Archive for the ‘gas prices’ Category


As reported by Ken Thomas of the Associated Press (AP), the Chevrolet Equinox has been delivered to people participating in a trial program that involves free loans of the innovative vehicles to a small group of consumers. In addition to General Motors, Honda and BMW are supplying hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars for initial trials in real-life driving conditions. The AP report is summarized here, with additional information provided (links to sources are given).

The Chevy Equinox carries up to 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of hydrogen gas in pressurized tanks. In the fuel cell, hydrogen reacts with oxygen to generate electricity and the byproduct, water. Although explosive under some conditions, hydrogen is considered safe in these cars because a leak in the system would simply cause the hydrogen to become diluted by air, reaching concentrations that aren’t flammable. Equinox driver Tom Albert has covered 2300 miles in two months, and is enthusiastic about the car, citing only the lack of filling stations and the 200 mile range as real limitations (there are only two filling stations in the Washington, D.C. area where he lives).

Reportedly, the performance of the Equinox is equivalent to approximately 43 miles per gallon with conventional gasoline. The cars themselves are considered to be zero emission vehicles, though the source of hydrogen affects the ultimate environmental impact of this technology. Currently, most hydrogen comes from fossil fuels in a process that does generate CO2. However, the goal is to generate hydrogen from renewable sources. One approach to sustainable hydrogen was recently described here and republished here with additional discussion. In addition, as reported by Thomas, extracting hydrogen from natural gas results in about half the CO2 production associated with equivalent gasoline use by a vehicle. This information comes from Patrick Serfass, director of technology for the National Hydrogen Association.

There is a Federal Government target of producing hydrogen at a cost equivalent to $1.50/gallon of gasoline by 2010; current costs are estimated to be $3.00/gallon.

The Chevy Equinox is joined by the Honda FCX Clarity, which is being leased for $600/month to about 200 people in California. There were 50,000 web-based requests for leases, but the program was limited in part by the location of filling stations. Of the 61 hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S., about half are in California. A press release from Air Products, a major supplier of hydrogen, provides more information about present and future health of hydrogen as fuel.

The FCX Clarity travels about 270 miles on one tank of hydrogen, and Jon Spallino is one happy driver:

You’re not sacrificing anything, and actually for me it’s an enhanced driving experience… I think that’s a misconception people have, that you’re puttering around in an underpowered cramped little soapbox

BMW’s Hydrogen 7 runs on gasoline or hydrogen, with separate tanks to take you about 130 miles on hydrogen and 300 miles on gas.

So far, the production of fuel cell cars requires custom manufacturing, so the real costs per car are very high and undisclosed, but things are certainly being driven in the right direction.

Original text Copyright © 2008, James K. Bashkin

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Toyota, as reported by Jamie Lendino of ExtremeTech, has the most fuel efficient line of cars in the US, with an average of 29.7 mpg for actual vehicles sold. Results are based on the 2007 model year. Discussion in the forum goes into upcoming offerings from Honda and VW, but they have to be taken with a grain of salt until we can buy them! Kudos to Toyota for delivering on the showroom floor.

Honda and Hyundai were next on the list with 29.47 and 29.39, respectively. Domestic brands were much further down the list, with GM, Ford, and Chrysler scoring 25.16, 25.15 and 23.97—evidence of product line-ups that are more heavily weighted on the truck and SUV side of the equation.

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Yahoo Autos and Road & Track Magazine have provided “spy” photographs (by Brenda Priddy & Company) and a very preliminary description of the new Honda Hybrid, a 2010 model destined to reach dealers in late 2009. While details of the gasoline engine side of the car have not yet been disclosed, the electric side is reportedly based on a nickel/metal-hydride battery design rather than a lithium-ion battery. Gas mileage is thought by Road & Track to be “class leading” and well above 40 mpg. Author Sam Mitani says:

The price of this new car will be low, as Honda maintains it will be an entry-level car with 200,000 units selling annually — half of those to be sold in the United States. Early rumors indicate that it may be as low as $19,000. With seating for five, this 4-door, front-wheel-drive hatchback…

Although exactly where this car will fit into the Honda line is unknown to outsiders, the new Honda hybrid will compete with the Toyota Prius:

Whichever label it wears, one thing for sure is that the new Honda Hybrid will be one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles in the world, and may wrest the crown away from the Prius as the world’s favorite green car.

The appearance of another hybrid in the U.S. and world markets is certainly a cause for celebration, though my loudest cheers will be for the plug-in hybrids that will (or should) also be arriving soon.

Original text copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin


The environment is once again under attack by the US government, this time in a foolish and futile gesture to appease voters who are justifiably angry about high gas prices. In a move destined to have no effect whatsoever on gasoline prices in the near term, and possibly ever, President Bush just lifted the Executive ban on offshore drilling. This ban was actually imposed by the Presidents’s father. A story from Reuters (via Yahoo!News) by Jeremy Pelofsky and Tom Doggett describes the President’s action as

a largely symbolic move unlikely to have any short-term impact on high gasoline costs.

Of course, off-shore drilling isn’t the only forbidden activity that President Bush has just approved- he also approved drilling of 4400 wells in Wyoming and related energy mining activities on Federal land formerly protected by a large number of environmental regulations. In “Heedless Rush to Oil Shale” by Democratic Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado writes in the Washington Post:

Bush and his fellow oil shale boosters claim that if only Western communities would stand aside, energy companies could begin extracting more than 500 billion barrels of recoverable oil from domestic shale deposits. If only the federal government immediately offered even more public lands for development, the technology to extract oil from rock would suddenly ripen, oil supplies would rise and gas prices would fall.

If only.

Since the 19th century, we in the West have been trying to extract oil from the vast oil shale riches that lie under our feet. It is no easy task, and past efforts have failed miserably. Commercial oil shale development would require not only immense financial investments but also an undetermined quantity of (scarce) water from the Colorado River basin and the construction of several multibillion-dollar power plants.

Sometimes it seems that we are getting close to overcoming these barriers. But each time we near a boom, we bust. The last bust, the infamous “Black Sunday” of 1982, left Western communities holding the bill long after the speculators, Beltway boosters and energy companies had taken off.

Senator Salazar goes on to add:

The governors of Wyoming and Colorado, communities and editorial boards across the West agree that the administration’s headlong rush is a terrible idea. Even energy companies, including Chevron, have said we need to proceed more cautiously on oil shale. With more than 30,000 acres of public land at their disposal to conduct research, development and demonstration projects (in addition to 200,000 undeveloped acres of private oil shale lands they own in Colorado and Utah), they already have more land than they can develop in the foreseeable future.

So why is the president hurrying to sell leases for commercial oil shale development in the West’s great landscapes? A fire sale will not lower gas prices. It will not accelerate the development of commercial oil shale technologies.

Senator Salazar continues by saying that he supports the idea of developing technology for removing shale oil in a commercially feasible manner, something I would not be in favor of relative to solar and wind power, but he concludes that Federal land is being given away for no logical reason- not even the oil companies are making any promises about if and when shale oil from the Western US will become a viable commodity.

Returning to the subject of off-shore drilling, I think that this policy change will be considerably more than symbolic to the environment, even if it is only symbolic with regard to our national energy crisis. The construction of drilling platforms and the potential for oil spills, ruined beaches and dead fish and birds may well dwarf the wreck of the Exxon Valdez on March 23. 1989. Let’s hope not, but let’s also remember that the Exxon Valdez spill broke many Federal laws and some prosecution resulted (although, as shown below, the Supreme Court recently protected Exxon from significant financial punishment). The President and his corporate friends should be held to strict environmental standards that they haven’t done well in following, historically: if President Bush’s close friends in the oil industry keep up their poor track record of environmental protection and cause serious damage, they should be prosecuted.

In case some of the details of the Exxon Valdez case may need to be reviewed, here are a few worthwhile quotes and links to the original sources. In a case the went to the Supreme court and was resolved in June of 2008, Adam Liptak of The New York Times reported on June 26, 2008 that (note, you may have to sign up for a free registration to set the Times article)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reduced what had once been a $5 billion punitive damages award against Exxon Mobil to about $500 million. The ruling essentially concluded a legal saga that started when the Exxon Valdez, a supertanker, struck a reef and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1989.

From alternet.org:

The spilled oil — somewhere between 11 to 38 million gallons (the figure is elusive because as we learned the hard way, the truth was one of the first casualties of the spill) — created a big mess and broke a lot of federal laws. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Exxon paid $2.5 billion for its cleanup and another $1 billion for penalties. But, it might surprise people who live outside Alaska to learn that taxpayers, not Exxon, paid a majority of that bill. Exxon recouped most of its remaining expense from its insurance companies and from money it paid to settle damages for natural resources — publicly-owned wildlife and lands.

From the State of Alaska and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council:

The Exxon Valdez spill, though still one of the largest ever in the U.S., has dropped from the top 50 internationally. However, it is widely considered the number one spill worldwide in terms of damage to the environment. The timing of the spill, the remote and spectacular location, the thousands of miles of rugged and wild shoreline, and the abundance of wildlife in the region combined to make it an environmental disaster well beyond the scope of other spills. Much has been accomplished over the years to prevent another Exxon Valdez-type accident. See the Spill Prevention and Response section of this website.

For more information about the environmental impact, case studies, legal history and science of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, this time from NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration of the US Department of Commerce), see here.

Getting back to Monday’s decision by President Bush and the Reuters story by Pelofsky and Dogget,

With prices at the pump over $4 a gallon, Bush pushed the Democratic-controlled Congress to expand offshore oil and natural gas drilling and give companies access to the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge despite fierce opposition from environmentalists.

However,

Democratic leaders in Congress and environmentalists immediately condemned the move as having have no short-term impact on soaring oil prices.

Of further note, from Reuters:

Democratic White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign quickly condemned the move. “It would merely prolong the failed energy policies we have seen from Washington for 30 years,” spokesman Bill Burton said.

and

Republican White House contender Sen. John McCain, who reversed his previous opposition to offshore drilling, told reporters that he thought the decision was a “very important signal” and that “states should continue to decide.”

Meanwhile, Japan, Germany, Spain, China and many other countries are cornering the market on fuel efficient cars, plug-in electric hybrid vehicles, solar power installations, wind power installations, and manufacturing plants required for producing solar panels, while the U.S. is left in the position of having many innovative companies but no significant tax support or other incentives to reduce our dependence on oil.

This latest act of poor judgment by the President is typical of his actions, where he has consistently fought and overturned environmental protections and the White House has ordered officials to ignore science and the environment in favor of big business. Some of these orders have come from Vice President Cheney’s office, though he has been stealthy while interfering with the EPA and other agencies. For a 2007 report on the Vice President’s role in hampering EPA efforts, see the Washington Post article “Leaving no Tracks” by Jo Becker and Barton Gellman:

Law and science seemed to be on the side of the fish. Then the vice president stepped in.

First Cheney looked for a way around the law, aides said. Next he set in motion a process to challenge the science protecting the fish, according to a former Oregon congressman who lobbied for the farmers.

Because of Cheney’s intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River.

Characteristically, Cheney left no tracks.

It is long overdue for the USA to develop a reasonable and sustainable energy policy that will diminish our dependence of oil, introduce sustainable energy and transportation on a large scale, and do so without damaging or adding threats to our health or environment. It is long overdue to rein in the the current administration’s reign of international policy, environmental, and financial disasters.

Original text copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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Several recent articles have indicated the impact that gas costs are having on lifestyles. Two related articles were reported in recent posts at this site, “How to Find the Cheapest Gas Price in Your Area“and “Plug-In Hybrid Leads Toyota’s Drive Beyond Oil“. In The Demise of the RV, Eric Fry reports for Rude Awakening on the disappearance of the once-ubiquitous Winnebago and its close cousins from American roadways:

“I never would have bought [my motor home] if I thought that gas would go this high,” a retired firefighter in Westchester County told the Hudson Valley’s Journal News. “My wife always wanted to go to Napa Valley,” the firefighter lamented. “But with gas so high, it probably would be cheaper to fly and rent a car, rather than take the motor home.”

The firefighter is probably right. We did the math:

Assuming gas mileage of 10 miles to the gallon, a 31-foot motor home would consume about $2,500 worth of gasoline to journey from the Hudson Valley to the Napa Valley, and back again. By comparison, two roundtrip plane tickets from JFK to San Francisco would run about $375 each. Even after paying another $450 to rent a midsized car for a week, the fly/drive combo would only cost about $1,200 – or less than half the cost of the RV’s gas.

At the same site, Dan Amoss offers stock trading advice related to the weakest recreational vehicle (RV) companies. (Note: I do not offer or endorse any financial advice related to the stock market):

For most of the last three decades, oil prices have been low, the economy has been expanding and motor home sales have been soaring. RV sales have been trending up for nearly three decades, but there are many reasons to expect a huge decline in 2008-2009.

The posts wraps up with questions and a request for comments from Joel Bowman of Rude Awakening:

Is the high oil price the greatest threat to market stability in the months ahead? How bout the financial fiasco that has rocked Wall Street to the core? Or, perhaps it’s political incompetence? We’d like to hear your thoughts on the market’s greatest risk and, if you can see a way out, your ideas on how to play the downward trend to your favor.

On a related note, the recent article from Lyneka Little of MainStreet.com reports that “Rising Gas Prices are Hurting Nonprofits“. I heard a related story on NPR by Kate Archer.

This situation is clearly seen in nonprofit food delivery programs to homebound seniors such as Meals On Wheels. In these programs, oft-time volunteers deliver meals to the elderly, typically by driving—and paying for the gas—their own vehicles. Nowadays, volunteers are finding it harder to fund the delivery.

The MOWAA has seen a 58% loss in volunteers due to the gas prices alone. Dealing with the loss of volunteers, “our programs have to cut back on everything,” says Enid Borden, President and CEO of Meals On Wheels Association of America. Now, “sometimes volunteers are only able to go out once a week or once every other week,” says Borden.

The one meal a day can turn into no meals a day or a meal and frozen dinners for additional days. Now 4 out of 10 seniors sit on a wait list hoping to be one of the million to receive a warm meal.

Other effects are seen from the general economic downturn, as former corporate donors have either gone bankrupt or simply don’t have any funds to make their typical donations:

Citymeals-on-Wheels, which serves New York’s homebound elderly, knows this firsthand. While donor contribution is up by 13%, Citymeals has been hit by a decline in the high-end sector and in special events. Bear Stearns (BSC) was a major donor for the organization, and Citymeals has lost $500,000 in charitable contributions since that firm went under, says Marcia Stein, executive director of Citymeals. “To lose a half a million dollars in the last quarter of the year, that was very tough, and that’s money that will not come back,” says Stein. “It’ll take many years to recover.”

In order to contribute to Meals on Wheels or Citymeals-on-Wheels, please visit the following websites: Meals on Wheels Association of America and Citymeals-On-Wheels. Thanks to Lyneka Little for highlighting this problem in her article.

Do you have any stories of your own about the effects of gas prices on your summer plans or lifestyle that you would like to share? If so, please add them to the comments. Thanks and best wishes, Jim

Copyright © 2008 James K. Bashkin

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