• Oct 14, 2009
U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has a penchant for making some straightforward statements about energy policy. He's said that electric vehicles are inevitable, for example, and that all American cars should be E85-capable. Recently, he apparently said that "if it were up to me, I would put every cent into electric cars."
This quote, which was relayed by unnamed alternative energy developers who were at a recent meeting on alternative fuels, is sure to stir up the whole hydrogen vs. plug-in cars debate that's been going on since the DOE slashed H2 funding in May. The Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee responded by marking up the FY 2010 DOE budget and restoring the hydrogen vehicle funding.

If Chu did say what it's reported that he said, then it should be clear that it isn't an official reversal of the Senate's work. It just shows that there are some serious disagreements in Washington about how to best fund the future – and what that future should be. But the DOE is in charge of some big things and, this year, it has handed out billions in loan guarantees for plug-in vehicles, including money for Ford ($5.9 billion), Nissan ($1.6 billion), Tesla Motors ($465 million) and Fisker ($528 million).

[Source: Biofuels Digest]


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  • 78 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      E 85? Are you kidding me! This guy is supposed to be an intellectual and advanced thinker. Hasn't he seen the studies which show corn based ethanol is both a net energy loser as well as the single biggest contributor to food based inflation.

      I agree that an efficient and extended range electric vehicle makes a lot of sense, but to achieve that we will need a combination of factors and scientific breakthroughs including: 1) batteries with greater capacity and range; 2) a commitment to nuclear energy to power our grid which will be the delivery mechanism for power for electric and hybrid electric vehicles and 3) ability to recycle the batteries and their chemical innards at affordable costs.

      We absolutely positively need to move away from oil as the primary fuel for our vehicle fleet but to get there a lot of heavy lifting and scientific breakthroughs are going to be necessary. At least Secretary Cho seems to understand that and is working to restore some Federal research dollars to get us to wherever we are going. Sure as hell it won't come from EXXON or BP!

        • 5 Years Ago
        Quote from Chu: "corn is not the right crop for biofuels."

        So maybe... just *maybe*... he was talking about ethanol from algae?

        Sheesh, you jumped so hard at that conclusion I thought I was watching someone playing Mario.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Though hydrogen cars and battery cars may seem mutually exclusive, in fact they are comparable and could even complement each other to give us affordable transportation. Indeed, our search for long range batteries for electrics may need to go no further than a tankful of hydrogen.

      That hydrogen can pass through a small fuel cell onboard a battery car and recharge its batteries while we drive it, and even while we park it. Replenished in this way an electric car can go for longer trips; or just make it back home without a tow. Once there, we plug it in for a cheap recharge and be ready to go in the morning.

      As for the depleted hydrogen, since not much will be needed at the outset perhaps gas stations, municipalities, and larger employers will find it in their interests to have onsite compact units such as the Honda Energy Station IV: It makes hydrogen cheaply and safely on the spot from natural gas. See http://www.carpictures.com/vehicle/07KE8172016536.html and http://automobiles.honda.com/fcx-clarity/home-energy-station.aspx

      At any rate, here are more thoughts on the subject from an earlier comment posted elsewhere:


      ===================================

      In scrapping its battery powered forklifts for hydrogen ones, Coke said it will free-up room in its warehouses that was used for parking the lifts while they were being charged.
      See http://www.renewableenergyfocus.com/view/4322/cocacola-to-install-hydrogen-fueled-forklifts-with-plug-power-fuel-cell-systems/

      Coke thought it made more sense to have fewer forklifts that could be refilled quickly with hydrogen, than to have another fleet of battery lifts for use while the spent ones got charged.

      The point here is that if charging forklifts is a hassle in the sheltered and orderly environment of a warehouse, why do we expect it to be a cinch for road cars where disparate charging facilities, weather, and the vicissitudes of life are compounding variables?

      Yet, it is undeniable that battery cars are cheaper to operate than either hydrogen or gasoline cars for short trips. For the longer trips they can use small internal combustion engine, as is the case of the GM Volt. Under the same thinking, however, why not use a tankful of hydrogen. This would mean having a fuel cell onboard to turn the hydrogen into electricity, which begs the question of why not go with hydrogen altogether.

      The answer again is that battery cars are much cheaper to operate, at least for now. We can take advantage of this by using our homes to charge them at night when rates are low, and use the onboard hydrogen for the longer trips. Indeed, with the advent of natural gas generators, we may even be able to top off the hydrogen tank at home before we hit the road.

      While the hydrogen folks and the battery folks are busy extolling their positives and amplifying the others’ negatives, they overlook that they have much in common. Aside from a shared goal to use clean energy, the cars themselves are similar. For example, both hydrogen and battery cars are propelled by electric motors, both use super capacitors for acceleration, both use high performance batteries for short term storage, both use power regeneration from braking, and both use computer programmed controllers for power management, switching and system housekeeping. The difference is that battery cars use an array of batteries for electricity, while hydrogen cars use fuel cells for electricity.

      This being the primary difference then, why not put both systems in the same car to take advantage of the cheaper charging of batteries and the quick refill time of hydrogen fuel cells. The costs for such duel arrangement may seem astronomical at the outset, but a joint effort from the two camps should bring us together to work on a common goal for lesser and cleaner domestic energy. Who knows, we might succeed and make life on this earth better for all of us, as well as for our children and our grandchildren.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Hydrogen's such a scam. Good for Chu.
      • 5 Years Ago
      So, that's what George Bush would look like if he were Chinese!

      Seriously, I am very comforted knowing that the government in on top of this and making all of these big decisions. I mean, the free market may be much more effective and gets things done cheaper and creates actual working solutions but... where was I going with this?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Ever heard of lobbying?

        It kinda guides government where the free market is going, and asks them to regulate it.

        So yeah, where *were* you going with that thought?
        • 5 Years Ago
        @chris...

        Then YOU pay for it.

        The government seizing money at the point of a gun, and devaluing what money they deign to let you keep... is wreaking havoc on the economy,

        As money in the private sector gets scarcer, and the government racks up debt, the air is not getting cleaner, the water is not getting cleaner... and they will get worse, as funding dries up. (and tax revenues slow to a trickle under a depressed economy with high unemployment...)

        And the national parks will suffer further, as government struggles to pay it's other promises, and cover even a slight fraction of their unfunded liabilities.

        ALL BECAUSE GOVERNMENT SAPS VALUE OUT OF MONEY, THEY DON'T ADD VALUE TO ANYTHING. Government is a COST, not a REVENUE to the nation.

        Clean air, clean water, clean soil, cleaned up messes of every kind... are a function of being able to AFFORD IT.

        If the government seizes, and then promply WASTES everyone's money... responsible activities, and correct best practices to keep things clean in the first place will SUFFER.

        Capitalism has made this country one of the cleanest on earth. Third world countries live in squalor, and cannot afford to clean anything up.

        Everyone always screams that the US uses so many resources... but we use them wisely, and we use some of those resources to renew the resources, and clean up the messes. China, India, and Russia are not doing that. Africa is not doing that. Central and South America are not doing that.

        It is a false dichotomy that sets capitalism against efficiency and cleanliness. Capitalism FOSTERS those things, and makes it possible to afford to do those things. Socialism and other totalitarian central planning schemas always fall behind in those areas, while trying to spend money to maintain control, and line the pockets of the totalitarian leadership.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I wouldn't.

      a) there's no sufficient infrastructure for plug-ins
      b) current grid struggles on the brink of colapse in winter and summer peaks and there don't seem to be plans for massive increase of electricity production

      It's like jumping into the swiming pool on Monday because somebody promised to fill it with water on Saturday.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Thats probably what the money would go towards. I would hope the understanding with electric cars is infrastructure overhaul, but who knows what the government believes these days (E85 still? Really?)
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Neil
        I agree about the infrastructure. Putting money on electrics would mean putting money on improving the electricity infrastructure, which benefits everyone since we all use electricity in one form or another.


        An issue with hydrogen is the need to develop an infrastructure for it. What would be cheaper? develop a new nationwide infrastructure that is only for powering Hydrogen cars or upgrade the electric infrastructure? The rest of the world may not adapt hydrogen at all, as it will be grossly cost prohibitive to nations where the minimum wage is less than a US dollar a day, let alone those that have an electricity grid that barely supports their needs? Those nations would rather spend resources upgrading their electricity grid instead of pushing hydrogen technology.

        I'm not saying hydrogen is a bad choice, but money has to factor in. And convincing the people with money to spend on upgrading the grid is easier than getting them to invest in hydrogen.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The problem with Chu putting "every cent into electric cars" is stifling other creative solutions to an “energy problem.” While electric vehicles may be the next logical evolution of the automobile (shaking my head in disagreement), it seems a bit nearsighted to put all your eggs in one basket. At least he had the brass ones to make a call.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Of course he would...it's not his money...it's our money...and he would just be continuing the trend of this administration of throwing our money down the toilet.
      • 5 Years Ago
      E85 is a waste of time and money. As for electric cars, I have no desire to take a multi-hour break every 200 miles on a road trip to recharge my car. Hydrogen seems to be the most promising longterm solution. Until then, diesel (and diesel hybrids) are probably the best short term solution. Electric vehicles can work for people who don't drive very far in a day though. If you're looking for one revolutionary technology that's going to change everything and be universally applicable, you're wasting your time. Running cars on gingers would be that universal solution, but it's just too politically volatile right now.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Did he mention that all cars should remain unpainted to reflect the maximum amount of light? It would have the dual effect of keeping the interior cool thereby requiring less fuel to run air conditioning. Plus it would become so maddening to find your car that you'd give up driving, which is their ultimate goal.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Or you could just, you know, use a kind of paint that reflects infrared light and leaves the visible spectrum alone. If only auto manufacturers thought of that... oh snap, they did, they invented it!

        Science. More awesome than you think.
      • 5 Years Ago
      does free market mean anything to our government?

      like i have said before "global warming" is a scam to pass a carbon tax bill. o and guess what they did. its called cap and trade.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yup Tourian is right. How is it a free market when car companies buy up public transportation and let it fail? There is going to be an influence no matter what, so might as well make it for the better. Not like capitalism is going anywhere. Also that steam engine argument you wrote made no sense at all. The only reason people are considering this is it has a benefit to everyone as a whole. If running off fossil fuels is best for us, I am sure this wouldn't even be considered. Specially since there are a lot of people with interest in oil and keeping that market flowing.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Nope. The danger is that by pushing a single option so hard, you are not letting the free market do its magic. What would we be driving now had government just picked up and forced the first self-propelled option around? Maybe we'd all still be driving 2 speed steam engined cars.

        It's important that every solution be allowed to prosper, as far as the market allows, and eventually one will come out on top without the need for interference. And this one option will be the best of all possible options, determined by the market. However, I fear we will never see this scenario because of the obsession of interfering with the market.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The cake is a lie
        Try the punch instead
        • 5 Years Ago
        "Customers" and "manipulation". There are enough options out there that what little manipulation there is it wouldn't matter. Even if your negative view of people (they're mostly idiots) is correct the oil companies wouldn't really care as they could sell oil to power plants or the electric utilities would be able to "manipulate" for electric cars.
        • 5 Years Ago
        there's nothing in his comments that's anti free market. anyone with half a brain knows which way the wind is blowing. why else did berkshire hathaway buy a 10% stake in byd?
        • 5 Years Ago
        "does free market mean anything to our government?"

        As evidenced by oil and gas industries, no. Regulation induced oligopolies in which both the companies and government laugh all the way to the bank.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Just because Berkshire invests in something like this doesn't mean anything - it could just mean that the additional investment by the Federal government makes it an attractive investment, whereas had they done nothing, BK may have invested much less if anything at all. It is a possible misallocation of capital away from its more efficient usage.

        It's like with the mortgage crisis; the government was willing to stand behind loans from national banks like Freddie and Fannie, attracting investors to these institutions which handed out higher-risk loans than would otherwise be done by banks. And investors were attracted to it because the government stood behind it. Had they never done so, investors would've never been attracted to it, and capital would've been allocated more efficiently, rather than being misallocated and malinvested. And well, I think we all saw the consequences of such interference.

        Anyway, the point is, just because a private investor is going after that particular technology isn't some sign that its completely free of govt. interference. In fact, it may be a confirmation of it.
        • 5 Years Ago
        It's called 'climate change' not global warming, and I'm glad that the protection of our planet is a higher priority than making the next buck. I'm not a quote 'greenie', I'm an automotive enthusiast, but I do make daily choices that reflect my values, and one of those is giving my kids (and yours) the same natural landscape that I was fortunate enough to enjoy.
        • 5 Years Ago
        If you think public transportation was efficient prior to the 1950's, you're fooling yourself. Private does not always equal efficient, just like government does not always equal inefficient. Public transportation is effeicient in the sense that you can only travel to certain predesignated destinations, but it is not the most efficient way to go from A to B. If your destination isn't at a predesignated stop, then you are either out of luck or have to find another method to get where you want to go. Just look at how many small towns were wiped out when the railroads decided to pass through one town instead of another.

        The interstate and local highway systems changed all that. People could drive from live away from the cities because they weren't bound by public transportation to get the to work. They could get a cabin in the woods without wondering if the train went through that area. If there's a medical emergency, you can drive to the hospital instead of waiting at a bus stop or an ambulance. Yes, there were unintended consequences to the highway system, but what existed previously was hardly efficient. And if public transportation were so superior, the highway system would have never caught on with the general public.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Please remember how the interstate highway system completely transformed the United States socioeconomic landscape. It eviscerated mass transportation, which up until the 1950's was completely private and efficient. The government's funding and maintenance of our massive highway infrastructure is really an annual subsidy to trucking companies, vehicle manufacturers, and the interstate/intercity bus companies. Is this what we really wanted?

        Government participation in the private sector can have lasting unintended consequences. I'm sure the interstate planners in the 1940's didn't envision all of the consequences of their well intentioned ambitions.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Diesel??
        • 5 Years Ago
        Algae-sourced biodiesel?

        ...oh, and E-85.
        • 5 Years Ago
        If we all switch to diesel, which is more efficient, we'll be consuming less combustible. Also, we will not be consuming gas, which is another derivate of oil.

        I don't think Exxon and Shell and BP want us consuming less. And they have the power to enforce this in the largest auto market, the US.

        The oil companies care about sustainability: They want to sustain their income ; )
      • 5 Years Ago
      I want hydrogen combustion powered vehicles, NO electric cars!
        • 5 Years Ago
        @RX-8
        Stop pulling numbers out of your butt. The US has less than 50% electricity from coal. And because of the efficiency of the electric drivetrain, an EV running on 100% coal is STILL cleaner than an equivalent conventional vehicle.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Electric vehicles running on coal fired electricity are still 60% cleaner than conventional gas engine vehicles. As the grid moves to more renewable sources, they will only get cleaner.
        • 5 Years Ago
        With current technology hydrogen production is very expensive (not to mention the infrastructure of fueling stations needed), in other words - NOT the way to go. The whole hydrogen car pipe-dream was created only to distract from plug in electric hybrid. See "Who Killed the Electric Car".
        • 5 Years Ago
        @RX-8

        Yup. Everyone also knows 97% of hydrogen comes from.... ding ding ding, Fossil fuels! Yaaay!

        I’m sure ‘everyone’ also knows about ‘solar power’. As mentioned before, ‘everyone’ could potentially outfit their homes, etc, and fill up their own cars. IF electric cars were on sale (real ones, range of 100+ miles, etc) I’d buy one right now and power it with solar, right now. Just because the majority of the entire country’s power (but say, not all states) comes from coal (especially on the east coast) doesn’t mean there are not other options out there.

        Electric cars can cut out the oil company middle men, hydrogen fuel cell cars cannot, I'd wager that's why we see a fair amount of 'reminding' people where electricity comes from and ignoring alternatives, or the fact that it's more environmentally responsible to consume that off peak electricity than have it simply go to waste.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Does anyone realize where the electricity comes from? 85% of it comes from burning coal. Not much cleaner than gasoline.
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