel simply does not look like a good idea.

[Source: Rand Corporation]


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  • 21 Comments
      • 1 Month Ago
      Also note that they're assuming gas and diesel prices of $2.50 and $2.59, which seem (to me) to be laughably low now. I would assume that the benefits they calculated would be somewhat higher if we use today's prices instead, or at least something closer to the $3.20 to $3.50 range.
      • 1 Month Ago
      There are simple economics involved in the push for E85:
      1. The car manufacturers only have to make minor investments and add minor cost to the vehicle to make it ethanol capable and hence their bottom line remains relatively intact while they can claim they are 'Green'.
      2. Farmers love ethanol because it drives up the price for corn.
      3. Oil companies only love ethanol if they can make more money on it than on gasoline. Ethanol readily delivers due to higher fuel consumption. Without the higher revenues, there is no incentive for them to invest.
      4. Politicians want to get re-elected so they love ethanol too because it wins them voters and campaign funds.

      And so, the environment is hardly considered in this push for ethanol. Ethanol does have a minor positive impact on the trade balance though.
      • 1 Month Ago
      ELECTRIC, Any questions?
      • 1 Month Ago
      Cowboy bob, I have a question. Batteries?

      • 1 Month Ago
      • 1 Month Ago
      The trouble with studies like this is they're not very useful. They tell you something you already know. They also assume steady-state conditions. Since oil supply is now inelastic, stability will now be a thing of the past.

      A study like this focuses on individual acts and decisions. What we need are societal actions to deal with the end of the fossil fuel age (it will go down in history as the shortest of "ages.")

      A more interesting study would have looked at how people actually use their vehicles. This is a key design tool for the development of the post-fossil fuel generation of vehicles which will need to be fueled from renewable supplies of energy.
      • 1 Month Ago
      FYI, a post on this site a few days ago strongly hinted that Mercedes will be bringing a diesel hybrid to US around 2010. Electric for city, diesel for highway - what better combination is there for the near futures?
      • 1 Month Ago
      Ethanol is more like a very expensive, land consuming energy storage medium, than a fuel. If you are going to ferment something at least go with Biobutanol which has much better characteristics as a fuel.

      How about also comparing conservation. You know, using a smaller fuel efficient vehicle.

      What really sucks is that no one is just building a very efficient car with none of the buzzwords. The Honda Insight was a hybrid, but hybrid does nothing for highway mileage.

      The insight got 60MPG plus on the highway because it was aerodynamic. How about building a lightweight aerodynamic car that gets great mileage without expensive hybrid drivetrains.

      Reward outcomes. Don't reward how they get the outcome.
      • 1 Month Ago
      Stehane: agreed. CARB is looking at emissions effects of ethanol/diesel blends now.

      I hate seeing "diesels v. hybrids." I believe in hybrid diesels: capturing the efficency of start-stop and regenerative braking, with the efficiency of the diesel cycle engine compared to the Otto, and the flexibiilty to use biodiesel. While engineering a hybrid diesel poses challenges, THEY ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE.
      • 1 Month Ago
      Diesel hybrids make sense for the fuel economy benefits. However, I think there is a reason why no auto maker sells a diesel hybrid, price. PSA will probably be the first auto maker to sell one, they showed a concept with one at this year's Geneva(?) show I think. Even Toyota who has been at the hybrid game longer than anyone, seems disinclined to build one. That should tell us something.
      • 1 Month Ago
      The problem with a diesel-electric hybrid is cost -- which is what this study is all about. First you'd have to pay a "diesel premium" for all the emissions gear they now require, and then you'd still have to pay the "hybrid premium" for the batteries and hybrid drivetrain. Add them together and it's more than most people would accept.

      It might be easier if you could require the diesel to run B100. Then I think it would probably need much less emissions gear, but how can you keep people from putting petro-diesel into it? Then the cost competitiveness of biodiesel is another whole subject that you'd have to look into.

      As for the PLUG. . . That was my first thought, why aren't they even looking at grid power? But then I realized they must be considering only technology that is already on the market in large numbers. When they say near term they really mean right now, not next year. (And that also counts against the diesel-hybrid car, as well as BEVs and PHEVs, and cellulosic ethanol too.)

      • 1 Month Ago
      Let's not forget the PLUG.
      - First, we can power up the battery at the best off-peak time Midnight.
      - Second, when those 40% efficiency solar panels hit the market we can power up the house and maybe the car from the roof.

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